I worked at a boutique hotel on 38th and Park for a couple of years in the nineties. It was one of those elegant, unique, and horrifically managed institutions that you couldn’t help but show up to every day just to see what would happen next. We had our regulars at the bar, a drunk engineer who was employed to take military inventions and apply them to theme park rides, Ms. Dubois, a sophisticated lady with a blonde wig and Alzheimer’s who required us to set a place for her imaginary friend every night, a pretty, but manipulative, middle-aged woman who drank cranberry and sodas nightly while she interviewed her blind dates, and a cantankerous, overweight, and sneering sneaker designer who was social only when drunk.
The sneaker designer believed that every designer eventually becomes an artist out of sheer boredom, and that once that happened, the gig was up. They’d out-lived their usefulness, and could never again design something for general consumption. Their ideas were too fantastic, too big, too colorful, too exciting. Too good.
It was an occupational hazard.
And it was happening to him.
Perhaps, he thought, developing a drinking habit would slow down this natural progression.
It is my suspicion that story-telling is an occupational hazard of being human. It’s the theater folk, of which I’m one, who heighten story-telling to a whole new level of affliction. It doesn’t matter if you’re on stage, backstage, in the alleyway, or watching the stage door. If you work in theater, you cannot merely drink a cup of coffee in the morning. You must describe how you made it, what it tasted like, who sold you the honey you use to sweeten it, why you chose the decadent, non-homogeonized milk with the cream on top to lighten it, and how your expectant dog watched you with her bone in her mouth, slightly confused by your one-way conversation with the three dying green tea plants nestled just out of the sunlight in the fold-out table.
Or something like that.
The worst part is that, even if your story is stupid, or no one wants to hear it, you can’t stop telling it. You just tell it faster.
I was out with my friend Obidiah a few nights ago. Drinking.
Obi has a head cold, perhaps from doing naked yoga on stage in a modern opera.
There’s nothing worse than a singer with a head cold. Especially one who isn’t currently working as a singer, which is an occupation hazard of being a singer.
He drank whiskey. I preferred olives in my drink.
He drank many whiskeys. I ate many olives.
Finding one’s way in this world, we agreed, is sometimes like being a letter in a complicated mathematical equation. First, you feel out-of-place by virtue of being a letter in a world of numbers. And then you feel like a sort of hostage, lost in a swirl you don’t understand, and taken for a piggy-back ride on some symbol that knows where it wants to go, but won’t tell you. It turns out that you are part of the answer and part of the problem, which is confusing, and slightly mind-bending, it you stop to think about it. You don’t know whether to move right or left or to stay still, and ultimately, something else is shoving you along, despite the fact that you feel like your life is a series of your own really bad decisions.
You are not merely a citizen of the equation, or of the world. You are a citizen of the entire universe. A mere letter, swimming in a wide sea of numbers and ideas. Tumbling towards an answer that will only lead to more questions.
Better have another drink. It’s one of the coldest nights of the year, after all.
“It’s going to be colder in Alaska,” Obi reminds me and I look down at my Uggs. They’re only a couple of weeks old and already beat to hell. I wear them because I hate wearing socks.
It’s midnight, then one a.m., then two a.m. and the trains will be running slow. I slide off the stool with a few parting words.
“I don’t know if I’m going to get a date in Alaska,” I say. My resolve is wavering. And the idea of going on a date wearing snow shoes worries my urban soul.
“That’s a nice scarf,” he says as I wrap my shawl around my shoulders.
“My friend gave it to me,” I answer. It is a beautiful shawl, made in India, finished in Pakistan. I slide into my winter coat.
“You sure you’re okay?”
I nod. I’m a city girl after all.
“It’s vintage. My friend gave it to me.” I wrap my scarf around my neck. “And a friend gave me this, too.” Pimped out in winter clothes, I stumble, just slightly, towards the door. I’m tired. It’s late. I want to see my dog.
Outside, I advise Obi to do what he knows already to do.
“Get some rest. Feel better. Don’t do any more naked yoga on stage than you have to.”
The cold feels good and I decide to take the long walk to the subway, across town to the West Village. I wonder what Fairbanks will be like. If I’ll see the Aurora Borealis. If I’ll walk the city streets and meet someone I don’t know. Or someone I do know. I wonder if I knew, when I was born as a place-holding letter into this impossible mathematical equation, the crazy places I’d be pushed to go in my misguided attempt to be a part of the answer.
I think about how cold it’ll be there, and when I’ll have the time to buy a sporty winter coat and long under-wear.
I dig my hands into my pockets and think about the three women who conspired to keep me warm on the long walk to the subway.
An occupation hazard of being a letter in an equation of numbers: the giddy sense that if nothing matters everything matters, too.
I wonder, cold, smiling, slightly drunk, how I got so fucking lucky.