It is late at night. Well, I am late. The night is the night. Inside my mind I feel Argentinian. The good old tango is playing and all I can think of is the bandoneon and violins. My state of mind says it all. I light a cigarette while waiting for the train that will take me to the old city. I light it with a match and after the flame is gone I press it against my forearm. I burnt myself today to see if I still feel. I profoundly dislike cigarettes, but every time I smoke there is a single joy – the one that its paper burns by itself. My friend asked me:
– I never thought you liked to smoke cigarettes.
– I don’t.
– So, how come are you smoking now?
– It is not fair to praise myself without something to despise myself.
Philly’s welcome is warm. 52ºF and the short illusion of not needing to protect my light skin from the cold. The train arrives and I smash what was left of tobacco. Riding through the railroads, looking at the city and analyzing the people surrounding my seat makes me feel home. I know who they are, I know what they do. They are myself as I am themselves. Workers, the hard ones, those who get home not in time to be greeted because everyone is asleep. That’s probably why god created dogs. Dogs are timeless, celebrating creatures. I am not sure if those tired souls have a four legged friend waiting for them. They are the ones at the base of the social pyramid working long shifts and trading their time for money. All they want is bed, all they need is beer and all they get is debt.
I have no one waiting for me but the receptionist of a hostel. You go to a hostel because there is always hope of meeting nice people there. Sometimes, just average people sucked into their own phone screens. I walk in narrow alleys searching for my baiting place. Steps hitting stones, sounds reflecting on walls and thoughts boiling in my head. Capitalism is all around when I see a homeless guy laying over a gutter grate with burger and fries on his hands. He is warming up a meal. Sewage smokey patty and moving lips that whisper haunted conformity. Is this it? Am I lost, am I losing control or loosening my conscience?
I left my backpack and got back on the streets. There are 9 bed bunks in the dorm where 18 people can sleep but only five do. I don’t use a lock and all of my valuables are vulnerable. Computer, camera, lens and books are subjects to be robbed, but I actually couldn’t care less. Except for the books, of course. It would be hard to replace them. But everybody in the room seems like normal people. What are normal people, other than just prejudice?
Everyone wants something on a Saturday night but all that I wanted was to suffer some sudden amnesia. To wake up in a hospital and see a young, caring nurse applying something into my vein without having any memory of the last four years. What a joy. I took oxycodone before getting on the airplane to Philly and I was still under the effects of it. Mellow mood seasoned with alcohol. If I only had another pill. If I only had an airplane for me. A mobile flying hospital with some gorgeous redhead nurse taking care of my amnesia with champagne and foie gras and oxycodone and some slaps on my face every now and then. Gotta be real.
The bars were full of sold off people and I was a gambler on fate issues. I asked for Guinness and a single neat Jameson. The whisky came first while the beer had to sit for a few moments while its foam was forming. Brown bubbles emerging from void, dark liquid thirst quencher matter. Gulp of beer, entire shot of liquor down my throat. Didn’t move my head but my ears were scanning the room. Shit conversations about stocks and sports. It is all the same, every time. The pretty babes were hanging on those average guys shoulders. I wonder if they fuck the same way they live life. Asked for another round and another. I had a lot of blood to heat up. Some curly haired girl got three drinks just by my side at the bar. I looked at her and at her hands too. There was a phone on her left hand. She tried to hold all of the three glasses plus the phone. I kept staring at her and her delicate, well cared hands. She smiled and used her big black eyes to communicate her needs.
– You can do it – I said.
– You think so?
– Yeah, three glasses is easy. Four requires skills.
Phone in the pocket and free hands. She was not stupid, she was just flirting.
– Thank you – she said.
As she left, I admired her ass jiggling east to west to east. Thin waist, strong legs. I was alone but not looking for it. What a waste.
The bartender couldn’t hold himself:
– Are you ok, buddy?
– I am alright – I said.
