Today's Fresh Story is going to be the first installment of another multi-part (4-5) series. This is a chapter from my forthcoming book and it's about progress and science. Or, I guess, progress in science. But it's also about a lot of other things too, so whatever.
Anyway, this first installment outlines someone meeting someone else on one of the shittiest nights of their life.
As usual, any and all feedback is welcomed in the comments section.
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Asymptote (part 1)
‘Man. You look like shit,’ I said, as I offered out the lit joint toward him.
I don’t really know where this came from. I probably would have completely forgotten that I said it if Bill hadn’t reminded me of this opening line on several occasions. Maybe it was the combination of pot and homemade mead, but, for whatever reason, I was emboldened enough that these were the first words that I ever said to him.
‘Thanks,’ he said, as he did a self-critical laugh and accepted the joint from me.
I was sitting there on the steps of my back porch with my ass on the middle step and my elbows propped up on the top step; leaning back in a classic stance of not giving a fuck. I leaned over to the right to check out this Ford expedition that had been in and out of the driveway all night. Bill took a hit and looked down at me cautiously. Then he started to take another hit and we heard the sound of a door closing somewhere in the back behind the house next door and he passed the joint back over to me quickly and blew out his hit up and to the left in a forceful stream. The gate to the neighbor’s fenced-in backyard swung open and a lady walked out with keys in her hand and a purse dangling from her forearm.
‘Okayyy,’ she said, as she walked a little bit closer towards Bill and stopped.
‘Yep,’ he said, as he put his hands in the pockets of his jeans.
‘Is that it?’ she said. ‘Anything else you need?’
‘No, I think that’s it. I mean, I’m sure I left something, but I can pick up anything else just whenever,’ Bill said, as he withdrew his hand from his right pocket and did a dismissive wave.
‘Alright,’ she said, and she scrunched her chin and let her head fall diagonally to the side. ‘You okay?’
I took a slow hit of the joint and partially closed one eye to keep the smoke from getting in it and examined the interaction. The joint made a soft, rising glow when I inhaled and the woman shot a look over at me briefly before reverting her attention back to Bill.
‘Yeah,’ Bill said, ‘I’ll be fine.’
‘Well, okay,’ she said, as she raised her arms out to the side for a hug, ‘you know I’m here if you need anything.’
‘I know,’ Bill said as he took his hands out of his pockets and went in for a mid-body hug. ‘Thank you so much,’ he said as he hugged her, ‘thank you for everything.’
‘Of course,’ she said, as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and rested her head against his neck, facing away from him. Then she turned her head and whispered something into his ear that I couldn’t hear. He nodded as she turned her head back.
I took another hit and leaned back on my elbows with my shoulders scrunched up and looked up at the bottom of the upstairs neighbor’s deck. I held the hit in my chest as I examined the quarter-inch to half-inch gaps between the 2x4s up above. Yep, I thought, this definitely doesn’t qualify as a covered porch. The imitation leather chairs seemed to be holding up fine, though. Hell, they might even end up doing quite well as outside furniture. I exhaled a smooth geyser of smoke and looked back over my shoulders at the chair to my left. In my excitement to come up here, I had overlooked a few details about the move. One of them had been the bullet point on the Craigslist posting that said fully furnished. So I’d moved up to Halifax with half the contents of a fully furnished two-bedroom apartment and attempted to squeeze all of it into a 650 sq ft studio apartment that was, itself, already fully furnished. There was a small wooden, two-person breakfast table, an even smaller rolling laptop/study table that you could change the angle of, two cheap faux leather chairs, a small, round particle-board coffee table in between them, all of the dishes and kitchen utilities that you would ever need, and all sorts of little nick-nacks and decorations here and there and hanging up on the wall. The chairs were made out of dark, semi-glossy imitation leather, the color of a mocha bean, and the table was short and squat and made of MDF covered in a synthetic deep walnut veneer that more-or-less matched the color of the chairs. Things were tight and I had to be extremely judicious and clever with my floor space. I was able to pile most of the decorative stuff into two boxes and stuff them up in the marginally-occupied overhead cabinet space above the hall closet, next to the eco-friendly air-conditioner with the pinched PVC pipe. I managed to artfully Tetris the breakfast table into the walk-in closet on its side where the table top and one of the legs ran along the back-right angle of the top shelving, and the other leg stuck out over your head when you walked inside. I decided to keep the wheeled laptop table around as it was quite useful and it did not take up a lot of space. I’d brought up a good amount of kitchen supplies, but I decided to keep them packed up and tucked away in the closet and use the house silverware instead, which was really much nicer than mine anyway.
I was shuffling things around, trying to find the right spot for my couch, my desk, my pub table, and my imitation Eames chair and I decided to put the two faux-leather chairs, along with the complementing coffee table, out on the porch and out of the way while I fine-tuned my Feng Shui. It was hot in the apartment and I kept taking breaks to walk out on the porch and drink a beer or rest. Every time I did this the chairs and the table seemed more and more like they belonged out there. Eventually I got all of my furniture where I wanted it and there was no more room inside. I decided to leave the chairs and the coffee table outside and, worse case scenario, I was out maybe $200 on my security deposit if they got ruined.
But, alas, here it was; one month later and they were still holding up. Not to mention, they really did make great patio furniture.
‘Alright, bye,’ she said as she backed away toward the rear of the car.
‘Bye,’ Bill said, as he held out his hand in a still wave. ‘Thanks again.’
