A man and his Chow Chow scoot along the sidewalk past me and Toby, and turn the corner ahead of a man looking completely lost, lingering at the crosswalk’s end; his attire screams tourist.
“Excuse me,” he calls, sunlight glinting off his sunglasses.
I stop long enough to smile, arching my eyebrows in a quintessential question mark face as I do. His camera clacks against his belt, and I wait for the expected “best nearby brunch place” request.
Images of French toast dance through my mind.
“Where’re the best cruising spots around here?”
Cruis’n USA’s arcade theme music reverberates in my mind as I stammer for an answer. Thankfully, Toby wriggles out of his collar and I turn quickly to re-lasso him, gathering my composure and feeling the man’s eyes burn into my ass from behind his lenses.
“Um, well, uh. Probably The Cuff?” It’s up a block and over. But I don’t think they’re open this early.”
He looks expectantly. Clearly, my one recommendation is tragically paltry.
“And, uh, Purr is down there. And R Place is down around the corner. R, not O-U-R. JUST R.”
Sweet Jesus, let him be satisfied.
He considers these options. Toby pulls impatiently.
“So if I wanted to suck a cock, where would I go?”
Like a middle schooler, I giggle a little. His brazenness is commendable. But I just can’t wrap my mind around the question with any hint of seriousness.
“I’d try The Cuff.”
He walks up the street. Toby and I keep going, taking a more scenic route back to avoid crossing paths again.
By the next block, I’m fully awake and begin passing restaurants that’re rousing ever so slightly. Sandwich boards advertising drag bingo clack together as weary hosts set them up on the sidewalk, the faintest echoes of rap and country issuing from the open kitchen doors before the hipsterfied elevator music takes acoustic hold for brunch.
I absorb these moments, file them away – the embarrassing with the mundane. And I project forward – anticipating the day when life is quieter, when the sheen of city life has faded a bit, and I find myself pulling weeds from our raised vegetable beds, mopping sweat from my brow as Toby investigates something enticingly smelly near the back fence before running to the porch to wriggle into a weathered chair where Andy sits reading.
Until then, I’ll keep sidestepping garbage, hopscotching over condoms, remembering that home is just around the corner.
Last week, I shuffled into my 31st year with a migraine. I pushed through the workday, thought about all the things I’ve wanted to get done by this day – considered the book manuscript collecting dust in our closet, the blank sketchbook pages, the unopened camera tripod – and returned home to the most beautiful flowers I’d ever received, and watched the remake of Cinderella.
Over the past few weeks, there’ve been ample opportunities to let those tabled interests backslide into a dark, forgotten place. And I’ve entertained such notions – it’d be so much easier to let them go and start over with something else.
But recreating myself isn’t really an option – I’ve done that several times over the past few years: chased a sense of self and self-confidence that’ve always been there, that’ve stowed away in the back of my mind throughout the course of our westward trek. So I’m just left asking myself the same question over and over.
Why is it so hard for me to look at the lumpy clay of my life and know that this pile is the only medium through which I can mold a future?
I guess the older I get, the harder it is to acknowledge all the things I want to be and do without balancing them with the reality that very few may actually come to fruition – regardless of energies and efforts I expend. But I guess it’s a good thing that my passions haven’t gone quietly into the night, melted into a comforting, emotionless routine. It helps remind me that they’re worth the fight – worth stripping away the lenses of apathy and malaise each day layers over them.
Achieving something easily rarely feels exhilarating or satisfying.
At the very least, hard, exhausting work and fewer pity parties will make me feel as though what I’m doing matters, that I’m working toward something larger than myself.
And while I don’t know what this 31st year holds, or what I’ll make of it, I can smile knowing, at the very least, how this sentence will end.