America Is Not the Future
by John Paul Carillo
Here’s a story about that fucking Tuesday.
To celebrate the final week of spring semester 2001, ten or eleven friends of ours took the train into the city. Dicky, the Brit, and I said we’d catch up with them later, and after hanging out in his Kissena Boulevard apartment across from the college for a spliff, I drove the Gremlin into Manhattan, and we caught up with everyone in the West Village at The White Horse Tavern, the bar where Dylan Thomas had had one, or maybe eleven, too many, cutting his literary production way down. That, at least, was the way we joked around about it at the time. This being “The Dylan Thomas bar” meant much more to Dicky and me, and after hugs and toasts and “oh my God, you made it, I didn’t think you guys were going to make it!”s from the girls, which had been music to my ears, Dicky and I separated from the rest for a while and started talking about Thomas’s Portrait of The Artist as a Young Dog, a lovely little book on New Directions, which led to Dicky eyeing Rosanna, a girl he’d dated during his first semester at Queens, who was laughing and drinking and jumping up and down saying “Yes!” at what one of the other girls was saying.
“You can have her when I’m gone.”
“Do I want her?” I joked.
I wanted her.
“You know, I was in love with that girl.”
I answered with a gesture, motioning with both hands: There she is…
“What’s the point, really?” said Dicky. “I’m going back to England.” This return to the motherland, after his year in New York, didn’t seem to make him so happy.
“Why?” I said. “Why do you have to go?”
He stood very tall, like a guard at Buckingham palace, or Mick Jagger when the Stones were first starting out, and he said, “Because! It is because: I am English!”
I laughed in his face, and then he said, in a mocking American accent, like he was chewing gum: “Whayt? A whayt? You don’t a-know I am an English man?”
“Hook me up with Rosanna, Britbrat.”
“Not so fast, Winslow…I may have one more go at her before I go.” Across the bar, a beer mug shattered on the floor, and the hoopla that came with it took the already loud and celebratory volume of the bar to new heights.
A few bars later, and the night seemed to have run its course; people were talking trains, figuring out how to get home, when I said, “No. We’ll all take the Gremlin.”
“You can’t fit everyone into the Gremlin,” said Rosanna. “Duh.”
Dicky was with me already, and he was counting heads. “There are. Exactly. Twelve of us!” said Dicky.
“I’m staying in the city,” said a fellow named Larry, a friend-of-a-friend type. To Larry, as to many, Queens does not count as part of the city.
“There are. Exactly. Eleven of us!” said Dicky, kung-fu chopping Larry out of the circle of friends.
As everyone protested, they were actually following Dicky and me to the car, where earlier in the evening I’d lucked into a parking spot on Bank Street. Some were still nay saying as we loaded them into the car. “Shotgun!” Rosanna was screaming at the top of her lungs, again and again. “Shotgun! Shotgun! Shotgun!”
“Three in the front,” I said. “Six in the back—”
“And Rosanna in the hatch,” chimed in Dicky.
She laughed so hard, she ended up with her ass on the concrete of the sidewalk and her platform-shoed feet in the air. Then she sat on the curb, with dignity, crossed her legs, lit a cigarette and said: “I am not going in the hatch. I am sitting on somebody’s lucky lap in the front seat. Shot,” and she exhaled a cloud of smoke that ended up in my face, “gun. Don’t they say that around here?” She was from Puerto Rico—was still learning the lingo.
“Two in the hatch,” I said.
“COME ON!” was the general uproar from the car, where everyone else was now packed in like sardines and waiting for my tin-can car to get them back to Flushing.
Rosanna noticed this too, and she calmly, stamping out her cigarette onto the already dirty street, climbed into the front passenger seat, got onto Adrian’s lap.
Dicky and I, the last ones standing on the dingy cobblestones, resigned ourselves to our fates in the hatch. As we got in, I could feel the wheel wells get even closer to the tops of the tires. I pulled the hatch door closed and Dicky said, “Oh, Christ, I’ll never make it back—”
“Can I please get the keys?” said Ray. “So we can get this clown show on the road?”
