Saturday, July 28, 2012

Creative Writing Special: The Hustle

Copyright 2012 

Fast cars.
Fast women.
Fast life.

            The lines of half-empty bottles on the bar in my kitchen look like they are preparing for the call of Noah—two vodkas, two whiskeys, two tequilas, two bottles of rum. I must have passed out here, on this stool. That’s the best part about blurry nights: you never know where they will take you. Once, I woke with half my stubble having been shaven clean away. Once, I woke with a hickey on my ankle. Once, I woke with ten lace thongs hanging from my windowsill, all according to color—rainbow order. Once, I woke with a salamander in my empty cocktail glass, having died from too much exposure to the dry, morning sun. And, each “once” holds a story that can take you away from whatever you are doing for years to come. That’s the best part.
The worst part is the hangover. Everything is uncomfortably light, as though the brightest particles of sun are chasing you and making sure they rub themselves deep in your lenses. I can still feel the sun burn about my iris when I close my eyes, losing hope of ever shutting the uncomfortable brightness out. It imbeds itself there, like shaving cuts on the neck, over and over again in the same exact spot.
The headache is the sun’s shadow, walking with heavy steps on top both hemispheres of the brain, rocking there to the rhythm of the surrounding noises. At first it’s a dull pressure in the back of the skull. By mid-morning, the pressure spreads throughout and pulsates there. As the soft compressions grow longer and firmer, the sharp pain is introduced and it feels like a migraine. That’s when I feel sick.
The kind of nauseated state that envelops your mind so that all you can think about is: am I going to hurl? If yes, then when? If yes, then where? You might even plan an exit strategy (duck behind neighboring table, loop around parking lot, find abandoned trash, make sure no one is looking, and 3, 2,1…). You might not have a plan if the acrid taste accumulates in the root of your mouth—by then you just close your eyes, rock back and forth, and pray to God (for the first time) that you won’t hurl in the nice coffee shop you go to almost every morning in Manhattan, like me. You slow your breathing and inhale deep, and the feeling seems to go away… but then the acid bite moves into your lower jaw and you know you’re screwed. So you run into the bathroom, letting your knees bunch against the toilet and catching the rim in hopes of dry heaves. And then you hurl, and it doesn’t stop until you feel empty. And, you disgrace that café with your hurling.
            Even worse is when I wake up feeling this way, and she’s lying next to me. I can see that she freshened up before I woke up. She washed the charcoal stains of makeup away that had been rubbed deep into the pores below her eyes. And she looks at me with eyes that say, “you’ll love me some day.”
Who is this she? Fuck if I know.
And I will stare at her, trying to remember what she looks like naked. And she will think we’re having a moment, so she will lean towards me as though she is the first woman who has ever done so with such ease, such comfort, (but it’s planned out—mechanical) and she’ll whisper something to me like I’m starving, let me make you breakfast, handsome (sometimes I wonder how many men she has said this to). And at this point, I’ll finally remember the shape of her tits. But, it’ll be too late, because the mention of breakfast will just make me want to hurl. And, hurl I will do.  
            Sometimes I’ll find these women’s lipstick tubes on my sink. They have names like, “Crème de la Femme,” “Eternal Enchantress Red,” “Soulmate 320,” “Pink Perfection,” and “Born With It Shimmer.” And, these women leave these tubes on my sink in hopes that I’ll see the tubes and their messages, and that I’ll think of the lips that wore them. Think of how those lips pleased me enough to cum. Think of that sweet personality that poured from those lips. And then they wait for me to call.
When I don’t call, sometimes I get The Voicemail. –Beep—Hi, this is Kelly, from last night. Do you remember? We were a bit drunk … I usually don’t do that… go home with… well, never mind. Anyway, I just remembered that I left my lipstick at your place by accident… let’s get dinner and you can give it to me then? –Beep—Hey handsome, this is Roxanne. It’s been three days now and you haven’t called, is everything OK? I hope nothing is wrong. Call me. –Beep—It’s Abby. I should have told you this the other night, but I didn’t have the nerve. Grey-I-love-you—Wow, I said it! Grey, I love you! Call me! –Beep—I’m assuming you don’t remember me—let me refresh your memory. This is Stacey, the girl you fucked so fast it was barely even a fuck, and never called again. Grey, you stupid motherfucker, you know what? Go ahead and fuck yourself. Fuck you and that cocky smile of yours. Go burn on that stove you never use, and—Beep— your answering machine is full, please erase messages or change the tape—Beep. 
