Narcan Training

It was not Faith but Genna, her partner, who invited me to attend a training on how to use a drug known colloquially as Narcan that stops an opioid overdose. Genna had invited a group of her friends through email; not seeing that I had much of anything to do that day (most like so many other days that I seem to let slip by unfilled), I decided to  attend. I have no business with drugs, but, knowing others that have, and, viewing this as a good experience to learn from, decided to attend.

It was a beautiful sunny day outside – low seventies – and I held my breath before buzzing into the Harm Reduction Center. The center was dimly lit with wooden floors that looked as if they had not been changed since the building’s erection more than fifty years ago and not cleaned frequently since. A man with dreads to the length of his hindside asked pardon as he passed by and I walked through the main hall where later I would learn from our instructor that those under the influence (or those about to engage in the influence) were welcome to “hang out.” Faith arose from the couch and greeted me brightly, giving me a hug. We stood in the middle of the room as we conversed about her plans – she was to finally attend law school, and she decided on Fordham. I gave her a heartfelt congratulations because I knew the feeling of being up in the air for too long and how fulfilling it was to have a sense of grounding. She offered me the chance to be referred to for a tutoring position at Kaplan, which I thought as a good opportunity. Afterwards we were led up concrete steps into a large office space upstairs and then into an even dimmer room. The setting was as depressing as the situations that were described to us; the room filled with light-skinned, short-haired, polite women in glasses offering store-bought snacks was in sharp contrast. We went around the room and introduced ourselves, our positions, and our pronouns, not in that order. I was intrigued at information on pronouns; surely this had been a introduction from Faith’s partner and not from Faith. We had previously went around and introduced ourselves with our pronouns at Faith and Genna’s apartment, and it seemed just once someone had used a pronoun that I had not counted as standard English (“they,” a pronoun near and dear to me, was thrown around a couple of times).

The instructor handed out sheets to fill out our personal information on which included more facets of identity that I would have liked to divulge; fortunately (in accordance with this age’s unrelenting spirit of respecting privacy that I can never gauge as too far or just on the mark), an option was available that declined comment (more directly labeled as “choose not to answer”). Faith was sitting to my right and as we filled out the forms my curiosity piqued: was the time I had seen her in the men’s bathroom in I-House a fluke? She had crossed a line through the box that was labeled “Lesbian;” evidently, my zealousness in the moment I passed her then, at 1AM one night in late winter, the only time i had ever felt a mote of spite to a spirit so unrelentingly buoyant, was in vain. What then had it meant? Was it just play? Not even Bisexual; she had, as it were, crossed over completely.

Genna sat across from her. I could read Genna and then I couldn’t. She was of a similar background to me: she was entirely of Italian heritage and had a vowel-laden surname to prove it. Brought up on the east coast, another trait of similarity. Bits and pieces of intimate details connected us: one time at a party, in explaining a family recipe, I accidentally used the phrase chop meat to describe what I suppose is commonly referred to as “ground beef;” no one knew what I was talking about save her, and the scene both embarrassed and elated me. In ways that are perhaps overtly personal, I could identify her, too, by her looks: very curly brown hair, brown eyes, a prominent but not obtrusive nose, a strong jaw. I could see that she was Italian by looking at her, and though from no where near my where family was from (very few people, as I could tell, shared the same wild and bewildered look in my father’s eyes save grainy images of Rasputin, which disqualified my theory to begin with, and a youth I had met in high school whose last name was Potenza), she must have had the same behaviors and perspectives that were ingrained in me – those that had repeated years and years over and had not eroded from the very recent jump over the pond two generations ago.

There were other things that I couldn’t always understand with Genna, however, though I counted this as a result of different places of development. She was the same age as I  (twenty-eight), although in a greater place of maturity that I could neither describe as emotional nor social (my emotional maturity seemed to have slightly declined, as a result of being around so many stony-minded Russian influencers that were less than fain to throw open настежь their emotive states in public even from a particularly touching encounter with someone). She seemed to simply be more grounded, but as a result less reactive, and, as a consequence, presented fewer opportunities for connection to my usually haphazard and emotionally-fueled communicative behavior.  She provided emotional responses during the presentation, sighs or utterances of vexation at the injustices of “the system” that worked unseen to repress minorities, explained our instructor. We continued on and I asked for clarification on the number of minutes to wait between administering breaths through a breath mask on the potential overdoser (five seconds after two sharp first breaths), and felt I had done my part by paying attention and learning what to do. Faith asked for clarification on those protected the Good Samaritan Law (whether the informer or the person in need of help) and I appreciated this as I had the same question but, needlessly, thought it foolish to ask. And then we left; Faith said that we should go rollerskating soon, and gave me a hug. I was happy for her; I wish I could contribute to our lives more fully, with the same gusto I had in our dormitory where the threat to my diaphanous affections was still looming.

