You Can’t Take me Anywhere
If you’ve read the title of this piece as though it were being shouted by an angry protester who had just been politely handcuffed by understanding police officer who, despite any personal misgivings, must, in the course of his duty to the city which he serves, lead the aforementioned protester away from the scene of the aforementioned protest to the cozy surrounds of an only-now-mentioned police station, well, I’m afraid you’ve read it all wrong.
For you see, “You can’t take me anywhere” is something that I say after I’ve said something rude, foolish, offensive, salacious or e) all of the above. I say it, you see, to save my friends the trouble. That would be: The trouble of shaking their heads and saying apologetically to the person I’ve just offended or hit on or, more likely, offended while hitting on, “I’m so sorry. We can’t take him anywhere.” ((Having re-read these first two paragraphs, I can’t help but feel that there are a lot of commas – and a lot of words between those commas – that are just not terribly important. And so I’m considering color-coding the important clauses for ease of reading. German might consider trying this as well.))
Last night I was at a birthday party for a friend. Patrick Stewart – the Patrick Stewart – was also there. But more on that later. By way of Introduction, ((As opposed to the first two paragraphs, which were by way of Prologue.)) I should like to make clear my purpose for this post. Namely, I wish to commit to writing an impression of last night’s party. And the reason that I say ‘impression’ and not ‘recounting’ is that among many truths, I will also write several untruths which I think will make for a better, albeit less accurate, story. And I do not mean to make clear which is which. ((Except for one.))
I’ve been friends with L for something like six years now. ((I am going to call her L to protect her privacy. And also because I’m currently fighting my way through Kafka’s Das Schloß (The Castle), wherein the protagonist is known only as “K.” And since, as it seems to me, we are both dealing in the absurd, it seems like a good example to follow.)) In the course of those six years, I’ve always enjoyed going to her birthday parties, which are generally set in Brooklyn beer gardens. And because I don’t know how to talk to people my own age, I tend to spend the better part of these parties shamelessly hitting on one or other of her very pretty friends. Not coincidentally, these parties tend to provide me with ample opportunities to say, “I’m so sorry. They can’t take me anywhere.”
This year, however, was slightly different. For this year, every one of L’s very pretty friends was of the beboyfriended variety, of which Berlin was such a blasted cornucopia. And so it was that I had to find other ways to amuse myself, and in the process, offend others. I give here an example.
We were all seated at a long wooden bench in this particular and peculiar ((Peculiar because it was a non-smoking beer garden, despite being, as beer gardens tend to be, entirely out-of-doors. #ThanksBloomberg.)) beer garden. And at the end of the bench nearest me there sat a blonde girl. Now, as I am about to describe her in somewhat unflattering terms, and as she is a friend of L, I daren’t give her name. In fact, I leave it to you the reader to decide if she was even blonde. ((She was. #orwasshe)) In any case, let’s say she was blonde. She was not, however, fat. Yet neither was she skinny. She was just sort of stout and not particularly beshaped of womanhood. Not that she was man-shaped, for she was not. She was just sort of shape-less.
Normally I would not mention these things as they have no bearing on who she is as a person. But as I found that I didn’t particularly care for who she was as a person, I have allowed Honesty to be a bit brutal as opposed for the silence so strongly argued for by Tact. But of course I didn’t know this when she first sat down. What I did notice was that her face was somewhat pleasant; or at least could be if she could be bothered to smile. And so I was deciding if this was something I could work with – and indeed, how many drinks ‘working with it’ would require – when I noticed her necklace.
From her necklace was strung a golden coin, which from where I was sitting looked for all the world like a gold-plated quarter. “I like your necklace,” I said. R, another friend of 6+ years and a seasoned veteran of L’s birthday parties was sitting beside her and cringed, expecting the worst. “Thanks,” said the blonde girl, withholding anything like a smile and therefore anything like a pleasant face. Well, I thought, this isn’t going to end well. Nevertheless, I shall have to blunder on, never considering the alternative, which would had have been simply to shut up. “Yeah, I think that’s really clever how you carry around an emergency quarter in case you run out of change at the Laundromat.” To which she anti-smiled, further depleasanting her face. R closed her eyes and shook her head.
“I’m so sorry. They can’t take me anywhere,” I would have said if she had so much as up-turned one corner of one lip. “Hi, I’m Dave,” I said instead. “Nice to meet you,” I definitely did not add. Whereupon I allowed Awkward Silence to have its say. Then, when Awkward Silence had done its bit: “Sooo, I’m gonna go talk to other people now,” which is exactly what I did, leaving poor R to either clean up that mess or pretend she didn’t know me.
