I walked quickly, darting in and out of the hordes of people covering the sidewalks and streets like vermin, whose sole purpose seemed to be to keep me from my destination. Interfering with my food. Hundreds of people walked with no concern or seemingly without any awareness of one another. Beware of the disaster that is the intersection of Roosevelt avenue and Main street in Flushing, Queens. A section of Flushing, A Dutch name as well, could easily be mistaken for a city in Asia, the second largest Chinatown in New York and festering. I’ve watched the neighborhood transform over the years. Ronald and I would take the bus there to rack spray paint and buy butterfly knives. Hattie confiscated my knife, in a feeble attempt to parent me properly when it was convenient to do so. I still possess the knife, it became our bathroom window handle. Knives out, windows open.
Catherine wanted that fixed. I want a lot of things to be fixed. I haven’t changed or so I thought but this place has, change can be both bad and good. I would deal with the crouching tigers, the feverish chain smoking and involuntary spitting on the ground, I’ll take the bad manners of some select people as long as I get to eat their food.
I opened the door of my favorite Vietnamese restaurant where I was meeting Mr. Sundeep Ceraso. A college professor I had a few classes with. I got him into The Murder City Devils and he explained the importance of The Cure’s Disintegration. The ironically upbeat music offset by some truly morose lyrics. I liked the self consciousness, the vulnerability in Robert Smith’s voice as he shared himself completely with everyone and anyone who cared to listen. That doesn’t always happen. You know what I mean, people don’t always care to listen. People don’t really care, for the most part, they don’t. I wished I didn’t care, but that’s my problem.
A tall brownish man, with a laugh like no other. Braun. A man who had become a true friend to me. He commanded a sharp tongue and without struggle tension easily emanated from him but I’ve grown to love him wholeheartedly. I’ve maintained little contact with him over the past few months, more so, than everyone else I loved in my life. I shared my literary aspirations with him, while his efforts greatly surpassed anything I could ever write or achieve. It was Sundeep’s opinion I highly valued and I appreciated any advice he could give me even if it stung.
Sundeep was born in India, and traveled the world with his Indian father and Italian-Irish mother before settling in Queens. It really is the the world’s borough. He taught English Literature at my CUNY College. He preferred to call all of his students doctors, so as doctors tend to examine things we examined literature and tried to explore the narration and delve into the meaning and subtext as far as possible.
“Table for one?” asked a short man with facial hair worse than my own, staring rudely at my black eye. I understood his failure as a man to produce hair on his face so I forgave his bad manners. He should have seriously reconsidered shaving that weak growth on his chin. E for effort, though.
“No. No, thank you I’m meeting someone here. Uh, there he is. Thanks.” I tipped my head toward Sundeep, acknowledging that I saw him. I walked to the table with the feeling everyone was looking at me. Does that happen to you?
“Ah, Dr.Flood. Running late? I don’t remember you being so tardy.” He said as he shook my hand. I noticed his usual pile of layers on the chair beside him. He didn’t need all those clothes I thought but to each is own.
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that. The bus was catastrophic. This world is in absolute ruin.” I said removing my hooded sweatshirt. “But you know what?”
“I feel so tall around these parts,” I whispered happily.
“I see. What does that say? Goatwhore? Okay,” said Sundeep long and dismissively. “There is always a chance for a disruption with regards to the Metropolitan Transit Authority. You can’t predict it. Signal problems. Fire on the tracks. Do you want to split an order of spring rolls? I’m also going to get an order of pork and shrimp toast. I love it because it’s crunchy. Are you ready to order or do you need more time? I’m not trying to rush you but seriously I’m rushing you. I’m fucking starving.”
One of the numerous waiters, stood strangely close to me with his black vest over his white shirt. He didn’t say anything just stood there. Why did they have such a large waitstaff?
“Yeah, I’m ready. Do you want to go first?” Sundeep hurriedly motioned for me to go ahead, with his mitten hands clutching succulent bean sprouts, dripping plum sauce. “I would like the tie gau. How do you say that? Tie gau. Am I saying it right?”
