NYLA

When I was a kid, Los Angeles was the coolest place that could have ever existed. It was the model for city life. The kind of place where dreams came true and where nightmares were real. A place where street violence and opulence were so sensational that movies were made about them. Los Angeles was the embodiment of what was lacking from everywhere I had been. Things happened, people were in motion, vices were a part of everyday life for all who craved it. It was reachable. I was in Colorado. California was three states away. A place I could drive someday, or even take a bus if my plans to runaway ever made it to the next level. When I eventually made it to Los Angeles, I was sorely disappointed in what I saw. It was mostly sun-baked bodies, buildings with grimy exteriors, poorly built and designed roadways, and an attitude to match. Oh, and then there was the beach, a polluted body crammed with polluted bodies and enough posted restrictions to give Stalin a tingle in his pants.

There was another place that caught my attention. A place so foreign to my sensibilities, it seemed like it could only exist on television. As far away from small town Colorado as could be. As unreachable as China. The cold and unforgiving cousin to Los Angeles. The towering city of New York. It was mythical in composition and motion. As I grew older it maintained its magical appeal. It became a virtual beast of a place. Fed by the force of will of the inhabitants. Made rough and marvelous by the spirit of the brave souls who try to tame it. New York did not disappoint in person. It was wonderful and gritty beyond anything television or my imagination could portray.

LaGuardia was my destination.  JFK was a pain in the ass, according to my friend who knew these sorts of things. As the plane drew closer to the ground, pressure began to build behind my eyes. Nothing like it had ever happened before. By the time the plane leveled out and was getting ready to touch down, the pain and pressure were so great that I thought the entire area of my eyes, nose, and upper lip would either cave in on itself or burst out the front. Sudden death seemed very possible. When we hit the runway it was with such force that the plane bounced and slid around like someone had buttered the tarmac as a joke. I thought we were going to crash, which, at least would relieve me from the pain of the impending destruction of my face. I looked around the plane. A few were as concerned as I was. Most, the regulars I presume, were unbothered. We didn't crash and the pressure eventually equalized itself. I pulled through. Let the games begin.

Mitch, who I had served with in Korea, was living in Manhattan. At the time, the location meant nothing to me. All I knew was the Bronx was scary and Brooklyn was getting better. Anywhere else was all the same. Mitch met me at the airport and we took a taxi back into the city. Now, this alone was a monumental event. I went to high school in a town that didn't have stoplights. At the time I was living in Mesa, Arizona, a decently sized suburb of Phoenix, but sitting in a funky smelling yellow cab, watching the lighted building grow taller against the night sky was unreal. That was just the beginning.

The taxi took us to a bar. The rest of this account will be filled with vague generalities. I hope someday to go back and learn more about the places I went, but at the time I was drunk, lost and trying to keep up, most of the time. At the bar we started taking shots. Most likely whiskey or vodka. There was a an Army Major in his dress uniform celebrating something. Mitch went to talk to him. I stood behind him, a little overwhelmed by the number of people packed into a little space. People were genuinely having a good time. Dancing and laughing and leaning on each other. I saw the Major point to me while still talking to Mitch. 'Let's get a shot and go', Mitch said abruptly. I was on board.

I asked what the Major was doing in dress uniform. 'Fuck that guy', Mitch replied. I wanted to know why he was pointing to me. Mitch told me that when he told the Major we were Army buddies, the guy said he could see Mitch being in, but not me. Mitch told him to fuck himself before we left. While walking to another bar, he suggested we get some pizza. He said we would need it for the night ahead.

Pizza was a great idea. It was as seen on television. Greasy, re-heated, aromatic, both crispy and soft. Texturally perfect. A two-handed ordeal. We walked, talked, and ate. It was like like the five years between our meetings were no more than a few weeks. There was catching up and bullshitting. He bumped into someone as we walked and gave a New York apology. I can't say exactly what it was, but it was a way of saying sorry without giving any ground. We finished the pizza and got back on track for drinking.