Frieze Art Fair

The Frieze Art fair was cold. I had packed a jacket into my gym bag that I had received from an alumni event from my college, and though the sun was shining, the event was indoors and with air conditioning. Daichi informed me through text that he was still at his workplace (it was a Saturday) and if could I “plz” get a coffee or something while I wait (the plz was suspect for irony). I replied I would meet him at the Guggenheim and, miraculously, he was sitting on the concrete entrance among tourists when I arrived.

Daichi stood and with more confidence than usual (though still with the hedged calculation he has in every action), offered an embrace, a helping of assorted nuts he packed, and, finally, an inquiry into whether or not the varicose veins that stripe my right nostril were stitches (I had developed these, for one reason or another, a few years ago).

In my eyes, Daichi was still in essence the same as when I first got to know him, but he had changed drastically with subtle things I ascribed a weird importance to. Daichi was curiously reticent on family life in college; he now gratuitously offers views of his nephews on his phone. He similarly scrolled through his iPhone calendar and presented me a rare glimpse into how he makes what he does: short explanations of the work meetings he attends. His calendar was freckled with dots indicating an event for the day.

He had started to keep a tally of events with which he had “success”: and added, with the same wry look he always had when discussing intimate matters, that he had success yesterday. We prattled about jobs; Daichi, evidently enamored by southeast Asia, suggested I move there where English is highly valued and the cost of living is a fragment of it is elsewhere. We arrived after swinging around the bend to Randall’s Island and approached the white tent.

I had a certain relish walking closer to Daichi than other people: Daichi’s curious lack of physical cues enabled this, and the crowded public space allowed it. Men and women up and down the aisles looked at him, then me, then whoever else was next behind us, in the same assessment they have of art and networking opportunities. Daichi looked in the mirror we passed and after we both instinctually groomed our hair said his face looked very fat compared to mine.

Everything was peachy keen until for some reason my mood changed considerably and I saw a volunteer for the fair who was someone I had dated a few years ago. I felt I was losing my grip with reality that this person right in front of me was less real then their memory nearly two years ago. My heart was still pining from the loss but I kept the cell number with a dull hope that I might muster the courage to reenact the date with a different outcome.

I had the curious sense that life, society, and progress was speeding ahead of me while I stood still in the same joys and biases I had five years ago. Daichi one day posed a fateful question to me that left me speechless; the question of what have I learned from my experiences.

In truth I could not answer because I didn’t feel like I had learned anything. It seemed that learning simply shut off after college. I had been burned and burned twice and my life was slowly turning into a hellfire. I was too skittish to make it out and would rather abide by the flames than leap for my safety.

Two people I had run into from a former place of employment were there. The General Consul – a man extremely bright in intellect and disposition – approached me after I stood like a carved Indian with my hand outstretched in greeting. “Anthony, is that right?” I forgot the inconvenient fact that, again, life kept moving after my presence had faded and that we are doomed to be forgotten by those other than ourselves.

I had similarly forgotten his name.

How’s it going?

Nick, as it came to me in a curse of staircase wit, was similar to how I remembered him, in that he first drew attention to what was most important to him (his curly-haired daughter a few feet away observing some sculpture) and returned straightaway to the topic of work. “How do you like it? Are you happy there?” I hadn’t realized that this question was something that was so basic and yet out of place. I felt I had soiled my reputation in my past job through an increasingly surly countenance and a similarly declining contentment that so characterized my success at the onset. I simply had been left there too long, didn’t have an out, and felt unhappy, poor, and slowing down as if a mechanism had been overdue for a checkup.

I looked off onto the blank wall while answering in the affirmative, unaware of what I was even looking at. It’s a good fit, I’m so glad I’m there. Well, good seeing you, he said, in the same matter-of-fact way he had with greetings, and disappeared.

This wasn’t two strikes, but one “ball:” being struck by the pitch and missing the mound completely. I felt disoriented for the rest of the trip. I was suspicious of if his first glance across the room was feigned oblivion of my presence; similarly, I was unsure if this was the second time I was ignored.

