April 17

Hungry at the cafe but you check your account and decide it’s probably safer just to stay hungry for a while, ’til Happy Hour, at which point you head south to the usual bar for a halfprice beer and a halfprice appetizer, big enough to work as a meal, and to read for a bit before heading home.

At the cafe when you were hungry the barista got up from behind the counter and came over and sat beside you at the communal table, bored in this lull between busy patches, and without mentioning her son she says she might have to look for a new job soon. This sudden candor. Talks with spotty eye-contact, unprompted, about how she’s only just barely meeting her expenses. She refers your eye to the counter where, a few minutes ago, that empty and red-stained Tupperware was full of pasta and she was doing damage to it.

“Made that fucking pasta two nights ago, big pot like a witch, and I’m still eating it now and I’ll probably have it again tomorrow. Like…” Her breath catches and she shakes her head, closes her eyes, sighs. Opens up and looks immediately more flippant and cool. Says, “I feel like it’s fine in the end cuz I’m, what?, I’m twenty-eight. I’m just starting out, like, in life. So I know it’s fine, that this is like my Struggle Period and that eventually shit’ll be good cuz I’ve got like the work ethic, the brains, whatever whatever. It’s just…” mouth agape, pawing for a word, she finally just laughs, “it fucking sucks right now.”

And a cuple hours later you’re here at the bar, finally getting your Bliss, and you’re thinking of her life and of yours. Her attitude and yours.

You’re comparing, which people say not to do.

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April 16. I remember you.

You’re about to go for a walkthrough at an efficiency in a convenient part of town and, being too excited, you get here an hour early.

Can’t go knocking on the door right now. Gotta be punctual, make a good impression.

So you go to kill time at a bar about five blocks away. Bring a book.

The bar tender walks up to you with this head-tilted squint, and so you start squinting right back at her, and bending your own head. She does seem familiar…

Then she calls it, smiling. For eight or nine months she tended bar at a big corporate chain next door to the nearest movie theater to your house. She saw you every Friday afternoon back when you sustained that six-month habit of catching a show on your day off.

You ask why she left the big chain.

“Got fired.”

(You have to stop asking this.)

She closes her eyes and tilts her head again and shrugs, like no big deal. “It was a shitshow there. Got fired on a technicality. It’s a long story.”

You ask for the story.

She tells it.

You drink two beers in the time it takes her to say that she didn’t card somebody. The customer was clearly of age, maybe mid-thirties, but rules are rules.

“I don’t really mind, though.” Again with the closed eyes and the big shrug. “This place pays me just as good. And we don’t have roaches here.”

April 15. Even when you’re not talking about money, you’re talking about it.

Dad calls to say he doesn’t want you to go on a road trip you’ve planned and the fact of his getting in touch just to say so is enraging, more than it ought to be, and probably mostly because of money. You’re short on money and when you’re short on money everything is worse than it is cuzza the Money Cloud.

You’re currently on your way to a birthday party for which you’ve just spent 10% of your paycheck, and you’re wondering how you’ll float until the next one.

There’s a silence on the phone after he says what he wanted to say. A silence in which you’re pretty sure (angrily then, shruggingly now) that the response he’s waiting for is compliance. But there’s a teenage voice in your chest, militant and angry with a beret on its head and a fist in the sky, talking about NO MORE and RESIST. Talking shit.

You let the silence go on and on until he asks if you’re there.

“Yeah.”

Another long silence.

“I just don’t think this is a good idea.”

Whereupon you assure him that his preference isn’t a governing factor in your decisionmaking.

And the teenager inside you folds his arms and smiles and nods.

Another silence and then, feigning a meek matronly bafflement, he says, “…OK…have a good night.”


Upstairs at the party you’re the first one to arrive (sun hasn’t even gone down) and you pop one of the beers you brought and sit brooding on the balcony while the host takes her dog for a quick walk before the guests arrive.

Angry drinking, defeated drinking, worried drinking. Feelings all over the place like you should apologize — or no, cuz the gesture really was annoying — and what if a silent treatment ensues from this, another ten-day standoff like the last one? And what if this, what if that?

