April 28

At an upscale pizza joint in South Miami there’s a woman working the door with long blond braids who looks in the candle light to be about thirty. Tell her you’re heading to the bar and she smiles, gestures teh way, and you go. Keep turning to see her walk people to their tables.

Couple weeks ago you saw her at a gas station on Old Cutler in a BMW with her daughter, a kid, wearing matching outfits. Cute. You find yourself glancing at her again and again because you saw her a couple weeks prior to even this

at a bar by herself, Monday night. It’s just past dark and you’re here with a friend. Men keep approaching her and she smiles, engages, sends them away. People by her drinks.

An hour of her sitting by herself and here comes an older guy sitting beside you. Salt and pepper hair, bearded, short and muscular. He orders a beer, gets absorbed in his phone.

She’s looking at him.

A shot of something bourbon-colored gets set beside his beer.

He looks up.

Bar tender points to the woman on the square-shaped bar’s opposite end. With the long blond braids.

He raises his glass to her and she comes over to him. Sits on the next stool.

You’re tipsy and delighted cuz this is gonna be the jackpot of eavesdropping.

Then the fucking Heat game starts and they switch the volume way up so you can’t hear a thing of what these two are saying.

They’re making out by the third quarter.

And a little over a month later you’re having a drink at the bar of an upscale pizza place, waiting to meet your brother, and here she is.

All these people around you. Their lives.

April 27

Pretty tipsy and it’s Karaoke night again, the music’s crazy loud, and while reading somebody launches into a Linkin Park song at the mic and — maybe this is you being drunk and hypersensitive — the vibrations through the bar, through your stool, are running through your torso and seem to be tracing the outline of your organs. Your organs are buzzing.

It’s awful.

But also might not actually be happening.

Except it feels like it’s happening. You feel through vibrations every bunched-up contour of your intestines and you hope that this song ends immediately.

April 26

Karaoke. You didn’t know.

A middle-aged guy in blue jeans with red suspenders and his shirt tucked in takes the stage with a melancholic rendition of “Love on the Rocks”. You see him at Barnes & Noble sometimes. He goes there with a backpack and a baseball cap and stays for hours. Reads a lot.

His voice is deep and he talks with a cadence that sounds aloof, and every step he takes looks a little too deliberate. You see him sometimes with a friend who’s shorter, slimmer, has more hair. They talk and talk and sound like close friends. This other guy sits while the big guy reads, never cracks a book himself. Just looks around, plays on his phone. Now and then he’ll interject with a remark. Big guy responds as though he weren’t preoccupied.

Next guy on stage is tall and white and bald, wears a sleeveless t-shirt, and he raps and even though the on-screen read-along has substituted the n- and f-word for something else he supplies them anyway. The room is uneasy, and he descends the stage with a smile. A shitty dude, powerless, takes what joy he can from making people uncomfortable.

April 25

She was a bar tender at one of the bars in the mall near your house, still is, and since you were going there on a regular basis she got in the habit of striking up conversation. Especially on weeknights. Friendly, smart, compulsively adopting animals. Good company.

Call her Rebecca.

One night you stop at the bar with a friend. It’s a weeknight, quiet. She buys you both a second round. Some beer that isn’t selling.

Thanks, Rebecca.

Last call comes so your buddy and you head a few doors down and keep drinking.

An hour goes by and, what’s this beside you?

Rebecca.

“Hey,” it’s nice to see her, “where’d you come from?”

She got cut early.

And she’s not wasting any time.

Rebecca orders three shooters that taste like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. One for herself, one for you and the friend.

[chorus] “Ariba…”

Then she buys another shot — just for you. You drink it. She tries to buy you a third but you refuse it. Stick with your beer. Drunk.

Rebecca sets her phone down in front of you with the keypad open. “Put your name and number in.”

You do it.

Ask for the check and she tries to keep you planted but you end up paying and leaving.

Next day she’s texting, asking if you wanna hang out You don’t. Come up with an excuse. She asks again a couple days later. Thanksgiving is a couple days away so you’ve got an excuse.

“So much to prepare…”

Here comes the day. Do some prep stuff at home with family and tehn take off for a relative’s place where the platters tower and the booze runs quick. Get yourself plump and drunk. Go off to the TV room and fall back in a recliner.

Deep breaths.

Fat and sleepy.

Phone buzzes. Buzzes.

Reach for it, and see a text from Rebecca.

Says, You obviously don’t give a fuck about me so don’t even bother.

April 23

Every now and then you’ll have a busy morning where you get more things done than you expected but most days you go to bed feeling like you haven’t done enough. Wouldn’t be able to sleep if you’d done nothing, though. You abide pretty strictly by the No Zero Days doctrine and, big or small, there’s something to show for your day.

But mostly you’ll find yourself sitting at the bar when Happy Hour comes around and you feel like a criminal, a burnout, a loser. Tethered to this place where you’ll slump and sulk forever about how unproductive you are.

