K.S. ANTHONY: 04/01/2017 - 05/01/2017

26 April 2017

Banal Intimacies

Watching her let her hair down.

Zipping (or unzipping) a dress.

The smell of perfume in the bathroom.

A second towel on the rack.

The rare shared cigarette.

Lipstick stained glasses.

A borrowed t-shirt, worn to bed.

Fingers intertwining.

Her shoes next to the couch.

My hand on the small of her back.

Her unexpected touch.

The sudden ache of absence when she gets up for a glass of water.

Laughter. Sighs.

Strands of her hair that remain long after she's gone.

The inevitability of silence.

18 April 2017

Montmartre: Plus Ça Change...

Time hadn't smoothed the 18th Arrondissement’s rough edges. Little had changed. The internet café had closed, as had the massage parlor where I’d see a Thai girl in a white dress smoking outside every time I passed by. The doorways that would later be filled with lithe silhouettes and stained velvet curtains were closed.  Pigalle’s narrow streets were dead in the daytime and not much better at night, though if you liked your vices cheap, dirty, and served with a sidecar of penicillin, it was glad to suck you in. Gangs of loud hustlers shouted at each other and forced their wares and cons on scared tourists. I ignored their dirty french and continued on, hands in my pockets, carefully watching the pale junkies pacing near the public toilets. 

I crossed Boulevard de Rochechouart and continued north, up through Cligancourt. Little had changed. Rue des Martyrs was still covered in a layer of dust and dog shit. Dog shit saints, I thought to myself, and it wasn't as funny as I wanted it to be. It wasn't funny at all, really. 

It had been 8 years since I walked through Montmartre and met Karl at Le Vrai Paris on Rue de Abbesses, but my feet still knew the cobblestoned hills and as I passed the red bricks of Eglise Saint-Jean de Montmartre and the carousel at the Abbesses Metro, everything became familiar. 

A block later and I saw the black and white striped canopy hanging over the sidewalk tables.

Voila. Le Vrai Paris. 

I sat at the table I had always taken and ordered a carafe of wine. They no longer served carafes, so I settled for a large glass. The waiter brought me an ashtray when I lit a cigarette and put my pack down. 

The combination of the smoke and cheap bordeaux still tasted green to me. It was the last of my first memories of Paris that had not, like me, been corrupted by time. 

I thought about Karl. I thought about what I had become in 8 years, how like him I was, but how different too. He had never really liked violence. He just happened to be very good at it. He didn't dislike it either: he was simply neutral. Zéro

I had developed a taste for the way it felt like a game to me; the way it felt to turn the tables on someone, to feign weakness, infirmity, or gullibility and then simply... hunt. 

I wanted it to bother me, the way that it used to at first, but it didn't. It also didn't bother me that it didn't bother me, so I was left somehow blank, like a mirror that didn't reflect anything back. 

No. It never bothered me. 

I longed to feel something other than the desire to feel something. Pigalle was a flea market of cheap feeling, cheap art, cheap desires, cheap thrills, all of which I had enjoyed at one time or another during the week that became a month that became a year in Paris before I sought my trade not in words but in arms and dark places.

I glanced at my watch. Almost 1630. The sun had started its lazy descent and the shadows began to change. I reached down to search my rucksack for a notebook, hoping to try to write something. I heard the scrape of metal chair legs and when I looked up, pulling my Moleskine from the depths of the bag, Karl was sitting next to me, grinning and chomping on a cigar that he briefly held a torch lighter to.

"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, eh?" he sneered, blowing a thick plume of smoke into the air. "Have you thought of anything to fucking write about yet?" 

Time hadn't smoothed his rough edges. Little had changed.

(Fiction related to Le Vrai Paris and the related unfinished novel)

No Past To Speak Of: A Fairytale of New York

At some point, every writer who lives or who has ever lived in New York City writes something like this. Sometimes it's a love letter, full of possibilities and a past that, like a shadow, can never really be left behind, but can at least be ignored while you walk towards the sun or a nest of streetlights. Sometimes it's an elegy, full of city lights that glow a little brighter through the lens of nostalgia and cramped, cold apartments that are remembered as quaint as often as they are miserable. Most often though, it's a little bit of both, as when Joan Didion writes in "Goodbye To All That," her essay about her 8 years here that,

"It is often said that New York is a city for only the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also, at least for those of us who came there from somewhere else, a city only for the very young" before confessing that she too "was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again."

Some people spend their entire lives imagining a life in New York City. I was never one of them. I plainly hated it the first time I visited in the summer of 2004. It was like San Francisco on steroids, but much hotter, far more crowded, and possessed of an entirely overwhelming ambient stress. I didn't visit again until the summer of 2010 when I spent a month in New Haven and came to visit friends one weekend: I hated it then, too.

I didn't really start to love New York until I came to visit later that year to take some kind of absurd placement test for Columbia and was struck, all at once, by the beauty of the city in the fall. When I moved to Manhattan that winter – after being delayed by a blizzard and having to sleep on the bare floor of my old apartment until I could get a flight out – the first thing I saw as my cab cut through Queens was the immense quantity of snow-covered trash that walled off the sidewalks from the streets. As we made our way through Harlem and Morningside Heights, "Empire State of Mind" came on the radio: a slickly ironic anthem given the fact that none of glamour promised by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys seemed to be present anywhere in salt and snow-scraped Gotham. I spent that first winter and spring semester buried in city snow and Morningside misery, exacerbated by the fact that my Monday and Wednesday mornings demanded that I trudge through slush and ice-slick streets at 0900 to take University Writing, which, incidentally, is where I first encountered Didion's essay. Suffice it to say, the romance was short-lived.

