You know what I wish? I wish I could tan. Why? So that after being outside for all of ten minutes, I could avoid a Novocaine purchase. Went to an outdoor restaurant this weekend. Had no umbrella in the beginning. My face is peeling, just slightly today.
It really is ridiculous. I have absolutely no melanin whatsoever. Like a grub.
It reminds me of all the things I find so wonderful about living in Austin. The waterholes. Barton Springs. The lakes. Tubing in San Marcos. Oh, tubing, how I love thee. How I love to kiss the waters and set off on thine tide. Held aloft your waves upon the innards of a trailer truck tire. And having a caboose tube with a cooler of watered-down yankee beer, such as Miller, Bud, or Coors, makes my trip so much more pleasant. The joys of having the sun come down upon us as we lazily make our way down stream, pretending we aren’t peeing all over ourselves and each other. The sammiches packed into zip-lock bags, which we pass around while all our tubes are locked together in united harmony. The herbage and smokage, brazenly puffed with reckless abandon.
But man, I could do without all that goddamn sunburn. My scalp gets fried on those trips. That’s right, my SCALP. Under the hair, on the top of my fucking head. Ever tried to wash a sunburned scalp? Whoa… it feels like you’re using a Garden Weasel to comb your hair. And then it gets all dried out, and flakes like Buffalo in January for a week or so. Insult to injury.
I love being outdoors and all. I love being on the lake, playing a pick-up game of mid-day basketball, or looking like a complete fool while trying to hackey-sack in the park, but that sunburn makes me second guess the whole Austin life.
And that gets me thinking about what I love about other cities. The little elements that I latch on to whenever I stay in another town. Sometimes I’m wrong. As in, I’ve picked up on some element that does not really exist in regularity, and I just happened upon it by sheer coincidence.
For example, I cannot honestly say that one of the elements I really love about San Francisco is how friendly their homeless population is. Sure, my experience with them was full of hilarity and good times, but there are an overwhelming number of stories to the contrary, and I have never been able to repeat that experience. So, no dice on that generalization.
But I can generalize about New York. The cab rides at 5am from Manhattan to Brooklyn during the summer of 2001. I will never forget how much I LOVED those cab rides. Especially in the cabs with air conditioners in the rear. Sweet jesus what a fantastic thing they were. Let me toss out a random recap, if I may.
It all starts at 3:30am
I am stumbling, horrifically, down the stairwell of some club, in some strange part of the Lower East Side, somewhere between Double Happiness and Cherry Tavern (I know, big span, but hey – I am really fucked up okay?). There is no a/c in the club, and I am pretty sure I am slipping on sweat that is dripping from my own legs. I’ve had way too much tequila, which will make any Caucasian sweat profusely, even under climate controlled conditions, but it’s an Africa steam bath in the place and I can barely see for the stinging in my sweat-drenched eyes.
We walked everywhere all night, between multiple establishments because we have no vehicle, and we all tend to get FAR too obliterated to operate anything more complicated than a zipper or disposable lighter. So it is probably fortunate that we never tried to drive. With all that walking, comes heartburn-inducing opportunities for food. Four slices of pizza have been consumed at various places, during the various stages of the evening. At one point, I was in a grocery store buying Brooklyn Lager, stumbling drunk, so I could cram the bottles into my pockets and enter the next venue without having to shell out $8 (+ fucking tip) for every Heineken I chose to drink. I could easily put away 8 of those between ten and midnight. The clubs stayed open ‘till four + I had no job + I would regularly divide a single serving of broccoli beef into four meals.
Simple math. No way in hell I was paying that kind of cheese for a single beer.
By closing time, we’re all stupid drunk, staggering around amongst the garbage blowing around in the street, arguing with each other about pop culture, politics, or Astroturf. It is the summer of ’01, so it is hopelessly hot, even at four in the a.m. I am sweating like a whore in church, wiping my face with my t-shirt sleeve and slicking back my overgrown hair with the moisture from my forehead. More pizza or pancakes, and it is time to try and find our way back to Brooklyn.
Since the bars have been closed for a bit, cabs are a hair easier to snag. Find a decent boulevard to loiter on, trying to come off as a four-to-five somewhat coherent twenty-somethings (in the case that there were five of us, there would be extra negotiation with the cab driver to allow it, as they max out at four passengers. I have no idea how we negotiated these things. I was usually unconscious by that time). When a cab pulls up, we all just get in. No sense in telling the cab driver that you want to go to Brooklyn first. Half the time, they won’t even answer that question as they speed away, denying you another air-conditioned coach-ride back to King’s County. Assholes.
So you get in, and THEN you tell them where they will be taking you. If they put up a fight, just ignore them. Start staring out the window, whistling, playing with your phone, beat-boxing, whatever. Ignore him until he starts driving. Then start giving him specific instructions. The hard part was always finding an empty one, and then getting him to pull the fuck over, to pick your drunk ass up.
I’m sure it helped that I was white. I’ve certainly been ignored by my share of cabbies, but I would attribute that to the fact that I was trying to hail them while leaning against a wall of restaurant garbage. Perhaps my pants were undone. Or they just saw me finish vomiting. Who knows. But when I had some semblance of normality, it would not surprise me to learn that my skin color gave them comfort. Even though a) they certainly weren’t white, and b) I was still going to punk them out by going to Brooklyn anyhow.
Back to my original point.
After a night of swilling Brooklyn Lager, dredged from the East River, and sweating two gallons from my pores in the horrendous Manhattan summer heat, my body would be in a state of emergency. My liver, having been denied a single glass of water for over seven hours, and in a most fierce feud with my lizard brain, would have long ceased all metabolic processes. My eyes would be swollen and crinkled like someone glued fortune cookies to my face. Pizza sauce drippings, spattered on the front of my ironic t-shirt, signified that my stomach was in twisted, marinara-tightened knots. And my sweat-soaked hair would usually make me look/smell like I just showered after a dive meet for chubby douche-balloons where the pool was filled with bovine sweat and Pabst Blue Ribbon.
But all the sweat was old. From hours prior, since my glands had long stopped any sweat production.
After standing/laying/sleeping on a street corner long enough to trick a cab into stopping, I was usually on the verge of pissing dust and sleeping in a doorway. We always had to wait a good thirty minutes before catching one. But once we got in… and the lovely voice of Chris Rock came over the speakers, berating me into putting on a seatbelt (a recommendation we typically ignored)… with the lovely sounds of Chicago pulsing through the open-windowed cab… the sounds of the Williamsburg Bridge after hitting Delancey, crossing over the East river… Magical. Truly magical.
Even more magical to me was when we would catch a cab with air conditioning controls IN the rear, with vents less than a foot from our faces. Oh, the fantasticalfullness of those rides! With the windows down anyway! Cold air, cooling my dehydrated and fevered face! With the rhythmic cu-cuck, cu-cuck, cu-cuck of the bridge beneath.
For all the wondrous things I did while living there, I will forever hold a special spot in my heart for the cabs with air-conditioners in the back seats. Over the Williamsburg Bridge. Just before sun-up.