“Come hang out. I’ve got whiskey. We can jam.”

I went back to the bar on Bleeker Street. No sign of Robert or Ramona.

The MC introduced the next performer, with good natured ridicule, as “Funer Al.”

The performer wore face paint: black, with silver tears running in rivulets down his cheeks. He played an electric guitar and wailed into the microphone. The music and the lyrics were intense: I couldn’t pick out much, but I heard “the ghostwriter is dead / I’m going out of my head” and “I said my vows / I washed my hands.” He sang with real anguish.

He got off the stage and stood next to me. “Good set, dude,” I whispered.

“Thanks, man,” he said.

“I liked the song about the banshee.”

“Yeah, that’s a new one.”

He turned around and tried to get the bartender’s attention, unsuccessfully. He turned back to me.

“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have any bud on you, would you?” he asked.

“What?”
    “Never mind.”

He sighed. “I’m not going to be able to get a drink here, am I?” 

He left to go outside. I watched another group play, which was mostly forgettable.  The most memorable thing about the duo was their matching blue and red outfits. They wore shoes that lit up along the soles, like the ones that little kids wear. They were filled with energy and bluster, signifying nothing.

Al left for a while. I wondered what he was doing. When he came back he had a cold breath of outside around him, and trailed a smell of marijuana.                      

“Hey, Leif,” said Al.
“Yeah?”“I think I’m too high to find my way home. Could you… could you come with me?”
“What?”

“Come hang out,”  he said. “I’ve got whiskey. We can jam.”

    “I can’t really play…”

“Of course you can.”

So we took the rickety old train out into the darkness.

Another train passed us from the other direction, headlines blazing. For a moment, I thought we were going to go off the rails. I pictured the crash, louder than sound, the glass, the black. But nothing like that happened, of course.

We went to his place and listened to records. It was messy and smelled like cat litter. A cat watched us from its perch on the sofa. Al poured us glasses of whiskey.

He convinced me to play with his synthesizer while I played guitar. I plinked around on the keys and turned the knobs. The more whiskey we had, the better it sounded.

“Where do your lyrics come from?” I asked.

“From my life, dude. Every day.”

I was starting to fall asleep on the couch.

“Hey, Al.”

“What?”

“There’s this girl I like.”
    “Who is it?” 

“Her name’s Ramona.”

“Oh, the black and color girl? Nice.”

“I think about her a lot.”

“Why don’t you tell her?”

I was really falling asleep now.

“I guess I’m scared,” I said.

I woke up in the morning with a fuzzy mouth and a headache. I took the train home and spent the day in bed.

It’s a long story.

That weekend, I went to visit David. He lived on the outskirts of the city. 

I took the train out there. Slats of light fell across the battered leather seats, ripped in places, the stuffing poking out. Breaths of cool autumn air entered through the open window, making me feel refreshed and alive.

David lived in a spartan apartment. Bare walls. A black leather sofa in the living room. A screen and a projector mounted to the ceiling..

He offered me coffee.

“Sure,” I said.

    He ground the beans and poured hot water over them into a sort of urn. It took a while. When it was ready, the coffee was delicious: strong but not acidic, full but not silty. 

I asked him why he had been in the theater the night I saw him. 

“I saw an poster for a film called Sound and Color in the subway. I was sort of drawn to it.”

“Why?”

He thought about it for a minute. He seemed on the verge of confiding something in me. “It’s a long story,” he said.

“What was the film about?”

“Nothing, it was just… just sounds and colors. It was calming. It felt like I was being washed clean.”

I sipped my coffee.

“Hey, let me show you something,” he said. He reached for a remote and turned on the projector.

“Do you remember the game Dragon Town?” he said.

“Of course.” 

“I have it hooked up.”

Bright primary colors appeared on the screen, along with a logo: “Technolovision, Ltd.”

He handed me a controller. “You play,” he said.

The familiar 16 bit melody played while I fought pixelated monsters with my sword. 

We played for hours. We ordered pizza. By the time I left, it was getting dark. The sky was blue and orange, the air cool.

    I read a book on the train home. The blue light quickly faded until it was black outside. I let myself into my apartment. Instead of turning on the lights, I left it dark.I felt pretty good. I made myself a peanut butter sandwich, watched some TV, and went to bed.

Dream II

I had a dream: I was at Phil’s apartment again with Ramona. We were sitting in the living room. They got up and went through the beaded curtain into the room beyond, the room I thought was the bedroom. I could hear muffled moans. The figure in the print on the wall stepped through the frame. He approached me; I was terrified but I couldn’t move. Then he whispered something in my ear. It seemed profound, like it contained the missing piece to my life.

