New Stuff

I was faced with something I wasn’t 100 percent sure about on a buffet recently, but then I thought about it, and I remembered something from about 1983. 

When getting a soda order from a restaurant, I decided that, rather than the Orange Crush I’d been drinking since as long as I could remember (which must have been, what, three years at that point? Still, to be fair, it was almost half of my life. Anyway …) I ordered something mysterious and exotic: Dr. Pepper. For quite some time, that became my favorite drink (not anymore). I have similar stories involving Indian, Ethiopian, and sushi.  

I guess what I’m saying is, I took the item from the buffet, because who knows? It could be my favorite food, and I don’t even know it. 

Lovely Rita

I kind of thought Rita looked like an elf. She had that slim build, sharp features, and short, dark hair. She could have been a Vulcan, but Vulcans didn’t smile that much. 

On September 11, 2001, I’d spent that particular day assuring everybody I was fine and calming down those who didn’t see it like I did. I told myself that their fear was more justified than mine because they didn’t see what I saw, and on that day I drank as soon as I could. Two days later, when I finally made it home, I found my stash of marijuana and lit it up. The rest of the time I consoled my girlfriend Andrea, whose birthday was September 13. 

And so, two weeks later, when Katherine O’Shea threw a party for herself and everyone who missed out on their own birthday, I sought out the most cheerful people I could find. That person was Rita and her companion Anne Marie, out on the smoking deck. 

I was on fucking fire. Were I not attached, I may have made a move on either of them. And, frankly, I feel lucky that it was them, because they took it in stride. My flirtation didn’t come across as creepy so much as it did all in good fun. Fun is the operative word here, because that’s what drew me to her, time and time again. And it didn’t hurt that she was cute. 

March Madness

Shane took it upon himself to familiarize me with two important aspects of the city—the first being the subway system. 

“Don’t worry,” he said as I squinted at something on the wall of a subway car that appeared to be a Jackson Pollack painting superimposed over a map of Manhattan. “You’ll get it if you just take your time with it. Just take the trains you need, and you’ll learn the hubs and connections.” His finger traced a strip of blue and stopped at a dot that said 135 BC. 

“A hundred and thirty-five years before the birth of Jesus?” I asked myself, but not aloud. As a resident for forty hours, I figured it was time to act like I knew what I was doing. 

“That’s where my dealer is,” he explained. 

I nodded like someone who actually understood. We exited the train and headed up the street. “He gets a little freaked out when he sees new people, so just wait by the entrance and look inconspicuous.”  

Harlem, New York, hosted Louis Farrakhan’s One Million Youth civil rights march that afternoon. Shane, whose blond hair, blue eyes, and the complexion of someone who saw the sun rarely—which fed into the speculation that we were siblings—dove into the crowd and left me alone on the sidewalk, humming, sweating, and avoiding eye contact. He returned after what could have been hours and hustled me downstairs. 

In Which We Pass

By three a.m. on January 1, 2003, the afterglow of a very long night faded as empty taxi after empty taxi zipped past the vacant cab stand. My girlfriend, awesome sister, and I looked perfectly normal, like young partygoers who would leave tips, so we weren’t the problem. No, the problem was the pair in the front of the line. 

Had I actually used drugs that evening, I would have assumed the black man wearing only a vinyl diaper and a bowler hat and his companion, the man with the striped three-piece suit, the sleek blond hair, the fangs, and the pointy ears of an elf were a hallucination. However, by that point, a journey across three subway trains, two rivers, and the width of Manhattan had sobered us completely up, and I was forced to accept their veracity. 

“What the fuck?” growled my sister Rachel. 

“I don’t even…” I sighed. 

My girlfriend Coral didn’t say a word. She ran off to the sidewalk, flagged down a taxi, and beckoned us furiously. Rachel and I hesitated, but once the vampire and his minion noticed these events and lunged toward Coral, we understood the stakes. 

“Hurry!” yelled the driver. 

We dove in and slammed the door. “Britton Street!” I told him. 

The vampire’s cane struck the hood of the car, and he bellowed, “You shall not pass!” 

“Go!” Rachel shouted. 

A strange peace washed over me at that moment, surrounded by the big city and the two women who, at that juncture, knew me better than anyone. 

Questionable Influences

I think of my life in terms of regenerations, like Doctor Who. The smug, leather-jacketed Jeremiah straddling 2002 and 2003 was not the same Jeremiah from twelve months earlier—bleary-eyed and asking “Now what?” as he had since the second week of that September. And neither of these Jeremiahs resembled the boy who’d first been entranced by this chattering, grinning young woman in October 1998. 

She made me swoon, but not nearly as much as this city had in the previous six weeks. 

I had it bad for New York. Here I had been, twenty-two, poor, mostly friendless, and unsure of who I was, but my joy was indescribable. New York had distracted me from the desperate bender I’d used to hide a devastating breakup. She’d provided me with two jobs I needed to cover rent and a meal-and-a-half a day. She was there for me.  

On second thought, maybe that was all Shane. 

It was easy to lose Shane in the shuffle, because, even though I worshiped him and considered him the most important friend I’d ever had, he’d managed to live in my periphery. Optimistic, sincere, unique, and carefree, he contrasted my teenage cynicism and angst and helped me do the same. He brought out the artist in me, which is the one aspect of my personality I’ve never outgrown. Throughout my senior year of high school, I lounged in his apartment while he painted, and we consumed strange music from the eighties that didn’t sound like music from the eighties. 

And yet our lives were so distant from each other’s. He was a dropout who hung out with adults who had adult concerns. I was a student immersed in life-or-death student concerns. He was my ride to my surprise birthday party, but not a participant. He had been working the night of the community theater play I co-directed. He never read a story I’d ever written. Hell, I’d only met him as a result of a wager with someone else about something else entirely, and months passed before I saw him again, living in the backseat of a VW Beetle.  

To his adults, I was his occasional sidekick. To my teenagers, he was my mentor. 

Years later, when I fled the pile of rubble I’d built out of my life, he waited for me in New York. And we were equals. He showed me how to buy weed, persuaded contacts to employ me as a copy kid at a tabloid, and convinced his boss at a concert hall to make me a part-time usher. 

Over time, he faded into the background, cheering me on as I taught myself how to draw, how to date, how to drink, and how to dust myself off every time I fell down. 

I didn’t know where Shane was that moment on January 1, 2003, as I sat in the back of that cab, a beautiful woman curled in my arm, my awesome sister fading into sleep, and my future spread out before me like a buffet. 

Moving On

By the time we’d moved from the house in Indian Hills to the one in Gallup proper, I’d already left behind six homes that I remembered, but it was the first time I’d looked around at the empty rooms since we’d moved in.  

Did the carpets all have little snags? Had we abandoned so much crap—like Legos and scraps of paper? Were all the air-conditioning vents those weak rectangles smashed into the floor? 

All that was left was the detritus, ground in dried food, stains, and yellowing white paint on the walls. If I could, I’d point to where sat the sofa or hung the earth-tone paintings, photos, and prints. Instinct alone could have led me to my former bedroom, because I didn’t recognize it at all. 

And then it hit me. “This place looks so much smaller now,” I said. 

“You mean bigger?” my dad clarified.