On the steps of a brick building was mottled group of guys in their twenties. Mitch seemed to know everyone, but I was starting to notice most everyone talked like they knew each other. After shots at the bar, we brought our beers back outside. The guys weren't friendly, necessarily. They seemed like a rough crew. They were, however, cordial and at ease with me. Mitch and I reviewed tales of depravity from our time in Korea. Everyone else joined in with stories that related. We kept drinking and time became unnecessary. Mitch had gone inside and I stayed out on the steps. I hadn't smoked in several months at that time and I was most likely basking in and torturing myself with the smell of smoke.

Suddenly the door swings open with intentional force. A bald man stood behind Mitch and announces that he's cut off. Mitch joins us outside, obviously pissed. He doesn't show the obvious signs of being too drunk. His speech is fine and there is know sway in his posture. We ask what happened, but only receive a list of reason that the bartender is a piece of shit. Mitch is down but not out. He asked me to go in and get a drink for him. It sounded like a fine plan to me. I wanted another for myself.

At the bar I asked for two beers. The bartender asked if one was for the guy he just took outside. Of course it wasn't. I used my best poker face. Unfortunately that face has lost far more than it has won. I walked out with the two beers and proudly handed one over. One drink into it, the door flew open again. This time propelled by anger. The same bartender came out to curse me for lying to him. He told us if we didn't get the hell out of there, he'd call the cops. With a choir of profanity we decided to leave. It was something like three in the morning. By my schedule it was only midnight. Mitch thought it was time to call it a night.

We walked what didn't seem like much of a distance. The doorman of a huge high-rise apartment nodded his head to us as we entered the lobby. Mitch was staggering slightly when he walked and wasn't talking much anymore. It seemed like tiredness more than impairment. On the elevator, he leaned against the wall next to the buttons. His finger chased the numbers until he landed on sixteen. The button lit up and off we went. I asked if he had moved to a new place? I didn't qualify it out loud, but I remembered him telling me he lived on the thirty-sixth or forty-sixth floor. He mumbled something that ended with the words 'the same place'. I nodded my head in agreement, though he wasn't looking in my direction.

When the door opened, we walked into an extremely long hall. I still carried my carry-on which was all I had packed for the trip. Halfway down the hall we stop. Mitch leans his shoulder and head against the door as he fishes out a key from his front pocket. I hear a dog begin to bark behind the door. Mitch hovered around the keyhole for a while before sliding it in. I chime in that I didn't know he had a dog. He explained that he didn't have a dog as the lock makes a clunk, clunk sound against his attempts to turn the key. He wrestles with the lock a few more times, accomplishing nothing except the dull clunk. He pulls out the keys and holds them up in front of his face. Again, he goes in with a key and it still will not open. I finally decided to offer my opinion, that I thought he lived on a higher floor. He assured me we were in the right place. A loop began to occur involving the slink of the key in and out of the lock and the clunk of rejection.

From the direction of the elevators a woman appeared. She wanted to know what we were doing. Mitch explained that he lived there and that we were going home. She explained that she didn't care and was calling the cops. I decided to set my bag down and have a seat beside it.

In what seemed to be a very short period of time, two officers in deep blue NYPD uniforms rounded the corner. The lady was in tow. One officer said 'Hey fuckhead, what're you doing?'. Mitch explained that he was going home. The officers asked for his apartment number. When he gave it the officers called him a dumbass for being on the wrong floor. They said we could let them walk us to Mitch's apartment or we could go with them to their precinct. We walked toward the elevators, followed by the boys in blue. The ride up was filled with uncomfortable silence. I don't think they wanted to be dealing with us, but since they got the call they couldn't just turn us loose. At Mitch's apartment we stood outside the door. One of the officers told Mitch to open the door so they could make sure we got inside safely. I felt a little odd at the way he phrased it. Mitch picked up on the same thing I did. He told the officers they were absolutely not making setting foot inside his apartment. They asked what he meant. He told them the same thing again and added that they'd done their part to see us home safe, but there was no need and they had no right to enter the apartment. The reluctant officers finally agreed and turned to leave once we had stepped inside. My first night in New York had come to a close.

