There’s Something About Chaos…

Right before I lost my job in DC the last time I lived here, an old roommate of mine invited me to fly down to Honduras, where she was living at the time, to take two weeks to cross the border with her and travel through Nicaragua over the Christmas holiday. She and I had bonded one night while sitting out on our old porch, smoking joints as a summer rain drenched the city. That was before I’d gotten sober that time, and as we’d sat out there on the rotting couch, I’d told her a non-linear version of the story of when I’d traveled Europe after my junior year of college. Maybe it was that story itself that prompted her to invite me to travel with her through Central America when her job setting up an eco-tourist system down there came to an end right before New Year’s.

Army green troop transports and American military jets were still sitting out on the airport runway in Tegucigalpa when my own commercial plane flew down in between the towering mountain ranges to land there in the Honduran capitol. Carrie, my old roommate, wasn’t a fan of Honduras at all. She wanted us across the border as quickly as we could get there. In her opinion, the nation was overrun with crime, oppression and American economic imperialism. The TGI Friday’s we passed on our way out of the airport only helped illustrate her point.

Carrie said it, and I agreed – Nicaragua felt entirely different. The oppressive air of American foreign intervention dissipated even amid Managua’s poverty. There’s something about chaos that smells of freedom. In the city of León, Carrie, who speaks fluent Spanish, took us off the tourist’s well-beaten path, which consisted of more Australians than Americans back then and out into a small bar on the city’s outskirts, populated completely by Nicaraguan locals.

In that bar’s smoky, wooden atmosphere, a lone musician sang solitary notes while strumming his acoustic guitar. The music moved back and forth from somber to lively. Sober at the time and far beyond my own native borders, I became acutely aware of the color of my skin, of the redness of Carrie’s hair and of my inability to speak the native language. Unable to communicate, I didn’t want to panic, but given some of the places I’ve traveled in my life, I wasn’t completely sure whether or not we were safe.

An extremely tall man with a serious gaze approached me. “From?” he asked, his finger pointing directly at my chest.

“United States,” I hesitantly told him over the din.

“U.S.A.?” he loudly wondered amid the music and crowd.

I nodded.

“Un momento,” he said, and he disappeared back into the fray. Aware of the difficulties our two countries had faced during my childhood in the eighties, I wasn’t entirely happy that tall man had felt the need to approach me, and his singling me out amid the crowd certainly didn’t make me feel any more comfortable in that obscure place.

When he returned, there was a shorter, boxier man with him. This man had a mustache, a paunch and a scar running down his cheek. He was smoking a cigarette. I swallowed carefully as he easily asked me in an accent I couldn’t quite place, “You are from the United States?”

“Yeah,” I responded humbly.

“Interesting,” he told me. “I am Fernando. What part of the United States are you from?” he wondered.

I wasn’t sure where his questions might be leading, but I told him truthfully, “I live in Washington, DC.”

“Washington, DC?” Fernando asked. “Not Virginia?”

“Yeah,” I said, “Washington, DC.”

Fernando smiled. “I live in Washington, DC,” he told me.

“That’s weird,” I told him, not sure whether or not this man with the scar trailing down his cheek was telling me the truth, and not sure even if I wanted him talking to me at all.

“Yes,” Fernando said. “What part of Washington, DC do you live in?” he went on.

Uncertain from his sidelong glance whether or not he actually believed me, I told him, “I live in Northwest.”

“No kidding?” he said, “I live in Northwest. What part of Northwest do you live in?”

“Mount Pleasant,” I told him

“No kidding?” Fernando said. His eyes grew wide. “I live in Mount Pleasant.”

“That’s funny,” I said.

“Yes,” he went on, “Where do you live in Mount Pleasant?”

“Newton Street,” I told him.

“Ha!” he responded, “I live on Lamont Street. Where on Newton Street do you live?”

“Newton and 18th,” I said.