“No,” I said. “It’s my car, and my keys, and you’re going to have to hot-wire the fucking Gremlin.”
Ray was incensed: “You think I don’t know how?”
I passed up the keys.
Twenty-two miles an hour was the top speed, and the hazards were flashing, and how we were we going to make it anywhere without getting pulled over and all thrown into a paddy-wagon was anybody’s guess. But we donkey-assed our way down Bleecker, passing bar after bar, and then cut over to Houston, and then to Delancy, and then made it to the bridge, and by the time we had, Dicky had a neat going. Rolling it as he had, in the fetal position he was in, was quite an accomplishment! Worth a degree in itself! I took a toke, and then another, before sending the thing around the rest of the clown car, and I looked through the glass of the hatch, past the metal framework of the bridge, at the dim stars above—you could only see a very few that night—and I felt like I was really making something happen here, that everyone in the car would now remember this day for dim eternity, and that—even though I was in the hatch—I was the captain of the ship. But would Rosanna remember me, my car, or would she remember Adrian, his hard-on against her ass? I was stoned enough that I was about to voice this concern out loud—it really was somewhere between a clown car and a rolling orgy, as I could see some of the cheap feels happening with the six in the back seat, and then Joel and Bernice starting making out to the point I was certain they were going to go for a fuck right in the car with an audience—counting themselves—of eleven. But gratefully, before I mouthed any of this inanity, Dicky cut me off with more practical concerns:
“What if we get stuck here?”
I needed to buy some time, to get my head off the platter it had been spinning on, and now make the jump to Dicky’s train of thought: “Stuck where?”
“On the bridge!” he said, and started laughing uncontrollably.
“On the bridge,” I said, in a faux English accent. “Right, right. On the bridge. On the bridge.” Who was who was getting confusing, with the weed and everyone packed so tightly and I should have been driving anyway and now Rosanna and Adrian were making out, which didn’t seem fair. But Dicky didn’t mind, or he didn’t notice, so I tried not to either.
“Yes,” said Dicky. “Right here. Where we are. Now.”
We were at a standstill. The traffic on the Williamsburg had come to a halt.
“Where we are now,” I said. “Not a bad place to be.” Amidst the chaos in the car, and outside the car—it was a real honkfest, as the lanes on the Williamsburg are tight and the motorcyclists weaving through the standstill traffic were making some drivers nervous—I felt strangely at peace. Maybe the weed had settled in, that was all, but I said: “The twelve of us—”
“Eleven,” said Dicky. “Larry, he abandoned us.”
“Well, in spirit, he can help too…we all get on one side and flip the Gremlin into the river.”
“That,” said Dicky, “is the correct answer.”
Five years later, I woke up on the floor of Dicky’s hotel room in Chelsea.
I was now an adjunct lecturer in the English department at the college we’d met at in the first place—a recently divorced adjunct lecturer living in his office and teaching one Weekend College Adult Continuing Education class, a writing teacher who was getting no writing done himself—and Dicky had come back to America for the first time since his exchange year, come back with his new wife Ally for a rolling honeymoon of sorts. And although for some moments this disparity was clearer to me than the events of the night before—I was on the floor, while there was a comfortable looking bed by my side—the night before began coming back to me as I buried my head back into the pillow.
He saw me coming as he turned off the last stair of the Astor Place Station, and we embraced before saying a word.
For a moment, I felt like I was holding on for dear life. Then we separated. He looked at me, and there seemed to be some sort of recognition in his eyes.
“You all right?” he said.
I wanted to answer right away, but I couldn’t. All the wrong phrases were coming to mind, of course or fuck no!, a simple yes just didn’t seem to do it. After a moment, I ended up backing off, and simply nodded. Instead of my asking him the same, we headed up the street, and I tried to concentrate on how wonderful the East Village looked at this time of the year: street corner gardens with blinking colored lights on the fences; girls coming out of the bars with Santa hats falling off their heads; Christmas trees lined up in front of shut down store fronts, the little Charlie Brown trees lining the curb. “How was the trip,” I said? “Highway 61 and all that?”