Light coming through the enormous windows woke me up. My head hurt a little but my body felt light and numb from the booze still left in my system. The taste in my mouth was sour and harsh. I had obviously neglected to brush before passing out. Both of us still in our clothes, Mitch suggested we get some food. I slipped my shoes on and was ready to go. We took the elevator from the night before. A tall guy with a mountain bike was already inside. When we got to the street, Mitch told me the guy from the elevator was the guy who inspired the character Kramer from Seinfeld. I thought it was interesting, but I was singularly focused on food.

We crossed the street to a Bodega, something I would have called a corner shop or convenience store. As for so many other things, New York does it better and therefore has every right to name it whatever they want. I'm sure the city appreciates my approval. In the shop we found a small grill and sandwich press behind a counter. He ordered two breakfast sandwiches with everything. The grill sizzled to life and unseen hands shifted ingredients around with no effortless intensity. In a very short time, there were two thick works of culinary art between a well worn press. The edges speckled brown from years of cooked on spatter. The man wrapped them with the same practiced movements and handed them over. I was impressed and hungrier than ever. Something about the impressive display made the food more appealing.

We walked outside and unwrapped the sandwiches. The warmth inside the deli paper took the chill off of standing in the shadow of the surrounding buildings. Standing in the city felt surreal in a new way in the daylight. The first bite was buttery and crispy with just the right amount of sausage, bacon, and ham. They were perfectly textured and the egg was just runny enough. The bread and the wrapper were the only reasons the melted cheese stayed in place. I know that greasy food is always good after a long night of drinking, but this sandwich would have been delicious under any conditions. I commented to Mitch on how good it was. With a nod, he agreed. I stopped talking and finished eating.

We went back to his apartment to figure out what to do for the day. Mitch's girlfriend came by and hung out for a while. She was quite pretty and a few years younger than Mitch and I. The two of them went out, probably for cigarettes. I was glued to the view from the window. It was striking. If I remember correctly, both the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty were visible. Whatever I could see, I was more than I ever could have imagined. What was more interesting to me than the landmarks was that in every bit of space, somebody was doing something. There were people living their lives down there. I wondered if they ever marveled at the assembly of concrete and brick.

They came back and we hung out. We talked and told stories. Mitch heated up some Paella he had in the fridge for us to eat. I asked where his bottled water was and was astounded to find that he drank from the tap. I was pleasantly surprised. It was some of the best water I had ever tasted. That night, we hit a few bars. We ended up at a bar that where everybody was dancing. It didn't really seem like what I would consider a club, but almost everybody was up and moving. I was getting swept up in the enchantment of the city again. At a certain point, I went outside to get some fresh air. On the street, surrounded by the massive structures, decorated with scattered glimmers of light, I was again n awe. Something in the night pulled at me and I followed. I called my friend, Terran. She was the only other person I knew who had much travel under her belt. I wanted to share the experience with someone. We talked and I strolled on the sidewalk. The bright building fronts, calling patrons to carouse like moths to a flame, were growing dim behind me. I barely noticed and walked toward whatever caught my interest. It began to sink in that I wasn't quite sure where I was or how to get back to my friends. Images flashed in my mind of muggings and violence. An unfortunate, but natural tendency for me. Default toward the worst case. I kept walking, trying to look like I knew where I was going. Just then, a call from Mitch began to ring through. I hung up with Terran to answer. He had just noticed I was gone and wanted to find out where I was. I told him I had no idea, that I had just started walking. He was annoyed but asked enough questions about what I saw around me to get me moving back toward the bar.

Mitch, with genuine concern, lectured that wandering off wasn't a good idea. I thanked him for helping me get back and we found another bar to keep the booze flowing. At the end of the otherwise uneventful night, we made it back to Mitch's apartment. This time without police escort. The place was a nice enough studio with parquet floors. There was a kitchen on the right as soon as you walked in and then a small living area with a television and couch. Mitch's bed was in the back corner by the bathroom. He and his girlfriend turned in as soon as we got back. I kicked off my shoes and stretched out on the long part of the L shaped couch. The lights of the city out the window were tantalizing, but I was drunk and tired enough that I wasn't too distracted by it.