I don’t remember Kelly well—just that she wore a black, lace bra with a lot of padding because when she took it off, nothing was left. I wasn’t aware that I’d met someone by the name of Roxanne. And, Abby? I know at least four Abby’s, so I’m not sure which one called.
I remember Stacey the most vividly. She had one of the best bodies I’d ever seen—firm muscles, breasts you can cup in each hand perfectly, small and pink nipples that smile up at you, and an ass that’s not too big but not too small… not too firm but not too bouncy. The kind of ass that looks good in and out of jeans, no stretch marks, no cellulite and tan. And, she could move her hips on me like I was a rodeo horse. I had never cum so fast. She had told me, “it’s okay, it happens all the time to guys who don’t have sex a lot. It’s cute.” She trusted me then because she thought I was embarrassed, vulnerable (the faster I cum, the more intense, so I don’t usually hold back, but she doesn’t have to know that). She was from Brooklyn and I remember her lipstick of choice, left on my sink only a couple months ago: Toxic Orange. Fitting.
I remember that she had told me about her father. He had been a nasty drunk. He’d hit her a couple times. Her mother had left them after receiving the fifth black eye, so Stacey had been left alone with “the monster.” Eventually, her father drank himself to death. Stacey had found him. I remember that while she was telling me, she cuddled close to me, searching for my warmth and maybe some comfort too. I remember that she looked straight at me, and I looked back because where else was I to look? She had thought that we were making a connection; that her story was so deep that we would end up falling in love.
At least two-thirds of the women I take home with me let me watch this solo dance of despair, twirling silhouettes in their own makeshift world, hoping I’ll take a leap of faith and dance there with them. They barely know me, I’m virtually a stranger, and yet they divulge these intimate secrets psychiatrists would take months to extract. And they do it to get closer to me. You’d think if they wanted a real, close relationship, it would be built on compatibility… on the present and future. Not pity, family secrets and the past. But, I listen. I listen because that’s what they all want really: someone who listens. And, then? I suggest they go home—“I have work in the morning really early. Can I call you a cab?”
One asked me who my idol is once. I think she was expecting my answer to be my father, my mother, the Dali Lama, Martin Luther King Junior, Robert Plant, maybe even Muhammad Ali. None of the above. Isaiah Mustafa and Daniel Hedgefield. Who are these men, you might ask? Isaiah is from the Old Spice commercial. He walks onto the screen with a you-won’t-change-the-channel strut and looks straight into you. With a nonchalant demeanor and with a deep voice only belonging to that of a man basking in self-procured success, he says,
“Hello, ladies, look at your man, now back to me, now back at your man, now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me, but if he stopped using ladies scented body wash and switched to Old Spice, he could smell like he’s me. Look down, back up, where are you? You’re on a boat with the man your man could smell like. What’s in your hand, back at me. I have it, it’s an oyster with two tickets to that thing you love. Look again, the tickets are now diamonds. Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady. I’m on a horse.”
            He’s one of my idols. Why? Because he can do anything. I know. I realize it’s a commercial, but with his persona of class and confidence, don’t you believe it? When you watch him tell you that, if you’re a man, you can do anything? That’s what I want: anything and everything.
            Now, who is Daniel Hedgefield? He is the owner of the local liquor store on my block in Upper East Side Manhattan. He can sing any jazz song from the 1940’s if you ask him. He is a human jukebox. How he had time to ingrain all these songs into his memory between opening his store, caring for a 24 foot catamaran and working as a bouncer in the twilight hours at American Trash on First Avenue, is a mystery to all of Manhattan. The population of Manhattan that drinks at least. Because, if they do drink? They go to Snookered, Hedgefield’s liquor store.
