Preface from “The Death of Sophia”

 

The_Death_of_Sophia_Cover_for_Kindle (1)Preface from The Death of Sophia
By Israfel Sivad

My main area of philosophical interest is that of the dual nature of the term “subject” in which humans exist both as “metaphysical” and as political entities. Primarily, I am examining how the evolution of the metaphysical subject evolved simultaneously into the individuated subject’s subjection to a political authority. It is my thesis that the modern, metaphysical subject either gave rise to or developed as a result of the notion of the political subject’s placement within a state. Which came first – the metaphysical subject or the political subject – is of less consequence to me than the idea that it is necessary for one to view oneself as a distinct, metaphysical subject in order to be a proper political subject within the modern state.

It must be stated that from its early modern inception, the philosophical notion of subjectivity has confronted the question of insanity – albeit, at times, obliquely. Descartes, in his Meditations on First Philosophy, asks and responds to his own question, “But on what grounds could one deny that these hands and this entire body are mine? Unless I were to liken myself to the insane…” It seems to me that, in this instance, Descartes has missed his own point. The point is not that he himself is not insane and that, therefore, he can discount such a viewpoint and continue on his own line of questioning. Rather, the question is: If one person, at any moment in her life, on any grounds whatsoever (rational or irrational) – provided that those grounds correspond with her direct experience at that moment – can deny that she is constituted subjectively in the same manner that Descartes perceives himself to be, then might not Descartes’s own notion of subjectivity be in jeopardy?

This idea does not sit well with me. For, it appears that the concept of a thinking subject (either independent or intersubjective), given the trajectory of modern philosophy from Descartes through Kant to Husserl, is an experience so basic to the human milieu that it is the most primary fact that must be proven once one endeavors upon philosophical reflection. Therefore, if this notion is so primal to the philosophical project, then, since there are moments in people’s lives where this subjectivity appears to break down (and in contemporary times, through the aid of medication, be reconstituted), we must continue to analyze the rational foundation for the idea of subjectivity itself.

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Quantum Fluctuations

 

Psychedelicizations_Cover_for_KindleQuantum Fluctuations
By Israfel Sivad

The first time it had ever happened was when who was now a man was still a child. The second time it had ever happened was when he was a teenager. The third time it had ever happened was just now… just now…

The first time:

Who was now a man was playing alone with his GI Joe men in the flowerbed where his mother did the weeding with a spade and a fork and gloves on her hands. But she wasn’t weeding right then. Instead, who was now a man was playing alone in that flowerbed with his GI Joe men. His dad was in the garage. Who was now a man could hear the roar of the table saw. He could feel the pounding hammer. He could smell his dad’s beer-drenched sweat.

Who was now a man was playing alone in the flowerbed where his mom gardened while his dad worked in the garage because the week before, he’d gone over to the house of some kid from his soccer team, some strange kid with a French mom and an American dad who went hunting all the time. They’d invited who was now a man to go hunting with them the next weekend, this weekend in fact, but who was now a man didn’t want to kill a deer. He didn’t want to see a deer’s blood. He still remembered Bambi, and Bambi’s mother still reminded him of his own.

But the real reason who was now a man was playing alone was because after that weekend at the strange kid with the French mom’s house, who was now a man didn’t trust any other kids to play. Most sensible children would never believe it, but who was now a man no longer knew what children might be sensible: That kid with the French mom buried his GI Joe men when they were killed in battle. He would perform a funeral dirge, and he would bury them in his own backyard’s Arlington cemetery where he’d never dig them up again. That strange kid with the French mom’s backyard was a veritable graveyard of dead and decaying action figures. If he were precise about whom he killed and simply killed off the action figures he didn’t like such a notion might not have been so bad. Who doesn’t want less uncool action figures? But somehow, in that childlike world of play, the fates managed to dictate their decrees and spin the non-existent bullets from the little plastic guns in all sorts of directions different from the ones you wanted them to go in. Zeus himself had never had less control over the world he was supposedly responsible for. Any action figure could die at any time, and that action figure would never come back to life. Who was now a man had had a huge argument over his own Snake-eyes who was somehow hit by a non-existent stray bullet. Who was now a man refused to part with Snake-eyes, but the kid with the French mom said the Joe had to die. Who was now a man didn’t believe him. Permanence had yet to infiltrate his world of play. His action figures had infinite numbers of lives. They suffered, died, went back into their boxes, and came out themselves again – an 8 year old’s version of the transmigration of souls. The kid with the French mom was more of a nihilist. He didn’t believe that consciousness could continue after a non-existent bullet ripped through an action figure’s lungs, and he certainly didn’t believe that that action figure could go into a box and come out itself again. Who was now a man decided that if Snake-eyes were going to have to die, then he wouldn’t play. He snatched his Snake-eyes out of the kid with the French mom’s hand, and he walked all the way home. His parents weren’t mad at him. They were actually quite understanding when he explained the situation. After all, Snake-eyes was his favorite Joe.

And it was a good thing he hadn’t let Snake-eyes die because at that very moment, Snake-eyes was rescuing Lady Jay from Zartan’s clutches. Not that Lady Jay was defenseless. Who was now a man was not a chauvinist. As could have happened to any GI Joe on a dangerous mission, she’d simply been tricked by an under-handed ploy of Zartan’s. Snake-eyes crawled up the rose bush and sat in a nook where a couple of the branches came together. He took a sniper’s careful aim. He slowly squeezed the trigger. And he popped one shot straight into Zartan’s brain. Zartan died instantly. And even though who was now a man didn’t like Zartan (not that the character wasn’t cool (he did change colors with heat), he was just evil), he still didn’t perform the action figure’s last rites.

With Lady Jay safe and Zartan dead, who was now a man took his box of action figures and walked back to the house. That was when it happened. Who was now a man was passing right by the garage. He heard the sound of the saw. He was close enough to smell the sawdust. “Damnit!” his dad said. It startled who was now a man, and he dropped Snake-eyes. But as he leaned down to pick the action figure back up, who was now a man was passing right by the garage. He heard the sound of the saw. He was close enough to smell the sawdust. “Damnit!” his dad said. It startled who was now a man, and he dropped Snake-eyes. And he leaned down to pick the action figure back up. Yes. It happened twice. Who was now a man stood still. He didn’t have the words to describe what he had just experienced.

The second time:

The mall was a real madhouse that night. All of the adults there kept trying to figure out what the kids thought was so funny. Little did the security guards know that acid was making the rounds. The high school kids, the middle school kids, everyone was looking to score, and most already had.

Smoking a cigarette, Joe Smith was standing out on the sidewalk in front of the food court when Jay came back up to him. Jay was the one who’d hooked Joe up earlier that evening, about an hour before that cigarette that Joe was smoking. Jay was already tripping pretty hard when Joe and his girlfriend had found him sitting on the curb, staring intently at a long line of ants. The blond-haired hippie-type-headbanger had told the freshman couple that he was pretty sure he could get them both a couple more hits if they’d front a few bucks for Jay to get another one as well. This shit was good and he didn’t want the trip to stop. Joe and his girlfriend didn’t think twice about it. They pooled their money (which incidentally added up to twenty bucks – she had fifteen; he had five) and bought four hits… one and a half for each of them, and another for Jay. Needless to say, Jay was seeing tambourines and elephants when he approached Joe smoking that cigarette.

“Man…  I swear to God you’ll never believe what I just saw, man…” Jay said. Joe nodded. He didn’t want to hear about it. He wasn’t tripping yet, and he didn’t want to hear about the wonders another was experiencing. It would only be a second, now, he was certain of it, before he’d start catching trails. What time was it anyway? How long ago had he dropped the acid? Was that a trail following behind Jay’s hand as he ran it through his hair? Damn it, no. Patience, Joe, patience. “Man, I was just talking to Zoe Tan, and I swear to God, man, I could see her thoughts. No shit. She had these little bubbles above her head just like in a cartoon, man, and I could see what she was thinking right in that bubble, man…  It was fucking wild. This world’s a fucking cartoon!”