In the the morning, I felt something heavy at my feet. Trying to avoid opening my eyes, I pushed at it with my feet. It was warm and fleshy. A dog? I leaned up and looked to find Mitch curled up on the the short section of the couch. Confused, I laid back down and tried to go back to sleep. Shortly after, he began to stir. I asked why the hell he slept on the couch. He told me he pissed the bed. I laughed and commented that I didn't think I'd pissed the bed since Korea. He hadn't either he added, smirking. Apparently his girlfriend was mad about the piss and left in the middle of the night.

That day, we walked around town. The food was good. The sights were amazing. There was a massive old cathedral of the gothic style. I only knew the style from a recent art history class I ended up having to drop. We saw the crater left from the September eleventh attacks some years before. I was amazed that the only progress made was a massive hole. It was solemn to view. It wasn't my home. I was half way across the country when it happened. Both Mitch and I were still in the Army. He never deployed before he got out. Mine was short and uneventful. Still, it was very personal and angering to see. The three-thousand to die that day were not marked any three-thousand would have done and three-thousand time that many would be preferred to the perpetrators. We went back to the apartment and met up with the girlfriend. Some piss jokes were made to break the ice and we lounged around.

Mitch let me know that there was an assignment for school he needed to work on that night. Still holding onto a tatters of my punk rock identity, I had wanted to go to CBGB's. Apparently it was supposed to be closing down soon. It was my chance. He told me which subway line to take, which stop I needed to exit, and which stop I definitely needed to exit before in case I missed my first stop. His other advice was not to mention Boston, keep some quarters for a phone call in case my phone died, and that Houston was pronounced by combining the words house and ton. We were in New York, not Texas for God's sake. He also gave me a key, in case I stayed out late. I made sure I had my phone and wallet, then went on my way.

The bar was smaller than I would've imagined. The gift area where they sold bric-a-brac with the distinctive CBGB logo looked out of place, but I indulged myself a shirt and grabbed one for my studious friend as well. The band was a decent rockabilly group. I'd never heard of them and forgot their name within the same evening, but it was neat to see all the same. The bathroom was shabby in a profound and very intentional way. Stickers and graffiti held the dilapidating walls and fixtures in place. Cleaning or repair could disrupt the delicate balance. I drank alone at the bar, which is something I don't mind doing at all. Sometimes I prefer my own company, or that's what I say to cover for the social skills I might lack.

As the band finished their set and music was piped in through the sound system, I noticed three girls to my left. Two of them were posing for a photo to be taken by the third. They were all decent looking, but I remember the one with the camera being a bit more attractive. I offered to take the photo so they could all be included. They thanked me and after the picture asked where I was from. Apparently it was obvious I wasn't a local. We talked through a couple of drinks and when they decided to leave, they asked if I wanted to join them. I did. We went to another bar. It was darker and quieter. The atmosphere felt like a place that had closed for the night but left a light on for the stragglers. The bartender willing to serve more drinks between performing his closing time duties. We talked, though I can't remember what about for sure. I think one of the girls was saving her chastity, though not for religious reasons. The prettier one might have been something of damaged goods when it came to relationships. I think she was in a rather unsatisfying long distance thing at the time. Something I could relate to at the time. I don't think the third one really liked or trusted me. She added little to conversation and narrowed her eyes quite often. Maybe she was more shy than her friends.

We picked up a pizza along the way and went back to their apartment. It was no high-rise structure, but it still had the urban appeal I was becoming fascinated with. We sat in the living room and talked. Did I want to bed one or optimally all of them? Of course. Did I try? Not in the least, namely because I didn't really have the sort of social skills to have any idea how to approach that sort of thing. It was fine. I enjoyed hanging out. They were all sweet girls and I liked spending time with them.

