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secret windows (don't look back)

I found myself in a conversation with an old friend, about the crossroads of writing, nostalgia and memory. "Distance and perspective are the upside." I said. "The slippery slope is romanticizing and being nostalgic. Well, that's the memory trap no matter who you are."
"It's funny... I spent most of my life thinking that I had a rather dull adolescence, and it's only recently that I've discovered that these stories are a lot more interesting than I gave them credit." My friend replied. I admitted that I gravitate towards stories that are based on a mistake, a lie - thinking you had some great childhood, when actually it was a shitshow, and you fantasized about being adopted but sort of blocked that out.  


The question wobbled around inside my head for a few days. Was I too fast to judge nostalgia, to quick to brush aside its sweetness, stepping over it towards something invariably darker and sadder?  On Sunday, I was walking on Kutuzovsky,…

I'm sticking with you (& after hours)



There is a kind of nostalgic symphony playing in my head by Monday. A strange melody improvises above the tourists and the hotdog carts. NYC is an old pair of Levis, a lucky twenty dollar bill I discover in a suit jacket pocket. This is a place where ordering lunch or a taxi or a martini are like breathing for me.

The symphony unfolds across meetings with old friends, some planned, some spontaneous. And every morning I call E and then N, recounting the adventures from the previous night. They say I sound different here, where I am not nervous, where I sip perfect macchiatos and cherry lime rickeys. They know I will be back in a few days with gifts in tiny bags, with toys and new shoes and magnificent candies. They know I will sleep under a Mexican blanket tonight, and the symphony will dissolve into the sounds of traffic skittering down the FDR at 3AM. I will dream of black water, of cotton candy, of Spring.


Tuesday comes, my last full day to tear down the sidewalk to secret stores where I can buy a full set of Futurama characters, or perfume for N, or a fabulous pair of boots for me. I am beyond solid food, living on ice cream and coffee to stay awake. I am meeting O today, who I have not seen in almost fifteen years. We were in a juggernaut band that somehow imploded just as we were being offered  management deals and showcases. The four of us added up to a surf punk Studebaker of a live show, somehow as badass as we were foolish and entertaining. Fantastically loud and sincerely dirty, well - filthy. We were told, "...you fuckers are as sexy as a Russ Meyer film." The first time we played CBGBs O was so nervous she went onstage in three t-shirts and a parka, in the middle of August. Our sound was garage fierce, with a whiplash beat. O's guitar was always howling some line, cascading between rhythm parts and leads, twanging on a vintage Mosrite her fingers bleeding across the strings. The bass was a sort of melodic glue, and locked on that fierce beat. And me, playing horn like my pants were on fire, bending notes so far they should have locked me up somewhere.

O is walking in front of me on First Avenue, and does not see me. She walks with the same casual lope, jeans hanging off of her hips. Freckles scattered across her arms. I wait a moment then speed up to stand next to her at the corner. I catch her gaze and she laughs, trying to shake my hand or hug me so we do both. There are a million reasons to feel awkward. The last time I saw her, she was angrily shoving a free beer across the bar at me as a kind of hello. That was our last exchange, after we failed to pull off a one night reunion to support Andre Williams during his punk blues comeback. We couldn't even find the way to get into a rehearsal room together. There were so many misgivings back then, when we were young and single. Back then, we were these idiot savants who captured lightning in a bottle. Then we got popular. People recognized us in the street. We were on TV. Things became real, and scary. It's so easy to slag around with potential. It's so hard to deliver and get along once you get some attention.

We go into the bar she owns now. Faces loom in the darkness, eyes raising in slow-motion to try to place me,  then back to their newspapers and comic books. It's 1PM on a Tuesday in the East Village. She asks me what I want to eat, always the diner lover she wants a hamburger or something but we agree on a Moroccan place which she decides is "really just French diner food" so it suits her fine.

"You know, for a bar - this place smells awesome." I said.

Before we take a table, she is shaking hands and nodding. Everyone knows her. We sit and her phone is constantly ringing, calls from lawyers for example. She's looking to expand to a second bar. We share small talk. She looks at pictures of my daughter and my girlfriend. We make minor jokes. She asks me what I do for a living now and I try to explain without taking forever, and so it doesn't sound so business-ey. It's like what my kid says, "Dad colors for a living." I add, shoveling couscous into my face. It is one of those lunches when we won't dig into the past, when we won't ask any tough questions. The answers are quite useless to us now, and there are no obvious apologies to be made.