Then Richard stopped, pointed—the bar that he wanted to go to, one of the bars he’d liked from our student days at QC, was right to our right.
We sat in Grassroots Tavern, a subterranean dive, at a small round table for three, the two of us with a pitcher of swill each, and looked around, wondering where the past had gone. The bar looked much the same, but where were our friends? Dicky’s friends were in England, I guess, but where was…where was Rosanna? I was about to ask, but realized as I started to speak—I’d missed the man’s wedding, mostly for lack of effort, really—that this was a ridiculous question to begin the evening with, to ask if he was still in contact with his former girlfriend.
A question to be stored up and fired off when the real drunkenness began.
“I got this here hat,” said Dicky.
“I noticed the hat.”
“I said I gots,” Dicky drawled in something approaching a Texas accent, “this here fat hat.”
“I did not fail to notice the hat, Richard.”
On top of his head sat a white ten gallon hat, particularly grotesque on a long red haired Englishman.
In his normal East London accent, he said, “Got it in Texas.”
“How was Texas?” I’d meant to go to Austin once, but the plan had fallen through….
“In Texas, everyone has this same hat.”
A woman behind the bar yelled “God-damnit,” and then I heard the sound of the glasses smashing. The following celebration of whooping and yelping and laughing behind me made my head turn. I joined in for a moment. As had the girl who’d dropped the glasses; I with three or four claps of applause; she was doing her “broken glasses” dance, as I overheard her call it; apparently this happened often. “Start Me Up” started on the jukebox. When I turned back, Dicky was smiling. He now had his hat in the middle of the table.
“So where else did y’all go?” I said, trying my hand at a Southern accent.
“We passed through New Orleans.”
“It was flooded,” said Dicky. “The whole city underwater.”
“Global warming will turn Baton Rogue into a beach town.”
“Austin was just like that film Slacker made it out to be. New Mexico was gorgeous,” and the sincerity of his memory rang through the word gorgeous.
“Taos? Did you go to the pueblo? I have a student from New Mexico. She lived in a pueblo. Now, she pretends her little brick house on Crocheron Avenue is a pueblo, too.”
“Don’t sleep with her,” said Richard.
“I’d like to sleep in a pueblo.”
Richard looked at me like we’re not going to do this yet, and then smiled.
“There is this girl…this woman in my class, Rebecca,” I said. “She—”
“Don’t sleep with her either,” said Dicky and he grinned.
“Right,” I said. “Well, the bitch is in heat. She despises me.”
“Sounds perfect,” said Dicky. “Listen, just a moment ago, we were zipping across the landscape of the southern United States of this here America, and now you want to drag me back to the morass of Queens, as well as the morass of your mind—?”
“You’re right; when you’re right your right,” I said. “Where were we?” And he was right—I very much wanted to dig into the Rebecca thing, brag about her body and the way she’d wiggled it for me, get into this essay she’d written about raising her puppy dog Ruff Stuff, and how, when I’d rejected it and asked for something with “more edge,” she then turned in a piece about stripping at a club called Silverado, an occupation that may or may not have continued to the present, may or may not have been pure fiction, either way involved her husband, and at the moment was my one source of sad hope in this life—but I figured this too would wait for the real drunkenness.
“So then we went to California. Hollywood.”
“You’ve been to more spots in the U.S. then I have,” I said.
“You Americans!” and he shook his head as he took a drink. “You don’t even know your own country!”
