It does not embarrass me to admit that I've been flirting with the lesbian waitress at the café down the block precisely because she is a lesbian and I know nothing will come of it. This is the same reason why I sometimes flirt with married women—another fact I'll readily cop to. Nor does it embarrass me to concede that I often go there strictly for that purpose, lugging issues of Commentary or The New Yorker, or more recently, the 42nd Parallel like so much costume jewelry. No, what embarrasses me is the fact that out of the half dozen times I've flirted with her, I've never really flirted with her. All I usually do is comment on her choice of music (Rufus Wainright, over and over again) or ask her which cookie best pairs with the super free-trade Nigerian blend, or whatever's in the decanter that day. The worst part is, had someone with an ounce more urbanity than I done any of these exact same things, it may have actually resembled flirting and not the banal, coffee-chatter I produce. And it probably wouldn't even have mattered if the woman was a lesbian, subtlety being the petrol of the omni-sexual.
Although I normally don't notice it, this is probably the most alone I've been in my entire life. I've head a steady stream of girlfriends since October of 2002, with sometimes as little as twenty-four hours separating them. Each beautiful, kind, crossing chambers of my heart like Israelites over Jordan, on the way towards the infinite cityscape relationships become when they cease being relationships. I still speak with most of them. They've helped identify me more than anyone else in my life. And though it is not my intention speak of them as if they were some kind of collected mass, the concentrated element they have become cannot be undefined. Lovers. Saturday-night dinner companions. Perhaps it's crass to measure one's relationships by the restaurants that buttress it, but these things are always bigger than the sum of their parts. G-d, I miss, I miss, I miss.
I feel most achingly single at a bar with my friend Chris on Friday nights. Hardly unusual. Two guys nursing Rolling Rocks and watching Cubs games reeks of the type of singledom one expects from a bad Vince Vaughn movie. We sit there, complaining about our jobs, complaining about women, complaining about Carlos Zambrano all the while pretending we cared about any of these things. Last Friday, a bored thirty-six year-old mother of two found us eager ears as she picked apart the messier detials of her most recent divorce. She was Australian and kept calling us her "young mates", which kept conjuring up visions of the Artful Dodger asking young Oliver to consider himself his "mate." Not very attractive.
After an hour I stopped listening and started watching Rachel Ray on one of the bar's many video screens. What kind of sports bar plays Rachel Ray at 11:30 on a Friday night? Worse, as the night dragged on I felt the attraction I once had for her begin to seep from my disinterred body. I never want to see her again. When, an hour later, we were hailing a cab for our disheveled, Aussie "mate" I placed the entire blame on Ray's $40 excursion to Palm Springs.
That's where I feel most alone. Where I feel second-to-most alone is the corner of Kimball and Foster, just slightly west of my condo. There's nothing on the corner of any particular sentimental value: a gas station, a gift mart full of brass, six-dollar tchotchkes, and the Albany Park branch of the Chicago Public Library where my dad heard John Kennedy had been shot. But passing the intersection every day, I feel a surge of tenderness. I'm walking next to someone. We'll cross at the light. Maybe we'll pick something up at the Columbian shop down the road. I stand between her and the street and we move gracefully, in quiet unison. But compassion quickly melds into loneliness. I'm always alone on the corner of Foster and Kimball. On any other intersection I can feel the impulses of a dozen other Chicagoans who, for whatever reason, are traversing the same road as I. I see them. They see me. And we agree, at least momentarily, to let each other be. Not so Foster and Kimball. There all is silence.
Which brings me back to the lesbian waitress and my feckless attempts at chitchat: to say things that sound right. That me appear someone worth knowing. Worth talking to. Because in the end, what is loneliness but the absence of sound? Happiness, depression, anger, malaise, they're all unique, disparate feelings incapable of existing independent of context and nuance. But loneliness, that's the universal emotion. It's quiet—quiet for everyone. It defines us. Outside, there are college kids playing basketball and I am trying not to let it define me. A mile from here there's somebody I want to know and I am trying not to let it define me.
June 13, 2007 12:40 AM PDT
June 12, 2007 08:47 AM PDT
Who knows - perhaps you may be the one to turn the waitress from the dark side, Luke. :-)
Once again, you prove your literary genius with a well written schematic of life in a world away from mine. Interesting stuff.
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