“Which one?” asked the bored looking waiter. I pointed to the number on the colorless menu.
“That one. How do you say that?”
“That one is number twelve. What drink?”
“Uh, alright. Number twelve it is. No cultural lessons today. Large. Please with beef balls.”
“What Drink?” he said annoyed.
“I’ll have sriracha.” I said trying to lighten things up, it failed. “I’m good with the water. Thank you. Sorry.” I handed the waiter the menu. Sundeep ordered his food. There were little dishes and plates full of green vegetables and various sauces in abundance. “Geez. He really didn’t want to help me with my Vietnamese, now did he? Your hands are weirding me out. Why do you eat like that? Are your fingers fucking fused together?”
“No,” he said, wiggling his plum sauce stained fingers. “See. I always wonder if these men appear rude because of the language barrier or they just dislike non-asian patrons. Technically, India is located in India. Asia. Asia. I meant in Asia. Anyway, I was thinking to myself about the time you were unprepared for my well prepared exam, with ample time given to study, If I don’t say so myself, while I was waiting for you. Let the record state that I give a fair amount of time for my students to study the material for an examination.”
“I am a horrible human being. I worked nights then, dude. I was exhausted and I didn’t get around to reading the whole thing. What was it? Robert Louis Stevenson. The whole class didn’t need to know that I am a giant idiot. I bet there were some others who didn’t always read all of the required reading assignments besides me, just saying and I read Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. It was just after the fact. I wasn’t going to hand in nothing, I thought fuck it, just write something. Maybe if you enjoyed it, just maybe, I might get a grade for it.”
“A story about a hot dog who wants to learn how to play backgammon. Only after learning how does the hot dog realize he has no arms or hands to play the game with. By the way, what grade did you get?”
“A zero. It was an existential fable. I understand the frustration of that hot dog. Thanks for nothing. I don’t know how to play backgammon.”
“The lowest grade got dropped. Stop crying! How is work going?”
“Don’t ask me about my work.”
“When are you graduating?”
“Never. If everything goes well, it should happen soon, but with my luck who knows. I know I’m making some headway but the progress is so minimal. I’m champing at the bit for some real progression. A career not just a shitty job to barely get me by. I know I just have to stay focused and be patient but still its getting ridiculous.”
“You’re fine. You’re young. So it’s taking longer to establish yourself than you hoped for. It’s not the end of the world. It is the way of the world now. More and more young adults are in your position. Look at the all the people that are unemployed. I’ve spoken with people who have doctorates and they can’t find work, so they are working in coffee houses and they are security guards at the Met. It’s a rough time. You have a job, you might not like it but it’s a living. You’re working towards something. Try to enjoy it. Try to have some fun with it instead of worrying yourself into a panic.”
“I can’t help it. I want more from life. I want to be able to do more for Catherine. Maybe it’s my age but I think about marriage more. I would like to one day get married and have children, is it weird I’m thinking about this shit, but at the rate I’m going I probably won’t get married.” I wouldn’t get married, let alone have children if I remained in that position I was in. I never want to quarrel over money or not be able to completely provide for my family. I will not do that injustice to my unborn children like it was done to my sister and myself.
“Soup’s on!” said Sundeep as a different waiter brought out all our food. “Your what? 28? 29? Why wouldn’t you be able to get married?”
“If I met the right girl.”
“If you met the right girl.”
“I’m 28. Before you know it, I’ll be 40, then 50. And so it goes. I mean, if I am not financially stable enough to support a family then I won’t have one. I don’t want to raise kids with no money like the way Catherine and I were. I also don’t want to fight about money. Ever. I just want to have something for myself. I want to do something with myself. I just want something good to happen for once. I am growing incredibly anxious and uneasy about this whole life thing. I look around and I see potential in spite of the negative elements in this world and I just feel…”
“What? What do you feel, Wilhelm?” Sundeep was genuinely inquisitive.