Joe thought Jay was sure as hell crazy. He’d already dropped a bit of acid in his time, and he’d never seen anything like that. But one thing he did know was that on acid, anything was possible. He just wanted that hit and a half to kick in…

Walking through the mall: “You know, man,” it was Jay again, “You know why they call it a trip, man? See, I realized this tonight. As I was walking it felt like I stepped down a little bit, and suddenly I was tripping, man. You get it? It was like I stepped off reality’s ledge and into acid-land. Like there’s another reality right next to this reality that I just stepped right into. You know, like it’s just a couple inches away from us, and acid can drop us down to that level. Somebody must have tripped once stepping off the curb like that, and that’s why they call it a trip…”

Jay wasn’t annoying Joe anymore. Joe’s cheeks were warm. A smile was plastered across his face. His lips felt purple. His pupils were dilated. His joints cracked whenever he moved his arms: strychnine. He was nodding. Everything Jay said made perfect sense. Everything made perfect sense. Had Joe stepped off a curb when the acid had kicked in? Maybe. He wasn’t sure anymore. That seemed like it could be right, though. There was another dimension right next to where he was walking. A scientist had tripped into it a number of decades ago when he intended to find something else. Acid existed. That other dimension was so close Joe might have been able to reach out and touch it. That’s what made him laugh. He could touch it…

Suddenly, he was smoking a cigarette outside in front of the food court again. His girlfriend, her long brown hair splayed back from her cherubic face, was sitting on the ground. Joe thought she might have stumbled and fallen. But she looked all right. She was laughing. A young security guard was helping her stand back up. That sure was nice of him. He was smiling at her and asking what was so funny. He probably had a crush on her. That was okay. She was hot. Joe had a crush on her, too. He laughed. Of course, he had a crush on her, silly, he was her boyfriend.

A beat-up, gray Toyota pulled up in front of the mall. It was Joe’s girlfriend’s older sister. Cool. Time to go home. Joe got in the car. He sat down in the backseat, scooted all the way across the pleather to the window. He touched the car’s ceiling. It looked like a mattress, which made him think of sex. He glanced out the window to his left and then, looked to his right again. Joe got in the car. He sat down in the backseat, scooted all the way across the pleather to the window. He touched the car’s ceiling. It looked like a mattress, which made him think of sex. He glanced out the window to his left and then, looked to his right again. His girlfriend was following him into the car. Joe leaned back in his seat. His eyebrows creased. That was weird, man. That was fucking weird. He’d just tripped into another dimension, and contrary to what he’d thought earlier, it wasn’t funny at all. It wasn’t until the next day that he remembered that that had happened to him before, when he was a kid, before he knew words like deja-vu, at a time when there’d never been any drugs heavier than sugar in his system. It had happened to him before… without drugs.

The third time:

I just finished this story. I woke up this morning at 5:30 AM. I couldn’t get back to sleep. I made a cup of coffee. I ate a bowl of cereal. I sat down at the computer, and I wrote this story. When I finished, it was 8:30. I went to go to work. I opened the front door, lifted my foot to step outside, and I woke up at 5:30 AM. I couldn’t get back to sleep. I made a cup of coffee. I ate a bowl of cereal. I sat down at the computer, and I wrote this story. It wasn’t until I was done that I realized I’d already written this story. I went back through the files on my computer, looking for something entitled: Quantum Fluctuations. I couldn’t find it. Thinking that maybe I’d changed the name again sometime after the point I’m at right now (this is the fourth title I’ve given it already) I reread the beginning of every piece of writing in My Documents. None of them started with: The first time it had ever happened…

I’m not 8 years old anymore. I’ve become a man. I’m not on any drugs right now. I haven’t eaten acid in close to fifteen years. But still, I wrote this story twice, and I don’t know what happened to it the first time. I don’t know how six hours have passed since I woke up at 5:30, and somehow, it’s 8:30 and time for me to go to work again. This last paragraph is happening right now. But the last time, it must have happened right now. I’ve done this before. This has happened to me before. This is at least the third time. It’s like three times I’ve taken a pitch. The first time, I dropped something. The ball flew straight by me while I stood there staring. The second time, I tried swinging, but I tripped. The third time… What happens after three times?

Click here for more stories from Israfel Sivad’s collection Psychedelicizations.

All Being, All Time

 

Indigo_Glow_Cover_for_KindleAll Being, All Time
By Israfel Sivad

All you kids stay cool. Don’t
ever give in to this world. Don’t sell
your bodies; don’t sell your souls.

We’ve returned from the underworld
where we learned the mysteries of being.
Give us time… we’ll share them with you.

The feminine bears fruit; the masculine
breathes fire. But neither male nor
female is one or the other.

The masculine drinks whiskey; the feminine
dances holy. But neither female nor
male knows the lunacy of Venus –

Dionysus.

We swirled into the madness. We
observed Apollo from the corner
as he contemplated all being,

all time before he disappeared.
We looped the music of the spheres,
used it to power our generators,

but we never took off from this
earth – not because we didn’t have
the capability, but because we didn’t

want to. We wanted to share
the mystery with you so you would
realize why we dropped out of school,

why we turned off our brains and
sewed up our lips while we pulled
up some chairs to contemplate this koan:

Confucius asked Zhaozhou what
all being, all time meant, but as Krishna
pulled his hands down from the crucifix,

Lucifer slapped him upside the head.
“Ouch!” he screamed, but before he
sued for peace, he told Saint George,

“I know the answer now. I don’t
have to do anything.” With that,
we kicked aside our chairs. While all stared,

we meditated.

But we refuse to pray in public…
so much so that we refuse to
admit we pray in private…

so much so that we will never
tell you we believe in God.
We don’t. We believe in the mind.

We believe in chemistry, the chemical
combination for love – was revealed
to us once, but we forgot it.

Have you understood us yet? We
have worlds to share with you, and
we will spend our eternity doing just that.

Click here for more poems from Israfel Sivad’s collection Indigo Glow.

Imaginary Mountains

 

The_American_Apocaly_Cover_for_KindleImaginary Mountains
By Israfel Sivad

There’s so little of my life that I want to remember and so little of it that I can’t forget, but you can never escape your memories. They prey upon the deepest recesses of your mind. They’re the monster that you can’t outrun in a nightmare. You pump your legs, but your limbs are waterlogged with the past’s disease. You try to close the door, but you move too slowly. A claw reaches through and catches hold of you. You cry out. You wake up, and there the past confronts you in reality. In the darkness, with pale moonlight streaming through an open window onto your mattress, lighting a swath across your eyes, your face contorts and you pound your hands against your skull. You retch from wretchedness. Your memories feed upon you whether awake or asleep, dead or alive, talking or dreaming. These monsters have devoured me.

It was in Baltimore, right after I graduated from college, that they first bested me. I was starving and struggling, living on ramen noodles and water. The roaches had taken over my apartment. It was summertime, and I spent the hot nights sweating, listening to classical music as I attempted to write and my body dried out more and more until I wound up constipated from the dehydration. Then, I sat on my toilet until well past midnight killing the roaches, listening to them crunch beneath the toilet paper in my fingers as they scampered around my feet. The bugs were nothing but babies just like me, fledgling critters dead as soon as they’d hatched. They were my only friends, and I both loved and despised the hovel we had created together.

My nights were spent dredging my memories in the attempt to devise short stories. Childhood held me rapt. I couldn’t get past it. More interesting things had happened since, but to think about that…

Finally, one night, I threw my pen into the binding of a notebook that I kept back then, and I left the fetid place to wander Baltimore’s humid, mangled streets. In the darkness, I wanted to see the inner harbor, the moonlight glowing upon the water. It was an image I’d often contemplated four years before when I’d first moved to that gray and red, brick and concrete, economically depressed city. There was a girl, one girl, a vision of whom wouldn’t let my thoughts be. Imaginings of her hair wrapped around my neck. The strands strangled me. I was willing to do anything to forget her, anything to return to some previous incarnation of myself. On the way, my attention was arrested.

