On my walk to the bus it dawned on me that I didn’t know what Catherine’s aspirations were. I knew what she was studying, and what she was trying to be but not her real dreams. I should know her better than this. Was it because I never asked or because she never shared? Anyone who has held a conversation with me for more than ten minutes probably knew I aspired to be a writer. They knew I wanted to write novels or some excruciatingly embarrassing detail about my life that they didn’t want or need to know, because I had such a big fucking mouth. I don’t much like talking about other people, gossip was not my thing, but I’ve been too forthcoming about my personal life in the past.
I knew she was only kidding when she answered my question, but I dug her answer. I liked the concept of being a transformative insect. No matter what, you’d become something better in the end. So Kafkaesque. Don’t we all want to change into a better version of ourselves. Grow. Grow. Grow. Caterpillars had a future whereas I did not. The ability to reinvent oneself is rather appealing to me. How about you? It’s related to my fascination with escapism.
Be who you are? Why on earth is that such a hard thing to be in the first place.
As I approached the bus stop, I noticed an old acquaintance from the neighborhood. Deep breaths. In a normal setting, I’d politely converse with him, as I would anyone I used to hang out with, but I felt differently now. We had nothing in common. Nothing but, maybe once a park we hung out at, merely a location, something regional. Whitestone was our common denominator. Lots of people hung out with us and jumped ship, or grew up when we rebuked. I was not in the mood for empty conversations.
Fuck. I remembered my black eye. Of course I would be asked about it. What happened to your eye? I walked into a fist. That news would make the rounds.
The real problem, the real cause of my anxiety, was having to answer the basic questions. How are you? Or worse. What are you doing with yourself these days? My weak automated response hadn’t changed in years. I have been a broken record, scratched to shit and on repeat for far too long. I’ve listened to myself regurgitate about my dead-end job and how I’m leaving it soon, and all those imaginary irons in the fire, and don’t forget my unending academic pursuit. I had grown sick of myself and the stagnation. Nauseated at the blather of my bullshit hopes and dreams. I refused to do it. I won’t partake in the exchange. It would contradict the whole objective of my detachment from people, especially people I knew.
I pretended I didn’t see him. I crossed the street and opted for the Q14 down the road instead of Q15 which was a closer walk. And I’d walk all the way to Parsons Boulevard to catch the Q44 to escape seeing someone I knew at the Q14, and so on.
If I was on my way to college the Q44 would have been the preferred transportation. I went to school at York College, in South Suicide Jamaica Queens, son. But I sought pho instead of knowledge that afternoon. The Q14, noisy and beat up, waddled like a slow obese penguin. The brakes screeched, it stopped, and the doors folded open, releasing a hiss of annoyance. I let the women on first, just because my upbringing was fucked up didn’t mean I was raised without manners or respect. Some people think that shit grants them a pass to be an asshole. They were mistaken.
“Thank you, dude,” I said to the driver as I boarded, after inserting my scarred Metrocard into the slot. I had to refill the card soon. My balance was getting low. I used the same card for as long as I could. I prided myself on a silly little nothing. A meager contribution to the preservation of a planet I don’t even like. From the looks of the Main Street subway station I was the only one.
I used to wait and freak out, obsessing over the fare, counting and recounting the quarters in my hand. I acknowledge the small chance there may be a smidge of psychological issues, but I wouldn’t necessarily peg myself as having any OCD. Give me money to count or any situation involving the transferral of money, or any basic math problem and my brain will seize, reducing me to an awkward fool. The scene played out in my head of holding the bus up because I didn’t have the exact change was enough to make me turn around and go home, and hide under my comforter.
I couldn’t do that. I had Pho Bang waiting for me and then I had to go and stalk a bartender. Many of my endeavors I had to consciously try not to think, just execute or else I’d dissuade myself. In this case it was boarding a bus, or worse, entering a full room. I dread the feel of eyes on me. I channel my inner Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet, “Don’t you fucking look at me.” I sat, making up little stories about the passengers while they made up little stories about me. I had to avert my eyes since I fall in love with strangers in transit. I wondered about them. Where are they from? Where are they going? What are they reading? What are they listening to? What are they thinking? Are they running away, or just pretending to like me? Which of the basic six are they? I should write my stories about them. I made notes.
