-Sam HaiNe (@S_HaiNe82)
Took little to no effort at all to break the Oxy in half and devour the fifty percent right off the chopping block. All the feeling of horse but Brita filtered and synthesized like manmade sunlight and candy daiquiris. It takes little to no time at all to feel the first pulls of a good time feeling. I shuffled through music playlists and ambiance, I even took time to look back before rolling my eyes in their recline position. No time needed to recollect the previous twenty four hours. It takes little to no effort to think about Philadelphia.
It’s been a couple months since I said my graces and goodbyes to my relationship with the funeral director; the friendliest and still a joy to be around, still friends. Since then, I’ve been solitary and by myself.
Even picked up a square job working as a line cook and porter at a popular East Village taco spot, alongside a rag tag crew of rascals and do-gooders, slicing chunks of profit from the casual foodie two shoes.
I became employed and I was working hard. I was alone; without the uneasy optimism of solitude, chain smoking on my lunch breaks and isolating my off hours with simple fitness. And then, “She” walked right back into the spotlight.
To be clear, she never did leave my life but, she’s back; episodic or not, she’s back. She and I go back eight to nine years. I met her mugshot online and initially what started as window shopping became a crushed interest then pursuit and finally a short lived but, fruitful affair that quickly went on hiatus and birthed a deep friendship. She went her way and I went mine as we stumbled through the years as cohorts, conspirators and comrades rather than lovers. She calls me Popeye because I’ve lost a lot of weight; congratulates me on my average citizen occupation and general good health and I keep getting lost in our conversations and ups & downs. It seems like things happen for a reason (like destiny). Or it’s just our pessimistic recollections and retellings of heartbroken resumes & reprisals that have us running alongside each other … somehow building over the ashes of our serenades and love affairs while sifting through the rubble and collateral damage. Time goes by and I know more about her now than I could have when it started. Time goes by and the seasons are in transition from winter to spring. Things are feeling like they’re changing, maybe… but, for the better.
Blue hours bleeding into daylight after a ten day work schedule. Your legs are creaking. Your head isn’t sure if you’re dreaming or awake. You’ve barely packed your go-bag by the time the second alarm clock sounds. You wash off the sleep from you face and dress yourself in whatever’s clever. You step in front of the mirror and look yourself once, twice maybe three times over and see me looking back at you looking at myself. A smile wrinkles its way into the corner of my face. It’s time to get going.
You're both booked to go on a reconnaissance mission to South Philadelphia and attend a read & meet for crime writers and all things noir. The objective: Shake hands, eat the free snacks and build the bridge toward being a featured writer at a future Noir @ the Bar in Philly. It’s just another small step for Hainesville as a concept to be recognized by the crime writing community. That is if the alcohol doesn’t muddy up the road to progress before that.
The lines for the bus are dense and pulse like the muscles of a python. She meets you at the curb and you can’t think twice about hugging her. She’s not the type and you’re just too happy to see her again.
You're on the road now. She smells good. You feel good. Sleep almost takes you but, the conversations you engage in are like a cup of coffee. You show off your new shiv, talk about work, talk out loud and talk about your thoughts and dark matter. You notice her hazel eyes like it’s the first time. You take moments in-between paragraphs to comb her face with your eyes like it’s new territory, like you never want to forget.
Two hours fly by and you can’t even tell if you’ve been talking for that long or dreamt half of the chat. The two hours fly by and the curtain of green outside your window parts to reveal the Philadelphia skyline. You cross the Ben Franklyn Bridge and into Center City - You say, “We’re here, babe". It's not the first time you've said this but the freshest version.
The streets looked the same but cleaner. You take a brief breathe to take it all in again. You look up into the sky and up at the monoliths around you, “Welcome back”, you say to yourself. Not the first time you’ve said this but the freshest version to summarize your heartfelt sentiment.
The hotel room was a time capsule from the mid-nineteen forties. Real key with brass room number included.
Not too shabby for my dollar. It was an art-deco getaway in the middle of a modern techno-renaissance. Wood flooring, marble bathroom and leather arm chair included. A room fit for Lamont Cranston but, more than suitable for us.
You both change, somewhat, into comfortable attire but neither raggedy. Both of you proceed to Old City for walk-in dinner arraignments at Lucha Cartel including fantastic dinner entrées and a pitcher of the tequila margarita for the appetizer; leaving your tip and payment under the watchful eyes of all the luchador saints adorning the walls.