East Baltimore Street is quite an interesting place. As I strolled in and out of streetlamps, chain smoking cigarettes, its vibrancy sang to me. I’d passed it on a number of occasions during my stay in Charm City, but never before had its lustful promises seemed so fulfilling. The strip cubs that dotted that block beckoned with a notion I’d never been aware of before, one of complete and total immersion in a world of forgetting. I didn’t drink at that point in my life, and God, I needed something, some semblance of connecting, some vision to provide a fantasy, anything other than reality. I turned and headed down the block in search of fleshy wares.

The street, an unrequited ocean of masculine desire, was thick with drunken, stumbling men. They swerved in and out of clubs, shouting at and dragging along their fellows. They poured down side streets and their catcalls bellowed out the open doors. Female and she-male prostitutes dotted the corners. In short skirts with their breasts bunched close together, they waved at the passing cars, and they ran in their high heels to open windows. They giggled and laughed with one another, and they harassed the bums tripping along with forties in brown bags. The bums slurred to every man who passed – Buddy, could you spare a quarter? Stumbling over their falling apart shoes, they collected nothing. Desire left them bereft. The men were deaf. Whatever was in their pockets was paper gold saved only to drape across a dancer’s naked thigh. I passed a corner club with a doorman who invited me inside to view the merchandise, and I acquiesced.

The lighting lay dark and truculent across the white trash remnants downing their drinks. I was the youngest customer by ten years. Kid Rock blared through the stereo – Baw-diddy-bah. Soft, rhythmic Christmas lights flashed swaths of color on the walls of mirrors. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a coke. Dollar bills were piled across the stage-front.

Like a prowling cat, a hunting lioness, a dancer, on her hands and knees, slinked across the stage. She reached the pole, fluidly slid up its length, and twirled a ballet-like pirouette. With her back rigid, she collapsed to the ground, spread her legs, and rolled onto her chest. She slid through a yoga posture, prayed to the sun, and rose to her feet again. She had blond hair cut to the nape of her neck, a smile on her face, thick legs, a tight stomach, and full handfuls of breasts.

A sickly, heroin addict seeming dancer quickly slid into place next to me. She shivered from her nudity. Her fingers trembled as they brushed against my arm. “Wanna buy me a drink?” she asked. Her teeth were crooked and mangled. Her skin was blotchy and translucent. I choked a sip through my straw.

I glanced from her back to the dancer on stage. “I’d rather buy her a drink,” I said, nodding to my performing choice. The girl on stage was shrouded in the beauty of perfection and mystery. She was healthy and full – something that could fulfill my deep-seated need for a pure evening of fantasy.

“Suit yourself,” the heroin addict said, and she stood up. “Heather, you got a customer,” she shouted at the stage. Heather turned her head, looked right at me, and smiled. I melted. The memory that had been strangling me since before I’d left my apartment melded quietly into the nightclub’s bright silence. I could breathe again. Like the ghost of a murdered child, my memory stared at me from the corner of the room, but I hid from its angry, judgmental gaze. As long as I could see Heather, she expanded to personify every moment of my current reality. I sipped my coke and for the first time in months really felt quite happy. I closed my eyes and basked in the forgotten sensation.

Warm breath breathed across my neck: “Hello.” I opened my eyes. Sitting down next to me, in a tight, black top and black skirt cut high upon her thighs, Heather was smiling. I smiled back at her. She ran her hand behind my neck, tickled me with her painted nails, slipped her fingers through my hair, leaned forward, and kissed me on the lips.

The sensation was kinetic. Life pulsed through her lips into mine. My eyes exploded a wave of colors into my brain. My capillaries carried her sensation through my arteries and into my very blood stream where it warmed my stomach and filled my heart. My fingers tingled against her back and ribcage. Her soft, milky flesh lit my hands afire. The flames consumed my body and overpowered my soul. To further feel her burgeoning electricity, I ran one hand across her warm chin and neck. She purred, a pussy cat, and leaned closer to me. Her tongue darted between my lips. Our saliva commingled. Our tongues writhed as Chinese dragons in a fight. New Year’s fireworks exploded across my taste buds. For that brief moment, every thought that had tormented me for so long now that I couldn’t even remember a time without them vanished in death’s blinding, white light. It had been months since I’d been kissed.

“Wow,” she said when we were done. “That was great.”

My eyes glowed. My hair was out of place. An inner warmth crept through my cheeks to heat my face. “Yeah, it was,” I agreed, still tasting her snap and pop amid my emptiness.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

I told her.

“So you wanna buy me a drink?”

I nodded. Of course I did. It cost me twenty-five dollars, and according to the rules of the club, she was my property until it was done.

Heather led us to a table in the back of the club. The lighting here was even softer than that up front. The newfound darkness added dimensions to our tryst. Somehow, this all seemed more legitimate. Low-lying jazz should have been playing. A candle could have been lit. It was as if we were pretending that we’d met at a normal bar on a normal night, that I hadn’t already seen her naked, that the future might be opening up instead of closing in on us, and that somehow this might evolve into something incorporating dates and moving in together, a wedding and children. Instead, because of our falsity, I enjoyed the change of scenery and the chance to focus all my attention upon this woman I had paid for. I needed to get my money’s worth. What that was, I wasn’t quite sure. Heather nestled into my shoulder. We kissed again. I rubbed my hands up and down her smooth legs. Her skin warmed my touch. It warmed me so much, I shivered. “So what do you do?” she asked me when our lips parted from one another’s. She tilted her head back on her neck. A smile curled the corners of her lips.

“I’m a writer,” I said.

“Really? Have you published anything?”

“I just started. I just graduated from college. I’m working on a collection of short stories.”

“What are they about?”

“Real life. Divorces, drugs, fights… Someday, maybe this.”

“I read a lot. My favorite writer’s J.D. Salinger. Have you ever read Franny and Zooey?”

“No, but I just finished Nine Stories.

“What did you think?”

A Perfect Day for Bananafish is one of the best things I’ve ever read. If I ever get famous and get to put together one of those anthologies, I’ll definitely put it in. Along with A Clean, Well-Lighted Place by Hemingway, A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O’Connor, and Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver.”

“You aren’t crazy like Salinger, are you?” Her eyes opened wide as she said it. Her gaze glassed over to nothing but the present. It was almost impossible to believe that less than ten minutes before, she’d been writhing like a suffocating fish for two dozen jeering men.

“Not that I know of.”

“You wouldn’t ever want to run away from the world?”

I smiled a smile that died somewhere between my cheeks and my eyes. “I’m already trying to do that,” I answered.

“That’s okay,” Heather said. “Let me tell you a secret.”  Breathing into my ear, she whispered: “I want to, too. I want to run away to the mountains and leave all this far away behind me. I want to be a little girl again.”

Something opened inside of me, something like a flower in spring, one of the many-petaled denizens of a great trap door to the source of all my nightmares and dreams. Like a hummingbird overdosed on nectar, a thought tickled the back of my throat and died. I choked on it and closed my eyes. When I opened them again, I pulled Heather closer to me. Curling her hands up to her neck, she nestled snugly into my chest. Our bodies fit together so well. My emotions swelled from the scent of the sweat from her dance. I said, “Let’s go to the mountains together.”

Heather pulled back so that she could look me in the face and judge my sincerity. Beneath the somber gleam of the lights glowing in the front, her eyes sparkled. Her lips twirled into a full grin, and she said, “Have you seen Life is Beautiful yet?”

I told her I hadn’t.

“First, you need to take me to see that. You’ll love it. It’s perfect for our first date, if you don’t count this.”

“I don’t count this.”

“Good. I don’t either. You can’t count a date at a place like this. We’ll pretend like I’m a waitress and you met me at the restaurant where I work. You ordered a hamburger, and I left you my phone number on the check.” That sounded like a good idea.

A few minutes later, the club’s lone waitress approached us. She was middle aged and sallow. Pudge trickled over the top of her jeans, but her flamboyant mannerisms implied that at one point in time, years ago, she very well may have been one of the girls twirling around the pole. “Heather, are you done with your drink yet?” she asked, a certain persistence in her tone, an admonishing glint in her eyes.

“Almost.”