Here, I felt myself going into lecture mode—Jay Winslow, adjunct lecturer superhero!—but I couldn’t stop myself, I really wanted to rant: “It’s too…it’s too big! I think it’s about time they” (there it was, the ever creeping ubiquitous they) “they” (but I stayed with it anyway) “divide it up. The West Coast and New England would be one country. We can borrow Montreal. I like Montreal. Manhattan would be its own nation. Nation of Manhattan. Give Texas back to the Mex—”
As Dicky cut me off, legs crossed and one palm out, he was taking from the middle of the table the hat—it really was big, even for his fat head—and putting it back on: “Now hold your horses there partner,” he said in his best John Wayne, “you don’t want to do that, you don’t want to break up the,” and then he stood triumphantly, a fist high in the air, his chair sliding out from beneath him, and in a British accent several hundred years old, he finished with a bang while showing his fangs: “EMPIRE!”
He sat back down, took a polite sip of his beer, and then, like a mouse, squeaked: “We did, and look where it got us.”
“Where’d it get you?”
Dicky shrugged, yawned, took half his beer down in a gulp. “I’m just fuggin around, partner.”
“There’s this Warner Brothers cartoon, this episode of Bugs Bunny.”
“No, you haven’t. So Bugs has this giant saw, and he’s kneeling on the state of Georgia.”
“We went to Athens,” boasted Dicky.
“Athens is cool.”
“Savannah? Did you fuck her, too? So listen: Bugs has this giant saw, and he’s kneeling on Georgia, and he saws through the border, sending Florida sailing away into the ocean, never to be seen again.” I imagined it actually happening—not the giant rabbit part, but, you know, the Florida bit. “I’d like to see something like that happen.”
“We we’re advised,” said Dicky astutely, “by friends…to avoid Florida. At all costs,” and he added a burp after finishing his beer. I didn’t like the way the word “friends” rang out when he’d said it, but I was probably just getting drunk.
We were on our second pitcher at our second bar—the St. Mark’s Ale House on St. Mark’s Place.
“I taught,” I said, “if you could call it that,” and then I cleared my throat, “On the Road.”
“The way that book works,” said Dicky, “is you’re supposed to read it, steal a car, and explore the world!”
“It’s been a strange semester.”
“Living in your bleedin’ office, I’d sure say it has.” Dicky smiled in a way to reassure me he was on my side in this. “What’s the story behind that anyway?”
I nodded. This was important. Important to get this right. Important to make sense of this. Important to start talking very soon lest I pour the pitcher over my head and start flapping my arms in rhythm with a cackling sound I was beginning to hear myself make: “I,” I announced very officially, in order to regain my composure, “was at the second job, at the construction site—it was a Condustrial job. Condustrial, the stupid construction temp agency I was working for, was actually called capital C, capital O, capital N –dustrial: CON-dustrial.” Dicky seemed to like this little detail; he smiled. “They took some astronomical sum from my paycheck every week. You should have seen their logo. The CON was huge. Anyway, one day, I’m at the work site, and we’re hanging these long sheets of lead behind the drywall—”
“What in the fuck would you do that for?”
“I don’t know, I just worked there.”
“Did you really?”
“It was an MRI room we were building. It kept the gamma rays from gammaming something or other—”
“Right, right, right,” said Dicky. “Right. I get it. Please do continue.”
“So anyway, we’re rolling these rolls of lead on the cart over to the metal studs, where we have to screw ‘em in, and Antonio, whose been lifting these things with me all day, and the day before too, and half the day before that, has—as it turned out—lifted one too many, and, with my help, he drops the 300 pound roll on my foot.”
“You should be on NPR with this claptrap. This American Life, isn’t it?”
“I get home to my apartment—I was living in Zach’s basement—you met Zach once or twice at his parties in Queens Village—”
Dicky shrugged, pretended not to remember. Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe he was well beyond this shit.
“Anyway, I’m looking at the basement door—my front door, so to speak—and then I look at my foot—throbbing in a boot with holes in the sole, I was really fortunate it wasn’t broken—and I say ‘What’s the fuck is the point?’ you know? Everything I’m doing for C, O, N, -dustrial just goes to pay for this dump anyway.”