The Expedition was backed up against the gate that opened up from the driveway into the neighbor’s backyard and he watched her through the tinted windows as she walked around to the driver’s side door. I looked over to my right and watched her through the passenger side window as she lunged up into the driver’s seat and yanked the door shut. I leaned back on my left elbow and propped my body up slightly and waved goodbye to her over the railing of the steps. She leaned in and cranked the ignition on and looked over when she caught me waving out of the corner of her eye. With a more-confused-than-bothered look on her face she gave me a small, finger-curling wave back. Bill put his hands back in his pockets and watched her pull away. It was dark out and the brake lights flashed his silhouette up on the wall behind him in staccato patterns as she cautiously navigated the 7+ ft width of her vehicle through the 8 ft gap between the north-facing wall of my apartment building and the south-facing wall of the neighbor’s house.
Bill walked out towards the center of the driveway and raised up another still-handed wave as she pulled out of the driveway and took a left on Bland St. Then he put his hands back in his pockets and walked back toward me.
‘Sorry ‘bout that.’
‘No problem,’ I said, as I held the joint out to him, scissored between my index and middle finger.
He had his elbow tight against his side as he lifted his forearm up and kind of leaned in to take a hit. He looked up at the wall of the neighbor’s house as he exhaled.
‘So what’s up?’
‘That was a friend of mine,’ he said, as he nodded down the driveway and took another shallow drag. ‘She was helping me transport some stuff today,’ he said as he held in his breath. ‘I just moved in next door.’
‘Oh nice,’ I said, ‘with, uh. Uh…’ I snapped my fingers in a loose circle as I reached up to accept the joint from him.
‘Abby and Ri.--’
‘Abby and Richard!’ I blurted out.
‘They got the two kids, right? The two girls.’
‘Yep, Madeline and Nessa,’ he said as he rocked back on his heels and gave a single, deep nod with his head.
‘Good kids,’ I said. I took a deep drag of the joint and held it in. ‘I mean, I haven’t gotten to, like, hang out with them much or anything. But they seem like chill kids.’
Bill released a snickering, single-breath laugh and looked at me sideways down on the steps to gauge how serious I was.
‘What about you?,’ he said as he subtly nudged his chin toward me.
‘Oh. Oh me?,’ I said, as I held the joint between my two fingers and gestured towards my chest. ‘Oh, I live here. Mostly in there.’ I thumbed over my shoulder back towards the sliding glass doors behind me. The curtain on the left was pulled back and the inside lights were on so he could see about half of my apartment from where he stood.
‘Right,’ he said, with a suspicious smile on his face.
I took another hit and held the joint out to him. ‘Well welcome to the neighborhood.’
‘Thanks,’ he said, as he took the joint from me.
He stood there and leaned into another hit and his face lit up with a soft glow as he inhaled. I reclined back on the steps and thought about my life. The evening was quiet and you could hear the squeaking of sneakers and the thud and reverberations of a basketball hitting the backboard somewhere in the distance behind us. If I were in Georgia, I would be hearing the rising crescendos of grasshoppers and katydids right now. I don’t remember ever hearing them in Cambridge.
‘My name’s Bill, by the way,’ he said, as he pinched the joint between his fingers and offered it back to me.
‘Nice to meet you,’ I said, as I sat up and took the joint from him. ‘I’m Alex.’
I leaned forward with my elbows loosely propped up on my knees and carefully took a drag off of the stubby remainder of the joint. I got the unpleasant taste of burning cardstock towards the end of the hit.
‘I think this is done,’ I said, and I snuffed out the cherry on the wood of the steps and placed the filter with the ashy tip in one of the cracks between the 2x4s on the porch to steady it from rolling away. I will probably forget it’s there and a breeze will probably come along at some point and blow it away and it won’t be my problem anymore.
‘Hey, do you want a beer or something?,’ Bill said. ‘I think I have a few inside.’
‘Alright, cool. I’ll be right back,’ and he disappeared behind the wooden fence door leading into the neighbor’s backyard. I guess, now, his backyard.
This is actually a new thing for me; accepting someone’s hospitality. I don’t know what it was, maybe it was my deeply ingrained southern hospitality and desire to not be an imposition to anyone, but my default response whenever someone offered me something, even something small like a glass of water or a beer, was to say no. This is how I functioned most of my life. It wasn’t until maybe the last year or so that I’d been in Atlanta that I started to say yes to things like this. I remember one time, my sophomore or junior year at Tech, I decided that I wanted to build a murphy bed for my bedroom. I called up Steve, whom I’d worked for when I first got out of the Marines, to ask if I could use his woodshop. He had moved to a new location since I’d worked with him and I came over to see him at his new shop, which, conveniently, shared a parking lot with the Mattress Factory Lofts where Edith lived. We were catching up, and I was going over my design with him, and he asked me if I wanted a beer. I said no, as was my default response, and he walked into his office and came out with two ice-cold Budweisers. He shoved my beer at me and I accepted it. I rocked the tab back and forth until it came off and slid it into my pocket. As I took the first cold sip I was immediately reminded why I didn’t drink Budweiser. But I also realized the significance of what I was doing. Steve wasn’t offering me the beer begrudgingly. He was offering me the beer because he was a lonely man in his late fifties who lived and worked in his woodshop all alone all day and he was excited to have someone there to share a beer with and talk to. From then on I’ve made it a point to try to say yes as often as possible.
-- to be continued...