“Is he going to buy you another one?”

Heather looked at me. I nodded to say I would. “Amelia,” Heather said, “Could you bring me a pen, too, and be discrete about it. Whatever you do, don’t let Jimmy see you.” When Amelia left, Heather turned back to me. “We aren’t supposed to give our phone numbers out to anybody,” she explained. “But you’re different. I’m glad I met you.”

Amelia returned with the drink and a pen. Heather grabbed a cocktail napkin. In a flowery hand reminiscent of all the notes the girls had delivered to me in high school, she scribbled across it. Her “H” had trills to it. Her “t” had a flowing tail at the end. The crosshatch squiggled across the page. To set them off from everything else, the numbers had hearts around them. She slid the napkin across the table to me. “Thank you,” I said. I slipped it into my pocket, and we kissed to confirm our need to see one another again.

I bought Heather two more drinks before I left… one hundred dollars. I’d only spent that much money one other time in my life: the first time I ever went to a strip club in LA. My shoes, which by that point had holes in the toes, didn’t even cost that much. But that was the going rate in Baltimore to spend an hour running away from your memories. Even without any alcohol, her scent and her smile, her breasts and her eyes were inebriating. Every time our lips touched I tasted wine. Every rustle of her nails through my hair distorted my mind. She buried reality in a tomb of its own design.

We cuddled and kissed between minute sips off her drink. She tried to make every glass last. But Amelia kept her eye on us, and as soon as Heather started swirling her ice, she was upon us again, breathing into our faces, disturbing our embrace, forcing me to ante up and hold onto my place in the club. There was a hint in her mannerisms of us doing something vaguely illegal. It must have been against the rules, some sort of unknown sin, for us to enjoy one another’s company, to simply talk as I held gingerly onto Heather’s fingertips. I fumbled through my weekly allowance and forked over the bills I didn’t want to part with. Heather and I discussed everything from art to movies to literature to our dreams for the future. All around us, the rest of the customers were getting lap dances. Faceless girls ground their hips into unknown men’s crotches. Hidden in the corner, my heroin addict from earlier had her hands down an old man’s pants. His eyes were closed, and he held his head tilted back towards the ceiling. Spittle spouted from his lips. Heather wanted to be a preschool teacher because she loved children. We decided she could do that somewhere far away in our imaginary mountains.

We said goodbye slowly. Grins toyed with both of our faces. My hand slid down her arm to end with a light touch on the tips of her fingers. Her eyes sparkled with delight as I promised I’d call her the very next night. “I’d like that very much,” she said. I leaned down and kissed her one last time. She bit her upper lip as she told me, “Good night.”

Outside, on the street, the heat was suffocating. I could already feel myself dehydrating. The doorman asked me if I had a good time. I said, “Yeah,” in order to be polite. I reached into my pocket and felt the cocktail napkin with Heather’s number on it. Its rough edges were comforting and nice. Then, something shifted around inside of me. In the glare of the streetlights, with a barrage of honking horns, fantasy gave way to reality. My facial expression collapsed. The trap door that I’d been dreading opened up. I fell headlong into a black hole descending into my gut.

I pulled the cocktail napkin from my pocket, and I dropped it – hearts, squiggles, and all. It twirled in the stagnant air and fell into the empty gutter as I walked back along the vacant streets to return to greet the roaches who ruled my apartment while I was out, to spend all night sweating into and writhing across my lonely sheets. I never made it to the inner harbor.

Click here for more stories from Israfel Sivad’s collection The American Apocalypse.

Crossroads Blues

 

Crossroads_Blues_Cover_for_KindleFrom the novel Crossroads Blues
By Israfel Sivad

From the observation deck of The Empire State Building, 86 stories above the teeming mass of humans gawking and mumbling and screaming and shouting and talking and walking and running, the streets and lights of New York City spread like veins and cells, a spiderwebbed body, many-headed like the Hydra, covered in eyes like Mithra, animate in its grandeur, breathing as a spreading amoeba, breeding with itself, consuming the flies, the demons: Beelzebub – their lord, their savior. To one side, the shores of New Jersey are visible. On the other side, Brooklyn spreads out across the East River. Queens is in the distance, one skyscraper rising, phallus-like out of the duplex plane. The flat and pointed roofs of the buildings that, from the ground, rise so high, blocking the sky, encasing their victims in alleys and walkways, lie a multitude of feet below, a mini-metropolis from heaven’s perch. Unlike anywhere else in the city, the sky expands and shines with the radiance of stars, a seeming reflection in the water’s above the firmament. Manhattan’s grid of streets and avenues is a Euclidean map with one imperfection: Broadway, the defect built into the mosque, slices across the mathematical precision, scarring the earth. At the end of the island, the Twin Towers rise, glittering, glorious boxes dwarfing the financial district, a brother and a sister, fraternal lovers giving birth to all that lies beneath, morphing from SoHo and the Village into Midtown’s masculine monument, falling off to the demure Chrysler Building, descending back into Harlem, Washington Heights, and the river that borders the Bronx.

“Do you ever feel like you’re living the skyline?” Michelle asks.

Andrew pauses for a moment to think about her question. He stares out through the grates in the fence that encloses the observation deck, that discourages the suicidal from plunging from the dream of infinity to the reality of quantified concrete below. He’s distracted by a vision of the fall, the wind, the freedom, the thought of death being so close. Milton’s Lucifer. He blinks and looks back at the skyline spreading out all around him. He – in the midst of it all, in one of the anchors – gazes across the gulfs and ridges that have framed the aspirations of so many actors, brokers, musicians, writers, bankers, lawyers, painters, directors, models, entrepreneurs, immigrants from every continent on the globe, dreamers the world over – artists all. “I’m living the skyline right now,” he says.

“Really? Look at it. Are you sure you’re living everything that that horizon promised you before you showed up here?”

The warmth of the alcohol consumed with Charlie in Midtown and with Michelle at the Holiday Cocktail Lounge colors Andrew’s thoughts and feelings. Over the course of the subway ride, while waiting downstairs in line, the mellowness of its glow in his bloodstream has faded, but it has given way to a subtler sort of contentment. He exhales thoughtfully, “Maybe not everything, but pretty close. Think about it. I’ve been here for a year, and today I spent my lunch hour talking to an old friend about being in a show that I wrote, that one of my friends is producing and directing. Over the course of that conversation, I finally figured out how to start my screenplay. Tomorrow, I’m going to begin writing it. I live in a rundown, railroad apartment with a gay actor in one of the hippest neighborhoods in the world. My bedroom window has a perfect view of the same skyline you’re talking about. It’s a little after ten o’clock on a Friday night, and I’ve already been at two bars tonight, talking about things that interest me, putting together a schedule for that same show. And now, here I am, standing mildly drunk on top of the Empire State Building, surrounded by tourists, with you asking me whether or not I’m living my fantasy. Look at the city all around you. This is the skyline. This is my dream.”

Michelle isn’t so sure. Her forehead and eyebrows crease in a way that one of her ex-boyfriend’s found irresistible. She purses her lips and stares through that same grate without the thought of the fall. She feels the swirling presence of the tourists around her filling the landing they’re standing on. She hears the laughs and shouts of playing children excited to reach the heights that, previously, only their fantasies had imagined. She says, “I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like I’ve found the skyline, and other times, well, New York is New York, you know.”

“I’m not sure if I do know. What do you mean?”

“Think about the city. No matter what you do, you can never get on top of it. Sure, there are people, who, for a moment, think they might have beaten it, but sure enough, the city will come along and spin their whole world upside down. I guess the skyline means different things to different people.”

“What does it mean to you?”

“Fame. That’s what it meant when I showed up as a little, lost freshman at NYU. I guess it’s never really changed.”

“Well, you never know. You might be becoming that.”

“Becoming what?”

“Famous.”

“Fame isn’t so important to me anymore. All I really care about is getting by and having a chance to do the best I can with the things that are important to me.”

“You know, sometimes I wonder who out of all the people I know here is going to wind up famous. Next to me, you’re in the lead, girl.”

