a couple nights ago i went back to the bar where i was working when i got the gig on orange. i’m at the point again where i need supplementary work, and i wanted to visit the bar in order to better gauge how i might feel about working there again. i remember stopping through last year for a yankee playoff game. it’s always good to be around an intimate crowd energized over a competitive event. i remember watching the 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 inherent 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 that is in fact remembered but the latest memory of the event. so while i’m rarely surprised by my memories, i am often surprised by their accompanying emotions.
it was nice the other night 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 out of the gate! 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! ozzy 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 many odd-jobs since college to supplement my acting work, 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 with walking dogs 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 michael and i are still close.
i met michael for birthday drinks in prospect heights last fall. the name prospect heights was given to the north-west area of crown heights in an attempt to raise property values. it’s not crown heights, it’s prospect heights! west of prospect heights is the more affluent park slope: latte and stroller central. i walked a few park slope dogs as well; there was nietzsche the old black hound and pele the white retriever.
i was excited to return to the area, hadn’t been over there in years. i arrived early so i could stop in a small bookstore i used to frequent; i’d procured from the strand the books i planned to give michael for his birthday days prior, 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 at her leashing; paco the chihuahua, who’d bite your 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--shows where we rarely achieved what we’d prepared for in rehearsals--and those with the various other bands i’d been in and toured with; i thought of my numerous 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. an anxiety attack 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 isaac’s to meet up with michael. isaac is a cinematographer. remember the indie ozzy stared in? isaac shot that. he lives in LA now but has held onto his place in new york. isaac and michael are longtime friends, and michael has been staying at his place here for awhile now.
i rang the buzzer, still not quite in my body, and michael came down to meet me. we’d walk together over to soda bar on vanderbilt, our go-to hang.
pat and tom have been to soda bar; we spent an evening there playing big 2 when they were in town. 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 took routine breaks 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. if you’d forgotten that prospect heights was really crown heights, this crowd was here to remind you. 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 detritus and restock for the following day, we were still there wondering when if ever someone was gonna play a five-card hand so we could get rid of all our low pairs.
there’s a famed long-underwear story from this trip as well. someone had them, <quote-03>someone didn’t<quote-03>, 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, but i’m sure he’d remember if we asked him. and by the way, if you think that twerking asses in skintight one-piece mini-dresses incessantly knocking into the back of tom’s head speeds up his card play, allow me to reassure you, it does not.
michael could tell i was going through it, and we ended up chatting on isaac’s stoop before heading to the bar. a fellow performer and no stranger to anxiety, he kindly allowed me the time to find the words to describe all this recall the neighborhood had charmed out of me. the vision i had of my younger self was so clear, so piercing. when emotions are that strong, it’s usually the truest phrase that is 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.
there was a chance of rain and i’d forgotten to bring an umbrella, so before heading off to the bar, michael ran upstairs to grab an extra just in case. 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, and it turned fast. we ran half a block to the nearest construction scaffolding for shelter, joining three or four others huddled against the building. there was a pale teenager dressed in scant party garb and an older, grizzled homeless man clutching onto his few bundled possessions. drivers in idling cars looked on as the surrounding water gained force down the sloping street and trash cans raced each other down the empty sidewalks. the paper sack that held the two short story collections i’d gotten for michael soaked through faster than i could have noticed; the weight of the books ripped open the bottom of the bag and away they went. we crouched down, making ourselves small as can be, using our umbrellas as shields against the tumult. our efforts proved pointless--the direction of each gust was as random as the moment the storm commenced.
then, five minutes latter, nothing. we walked the last couple of blocks to soda through the calm air, as soaked as if we’d jumped in a pool. the party girl must have ineffectually put herself together and continued on her way; the homeless man must’ve righted himself in his own fashion, having his own more immediate relationship with all things elemental.