“I live on Lamont and 16th,” he told me. “We’re practically neighbors,” Fernando exclaimed. I must have looked at Fernando distrustfully because he added, “You don’t believe me? Look.” He pulled out a U.S. driver’s license to illustrate his point. Sure enough, right there was a picture of this man with the scar down his cheek, his name – Fernando and an address on the 1600 block of Lamont Street in Northwest, Washington, DC. We laughed together, slapping one another’s shoulders in jovial familiarity, and I finally introduced myself to him as Gabriel. While Fernando must have been explaining the situation to the tall man who had originally approached me, I called Carrie over and told her about this odd encounter as well. She introduced herself to Fernando in English and to the tall man in Spanish.

Fernando explained to me that the bar Carrie and I had entered was an old Sandinista hang out. Everybody there had fought in the war, he told me. They’d hidden in the mountains when the Contras had moved death squads into their city. They’d performed guerilla raids and come triumphantly home when the United States lost interest in their country sometime during the 1990s, and that very year I was there, he reminded me, the Sandinistas had finally won their country’s elections again for the first time since the late seventies. Just like The Clash had triumphantly proclaimed on their 1980 album of the same name, the Sandinistas were back in power with no interference from America. Fernando translated the lyrics of the ballad I was hearing right then while the troubadour sang them so softly and beautifully. He was telling a story about a woman whose husband was sentenced to a military prison during the war. The world became clearer as I gazed at all those haggard faces in the bar’s smoky atmosphere.

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There Was No Need for Symbolization

Yesterday, I didn’t know what to do. The unemployment’s starting to get to me. It’s the days. They wind on while I sit in my apartment looking for jobs, working on this, reading books and watching movies on Netflix. It’s gotten to be too much. I took the Metro down to Farragut West and dropped off the checks for my old 401(k) with some online brokers to deposit in the new IRAs I’ve opened to avoid paying taxes on my miniscule retirement funds. On the way back, I realized I was passing through the Smithsonian stop, and I decided to get off the train.

Above ground, on the National Mall, I got a call from some recruiter out in Tyson’s Corner. She wouldn’t even tell me what the job was she was calling me about. I told her I’d be more than willing to meet with her hiring manager, but I needed to know what position they were offering. “I have very specific financial and career goals in mind,” I told her, which I do. Even though, that’s hard for me to believe, too. But she simply kept repeating they had multiple positions open. I sat down on a bench. By the time she finally hung up on me, I realized I was sitting right outside the Freer Gallery. Sitting still for a moment, staring at the green bushes budding with remnants of DC’s recent rain, I took a few more puffs off the vaporizer I’d bought the day I lost my job – it’s kept me cigarette-free for almost a month now, and I decided to go into the Freer to contemplate the cultural intricacies of Asian art in the United States.

The gallery I wound up in was filled with a historical collection of Chinese screens. My grandmother in California has always loved those artifacts while I’ve conceitedly taken them for granted as simple, decorative art – nothing worthy of study. But in this setting, with the museum curator’s write-ups adorning the walls, I paused. Remembering my previous unemployment in DC, I reminded myself this was the only chance I would ever have to appreciate this moment, and I wanted to make the most of that realization.

Screens conceal. They rearrange to conceal another space in a different place. In Japan, during Heian times, they were the formidable opponent every man had to overcome to discover his hidden desires. I wasn’t sure whether or not China possessed that same history, but I recalled this lecture a professor from my first master’s degree gave to our Literary Chinese class. While we were discussing a poem, he asked if any of us noticed anything odd about that particular piece. We pointed out the poet’s use of this or that character, but he said that wasn’t quite what he was looking for. He asked if we noticed any symbolism in the poem. The students, myself included, scrambled to see what wasn’t there. “There’s no symbolism in that poem because China, at that point in time, didn’t need any symbolism,” the professor said. “It’s simple,” he went on to our incredulous looks, “If there are no cultural taboos, there’s nothing to hide. If there’s nothing to hide, there’s no need to symbolize.

With my former professor’s ideas ringing through my mind, I stepped up to examine the intricate paintings decorating this selection of historically significant screens. The line work was so subtly ornate. There was motion in the tree branches, sound in the rushing waters and stolidity in the rock faces. Aware of Japan’s early respect for all things Chinese, I realized the paintings on these screens were probably the origins of the artistic traditions that have eventually culminated in Japanime during my own lifetime. These images, animated, created something like Ghost in the Shell or Akira – movies so influential on my American collegiate life of the late 1990s. No artistic tradition exists within a vacuum. Everything has to be learned somewhere.