Dicky had a look on his face as if he was really considering this: his tongue to the side inside his mouth, his eyes on me but also a little off. He knew the punchline, knew the end of the story…but he also looked as if he was ready to pounce on some aspect of it that I myself didn’t understand.
I went through with it anyway.
“So I moved into my office,” I said as nonchalantly as possible, shrugging and frowning in order to get the supposed simplicity of this decision across. “Really focus on the teaching, the writing,” and I felt myself almost barf as I dropped my eyes. “Of course, when I announced this plan to Kylene—I think you met Kylene once—”
“At Zach’s parties in Queens Village?” said Dicky sarcastically.
I pressed on: “Kylene and I were on again off again, and we were off at the time, but she’d still come over once in a while, and when I told her about my plan, that was it. Off forever. I haven’t spoken to her since.”
Dicky nodded, pursed his lips. “And how goes the writing part of the plan?”
I took a drink of swill here, emptying the pitcher, in order to wash down the bullshit I was about to spew: “You know, Kerouac—once he got going—he kicktyped the majority of On the Road in TWO weeks.”
I remembered that, from a discussion Dicky and I had had when we were both Queens College students, that Dicky thought this book was good but not great. “The Great American Novel,” said Dicky and he nodded. “So you’ve written nothing.”
“I could start tomorrow,” and for a wonderful moment, the moment after I said it, a moment I’d had again and again over the past five years, I believed it.
We were very drunk. I was forgetting simple things.
Dicky leaned back, smiled, let me struggle for it.
It was on the tip of my tongue…. “Ally…?”
“Allison McPherson Pepper is the wife’s moniker.”
“Okay. So when is Allison MacPhearson Pepper going to join us? When do I get to meet her?”
“Ally’s taking the night off. We’ve been on a,” and Dicky began to whirl his hand around, in order to help invoke the word he was looking to deform, “on a b-e-n-d-e-r. She hit the wall last night, not literally, but almost, and definitely figuratively. I plan to hit the wall, both literally and figuratively, on the flight home.”
“Puke on the pilot,” I agreed.
“I AM the pilot,” bellowed Richard.
“Right,” I said. “So how is married life?”
“Wonderful!” said Richard, and there seemed to be no irony in his voice at all here.
Though they had only been married less than a year.
Although their hotel was some ways away, on Grand Street, near Varick, we walked, strolled right past the subway in order to burn some of the night’s debauchery off. We stopped at Joe’s Pizza for a slice, eating greedily and silently. And aside from a passing comment here and there to a passerby, a couple of cigarettes Dicky tried to grub and then bought for a dollar from a girl with a Hello Kitty pom-pom hat, and one story we bandied about for a minute, about the first time we’d taken a trip to Manhattan when Dicky first came to QC, we were relatively silent on the walk to his hotel.
But when we got to The James, instead of going in, he leaned on the wall to the side of the doorway, handed me my cigarette—a menthol—lit his, handed me the lighter, and had this look on his face like now it was time to get down to brass tacks; that now we were getting down to the real business here.
“You paid a dollar for two menthols?” I said, trying to avoid whatever was coming.
“Shut up,” said Dicky, blowing smoke rings, enjoying the cigarette immensely. “What is it, may I ask, in your oh-so refined make up, that doesn’t like menthol cigarettes?”
“They”—there it was again, the frightening and unkown forces of the world represented by they—“put tiny slivers of broken glass in with the tobacco to give it that minty flavor.”
“You would believe that,” said Dicky, shaking his head.
“Or something,” I said. “All’s I know is that it tastes like shit.”
“Then stop smoking it, bloody fool!”
I kept smoking it. It had been free, after all….
Dicky cracked his neck, loudly, then moved his head in the opposite direction, cracking it that way, and then he circled his shoulders around a few times. I knew not what was coming, but I had seen Dicky stretch like this before, right before laying into someone with a regal vengeance, right before having a go.