The mandala on the wall seemed to spin slowly. I approached it. It seemed to extend back into the wall. I climbed up onto the couch below it and then inside the tapestry. The blue extended infinitely. I followed the rotating mandala until I was lost, and when I turned around I could no longer see the room I came from.

I woke up. I couldn’t remember what the old man had whispered. The alarm was ringing.

I was lost.

I turned and headed in the direction I thought was the exit. I passed one theatre and thought I heard sounds of sexual pleasure coming from within. What kind of establishment was this?

I poked my head in. Blurry colors. Loud moans. Some kind of art film?

I backed out into the corridor. I was lost. I was in the labyrinth with no thread. I had become a line in an abstract painting, a dot of black in an inkblot. I didn’t think I’d ever make it back to the world.

I kept walking. I wandered into a theater with only one viewer. The projector seemed to be broken. It only projected bright primary colors onto the screen.

I asked him where the exit was. He said he could take me there.

As we walked the corridors and stairways of the theater, I felt color, familiarity, and warmth returning to the world. I asked my guide his name. He said it was David. He was shy. We talked, but I now don’t remember what about. When we reached the lobby of the theater, he shook my hand. He gave me a business card with his phone number. It said: Nexus Corporation.

I took the subway home. Once I got there, made myself a peanut butter sandwich. I cut it in half with the sharp knife. I lay down in bed, and dreamed of labyrinths.

I watched the old man in the photograph.

Read this first

I stared at the old man in the photograph. He seemed to come out of the picture—eating color, eating light.

Phil stood in the kitchen.

He asked if we wanted coffee. I declined—I had work tomorrow. Ramona said she’d have some.

He put a pot of water on the stove and ground the beans. He handed Ramona a mug and stood sipping his.

“Do you want to watch a movie?” he said after a while.

“I…” I started, but then Ramona said “Yes,”  and I wanted to go as well.

We walked through the chilly night to the movie theater.

The building was ornate, grand, stately, old, and cobwebbed. Its former grandeur wrecked by time, it stood tall, like a proud waiter.

We walked through the lobby, down hallways, up and down staircases, past ticket booths and concessions stands. I felt lost. Reality receded further and further. I was in another dimension.

By the time we made it to the theater, the film had already started. It was black and white. A woman ran down crooked streets. Something pursued her. It was clear she wouldn’t escape. It was hopeless. The movie, drained of color, felt devoid of hope.

I couldn’t handle it. My breathing became labored, and I was sure Ramona and Phil could leave it. I wanted to leave, but the reality we had left seemed further and further away. How could there be work in the morning, when I was in this nether zone?

I walked out into the hallway to get some air and a drink of water. Two teenage lovers made out beside me. That, strangely, brought me back into myself. If I was going to live, I decided, I had to leave this nightmare and make my way back to the real world.

We followed Phil through the night.

We followed Phil through the night. The streets were all reflective in the rain. Streetlights spilled out green and red on the ground.

We turned off the main street onto dingy side streets. Through alleyways smelling of trash. A homeless man slept on an unfolded cardboard box, covered with a ragged blanket. I wondered what it would be like to sleep like that; what thin membrane separated me from him.

We came to Phil’s apartment building. The building was tall, painted in a gaudy pink, with flamboyantly ornate accents to the balconies and windows. The paint was chipped; the balustrades rusted; it looked the worse for wear.

Phil  invited us inside. We went through an entrance smelling of chlorine and climbed four flights of concrete stairs in the dark. 

He unlocked the door and let us in. We stood in a kitchen that opened into the living room. The kitchen was filled with colorful, modern appliances. The living room walls were covered with two tapestries: a red one depicting an elephant and blue one depicting a mandala. A beaded curtain led into another room, presumably the bedroom.

There was only one object that didn’t fit the theme. In the center of one wall, there was a large photographic print of an old man. He had long hair and a beard, and projected a kind of wisdom. But he looked down, his head bowed in sorrow or shame.

I found Robert and Ramona.

I found Robert and Ramona. I went to the bar on Bleeker Street again and Robert was up on stage, singing, as if no time had passed.

Watching Robert perform, I still felt the same energy I had before—like he was at the center of the universe, like everything hung on his words. But I wondered if any of that was true. Was there any center to things? Was there any meaning?

Something was different from last week. A photographer shot the stage from the relative darkness of the crowd. He walked around the outside of the stage, the camera glued to his face.

I found Ramona sitting down at a table in the dark.

“Leif,” she said. “Where have you been?”

I’ve been coming here every night looking for you, I wanted to say. But I just said, “around.”

Robert left the stage, to scattered applause.