Staring at those natural scenes of flowing waterfalls and stiff ridges, I imagined myself a wealthy merchant in 16th century Beijing, the Ming Dynasty’s bustling capital for the Middle Kingdom, what we today call China. I saw my daily cares there as not so different from my own here in DC, from my dad’s during his lifetime in Southern California. I remembered a painting my dad had had hanging in his living room back then. It had been a painting of a red brick wall outlining a lone window. Drapes billowed out that window. I’d always imagined it as being somewhere in Europe, maybe in Venice. My dad had always said what he liked so much about that painting was its implication. There was a cat sitting alone on the sill, and my dad had often told me he wondered what was going on behind that window, in the room he and I couldn’t see. It wasn’t a great painting, but it always made me think.

These screens were like that painting in my dad’s living room, and the wealthy Chinese merchant I imagined myself to be appreciated them in the same way. Escaping the bustle of the city’s marketplace, I retreated to the sanctity of my own home, but the nature I visited on those screens transported me to another location. My walls evaporated. Mountain breezes blew between the woods’ earthen scent. Punctuating the birds’ high cries, a waterfall crashed in the distance. No, there was no need for symbolization. Just like this project I’m working on right now, those screens contained everything they actually were.

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Nobody Had Ever Written a Poem for Her Before

The last time I was unemployed in Washington, DC, I had a girlfriend as well – Ariel. But things were so different for me back then. I was 30 years old. Ariel was getting ready to head back to grad school in International Development at Columbia University. I decided I wanted to go back to school, too.

I’d been having dreams back then I’d relapsed and gotten drunk during my senior year of college. In my dreams, I’d never finished school, which hadn’t actually happened. But dreams were very influential on me in those bygone days. I took it as a sign from the universe. My education was incomplete. I’d been looking into grad programs in DC even before I’d gotten laid off from my job. My GRE scores were still good from when I’d taken them after my first breakdown. Back then, I simply wanted out of Richmond again. When I didn’t get into any of the creative writing programs I’d applied to, I became extremely discouraged. This time, I was thinking about creative writing again, but I was open to other possibilities as well.

The theory of evolution didn’t make much sense to me anymore. I’d bought a book by the paleontologist Richard Leakey about it, but that didn’t help. His mother was part of the team that had discovered Lucy, the oldest primate humanity yet knew about, and his theories of our ancestry were intriguing. Coupling his research with other things I was thinking about in those days, I wondered a lot about what he had to say concerning primate size discrepancies and their effects on societal gender roles.

According to Mr. Leakey, when a male primate is approximately twice the size of the female, such as in a baboon tribe, the society organizes around a strong alpha male who banishes the other males from his harem. The smaller males who leave their tribes attempt to form cohesive family units of their own. These smaller baboons try their utmost to pull attractive females away from neighboring tribes, and the successful seductions of other alpha males’ mates keeps the gene pool differentiated. During psychosis, that’s how I’d always assumed human society had organized itself.

However, when the female primate is approximately two thirds the size of the male, such as in chimpanzees, the society organizes around a band of brothers. These genetically related males trade their sisters between tribes in order to keep their families’ gene pools fresh. Humans have a size differential more akin to chimpanzees. So I wondered… If you were to institutionalize this “band of brothers,” if the males of a primate species were self-aware enough to realize that by trading their sisters they could increase the size and strength of their brotherhood, thus increasing their familial power’s scope, then you might wind up with something approximating the contemporary patriarchy. Despite what I was then reading in Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, another book I’d chosen to tackle at that moment, that made me wonder how deep into primordial, human psychology contemporary gender roles actually dwelt. Maybe there were as many relationships to sexuality as there were people on this planet, but maybe there was also something biological about what we were all railing against. Truth be told, there’s nothing unnatural about this world.

