The Living Alone Papers

Get numb enough to write. Get sloppy on Lagunitas Dog Town Pale Ale and green bud from Enrique, the Chicano homeboy dealer from work. Smoke a Dunhill out on the porch, crouching with my back against the door and a beer in my other hand. The ineffable symphony of rain. Faraway dun-orange glow of streetlights across the fields. Snuff the fag in the ash bucket, rise onto my feet and go back into the house, start up the PowerBook, take my dirty dishes down to the sink, get ready to write about the ache.

I went to see Frank Black and the Catholics play at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma last Friday. I was reminded why I generally don't go to shows. It wasn't that Frank wasn't great, he was, but first of all I forgot there's generally an opening act; there were two in this case, so I spent the first two hours of the show watching other people play. I'd switched shifts so I could make it to the show on time, when it turned out I could've just blown off the opening acts. So I was tired (from going to work at 7 a.m. instead of noon) and the bands weren't that great. On top of that, no one I knew was there; everyone I saw was a stranger, and everyone had their arm around someone else. I got to feeling pretty fucking lonely in the midst of all these good-looking kids and their good-looking love.
When Frank and his band finally came on at 10:15 I was pretty wiped, but I still did the jumping-around thing. He interspersed a few old Pixies tunes with a bunch of new stuff off their new album. It was good, but it was so loud that I went partially deaf; and there was a tall guy wedged in front of me, so I could barely make out Frank's cherubic, glistening face; and I couldn't understand what he was saying half the time; and I couldn't sit down. Why put myself through that when I could listen to a tape? With a tape I can control the volume, I can press stop or fast-forward or rewind, I can sit down or lie down or dance if I want to, and I don't lose the hearing in my right ear for the rest of the night.
I guess I'm just not a party animal.

"Hey, where you going?"
I was walking downtown, just finishing a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette and trying to get up the nerve to ask this girl out. I was walking along down a side street in front of a four-level parking lot going over opening phrases in my mind when I heard a woman's voice. I turned to look. She was on the other side of the street in a purple jacket, looking over at me with her hands on her hips. Her smile vanished, then reappeared. She started crossing the street, but heading away from me. "I've been doing this all day," she called. "You look like someone I know."
"That's OK," I called.
"Sorry to bother you," she said, walking away.
"No problem," I said over my shoulder. Then I added: "I hope you find who you're looking for."
I had to pee and I was trying to find a bathroom before I asked this girl out, so that I wouldn't have a full bladder and nervousness to contend with. At least, that's what I was telling myself; the truth is, I was looking for an excuse to put it off. I'm always a wuss about things like this.
There was a Japanese maple in a square of earth at the edge of the sidewalk. The cement was plastered with shiny red leaves. The clouds overhead looked like more rain soon. I went over my material again.
The girl worked behind the counter at the Grateful Bagel. I'd seen her for the first time the day before, when I popped in for lunch and had a pleasant conversation about Vanilla Ice with her and a long-blond-hair friend who was reading the newspaper. She seemed nice enough--younger than me, shorter, dark eyeshadow and short, spiky hair. The day before, she'd had Tori Amos playing on the stereo, Under The Pink , and I sang along with the CD. She didn't say anything then, but I thought I heard her singing, too; and she smiled at me as I left.
There was no bathroom. And then I was at the door, so I walked in. She was doing something over in a corner, and when she turned around it took her a minute before she recognized me from the day before.
"Hi," I said.
"Can I get a pizza bagel?"
"A pizza bagel is no problem," she said, and went to get one.
"At least you're warm in here," I said. "It's pretty chilly outside."
"Yeah, the bathrooms are freezing," she said.
"Oh yeah?"
"Uh huh. Want me to warm this up for you?"
"Yeah, that'd be nice," I said. "I'm going to use the bathroom, actually. I'll be right back."
"Wait, here's the key," she said.
"Thanks." She was wearing a rhinestone choker and something dark blue and gray. The Cure was playing. I took the key and went down the hall.
When I came back, the bagel was waiting in a brown paper bag. "Thanks," I said again. "You're right. Those bathrooms are cold."
"Yeah," she said. "Well, it's not our bathrooms, technically. It's Gaffney's." Gaffney's was the chic wine bar next door. "All the yuppies go in there and break stuff."
"Really? Yuppies? So it's not those punks I've been hearing so much about."
"No, it's these yuppies that go, 'Oh yeah, this sink will hold two people,' and then they try to have sex on the sink and they break it out of the wall."
"Charming," I said. "Why would anyone want to have sex in a bathroom? It's so uncomfortable. And cold."
She shrugged. I shrugged. She handed me my change.
"Well, thanks for the bagel," I said suddenly. "You have a really good day."
"Thanks, you too," she said. I turned and walked out onto the sidewalk.
All right, I said to myself, I chickened out. I lit another cigarette and took a bite out of my bagel. But at least she was smiling. Maybe another time. Maybe I'll become a regular and win her heart with regular Tori Amos duets. Too bad I don't really know The Cure.
Hold on to nothing as fast as you can, well....still, pretty good year.
I crossed the street into Courthouse Square, where a few raggedy young people squatted on the curb smoking and drinking coffee. As I passed, a lanky kid in a tattered shirt moved toward me and said, "Hey, man, spare any change?"
"Change for what?" I asked, stopping.
"Depending on how much I get, some cigarettes or some coffee."
"Yeah, I think I might have a buck," I said, getting out my wallet. "Oh. Nope, just a twenty."
"Even just a quarter would help," the kid said.
"Yeah," I said. "I've got one of those. Here."
"Thank you very much," he said. "I might even get one of those bagels. They're good."
"Yeah, I like that place," I said. "I like the girl that works there. She's really nice."
"Which one, the one that has the kind of short hair?"
"Yeah, the really short, dark hair. Kind of spiky."
"Yeah, I know her, she's cool. She's going out with a friend of mine."
"Oh," I said. "Well, that takes care of my next question. Good luck with the coffee." I turned and walked away.
And I don't know if it was right or not, but I felt a cool satisfaction.