Through the window I saw the first glow of an impending sunrise. Time hadn't really been a concern up to that point, but I quickly realized I needed to get back and hopefully get some sleep. Goodbyes and phone numbers were exchanged. I headed out and it registered as I got to the street, I had no idea where I was or how to get back. I started to look around and found that the girls apartment was on Houston. Several hundred feet away I saw the only other person on the street. A smartly dressed older black man. I walked over toward him, in somewhat of a hurry. The man noticed me and stood still with a peaceful grin. Before I got over to him he told me I looked lost. I agreed with his assessment. The main problem was I wasn't sure where I was going. I'm not sure if I ever knew the name of the building where Mitch lived. I explained I wasn't even sure how I got to Houston, though I said it like some schmuck from Texas, but that I did know the subway line and exit I needed to get back to. The main explained that, 'first of all, it's House-ton'. He went on to give me precise instructions on how to get back. Apparently I wasn't far away.

I stumbled back through the door of the apartment, exhausted, and went for the couch. Mitch leaned up in bed and listlessly asked if I was good. Equally halfheartedly, I explained I was fine. I simply needed sleep. He rolled back over and went back to it himself.

Unsure how much sleep I got, I awoke knowing it was not enough. We got some coffee and I went over the night before with Mitch. We talked about work and school. Music and life in general. He seemed determined to live his life in a way that would be entertaining to watch on television. This was completely foreign to me. Life had always been about work, the trades to be specific. It was a quest to get lucky and stumble into a cushy gig or get good enough to make the coveted twenty-five dollar per hour benchmark. A salary high enough to possibly afford to buy a house someday. If an adventure worth retelling happened on a weekend, all the better.

The one aspect of my work life Mitch found interesting was my time working with a faux finishing crew. It was interesting work. These masters could make plaster look like marble. They worked in houses with bathrooms larger than my two bedroom apartment. With measured and practiced movements, they could transform most any surface. I was their little helper boy. I mixed plaster, refilled paint cups, washed brushes, and sometimes helped apply base coats. I learned several techniques by watching them and was confident I could replicate some of them, with practice. Mitch asked if I would be able to paint a wall to look like a brick. After thinking about it, I told him it was probably possible with some of the techniques I had learned. A wet blend method came to mind, where multiple colors are shifted and blended with a long bristle brush to create a desired pattern or effect. I explained how I would go about it.

Later that day we walked around town until he had to go to class. I went off on my own to explore. I walked until I came to Battery Park. I walked along the harbor and marveled at how busy the waterway was. I stumbled upon the Korean War Veterans Memorial and spent some time contemplating how it was for the men there, fifty years before I was there. They faced a determined enemy. Those men didn't have any cold weather gear for most of the first winter. We had so much cold weather gear it was a nuisance to pack and keep track of. Those men often starved while we stayed drunk and well fed. Those men only wanted to see the next day while we were so concerned about making it to the end of the year when we could go back to the states. What a different world.

Near the harbor I spoke to a professor who was out for a stroll between lectures. I walked and gawked. Across the way I saw Brooklyn. A place I had previously assumed was more or less a different part of Manhattan. As the dark began to take the day, I wandered back toward the college. There was a tavern hidden around a corner and tucked away from the intersection where we to to meet. Inside, I quickly realized it was the type of place meant for regulars and my face was not familiar. The bartender served me all the same, but dropped hints to keep up my guard. Nobody threatened me or was even very rude, they simply made it known it was not a place for me. I finished a few drinks and left. Mitch came along shortly after and we walked uptown. We stopped at a bar for some shots to warm ourselves up, then moved on. He wanted to show me a place he called the pottery bar. I don't think that was the name of the place, but it was appropriate. The entire back wall was a grid of cubic shelves, each containing a large pot or vase. Every piece was centered perfectly. The lighting was comfortable and the soft music allowed for conversation without shouting. The rest decoration was basic and sparse. My kind of place.