In the end, near the entrance, Daichi’s friend, Gabrielus, a Lithuanian with a London accent who works in consulting, drew my attention to the shoddiness of the neon work in one of the pieces. “I simply can’t stand that,” he said; you need to have good craftmanship before we start talking about ideas. I had lobbed the suggestion of intention of poor construction and this was his thesis, sound, in details. That was the devil for him but mine was still roaming around in black by the entrance. I made sure to stand tall and look as carefree and successful as I managed in my Zara-print shirt: at last I turned around from the neon and no one was there for me to avoid.

We exited the the wrong way, and so we needed to walk around the entirety of the tent to reach the opposite end for our bags in the coat check. Gabrielus spoke about the reasoning for having it on Randall’s Island: Daichi brought up exclusivity, Gabrielus cited cost of ripping up and replanting lawn in Central Park: details I never would have considered. I walk back in the tent, rigid-backed and clench-fisted half from the cold and half from determination to look powerful. The devil is standing in black skinny jeans while I feign observation of an artwork. A teaching fellow from my old employment passes by and I smile at her: greeting her brightly, making to throw my voice so that it reaches to where the volunteers are standing; she reciprocates in kind. Good, I think; something successful. The date had ended in the worst possible way: a request that I leave out of what seemed boredom. I spent two hours wandering around outside, oblivious to my surroundings.

Daichi is still at the coat check and my heart, curiously, is pounding; with each movement I believe I will be seen, I turn my body nearly the other way. At last we have our bags and it is over. I am deflated in the evening coolness as we walk back to our buses.

On the bus Daichi asks to see my hand, not to kiss or shake but to measure the length of my fingers and the ratio between ring and index. Satisfied with my results he loosens his grip and I withdraw to look out the window. The weeds pass as we approach the bridge and under the grey haze the skyline looks as if it might be that of a different city.

Sunday Worship Service

It is a rented room in a W Hotel in Union Square, its location moved because its regular place is in use. A tall woman with an accent welcomes me and hands out pamphlets; my contact there is apparently an organizer with a lanyard around her neck. A young, nervous, long-nosed Latino man eyes me from a few feet away. Two men stand at the front row on the side, while in the rest of the rows stand women. The worship service starts; we stand for our four-person musical ensemble; I am awkward in my wordless observance, but tap my feet to the rhythm. We at last finish the two ditties whose words are printed on the front sheet for – surprise! – a third song on the back to finish out the opening. Repeated verses cause my foot to tap more forcefully. We sit down and the sermon is on a part of the Bible with Martha preparing for guests while Jesus lectures and Mary listens. Words stick out at me from the sermon, other references to the Bible, or lectures on it: “abandoned your first love,” “alone, vulnerable, naked, broken, before you, oh Lord.” The speaker relates a somewhat personal detail of seeing a therapist and coping with fatherly neglect. He provides three ways to listen to the Lord: to be quiet, to cultivate serenity (accept solitude) and to accept surrender. Take away: you can work for the Lord, you can spend your life working, but it means nothing if you do not worship. “You are anxious and troubled by many things,” says the Lord to Martha, after she complains that she is alone in preparing for company while Mary sits listening to his words.

Intimacy: he asks to raise our hands, those who are single: the two men keep their hands by their sides. I am unhappy at this survey before the tall, long-nosed slanciato Latino man says he has an announcement. The girl whose shoulder his arm has girded accompanies him to the front of the room to announce that she will soon be something-something Robles. Applause bursts out from our paltry audience. She does not look forward to a planning a wedding, she admits, in contrast to most others of her sex, but she states, heartfelt, that she looks to make it the most meaningful. She looks forward to being under the real head of their household, she says, the Lord. There is something almost hurt in her expression when she says this. I am in disarray as a I contribute obligatory clapping.

Yes, the Latino man continues, he met so-and-so about a year ago, at this very worship service, so you can count their story a success for the church. As quickly their year together described had elapsed we are thrust into singing songs on tranquility again. I am turbid as I try to focus. The service ends and we disband. My contact comes over to me and asks about things, politely prodding into intimate details. Have you always been part of the faith?, she asks. The phrase disconcerts me. I am Roman Catholic, I state, the religion of which I have just now turned into an identity. How is your relationship with God?, she asks. I feign optimism in my murky response.  My contact, clear-skinned and youthful, looks straight at me without being disarming as I talk. She is a vegan, she says, went to culinary school but works at a café; she eats nearly exclusively fruits, and has just converted to a raw diet. She uses the rather elevated phrasing for a facet of her day-to-day that I wish was not prevalent in our common parlance: that she has “chosen a lifestyle” (veganism). Yet absolutely serene, with the countenance of images you see in canonization notices, she must be doing something right.