She forks into her salad, and I stare at her broad shoulders, the freckles I forgot about. Her nails are coated in metallic blue polish. I look her directly in the eyes when we talk. I can't remember her being so peaceful, so pulled together. Back in the day, she was a live wire, a jumping bean. She couldn't sit in a chair for more than five minutes. Impulsive, fast-talking, leaping out with a thousand amazing references before you could process them. The fact that she was a man then means nothing now. Her eyes are rockstar beautiful, mascara and all. It doesn't matter what the hell we say today because we won't say anything more than the fact that I wanted to sit somewhere and eat something together. It was my idea. She has a partner, in love and life and I want her to know I'm very happy for her. I stare at her giant hands and wonder about nothing. She is fielding phone calls and walks away to shout at plumbers and air conditioning people. She comes back, and we ask for the check. I order an espresso as the waitress is trotting off.

I tell O I have a question that I know she'll have a great answer to. I tell her about a animated series I am developing that uses rock and roll as its lifeblood.
"What's rock and roll, you mean?" She asks, confused.
I tell her about the twenty-somethings with badly tuned guitars who stand on a street in Moscow - Arbat, and how they play a couple of messy songs and sing at the top of their lungs, how they have a girlfriend who walks around with a hat asking for loose change. I tell her how there is something hilarious and something wonderful about this all at the same time. I tell her that this guy's girlfriend thinks he's the shit.
O is laughing and laughing. "No, I get it." She said. "You want me to explain rock and roll."
"Yes." I say, raising my glass and smiling.
"There are three levels of great rock bands." She says. "The first level is a bunch of idiot savants that have no fucking idea what they are doing, but by some crazy luck or chemistry or whatever they are amazing. They only know like three chords - like the Ramones."
I sip my espresso and nod quietly. I know when to keep my mouth shut.
"Then you have the geniuses, the guys who can fucking play. You know, like Elvis Costello." She adds.
I smile.
"And then you have these super geniuses who know everything but play very little, they go all the way to being simple, almost make you think they can't play sometimes - like Neil Young or Lou Reed." She finished, standing up and pulling her purse across her shoulder.
I drained the cup and we walked out.
"Sorry but I really have to get back." She said. "It was crazy to take an hour off and have lunch."

I follow her back, use the bathroom, take a picture of a beer dispenser sculpture in the alley behind the bar. We say goodbye, simply, openly. We will not be strangers any more.


I wander off into the heat. There are more meetings, beers, running through the airport with massive bags. I barely make the gate the next day, wake up N to tell her I'm on the plane and then I cough and sneeze and try to sleep for ten hours. And she is there, waiting for me, laughing at the bags sliding off of each other and we drive through that same Moscow traffic. Her mother sent some khachapuri in foil that I devour, forgetting to share it.

At home we drink strong tea, make love, open gifts, laugh, close our eyes for a little while and then she must go.

The sky is looking operatic beyond the windows. The symphony is still playing in my ears, and I am waiting for E to be dropped off. I am waiting to take her to the playground and walk in the street with her holding my hand tight. And I am scared I am getting sick. And now E is here and we are jumping in the elevator and she is opening countless gifts from friends and family in the US, from me.

We cook chicken soup and the house smells of garlic and carrots and new shoes.



I'm Sticking with You (Lou Reed)


I'm sticking with you
'Cos I'm made out of glue
Anything that you might do
I'm gonna do too

You held up a stagecoach in the rain
And I'm doing the same
So you're hanging from a tree
And I made believe it was me

I'm sticking with you
'Cos I'm made out of glue
Anything that you might do
I'm gonna do too

There're people going into the stratosphere
Soldiers fighting with the Cong
But with you by my side I can do anything
When we swing, babe, we hang past right and wrong

I'll do anything for you
Anything you want me too
I'll do anything for you
Oohoh I'm sticking with you
Oohoh I'm sticking with you
Oohoh I'm sticking with you  
      

Comments

Audrey said…
Hi expat,

I'm the editor for Expatica.com Moscow site and I'd like to use "Home again Home again" for our site in October for our Going Home theme. Please get in touch, as I'd like to contact you more directly.

Thanks! Kind Regards,

-Editor Russia
Rabbit blogger said…
Audrey - so wonderful to hear from you! I just sent 2 emails on your site using the contact form to "general feedback" and "other" with my contact info.
Annie said…
Hi, I'm just a humble reader from Michigan, hanging on your every Monday, denying myself the treat of reading your posts, so I can use it as a reward for myself after I do lots of impossibly stressful and burdensome - and comparatively boring - things.

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