“You know,” said Dicky, and he managed to put a smaller smoke ring through a larger one he’d just blown, “when I first came here, I had such faith in America…no, I’m totally bollocks to the wollocks serious…you fucking motherfucker! I mean really, I was an American Studies major, for Christ’s sake, and Brighton gave me the boot and sent me over here, and fine, I ended up in Queens instead of California or Seattle. But seriously, I thought America could really lead the world to something great. We’d had our chance. England. We’d done our part. Fucked it up plenty good. Now we’re headed into dangerous new territory, into the…ahhh…the 21st Century, and there was some promise for redemption. Some real fucking promise for redemption. And what do you do? What do you cunts do? You cunts go and elect that cunthole Bush into office. That’s what you do. Twice! You e-lect the fuggin cunt twice!! You—”
“I didn’t elect him,” I said, but I said it quietly, as I was taken aback. This hadn’t been the rant I was expecting. “I…I didn’t vote for him.”
“Well you certainly didn’t bleedin keep ‘im out of office, did you?!”
“TWICE! You fuggin cunts elected him not once, but—get this, watch me now,” and very intentionally and very lamely, he did a James Brown step or two, “—twice… You fucking cunts re—do you understand the implications of this prefix?—you fucking cunts reelected him. Reelection.”
“Blair’s no better,” I said.
“Yes he is.”
“He’s a little better.”
“Well then say that, you fuggin daft cunt! Say it right—”
“He’s a little minuscule meaningless amount better, so what? They’re on the same team.”
“Well, I’m not an American Studies major anymore,” said Pepper, losing some vitriol here, losing a bit of steam, “I can kindly tell you that. I graduated into the real world. America is not the future.”
A taxi whipped around the corner, then slowed in front of the hotel, and I thought about jumping in. But it zipped away into the night before I could make a move.
I hadn’t, the whole evening, asked him about his new job. And I wasn’t about to, either. I knew, from emails, that he traveled Europe a lot, but that was the extent of it. He was more than just an Englishman now, he was a true European. So what? It didn’t necessarily mean anything.
The whole time Dicky had been ranting at me, he’d had the cowboy hat on his head—almost as if he’d forgotten about it entirely. But when we we’re about to step into The James on our way to the room, a man approached us—he may or may not have been homeless, with this guy it was hard to tell, as his Nike’s were new, but his clothes were ragged—and he asked to bum a couple of cigarettes. Instead, Dicky handed the guy his hat, and we stepped into the hotel, on our way to the room.
I awoke again, looked at the woman in bed, who was sitting up, fucking around with the clicker, looking for who-knows-what on the television. She then acknowledged me, leaning over from the bed, exposing a healthy bit of cleavage as she did, extending her hand while saying, “I’m Ally.”
“Nice to finally meet the Mrs!” I said from the floor. I heard the shower begin to run, and suddenly had the desire myself to be naked and wet.
“Well,” said Ally. “Introduce yourself!”
“Oh, you know—I’m just some guy lying on your hotel room floor.”
“I know who you are!” said Ally, and she puckered up her face in a way that made me ashamed.
I started doing sit-ups for some reason I still don’t understand, and said, “Tell me…I can’t remember a thing.”
“You know,” she said, looking at the Tele and changing the channel to a cat food commercial, “I’m really quite upset with you.”
The cat ran into a dog house. Tired from my workout—two sit-ups and a coughing fit—I nodded in rhythm with the “Chow Town” jingle.
“You missed our wedding!” Ally informed me.
“I missed the flight,” I lied. “I mean,” I apologized, “I never had a flight, but I had been one—two—two clicks of a button”—I could hear myself rambling here, hear myself giving Ally the headache I had—“from—”
I looked at Ally, her lips pursed, her eyes long, and I was very much liking the way she was mocking me: “Press on,” she said.
“I mean,” I said, “I’m broke. I mean, I really wanted to be there…I mean—”
“Tell me what you mean!” demanded Ally.
“I’m trying!” and I covered my face with my hands. “I mean…I’m broke.”
“So I’ve heard.”