L and I have an awkward relationship. It’s not that we don’t like each other. In fact, we’re quite fond of each other. It’s just that we’re both sort of awkward people. And rather than simply accepting that and moving past it, we tend to get caught up in it, often remarking how awkward we are together. However, these days, we tend to remark how less awkward we are now than we used to be. And having thusly remarked, her boyfriend asked if we thought we would ever stop talking about how awkward we are. To which we responded in unison, “But we’re doing so well!.”
And so it was that I apologized once more. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’d go talk to those people,” I said gesturing towards the end of the table whereat sat the blonde girl, “but the blonde girl already hates me.” L wasn’t so much puzzled by this as curious. “Uh-oh, Dave. What did you do?” “Me?” I asked plaintively, summoning my most earnest of Earnest Faces. “I didn’t do anything. She just doesn’t have a sense of humor.”
“I absolutely have a sense of humor,” argued the blonde girl, summoning her most indignant of Indignant Faces, which I nearly confused for her resting unpleasant face. “Then may I suggest,” I offered helpfully, “that you take it in for a tune-up. It’s clearly faulty.” It was only then that I realized that the previous indignant face was not her Most Indignant Face, but rather the one with which I was now confronted. Awkward Silence had something to say about this as well, and he said it rather loudly. So loudly, in fact, that he had the last word on the matter.
There was another girl at the party, however, who did have a sense of humor. ((Or a sense of humor which was not faulty, if you’re inclined to take the blonde girl’s side.)) I shall refer to her as J1, as there happened to be two J’s there that night. In any case, the reason I know she had a sense of humor is because she would smile quietly to herself at some or other of the ridiculous things I would say. Not because they were terribly funny, mind you, but because she seemed to understand that I was just being silly. She was in on the joke, so to speak.
Now, J1 did not have a particularly pleasant resting face either. However, her face was quite pleasant when she could be bothered to smile. No, I shouldn’t say that. It was no bother at all for her to smile, which is, I think, the point. Neither was she shapeless. She was, in point of fact, perfectly woman-shaped. Though not so woman-shaped that the words “child bearing” came easily to mind. None of this matters, however, as she was there with her boyfriend. Let’s call him J1+1. And it was to J1+1 that I got stuck talking about Japan.
Now, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. J1+1 was a perfectly lovely fellow. He was nice, travelled and curious about the world. It’s just that, from where I was sitting, he was really quite boring. And as I was sitting directly across from him, I feel like I was in a good position to make that assessment.
And as we talked about Japan, which he had visited four years ago, he told me nothing about that country’s creepy youth-fetish or their advanced toilet technology. He did tell me that his cousin was stationed there with the Marines, that Tokyo is spotless and that it’s hard to score drugs because of the Yakuza, who control the drugs.
I thought it was going to be an interesting conversation, but it just wasn’t. And I really wanted to get out of it. But I couldn’t find a way out. He was just so bloody nice, you understand. So I just had to smile and pretend to be interested. And yet, so boring was this conversation that even Awkward Silence – whom I can usually count on – stood well clear of it. However, they say that all good things must come to an end. And while this conversation clearly was not a good thing, it at least had the decency to finally act like one.
There was another girl at the party. This was L’s boyfriend’s roommate, or LBfR. LBfR was a very petite, very pretty South American girl sporting a pixie cut, a vibrant personality and a fully functioning sense of humor. She was also sitting at the next table over. This geography allowed me to speak quietly with L’s boyfriend on the subject. “So,” I said in a way that I can only imagine looked sketchy to anybody happened to observe it. “I was thinking of trying out the other table. But before I do…your roommate…she has a boyfriend?” His response came in the form not of words but of laughter. Then he turned to L and repeated my query. Whereupon she also laughed. “Yes,” he said with actual words. “She has a boyfriend.”
“Then she’s dead to me,” I said, slumping my shoulders. “And I don’t care if she lives or dies.” But realizing that that might have sounded a bit cruel, I added the following, “And considering that she’s probably going to do both of those things, why get worked up about it.” And rather than be offended by this, L’s boyfriend laughed and remarked that he appreciated my ‘philosophy.’ He’s a good lad, that L’s boyfriend. And I decided that I was quite comfortable where I was. ((Or as comfortable as I could be in that wretched humidity and deprived of the pleasures of tobacco.))
