“I’ve been everywhere,” I say back, shrugging.
Of course, this is hardly true. I’ve never been to Sweden. I’ve never been to Brazil. I’ve never been to Canada, specifically to Prince Edward Island, which I’ve longed to visit since I was a young girl enthralled with the novels of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who set all of her books in the tiny island province she called home for nearly the entirety of her life. L.M. Montgomery, as she became known in the literary world, wrote about orphans imbued with a charm that bordered on magic– Anne Shirley, Emily Starr– serial novels that chronicled their lives from childhood into college and marriage and motherhood. Emily was my favorite– I loved the more famous Anne, as well, but Emily was darker and stranger, a poet, a rebellious girl who, when forbidden by her stern Aunt Elizabeth to cut a newly fashionable bang into her thick black hair, grabs the kitchen shears and goes to town. The bangs, Montgomery writes, change the entire shape of her face– she goes from peaked and pale to sparkling and alluring. She stares at her transformed face in the kitchen window, astounded with her own dark, fresh, alien loveliness, until the reality of what she’s done sets in, and then she panics, grabs the scissors, and cuts again, and again, trying to rid her face of the evidence, instead ending up with a tiny fringe of prototypical punk rock bangs similar to the ones I wore my sophomore year in college–
“You just have to rock them,” my friend Strummer said, as I stared nervously at her handiwork. She was an odd, if not a bad influence on me, particularly on my appearance. She was the tiniest, loveliest thing, a punk rock fairy princess named by her radical parents for Joe Strummer– “I just wanna pick her up and put her in the palm of my hand and say ‘Dance, little Strummer, dance!'”her mother would say, throwing her magma colored hair back in chortling laughter. Strummer weighed about 85 pounds soaking wet, all pouty lips and china doll eyes, with a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, and seemingly endless locks of auburn ringlets. Everything she wore looked like it had been hand-tailored for her perfect figure; she would go out in mid-day Manhattan in a tie-dyed tube top and denim shorts with gold stiletto heels, and turn every head on the street. I am by no means a large person, and then I was even smaller, but standing next to Strummer, I felt like a hapless, shapeless mess. And so I let her cut my hair, or talk me into plastering heavy white-blond streaks into its dark mahogany. Together, we scoured the local thrift shops, and I put together a wardrobe derived from punk rock, Carrie Bradshaw, and Betsey Johnson, cutting t-shirts I culled from the little boys section at the Salvation Army into one-shouldered tank tops; once, I found a Public Image Ltd. t-shirt in the men’s section. It was huge. I despaired. Such a find! It could not be wasted. “Cut it, baby,” said Strummer, and so the two of us went to town with scissors and safety pins, until I had a tube top with John Lydon’s face leering from its front. Strummer cut the back into strips and tied them into a series of bows. I wore it out to McGuire’s, the utterly delightful, totally filthy Irish pub we frequented, with stilettos and skinny jeans, my aviators perched on the top of my head, and made out shamelessly with a married Irishman, doing my best to infuriate the man I really wanted, who was there playing pool against my suitor, seething each time we would kiss. “You better make this shot, motherfucker,” he said, downing his pint of Murphy’s. “You’ve got a fucking punk rock cheerleader over there, after all.” Who knows who won that game of pool, but the married Irishman and I ended up parked in his car on some blackened beach block in uptown Atlantic City, in the backseat of his car, where I glimpsed myself vaguely in the window, my face pinned next to the his jet-black hair, my short-short bangs fringing and framing my newfound face– who is that girl?
The Tattooed Neighbor has never been south of Virginia, west of Pittsburgh. He has never ridden on a plane. He has never been to college. When I ask what he’s interested in, he says “parenting and music.” He loves listening to music and playing it, bass and drums. He describes his bass to me the first night we meet up– it’s huge, it’s like in a stand and I have to like, approach it– he squares his shoulders and mimics the action, and I just fall apart laughing, and then so does he. It’s not that I find him playing music amusing, just that any instrument can be so grand and intimidating is a bit absurd. Although, of course, one of the instruments I play is the piano, which requires multiple burly individuals and rollers to even consider moving it, and which, after all, one has to indeed “approach.”
“Are you in a band?” I ask him.
