I walked quickly, darting in and out of the hordes of people, whose sole purpose was to annoy me. Hundreds of people walked in every direction, with seemingly no concern or awareness of each other. Beware the disaster that is Main Street, Flushing. This section of Flushing, also a name of Dutch origin, could easily be mistaken for a city in Asia. I’ve seen the neighborhood transform in my lifetime.
Sonny and I often took a bus to Main Street to pierce our ears and to procure Krylon and Rustoleum spray paint, butterfly knives, Chinese stars, bootleg cassettes and Wu-Tang shirts. Hattie confiscated one of my butterfly knives, which I loved to flex, in a weak attempt to be parental. That knife I stole back and now served as a handle to our bathroom window. Catherine wanted that fixed by the way. Knives out. Windows open. I wanted a lot of things to be fixed but a window handle didn’t really mean that much to me with all the other problems flooding my overactive brain.
Change can be both: positive and negative. I could do without the few discourteous people, squatting, chain smoking and spitting, but with the bad comes the good, and I really enjoyed aspects of asian culture, the women, and of course the food.
I opened the door to my favorite vietnamese restaurant, Pho Bang, where I was meeting Sundeep for lunch. Sundeep Ceraso was a professor I had a few classes with, we were close in age and bonded over literature, The Murder City Devils and The Cure. He explained to me the importance of Disintegration. The morose but true to life lyrics. I respected the self-consciousness of it, the vulnerability in Robert Smith’s voice as he sang about intimate details regarding the dissolution of his marriage. He shared himself, his pain, with anyone and everyone who spun the record.
A tallish, light brown man with great intellect and wit, and a laugh like no other. Braun. Sundeep had become a true friend and I liked that he was removed from my upbringing and outside of my circle of friends. I’ve maintained little contact with him over the past few months, but more so than the rest of the people I held dearly in my heart. I shared my literary aspirations with him, while his writing efforts greatly surpassed anything I could write, I welcomed his sharp tongued criticisms. His opinion was highly valued and any advice was appreciated.
Sundeep was born in India and traveled the earth with his Indian father and Italian-Irish mother before touching down in Queens, New York. He taught English Literature at a CUNY college in Jamaica. He preferred to call his students ‘doctors’, as doctors we examined literature and shared our individual interpretations, to which none were wrong.
“Table for one?” asked a short man with worse facial hair than my own. He stared at my black eye. He should have reconsidered growing out that goatee but I respected the effort.
“No. I’m meeting my friend here. There he is.” I said, pointing to Sundeep. I waved. I walked to the table and felt all the eyes of the other patrons on me.
“Dr. Flood.” Sundeep shook my hand. “Running late. Not like you to be tardy when it comes to food.” I noticed his usual pile of clothes on the chair next to him and thought that it was unnecessary for the weather.
I apologized. “The bus ride was a catastrophe. The world is in absolute ruin, if you hadn’t noticed.” I took off my sweatshirt, feeling hot from the walk. “But you know what?”
“I feel so tall around these parts.”
“Ha. What does your shirt say? Skeletonwitch? Okay,” said Sundeep, the last word was drawn out long, dismissively. “There is always a chance for disruption or inconvenience in regards to the Metropolitan Transit Authority. You can’t predict it. Signal problems. Fire on the tracks. Illnesses. Suicides. All of it fucks up the program. Want to split an order of Spring rolls? I’m also getting an order of pork and shrimp toast. I like it because it’s crunchy? Are you ready or do you need more time? I’m not rushing but I really am though, I’m starving.”
One of the numerous waiters stood strangely close to me, with his stained back vest over his white button down, and didn’t say a word.
“Yeah. Do you want me to go first?” Sundeep motioned for me to go ahead, then used his mitten hands to clutch succulent bean sprouts, and dipped them into plum sauce. “I would like tie gaw. How do you say that? Tie gaw. Tie gaw. Am I saying it right?”
“Which one?” asked the bored waiter. I pointed to the numbered soup on the colorful menu.
“This one. How do you pronounce that?”
He looked at my selection. “That one? That is number twelve.”
“Number twelve it is. No cultural lessons today, I suppose. Large, please. With beef balls.
“I’m good with water. Thank you.” I handed the menu to the waiter and Sundeep ordered his food. There were little dishes and plates full of vegetables and various sauces. “He really didn’t want to help me learn any Vietnamese, did he? Your hands are weirding me out, Cobblepot. Why do you eat like that? Are your fingers fused together?”
“No,” he said, wiggling his plum sauce stained fingers. “I wonder if the waiters in certain restaurants only appear to be rude because of the language barrier or if it’s because they dislike non-Asian patrons. India is an asian country so I’m safe. Who cares? How is work going?”
“Don’t ask me about my work.”
“Ok. When are you graduating?”
“At this rate, never. If everything goes well and I don’t fuck up any classes, maybe two more semesters. I know I’m making some strides but the progress feels so minimal. A snail’s pace. I’m champing at the bit for a real life achievement. I know I just have to stay focused and be patient but it’s not an easy thing to do.”
“You’re young. You got time. It’s taking longer to establish yourself. So what? It’s not the end of the world. Don’t forget you started late. You’re doing alright. I’ve spoken to people who have doctorates and can’t find a good job. They’re slinging caffeine in coffee houses or working security in museums. You have a job, and you might not like it but you’re making a living. You’re working towards your goals. Try to enjoy the now. Stop worrying.”
“I can’t help it.”
“I know but try.”
“I just feel defeated. I know how melodramatic that sounds but I often feel that way. I have been so disappointed by everything. The world is a giant let down. Women. Family. Friends. Women. Financially. Politically. Everything. This distance within me is only growing and I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. I don’t fit into the scheme of things. I’m missing the point of my existence. I’m terribly lost on most days.”
“I think everyone feels like this sometimes. You’re in a rut but it will pass. You will get through, like you have in the past and you’ll look back and you’ll reflect and see that it was merely a transitional period in your life. Just keep working hard. Hard work pays off.”
“Catherine thinks I’m incapable of being happy.”
“Maybe. I think you’re very hard on yourself.”
“I’m overly emotional but it’s not like I’m frowning all the time. Writing makes me happy. I just can’t concentrate. I want to finish something. Meet a good woman. Get a house in the woods. Am I the only man who wants this? I crave my own house. I could tell you in detail what it looks like.”
“Please don’t,” Sundeep chuckled. “There will always be something that you will want that will seem out of reach or impossible. It will happen. These things just happen. Don’t dwell on what you don’t have or what you want. Just be.”
“I want a sense of purpose.”
“That is deeply humanistic.”
“I want to disappear. I love the lore of the reclusive writer or in the old black and white movies when the protagonist lives alone in old creepy castles. I understand the ethos of lonely people. I understand loneliness. Why do people shun other people? It’s almost always disappointment and pain. I’m too affected by life. I’m frivolous with my emotions. It is the ones who feel too much who push the world away.”
“So ignoring everyone is the way to go about this.”
“I’m hiding in plain sight. I’ll spend my days alone and try to sort myself out. If Picasso had his blue period, the work I create in this timeframe will be my pleistocene epoch. I will forge my own little ice age in order to get out all those troubling things and hopefully come out on the other side of it more stable.”
“My reclusive protege, have you ever read Kant?”
“Funny you say. No. I haven’t and I’m not entirely sure I want to. Though, I wouldn’t mind being a proper recluse.”
“You need to place a raw steak on that eye, man. I saw it in a movie once.”
“Thanks for not bringing it up.”