Monday, September 11, 2006

"Or to see if you're about to get mugged. Either one. Probably both."

The following words were written nearly two years ago, but somehow seem to resonate even more now than they did at the time they were written. To wit:

"Sorry. I'm about as good at keeping committments to myself as I am with keeping in contact with friends and family that aren't directly in my line of sight each day. It has been well over a month since my last entry, and much has happened- many things that are exciting, many things that anger me, hopes for the future, longing for the past, and yet it all adds up to a general sense of anxiety coupled with the gripping weight of desperation and ennui. I hope to summarily and inadequately recount these events in the near future, but I feel a duty to finish my thoughts on my trip to New York, which, although essentially uneventful, seems important to wrap up, since it is the case that I almost never finish any writing project that I set out on."

And so, as history continues to repeat itself, the continuation of a story recounted by countless people on countless occasions, in countless times, cities, countries, lifetimes. Just filling in the ever-expanding gaps, if only until this too dissolves and requires one more recollection in another time, place, to fill space and accrue validation for the seeker. And on and on...

"We eventually found the right train and made our way back to 67th and Colombus. Turning the corner, we saw a huge line of people, and there were two minutes left on the clock. I suppose we made it just in time. Or were we two minutes too late? Regardless, we walked the half block to the end of the line. Two production assistants were checking people in, and promptly asked if I was there to audition. Two other fellows meandered up behind Rebecca and I and waited for their turn to be checked off the list. Just then, the P.A.'s made an announcement to the newcomers that they were all filled up, making me the last person in line. Is this a good twist of fate, or a portent of doom?

I took it as a good sign, especially since I still had forms to fill out for the audition. One of the questions was, 'What would Meredith Viera find most interesting about you?' This was a question I was confounded over. How am I supposed to know? I don't really care about her life, and I just naturally assumed she wouldn't care about mine. So, my response was that the Millionaire line was the longest one I'd ever been in, which turns out not to be true, as I waited in line with my sister and her friends for hours when I was in fourth grade to get New Kids on the Block tickets.

Nonetheless, it wouldn't matter in the long run since I would go on to fail the qualifying exam to get onto the show. The test was thirty questions in ten minutes, and I knew in the first two minutes that I was doomed. It turns out that the central reason for going to New York was the most negligible, inconsequential aspect of the journey. I was happy to get out of there so quickly, actually. The atmosphere in the testing room had the distinct feel of school, and I was instantly out of my element and anxious to leave. Not to mention that Rebecca had left me at the door and was now wandering around the city by herself, which made me inexplicably uncomfortable.

On the way into the testing room, a flamboyantly gay man who cut in front of me in line was proudly strutting with our sheeplike herd, which incidentally was paraded around nearly a whole city block before being admitted into the building, gleefully announcing to the total world of strangers around him and across the street that he was auditioning for Millionaire. I hung my head in shame.

Surrounding me in the testing room was a true melting pot. Every type of person imaginable, save the Brown University dyke type, the anarcho-punk (my personal favorite), and the anarcho-hippie (my least favorite). I was definitely one of the younger ones in the melange. I was seated at a table with all men, who ranged in age from 25-60. Directly across from me was a portly- well, why mince words- a fat, balding man with vibrato to spare. An insecure joker, he tried to lighten an already casual and [the network's idea of a] fun, loose atmosphere- complete with late twentysomething test proctors and various other hip looking P.A.'s. He made 'funny' quips and asides in between every sentence the proctor spoke. He raised his hand and asked one of those 'funny because the answer is obvious' questions.

At the end of the test, his wit and charm proved no match to his utter inability to pass the test, just like the other 85 out of 100 people that didn't, myself included. On the table were official 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' pencils that we all took the test with. Most everyone around me that failed the test were palming their pencils or putting them in their bags as a small memento of yet another failure in their lives, and I followed suit.

As we shuffled out amidst post-test banter about the Missy Elliot question and who led the Zapatistas, the fat man, however, grabbed every spare pencil from each table he passed. At last glance, he must have had at least twelve of these things, and he stealthily stashed them in his fake designer shoulder bag.

As we exited the building, a woman near me asked simple directions to a nearby street, to which I responded that I wasn't from New York. She said, 'Me neither,' and continued to look at me in earnest. So, I gave her directions that I found out not five minutes later were completely wrong. Oh well. I walked up the street to a Starbucks that Rebecca had gotten coffee at earlier, thinking she may have taken refuge in the only place vaguely familiar to her. Not finding her there, I waited for the restroom to free up so I could crap, which, although I didn't really feel the need to do, I liked the idea of a free restroom in the middle of the city, and the fact that it was Starbucks was the crown jewel in the equation. I made sure to pee on the wall and floor before I sat on the toilet.


I turned the corner and gathered my bearings. I fished a wadded piece of paper out of my pocket and found the nearest pay phone, which turned out to be about a block away, strangely. I had Rebecca's calling card number, and I needed to use it to call her cell phone so we could meet up. I dialed the number, and glancing at the PIN number on the paper, something seemed wrong. Then I remembered- days earlier, as we were traveling, she had at some point rattled off the PIN in the midst of a conversation. I couldn't believe it, but I actually remembered that part of the PIN had four two's in it, and the piece of paper that she had written the number down on for me only contained three.

I marvelled at my remarkable listening and memory skills, and said a quiet, 'Fuck yeah,' as I grinned to myself and dialed Rebecca's cell phone. As the line clicked to connect, I glanced around at my surroundings, y'know, like you do when you're on a payphone. A single moment between daily dealings when one is at rest, when one can take in the world around them and observe the chaos with which they are involved. Or to see if you're about to get mugged. Either one. Probably both.

Crazily, fatefully, my eyes instantly fell directly on Rebecca, half a block away and across a major intersection, walking perpendicularly to my line of vision, out of the possible hundreds in my line of sight. An audible gasp hit the back of my throat. I slammed the phone down and raced along the busy sidewalk, y'know, as one sees in the city sometimes and wonders, 'Where the fuck are they going in such a hurry?' or 'What'd he do? What's he running from?'

I thought about this as I zipped around professionals and professional transients. I always thought people ran through the city to get to an important meeting or class or court date, but as I ran through the crosswalk and hurried up behind Rebecca and slipped my hand through her pocketed arm, I realized that nine times out of ten it's probably for a girl. I couldn't believe I found my girlfriend in the middle of Manhattan by sheer sight alone. She kissed me and we walked around the city, past Central Park again, and eventually, we found our way back to the subway where we boarded the train to Jersey and returned to our hotel to clean up.


Allie D. said...

So nice to see another blog from you! I really enjoyed this series of stories. i'm sorry you didn't pass the test, though. I'd always dreamed about getting onto that show.

Oh and anarcho-hippies are the worst. :)

Kristen said...

I love the last paragraph.

I never realized why you didn't make it onto the show. I would have suspected the test would have had a "school" feel to it. Bummer. The fat guy taking the pencils cracked me up...

Pancho Villa said...

Your use of the toilet in Starbucks reminded me of a couple of Seinfeld episodes: one where Kramer desperately searched the city for an available toilet; and another one where Jerry really "had to go" while looking for Kramer's car at the mall and was arrested for urinating in the garage.

Of course, when you saw Rebecca in the city as you tried to telephone her, memories of countless scenes in New York like that from movies flashed through my mind.