“No,” he says, drawing on his cigarette. “I can’t play with other people.” He doesn’t mean this literally; rather, he insists that his version of whatever is in his head is so disjointed and weird that no one else wants to join in, or maybe the converse of that last statement. Mr. Tattoos is all about armor. For the first few months that he lived next door to me, he averted his eyes when he passed me, in what I can only describe as an aggressive manner. Of course, later on, he said he’d been eyeing me for months from the vantage point of his bedroom window–
“We all look the same,” I said, referring to the multitude of women in my family that inhabit our street.
“No, I mean, a little, I guess– to be honest, I would sit there and think, ‘I wish the girl with the big ass and the jean shorts would come out more often.'” He says this rather sheepishly, like it’s embarrassing to say it out loud, like he’s being vulgar in a way that’s foreign to him. But I find the whole thing endearing, and hilarious. My ass was once a source of horror to me– in the summer before 8th grade, a car filled with young black men followed my family and myself up and down Duval Street in Key West as we walked to have dinner, yelling “Damn, look at that ass!” and “Baby’s gotta have some BACK” and whatever else was in line with ladies and large asses and the parlance of the early 1990s. My father’s face burned with fury, and my mother tried to talk over them. “Don’t ever,” my dad said as we sat down to cheeseburgers at Margaritaville “wear those shorts in public again.”
I would like to report, Reader, that I was cowed into covering my prominent backside with loose-fitting, lengthier khakis, but my preferred mode of dress in the summer is still cut-offs– two nights ago, Mr. Tattoos and I are texting well into the evening. I mention the possibility of us watching a movie “sometime.” He demurs: “yeah maybe we can do that.” I am annoyed beyond belief for about ten seconds, but shake it off, and bust his balls about being noncommittal. The annoyance must come through in spite of myself, because he asks if I want a hug. Of course I want a fucking hug, I think, I want to have raucous, filthy sex with you more, but I’ll take a hug, and so I emerge drenched and smelling of eucalyptus, my long bangs combed off of my face, in my favorite shredded cut-offs. We hug. We talk. We hug again. He kisses me. He tells me he likes my shorts.
I’m out for sushi and drinks with the on-again-off-again forever ex. “Let’s go on a fake date,” I had said. “I wanna get dinner.”
“I’m in,” he replied. And so we go to Izikaya (“Izi-what now?” says Mr. Tattoos, when I meet up with him later that night) and eat boatloads of sushi, and then head to the Whiskey Bar at the Revel.
Whiskey. Delicious whiskey. The ex is friends with the bartender, a lovely person with earrings that spell out L-O-V-E: LO in the left ear, VE in the right. She pours me something that she describes as “peaty,” and indeed, it’s like drinking a sun-drenched Scottish field doused in bacon grease. I can’t get enough of it. She pulls a bottle of Laphroig off of the shelf and covertly gives each of us a half a glass of Scotch that typically retails for about $132 a glass. I text my whiskey junkie sister what I’m drinking, and she replies “It’s like drinking a cigarette in the best possible way.”
“Oh my god,” I say, as it slides down my throat, barely burning, warming my insides. It’s transcendent. It’s like art. It’s great art had great sex with a gorgeous woman and out popped this Scotch, hand delivered to my lips, to the tip of my tongue– I push my nose into the top of the glass and inhale, dizzy with wonder.
“I know,” says the be-earring’d bartender. “So have you had the new Four Roses single barrel?” she asks the ex.