I was walking dogs back then to pull in some extra cash, and after finishing my canine strolls through Mount Pleasant every single day, I went down to The National Museum of Natural History. I’d started at the first exhibit on the first floor and was slowly working my way up reading every single placard on every single item. I studied the theoretical formation of our solar system, the foundations of our geology, the intricacies of vegetable and animal biology and the subtleties of our sociological structures. It took me nearly a week to complete the entire museum, but nothing helped me make any more sense out of our contemporary explanations for biological life than anything else. I was so confused.

Darwin had missed something in his theory. Evolution itself necessitated an intelligence governing it. Everybody else disagreed with me. They reminded me Darwin’s theory went along the lines that life simply strove for survival, and therefore, the most positively adaptable organism would triumph. That being would then adapt to conditions allowing its lineage to be passed on to its offspring. Nothing other than environmental conditions caused the offspring to evolve. There was no reason governing these variations. There were only the many vicissitudes of survival. But why survive? The mere notion of survival itself constituted a type of drive, and a drive implied an intention, a sort of intelligence. There was no reason for survival as opposed to annihilation. Why would this dead universe even bother choosing to survive? It’s not that I thought Darwin was wrong. I simply thought he’d overlooked something, and we were trapped in a simplified view of the subject.

Maybe I was looking at life from the wrong angle.

One night, I woke up early in the morning from one of those dreams you know means something, but you can’t figure out what that could possibly be. Outside, the sun was just starting to rise. Purple light glowed throughout the District. I walked from my then basement apartment on Lamont Street in Mount Pleasant down to The Diner in Adams-Morgan. I bought a fresh pack of cigarettes along the way, and I chain-smoked until the moment I entered that restaurant. I was trying to quit smoking even all the way back then.

Over a cup of coffee with bacon and eggs, I contemplated all the jobs I’d been applying to – marketing, advertising, journalism – all across the country, and I realized I didn’t want any of them. I didn’t want to work. Instead, I pictured myself a student discussing with contemporaries and peers philosophy like Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Not too many people read philosophy for fun. That was when I decided I’d only apply for jobs I wasn’t qualified for simply to satisfy the requirements to continue collecting unemployment. If I was careful, I could string out what I was pulling in until right around when the school year started again. I’d missed most of the application deadlines, but I knew about this Asian Classics program out in Santa Fe that had rolling admissions. And the program itself was only a year long. I could do that, take a year, live somewhere I’d never been before, read a ton of books I’d never been exposed to before and then go study whatever I wanted – philosophy, creative writing, anything. I pictured myself strolling around some academic enclave, writing poetry and stories in my spare time and living a pleasantly crazy life.

Maybe that’s exactly what happened. I’m not really sure.

Ariel and I eventually said our goodbyes after visiting her parents’ home in Connecticut. It was the first time I’d ever met them. She was getting ready to head down to an apartment she’d already rented for herself on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I was to fly out to Southern California, to pick up that car that eventually took me all the way back across the country. Her father rented a black limousine to drive me out to the airport. Ariel came with me. She was going to catch the subway up from LaGuardia to her new home.

The whole ride down, we didn’t say a word. Ariel held onto my hand and leaned into my shoulder. I stared out my window at the green countryside rolling past. The driver kept trying to start up some conversation, but it was obvious neither of his passengers had anything worthwhile to say. We were lost in our own reflective musings. As we pulled into the outskirts of the city and continued on our way through Queens, the world began moving too fast to keep up with any longer.

In the airport’s offloading zone, amid the robotic announcements resonating overhead, Ariel held onto me. Setting my bags to the side, I promised myself I wouldn’t cry. As the tears streamed down her cheeks, though, I wiped them away. I said, “Don’t be scared. We’ll see each other again,” which we did. But things were so amazingly different by then…

I’d composed a poem for her I gave her on a handwritten piece of lined paper. I’d written it in my head one evening as I’d strolled down Connecticut Avenue, recalling a misunderstanding she and I had had once upon a time. It was an apology. Nobody had ever written a poem for her before she told me. Maybe she still has it. Maybe she doesn’t. She’s getting married soon I just discovered on Facebook. I’m happy for her. It wasn’t until I finally sat down on my seat in the plane, when I looked out the window at the dismal runway, I remembered all those times I’d said goodbye to my father, all those years ago, all the way across the country… I started to cry. For the first time in years about how love never remains.

