There was an uncomfortable silence. Stan would be home for the meeting soon so Lenny didn’t have the time to say anything really valid about the needles to the rest of us. It was just that dead time of day when we usually talk about other things like ball games.
I figured somebody had to say something so I asked, “Anybody catch the Lakers?” Lenny had seen the game and he broke it down for us while we waited. Stan came in the middle of it and he picked up the description. “Deal with it,” he calmly effused, “eleven three-pointers on sixty-eight percent shooting and eighteen of twenty from the line,” and we were all appreciative if for no reason other than the solidarity it lent.
We sat for just a second longer before Stan segued into the meeting: “Where’re we at?”
Lenny was silent and let somebody else do the talking thank god. Stan could figure from the silence that the stuff hadn’t turned up. It was uncomfortable but it wasn’t like there was anything to dispute. Lenny’s brother and his girlfriend had been the only visitors the whole weekend and now the needles were gone. Nobody even commented on the weed.
I proposed we each chip in fifty bucks for new needles and then Len said he’d ask his brother about them but nobody said anything. Stan wanted to know if he could take his share out of the rent and we all supposed that would be all right. The most uncomfortable thing was that without the needles the turntables sat still and mute. The red light on the amp was on as if the music had been interrupted in mid-groove. The silence was a palpable souvenir of the needles’ absence.
We were just about to end the meeting when Kevin piped up. “But it’s bullshit,” he said.
Len was visibly stricken by a pang of tension. Stan sighed, “what?”
“Well I mean, check it out,” he continued, “I mean I didn’t take the needles and lose them or whatever and I don’t have fifty bucks to just throw around.”
Stan started to say , kind of under his breath , that he could front Kevin the fifty but Kevin said he had it. “I just want to know what we’re going to do in the future if something like this happens again.” Len started to say something but stopped and I said, “Well, it isn’t going to happen again,” in a tone of voice that pretty much put an end to the meeting with my age advantage and all. We left it at that.
I hate my life. I don’t know what I am going to do about it and sometimes I feel so trapped and paralyzed by my existence I feel like I’m going to explode. I know it can’t go on like this. I live with a bunch of guys I know, at least — it could be worse — but it’s like I’m in college again. I never thought thirty’d be this way.
I don”t think I ever had an image of it being any way, but I wouldn’t have ever guessed this. I need to make a new plan but for some reason it isn’t coming together. I always zigged and zagged before and lately it’s like I’m out of gas. How can that be? I’m only thirty. Shit.
1988. Autumn and I say “fuck this,” and move to China. At least that’s how I tell it now. My three years in Asia have been reduced to a sidenote on my resume. I mean I guess it started out as Taiwan before and became Malaysia and Thailand and India and Japan after … and now it’s “an experience which has given me a cultural appreciation for Asian cultures.” The point is I split and so did everybody else I know.
I remember when we sat around the university local and threw our passports on the table. Kevin was going to Paris, Ken to Guatemala City, me to Taipei and Tracy to the Peace Corps. She hadn’t been assigned to Malawi yet. And we laughed like fucking kids and threw our damn hands in the air and sucked down pitchers of beer and it was all good.
Now me and Kevin are here, Tracy works in DC, and none of us wants to talk about Ken except his mother who always wants us to “stop by any time” when we’re in Texas visiting our own families. And it’s all bloody and sore and itches like an amputated leg’s supposed to.
Whatever. I have to get something going for myself. My doctor says I only have fifty more years left. I mean if I’m lucky.
Le fin de siecle is a fucking joke. Lenny exaggerates pitifully when he makes plans for it. He talks about Times Square and Paris and some island in the Pacific off the date line, but it’s been four years since he’s traveled. And that was Mexico. I know he won’t do what he says he’s going to do anymore.
When we were kids, the year 2000 was like this crazy place where we’d all be in our early thirties and kings of the damn world. Now it’s a fucking lie about how little time means and how much hype time-sellers have to pitch.
My mother thinks it matters still. She isn’t a part of the revolution of apathy we are and so it’s a serious pain in the ass trying to explain to her about fruitlessness on arable land. Time passes that’s for sure. My hair gets longer and my ass gets colder and lonelier, too. Nobody else seems to have a problem with it.
