Tuesday, January 29, 2008


By A. Kay Soh

“I think the Lord wants us to build instead of buy,” a woman says out loud on a cell phone. She’s standing in a hallway and talking louder than necessary. We all now have the ease of overhearing everyone’s personal life. All these things we aren’t meant to hear but do. You get annoyed just the same. You keep walking trying to tune it out, but it’s impossible.
It’s a sound bite you can’t seem to remove from memory. You can’t remember anything about the Magna Carta but that little nugget about the Lord thinking it’s better to build than to buy is etched in your memory solid. The Lord’s right by the way.
The devil is in the details, the little things that carry you a long time, things you remember and maybe are more important than the Magna Carta, those little moments of connecting – if only a short while to help keep us sane.
It’s all these little moments that breathe life, moments that make up the larger story, the song. A string of incidents unrelated that make a story. For better or worse, all these moments will be lost in time and who’s there to remember? The newspaper gets some of them printed and it’s gone from moments on microfiche to the vast catalog of the Internet.
On every street there’s a moment worth knowing about. Every night, life breeds thousands of little moments that you’ll never see or hear. Multiply this by all the towns and cities you can’t be in at once. All this life, all these stories.
You observe and you extract from everything around you and you wonder how this came to be, this peripheral knowledge of conversations around you and people’s actions. You know it’s a blessing and a curse to remember so much trivial information. You observe. It’s what you do.

“All I know is there better be Foosball tables in there or there’s gonna be a problem,” a guy says across the street from you on the way to Firebelly’s. It’s a group of people, six or seven. They’re moving a click faster than you and a friend, parallel across the sidewalk. You have to cross the street to go into a bar and want to avoid their noise, to avoid them. You go to one of your regular spots and they are just ahead of you in line, getting ID checks. The bar is an assemblage of every walk of life so it makes no difference that their group is there.
Standing inside later with a beer you see a familiar face. A brunette. Why so recognizable? Where do you know that face? She’s attractive...and then you realize, its Larissa from the Average Joe reality show. She’s the one that burned the guy from Boston that was so funny, that memorably said wicked to punctuate his sentences, the guy that half the planet was probably pulling for. She sent him packing to Boston and ran off with the pretty blond construction guy. The same blond guy that blew Larissa off when he found out she used to date Fabio.
Man, Fabio. That guy’s not even competition, that’s just weird. How can he be threatened by Fabio? Think about it, Fabio. That’s got tell me everything about Fabio written all over it. Oh, the stories she could have spilled on that guy.
But you give Larissa credit; she’s still with the blonde construction guy, in a bar in downtown Wilmington no less. Making it work. She’s taller than he is and keeps looking at him as if waiting for an answer. Maybe bored. And they all eventually play Foosball.

People come and go. They use the night to forget the day and escape their lives for a little, slipping just a little with the help of drink specials and their friends cheering them along. Everyone finds a home somewhere else and they go there week after week to see a musician or to play pool. Ghosts aren’t the only ones that haunt.
You see some of the same people but never when the sun is out. You have your friends during the day and you have your friends in the dark and it’s a comfort. Some nights go on as good nights do and you have long nights listening to music entrenched in smoky rooms. You don’t want to see the people you drink with during the day because you wouldn’t know them. You know them with something glass in their hand and a sense of ease that goes with the haze of drink and sometimes the little pills. The wash of relaxation that hits you at the right time and if you could just stay there as long as possible, in the dark, in the smoke, talking till you’re hoarse because the music’s loud and feeling the warmth of it all just sets the world level for a change. Makes you forget the routine, the death of a friend or puts you back where you want to get away from cause you’re staying too busy. But busy is good. Activity is good. You’re at a point in life where you’re too high to come back down. And coming down is hard.
You need things to even you out. You need drinks. You need time. But it’s better to be alive. Better to not have to beg. You’ve watched it slip away to somewhere else.
You’ve seen the roadkill and felt for it. The squirrel flattened on the asphalt with one arm pointed straight up as if reaching out to someone, like those hands in the Sistine Chapel. That scrawny, claw equipped arm, reaching out to the Lord and maybe the Lord took its spirit away carefully or ignored it altogether. You’d like to think that something helped it during the agony, in that dark cold place all alone facing finality, facing the end alone. But you know that you are only guessing about the unknown. About those dark places.
But still there’s a comfort in dark places. You like to hide and to be found in dark places. You like the night because it’s comfortable, it’s relaxing and there’s always a secret in the night. Always a disguise before the dawn. You make them leave before the dawn. You never take them home. You go anywhere but there. Your home is private, not to be invaded. You drift in their sheets and pay no attention there, no memories if at all possible, nothing to remind you. You like the comfort but fear the responsibility, fear the closeness. Never again, you swear an oath. You closed up shop for good. But sometimes.