You stroll past the landmarks of the nation’s birth like two shadows from Hainesville, moving in slow motion and sharing intimate pauses between confessional dialogues. The pre-rolled joints of marijuana enhance the evening with a glossy lens as THC paces the moments like a vaporwave song. You get so caught up in what’s being said and the expositions around them that you forget to be paranoid. You don’t mind it. You just relax and enjoy the quiet walk through the amber lit back alleys of South Philadelphia. Echoes of your first date half a decade ago sound off as you stop periodically to take pictures of the urban foreground and smoke a lil more.
She’s the master of the resting bitch face and the incense ingested made her quiet, reserved and to the point. I bet making her laugh was like pinching yourself, wasn’t it? Just to remind yourself you weren’t dreaming the whole thing. Just to see if her smile could last a little bit longer. You rehearse your pirouettes during monologues around each other. Until, you reach your destination at the Society Hill Playhouse for a series of readings by published and known writers of noir.
The Black Lodge
The lobby looked like Twin Peaks and the bartender resembled an apparition from a haunted High School prom. The complimentary napkin snacks were crude throwbacks to the days of old: salted pretzels and LAYS potato chips. The bathroom was the post-war equivalent of a service restroom at the Overlook Hotel. The reading space was held in a theater room which could’ve been the setting of many memorable nights of creative expressions of the human experience. The stage was just the right height and the staff was welcoming and sweet.
The readers gathered from different parts of the region tonight for a final send off to the Playhouse and home of Philly’s NoirCon. Each performer had a limited amount of time to read from one of their works. If not the time keeper would start swinging around a toy chainsaw wildly like Leatherface.
The first handful of readers included Richie Narvaez the NY chapter president of the Mystery Writers of America. His words precise and his rhythm steady. The three that followed were a blur because, the half pitcher of Margareta crept up and tranquilized me into a nodding transition of sleep. My date sensing the uproar of snoring about to bellow out of my chest, kicks my leg and elbows my arm, “Wake up, Popeye”, she said.
This battle of wills with sleep took three readers to win. Finally, it came down to physically biting down on the webbing between my thumb and pointer finger for the second wind I needed.
The yarns continued to be spun on stage and finally my eyes were fully opened.
The amusing part is noticing that a lot of writers don’t get the opportunity to read their work out loud and even less experience with reading on a time limit.
Voices and dialogue that sounded so crisp and rehearsed in private or in one’s head were now subject to crunch time, cadence and tone. Writers would approach the microphone with confidence and introduce themselves before beginning the yarn on their own terms and individual rhythm. Their body language and storytelling gelled together in clear communications. Until, the first time warning, then the second one and the final sixty seconds of sudden death. Each warning rang off like a death knell prompting readers to forfeit style and double time their tales in a race to the finish line. Some of them were commendable in the way they edited yarns on the fly. Others tried their best to cross the checkered flag into victory lane; some of them did and others didn’t. And a few of them just said “screw the time limit” and plowed through the chainsaw noise till they exorcised enough of the story to be at peace and sit down. Out of all the tales, the one that I still remember and enjoyed is the story about a husband trying to murder his wife and learning the hard truth - that murder isn’t as easy as it looks in the movies.
When the show was over, we were ready to resume drinking on South Street. We settled at O’Neals.
Building Steam with a Grain of Salt
Both of yous cut your way through the frat boys and button up shirts of meat puppets and high heeled cock socks to sit at the bar. Both under the influence and needed more libation before calling it in. Both somewhat drained from the mood of the noir readings. Both tired and out of wordplay; both of yous just passing the time. That’s when you heard it, didn’t you? The little voice in your head telling you things you don’t want to hear. Asking you questions you don’t want to answer. Trying to ruin a good time you’re having with sharp whispers in your mind. But, you don’t listen, you don’t care and you are enjoying every minute of it. It’s a cool Saturday night and there are women everywhere but, you can’t recall what any of them looked like, you just remember her.
It’s a moment and just a good feeling moment with someone you care about, you try to capture it in the Nikon of your mind. You’ve had many like this one and you can’t promise yourself when the next one will come. But, you still try. There are times when you get so frustrated and flustered with insecurity you just want to say, “Why am I here?” But, you keep coming around just to be there when she shows up. She's your golden girl. She's stubborn. She's a maelstrom of cynism. She's cloak & dagger. She's your femme fatale. She's the cat's meow.
The tennis match of confessionals continue as you both drink Irish Gingers and make the most of the time left on the tab.
You pay your dues and venture back into the back alleys and smoke some more. The high sedates you but, you’ve never agreed with marijuana. The voice is still whispering in your head. “You can’t win”.