Unfortunately, my kind of place only accepted cash. Something I wasn't used to. Mitch offered to buy my drinks, but I was feeling like a slug because he was footing so many of the tabs. I ran out to find an ATM. When I returned, Mitch looked like he was up to something. I asked what was going on and he nodded across the bar. I turned and saw nothing special. I shrugged. He motioned again and told me that Mr.Wolf, from Pulp Fiction was sitting over there. I looked again. There was a man who bore some resemblance, but what would the real Mr. Wolf be doing in a place where the likes of us would hang out. I argued that it couldn't be him. Mitch was convinced and wouldn't let it go. After several takes, my mind began to piece it together. Sans makeup and lighting, it really was him. I couldn't remember his real name so, with all of my big city fueled confidence, I yelled across the bar. 'Hey, Mr. Wolf, what's your real name?' The man quietly and politely answered, 'Harvey Keitel'. Hearing the name in his own voice set off something inside me I'm not proud of. I began to make several comments about what a fan I was and how great I thought he was. It was a goal of mine, in the event I ever met a celebrity, to treat them as any other person. As I reeled myself back in, I asked what he was up to and asked if I could buy him a drink. He told us he was in town making a movie and visiting his buddy from the Marines, who was seated next to him. He also refused to let me pay for a drink.

By that time, I was pretty hammered so we decided to head out. As luck would have it, Mr. Keitel and his friend were leaving as well. I did one more thing I'm not proud of, but am glad that I did. I asked for a picture. He was gracious and agreed. The picture doesn't show how drunk I was, but that was one of the last full memory I had that night. The last coherent memory before going to sleep was of me lying on the floor of the apartment and asking Mitch for a cigarette. When he gave me one, I chuckled about it and told him I was just kidding. In my mind it was hilarious because I proved to myself that I no longer needed them.

In the morning, we talked about the night prior. The pictured proved that we did in fact meet Harvey Keitel. I asked what happened after that. He was shocked I didn't remember. Apparently we went to the Coyote Ugly bar and rode the high of meeting one of the coolest actors ever. When he talked about it, a few hazy images of another bar and dancing women flashed in my mind. For all I know, he was messing with me and my mind constructed the drunken memory.

Mitch wanted to blow up the story of the night before. A mythical tale, for the sake of fun. We came up with an after party Mr. Wolf had invited us to where we met an array of actors, to include, most importantly, Scarlett Johansson. It was not my normal prank, but it sounded doable and fun.

Once we got the basics of our story straight, Mitch started talking again about the fake brick wall. He asked how long I thought it would take. Before I realized he was not asking hypothetically, I said it would take only a few hours. That was good enough for him, he wanted to head to the paint store right away. Not wanting to disappoint, I looked on the bright side. Hey, there was a possibility where I pulled it off.

We grabbed a few different shades of a terracotta type color, a sand additive, brushes, and rollers. We also got plastic and a couple rolls of painters tape. One was pretty narrow, about a quarter of an inch wide. That would be to mask off the mortar lines between the bricks. As we shopped I began to realize I was in over my head. I didn't want to let my friend down, so I decided the best thing to do was give it all I had. I might even surprise myself. He wanted to grab lunch and asked if McDonalds was good. I turned my nose up at it and to this day I wonder where in the hell that came from. If I remember correctly we got some fancy Stromboli or something. On par with the rest of the food I'd eaten on the trip. Maybe so much good food in such a short time rewired my brain to think that I wasn't a small town kid from a trailer park.

After lunch, I was laden with grease, carbohydrates, and guilt. As soon as we got back, we began masking off the floors, ceiling, and the two attached walls. I took measurements of the bricks outside the window and we ran the narrow tape at intervals to mimic the same sized brick. The masking alone took the few hours I had promised. Still, we were too far along to turn back. I worked my magic with the paint and brushes. It turned out marginally well, I thought. To this day, I don't know if Mitch was satisfied with the job I'd done. I wouldn't have been. As darkness pulled light from the apartment, people began to show up and we pulled the masking away from the walls. The aesthetic didn't matter at that point. It was night time, my last night in the city and we wanted to go out. We told the Scarlett Johansson story to a skeptical audience. They were probably used to Mitch's antics.

We went to one of his friends apartments and hung out. Everybody decided to call in an order for a bottle of whiskey. Apparently, there is nearly no service you can't have delivered in the city. We listened to the new Gorlillaz CD and withing fifteen minutes, there was a big bottle of Jack or Jim or something at the door. Fantastic. We passed it around. I can't remember if we poured it into glasses or just drank from the bottle. When it was gone, we were on our way.