I have been better, but nobody has anything to do with that. This is a moment in history when bartenders care about customers’ mental health. Paid the bill and got back on the sidewalks.
As the clock progressed, the temperature went down, but women seemed to be immune as they kept their legs free. Females don’t feel cold as males don’t feel ashamed to say the things they say. Another bar top and once again alone listening to other people’s conversations. They talked about super heroes, TV shows, about how each kind of liquor puts you in a different mood. Whisky makes you wanna fight, tequila relaxes you and gin they did not know because they never go heavy on it. They said all of that and the guy serving from behind the counter agreed. There are no real bartenders in town, I guess. I stood strong on whisky and beer and then I got the hell out of there.
At the dorm again. It smelled like men. Through the darkness all that you could hear was a snoring pattern like someone was about to die. It was not a starting and ending respiratory cycle, but chaotic, loud noise of collapsing lungs struggling to capture a glimpse of vicious air. What a nightmare for anyone without earplugs, which was not my case. Before inserting my plugs I farted loudly. Two thunderous sequences of blasting gasses. My filthy homage to the shy Korean sleeping next to me. Woke up next morning, had shower and headed to the lobby to get coffee.
She was working on something and all that I could see was her back, her mask straps and her strong calves inside black pants. Short, nice legs, I bet she is Asian. When she turned herself, the eyes told me the truth. As they say, eyes never lie. Her name was Liza and to pronounce such a name you need to caress the roof of the mouth with the tip of your tongue. Is not like Jane or Tricia, names that you just compress cheeks and lips to say it out loud. Liza requires a gentle licking test and that, if not poetic, is suggestive indeed. I drank my coffee while talking to her. Maybe lunch later, after she finished her shift? Should I be so forward? Fuck it. Left my phone number on a note. Every time she took the mask off to drink her milky tea I contemplated the spicy beauty in which she was molded. It smelled like Chai and I had my senses sharpened.
It was a freezing day and to walk around the city brought me to think why I was not living in Philly yet. Colonial style architecture, street markets, dried golden leaves in every corner created a very romantic scenario. I wish I had a partner, someone to love and share all of that. I wish my heart was not like the streets, an empty and quiet pavemented road to nowhere.
Museum of Art, Rodin museum, museum of American revolution, Christmas market, check. All of that walking made me exhausted. I realized that I was not dressed properly to the moment as the sun was going down pulling the temperature with it. Got back to the hostel to change clothes and it was on time to see Liza leaving. We got together for Indian food. I had lamb biryani and she had some kind of Indian burrito because she doesn’t eat meat. Social vegans avoid meet but I am not one of them. After lunch we went for a milkshake. Strawberry and salted caramel and whipped cream. Sweet, because no good impression was ever made without high sugar levels. She went to the train station right after it and said goodbye. She was kind and I appreciated her company. Wandering around I got mesmerized by Christmas lights and how well dressed the citizens of Pennsylvania were. From their noses, a dense white smoke of air would come out and disappear into the night.
Got my cigarettes and started the ritual of hating myself once again. I bought the American Spirit, organic tobacco with a native Indian printed in the pack. How audacious is the marketing science to make me see those cigarettes as pure, ancient, even healthy. What is the human mind other than a limitless mechanism of justifying itself? Close to Penn Center I found a saxophone player blowing notes into the air. Musicians bring to life emotions raised in the heart, mediated by the brain, lead by hands and he had no gloves on. It was raw feelings. There was a bookstore just in front of the square and I asked myself if I would ever have my books available in a shop like that. Maybe I don’t even finish what I am writing before dying, who knows? Found a pub and based my elbows on the bar top. The bartender this time was a girl, a beautiful one, like the type of woman that makes every guy hope that she would flirt with him. Her name was Rachel, with one round nose piercing and red lipstick on and black shirt and tight jeans making every walk away a precious moment to admire that bubble butt. I found out she was lesbian when she made some joke pointing the index and middle fingers up.
– This is how I have sex! – she said, revealing her tongue and another piercing.