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I’m So In Love With You

Cora and I are sitting here at the IHOP in Columbia Heights on Irving Street NW, Washington, DC. It’s Saturday, 3:00 AM, two and a half weeks after I lost my job. We’ve had a great night – dinner at this chic ramen place down on H Street NE that’s owned by one of the members of Animal Collective. Cora’s been trying to get me to this place for over three months now, but it’s always full. They don’t take reservations, and the last time we tried to get in, it was a three hour wait. We wouldn’t have eaten that night until after ten o’clock. Instead, we went to another one of the burgeoning restaurants on the H Street scene. It was good, but we really wanted to check out this ramen place. The first time I ever had quality ramen was when I was still living in Brooklyn. It blew my mind. Tonight, we went down to H Street as soon as I got out of work, which was even a little bit early. Dinner was fantastic, everything we expected it to be. Afterwards, we watched an episode of Project Runway back at her place. Then, we eventually wound up here at IHOP…

“So I finally started working on my memoir project again,” I tell her between bites off my Spicy Ranch Chicken Sandwich®.

“That’s great,” she says, “What about all the problems you were having with it?”

“Well, it’s kind of funny. You know, I woke up super early the other day, and suddenly it struck me – I can end the chapter I’m working on with me losing my job. Just because the forward going story changes doesn’t mean I can’t keep telling it.”

“So where are you now?”

“Well, I’m only about six years back, when I got back to New York the first time for grad school.” I pause, “But I was thinking about starting the next chapter with that discussion you and I had on Monday. I feel like it’s appropriate because it shines a lot of light on our characters and our relationship. It should deepen the reader’s understanding of us…”

Cora stops eating. She gazes across the restaurant at the nothing that exists there. I’d said too much. We’d been having a great night together, and I’d just reminded her of our present moment’s greatest fear. But it’s not right for me to write about our relationship without her permission. I need her approval to continue this project.

Without picking up her fork, she says, “You know, Gabriel, I used to really look forward to reading the parts with me in them, but I don’t think I want to read any more of that book.”

I understand exactly where she’s coming from. I don’t want to write any more of this book. I’m scared about what’s going to happen next. I’ve already revealed more about my past than I ever intended, and as far as the future goes… right now, it’s too unknown.

This past Monday, I admitted to Cora I’d applied to some jobs outside DC, in Boston and New York to be precise. We’d already discussed that possibility. My rent on this basement studio apartment with no oven or stove is $1,000 a month, and that’s a good deal for where I live, an amazing deal for a block from the Metro. My loans, which are in deferment right now, will total $1,000 a month once I start working again. So I shouldn’t really work for less than $60,000 a year if I even want to stay here. I don’t own a car. My COBRA insurance policy is running me $500 a month. I need to look into what I can get on the DC healthcare exchanges. I should be able to shave a bit off my expenses with that. But I only have two months of severance, and my unemployment pays out a measly $378 per week. That’s the maximum Virginia can give, and if you do the math, it barely covers my rent and health insurance. Groceries, travel and entertainment expenses would have to go by the wayside. I have no savings. It evaporated when I started contributing to my retirement account while I was still working. My $1,000 credit limit is maxed out. My investments total $10,000, and $5,000 of that is in a 401(k) right now. I’m waiting to transfer it to an IRA, but it still can’t be touched until I retire. I’m 37 years old. So that money needs to keep building for another 30 years. I don’t have any kids. At the moment, it looks like I could be on my own as an old man. I’m no longer counting on ever making a living as a novelist. If I don’t find work in the next month or so, I’ll have to move back in with my mom in Richmond just to cut expenses and save what little bit of cash I do have left.

Cora said she understood all that, and she supported the decisions I had to make as a result. She said I’d taught her how to be so flexible by supporting whatever would happen with us once law school finally started for her, which it did the other week. But when the real possibility of me leaving DC arose, she panicked. I don’t blame her. We’ve got a good thing going here.

