In spring of 2004, nine years ago now (fuck!), I got a job at a very cool bar and nightclub in Washington, DC. Actually, the story of getting the job itself is interesting.
In August of 2003, I moved back to my parents' place in Alexandria, VA, after having tried, unsuccessfully, to live in New York City.
Actually, wait, that story is interesting, too. I guess failing dramatically can be just as interesting as success.
So, I was born in 1980 in Sibley Hostpital on a Tuesday morning, supposedly because the Redskins were playing Monday night and my mother decided to wait... OK, too far back...
I was really precocious, and really alienated, as far back as I can remember.
I had really uneven grades in high school. Your typical intellectual. I only read the books that I thought were worthy of my time. I had bad grades because I would turn in homework late, or because I neglected my homework entirely, and I only survived because I always aced my exams. I wouldn't study for them, either. Looking back, I wish I had "wasted" my time better. Less Rousseau, more fellatio. Or any, at all. Who am I kidding?
I took a year off between high school and college, which is a story itself, and ended up at a University that had been known as a place for those who didn't quite fit in anywhere else. It was my safety school, and the only one at which I was accepted. It was miserable. The expectations were scarily low. I was already taking senior-level classes as a freshman, and graduate-level lectures as a sophomore. I was smarter than many of my professors. I found most of the work inane. I didn't understand why I kept getting xeroxes of chapters of books the entirety of which I had already read independently.
My grades were horrible. It was a horrible time in my life. I remember having access to high-speed internet, I remember watching streaming videos of drum and bass DJs spinning in the UK and wondering, where am I, what the fuck am I doing? I remember reading flyers online for clubs in London. I remember wanting so badly to celebrate my 21st birthday there. Derrick May and LTJ Bukem were spinning over the course of one weekend at The End. Fuck!
I didn't last long. As crappy as my grades were, they were good enough, and the beginning of my junior year in school found me as engaged and as diligent as I had ever been. Unfortunately, I had to leave on a technicality. Because I had been granted an extension on a particular paper, a professor was compelled to turn in a grade of "incomplete" temporarily. Even though that grade was eventually replaced with an "A", that small window of "incomplete" time prevented me from receiving any further financial aid. And so I had to leave school.
As soon as a I left, I got a job, and tried desperately to return to New York. I made it there, but only for a month (another story). I returned home and shuffled through random jobs, eventually working two nights at a book and record shop, and another few nights at a restaurant. I have fond memories of this period (late 2003). I remember hearing Station To Station for the first time. A friend in London sent me an MP3 of the first Dizzee Rascal single via AOL Instant Messenger. I burned a copy of The College Dropout for a sixteen-year-old busboy who couldn't afford to buy the CD (!). But the restaurant job couldn't last.
The job was at a (now-defunct) brewpub in Alexandria, VA. I was still living with my parents. The place was mediocre. The owners were overwhelmed with responsibility. I remember working both lunch and dinner on a Saturday, going out Saturday night, drinking shitty alcohol in the suburbs, after work, with co-workers, who, it turned out, were, fuck, Republicans, and the dread of having to go back the next day. In the morning. I didn't do it. Irresponsible, yes, but, fuck, you wouldn't have either.
After maybe a week of recuperation, I looked for more work. Desperately. I didn't have any prospects.
About a month into my unemployment, I ended up going to a famous bar/club in DC with a friend. Neither of us had been there, and both of us were surprised to discover this information from the other. So we went. We drank, and I complained about being unemployed. The bartender overheard our conversation, and, suddenly, I was offered an interview. Almost as quickly, I had a job.
A prejudice I had then, and one I still have, to this day, regardless of how legitimate, is that academia is not "the real world". As sad I was to leave school, to disappoint myself and my parents, leaving felt amazing. All the knowledge worth knowing is contained in the experiences of day-to-day life. I missed the lights, the promise of urban nightlife, drama, etc. Taking this job was my entree into all of that, to vitality.
I joined the staff of this particular DC nightclub in April, 2004. Maybe very early May. My horizons expanded almost immediately. What was possible was so much more so. This is the magic time of my life I have referred back to. The Pakistani food in Crystal City; staring at monuments with evocative breezes blowing through windows of late-night cabs. It was. It's always the unexpected from which joy is derived.
This is a ramble.
A few months into my tenure, a girl joined the staff at the nightclub. Yes, she was beautiful, but, at first I didn't even notice. I'm actually, silly to say it, a fairly handsome guy, and capable of being charming, but it has never mattered to me, has never factored into any of my thoughts and actions. I didn't consider this girl as a "possibility", didn't even think about it. And yet I found myself running into her socially, found myself out with her. Gradually, I became involved emotionally. Gradually, I came to love her.