Yeah, pretty Rachel, I got you, men stink. As she turned her curves back to me with my beer and whisky, I recognized the song playing in the jukebox.
– This is Easy to come home – I said.
– I am sorry?
– The song, by Dojo Cuts and Roxie Ray.
– Oh, you know this song for real?
– Yeah, baby. It even sounds like my own playlist – I said.
– Interesting. Where are you from? – she asked.
– Why don’t you guess?
– Mmm, Slovenia?
– Nope. I wonder why people think I am from Eastern Europe – I said.
– Well, you actually don’t look like a guy named Boris or Ivan.
– Yeah, you’re right. My name is Achilles.
– GREECE! – she said with that sexual index finger pointing at me
– Geez, where the hell you come from, mister?
– I am probably going to hell, but I am from Brazil.
– How exotic! What brings you here?
– Research on humans and their interactions, their sorrows, their faults and intentions.
– Am I part of your analysis? – she asked.
– I am afraid not, ma’am.
On the other side of the bar there was a girl reacting to our conversation. Asian girl, drinking a bottle of Heineken and discreetly laughing. I heard her telling Rachel she was from Indonesia. Don’t remember what she was doing in Philly though, but I bet she misses that tropical paradise. Oh yes, she must miss it. She better not be a psycho. Rachel then told me that I had six minutes left to finish my drinks, even after my generous 10 dollars tip. Heartless white girls, they are everywhere. One single gulp and I was done. Had one more walk around the block to check things out. Nothing was going on and I headed back to the hostel. Maybe I should be a good boy and go to sleep. I could hear the melancholic sax music hitting my ears, I could hear Liza speaking her tongue-tied cute sentences, I could hear the last audio message telling me that I “was not ready yet” haunting me. I was drunk, freezing but I had no hat on, which was good to keep my ideas cooling down. As I opened the main door at the hostel, I saw the Indonesian girl at the end of the hall, heading to the female dorm.
– Hey! – I said.
– Oh, hi – she said.
– You were at the bar, right?
– I am hungry.
– I am not food – she said.
– I mean, I want to go for food. Would you like to join me?
– Ok. Where are we going?
– Not to Indonesia, for sure – I said.
– Silly boy, you heard that, didn’t you?
– Philly is home to Steak and Cheese sandwiches. That’s the destination.
– Ok, you gonna order an Uber? – she asked.
– No way, I am walking there.
– How far?
– 39 minutes – I said.
– Are you coming?
So I hit the streets with an empty stomach, dizzy head and resilient legs. Yes, I could have ordered a cab, but what kind of urban exploration is that applied to comfort? One must endure tough conditions in order to reserve oneself to mix with the rabble. I don’t know how intoxicated she was, but I was inebriated enough to think that everything was perfect and there was no current affair in my life that could bring me down. So naive.
How empty, how dark, how cold were the streets. I felt like I was walking inside myself. Sally was telling me stories from Asia but I could not focus at all. Too many things going on at the same time. Suddenly, salvation. A dive bar was on the way. Got inside and the environment was just perfect in a tight, narrow bar with that specific smell of beer-soaked wood. If you get inside a place that doesn’t smell like that, the place is simply too fancy. All sorts of people were there and the bartender looked like a real one. Tattoos, chains around the neck and wrist, readiness to pour the beer in front of us. I could hear a bark and that got my attention.
– Is there a dog here, brother?
– Yeah, he is on the way, close to the bathroom. His name is Burger.
I instantly left my glass on the counter and went to find my friend. There he was, a brown and white short tailed boxer. Licks on my face and I felt loved again. Only a dog can make you feel that way. I realized that by rearranging the letters, dogs become gods. Oh, that could be really offensive to some people. Better not to tell anyone. Burger got obsessed with my gloves and he was about to destroy them. Took a leak and the urinol was from Germany. Berger, the big white porcelain bowl drinking my crystal clear piss. Got back to Sally and finished my beer at once. There was this guy telling us about how he used to work with marketing but now he was making cookies. At least you can eat the cookies, I thought.
