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Saturday morning, I work my first shift moonlighting. It’s mildly exciting to work for six hours and make a week’s salary.
I meet Stockholm for lunch over a bottle of Shafer Pinot Gris and she decides to come to my house for a bit.
‘You want to listen to “Afternoon Delight”?’ I ask, trying to pick out the music. When I was seven and listening to this song, I thought it was going to be something like Turkish Delight and desperately wanted some.
‘Do you have “Summer Lovin’”?’ she asks, looking over my shoulder, wrapping her arms around me. I know she means ‘Summer Nights’ from the Grease Soundtrack, but I don’t correct her. I grab Carol King’s Tapestry and put it in the player.
What is it about making love on a summer’s afternoon that seems the pinnacle of romance? Is it some collective game we play, pretending ourselves back in Eden? I see the reflection of our naked bodies outlined by the summer foliage of the window in the protective glass of a sketch of the Duomo and Santa Spirito in Florence. I barely recognize myself. I have a hard time turning away from the reflection.
When I roll her on top of me, I’m surprised at my strength. This, I think, was the first time that I noticed a tangible difference in my abilities since I started going to the gym. I seem to hold her high in the room and I’m grateful I don’t have a ceiling fan above my bed. Afterwards, we’re both shining with sweat, but I’m not breathless.
‘Cool,’ I remember thinking. She begins to get dressed, a bit late for work. I kiss her goodbye and head back to bed to take a nap.
When I wake up, I check my messages. Chicago’s called to say that he wants to meet me late in the evening, and Birmingham called saying he went fishing and wants to join me for a couple of beers in the early evening.
I throw a couple eggs, a cup of milk, and a fist full of strawberries into the blender and drink it while watching Bad Lieutenant and then go back to sleep.
When I wake up, the night is cloudless and bright. I walk to the bar under the stars. I look up at the milky way and think about A Zed and Two Naughts and how many billions of years of astronomical arrangement and millions of years of biological evolution has been undertaken, all so I could experience this day, this evening’s walk.
‘It’s all been leading up to this,’ I say out loud, into the night.
I get to the bar and see Birmingham with his friends. When he sees me he shouts, ‘hey there, buddy!’
I laugh and join them. He throws his arm around my shoulder in such a way that no one thinks about it but me. They pour me a beer and everyone is shouting and having fun with mock bravado. Around nine, a few of his friends head home to help put their kids to bed. Birmingham takes this opportunity to drive me home.
I’m walking to the fridge to get us some beer when he jabs me in the side. I grab his wrist and spin, twisting his arm slightly. I still have hold of his wrist when I see his smiling face. I relax my grasp.
‘You want,’ I say, smiling, letting go, and taking a step back, hands open and at my sides, ‘ some of this?’
We take it outside, take off our shirts and begin wrestling in the backyard. He easily has twenty pounds on me, but I hold my own.
‘You’re pretty wily,’ he says, after I escape from a hold.
‘I grew up in Iowa,’ I say, ‘you’re not going to pin me unless I let you.’
He attempts again, and tries to roll my face onto the ground.
‘Not the face!’ I shout. Thinking of the difficulty of explaining a black eye at work.
‘Will you let me?’ he whispers, not relaxing his grip, and we head inside. We’re both filthy, mud on our skin and leaves in our hair, and we jump into the shower together.
By 11:30 Birmingham has returned to his friends at the bar and I head to the bar where I met Chicago. Chicago’s already there and our faces light up when we see each other. We drink shots to ourselves and talk about music we love.
By 2 am, we are lit and laughing and allowing our hands to rest on each other’s shoulders or touching each other’s knees for emphasis as we tell stories. We make the short trip back to my home safely and things get a little foggy.
Things that I remember: him looking over my wall of CD’s and grabbing Joe Jackson’s Body and Soul, my pouring Myers rum into the leftover limeade from Monday. Things I don’t remember: how all that broken glass ended up in the bathroom and what happened to the light fixture above my bed.
At some point before dawn, we were both in my backyard in our boxer shorts, him smoking, me telling some ridiculous story. When we went back in, I remember standing behind him and thumbing his waistband and bringing his shorts down. I took hold of his neck and pulled his back into my chest and held his ear to my mouth. I was drunk and was trying not to breathe hard, but I knew that I was. When I reached around his waist and pulled it closer to me, he—also breathless—said the words that formed the pinnacle of my summer, perhaps the pinnacle of a man’s life:
‘I feel like I could listen to you talk forever,’ he said, ‘plus,’ he added, importantly, ‘you know how to fuck.’
In the morning, my alarm clock starts playing Berlioz’s Rêveries, I wake and quickly prepare for work, leaving him in my bed.
Can you feel it then? Is it palpable? This is me on top of the world: falling in love with people who are falling in love with me. Excelling at my job and being recognized for it. Living a dream in all its glory.
You can hear the ratcheting as I rise and rise up and up and up. You’re there with me, aren’t you?
Looking out, seeing the ground fall away as you rise higher and higher, at first feeling ten feet tall, then you’re in the branches, then over the trees and seeing more distant buildings, then over the rooftops, and you’re looking out—out over everything and taking in the horizon. The very earth feels beneath you. Maybe its sunset and you’re seeing all the oranges and purples in the sky. It’s beautiful.
That’s when the sound of the ratcheting curiously changes. You can feel yourself disengage from the chain, and you feel a premonition somewhere near your umbilicus. It’s then that you realize you are at the pinnicle of a rollercoaster, and it’s a long, long way down…