a couple nights ago i went back to the bar on the upper east side where i was working when i got the gig on orange. i’m at the point where i need supplementary work, and i wanted to drop in to better gauge how i might feel about working there again. i remember stopping through last year for a yankee playoff game, grateful to be there as a customer and not a <quote-01>server<quote-01>.
you write above, murph, about being someone who loves to reminisce. i wonder how much the past isn’t defined by the present. might nostalgia tell us more about where we’re at than where we’ve been--how things are rather than how they were? in the quantum world, the observation of an event alters the event itself. perhaps the danger in the nostalgic experience comes from mistaking the quality of a memory as immutable. this is especially so when we consider memory’s self-referencing nature: it’s not the event itself that's remembered but the most recent memory of the event. so while i’m rarely surprised by my memories, i am often surprised by their accompanying emotions.
it was nice to see the regulars and some of the folks i used to work with. the nevada democratic debate was on, and boy did they go at it! warren came out swinging with i’d like to tell you about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians. and no, i’m not talking about donald trump; i’m talking about mayor bloomberg! andy and i had been texting a bit about the primaries; he’d asked me what i was hoping to see happen at the debate. i just want to be surprised, i said.
i’ve held plenty of odd-jobs since college, mostly within the food industry: bars, restaurants, catering companies; i even worked night shifts at the whole foods in columbus circle for a spell. i’ve also taught a little piano, accompanied folks for auditions, worked at the <quote-02>census<quote-02>, and, of course, walked dogs. for three years in the late oughts i juggled auditions in the city with my route in prospect heights. cristin milioti got me the gig; i took over her route when she landed an understudy role on broadway. her then-boyfriend tisdale and i are still close.
come to think of it, i met tisdale for birthday drinks in prospect heights last fall. i remember being excited to return to the area after all these years, eager to stroll the aisles of the small bookstore i used to frequent. i’d purchased tisdale’s birthday gifts days prior at the strand in union square, but i would browse for myself. i recalled the various dogs i used to walk as i passed their buildings--torre the bichon, who’d piddle in the doorway from excitement when i leashed her; paco the chihuahua, who’d bite my shoes; juggs the pug, in whose apartment sarah and i made out--and clocked the changing storefronts.
i thought of the albums i listened to and the podcasts that were just then coming into fashion; i thought of shows with my band and shows with the various other bands i’d been in and toured with; i thought of my many inconsequential romantic relationships and the seemingly endless string of rejections that defined the acting career i was pursuing; i felt the longing for the friends and family that were my home before college. i could see my younger self, and further, i could see him ignoring me. he was busy doing his best, god bless him.
scanning the shelves in the bookstore, i noticed my vision starting to blur. <quote-03>an anxiety attack<quote-03> was coming on, and i had to get out of there. i grabbed a bottle of water at the nearest bodega and paced the streets to calm myself down before heading over to tisdale’s.
when i rang the buzzer, still not quite in my body, tisdale came down to meet me. the plan was to walk over to soda bar on vanderbilt, our go-to hang.
i’m realizing now that pat and tom have been to soda bar; we spent an evening there playing big 2. pat must have been down from the culinary institute up in hyde park, but i can’t remember why tom was there. we drank tecates with lime and tabasco and retreated often to the patio for marijuana and tobacco. it was the dead of winter; otherwise we’d have played outside. the bar was empty when we arrived, and we picked a table in the corner of the main room, not knowing that come midnight soda would transform into a dance club, complete with dj, bouncer, and a line down the street to get in. but what did we care? we hardly noticed; we were playing the 2! as the porter clocked in for his shift to clean up the night’s wreckage and restock for the following day, we were still there figuring out ways to get rid of our low pairs.
there’s a famed long-underwear story from this trip as well. someone had them, someone didn’t, someone looked stupid--unfortunately, that’s all i’ve got. the energy with which pat last told it has stuck with me more than the details, <quote-04>but i’m sure he’d remember if we asked him<quote-04>. and by the way, if you think that a twerking ass in a skintight mini-dress incessantly knocking into the back of tom’s head speeds up his card play, allow me to reassure you, it does not.
tisdale could tell i was going through it, and we ended up chatting on his stoop before heading to the bar. a fellow performer and no stranger to anxiety, he allowed me the time to try and describe what the neighborhood had charmed out of me. the vision i’d had of my younger self was so clear, so piercing. when emotions are that strong, it’s usually the truest phrase that’s the hardest to say; it took a few minutes before i was able to get out, i should go easier on that guy. i was barely able to keep it together.
because there was a chance of rain and i’d forgotten to bring an umbrella, tisdale ran upstairs to grab an extra. i stepped down to the sidewalk, pacing while i waited, wishing i could do better, wishing i knew how.
we weren’t but halfway to the bar when the weather turned. we ran half a block in the downpour to some nearby construction scaffolding, joining three or four others huddled against the building. i recall a pale teenager dressed in scant party garb and an older, grizzled homeless man clutching his few bundled possessions. drivers in idling cars looked on as the amassing water gathered momentum down the sloping street and trash cans raced each other down the empty sidewalks. the paper sack holding the two short story collections i’d gotten for tisdale soaked through faster than i could have noticed; the weight of the books ripped open the bottom and away they went. we crouched down, making ourselves small as can be, using our umbrellas as shields against the chaos.
then, five minutes later, nothing. we walked the last couple of blocks to soda in stillness, as soaked as if we’d jumped in a pool. the party girl must have tried to put herself together and continued on her way; probably the homeless man righted himself in his own fashion, having his own more immediate relationship with the elements.
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