All romances are short-lived, save the romance of romance.

Time passed. I suffered. I endured. I drank. I suffered and endured and drank some more. Finally, I graduated. I left the city abruptly in late May of 2013 to serve out what would be a two-year sentence in Hollywood, California. The story of why I left is well-known enough. No place in New York would hire me. I got an offer in California that I could've refused, but to do so would have meant drowning both myself and my significant other in the sharp realities of unemployment – or worse, misemployment – and as much as it pained me, I left. It meant losing her for good, but fuck it: she was better off without me as I always knew she would be and I, for better or worse, was temporary.

I hated Hollywood: it felt provincial, vulgar; far too obvious in the ambitions that flourished or died there. Its sole charm was that it was cheaper to live in than New York and that once I moved out of my first "celebrity" (a wrestler's Reality TV daughter, a well-known rapper's grow room) apartment complex and into an ancient 1928 building with a courtyard that cost half as much, easy enough to write in. I was immensely unhappy in Hollywood. The only thing I really enjoyed was my job, but by the time the start-up I was working for suffered its first major stall, I was done with the place.

So I traveled. Few people know that I traveled: the only people I told were the ones that I knew wouldn't think of it as out of character. I spent quite a bit of time abroad with a girl that almost no one knew I was dating. I'd like to say that the reason for that are complicated, but they're not and at this point, they "why" of the story isn't important. It seldom is. What's important is the story itself: who we tell it to, how it varies, what meaning we derive from it.

Life is always a series of reinventions. We find out who we are by finding out who and what we are not. We discover what home is by searching for it, by looking for the places that resonate with us, by returning to the places that call us back.

For me, those places have always been oases and islands, as unstable and adrift as I am. I am fond of telling people that I grew up and got my first education in an Irish bar and, to some degree, that is true. That bar, now gone, was one of those early tastes of home for me. So was the next bar. And some job. And some apartment. And of course, some girl and then some other girl. It was – and is – a matter of temperament. But the movement was always forward. Leave everything behind. Forge a new skin. Take a new name (Carl, Black Jimmy, Kalae, Kal, K.S. Anthony... have we met? I don't think we have). Adopt a new proxy family: cops, drinkers, students, writers, kind people. Move on. Never turn around. Never go back. Never look behind.

No past to speak of. I'm not from anywhere, really...so tell me more about yourself.

I broke that rule for New York because I felt like I had a past to speak of in New York.

I came back to New York for a girl and for a job, but mostly for a girl. I came back to her too: she was part of the world I left behind when I moved, but I found that, like New York, there was something about her that I could not – and perhaps still cannot – leave behind.

That story isn't well-known and I don't really care to tell it. Life happened. Jobs disappear. Friends fuck off. People leave. It's not an interesting tale. At this point, it's less a trauma than a tedious detail that serves no narrative purpose other than to offer some scant wisdom about things that I already knew, not through nostalgia, but through the bitter and foggy lens of hindsight.

New York City is the only city I've ever moved back to. The girl, though it puzzles and pains me to admit it, is the only girl I would ever go back to.

There may very well be other cities. There will certainly be other girls. I will stay or move for other reasons. I will find other homes so long as there are places and people who will take me in.

That's fine. Life is always a series of reinventions.

Even so.

I will never love anyone quite that way again.

11 April 2017

Some Question Of Solitude

Someone recently said to me, "I don't know how you do it: being alone all the time." The implied question caught me off-guard. I never really think of myself as being "alone all the time," though it's true that I often go days without leaving my apartment, true that the number of friends that call on me here can be counted on a single finger, true that I am, for all intents and purposes, alone all the time.

A year ago, I was in a very different place. I had a full-time job that allowed me to work remotely. I had a girlfriend who I loved more than anything. I had a secondary family - hers - that provided a kind of warmth and acceptance that has always eluded me. I had friends that I'd see if not often, than at least regularly, some shared with her, others of my own. I was whatever the opposite of alone was. 

And then everything fell apart. As with so many other things, the first signs of deterioration were ignored to avoid discomfort, ignored to avoid having to make changes, ignored, full stop. 

There's more to all of that, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that it all fell apart. 

Then again, I'm not even sure that matters. 

People leave. Lives are disrupted. Things change. All of that is familiar to me. What is unfamiliar now – and what the commenter seemingly recognized – is that I have not really returned to any semblance of my former self. I've endured too many humiliations, large and small, to go back to being able to really place my faith or trust in any of the institutions or ideals I used to believe in. 

At some point, I think the only way to live with the things that have crippled us is to wear our scars as badges of honor and to learn to find comfort under the weight of whatever it is we have to bear. 

You just keep going because that's what you do. Maybe because you're too stubborn to quit. Maybe because you're convinced it'll get better. Maybe because you know it could always get worse. Maybe because it's just habit.

I don't know. I just keep going. Probably because I know that I was always alone to begin with.

As are we all.