Like today: you woke up, recorded a podcast at the house. Then you came to the coffee shop and edited the podcast from 18 minutes down to twelve. A good edit. Then you posted it. After that you fixed your resume and sent it out to somebody who’d asked to see it. Then you did about fifty pages of reading, edited the evening’s blog post, typed up a hand-written essay. It’s not nothing. But you spent a lot of the afternoon socializing. Wondering what you could be doing to be productive.

So you get here and have your drink and crack the notebook so you can add this to the list of shit you did today and now you’re mapping all the shit you ought to do with the rest of your night. You’ll probably do one of the four things you’re planning. if that.

So here’s a question to drink about: how much is enough?


It occurs to the narrator that there might at last be a feeling of success, or something like it, when he posts the last entry for 

Thousand Movie Project.

April 19

Her name’s G. Whenever she shows up and you’re here already, reading, she’ll come over and sit, talk, and on the one occasion you told her you really needed to get through this book she told you to go to a library. She’d leave you alone if you really pressed it but you never do.

She has a brazen sense of humor and talks in a growl, sarcastic, her eyelids are heavy like she’s always exasperated but she gets softspoken and earnest after a shot. Sips her beer from a plastic cup instead of a glass cuz she’s constantly in and out for a cigarette. Prides herself on intelligence. Every problem she has at work comes down to her colleagues being stupid. Says she likes talking to you cuz you’re one of the few smart people she knows. You figure what she’s praising as intelligence is probably just your willingness to listen. But don’t say that.

G.’s in her early fifties and looking for a new job, maybe in the same industry, and tonight she’s talking, laughing, about french fries (her favorite food, surrendered for lent) and soliloquizes, in a way that suggests years of serious analysis, the french fry situation in Miami. The Cuban influence. The absence of White Castle. The flexible but relatively consistent supremacy of skinny fries over wedges.

She will not eat them curly.

After the first beer she goes for a smoke and comes back for a shot of Fireball, refill on the beer, and then, slowly, weariness encroaches.

“You remember the guy I was talking about?”

EMT, ex-military, she was hooking up with him while his divorce was being finalized a couple months ago. (Took forever.)

 

The guy feels guilt about sleeping with somebody else while he’s still married.

After a while, as the divorce inches toward a close, he keeps going over to G.’s place but he’s emotional, reflective, doesn’t wanna have sex.

His conscience.

G. tells him it’s fine. She scratches his back in bed while he vents. (Makes a point of telling you she could see him getting hard through his shorts. Closes her eyes and raises her hands, palms out, innocent: “I didn’t touch.”)

“Now…” she says. Just that. Leaves the word hanging while she sips her beer, looks away, shakes her head. “He won’t answer my texts for like ten hours if he answers them at all. Not answering a call, or returning it — I can understand that. But a text? You can’t text me a yes or a no for six hours, seven hours? You don’t shit? Can’t step into the bathroom and take your phone out?”

She says, “For two months we had literally everything I could have wanted. Simple shit. Someone to send a text: ‘Goodmorning.’ Send a text: ‘Goodnight.’ Little nice updates during the day. Meet up once or twice a week to get a drink, sleep over. Not even to have sex, if he wasn’t in the mood. But just that…shit, the company, man.”

You nod.

She drinks. Shrugs. Orders another shot and takes it outside in a plastic cup. You can see her lighting up outside and she doesn’t come back for a while.

April 18

Last night was open mic and even though you hadn’t prepared a routine, on account of so much work needing to get done and lots of family drama, you went up on stage. Underprepared. Fucked it up. Got down and lingered and had a beer, killed time, drove home and drank more and fell asleep cringing at how badly you’d bombed.

Wake up cringing still. In the shower you work the soap into a lather real aggressively, like to wash off the shame, and “fucking…shit” becomes the feverish, meandering, self-loathing mantra all through your morning routine: you’re getting dressed, checking email, driving to Starbucks, eating, posting for the Project — “fucking shit. Shit in my mouth.” Just start flinching outta the blue whenever you remember one of the awful jokes.

In the car you can’t escape the memories so fuck it, turn the radio off, confront it and “fuck, fuck me, I hate it. Get to the…chopper, fuck.”

Gibberish. So ashamed that words and phrases just come out, murmured or shouted or growled at the dashboard, doesn’t matter if it makes sense cuz what you really wanna do is scream.

So you scream.

It’s nice. There’s an endorphin melt afterward. Your throat hurts and your voice is immediately hoarse and will stay that way for two days.

Walking to the office you realize that if somebody stabbed you right now it’d be bad, of course, and that at some point in the hospital or the morgue you’d think, “Well I fucking wish this hadn’t happened” — but, tentative upside: literally nobody would still be talking about how painfully unfunny you were on stage last night. Even if somebody tried to bring it up they’d get shot down.

“Alex’s last routine was painful.”

“Dude just got stabbed, Reggie, give it a rest.”

It’s a slow day at work, nothing to do, but you will die if left alone with these thoughts about last night so you take out some essays you’re working on and start marking em up, flipping sentences, scratching out one phrase and jotting another, re-writing whole grafs.

And an hour later you’re just…here. Relaxed. Held up by the work. Yourself with pen and paper and the world, unlaughing, sitting someplace else, beyond the gate, doing its thing.

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.

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 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.”