He has every alcohol you can think of too, all the way from the obscure good stuff (Maktub absinthe from the ‘20s and moonshine from the prohibition), to Napa Valley rosés and Guinness. In 1968, he went to every state and collected what he thought to be the best brew on tap. How he did this, he still won’t reveal. But, if you try these beers? You won’t doubt his choices. And, the best part about his store is that he refuses to sell the generic college student brands (Coors, Tecáte, Two Buck Chuck and Vitali). So, you don’t see the underage crowd lingering awkwardly out-front, debating whether or not to test out their fake ID or send in a cute girl to lean in a little and flirt her way into inebriated delirium. None of that. Just the classiest drunks of Manhattan, and me.
And, Daniel Hedgefield? Daniel Hedfgefield was born in 1938, so that makes him… seventy-four years old. He grew up in Queens and worked his way up to the Upper East Side. He went from being a taxi driver and bartender, to making enough money to get through law school. During that time, he barely ate, lived wherever he could and sold cocaine (only the good stuff); him and his nice big bucket of loans. When he graduated, he became a sleazy lawyer for the Upper East Sider’s, only to quit without any explanation at the age of thirty to go on a solo road trip all over America. And, he returned six years later, still the same old Daniel with a lot less cash, working towards where he is now.
 He has been a bachelor all his life. Every time I go into the store, there is a new women flirting with him. Sometimes, when I go out on my business partner’s sailboat, I’ll see old Hedgefield in that catamaran of his. And, every time, he will have a new woman aboard. Sometimes they are in their late twenties or early thirties (that’s what I like), and they’ll be wearing sarong wraps if the weather allows it, with appropriate high heels on the slippery deck and an uplifting swimsuit top that makes their cleavage stick out at you so that you can never really look away… like the brights on new cars that are far too piercingly light. I’m assuming they aren’t wearing underwear, or that they won’t be for long anyway. For these women, he will bring out the champagne or some obscure hard alcohol from his shop, and he’ll roast caught lobster for them, and he’ll play old jazz and twirl them to the notes.
Then there are the middle-aged women in-between, and they wear their respectable cardigans and black stockings. They wear their pearls, and curl their hair, and speak about sophisticated matters that “those young girls would never understand.” For these women, Hedgefield brings out old wines with dust covering the labels, cooks gnocci (I can always smell the sauce—eggplant, saffron and secrets), and plays classical music, staring at them longingly from behind the outside bar on his catamaran. They like that.
Then there are the older women, in their late sixties and early seventies. This is a completely different routine. They keep their underwear on. He will let these women come on his boat, and he will pamper them with angora blankets, lotion foot massages, and all his stories. He doesn’t hold back with these women, like he does the rest. He tells them all his stories; even the ones that make him look like a brute, like a player. And, these women have heard it all, so they aren’t shocked and they lap it up, along with Hedgefield, and they really laugh. These women leave with deeper wrinkles than they came with, softened from the constant grinning he gives them. I swear to all that I love, these women leave with younger souls. And, Hedgefield? He is still a bachelor. And, I truly believe that he is happy, with Snookered and all the women of Upper Manhattan to keep him that way.
I want to be just like him. Just like Daniel Hedgefield. What a man. And, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I wear Old Spice to be a little more like Isaiah. For the record, women still comment on how good I smell, even after sex.
There was a woman named Janice who was so obsessed with the way I smelled, she would roll in the sheets after we would had sex, and she’d croon. She’d grab at the white sheets and let her nose soak up all of my smell, and she’d get so turned on that we’d end up having sex five times in one night. I had to take Viagra to keep up with that one, and I’m thirty-nine—a man can only cum naturally so many times. She asked to take one of my shirts with her so she could smell it at night while she took care of herself. At that point, I remember laughing. I remember that I couldn’t stop laughing. It was a surge of spitting, coughing, voice-breaking, trying-to-speak, sort of a burst, laughing. She blushed a deep purple, unattractive at best, and she left. And, even as the door closed in an angry huff behind her, I kept laughing.
The next night after Janice left, I met a real woman. The woman I will never know the name of. She is the one woman I ever considered giving up all this for. And, I only had her for one night. I met her in Harlem at a bar called Billie’s Black Bar. I was sitting at the bar alone. I didn’t want to talk that night. I had lost a big account for my advertising firm, the client of which I am not supposed to name, and that was the first night I’d ever feared for my job. Why I feared losing it, I still don’t know. I hate it. But I am damn good at it.