Just in time, Dicky entered the room from the bathroom, wearing nothing but a towel. Ally gave him a look, which seemed to spur him on: “Oh my, oh my,” recited Dicky from his playbook, “when DO we get to die—”
“Fuck off!” said Ally. Dicky jumped into bed, his towel came loose for a moment, and now they were having fun.
“Anybody know what time it is?” I said loudly.
“Half past eleven,” said Ally.
“Anybody know what day it is?” I demanded.
“Christmas?” said Dicky. “Chistmas eve, maybe?”
“How about Saturday?” said Ally.
“Fuck. I have a one o’clock class. You guys want to come? I’m throwing an end of the semester party.” They had no business there, but I wanted to show them off to my class, and have them meet Rebecca, the student I was trying to lose my job for.
“Sure,” said Ally, and I was surprised.
“Sure,” said Dicky. Then he became suspicious: “Where is it?”
I stood my ground: “Queens.”
“Queens. You know, where I teach. Where you went to school for a year.”
“You aven’t taught a day in your bleedin’ life! And anyway, it was nine-and-a-half months,” he said coldly. “That was a past life.”
We jumped a cab and headed back to the East Village, where Richard and I had gotten drunk in the night before, found the Gremlin on 9th, and then we headed down 2nd Ave, toward the Williamsburg Bridge. Traffic was moving well, and I looked over to Dicky in the back—he’d let Ally have the front—and he was lying down, pretending to snore. “Hey, Dicky—remember coming back from The White Horse with everyone in the Gremlin, and you and I in the—”
“I still have nightmares about it,” he said.
He then flipped over to his side.
“And,” he muttered into the vinyl seat, “this fucking car in general.”
Ally was looking through the CDs in my glove box, saying no, that won’t do, no that won’t do either and I started to think about the Bush thing Dicky had broken into the night before. Thinking about Election Day, 2004. That fucking Tuesday. Carol, a colleague of mine from Canada—this was when I still associated with colleagues—and a student of mine named James who walked with a cane, and has since moved on to better things, went to a bar on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside to watch the election results get tallied on a color coated map that included Alaska and Hawaii in little meaningless boxes off to the side (I did not see Palin or Obama coming at this point). (Nor did I see what was coming a few minutes after our first beer.) We were joking and laughing: James had just won a literary prize from the college, and Carol’s recent publication guaranteed her tenure. I was happy to have had James as a student, as he was a great reader and emphasized points he made with his cane as he analyzed passages in class, and I was happy to have Carol as a friend because she was smart, laughed at my jokes, and her own as well, and talked funny like Canadians do. Kerry was going to squeak out a win—a somewhat better result than a Bush reelection—and we’d wait to do shots until after it was official. PJ’s was an Irish Pub, and everyone here would be pulling for Kerry, simply because of his O’Kerry last name. Except the place was empty. There were maybe five people on this sad little Tuesday. The fifth, he was difficult to handle. Every time a state—an obvious state, like, let’s say, New York—would go to Kerry, this guy would moan and groan and bash the bar with both fists and say “fucking faggot, fucking faggot” and then demand another shot from the bartender, who, in a brogue I’m sure he was playing up, would say, “Ah, you can’t win um all, William, you can’t win um all,” like it was halftime of a football match that wasn’t going William’s way. William’s way got more difficult to handle when, after Pennsylvania went Kerry, he looked at James and said, “What is it you think you’re going to do with that stupid fucking stick?”
“We should go?” said Carol. There were a half dozen of these Irish places in a two block radius.
“No,” I whispered, “I want to see this guy go down.”
When Ohio came in, 100,000 or so in Bush’s favor, William the Benevolent bounded through the bar, whooping, and bought everyone shots of Jameson. We left the shots on the bar—I was handling my drinking differently then—and walked out, James leaning heavily on his gnarled oak cane, partly for effect, I think. But Carol was crying, saying, “I’m still a Canadian citizen, I can’t vote—I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” actually insinuating personal responsibility for the result. We hugged, and she called me an asshole, still clinging to me, as I’d voted for Nader the first time around, and would have the second if I’d bothered at all, and she knew this.