Christ on the Rue Jacob! I feel fucking great! Good god, I want to scream at the top of my lungs for about an hour while the world spins under my feet. Pass me the bowl there Lenny and let’s get this show a-pumping. The guys have no idea what I’m doing back here except that when I leave the party it’s usually to make some notes.
Fuckity fuck … life is a gas, baby. What are you going to do about that you apathetic fuck? Huh? What are you going to do about the fact that it is beautiful and warm and there are people and places and love is a real goddamn emotion and the drugs are relatively good and California is all free and you aren’t starving and dying in a Zairean refugee camp or in a ditch in Bosnia. What are you going to do about the fact that you are on fire?
When my father and mother crossed the border in 1957, they were in the back of a chevy longbed and they were not illegals. The crossing was the last leg of their journey from Africa which took them two years and lord knows how much money. The revolution in my father’s homeland cost him everything. He was lucky to get a professorship here. No. As he always says you make your own luck.
“My father wanted a better life for us,” is what I always say when people ask why we moved here. They can tell I’m unhappy.
What is there left for me to do? I haven’t had sex in three months. I can’t seem to get the appetite for the chase or even for the event. I mean I’ve had opportunities and lately I even reject those. What’s the point?
I could try looking at it this way: thirty is a good year to begin …
I could fall in love. “You make your own luck,” is what he said. I never argued with him though I think that’s a load of shit. You make your own rationalizations is more like it.
Let’s put the puzzle pieces together: December 31st, 1988 and I’m riding a 350cc ’81 Sanyang motorcycle across an empty field in rural China. It’s Cheng-du province and Tiananmen Square is months away and when it happens I won’t know about it anyway because I am living with the Chinese. And I’m flying fast through the cold, cold countryside. My bike chokes and I feel it seize so I pull over for a minute but don’t kill the engine. It’s all screwy. I think there’s something in the fuel line. I don’t know if the bike will get me back to the doctor’s ranch where I am staying. I breathe a deep sigh over the ruddling hum of the engine and see my breath cold and white in the night air.
I look at my watch. It’s midnight. I realize that the equivalent time in New York and San Francisco and wherever else was met with balls dropping and firecrackers and wet warm drunken kisses and Auld Lang Syne and eggnog and it all hits me like a wall. No one here even knows what that’s like or what it’s about. It means nothing. It’s as empty as the tube in my fuel line past the block in the joint. I sigh and feel strangely great. I dance a little jig. I am thrilled at being free of all the bullshit. It may well be my one clean moment.
I picked up the new needles today. I got home this afternoon and opened the front door and called out, “We got music again!” But no one responded. I walked through the entire flat but there was no one around.
It’s been a beautiful day. It’s warm and sunny out and the skies look like October: blue and clear and light. I walked down to the front room and the sun was streaming in through the windows all over the futon and the floor.
I sat in the long warm patch of light and tore open the bubblewrap. The needles are light and beautiful. They have tiny diamonds in them I guess. What a gorgeous little design. I handled the needles for a minute before sliding across the rug and putting one on: locking it onto the tone arm.
I walked down to the records room. There’s vinyl everywhere and gear for days. I was flipping through the Lee Morgan and Horace Silver and that whole era of sweet-sounding music music music when I saw that someone had misplaced one of my records.
I picked the record out of the stack and walked back to the front room. There were birds out on the fence. I pulled the platter and cleaned the vinyl slowly with the brown brush and fluid. It hadn’t been spun in months, hell maybe years.
It was ‘Metamorphosen‘ on one side and ‘Tod und Verklarung‘ on the other – Richard Strauss, Deutsche Gramophone. I chose the flip side. The needle was new so I put my finger to my lips, licked it and then gently rubbed the diamond tip. The prick barely registered on my wrinkled fingerprint. It felt rough, like a cat’s tongue.
I fired up the mixer, the amp, the receiver and clicked the selector over while they all warmed up. The crossfader slid gently through and I set the needle down.
After my father died I tried to find that fucking record. All I wanted the morning after I had him burned was to feel warm and empty like I did that day, lying, thirty, in the sunny patch on our ratty black futon with nothing but cocktails and a joint to look forward to.