He came and sat down next to Ramona.

“Leif,” he said. “How’ve you been?”

Desperate to see you again, I wanted to say. But I just said, “good.”

We talked for a while and then Robert said he had to go home. “He has to rest his voice,” said Ramona.

“How can I find you next time?” I asked. Robert shrugged. “I don’t have a telephone,” he said. “I’ll see you around, though.”

I sat with Ramona for a while.

“Great show,” I said.

She nodded.

“I have this feeling, watching him play,” I said. “Like this is exactly the place to be. Like I’m at the center of the universe.”

“Everywhere is the place to be,” she said. “There is no center.”

The photographer came over to our table. “Hey, chica,” he said. Ramona seemed to know him, but she regarded him coldly. It was hard to tell whether it was the usual Ramona coldness or if he brought it out. He held his hand out to me. “Phil Barret,” he said. He had a receding hairline and his buzz cut had grown straggly. The top buttons of his shirt were unbuttoned, revealing bushy hair. There was something about him I didn’t like.

“Great show,” he said.

I nodded.

“It’s truly an amazing feeling to capture something so wonderful.”

“Capture?” said Ramona.

“Ye-“

“Music is ethereal, you can’t capture it.”

“Well, photography is an artistic act in itself.”

“Pointing and clicking a button is art?”

“There’s more to it than that.”

“Of course. But still, you only see a reflection of what is happening.”

“Isn’t everything only a reflection?”

Ramona laughed. “This is too heavy,” she said. “How about we go explore?”

“We can always go to my apartment,” Phil said. “Have a drink or two, maybe more.” He raised an eyebrow.

Ramona shrugged. “I guess I don’t have anything better to do,” she said. “Leif?”

I nodded and turned to Phil. His eyes were like two black holes.

I dreamed I was in a dark room.

I dreamed I was in a dark room. I could taste cigarette smoke in the air. I was in the bar on Bleeker Street. The lamps above the tables cast narrow cones of light over the tables. The light shone in colorful, primary colors. The bartender was chopping something up with a sharp knife. 

The bar was full of people. I saw friends I had before–friends from school, friends I had grown up with, friends that moved away. I could see them, but I couldn’t talk. Why couldn’t I talk?

Robert stood up on the stage, playing guitar. Ramona was at the front, watching. She was wrapped in a thin white sheet, with nothing underneath. I tried to touch her, but I couldn’t.

That’s all I remember. I woke up feeling desolate. I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. I was hungry again, so I made myself a sandwich. I cut it in half with the sharp chef’s knife. It gleamed.

Still no word from Ramona or Robert.


Still no word from Ramona or Robert. 

I went back to the same bar, on Bleeker Street. I looked around. The stage was empty. I wandered the length of the bar. It was still filled with humanity of all kinds. I saw what looked like two prostitutes talking to a cowboy. Their flesh spilled out of their skimpy clothes. They were supported on high heels, their faces made up garishly. One of them was deeply absorbed in conversation, her arm around the cowboy’s shoulder. The other looked bored. Could there be anything more human?

My search for Robert and Ramona was fruitless. I asked the bartender. He shrugged. “I don’t really keep up with who’s playing. You’d have to ask the booker. He comes in at midnight.”

I found a table underneath a cone of lamplight and waited. I wished I had brought a book or a deck of cards. I contented myself with watching the bar’s patrons. A large man in a suit stood onstage and bellowed drunk proclamations of all kinds, until his friends dragged him down. Two women had an argument about a cat. One of them had left it shut up in the other’s room while she went to work. The poor cat had clawed everything in the room. The argument ended in a reconciliation, a hug, and a round of shots.

I waited until 1. No one showed up. I took the train back home, made myself a sandwich, and went to sleep.



I work in the stacks.

I got up and made myself a cup of coffee. I drank it slowly. I like to enjoy a few moments in the morning that are purely for myself.

I started my commute to work. The walk from the oppressive facade of my apartment building to the station; the crowded subway car, trying to read the newspaper in the midst of the jostle; the quick walk through the busy streets to the library.

The library building is stately, grand. You walk through tall wooden doors into a giant hall, filled with empty space. Tall, heavy pillars surround you. You walk on a mosaic depicting the founding of the city:  houses built in the wilderness. A native shaking hands with the city founder.

I work in the stacks. Sorting books, shelving them, rearranging them, that kind of thing. I actually really like it. Surrounded by so many words, so much literature, so much history. 

While I worked, I thought about Ramona and Robert. I hadn’t gotten any information besides their first names. Would I ever see them again? They were somewhere across the ocean of the city. But could I cross that void?

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