A few store fronts down, there was a dime-store amusement ride, chained to the grate of a shut down delicatessen. It cost fifty cents to ride, and was, of course, sized for kids. James got on. Often these things were designed to look like horses, but this one was a seahorse. “Anybody have fifty cents?” I had a quarter. Carol had a quarter, although the first one she dug out of her purse turned out to have a moose on it. She found another, and we put them in, and the day-glow seahorse on the coil spring started to vibrate wildly, with big James on top of it, and Carol and I, now arm in arm, lost our shit—it actually looked like James was going to get thrown by the thing, bucked by the seahorse. He was going down, as were we all! But he managed to hold on with one hand, his cane held high in the air, and after James got off, I got on, but we were out of quarters—American quarters, at least—so instead of going for a real ride, I took my rage out on it and just kind of bashed the thing about from a sitting position. It took the abuse with a stiff upper lip, and we all had a good laugh as I jumped off. As we walked down the street, headed into another four years and more of war ahead of us, the more we walked, the deeper we walked into the debt of it, James fell behind us, as it turned out he’d hurt his back pretty badly. Still, it was one of the more sensible reactions to the result that I could imagine at the time.
“No,” said Ally, “this won’t do. This won’t—ah, yes…this may work.” She hooked up my portable CD player as I drove, and then put in the Oasis album she’d found, advanced it to the track she liked.
“That’s my CD!” said Dicky.
“I may have stolen it from you,” I said. “I can’t remember.”
“Slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball. Where were you when we were getting high?” sang Oasis. Just as it was going to get to the huge champagne supernova in the sky chorus, I hit a bump on the BQE, and the song skipped backed to slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball. Where were you when we were—
“Turn this shit off,” said Dicky. “Turn. This. Shit. Off.” He was on his knees now, his ass pointed high toward the window, and he was truly suffering.
“Oh, is poor poor Dicky hung over?” said Ally.
“I’m not talking to you,” he said kindly to his wife. “I’m talking to him. He should know better.”
I knew what Dicky meant. This song was still pretty big when Richard had been a student at QC, and we’d listened to it a lot when we smoked in his apartment on Kissena. It wasn’t Oasis’s fault, Dicky’s current reaction to the song, it was mine. It was America’s. We’d made the simple poetry of it obsolete.
“Listen,” I said as I exited onto 495, rambling past a dump truck that was pulling onto the grass beyond the exit, “if you don’t want to go to the party, I can let you guys borrow the Gremlin, and you can drive around Queens and Long Island, on the left side of the road, like you did that one time with Rossana, and I’ll come get you guys in jail later.”
Neither of them took the bait, and Dicky simply said, “I want to have one last look at my old apartment on Kissena,” and he cleared his throat, “and then never see it again.”
The following term, a few months after Dicky and Ally flew away and I realized I’d probably never see them again, I went to my former student Becca’s place on a cold day in early March to, as it turned out, complete a short affair we’d been having, getting beat up by her husband who had never left town in the first place, getting locked out of my office home, as I’d inadvertently left my keys behind as I ran from their apartment, and it was certainly a dark day in my darkening life. But as bad as it was, as black as my eye would become a few days later, it wasn’t as dark as that Tuesday, that Tuesday was, that Tuesday is, that fucking Tuesday continues to be.
John Paul Carillo is a graduate of The Writing Seminars at The Johns Hopkins University. “America Is Not the Future” is a story included in his recently completed comic novel Bad Adjunct, inspired by his time as an adjunct lecturer at CUNY Queens College. As well as writing fiction and collaborating on screenplays with former JHU colleague Brian Platzer, John is the co-founder, with saxophonist Anna Meadors, of the sax/bass/drum trio Joy on Fire and the rock ensemble Three Red Crowns. To see more: www.jpcarillo.com.
Photo: Dave7 via Creative Commons.