Uncomfortable in my seat, and in myself, I sat next to an elderly lady. An old couch came to mind when I noticed her floral pattern dress. She looked sweet but sadly, fragile, like most of us. I felt like she wanted to talk. Long strands of white steel wool sprouted from her chin. I wished for a pair of wire cutters. I’d help her remove her facial hair as I am a good samaritan. I wondered if she was widowed and if she had anyone in her life that worried about her riding the bus and getting around on her own. I imagined she had no one like the rest of us.
I wanted to read my book but had a difficult time concentrating. The words expanded and floated right off the page, or I read lines that did not not compute while the bus made its stops. People got on. People got off. I could have closed my eyes and envisioned the entire for those three bus lines to main street and beyond, seeing how it is and how it was. The street signs. The houses. The stores. The cars or trucks that left their parking spots. And best of all, the graffiti. It was all there in my head, just like most of my problems. Nostalgia tugged at me.
It was true I wasn’t completely retired, I loved committing that particular crime and maybe I’d make a go at vandalizing this forsaken city once more. The risk just didn’t seem worth it at my age, and my weak attempt to make something of my life. If I was going to improve myself a felony wouldn’t help me much. That being said I still kept a marker on me.
Graff was such a part of my personality, spending my formative years with my friends tagging everything in our proximity. Sonny and I especially, walked everyone in our neighborhood armed with spray paint, paint markers and stickers. A normality for us. The bulk of the graffiti that was up didn’t connect with me, it lacked style and I didn’t respect it. Respect is a funny thing, most people have none for anything, but graffiti is an entity that employed it while the act itself was inherently disrespectful. That being said, It would be a lie that every graffiti writer is a stand up citizen.
I messed with different tag names over the years: FLOOD, DRUID, and DELUGE. I liked the latter from the French, “Apres moi le deluge.” After me comes the flood. I prayed for floods to wash us all away.
I never had too many ups outside of Whitestone, a few spots here and there but nothing to brag about, and I never proclaimed to have any. A lot of writers are quick to say, “King me,” but everyone in the know knows the truth. Many writers think they are special when they are not and don’t come close to the old timers. I’ve seen youngbloods write “all city” in their second fill-in. Egos and people who sweat themselves are not people I’d want to be around, in fact, I didn’t want to be around most people. I preferred to see a relatively unknown OG from the neighborhood come out of retirement than 99% of the new jacks.
Two aromas I have loved since I was a little kid were gasoline and spray paint. The smell of Krylon or Rustoleum filled my nostrils and acted as an antidepressant. They should make scented candles. I had a Pilot silver paint marker on me and while I haven’t hooked up a tag and our crews in a while, I have been signing my name, W. FLOOD. A clean straight W, followed by a half cursive, half handstyle FLOOD. There was not much anonymity in doing that, but at the same time no one knew who the fuck I was. It meant nothing to the millions of strangers I don’t vouch for walking robotically around my city. My name meant nothing to them and why would it?
The bus passed a house I used to live in. My family, if you can call it that, moved around alot, due to evictions. I vividly remembered each house or apartment we rented and demolished in great detail. That house in particular brought back diaphanous memories of Thundercat big wheels and the bogeyman. The bogeyman lived there behind a shoddy wall that would grumble at night. Hattie told me that no one was inside the wall, but she broke my trust early so how could I believe anything she said. That was the problem with liars.
The wall and the monster piqued my curiosity but I wasn’t trying to introduce myself to it. Every house had their own ghosts and monsters, their own tortured souls that mewled at night. The truth was the living can haunt you just as easily. I pictured the ambulances, fascinated by the lights, but frightened by what their presence meant. I had a miniature one, Hot Wheels or Matchbox, you pick. There were many occasions those flashing carried Hattie and each time I wondered if that was the last.
That following school day I caused a bit of controversy with my big fucking mouth. Bigmouth struck again. Mrs. Healy, one of my favorite teachers ever, would take the time to greet each student after we settled in.
“And how are you, Wilhelm?”
“How was your weekend?”
“Ok, my mommy got her stomach pumped.”