And not for the obvious reasons. Sure, there was her, the physical "thing", the light-brown/dirty-blond curls, the lithe body, the blue eyes and freckles, the very subtle insecurity that only those familiar with her could see lurking behind the confidence of her smile. But it was also... look, here's a girl who knew more about early 1980s r&b that I did. Seriously! How could I not love a woman with Gap Band albums to lend?
A lot of drama followed. Intensity, the timeless depth of brief, brief moments. Arguments and grabbed elbows on dancefloors, late nights and early mornings drinking, watching her do drugs in strange hotel rooms at nine in the morning. Voicemails proving, in graphic detail, that she was sleeping with my boss. It was a lot. And yet I held on. I was so scared of screwing up, I did. Constantly. She slept over. Many times. Without sex. Without even a kiss. She lived in the suburbs. I had an apartment in Mount Pleasant. I was so naive, so tense, so in awe, that, when she said she just needed a place to crash, I took her at her word.
She was self-destructive, but so was I. So am I, even now. I knew there could be nothing between us. She seemed to be capable of only fucking those who could reinforce her self-hatred. My adoration was ludicrous to her.
I remember she came to see me play vinyl one night and I was mad at her and I played "Your Only Friend" by Phuture and we were the only two people in the room who knew what it meant.
And yet, I couldn't let go. In the summer of 2005, I moved on to another job. This girl, Sarah, yes, her real name, fuck it, and I, would see each other every so often, but not that often. I still thought of her.
And now, the story, not important to anyone but me, but, here goes.
There is a bar, in Adams Morgan, in DC. Pharmacy Bar. One of my favorite places in the world. Really, a place that felt like MY place. The bar I could read in. The bar I could talk to strangers in. The bar I could wander into alone and still end up with some sort of story to tell. As "mine" as anything could ever be. Fuck, I used to know who had been in on any given night based solely on what bottled beers they were running low on.
They have a jukebox. Back when I was living in DC, I used to always play the same song. "I Wanna Be Adored" by The Stone Roses. Most of the selections were Amerindie-folk crap, metal, punk, just stuff I don't care about. Putting on my Roses jam was just a way of asserting my nerdy Brit-fetish against all of that. Anyways, in late 2005, I was sitting there, in my bar, listening to my song, getting drunk. Sarah came in, out of nowhere, and sat right next to me. And the first thing she said...
...I mean, fuck, she constantly tried to tell me I was too smart for her. She didn't know how many members there were in the House of Representatives there were, and I always did. But: intuition. Any fucking savant can memorize. She had a unique apprehension of human existence....
... the first thing out of her mouth; she asked me if I knew what the word written on the ceiling above the ladder during the art exhibit at which Yoko Ono met John Lennon, and I said "yes", both the correct answer, and an affirmation of my knowledge of that fact.
I mean, how, HOW? FUCK! That's the beginning of our conversation.
So we talked more. We ended up walking. I drank a lot. A LOT. She did too.
At this point in time, in late 2005, I had given up my apartment in DC. My income was too variable to sustain such an expenditure at that time. She was living way out in Maryland. She was crashing at a friend's place nearby.
We sat on the stoop outside. It was still warm out. We talked. For hours. Who knows what about. And then, finally, we kissed. We kissed (she asked me to). And for a long time, my hands going everywhere hands could go, her breasts exposed to the unseasonably-warm air. At least an hour went by. We had nowhere to go to finish the process now started.
I don't remember how it ended. I never will. But it did. I got a ride back to Alexandria.
We talked on the phone. I did badly. She accused me, even after all that time, after the fights and drunken sleepovers and everything else, of only wanting her physically. So much alcohol, so many days, months, over a year, of repressed desire. But, after all that, after all of it. After enduring her addictions and those voicemails and other men and every emotion a human is capable of! All of it came out. All of it, not violently. Just dramatically. The ache, the ardor. She was testing me, trying to feel me out, but I didn't have the right words... I just wanted to prove my feelings...
... what I don't get about it all, about relationships, about what is possible between two people, is all of the dishonesty, all of the games... if I can't be me, now, then when?...
... and so it was all over...
but it's not.
I have seen and done more since then. I have, and yet. Why?
We can all prove lies are true. The challenge has always been to make the truth seem distinct.
I think of her every day. I don't want to. It just happens. I doubt she even thinks of me now. Sending an email seems ludicrous. Probably she takes care of herself. Probably she has traded the intensity of the Now for the disciplines of a placid future. She's with a man who will keep the fires of her passions in check instead of stoking them. And she will be grateful for it. I understand. I really do. But what can come of a peace won by the defeat of possibility? The mature condemnations of youth are suffused with jealousy. Jealousy of the freedom to accept responsibilities, not to engender them.
Sarah, I love you, and I am sorry.