Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Of Semi-Hidden Places

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We stood on the Q35 bus, along an adventure wholly of our making and wholly suited to us. He was getting over the recent separation with his lover, who had left for good to the Netherlands and had already rekindled prior affairs, prompting an emotional spiral swooning on the inconstancy of man. For my part, I was mulling over the parallels to an innocent love that had wrought me a year ago and from whence my mourning had yet to cease.

We patted ourselves on the back, remarking how we had become responsible adults over the past decade, where even our drinking to excess had attained a gloss of class. He entertained and distracted from the underlying topic by explaining the various stops along the way: Only yuppies would get off at Fort Tilden. Minorities and ghetto types would get off at the first Jacob Riis stop, and even more ghetto types and gays got off at the second. This was our celebration to ourselves: Him, a sea of well-wrought yet fey men, me, a buffet of topless women.

Jacob Riis is beyond the pale, situated as far from the metropole as possible yet remaining within city borders, just too far from the prying eyes of both city officials and roving police for them to bother much. It’s a no-man’s land, which suits it just fine: Coney Island is Brooklyn: The Theme Park, Jacob Riis is a relief from the city altogether. And we were taking public transit. As it turns out, the best things in life are free, but it takes two hours to get there.

It was a place you could put your hair down, which was the point. The women were there because the gay men were there, and the gay men were there because it was inconvenient to get there. It was a true retreat: Sunbathers in speedos and even less lounging and drinking rum to the sounds of Willie Colon and Mon Rivera, couples of all flavors and families basking in the laissez-faire openness that had been fostered by such.

It was a bittersweet affair; an ephemeral circumstance by nature, one that had been lucky to survive so long but ultimately doomed if examined, just like our romantic relationships. Such was obvious amidst banter with a particularly flaming hipster, fresh from Austin and allergic to pants, who – after hazing me for not recognizing a Steel Magnolias reference, thereby proving my outsider status concerning gay culture – suggested that the abandoned buildings near the beach should be bought and developed by an enterprising gay entrepreneur into a hotel/nightclub. I replied that such would kill the vibe, and he instantly demurred and retracted: Nothing more needed to be explained.

Time flows differently upon exit from standardized society. Soon I found myself playing referee in a water-wrestling match between two gay men and two lesbian women, an altercation that started when the men interrupted the women’s conversation about a mastectomy (or, in the vernacular, “I respect how you chopped your tits off” – implying if nothing else that the procedure may not have been for purely medical reasons) to criticize the Boston Red Sox hat one of them was wearing. The match, consequently, was a draw: The Atlantic Ocean trumped everybody.

The rampant peacocking and the loving displays of affection served much entertainment and ease but emphasized our own singleton statuses. This was a day to dispel such thoughts and while it was largely effective, perhaps such cannot be totally dismissed: No act of throwing yourself at the sea and being tossed back can save you permanently from your own mind. He kept one eye on his phone, fantasizing in some portion of his mind of a thirteenth-hour reprieve, a return to lucidity, on his lover’s part, despite the Atlantic between them. His despair made me linger on the yet-unfounded causes of my own loss, in my case the Pacific being the literal divider to the vague emotional one: She wished me well and did so in a heartfelt, poignant manner, but did not explain her departure, fostering fruitless and pointless speculation.

I suspect I write best when overwrought; usually with anger. There is, of course, an endless supply of fodder to distract oneself with for the purposes of anger – Israeli helicopter gunships raining collective punishment on the world’s largest open-air prison, willfully ignorant industry purveyors of the glass ceiling, a limousine liberal mayor whose stint in Nicaragua may yet substantively parallel Mitt Romney’s evangelist “mission” in Paris as a superficial and ineffective resume-builder – which can then be directed into a flame that licks and stings with an honesty that provides a harshness under all the lyrical flourish. The flourish can be copied, the burn cannot.

This was on my mind, spying a wan smile on my compatriot’s face. Man is inconstant, irrational, prone to hurtful flits wantonly rendered. Integrity and loyalty are perfections to strive towards and man is often found wanting. “Do they not want to be happy,” he asked. It is the result not of thinking but of not-thinking. My own ill-fated relationship was one drowned in positive emotions I cannot imagine forgetting, but ultimately one not destined to exist: Simple circumstance did it away, the particulars don’t matter. Yet I was reveling in this thought with a good friend I had met due to a serious mistake I had made about my future well over a decade ago, with deep ramifications as to my life forever more.

A more logical person would have set up his life in a more proper manner, to not pine after the impossible or even improbable, but such a standard is unattainable because it doesn’t exist; life isn’t a concept but a necessarily flawed reality, and even the wrongs are worth living. In that stead, Jacob Riis is a place very well suited to be vainly, poetically wrong.

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