The hotel room is the same as you left it. One of you has to shower and prepare for bed. Might as well be you.
And here you are, face to face with me; looking at you looking back at me.
Mirror in the Bathroom
The damn thing looks back at me with dark circles in its eyes. It could be the exhaustion or the ingredients of wet and dry in my body. It could be a momentary lapse in sanity. Or it could be me leaving myself and facing introspection in the reflecting pool on the wall. Often times these things feel more like interrogation than self-assurance.
Somewhere behind the eyes you can see the words you’ve ignored and the strings you’ve missed. The voice rehashes its diatribe, reminding you about your scars and picks at the untouched parts. It cuts so deep that you wished you didn’t leave your real drugs at home.
“When the dust settles, you'll be back here with me. Just like the old days. So don’t get all attached to something you’ve built up in your head” it punctuates.
“And win, lose or draw, when the dust settles you’ll just be a small voice in my head and not my cellmate or fortune teller” I replied.
It’s just your imagination. It’s just a little bit of fear. So many years spent with myself that I don’t know how to cope with maybe being content, even if it might be temporary. Temporary is good enough for me if that’s what’s in the tarot deck. Slivers are always better than tastings. I take my hands from around the neck of the reflection in the mirror and I’m back to my senses with only the sound of running water from the faucet as confirmation that I’m okay.
Unfinished Sympathy –
The shower was more than pleasant. The complimentary bathrobes fit like humid Florida mornings. The bed was a queen and meant making a conscious effort not to seize the others personal space. The cable felt like home. The whole room had a vibe of elegance.
She took her time to shower and change. “Don’t be thirsty”, I told myself. “Relax, take it easy, old man”.
The moments before you sleep with someone that you actually care about always feel like the last breathes before you sniff a rail of blow. You can feel it in your toes and under your skin. Jitters.
She exits the bathroom and makes her calls. You casually watch television and patiently wait for the conversation to segway to a close. Once the call drops and the lights go out, you rehearse your moves and find the channels where your hands can go and read her body like brail. She responds in synchronicity with your motions and you’re synergy spills out of your clothes and into the wrinkles of the bedsheets. She tastes like you remember and feels genuine every time. It’s one of the truest times I can both be completely vulnerable and unfiltered. Nothing else matters at the moment as I let go of my consciousness and blend into her physical. My hands move over her breasts, tracing the edges of her boundaries. I pull her and pin her down and put her in position and place; not to restrain but to keep secure and safely.
The kisses are meditation and life givers at this point. Our bodies lock and twist around one another converging at that nexus point where hungry lips surrender to my craving. All these things I give and take and give again. I’m trying to find that deep itch within that only I can scratch. Her eyes flutter and her hands shake in my grasps. If only she knew what this does to me – it brings me peace and meaning. Yes, in the darkness of our intimacy I can find meaning. My body gives an inch more every time. She grips me; wraps her limbs around my body and I lean in to pull her hair back and taste her lips. She rolls her eyes back under her lids after taking a peek into the deep of my pupils. It’s getting harder… to not fade into her. I’m rigid and dense. I can feel her airway in my hands. There is no destination but she’s coming, over and over again.
“Hold onto it”, I say to myself, “don’t take this moment for granted, make it last”. And just as I’m about to reach the finale… the side effects of all the whiskey and tequila I drank began to surface. Muscles began to relax, body felt drained and the machine began to break down.
Demon alcohol, southern sabotage and all the frustration and swear words you could tie together and throw into a ditch covered in lime were spoken. My body was shot. My cock was drunk. And all the kings horse and all the kings men couldn’t restore my body and make me cum, I was dead.
She smelled like holidays. She felt like April rain. She offered to resuscitate me but I waved off the offer as futile. Although I was defeated, she had climaxed more times than I counted. “We’re getting old, Popeye”, she said.
I passed out into the ether and couldn’t be brought back.
The next morning we ate our complimentary breakfast, collected our possessions and boarded the bus back to Manhattan, NYC.
Upon our return she informed me that at some point in the evening, she went to the bathroom and when she returned she found me sprawled out on the mattress like a starfish in a nudist coma. She said, “Sam? Get up, Sam.” I didn’t respond. Then something happened that I do remember. I remember waking up and seeing her standing over the bed and her telling me, “Sam I love you but, can you move a little to the left?”
And there was the silver lining. My fractured half-asleep mind fell back into the ether and a smile must’ve stretched out under my beard. She said she loved me. She loved me and regardless of exposition that was worth every dollar spent on this trip.
It’s the small things that really matter to the disillusioned mind.