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the long way around

The living room is a forest of mic stands and cables. A cup of coffee, a large glass of water and a shallow shot of whiskey sit on the tiny white table. I alternate between them, making sure the guitar is in tune, trying to understand if the chair will creak when I lean my head back on the second chorus.  There is a hush in the room. I can hear my own heartbeat. The lyrics are printed out on a fresh piece of paper, large and thick so I can read them easily even though I sing with my eyes closed and will surely forget a handful of words no matter what I do.

The guitar sounds dry, perfect - even honest. I can play a simple D chord with a long strum, or the side of my thumb and it sounds so different. I record a few takes, barefoot in the bright room. I am going too fast in some parts, and my fingers are already sore from the chord changes.

And then all at once, I am thinking of a show I played in an old factory in Brooklyn, way back when I had just started writing songs almost twenty y…

Hey, Lyosha


There are prison tattoos on the backs of his hands. Faded, blotchy shapes and a finger that jabs at a phone. "Hey, Lyosha!" He shouts, as every face on the bus swings to him. There is no answer, no voice on the other side. "Lyosha." He says again, then stares angrily out the windows. I step on someone's foot by accident, apologizing quickly. The young man waves his hand as if to say I did not need to say anything. The man with the tattoos sips from a giant cup of soda from KFC that is balanced on the empty seat next to him.

We pass a hotel we used to live next to, where expensive escorts are ferried in and out like yachts in a harbor. There is a fresh line of flags snapping in a low wind, and an American one is curiously absent. Plenty of the businessmen behind those windows are from the states.

The man brandishes the phone and hands it to the young man in front of me. I did not see that one coming. The young man wipes invisible dust from it, a reserved frown on his face. The tattooed man does not even say thank you to him. He rattles his hands against the windows instead, as we lurch through Sunday traffic not far from the White House. All at once he is standing, banging his hands on the door, his army fatigues sagging off of him.

Faces turn down. No one is looking at him any more, except out of the corner of their eye. We are all together in this, the raw nerve shouting, the tamed herd with hands folded in laps, money carefully tucked into pockets, shopping lists and sunglasses all in their places.

The bus does not stop, and the doors do not open as we are in the middle of an intersection. The tattooed man moans and sways. I think he is about to throw up, and I am convinced there is very little soda in that KFC cup. That familiar smell of vodka and cigarettes, of sweat and mud are drifting around him. And then all at once we idle into a station, the doors heave open and he stumbles out. I watch him, as he gazes up at a shopping center as if he has never seen one before. His knees buckle, he begins to lean towards people passing him. I go inside.

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