Monday, January 24, 2005


Maybe it was an uncle. Maybe it was a cousin who asked you. Maybe it was your teacher who asked in the course of a school day. Maybe it was your friend who asked you as the afternoon turned into dusk, wiping the dirt off your jeans before your mother roped you in. It could have been a classmate in the high school hallways, while you pored over college applications and dreamt the future through descriptions of majors.

What are you going to be when you grow up?

You came up with an answer , one that fit people’s perceptions of who you should be in fifteen, in ten, in five years. No matter how ambitious, or unrealistic, or dreamy, you said it with the conviction of someone who had a whole path in mind, and a goal at the end. No one disbelieves; when you’re young you can do, and be, anything.

You spoke with the sound of winner, with the certainty of vision, like someone who was beyond the limp goals of popular teens and musically untalented dreamers. You had your clothes picked out already, your lines set (ad-libs, of course, would happen). Your pie was set firmly in the sky, your compass aimed and leading you to the new world, your metaphors guiding your ambition and illuminating the path. You didn’t question exactly what “to be” would mean in your twenties. You saw the solid rock of a goal and you set your sails to the sun.

I wanted to live in a penthouse in New York. The city looked exciting. Sleek in lines and easy in comfort. People were determined, like I was. This would a city worth the effort I was expending while other people learned about how to unhook bras and how to stay out well past curfew.

They could have their fun. My goal was to one day invite kids from my childhood and from my high school to celebrate New Year’s with me. We would look out over the city lights shimmering in the water, as one of my newfound friends and admirers toasted me, to living well. To their surprise, I would have reinvented myself, my smarts put to good use.

I’d be surprisingly charming, debonair. I’d have my own gravity. Vintage wine hangovers after every meal. I’d start sparkling conversation. Men would whisper about my styles like gossips. Women would want to sleep over just to smell my clothes when we awoke to automatically set coffee and the morning paper at my apartment door.

What a dream. God. Hello, it’s me Clark. I wish I was living well. I don’t mean to piss on the grace you have given me, but this is not quite how I imagined it.

I am alone, in a room where I could spit from corner to corner—if I did that sort of thing in my free time. Curled up on an IKEA couch, clicking the remote, click, click, every other breath, right on rhythm. Thai take-out on my one table. Also from IKEA. My foot splayed out just under the table, kicking my friends, used twenty-pound weights, and my scuffed shoes.

My apartment/ room-plus is bare. I live in a one bedroom where the door between the two sections of the apartment is apparently optional. I have a curtain placed between the front entrance and the bed to replace the door that should be in place. A couch near the door. Where I watch television.

Today, like any other day, I am alone, free to make my destiny. I started my freedom fighting and shoving back the fury of the suits on the way to work, breaking up four-across groups of people walking the opposite direction. Tripping on curbs. Yelling for a bagel. Sneezing out subway dust. Trying to make eye contact, a friendly smile, something to replay later when I made it home.

And on the way home, I stopped by the drugstore on the corner, since there is a drugstore on every corner. I stopped at a supermarket for some fruit and condiments. I stopped at my favorite Thai place, where they ask if I will need a table. I never do. And I struggled up the block with my bags, and up into my walk-up, and stumbled over myself getting the keys, and found my day’s adventure quickly over, television on, sauce remnants in chopsticks in an aluminum tray.

I’m living well. And living lonely.

Being in New York, obviously, is not like being in the Midwest. Out there, when something comes on your schedule, some event that looks fun, you have to reach and snatch that opportunity—you never know when it might happen again. You could spend months with the television, playing games of “asshole” with your friends, or planning the next DVD that you will rent. You could spend months what else is out there in the cities, where adventures are made in the confines of tight grids and vertical living.

Let’s say I send a note to my friend Amanda. I could say, hey, I stayed home last night. The city was outside, honking and chatting and racing, and I took a break. There would be nothing wrong with that. She would understand and be envious of my choice. Amanda, stuck in early October Minnesota snow, while I am in the world’s most vibrant city, listening to the lilt of voices outside of my window.

Here, there are people stepping out of restaurants, getting ever closer to each other, creating stories that will be told at reunions or to their children. Racing under the street lamps, living life.

She would have no reason to cry for me. It is my choice to stay in. I could be out there, pressing the flesh, imposing myself on the scene in hot clubs, “accidentally “ bumping into Page Six celebrities who do nothing but go out after dark. I can stay in and feel fulfilled, just the same. I can click channels, relax after work, feel my eyelids gain weight, drag down, too tired to simply put myself to bed for a good night’s sleep, all without apologies.

I can say that to Amanda. Between you and me, I’m waiting for someone to call.

I lay on my back. My stomach churns. I want someone to rub my tummy. The television provides blue light and a host smirking about his good fortune. The pictures on my wall—my two and a half friends, plus the postcards I’d sent to myself—have all morphed into silhouettes, faces jammed into lines, interpreted as unforgiving crowds and empty spaces, instead of a comforting connect-the-dots facsimile of home.

The night is in full swing, and though it is Monday, the bar below my apartment is also in full swing. A woman’s lively laugh carries up the alley, off the bricks, through the uncaulked crack between window panes, the part where the smells sneak through, where the cold breezes slip in, where rainwater trickles down the decaying paint.

Her voice stops and I know she is with someone. I can almost hear the soothing tones of a young man, comfortable with who he is and what he is doing, easily managing hard work and hard play as if it were his legacy. Probably one of the fine young men who work in the same area that I do, wearing the same blue oxford shirt, clogging up the 6 train and complaining when the same rank/ homeless/ Bronx people bump into them. Like I do, like any real New Yorker would.

They will head home, fingers cleaving fingers. Even months after they hooked up in whatever bar, there is still anticipation and heat. They will clutch closer as they reach his apartment or her apartment; his apartment a walk-up and sparse like mine, hers a large doorman building where she has never touched the entrance doorknobs. They leave their tightly knit group of friends, snickering down their final drinks of the night. And back in the bar, they will greet the bottom of the glass with histories and call and come over for spiked chocolate drinks and watch stupid movies with them.

Ah, those twang-less voices! That comfort and confidence in the future!

And me, listening. A voyeur not involved enough to walk to the window and watch the action.

Check my email. Nothing new from my two and a half friends. And all the wanting in the world won’t change that truth.

I curl into a familiar position. I think long and deeply about my ex-girlfriend, about Sue Nakamura in REIT stocks, about the new temp admin Kelly, about the woman who was pressed against me on the train, about Gloria from high school and her tight rock and roll jeans, about being together, about holding someone, about cleavage, about going to sleep in peace, about someone looking over at me in surprise and joy, kissing, tickling, explosively happy that they have found someone as awkward and surprising as they.

I roll over, toss the napkin on the floor, breathe out, fall asleep. Like any other night.