Nine more minutes of not-that-straight steps and I finally saw it, Pat’s King of Steaks. I am the king of mistakes.
The sandwich is ready in 10 seconds after you order it. It is just delicious, especially when you are drunk. And cold. Cold and drunk and hungry and hopeless. But with some dollars in my pocket. So, I got that goin for me. There were free jalapeños as a side. Oh boy, that made me really happy. Dr Pepper took care that all the disgusting matter went smoothly down straight to my belly. Also, it made me sober up a little, but not enough to hop on a car. Feet on the ground, thoughts in the sky, hands in the pockets, back to the hostel we headed. Once we got there, poor Sally made me feel how cold her skin was. Oh Lord, forgive me. She was close to hypothermia. I felt really bad, but fuck it, there was nothing else I could do. So, I went to sleep. Woke up to Liza messaging me that the Indonesian girl was looking for me. Haha, I thought. Literally, my thinking got stuck on laughing. While I was showering, the maintenance man got inside the bathroom and when he left the door was open. I waited. He didn’t close it and he was there. It felt that he just wanted to see my white ass or to make me feel cold. Sad news, he got neither of that.
I went to the Reading Market Terminal and got some cajun food. Gator sausage, beef, chicken, rice all together in a spicy jambalaya. The lady that served me was kind, so kind, that I didn’t even mind leaving 20 bucks there. Wait, that dish was only nine dollars. Well, that is what kindness can do. As I went for a coffee, Liza texted me saying that she was joining me for food. Chinatown was cool, but Liza was cooler. I went back to the market and decided to have more food with my friend. Her hair was beautiful and her forehead was not greasy. Her lips were dry but I resisted the will to offer my hemp lip balm. Not enough intimacy for that. She got some Honduran food and I got Chinese roasted duck. She opened her jacket and I could tell there was no bra hugging those special boobs. Green spaghetti straps revealing sublime nipples getting hard from time to time. Some lucky man must enjoy that abundance. She told me that a few men, actually, were having a good time with her. We started this tell-me-a-secret game and it was pretty neat to know that she has an erotic online account where she shows her body for money. Super exciting, let me be real. How curious is it that we can go deep in honest talks with a total stranger but not with someone that you know so well? Tell me anything – they say – and I will not judge you – they say. Yeah, right. Then, you say something and instantly become the antichrist. What a life. After the meal I got some middle eastern dessert for us called baklava. Liza lived in Idaho and recently my new favorite song says something about being hard to stand living in a cold state like that. What a nice coincidence. I showed her the song and she also shared her most played tune. We ended in a bar called Milk and I had two Negronis while she asked for Gin and Tonic. Classy. She tried my Negroni with such a shy sip that I had to stop and let her know that it was the wrong way of tasting an alcoholic beverage. I insist, please try it again. One gotta know how to use the tongue. She did it but still didn’t like it much. Ok, life goes on.
– You could spit in my drink and I would drink it happily – I said.
– What was that?
– You, your saliva, Liza. I don’t know but I feel like it would taste incredible.
– You’re crazy.
I know that, but I literally meant it. In my mind she would raise my glass close to her mouth and, with those pretty dark eyes fixed on me, spit a large amount of sweet Liza’s juice in it. I imagined all of that in a second and got a hardon. Well, another one. It’s been such a long time since I had sex that my pants had a tough time being punctured by my cock all day long. I walked her to the train station again. That was the final goodbye. Maybe we will meet in Reno, one day. Maybe we get married, I get American citizenship and she gets the Brazilian one. Would that mean a honeymoon? I need to calm down.
I found a place to sit where the Constitution of the United States was signed. My nostrils were numb and I recapped recent memories. Drinks, walks, talks, folks, dogs, no gods or locks. I could sleep for three hours before going to the airport and that’s what I did.