I remember sitting there, managing to think of nothing but the itching sensation of my collar about my neck—too starched, too tight—and the football game playing on the dulled screen above the Jagermeister. I don’t even like football. I like baseball, hockey, soccer, the good stuff. The sports that take cunning strategy and old-fashioned exertion. Not the big beasts that pile together on the field, their necks almost lost in their overly-bulked shoulders and weighted helmets. How do they walk?  A tap on my shoulder, and hello, it was her.
She stood there in this fantastic green dress. It was skintight with a tempting zipper that ran from the top of her throat to the mid-mark on her thighs. She wasn’t wearing any makeup (that I could tell) and her hair was the kind of auburn that makes you wonder if she’s blonde-red or brown-red, or just a dirty-blonde with red. She looked like an angel sent from hell—someone who could really see into you and get to know you. She had pale skin, something that usually didn’t turn me on, especially with the mix of exotic women dancing about her.  But her skin glowed—it was ethereal, her skin. She leaned in towards me in a way no woman has ever done, smiling as though she’d known me for years and dipping her shoulder in towards me, completely friendly and completely unabashed. Everything about her was honest.  
“Show me your ID,” she had said to me. I thought it was some pick up line, so I let her have it, watching her hold it to the light, shimmering there like some saint with flames. “White male, late thirties, brown eyes, brown hair, six foot two… white collar, tense at work, unleashed at night. Where’s your coke?” She said. She smiled at me again, this time with a mischievous twist of her lip. That’s when I realized she was actually beautiful.
“You want a rum and coke?” I said this, snapping my fingers at the bartender. “No…” She said, as though pitying me and my lonely, snapping finger, “I mean skiing. Do you ski? You know.” I had heard cocaine described like that—dirty, white snow— by a couple people I used to bump with in my twenties, and now my angel from hell wanted to bring me back to the old days. Her eyes challenged me, and her leg brushed mine, suggesting I should “be fun.” I was about to say, “Sorry, the last time I cut a brick, I was wearing a jean jacket, a neon shirt and I craved the lips of Molly Ringwald.”
But her face seemed to be cut from soft marble, her eyes a deep porphyry, the most expensive stone material in the world. And she wanted me to say yes. So I did. I told her I’d be back and I bought some snow from Hedgefield that night. And, when I showed her, she smiled so wide, I thought her lips would fall right off her marble face.
That night I spent with her was unforgettable. She had asked me to lean against the bar, clasped metal bracelets about my wrists, and beguiled me with her angel-from-hell voice as she read my Miranda rights. And, in jail, she brought me lime green jello. I only stayed that night. That was our night. The other guards were on call elsewhere, so she would come and check on me. And every time, I would make her talk to me. I would have her tell me all about her father, her mother, where she was from.
Her father was a cop too; her mom was a dancer (that was the nice word for it, she had said). My angel from hell was from Missouri. And, she had come to New York with a man she had loved when she was only sixteen. He had abandoned her in the excitement of the city, and so she reverted her energy into becoming a cop, dropping her dad’s name every chance she got. She loved her father dearly. And, she loved her mother too. She loved New York almost as much. And, she loved her job. And, again, she smiled at me, and if I hadn’t been behind bars, I would have stopped that smile with the best kiss she would have ever had.
In the morning, she was no longer there, and the burly man at the front desk only laughed when I asked for her number. I went back there the next day too, but I was told that she was out. I even tried to bribe the chief, but that didn’t go over too well. So, I let my angel from hell fly free. I didn’t want to give all this up anyway. How could I be like Isaiah or Hedgefield then? I couldn’t give that up… No, not all this.
Half-empty bottles still line the bar, a pool of whiskey staining the granite. And I am sitting before you, with these bottles beginning to drain a bottle of absinthe. The lumps of sugar seem to quiver on their absinthe spoons—the world seems to slip from side to side in a blur, coaxing the bottles to walk onward down the sloping bar, hand-in-hand, always towards the voice of Noah (I can hear him calling—can you?). And, light from the thin window behind the bar is caught, festering inside each bottle like an uncontainable disease, fighting its way to the surface of the glass, only to bounce into my retina and burry itself there. And in each bottle, I can see her: my angel from hell. In the Absolute bottle before me she basks in its royal blue shadow, a light dress grazing her thigh. And what does she do? What does she say? She says, “hey baby, take a walk on the wild side.” And she melts away into my hallucination.