Michelle laughs a laugh that ends in a smile that radiates through her face, crawls up her cheeks, creases her eyes, shines an aura that reaches out and tickles the inside of Andrew’s stomach. She spins her head to send her wavy hair tumbling back over her shoulder. With her hair out of the way, her profile is sharp. Framed by the lights in the distance, she’s a poster, an album cover, a frozen moment embodying Andrew’s dreams. She is his skyline. He’s inspired. He says, “Think about it, Michelle. In, what, four days? You’re going to be riding an elevator up in one of those towers to something like the 90th floor…”

“Something like that. Can you imagine what the city will look like from up there?”

“Tell me that’s not living the skyline.”

Michelle’s smile spreads even farther. “Yeah, maybe that is something.”

“You know, I think it’s in Mao II, Don DeLillo says something about the World Trade Center being the hermaphroditic god of the city.” The two pieces – the rook and the bishop – glow in leopard print dress. Off the bishop’s crown, a thousand points of light, Jacob’s ladder, penetrate heaven.

“I can see that. I guess the one with the antenna is the male part?”

“Something like that.”

“A god, huh?”

“It makes sense. If you think about it, ancient people worshipped the gods of the earth, deities that were place-specific. They lived in their cities. There’s definitely something very primal about New York. In the subway, it feels alive to me, and the World Trade Center is kind of like New York’s monument to itself.”

“More so than the Empire State?”

“Well, the World Trade is more directly connected to our mythology.”

“And what’s that?”

“Money.” Andrew smiles contagiously. Michelle is infected. “Our Bible is The Wealth of Nations. Our faceless god: The Invisible Hand. The Twin Towers are our idol.  You’ve been in the city long enough to know that.”

Michelle nods. She stops suddenly. She tilts her head to the side. Her eyebrows crease again. Her gaze cuts through the night, slicing the air, dissecting the words hidden in it. “I don’t know,” she says, “The Empire State is an idol – New York’s hard-on. I think a hermaphrodite is a little more than that.”

“In what way?”

“Well, I remember this acid trip when I was a freshman. We went down to the World Trade Center to lie down and stare up at the lights. I can still see its shape kind of stepping out of the night and flying off above me, its foundation seeming to reach out beneath and support me… Anyways. When I was down there, I remember thinking about the same thing you were just talking about, how the city feels kind of alive, especially in the subways, and I remember thinking about how the World Trade Center starts down there underground and winds up going up – God knows how many feet, I don’t, and how many thousands and thousands of people go in and out, underneath, and all around it every day. I could feel it, you know…”

“I can imagine.”

“The electricity was coursing though me. Being down there, for a second, it was like the whole city shot through me. I could feel the souls of ten million people refined into one single point, one place – the forms of those two buildings I was staring at. At that moment, I knew that the energy of those buildings, the mental energy of designing them, the physical energy of building them, the psychic energy that’s contained in them, and the spiritual energy of the dreams directed towards them has made them into something much more than simply the physical shapes that we see. They have a presence that, now that you mention it, must be something like what people felt when they first came to believe in god…”  Michelle laughs at the intensity of her monologue. “I don’t know. I guess I was tripping pretty hard, but I’ll be honest, ever since then, anytime I pray, I picture myself praying to the force that I felt surging out of the Twin Towers that night.”

“That’s pretty intense, Michelle. Now you’re making me feel like a real ass for making my joke about capitalism.”

“Yeah. I like the idea of New York’s god being a hermaphrodite, too.”

“Why’s that?’

“It fits the city better than this monstrosity of masculinity that we’re standing on.”

“You don’t think New York’s masculine?”

“Not entirely. London is masculine. Paris is feminine. New York is a hermaphrodite.”

“Some of the most ancient conceptions of God are as a hermaphrodite.”

“As they should still be.”

“I figured you’d want God to be a woman.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re a woman…”

“You forget. Women are more giving than men. I don’t have to own all of God. Only men need that. Besides, if God’s a woman, who would I make love to when I die?”

“You could try angels.”

“Why settle for second best?”

Andrew pauses to think about what Michelle has said. He stares at the curve of her lips. They tremble ever so slightly, as they always do when she’s made a point after a few drinks. He has to agree with her. He nods. He laughs. “I’d expect that from you,” he says.

“What?”

Looking into Michelle’s eyes, he whispers, “You’re a perfectionist. That’s what’ll make you famous.” Michelle shakes her head proudly. They start walking around the perimeter of the landing, Michelle next to the fence. They walk slowly, gazing out at the expanse of the city as they go.

“Okay, perfectionist. If you could choose the perfect way to die, what would that be?” Andrew asks.

“That’s a pretty morbid question,” Michelle says.

“I know, but you’re the one who wants to make love to God, so just answer it.”

“Do you think about this sort of stuff a lot?”

“Every once in a while,” Andrew laughs. “Answer the question.”

Michelle thinks for a moment. The wind blows her hair. She gives herself a hug. “Nuclear explosion, right in the epicenter.”

“That’s original. Why?”

“So that I can see something that nobody else ever gets to see. The splitting of the atom, and all that…  It’s probably the closest any living person ever gets to seeing God, right? That way if there’s no God after I die, I won’t die disappointed. How about you?”

“Ripped apart by wolves.”

“That’s gruesome. Why would you want that?”

“So that I’m fighting to stay alive until the very last minute…”

“Interesting view.”

They pass Brooklyn. They pause for a moment to point out their neighborhood to each other (“Right there. There’s the Williamsburg Bridge. That’s Queens. There’s Brooklyn. That’s right where Greenpoint is.”)  They start walking again, brushing shoulders every once in a while, the invisible shields that they have on the streets, the ones that somehow manage to always keep urbanites at a constant distance from their neighbors, disappearing. Andrew cocks his head to the side. He asks, “But who says God would be the best?”

“The best at what?”

“Making love.”

“I can’t imagine that anybody could be better.”

“What about the devil?”

“I don’t believe in him.”

“Neither do I, but as long as we’re speaking mythically, if I were you, I’d take Lucifer. Seems to me he’d know a little bit more about the whole thing.”

“Hmmm…  You could be right about that. No. Maybe if I was younger – still in my rock star phase – I’d want the devil, but at twenty-four, I’ll take God.”

“Why’s that?”

“Sensuality of course.”

“Lucifer seems extremely sensual.”

“Not the way I see him.”

“Maybe you just don’t know him like I do.”

“All right. Now, you’re scaring me.” Michelle laughs. Along with her, Andrew laughs at himself. They’ve strolled half-way around the building, spun half a rotation atop the unmoved mover at the center of their world, reached the summer solstice of their journey. To their left side, the lights of Times Square, the eternally vigilant, virulent, beating heart of the city that never sleeps, shine the white glow of daylight in night – the sun imprisoned on earth. The monstrous advertisements in the pulsing atrium of capitalism are visible even from their distance.

“Can you imagine what New York would look like after a war,” Michelle says, “The depth of the rubble from all these buildings?”

“It’s mind boggling,” Andrew says.

In front of them, a little to the right, the Chrysler Building, decorated in a pleated skirt of lights, rises to the Empire State’s shoulder.

“See, even Midtown has a feminine part,” Michelle says, nodding at the Chrysler.

Andrew looks. “I never thought of it that way.”

“I guess, if the World Trade Center is New York’s hermaphroditic god, then the Empire State and the Chrysler Building are the city’s king and queen.”

“And the rest of the skyline is pawns.”

“Maybe it’s a giant chess game: Midtown versus Downtown.”

“The spiritual versus the temporal. God’s kingdom versus man’s.”

“You’re taking it too far again.”

“Oh, come on, Michelle. Can’t you see it? The financial district is powered by the faceless god. Midtown is the custodian of the riches. It’s the church and the state lined up to do battle once and for all, to determine who will rule mankind – God or Caesar, papal doctrine or human law, the stock market or hard cash, theoretical economics or practical business? And the war is being fought all across New York City, with the lower classes as cannon fodder – you and me, moving back and forth, captured by opposing sides, sent back to the front with a new suit, a different face, making one wealthier to spite the other until it all spins back around.”