She dances on the wooden floor in a club that is bare tonight. She dances with her friend and they are filled with drink. The humidity found its way in and is doing well to defeat the a/c. She dances like there’s no tomorrow and the dogs have crowded around the floor, all watching the only females in sight. They have a right to and a meaning to. She is more beautiful than the other. One is a brunette and the other, She, has blonde hair so light it’s almost silvery. She has hair that seems to glow. She’s having a good time and employs everyone as much as she can.
You see and mind your business. You are not a dog. Let the dogs sniff and play and you could care less. You never cared for the game. Let them come to you. You are confident and don’t have a game to run, a line to spit.
You order and play pool with a stranger. The stranger leaves. The dj puts on a mix cd of standards and it’s entertaining. You get to listen to ‘Baby Got Back’ again. It gets more airplay than ‘Amazing Grace’ at religious functions. The girls have a good time. You play pool alone. Your friend comes over and says he’ll be at the bar, says he’ll have one waiting over there for you. You just want to play and be alone in the dark of the room.
She watches you. She looks at you and is dancing with her friend and one of the dogs stand near by trying get in there somehow. She dances with her back to the dog and he tries hard to get in there. She keeps watching you and you emit a smile that is part laughter and part derision. She smiles wide and dances harder. The other dogs watch the scene go on.
She comes over, a little out of breath and a thin layer of sweat covers her face. She’s a little shorter than you and looks up dead into your eyes and never away. But sometimes -
“I wish they’d stop playing this song,” she says loudly. It’s loud in the lounge but she’s talking a little too loud. You like it, think it’s funny. She’s very attractive, a little sweaty from dancing, but you can tell she’s got a sense of humor about her.
“The radio plays it all the time,” you say back. She’s looking dead at you like you’re in a play and forgotten a line. The song is ‘Feel Good, Inc.’ and it’s that part where the guy says ah ah ah aaaah.
“Yeah, the radio,” she says. You smile back because you can see she’s got a good buzz running now. She’s on the good wave.
“Why can’t the dj play some Willie Nelson?” you say back.
“Yeah! Exactly.” She lifts her hand in the air for a high five. “Well, I just wanted to come over and talk to you,” she says.
“Thanks,” you say back.
“I’ll let you get back to your pool playing,” she says.
“I’ll let you get back to dancing,” you say back. She laughs at this.
“Bye,” she says, lingering a little longer.
You smile and say, “Okay,” and she trots back to the dance floor and picks up where she left off. The dogs look at you, unsure, and then begin the heat again. She keeps here eyes on you while dancing with a dog, only letting him get so close. You set up a pool shot and scratch. You down your shot and start on your beer.
The pool table is messing up because you can’t get the cue ball back. So you finish the game by making every remaining ball the cue ball until all the balls are sunk. You join your friend at the bar and sit there talking. You’ve known your friend for a long, long time, grew up together and you both haven’t really changed. Just added on the mileage of life. Everything just rolls off. You both watch the scene. The girls kiss each other on the dance floor and the dogs think it’s the most amazing thing, like She made something vanish or she made a midget tall. It’s just silly, like a parlor trick. It happens from club to club, done to titillate, done for free drinks. She seems to do it for her friend, the same one who gets pouty when it has little effect for her. But what they don’t see is that’s She’s energetic, She’s funny, friendly to everyone. Dances to every song. She’s a machine and there’s an invisible spotlight on her, probably day or night. The dogs sit staring like mountain lions on the Discovery Channel.
You and your friend don’t pay much attention to the kissing, just keep talking.
The brunette comes over to the bar when the excitement is over and looks sheepish, like she’s embarrassed. You’re sitting at the bar talking. She stands with a mischievous grin, as though she’s done something to be guilty about.
“I’m a good girl!” she says, as if to excuse herself.
“Hey, what would your mom think,” your friend says. He’s just kidding but the brunette looks bothered. She leaves not long after that.
It’s closing time and the lights come up on the small crowd. The dogs are still sweating her but She comes to you for no real reason you can think of, stands next to you and leans close with an arm around you. You put your arm around her waist and she lays her head on your shoulder. It feels good holding the small of her back. You can smell her hair and it is good. No smoke, just that intoxicating smell of a woman’s hair. She won’t move away, just keeps her head here, talking junk to your friend. He’s teasing her but She doesn’t move. You start to rub her head, your coarse hands running over smooth hair.
These moments of warmth that have more sensuality than random engagements. These moments of affection. Details. You think about the dogs still in the room and the things they must have said, prepared plays by the players. But you have your own play in mind, your own truth to spill, When you get done with these players, those sitting, watching you like prey, like dogs in heat. Wasting time. We don’t need lights like glitter, we can dance on the sidewalk of lower Market Street as the wild move on by. But you waste your time with amateurs because maybe you think that’s all your worth.
The dogs file out quickly and the house music plays a little lower. The bouncer plays around on the microphone with the dj and he starts beat boxing. It sounds old school and it sounds really good. The dj cuts over it. The guy should swing it at the club some night, let others dig on it. When he’s done everyone yells and claps, then smiles a little and goes back to work.
She hugs on him, tippy-toed and hangs off him because she’s five foot and he’s a mountain. Just a few people hanging at the bar, those closing up the shift. You stand by the stool finishing your beer. She comes up behind and squeezes you low, hanging on again. You wonder where did it come from? You did nothing. Your friend gives you an I don’t know. You stay reserved just the same. She kisses your neck.
Your friend is picking at her and She cuts on him. He’s messing with her mind. She stops talking to your friend on a dime and looks at you.
“I was gonna come and talk to you,” she says, “but you seemed like you were doing fine on your own.”
“I was,” you say back but she looks as though she wanted another answer. “But you could have come over. Company’s good.”
She flashes a wide grin again. And quietly says, okay.
Your friend suggests doing something, going to his place and watching an old movie. She says okay but that She’s gotta eat. There’s some food at his house but it’s sparse. Combat cooking. No problem.
“You wanna ride with me?” she asks.

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