“Defeated. I feel defeated in most aspects of my life. I know that sounds so melodramatic. I don’t want to have a pity party. I have just been disappointed a lot by everything. Women. Family. Friends. Women. Economically. Financially. Politically. This distance within me is stretching, and I don’t feel like I belong anywhere, I don’t fit into the scheme of things. I’m lost. I’m missing the point of my existence. I am the hot dog.”
“But you have arms. Everyone feels this at some stage in their life. You’re in a rut but you’re young. You have time. So much time. I wish I was your age with the world in front of me instead of looking back on it. You will look back on this spot and see that it was just a transitional period. You will be fine. Just keep working hard. Hard work pays off.”
“I’m not so sure. I want to be happy, Catherine thinks I’m incapable of happiness, like I won’t allow myself to be happy because of some circumstance. I think I could be happy. I know I sound overemotional, and at times I am but I’m happy. I’m not frowning all the time. Writing makes me happy. I want to write something. Rephrase. I want to finish something. I want to meet a nice girl. I sound like the biggest woman. Am I a girl? Am I the only guy who wants this shit? I want a family of my own. I crave my own house. I could tell you exactly what it looks like.”
“Fun fact!” I covered one side my mouth and whispered, “It has a barn. I want all these things that appear completely impossible for me to achieve.”
“There will always be something else that you will want. And that will seem impossible as well. I understand that you work hard, and you want things to happen, I know its a difficult time for you, it hasn’t been an easy ride for you, I know this but in time you will have the things you want. It just kind of happens. So stop dwelling on it. Right now you just need a sense of purpose.”
“I do want a sense of purpose. Doesn’t everybody? What have I done? I haven’t done anything. I know this.”
“What have I done? Are you looking to change the world?”
“You teach. You have a family. A house. You’ve written a book. You’ve given lectures. Do I want to change the world? No, I’m not that self indulgent or righteous for that matter. I want to create something that makes someone want to create something for themselves. I am so inspired by life, and art, and music and literature I want to contribute and connect with some one. Am I being vague enough for you?”
“I think you’re depressed. You don’t realize your self worth. You have an impact on everyone you come into contact with. Think of the impression you have on your family and your friends. All of the people you ignore love and believe in you. You don’t think they miss your influence and presence in their lives? They do, i’m certain of it. You have aspirations, you just have to do it. Keep writing, keep creating, keep your mind open. It will happen but this experiment, this idiotic thing that you’re doing I don’t quite get it.”
“I have always wanted to leave. To runaway. Immature, yes, but its still something that is always in the back of my mind. I have always loved the mystery behind the reclusive writer, or those protagonists in old movies who live alone in castles. I want to get in their minds, understand the ethos behind their loneliness. I understand loneliness. I get lonely people. Why do people shun other people? The answer is almost always pain. I think I’m too affected, I’ve become frivolous with my emotions.” I need to be more like Mr. Winnifred.
“There is nothing peculiar about emotions, or having them.”
“If I can’t leave this place then I can escape without actually going anywhere. That’s what I’m doing. Hidden in plain sight sort of thing. I just want to be alone and try to work things out within myself. I need some sort of inner peace. I’m sorting it out. Maybe I am depressed, if so, I want to deal with it myself, by myself. I think I need to desensitize, to become colder, more shut down from all the things that haunt me. If Picasso had his blue period, the work that comes out of this timeframe will be my pleistocene epoch, my own little ice age.”
“So you want to be a little recluse. You want isolation. Have you ever read Kant?”
“Funny you say. No, I haven’t. I wish I was a recluse though. A proper recluse.”
“Dr. Flood, do you want that last spring roll?”
“Be my guest.”
“You need to place a raw steak on your eye. I saw it in a movie.”
“Thanks for not bringing it up.”
“You’re welcome. You’re a giant idiot but you’re welcome.” Sundeep ate the spring roll.