All We Are is All Alone

19 May

We went from bar to bar – rickety service elevators in meat-packing districts opening to purple velvet, fish tanks, make-out rooms, steel bartops, drinks by the bottle. They paid for everything and introduced me to their ‘fag hags’, one of whom was Ellen. She had black hair that looked red in certain light, marble blue eyes and wore a black cocktail dress with a long coat that looked like something a businessman would wear. She had a fierce intellect, a wealthy family and a studio apartment on Bedford. Why she held my hand in the dead of winter outside the Christopher St. station, looked into my eyes and kissed me, I’ll never know.

She ran five miles and threw up her lunch and spent fifteen minutes fidgeting under an incubator and read glossy magazines with models on the cover and put on glittery, sparkling war-paint and bunched her brightly colored toes over thin, curved planks and bit her lip as she stared into the funhouse mirror of her mind. And she most certainly didn’t do it for a guy like me.

These slip-ups were apt to happen back in school, but this wasn’t just any girl, it was a Manhattan girl, who was taking a semester off from Brown, who traveled with her sister to London and Greece at seventeen, who lived in a brownstone, who fucked lawyers for clothes and vacations. Girls from my hometown kept pens from hotels in Toronto to remind them of weekend trips. But when I looked into her eyes, I noticed that Manhattan girls are the same as Ohio girls; they only have fancier costumes and better opportunity.

She pointed out the apartment they used for all the exterior shots on Friends, which was on her street, and I looked up at it as we walked by, flakes of snow breezing through the glow of the streetlight. It was that moment, the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album cover, that solidified my status as an adult, as truly existing in the world. Here I was, walking through the Village (was I? I was pretty sure I was) with a beautiful woman, having spent the night stumbling around lower Manhattan with wealthy trendsetters, a week away from starting work on a nationally televised late night show and what’s more adult, more cool than that? And yet on another level, it seemed nothing had changed.

I had always thought that when I got to this level of adulthood, of ‘someday’, that things would somehow be different. But everything was all too familiar. Her breath was stale and beer soaked and she had cocaine-sprinkled mucus caked around the rims of her nostrils and our lips mashed together as we tried to kiss-and-walk and it was just as sweaty and smelly and confusing and nerve-racking as it’s always been. I didn’t feel what I’d expected cool and adult to feel like, which was in control, or in love, or assured of purpose. I still felt like nothing more than a scared shitless kid lying awake in the apartment of a girl who was mysterious and flitting and went to an Ivy League school and was bi-coastal, and who despite all that seemed like nothing more than an equally scared shitless kid with a more desirable lifestyle. It felt like nothing new.

Whenever one is gazing around at the living quarters of a stranger they plan to or have gone to bed with, there is always a moment – sometimes as brief as a millisecond – where the little David Byrne voice pops into their head and says ‘How did I get here?’, and I hear it as I am looking at a picture on her nightstand of her and her brother?/boyfriend?/friend? at the bottom of a ski slope. She is wearing a puffy North Carolina blue coat and she has an orange tan that match the lens of her goggles. I hear a car honk in the distance.

We are adversaries, I thought to myself, watching her sleep. That’s all we know, people like us, isn’t it? Adversarial romance. Pushing you against a wall and going into make-out rooms and batting eyelashes and carefully selecting words packed with meaning set to incite their receiver and trading stares that are anything but honest. We are afraid of each other, and we have to be. Because if I hang around with you strange, new people long enough, I will become just another guy and my Midwestern mystique will become Midwestern simplicity and you will become just another girl and your sultry mystique will appear to be nothing more than a pathetic need for attention, and only then will we be able to give each other honest looks and words, and there’s no quicker way to kill romance for people like us than to have that kind of honesty. I could love you, I thought, as she smiled in her sleep, but you’re only looking for those who want you. Or perhaps that’s what we were all looking for. I determine that the skier is a boyfriend and drift off to sleep.

I slip out a little after nine with an excuse that is met with sleepy murmurs and head on foot to Big Cup, the only place I know to go, my head buzzing in the gray Manhattan morning. Back at school, this is known as the ‘walk of shame’, where you are leered at by the walking seniors and visiting parents as you burp up beer from the night before and trip over your shoelaces. Here, nobody gives a fuck. I stop on my way there and puke in a garbage can, and I don’t think anyone notices.

‘Welcome to New York!’ Louis says with a wink, eying my previous day’s wrinkled clothes and unintentionally tousled hair. The thought occurs to me that he’s still not aware that I’m straight. He just laughs when I ask if Todd or any of the others have been by. A skinny black guy with pirate earrings and stoplight red pants says with a hand wave that none of them will be up for at least another two hours. On the train home a homeless man recites bad poetry. I give him four dollars.


3 Responses to “All We Are is All Alone”

  1. Kelly July 11, 2009 at 6:17 pm #

    Enjoyed this piece – tender, sad and careful – and like especially that it captures a snapshot of Manhattan somehow both with and without its many layers. Thanks for your words.

  2. ryan banks November 6, 2010 at 2:39 am #


    You see people and know who they are. The rules of intimacy are unknown. This is, to me, your most distinguished work capturing a night and morning that almost anyone can equate with. My favorite part is your recall of the woman’s housing, seeing the pictures and wondering who these other men might be! Brilliant. You have a way of putting the reader directly into your stories. When I read this piece, I am there!

    thanks nick!

  3. tayte rian April 28, 2012 at 6:01 am #

    I wish I could go back to my blog or turn off my computer altogether. But with every random post that I anticipate deriving disappointment from….I am met with a mind who understands. Who observes. Who feels. Who moves and grows and doesn’t stay in the same place…same mindset, same thought pattern. The undertones of everything you write are cynical. Depressing. And forgive me for being cynical in return, but it is realistic. And I love when people reject a two-faced lifestyle and be genuine and real.
    This society (america), and the countless other “civilized” or oft toured countries, is completely lost. Indescribably so. And yet? Having grown up overseas (not in america) I am left without answers. Without ways people could be mended. Or changed. Or made better. There are some things that we (overseas) have that are positive. Like having tea with complete strangers and sharing stories of our families. Walking everywhere we go. Spending human time with people without rules or obligations. There are positive things. And yet the democracy is repulsively selfish and deceitful. And showing emotion is discouraged and viewed as pitiful. I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree with most things.
    I digress.
    Your stories are fiction and I get that. But whoever you are shows through your writing. Even if your desires are completely contrary to the characters’ you portray.
    I am not able to articulate how …..glad I am to have stumbled across your blog. I swore to myself I wouldn’t comment more than once. So that my voice would have impact and not just be another ranting notification you glance at and then dismiss. But, when I decided not to speak more than that once, I had thought there’s no way talent can be repeated over and over. Not with words. Not consistently….not in every damn post.
    So, this is me trying to say what I need to. So that I can silently observe with the utmost admiration for your mind and your words.
    I’m assuming your name is nick. Mine is apparent. Irrelevant.
    no matter what life and this world does to you, never stop writing.

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