She offered to let me move in with her if I have to. “But I think that might be really hard on your ego,” she’d added, which it would be. Cora lives in a studio as well. Neither one of us would have any privacy. But pride and privacy aren’t my biggest fears. I had a girlfriend move in with me once upon a time under similar circumstances at about the same point in our relationship. We couldn’t make it work. Financial hardship is the absolute worst reason for two lovers to become roommates. It’s not a choice. It’s a trap. Once you live together, there’s no turning back. Moving out causes one person to wonder what the hell went so wrong. Then, the resentments start to build.

Cora and I finish our IHOP meals in relative quiet, casting furtive smiles at one another. She only eats half her omelet. On the walk back to my place, beneath the dark trees dotting Irving Street, I put my arm around her shoulder. It’s just now starting to get cold. She’s wearing her leather jacket again. Fall is finally in the air. Cora leans in closer to me. We turn to each other and embrace. “I’m so scared,” she whispers. “I’m so in love with you.”

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Tobacco Was My Key to Eternal Life

Beyond my memories of The Verb, I walked through McCarren Park. One afternoon, a girl there had bitten a chunk of her apple’s core off for me to drop into my tobacco pouch in order to keep it fresh. I thought that piece of fruit had come from the Tree of Life. Thus, that tobacco was my key to eternal life.

At the corner of Manhattan Avenue and Nassau Avenue, right on the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, I stood outside that old apartment building where, once upon a time inside, I’d broken Charlie’s own cellphone across his forehead my last day in Brooklyn. He’d moved out about a month after I did. While I was still convalescing in Richmond, my mom had told me that, unable to make the rent, he’d gone back to his parents’ place in New Jersey. I’ve never spoken to him since he tricked me into the ambulance that night at The Verb. It’s not out of resentment. It’s out of respect. With tattooed madness glaring from underneath my wife-beater, I narrowed my eyes. I lit a cigarette and stared up at our old window. I said, “You never thought I’d make it back here, did you? Well, here I am. I made it. Nobody thought it was possible, but I did it.”

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Back on the Brooklyn Side of the River

Once back on the Brooklyn side of the river, I walked with purpose up to Bedford Avenue, the heart of Williamsburg, my old stomping grounds. Strolling down those blocks, six years later, I could tell the neighborhood had changed. The clientele appeared to have more money. The fashion was more refined, but some things had stayed exactly the same. There was The Verb café. I remembered my last day in Brooklyn back in 2002…

When I’d thrown my phone away in a trash can at the edge of McCarren Park for some reason I don’t quite remember why… Then, at my old apartment, I’d broken Charlie’s, my roommate’s, phone across his forehead when he wouldn’t let me take it to replace my own. He’d wrestled me down to the ground, put me in a headlock before he told me to get the fuck outta there

So I walked over to an old friend of ours’ place. I knocked on her door because I believed she was Mary Magdalene. When Samantha answered, spectacularly dressed as always in a flowing black dress, she nearly sobbed, “Gabriel, what’s going on? I just got off the phone with Charlie…”

“I know who I am,” I told her, and I smiled.

“Oh my God,” she said, “What are you talking about?”

“I’m Lucifer,” I said.

“Gabriel,” she slowly began, “I need you to think carefully. Is there anybody you can trust right now?”

“My mom,” I eventually responded, “I’ve always trusted my mom.”

Samantha handed me a pen and a blank piece of paper. “Write your mom’s phone number down for me,” she said. I did, but when she went away to make that phone call, I left her darkened doorway alone.

Later that same evening, as the sun was setting across New York’s battered skyline, Samantha found me again strolling up and down Bedford Avenue – right in front of where a bubble tea shop now stood when I returned to Williamsburg in 2008. By then, I didn’t know what had gone so wrong. I’d been trying to refashion this world into an image of heavenly perfection, but the angels refused to join my game. I was starting to doubt everything. “I need you to call your mom,” Samantha said to me.