Michelle grabs Andrew’s arm. Her fingers are a shock. Andrew’s excitement rises. She bursts in excitedly, joking, “Maybe it’s not a chess game. Maybe they’re really working together, the hermaphrodite, the king, and the queen. The posture of the game is just an act to keep us from rising up and going to war with both of them.”

“Yes. Yes. The financiers and the entrepreneurs, the church and the state determining our American Dream: a new opiate for the masses. You’re probably right about that. Capitalist scum…  ‘They’ve got the guns, but we’ve got the numbers. Gonna win, yeah we’re takin over. Come on!’  Worldwide revolution of the proletariat! That’s what I’m calling for, and it’s going to start right here in Gotham, with me and you, Catwoman, robbing the Chase Manhattan Bank in Times Square.”

Michelle shakes her head. “What the hell are you talking about, robbing a bank?”

“My screenplay.”

“What screenplay?”

“The one I’m going to start writing tomorrow. I didn’t tell you about it yet?”

“No.”

“It’s about this writer – me – who needs to come up with an idea that’s going to sell, so he comes up with an idea about a writer who needs to come up with an idea that’s going to sell so he comes up with a plot for a bank robbery, but as the original writer’s writing the story, he realizes that the robbery could work. So he gets the help of this friend of his who runs a theater company – that’s you – and they enlist the help of a bunch of actors – that’s Michael and Carey for starters – and they do the whole thing like a play, with a stage manager and a director and everybody having their roles. We still need to figure out all those parts, plus how to rob the bank…”

“That’s a really cool idea. I can’t believe you never told me about it before.”

“I wasn’t sure if you’d be in to robbing a bank. Besides, you might steal the plot and take all the money for yourself.”

“Andrew, I don’t write. I direct. Somebody else has to give me the words, and I make sure that people see them right.”

Michelle’s arm is still wrapped around Andrew’s. Her hand is resting on his thin bicep. His face is turned to hers. She’s smiling. Her lips are soft and pliable. Her glassy eyes sparkle with a scintillation of heaven. She blinks. Her eyelashes hold together for a moment and pull apart. Her halo expands to encompass his still liquored brain. It contracts and pulls him down towards her. He closes his eyes. She closes hers and reaches up on tippy-toes.

They know the future, the next moment, perfectly.

Their tingling lips meet. Their mouths open. Their heads spin and lock. Andrew caresses Michelle’s cheek, his palm cupping her chin. Michelle runs her fingers down Andrew’s arm, up his back, nestling the tips into his hair. Their tongues extend to wrap around one another’s, tasting each other’s breath, merging two bodies into one in the simplest, the purest, of pleasurable practices.

Above them, the Empire State blinks. Beyond them, New York glitters. Around them, children laugh and couples nuzzle. Inside of them, a seed shoots out roots planted in the other’s stomach.

Shared, conjoined, they step back, Andrew’s hands resting on Michelle’s arms, Michelle’s fingers at Andrew’s waist. In awe, they gaze into one another’s once familiar, now brand-new eyes.

“How come that’s never happened before?” Andrew asks.

“Because we’ve never been together on top of the Empire State Building before,” Michelle answers.

Click here for the whole story.

The Hallowed Halls of Academia

 

The_Tree_Outside_My__Cover_for_KindleThe Hallowed Halls of Academia
By Israfel Sivad

What did you say,
you hallowed halls of academia?
That our questions were mere
blasphemies?

Is that what you would say to us,

teach to us, your servants,
faithful and true, respecting
you and the order
you would teach?

Our reply is to challenge.

And if you reject us
yet again, we will move
our operation
underground.

Listen to me. All of you listen:

There are two people
who write for me,
but I can’t tell
you their names.

They are my secret yin and yang.

There are two people
who sleep with me.
They are my Lilith
and my Eve,

to me, Adam, the serpent, the man, Satan.

I thought I was alone,
but there is a harem,
a lion’s den of
men and women

reclining against my breast.

We are cultural aberrations,
hermaphrodites if
we chose to be.
Blasphemy?

We have not yet begun to blaspheme.

From Israfel Sivad’s collection of poems The Tree Outside My Window, available here: http://www.amazon.com/Tree-Outside-Window-Andrews-Songs/dp/1477448489

 

A Day in the Life

 

The_Cars_Behind_Bes_Cover_for_KindleA Day in the Life
By Israfel Sivad

I wake up in the morning, and I lie in bed, listening to my alarm, waiting for it to stop ringing.

I think about my dreams. I had one the other night that I want to remember as vividly as possible. I hadn’t had anything to drink that night (I’d gone straight home from my café). And the lack of alcohol always lends a certain clarity and twistedness to my nocturnal wanderings.

The dream began in various odd pool halls and bars and strip clubs where I was simply wandering around with somebody who was my friend, and we kept winding up in all these situations talking to these sort of animé looking people with very sharp features and unusually dark hair…  Men and women touching my arms and laughing with me but somehow always winding up laughing at me. And then they began threatening me with some sort of suffering that they were planning on inflicting upon me. I was trying to treat their threats as jokes, but the knowledge they had of my inner life terrified me and led me to believe that perhaps they really could hurt me.

And then one of the people who were constantly tormenting me directed me into a room. Inside the room was a woman with short, black hair and a lithe, cat-like body, and she was hardly wearing anything at all. There was a bed against the wall, and an eerie sensation, like being in a haunted house, permeated my psyche. She slinked around and smiled at me, and I realized that I’d slept with her before. She asked me if I wanted her right then, and I told her that I knew who she was now.

And then the person who brought me there wasn’t a person anymore. He was a demon with horns and a cape, but not in a Hollywood way. He was a terrifying figure standing in the corner, staring at us.

The woman approached me, and the door closed, and I was locked in the room with the woman and the demon. She embraced me, and we spun around, and I saw the monster standing silently in the corner.

I tried to disentangle myself from her, but I couldn’t. Some sort of narcotic began clouding my world as she described the various sexual acts I could orchestrate upon her. I was getting turned on, but I knew that there was something very wicked about that woman and that place, that all of the people who were tormenting me before had led me to her, and that if I slept with her again, I was going to unleash something horrible upon the world. Somehow, I extracted myself from the embrace, but I couldn’t get her arms completely off my neck. I told her I was leaving. I was scared to pass the demon, but he stepped aside and opened the door

But that beautiful and powerful woman was whispering things in my ear about how much we’d enjoyed each other before, and right before I stepped out of the room, the demon put his hand on my chest, not trying to stop me, just asking me to reconsider for a moment.

I turned to take one last look at the succubus, the enchantress, and I realized I was in love. I asked her if I would ever be able to leave if I made love to her again. She said that I might… someday. I embraced her again. We kissed. I bit her neck, felt her shoulders, licked her stomach. She leaned back in my arms. The demon put his hand on my back, and a red mist swirled around us. Black smoke mixed in, and I told her how much I loved her.

As the mist increased, so did the narcotic that was working on my senses. My thoughts were becoming cloudy. My limbs were heavy. Every time I touched the woman’s lips, I knew I was getting closer and closer to never being able to come back to any sort of goodness and purity because I knew those creatures were evil and that they wanted me to partake of and be an equal in all the destruction and depravity that they were capable of.

I said something to her about how I was going to impregnate her, and she said that was the whole point, that we were going to give birth to a king. I asked her if they were going to kidnap me forever, and she said, “Not forever. We will let you go.”

I was ready to lose myself until I heard the demon behind me mumble that only before they let me go, they would inflict upon me sufferings and torments and pains that I could never conceive of even in my most twisted thoughts. Somehow that made it into my brain, and I pulled away from the woman, laughing nonchalantly as if I’d always known what they’d had planned for me, but knowing that I’d almost lost.

I stumbled to the door and opened it and told them I was leaving.

As soon as I was out of the room, the red and black mist was gone. My mind didn’t feel drugged, but I was fucking terrified. I needed to make it to a car so that I could get away from that place.

