This past weekend found me in New York with a couple I knew from college.
On Friday, I woke up from a nap, in a Dodge Neon, speeding up the New Jersey turnpike, trying to keep up with a Maserati, on the way to NYC. I was in the back, and I turned to my left to see on the seat next to me was a remote control Formula One car (1/8th size). Driving was my old roommate from school (T), a former art major. He was headed to New York for an art project. Next to him was his girlfriend (B). My fraternity was co-ed, and she had also lived with us during school.
By the time we arrived at our friends’ apartment on the Upper East Side, it had become apparent that my two fellow travelers were in a near constant state of bickering, often times ending with her in near tears over mundane trifles of the day. It also became obvious to me that this was all separation anxiety for when she will leave in a week to study in Europe.
I feel highly uncomfortable when around two people fighting. So when we arrived—and I realized that I would be staying in the same small living room with them—I felt uneasy. This feeling became worse when they continued to fight while we waited in line for Shake Shack that night. He walked off to get some water; she started sobbing, trying to hide it. I stood in awkward silence, trying to listen in on the conversations of the groups around us. Unfortunately none of them were in English. And though I would like to wish myself worldly, I lack any real foreign language skills.
When we returned to the Upper East Side, we were each surprised that the cats—newly graduated from kittens—would also be sharing the room with us. A room about twice the size of the cubicle I am currently in right now, typing this story… fourth wall?—META!…Abed?
As the darkness of the room began to guide me to a pleasant unconscious place, away from the whispered fighting going on about a foot away from me, a small ball of fur chased another around the room. Jumping from person to furniture in the darkness; tackling feet moving under blankets. We all shared a laugh, “What if there were 50 of them in here…I think I would pay for that.”
The next morning I awoke to find them already in an odd mood. I quickly got ready for the day and went with them to the subway heading downtown.
At the station, down the stairs, through the gate, on the train—it was packed and hot. My friend T, in a white racecar driver suit—fire protection is key—carrying a 1/8th size Formula 1 remote control car down to SoHo for his art project. His girlfriend B, wearing a frown, holding his helmet—head protection, also key. The day before he had packed her head-feather wrong in the suitcase, and creased the delicate decoration. I could see the residual tension building. I could see that this art project was not going to be an enjoyable experience for me to witness. When the 58th street station came up, I bolted. I headed for the Subway Inn on 60th, just off of Lexington. I made camp there, and ordered a midmorning pint—the Olympics were muted on the TV and music played loudly.
The Subway Inn is a dive right off the street. You walk into a dimmed room, with mismatched checkered floor, black ceiling, and dark walls. Only red light comes from the bulbs above the bar; but in the morning, bright white rays sneak in through the open door from the sidewalk. The only people in the room when I arrived were the workers. But slowly apparitions began to appear and make their usual orders: Bar flies.
A qualifying round for the Men’s 400 meter was about to start. The bartenders, two guys younger than myself, turned the music off and turned the TV volume up. Bob Costas now giving a dramatic introduction to the Olympic history about to unfold on the screen; an amputee would compete alongside non-handicapped athletes. On that day, the South African named Oscar Pistorius—the blade runner—advanced, qualifying for the semifinals in his event. The bar-staff were amused and amazed. The bar flies had open mouths, their eyes straining through the building haze of their liquid brunch.
I looked at them, the middle aged alcoholics, and no longer wanted to be there. I did not want be away from my friends, to be alone, hiding from the daylight. I did not want to become the people sitting at that bar.
As I stood up to walk out, one of the old men sitting at the bar slipped out of his vinyl stool, ending up stupefied, on the ground, wet from his drink spilling on his face and chest—the bar staff began to help him up.
Oscar Pistorius lost in the semifinals. And later that day I retreated again from my friends, as they continued to bicker on the street; to hide away, in another bar—this time with a whiskey, neat.
Read Oliver’s earlier RASCAL writing here.