The intersection under her balcony is empty. It’s Passover. You spit into the road and lean your face on a post and take an enormous swig, half the can, and with the gulp comes a chill, a shiver, goosebumps. An immersion into this moment and space, here and now on a Coral Gables balcony, where nobody wants anything of you.

A nice feeling. Fake.

April 14. La Quinta.

This particular La Quinta’s in a shady part of town and there’s bad lighting in the parking lot so when you get here at 9:30 it’s almost pitch dark. You walk inside with the McDonald’s bag and the Pabst Blue Ribbon in one hand and your keys in the other, clutched in a jumble, unclear whether you’d swing or stab them at an attacker.

The elevator is wood-paneled and smells like 2002 and the hallway is narrow so you can hear laughter and coughing and arguments and all different sorts of TV while walking to your room. You’re on the second floor and two guys are having a heated argument in Spanish under your window so you draw the shade and turn the TV on and eat your fast food, drink your beer, stare at cartoons but focus mostly on money, jobs, where to go from here. Family drama. Issues with money again. Where will you live next month.

Something next door crashes into the wall behind your TV and you spill some beer in your lap, trying to stand up. Snatch the remote up and hit Mute.

Crouching by the window in your boxers and dress shirt, some vague inflexible imitation of a karate pose, rivulets of beer on your arm and crotch, you stand perfectly still, listening closely.

But your neighbors are dead quiet now. Not even a TV.

Blood’s pumping in your ears.

Creep over to the door and open it slowly and look both ways down the hall.

Just the white noise behind other people’s doors.

In the arm chair over the next two hours you watch cartoons with the volume low, taking small sips, going rigid and muting the TV whenever you think you hear something from next door. At some point you get into bed and at 9 am wake up with a gasp from some dream about a sniper.

April 13

Only other guy at the bar is thirtysomething and says to the bartender, tall woman all frecklespeckled with red hair, he’s surprised by how relaxed it is in here. He says this is his first visit.

“Place looks so fancy,” he says, “everytime I get near it I feel like I gotta book.”

She shrugs, wiping the counter in fast circles, “We’re not so fancy.”

He asks where she’s from.

“Virginia. What about you, you’re Cuban?”

“Yeah but I was born in New York.”

“I lived there for a while.”

He grins and does some clicking thing with his mouth. “It’s the best, I miss it.”

Bar tender puts a tender hand on the small of her back while straightening, and tossing the rag into the liquor well, exhaling. Strain of work written in her posture, her breathing, sweaty face. “Ahdunno.” She shakes her head slowly and looks either tired or defeated. “Wish it wasn’t so expensive.”

April 12

You’re in here for happy hour just to sate a two-year curiosity, even though it’s clear from just the front room that you can’t afford it. The place has thick green carpet and emanates class and the meals seem to start at $22 but all the men here are in shorts or jeans or t-shirts or fairly-casual button-downs.

Sit at the bar with your $6 Miller and flip through your phone after a quick glance around. Photos of famous people and of newspaper clippings are framed and hanging everywhere. Some loud guys in shorts at a corner table are talking about a judge. Golf is muted on a TV over the bar. Pink Floyd playing from overhead speakers at so low a volume it’s almost pointless. Take out your phone, start scrolling. Couple minutes later one of the grayhaired bros int he corner slaps the table and lets out a clipped cackle.

“It’s not Smoke,” he says. He’s remonstrating a friend. “Snoke. Lord Emperor Snoke.”

April 11. Didn’t We All.

The two of them, off now by themselves, came in as a group of six, probably straight from the office, and even though they’re still sitting with the group you can feel how they’ve kinda removed themselves.

The other people in their party have turned inward toward their new grouping of four. It’s the kinda scene where you can tell that the other four have been trying to get these two together. Maybe it’s the whole reason for the happy hour outing.

He’s explaining something to her, longwinded, and at the end of it she seems more curious than impressed when she says, “You know a lot about bars.”

Lifting his beer he says, “Yeah.” Coy in a way that might or might not be sincere.

“Were you a waiter?”

Sets his glass down. Beer from the tap. Pausing to swallow. “That’s the part I actually don’t like to talk about so much.” He clears his throat and makes a gesture with his shoulders like he’s a guy with a troubled past or something. “I actually…” dramatic pause for a weary sigh, “I used to have a business…”