I wish I could tell the tale of this night. I know we had fun. I remember that much. It was a group of guys and one or two cool ladies. These bars were different from the rest on the trip. They were intense and dingy the way bars in a movie are. We ordered drinks, killed them, and ordered more. It was the final go. I don't remember there being a limit on consumption, other than laws of biology. We went and kept going. Eventually I have blips of blurs of visions of walking down streets. Going in and out of bathrooms. Possibly even dancing. The, as the light tried to fight its way back into the sky we made it back to the apartment.

My flight left early. Eight in the morning or so. We hung out around the computer and talked about how much fun we had. There was the normal banter of keeping in touch. I have spoken to Mitch once since then. I called to tell him I had enlisted in the National Guard to go to Afghanistan. He told me I was stupid and had already done my part. That I shouldn't be going again. We disagreed. He gave me instructions to get to Times Square. I hugged him, grabbed my things, and left.

Times Square was overwhelming. A sea of yellow cabs and gaunt faces. Motion punctuated everything. I wasn't sure I was even visible in the chaos. As instructed, I held up my hand and a cab stopped almost instantly. I told him I needed to get to La Guardia and gave him the time of my flight. He told me it would be tight, but that I would make it.

The engine wound up as the driver shot in to maneuver through narrow gaps. Inertia tugged and pulled at the well worn conveyance. I struggled to find a position that was comfortable to any degree. My body ached. There was a stinging in my eyes and a hollow ringing in my ears. A sensation somewhere between nausea and anxiety racked my insides. These were expected and accepted ills. They were accompanied by the unanticipated calm of satisfaction. A peace of mind gained by doing something new and coming out okay. I chatted with the driver about the usual topics for travelers. He was a pleasant man and did exactly what he promised by delivering me on time to the airport.

Check in was easy, though I got a fair amount of strange looks. They ranged from pity to disgust. It was apparently clear what I'd been up to. I looked forward to the moment the flight attendant allowed me the luxury of reclining my seat a full three degrees. Looking for my seat, I found something disturbing. A colorfully dressed older woman with eager eyes and mouth in an open smile, watching the passengers board. Within moments of sitting down, the chatting began. Now, I was raised to be polite and have respect for my elders, and I was able to pull it off. In the back of my mind I wanted nothing more than to tell this lady to shut the fuck up. I learned she was from Texas. The rest of the nonsense about, kids, grandkids, work, husbands, and such just blended together into a gale of twangy noise. The second the seatbelt sign went dark, I got up and went to the lavatory. In the mirror, the reason for the odd looks was clear. I looked like hell. My eyes were red and hollow looking. My face was pale and blotchy. The most surprising feature was the fat lip I couldn't feel and had no memory of receiving. I splashed water over my face and dried it off because, well, that's what they do on television. Right? I undid my pant to take a leak and found a softball sized bruise on my right hip area. The thing was bright purple and blue. Again, I couldn't feel it, unless I directly applied pressure, and had no idea what happened to cause it.

I made my way back to my seat. With the last drops of energy I had, I muster the courtesy to tell the nice Texan that it had been a rough week and I needed to sleep. She seemed disappointed, but agreed to stop talking. Leaning my seat back, I reignited the battle to find comfort I was waging in the taxi. Shear exhaustion took me, though it didn't last. I had fitful naps the whole ride back. Each time I woke up my eyes remained shut, for fear of starting the unwanted conversations again.

We landed in Phoenix, I bid the Texan farewell, and was met at the airport by my friend Sara. She confirmed that I looked like complete shit and asked how the trip went. I gave very basic details. It was nice to be back and see familiar faces and spots. New York had in that short time gone from a fantastic reality back to a distant concept.

I still haven't made it back to New York. I'd love to go, I just haven't gone. I've only talked to Mitch a few times since then. The last time being to tell him I had joined the National Guard and would be going to Afghanistan. He told me I was stupid for doing it. It pissed me off for a day or so, but I understood where he was coming from. I hope to catch up with him again sometime. I'm indebted to him for his hospitality and helping me with the experience. Also, because I still owe him fifty bucks.