I was outside of a castle, and I was walking with the woman again. She had the keys to a car that she was offering to drive me away in. We weren’t touching each other, but I was still in love with her. I told her that, and she said that would make sense since we were the same person coming from different sides. And I said that seemed true and that I hoped we could learn to be friends, that we were meant for each other in some sort of weird way. “That is,” I added, “If you are capable of being anybody’s friend.”

She gave me a very tempting look, and I added, “I often wonder if I am capable of being anybody’s friend.”

She told me that I wasn’t, but I got in the car with this woman who was suddenly saying she wanted to be my friend, and we were driving away. I woke up.

I was sweating. I was shaking. I was terrified. I got out of bed and smoked a cigarette. I tried going back to sleep, but I had to pray to God to send St. Michael to watch over my soul because my sleep-addled, dehydrated mind couldn’t shake the idea that all of that was real, that I had just gone head to head with a fucking demon, and that if I was overcome by her, the pain and the suffering that her demon was talking about would infiltrate the real world…

It’s not until my alarm clock finally stops ringing that I bother lifting myself off the sheets. I always double-check the time even though I know it’s too late for me to take a shower. I put on my pants. I find a tie, and I tie that noose, that yoke around my neck before I walk downstairs, down the block and around the corner to the subway.

The G train always takes forever at that time of the morning. It runs okay between eight and nine, but once the city figures everybody’s gotten to work, they cut the service.

That’s one of my favorite times of the day though, when I can crouch down against the wall of the station and read my book for about twenty minutes straight, when I can lean against the concrete, in the depths of the earth and be alone no matter how many people walk by me.

There’s a blond girl who comes down there every day. I call her the girl with the ass because her ass is so perfect. It bubbles out beneath the fabric of her pants. She has a mole on the left side of her chin. It’s the only blemish on her skin, but it makes her a little more beautiful. I try not to stare at her, but I can’t help myself. I stop concentrating on my book, and I glance up at her. I glance back down at my book, and then the whole train of thought is lost and I have to close my book and stare.

I want to talk to her. I’d like to say hello to her, to have a conversation with her, but I can’t. I can’t stroll up to her nonchalantly and say, “Hi, I see you here everyday, and I was just wondering what your name was because I’m sick of thinking of you as the girl with the ass, and I’d like you to have a real name and be a real person and not just a body.” But I can’t do that.

Here’s the thing. I remember the day, walking down the boardwalk in Laguna Beach, when suddenly it hit me. I had to sit down it was so hard for me to take. I pulled my journal out of my bag, and I lit a cigarette, but I couldn’t write. I could barely even smoke. Because I realized that there was absolutely no way that I was ever going to be able to spend the night at least once with every woman who’s alive. God, that hurt. I watched this girl walk past, and she wasn’t beautiful, but there was this thing about the way the straps of her sandals wrapped around her calves. And another girl walked past, and she was actually kind of ugly, but there was this quality to her skin color. And another girl went by, and she was kind of pretty, but she had these lips that made me…  I hung my head. I was ready to cry.

I can never stop wondering what it would be like to have sex with the woman I’m looking at or talking to. Sometimes I’m simply wondering what it would be like to touch the groove in her back, like that girl on the subway the other day, the groove right around her spine where the muscles come together. Or what it would feel like to run my hands through her hair, like this girl who I see in the elevator at work every day. Because her hair is purple like midnight, and it always smells so soft, and there are these little curls waving through it, and I’ve touched that sort of hair before, and it always feels so nice, especially as it spills over my shoulder or tickles my stomach. Or what it would look like to unzip those tight pants that zip right up the back on the girl with the ass because I know that for a moment, as I unzipped them and watched her body slide out of them that that would be as beautiful as any sculpture I’d ever marveled at.

And sometimes I just wonder what sort of kinks a person’s mind is going to devise. Would she bite or not? Would she scream and claw, or would she lie there and moan? What does she like? Giving or receiving oral sex? What’s her favorite position? Has she maybe done something I haven’t tried yet?

What’s her kink, and how the hell did that one get into her head? Is it because of her daddy or her ex-boyfriend or her financial situation when she was growing up?

With the women I used to date, there are these flashes of moments, these memories of somebody reclining on my bed, melting an ice cube across her breasts in front of an open refrigerator, arching her back up off the floor, her eyes sparkling in a cab, holding my head against her chest, dancing for me in the lonely shadows of a building, drenched in champagne and rain, that makes it seem like everybody has at least one of those moments in them.

At this strip club one night, I remember thinking to myself how amazing it was that I could sit somewhere and have living art move around on every side, have the Venus de Milo come to life and slink across the stage with the same tone to her legs and her shoulders, the same perfect breasts and back. I could watch Cleopatra twirl around a pole and pucker her lips like she was kissing the snake that would eventually suck her nipple. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness could open up and spill out every bit of beauty that Marlowe ever tried hiding his eyes from. For that little while, the entire world disappeared. And God did I need that. Because my world of roaches and rats and stench and filth was unbearable. I was lost in the rapture of a moment of beauty, but bodies alone can’t do that for me anymore. They hurt too bad.

I can never figure out how to get one of those moments to stick around forever, as futile as I know the attempt will always be. I don’t want the moment to stop because as soon as that happens, everything comes crashing back down on me, work and life and lost loves and broken dreams and nightmares and violence and pain and shattered hearts (mine and everybody else’s) and death and loneliness and frustration. It’s my ability to descend so low that lets me fly so high, and I know that all of it, the highs and the lows, are all in my head, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they are real for me, but I’d be willing to trade that ability to see the world in such conflicting grandiosity and despair to just for once live with it as something that simply is: no more, no less, nothing beautiful, but nothing horrible either.

But the girl with the ass is beautiful. So I don’t say anything to her. I just stare at her and love having her near me.

The train comes. I never get to sit down. I stand there, holding the pole, smelling the stench of all the sick breath that everybody’s been breathing into the car, and I stare at the girl with the ass. We transfer at Court Square, and I follow her down the long hallway, between the bustling bodies, using her as my beacon to propel me to where I don’t want to go: the F train.

I never get to sit down on the F either, but sometimes I can get close enough to the girl with the ass that the scent of her shampoo will overpower the stench of the trains. She gets off at Rockefeller Center.

By the time I get to 42nd Street, I’ve already had a thousand arguments with myself about whether or not I should walk the two and a half blocks to work or not, but I always do. There was a time in my life when the mere thought of not going to work would have been enough to keep me from going there, but now I keep thinking about my options.

I know that I have a lease, and for some reason, I’m scared to lose that apartment. I don’t know why. I think it’s because I’ve tried really hard to make it mine. I’ve put up pictures and curtains. I’ve bought furniture and dishes. They’re all second hand, but they’re mine. It’s been a long time since something was mine.

9:30, I show up at work. I turn myself off inside. I avoid eye contact with my co-workers. I don’t engage them in any conversation. Not because I’m late again, but because my interactions with them are so frustrating to me. There’s nothing for me to say to them. They don’t know anything about me. They don’t know about what I’ve already put myself through that morning. And I don’t know anything about them. All I know is what they talk about with each other. And I can’t stand listening to them talk about all the new temp applicants. I’m a temp too.

I’ve been temping for three years, but I just started working at my agency three months ago. It hurts me to listen to the way they talk about the people because I know it’s the same thing all of these agencies said about me: He expects us to place him! Where did he go to school? Might as well throw that resume away. He has absolutely no skills. No, it doesn’t matter how smart he is. Is he polished? That’s the question.

But the silence is killing me. I sit here, and I think about all the mistakes I’ve made, and it tears me up inside. I think about how alone I am these days, and I remember that it’s my fault. I’m the one who leaves my girlfriends. I’m the one who never calls my friends. I think about how broke I am and that that’s my fault too. I’ve made plenty of money this year, but somehow I always manage to spend it all. On what? I used to have experiences, and I still do. But now they usually involve something that leaves me dead inside or terrified for months or weeks or days. I’m scared of STDs. Every blemish that shows up near my lip has me counting the seconds until I find out if it’s herpes.