             In the Lagavulin whiskey (a whiskey that tastes like liquid leather) she is sitting at a table, her porphyry eyes peering toward me with her unabashed grin, crossing her marble ankles and swirling a glass of merlot temptingly on the surface of the sturdy, knotted oak. Before her is… what is it? A bowl of paella, the shrimp under cooked and the rice al dente. The same way my mother made it on every one of my birthdays until I was eight—I didn’t see much of her after that. And my angel from hell forks a bite of paella, and holds it out for me, spilling granules of rice on the table, the floor, the seat I was to sit in. And she grins at me as though she knows I want her and her paella. As though she knows the last fuck I gave about anyone else went out the window the moment she crossed her ankles. As though the idea of leaving that bottle with her in it had not once crossed my mind. And, it hadn’t. This is my hallucination.
But the faint edge of the El Tesoro de Don Felipe bottle is beckoning to my pupil, shimmering like the mirage of a Camel commercial to get my attention. Inside, with the last remnants of tequila, my angel from hell is sitting Indian style before a long-framed mirror, a long white-laced dress puffing about her legs and caught up in a hug, inside her arms—tight about her chest as though enticing her lungs to continue breathing. A sheer veil seems to catch upon her long eyelashes and hair, sticky still with hair spray. Beads of water radiate on her lips from her mouth, as she gulps and gulps and gulps at water—washing away her frozen feet. And she’s waiting for me, wondering if I will show up.
The grey goose bottle that has fallen over is my favorite image of her, though the images seem to get blurrier and blurrier—more distant too. She is nervous, biting her lip and letting her legs wobble to the rhythm of her frantic thoughts. She thinks I’ve stood her up, but I’m across the street watching her because it’s hard to look away from an angel, even if she’s from hell. And she throws her cigarette into the ground, grinding it deep into the cement pours with the tip of her shoe. And she breathes deep, sucking in air through the side of her mouth as though she’s still smoking. She grips her hair, maneuvering it about, twirling it around her finger again and again. And she plays with her rings—off they go, back on they go, off they go, and so on. I whistle an old 80’s song, and she looks up and she smiles. And that dead heart of mine skips three beats—I thought for a moment that she’d brought me back with her then, back to hell.
All these bottles are full of hallucinations, full of her movement. And all these bottles are still blurring, walking—all towards the call of Noah. The phone is ringing too now: beepHey man, this is Daniel. Callin’ about the order you called in. Try an’ come by tomorrow to get it. And, enjoy this beautiful day man, it’s like the stars are dancing on earth—beep—Grey, it’s Tanya, I’m waiting at Café 3, where are you?—beep—Grey it’s Tanya again, where the fuck are you? I’ve been waiting for an hour now.. no! I’ve been waiting for an hour and a half. You better not be fucking standing me up—beep—Grey it’s Tanya, I’m coming over. We need to talk—beep—Grey, I’ve been pressing your doorbell for the last thirty minutes. Can you stop being so fucking stand-offish and open the fucking door, GREY!—beep—Ok, go fuck yourself Grey. I’m leaving—beep—Grey, it’s Jonathan from the firm across the street. I liked your pitch, give me a call when you have time—beep—beep—beep. It’s endless lava, cooling into murmurs that seem to harden onto my chest and weigh me down there. And the cup before me that was full moments ago is empty; how did that happen? Everything is spinning now. If you could enter my mind at this precise moment you would see a windstorm of bras and panties and my furniture, maybe the bottles too, my angel from hell trapped inside each, trying to roll so that she won’t get bruised by the torrent of movement throwing her about. And the world is still spinning, so I hit the floor and sink into it for a while. God only knows when I’ll have it in me to get back up again. And, I don’t believe in Him. God only knows. 

Women in the World and Relationships Section, Sasha Martin:         
   I made my own major, concerning emotions explored through literature, art, cognitive science and psychology, and am minoring in creative writing at UC Berkeley. My passions are writing and the arts in general. I created Unleashed for the empowerment and enlightenment of women everywhere. I am the editor, designer and a contributing writer, and happen to be extremely proud of the staff Unleashed has developed. I truly hope this magazine speaks to each and every woman.    

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