We are finishing up our seated session of prattle, a casual беседа while women interject to introduce themselves brightly. I gather my belongings with the intention to soon get coffee with her, for a dare not now shine a light into the cave of my spiritual world. On my way out, I shoot the tall man a raise of the eyebrows and jerk my head upwards, lips unmoving. In the typical Staten Island manner of my sex – in a way I have made my own – the women remain exalted; the men, snubbed. He stares back, weakly returning the gesture.

Confessio Admiratores

She tells me, perfectly honest, how bad she felt about what she said and wishes she could have said something different.

In the din of oyster joint I have no idea where these feelings of hers are coming from, as I’m in a cloud of vapor and likewise was when I received her texts.

“You should be flattered,” she says. I don’t know what she’s talking about. “That’s all I wanted to say.”

I attempt to assuage her, albeit a bit jerkily, as we’re waiting for our table. I’m picking up self-doubt and pity from her, but then she lays it on me: “You were basically a crush.”

Now she has really given it to me. If I were floating around while she wrangled these unseen feelings, she’s now thrown them off and, without a choice, I catch her lob and plummet to the ground.

We sit down to the table because it is ready and the waitress, frazzled, has been curt and pert to our throng clogging up the walkway. Our party, blithe, drifts to the seats because, alas, they are in clouds themselves. I ogle the menu, the table to my left, and, lastly, the harem of black-clad busboys that are oblivious to my eyes.

She is sitting to my right, all amirth, considerably lighter. A moment of gladness passes at the sight of her unburdened. Another door closes, and the open patio at my back is a windy chasm.




Couple on the G Train

The G train, which connects Brooklyn and Queens, shuttles people catty-corner through mid-Brooklyn as passengers enjoy a relatively nice ride. It does not smell, like the A train, and, miraculously, the walls of the stations are not covered in filth (for New York standards).

I am exercising my right to observe others, and before me a young couple stands by a center pole. A young, blond man with a Slavic accent and a smartly-dressed Asian girl are speaking to each other in intense conversation. They are having, what Sarah Palin has recently coined, a “squirmish.”

“No baby I am going to work too,” says the man. He looks at her as he talks to her, and she shakes her head and says something inaudible. He reciprocates the movement with the same urgency, but less emotion.

This is whole scene, as faraway and contextless as it is, intrigues me. Years ago, my grandmother – as older folks are wont to do – would retell how things were back when she was younger. This was when ethnic whites were a very real and present thing, at least for the country (by now it’s pretty much a thing only in New York). Italians married Italians, Irish married Irish, and so on and so forth.  You stayed within your family background, and I never really understood the sentiment other than a very strict cleaving to preserving family identity.

Nowadays, that sentiment is pretty much gone (although, I do come from a family that has – by circumstance or not – preserved this thread: out of six women, my sister was the only person to marry someone not Italian). The world grows complex each day, and as a whole, we do not look to the past for the same direction that we used to. This is freeing, because we are not beholden to the traditions that (potentially) imprison us. Yet as society evolves, it seems we go through some growing pains. I wonder how many miscommunications are accounted for by cultural differences, or the unwitting adherence to dialogues that aren’t shared by all.

By now, the volley has gotten lighter, and the man leans over the pole and gives the woman a kiss. For a moment she is quelled.

“What are you going to do tomorrow?” he asks.

The woman says something else inaudible. Both of them hold quiet looks on each other.

“I am trying to change the subject,” he says.

I look out the window. I haven’t been able to find someone that can connect with on a meaningful level. The best and most natural place to meet people,  at least for me, is in the day-to-day, which, in the city, is of a forced anonymity.

A man gets up from his seat and the couple sits down. I can better see her face, and she is pouting. The man has started asking her about hash browns. I find this very cute.

The train continues on its way and their conversation has reached a standstill. In the dim light they quietly observe the rest of the passengers. Everyone is reading the paper or listening to music.

She is wearing make up to cover up acne, and he just looks tired. This is not a movie scene. As I get up to leave, I can see she is wearing blue-eyed contact lens.