She walked me over to the payphone outside the Bedford Ave L train station. I don’t know if they still have payphones there or not. I’ve never needed them again. Samantha dialed the number for me, and when my mom answered, she said to me, “Tell your mom exactly what you told me at my apartment. Tell your mom who you said you are…”

I put the phone to my ear. “Mom,” I said, “I’m Lucifer…”

There was a pause at the other end. Then, my mom asked, “Gabriel, is Samantha still with you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Can I talk to her?”

I handed the phone back to Samantha. When she hung up, she said, “Gabriel, I need you to come with me,” and she touched my shoulder.

Everything was so wrong. I’d been misled. I wasn’t an angel. I wasn’t Lucifer. I was only Gabriel Abrams – a simple human being. This woman who had touched me, this being who called herself “Samantha,” the same witch’s name from that old TV show I’d watched all those years ago on Nick at Nite (preparing me somehow magically for this precise moment), was divine, and it was forbidden a fallen creature like me to have physical contact with that descendent of heaven. When she rested her hand on my shoulder, we’d broken the taboo, and that meant only one thing: I was to die.

As if an angelic spear launched from her palm straight into my heart, coldness seeped out of my stomach and through all my limbs. I began trembling. Samantha looked at me with a sort of compassion I’d never seen one being visit upon another, and in her gaze, I realized death was imminent. It wasn’t something abstract. It wasn’t something still to come in a far-off, distant time and place. The Great Nothingness edged into my consciousness. I awaited the sudden disappearance of everything – my senses, my memories, my feelings – and my reemergence into a divine “One” of undifferentiated experience.

Samantha walked me back to that café I’d just passed upon my return to New York, The Verb. She sat me down at a wooden table inside, and she stepped back out to make a phone call. I could see her through the window. I sat quietly awaiting the inevitable end of everything I’d ever known. Charlie came in and sat down at the table across from me. He was nervous. I thought he’d been sent to punish me for my sins, which were legion. Two policemen, speaking into chest-mounted walkie-talkies, stood staring from the doorway. An ambulance’s flashing lights illuminated the street.

“Gabriel, will you please go with the policemen?” Charlie asked.

I shook my head, No.

“Will you get in the ambulance, then?” he went on.

Again, I shook my head, No.

Charlie paused. He looked around. From behind the counter, the barista leaned forward. Poised to pounce, he was listening intently to how our conversation progressed. Charlie said, “Gabriel, I think I’m going to go to the hospital because I need some help. But I’m a little scared about that. Will you please come with me?”

I nodded, Yes. I never saw Brooklyn again until I returned that August of 2008.

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It’s Always Nice to Have a Paycheck

Things never happen quite like you expect them to. I was sitting patiently at my desk the other day when my supervisor stopped by and asked if I wanted to go grab some coffee with him and check in on things. Work’s been slow lately. I was relieved to have something to do. The company’s been trying to move me into a new department. Like I said, my sales copy hasn’t been pulling quite as well as some of the other writers’. But this transition hasn’t been the smoothest in terms of flow.

We stopped by Starbucks and sat down at a table in the park amid our office complex. “I might take tomorrow off,” I’d been telling my supervisor. “I have a bunch of things to take care of before Cora and I go out of town this weekend.”

“That’s cool. Where are you guys going again?” he asked.

“This cabin in Southwest Virginia. Past Charlottesville, I’m not sure where. Should be pretty cool – remote, isolated. A chance just to get out and relax. Things have been pretty hectic here lately.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said.

This is the same man who told me two months ago I might be losing my job at the end of the summer. Not a week before this conversation, though, he’d amended that statement to say I was good for at least another month or so while the company’s higher ups decided if I was a good fit for this newest position. That was a relief even though I’d already started looking for a new job. It’s always nice to have a paycheck… especially when you aren’t sure any longer when your next one might come through.

He went on, “So I was just talking to Kat.” Kat was the manager of the team I’d been in the process of moving to.  “And she says she needs a writer with more design experience than you have.”

“Okay,” I said, “What’s that mean for me?”

“It means what we talked about,” my supervisor said. “You’re gone.”

I looked around at the sun reflecting off metal chairs, scintillating across concrete and blinding my pale eyes. I squinted. “Okay. When’s my last day, then?”

“Today,” he answered.

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