“Wait! I am not done talking about how delicious this is!” I say with abandon, laughing. Mr. Tattoos is texting me, who knows what about– we text all the time, day in and day out, last night I woke up at 4 to drink water, and there was a text I hadn’t seen before I fell asleep, and so I replied, and when I woke for good at 6:30, there was a reply from him at 5:30; we talk on and off all the time, I walk through my day talking with him, describing little random things, dropping some sexy hint or another; earlier, I wanted to tell him about listening to Roseanne Cash on public radio, the way she described writing songs– they’re in the air, she said, and she has to catch them, they already exist; this is exactly how I feel about poems– I have to listen for them, chase them, nail them down; I almost text this to him; I almost go just a little father than I have with him, I almost tell him some strange truth about me, about who I am. I call myself an atheist, but I’m probably more akin to a mystic– once, at a writing conference, someone read aloud “Mediation at Lagunitas,” my favorite poem, and it slipped into me like that whiskey, like the Tattooed Neighbor tipping my head back and opening my mouth with his, like my own personal god whispering into my good ears, shape shifting before my good eyes, flooding the joint; I practically shook with it: blackberry, blackberry, blackberry. I couldn’t speak, or I knew I would weep: the thing her father said that hurt her. Next to me, my friend J.C. said “It’s who you are, it’s apparent in everything you do.” What did she mean? This love of poetry? This love of love? Of life? Of forcing it to its knees and finding a way to say it, to just fucking say it, just once, just right? Some days, I just glow with it–
but I sent nothing to the Tattooed Neighbor about any of this–
I start to check out a little from the conversation, which is mostly about whiskey, which I know nothing about. I listen. I scribble goofy nonsense to Mr. Tattoos. We leave the bar. The casino is vast and empty, pre-season on a Monday night. I pose for pictures, laying out Odilisque-style on a massive suede chaise, my hand against my forehead in a mock swoon, bare legs crossed in their short black dress and high heels. In the car, the ex and I bellow along to The Strokes “New York City Cops” and I ask Mr. Tattoos if he wants to come outside and kiss me good-night–
(Strummer and I went to see The Strokes once, back in 2001, when she was a freshman at NYU and I was a senior at Emerson, at the Apollo Theater– we sat next to David Fricke, then rushed to the very front of the stage, screaming so loud we could barely hear the music; after, we hunted them down at “the No-Name Bar,” or “2-A”– for a while it was trendy in Manhattan not to name your watering holes, to have them designated by their streets– we wandered into a dark bar on Second Street and Avenue A, and Strummer spotted Julian Casablanca sitting in a booth with the bassist from White Zombie. She marched us right over, and sat across from them.
“Julian,” she said. “Hello.” It was as though she expected him to recognize her. He did not. He was annihilated, slurring his words, deep in conversation with the bassist, who could not stop laughing at him, and who was clearly amused by Strummer.
“Man, who IS this chick?” Julian Casablanca asked, rolling his eyes. In the dim light of the bar, his skin was greasy; he had bad acne, and worse acne scars, and his hair bore no resemblance to the artfully tussled look it had on the covers of various magazines. Later that same year, I sat reading Women In Love in a hostel in Paris, listening to French radio– “Le Strokes!” the DJ announced with considerable joie de vivre, and “Last Night” blared throughout the lobby, causing the various travelers to bop their heads and begin to mingle. All I could think of was Strummer, insisting on being recognized, failing, while I sat next to her, one foot tucked beneath me, the other slung out of the booth, looking for someone interesting to try and go home with, failing. Later, I stood in line for the unisex bathroom behind David Cross.
“I don’t wanna be a pain in the ass,” I said to him, “but your scene in Waiting For Guffman is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, nonchalantly, and turned his back to me. Over by the booth, Strummer was still trying to catch his attention, and Meg White had sat down next to her, newly famous, her beautiful face framed by a giant white fur hood. Everywhere were the young, the magical, the beautiful, and I suddenly realized whatever I had ingested at the last bar was about to come roaring out of my stomach through my mouth–)
Outside of his house, the ex drops me off and speeds away. I regale Mr. Tattoos with tales of my evening. I am a little drunk. I am goofy. He says he hates casinos, and I wholeheartedly concur–
“It’s like, yeah, you’re gambling away your extra money and having $4000 meals and half a block away, people are like starving and willing to get into a fight over a loaf of bread–” he says, rather furiously.
“I don’t know that it’s quite so French Revolution-y as all that,” I say, drolly, grinning at him, calling him by the Italian version of his first name, leaning in for a kiss, grinning internally as he groans beneath his breath when our lips meet and open, in a wholly other kind of speech, so useful, that longing– on my best days, I am wide open to the whole world, I am a lucky conduit– I am always waiting, says Roseanne Cash, for a glimpse of the other, the divine– Emily Starr got those glimpses, impossible to predict, to control– The Flash, she called it, in capital letters: It Is As Though A Curtain Has Parted, and there is the spiral of sweet nothing, waiting to take you away– your tongue against mine, these words in my head, is that you behind that fluttering curtain? is that you through the kitchen grease of my window? Because desire is full, because desire just is, because the heart wants what the heart wants, I am always diving into someone but I never let anyone dive into me– where is the border? Where is the line? A violent wonder at her presence– a thirst for salt– If I opened the way I know I can truly open, I would dissolve to nothing, disintegrate to pinpoints of wonder, return to a world of undivided light–
but it hardly had to do with her—