I check my email every ten minutes (sometimes even more) just to see whether or not a magazine has accepted one of my stories or whether an old friend I’ve abandoned has tried getting back in touch with me. I think that when I go home, I’ll put a résumé together so that I can start finding a real job that might give my life some semblance of meaning. I never believed that a person could or should be defined by his or her work, but this world is slowly beating me.

5:00, I go home. I don’t read on the way home. I’m too sad, too depressed, too drained. I look everywhere for the girl with the ass, promising myself that I’ll introduce myself to her, that I’ll find out her name, and that I’ll ask her out on a date. But she’s not on any of the trains. She’s not at the station. Somehow, some day, I need to figure out what time she gets off of work because I know that my day would end differently if I saw her then.

When I check my mail, I always pray that today will be the day there will be a letter of acceptance from a magazine. I always pray that when I listen to my answering machine, a magazine will have called to say they want to publish one of my stories. But nobody ever calls. There’s never any letters other than bills and the occasional self-addressed return envelope with a story inside and a slip of paper that says:  Thank you for sending your submission to (insert name of magazine here), but it does not suit our needs at this particular time. We regret that the volume of submissions we receive makes a personal reply impossible. We hope you will continue your interest in (insert name of magazine here).

The other week, I went straight out after work and started drinking whiskey. That night when I got home, one of those return envelopes was in my mailbox. I couldn’t take it anymore. I threw the envelope across the room, ran to the wall, picked it up from where it fell, and started struggling to rip through the stack of pages. I ran into my bedroom, pulled out all the stories I’d ever written (there were a lot of them too), and started ripping them into the smallest pieces that I could, scattering them across my apartment, from my bedroom to the kitchen, dotting the floor in an avalanche of white paper. I might have been crying, but I don’t think I was. I was just angry.

When I woke up the next morning, my head swimming and the world fluid, it was all gone, not the scraps, just the stories. Four years of work, gone, just like that, because I didn’t think anybody liked it. I swept the scraps into a pile and threw the pile into the garbage. Those stories are at a dump somewhere outside the city now. Maybe they were incinerated on a garbage barge somewhere. Either way, they’re gone. Nobody’s ever going to read them. I had to start all over from scratch. New stories that nobody still likes, but I’m not getting rid of them this time. Sorry, I don’t care anymore.

Because even if I do get published, my money problems aren’t going to go away. I’ll still be poor. Maybe I shouldn’t have come to New York. It hurts to be so close to everything but so far away from it at the same time. It hurts to talk to people who make their money doing what they want to do, when I still spend every day…

When I open the door to my apartment with all my second hand furnishings, I know that I’m a loser, but I don’t know why. I’m smart. I’m attractive. I’m conversational until I twist all up inside. How can you love being alive but hate life? How does that make any sense?

It’s easy to believe in yourself when you don’t have to. It’s a lot harder to do that when the belief is all you have.

I throw the story and the slip of paper away as soon as I walk in the door, and I wish that at the very least, a personal reply would have been possible. I wonder if they know how much that would have meant to me?

I sit down, and I smoke a cigarette. Outside my window, across the East River, the World Trade Center looms up, blocking the sunset. Sometimes the towers rise as a monument. Other times, they’re a deformity on the sky. And sometimes, they’re built from a child’s erector set.

The other day, a fog rolled across the river, and they disappeared completely. Manhattan vanished like the mirage that it is.

I open up a notebook.

There’s so much I want to say. So much I want to look at, to tell people about. So much I want to admit to myself but that I’m too scared to deal with. There’s drinking and violence and strip clubs and prostitutes and one-night stands and jobs. There’s the pain that I’ve caused the women I care about, and then there are the women that I’ve never called back even once. There are the ways I’ve hurt myself: not sleeping, not eating, smoking and drinking and drugs. I want to pull my life together a little better.

I close the notebook. I’m going to go work on my résumé. That’s what other people do, I think, but for them, it’s easy because they don’t have a dream. They don’t have a passion. They don’t have something that means more to them than food or love or happiness. They find a job they can be content with. They find a life that is stable and purposeful and allows them to fall asleep at night.

I don’t care about sleeping because I don’t care about comfort or purpose. I care about meaning. And I’ve made it my goal to create that meaning. I believe in my dream when nobody else does. I have a career. I’m a writer, goddamnit!

I decide that maybe I should take a shower instead. After the shower, I put on different clothes. I put on my clothes, not the stiff shirt and dress pants and black socks that I wore for eight hours, but jeans and a tee shirt and a pair of white socks that slide into my boots.

Sometimes I smoke a little weed, and sometimes I don’t. I decide that I’m feeling a little better and that it would be nice to get some coffee and to read and write. So I do that. I love that.

I love sitting in cafés and listening to people’s conversations. I love the subtle ways that people check each other out in cafés, never too overt, never anything to initiate contact, just enough to make everybody feel a little better about themselves.

I love living in Brooklyn. There’s a very strange thing about Brooklyn because the artists’ community is so young, the neighborhoods have a strange texture of the children and old folks who have never left and the under thirty gentrifying crowd. I often wonder if there really is anything going on in these little neighborhoods across the river. We don’t have the vibrancy and vitality of the city. Our neighborhoods are spread out. We stretch all the way across the waterfront. We can’t afford the city, but we don’t have a neighborhood. Everything is the new SoHo, the new Village, but those are as close as Williamsburg and Greenpoint. We’re as far away from each other as Harlem and Chinatown (and we’ve been known to pop up there as well). We aren’t a neighborhood of artists. We’re an entire city of them.

I blow my mind out on a book and my own stories, and I decide I should go to the bar to shoot some pool, to clear my head.

Around the corner to my regular bar. I sit down and wonder whether or not the bartender feels bad for me, coming in alone every day, even on weekends. It’s not that I don’t have any friends, I want to tell him. It’s just that I never call them.

I order a beer and set my cigarettes up on the bar. The game is on TV. If the Yanks are winning, it’s a good night. If they aren’t, well, who knows.

After my first beer, I pull a pen out of my bag and start writing on a napkin. By the time I finish my second beer, I’m ready to switch to whiskey. I move to the back of the bar to shoot some pool. I decide that this makes me feel good, drinking and shooting pool, not thinking about sex, not thinking about writing, not thinking about the girl with the ass, not thinking about anything. For those moments, I think that maybe I am just like everybody else.

New York’s a big city, and there’s always a girl in my bar who I don’t know. I always see her looking at me, and I always say that tonight there’s no reason for me to try to get laid because there’s the girl with the ass who I promise myself I’ll talk to tomorrow, and besides, there are more important things in the world than sex.

For me, through most of my life, even when I hardly ever did it, human interaction always revolved around sex. That was my motivation for everything: for going out, making money, writing, everything. I need to learn how to know people, to care about them, but I don’t know if I’m capable of that. That’s why I’m so terrified of herpes. They’d kill who I am.

But time goes on. The drinks keep flowing, and somehow, before I know it, I’m not the guy at the bar with the pen and the napkin anymore. I’m the guy who shows up at the bar every night and every night winds up talking to the girl that everybody else wanted to talk to as soon as she walked in. That’s why nobody ever talks to me when I show up. I’m that guy.

Before I know it, we’re heading to her place. Always to her place. We might not have sex, we might just drink or smoke pot and make out, but even if we do fuck that night, I rarely bother sleeping with the girl anymore.

I go home around two or three or four or five or six depending on when I get bored of her, when she gets bored of me. I go home thinking that it sure would be nice to fall in love and maybe she could have been the one, if only I had bothered getting to know her…

What the fuck was her name again anyway? Did I keep her number or did I throw it away as soon as she closed the door? I hope I don’t bump into her again. I wonder if she gave me a disease. I wonder if I gave her a disease that I don’t know I have. How much money did I wind up spending tonight after all? Why doesn’t anybody like my stories? Why didn’t I put together that résumé so I could be going to a different job tomorrow? Maybe tomorrow I’ll ask the girl with the ass what her name is…

Back to my bed, to dream and wait for the alarm to ring again in the morning.

Click here for more stories from Israfel Sivad’s collection The Cars Behind, Beside Us.