written in 2004 as part of a larger collection that was never finished yada yada...
alone at night in an unknown city
based on actual events
I walk the street in the early morning light, along with the working poor whose job it is to clean up each morning from the year-long party. I can see a building at one end – a church or courthouse or something, in the French style, but I don't know it's name. Sleepless again, I feel as if I am somehow the only living soul left from a previous life, as if all the other party-goers had passed away rather than simply staggered or taken cabs back to their hotel rooms to sleep off their reverie, while I alone am left to wonder – what is left after the party, after the celebration, the drunkenness, the life.
I always could hold my liquor. I tried again to lose myself last night, but my companions dropped away one by one, wandering off in couples, some old, some new, while I wandered alone. Now, in morning, I look at the sober working poor and wonder what they see when they glance my way, seeing me wandering the street in the off-hours, when the homeless sleep in their boxes, knowing the tourists are asleep in their borrowed beds.
There was a promise, I think, of life. In her drunkenness, Kendra wanted me, right there in front of her fiance. He was too drunk to notice what was going on, and she was lucky for that. I wonder if he would have even noticed her flirty nature with me were he sober. She shared her drinks with me, stumbled into me. Laughed. Then she was sick and puking, and her boyfriend said it was time for a cab.
The Mormon boy with us, we had to shove him into a cab too. After this, I'll find out that he didn't even make it back to the right hotel – the driver rifled through his wallet, took a twenty for the trouble, and handed the gold card he found to the desk clerk. Maybe it will be enough to cover the damages to the room.
I've reached Canal street now, busy with early morning commuters, and the early-bird tourists out for breakfast. Every one of them moves with purpose, all except for the homeless, being wakened by the bustle, some of them huddled over their hard-earned coffee, trying to forget the cold January chill.
I came here with hopes, but I'm not sure why. I hoped strange things, that the city would somehow magically transform my life and I would be something more than I was before. That the camaraderie with friends would somehow result in my becoming one of them, that I would find magic in acting out the expected friendship rites, getting drunk and sleeping it off to become closer friends. Instead I feel more lonely than ever.
I think of “The Simpsons”, and wonder about the “Crazy Cat Lady”. I wonder if I will see someone like her on the streets, an old woman with nothing to keep her comfort but stray animals. I wonder, if at some point in her life, she had felt like I did now. I wonder if I would fuck her given the chance. Would the greasy and lice-ridden hair really disgust me as I think it would? A sickening lurch in the pit of my stomach tells me that, at least in that respect, I haven't sunk so far low.
They were people too, I think. How did the homeless have sex? Did they do it in an alley, and then wash off in a gas station bathroom afterward? Maybe young homeless women, or maybe even the old ones, gave it away to anyone who looked like he had a job and a house, in hopes of having a place to live? It certainly seems like there are a hell of a lot more homeless men than women.
I need to think of other things, I tell myself, and try to turn my thoughts to architecture, but all I see are the decayed remnants of old buildings, and the flashy glass of the new. Nothing between exists, and I realize that this is a city of the dead. The old shows through everywhere, it cannot hide. No amount of whitewash can hide the past, the history of the city. How many countless generations, I wonder, have suffered in these buildings? Which buildings housed businesses financed by importation of slaves? I know some of them must have. The hotel looms ahead, built after the fall of slavery, but it too has surely seen its share of human suffering.
The ghosts of the city seem to be hovering just behind me, and I feel an urge to turn, to confront them, but I am strangely convinced that they pity me and would not harm me. I, like them, cannot sleep off the night like the tourists.