Now, I realize that the better part of this post has been taken up with complaints. But in fact, there were plenty of good things that passed in the course of the party. For instance, did I mention that Patrick Stewart – the Patrick Stewart – was there? At first we weren’t sure, because we could only see the back of his head. But LBfR got suspicious when she glimpsed his profile. Whereupon did somebody light upon the idea of googling his wife, as we could see his companion’s face well enough. And sure enough it was him; it were they. So first we got all excited. Then we decided to mind our own business. Because New Yorkers respect other people’s privacy; and we definitely don’t get star struck. But between getting excited and minding our own business I obviously had to tweet about it. ((For the record, the tweet read: “You guys, I am in the same garden as Patrick Stewart and I am being so cool about it. #nerdboner”))
Fast forward to later in the evening when I decided that I’d just about had enough of this no-smoking-in-the-garden nonsense. And so I decided to go out front have a pipe on the sidewalk, like the social outcast I was being made felt to be. Believe it or not, I was quite literally the only person having a smoke. I was, in point of fact, the only person out there at all. Which was fine. A few moments of silence would do me well. Except, that’s exactly when Patrick Stewart and his wife decided to leave. And they walked right past me. Be cool, I bethought myself. The man moved to Brooklyn not to be bothered, so don’t bloody bother him!
But Fate had something else in mind. Because just as they stepped through the door, I exhaled a cloud of fragrant pipe tobacco smoke. His wife kept walking, but Patrick Stewart stopped, and he sniffed the air. He turned and looked at me. I froze. I mean, I wasn’t moving in the first place, so you couldn’t really tell that I had just now frozen. But I had. He looked at me.
“That smells wonderful,” he said in a voice that was usually quoting Shakespeare when it wasn’t busy commanding the starship godsdamned Enterprise. “Thanks,” I said confidently as I pulled the pipe from my lips and held it as coolly as James Dean ever held a cigarette; a move which I knew this arch-thespian would respect. Then he squinted his eyes and began to speak in the same dulcet tones that made even the omnipotent Q go weak in the knees.
“You know,” he said in that way that only Patrick fucking Stewart can say you know. “You know,” he said. “My grandfather used to smoke a pipe.” And he drew out the first syllable of ‘grandfather’ with Hamletion pondarence. “When I was a boy, in England, my grandfather used to sit me on his knee and tell me stories. And all the while, he’d smoke a pipe.” And he smile a smile so bright it was nothing short of an endorsement for solar power. “A pipe much as you are smoking now, I dare say.” I nodded. But I didn’t say anything. What words could be worthy of such a moment? So I took another puff of my pipe and graced him with a fragrant cloud of Proustian reminiscence. And as the scent of it reached his mighty Roman nose, he smiled once more. “I don’t have any grandchildren,” I nearly said.
But I didn’t say anything at all. I never know what to say when people say such things to me. And they do indeed say such things to me. More times than I can count, I’ve stood out front of a bar, smoking my pipe, only to have some girl come up to me and remark, “Oh, my grandfather smoked a pipe!” To which I normally respond, “Yes, but nobody wants to sleep with their grandfather.” At which point such girls have demonstrated a marked tendency to back slowly away from me.
Look, I’m not saying it’s a good response. But at least it’s something. Yet, clearly, this was not something I could say to SirPatStew. Instead, I smiled and nodded. Then, against all my better judgment, I spoke. “What a lovely story. And you tell it so well.” I could see that he was beginning to regret having ever spoken to me. I began to look about for a shovel. Had I found one, I would have dug myself a whole, climbed into it and died forthwith for shame. But there weren’t any shovels, and so I had to keep going. “I don’t mean to keep you,” I said politely. “And your wife looks more than ready to be on her way. So. Umm. Make it so!” Damn the shovels, this is America! Surely there must be a gun nearby with which to mercifully shoot myself.
But his wife was a real doll. Taking in equal measures his confusion and my desperate embarrassment, she linked her arm in his and led him mercifully away. For his part, he was thankful for the rescue. As for her, she nodded pleasantly at me, surely being used to this sort of thing. “Nice to meet you,” she nearly said. “Good luck with Blunt Talk,” I nearly called after them. And then he was gone. At warp speed, as it were. ((Really, David?))
Now, I want you to go back six paragraphs and find the sentence that ends with “…fragrant pipe tobacco smoke.” Have you found it? Good. Here I must report that not a single thing after that sentence is true. It didn’t happen. None of it. But. OMG, you guys, how cool would it be if it did?? Here’s what really happened.
As I was out smoking my pipe, being entirely alone on that sidewalk, Patrick Stewart and his wife left the bar. They walked right past me. And they kept on walking. They walked a few doors down, presumably so as not to be hanging out outside the bar where weirdoes like me might bother them. There they paused and stood for a moment, in silence.
Then his wife spoke. “I think I hear [live] music. Want to go check it out?” And then I heard him. “Noo,” he said thoughtfully, though perhaps a bit fatigued, in that beautiful voice. “But you go on.” And she did. She went on. She popped back inside to check it out. And so for what was probably a whole actual minute, for every one of those immutable sixty seconds, Patrick Stewart and David Starr were the only two people on Douglas Street between 3rd and 4th in Brooklyn, New York. And there we stood, separated by a mere fifty or so feet.
And I puffed my pipe, desperately hoping that he would saunter over and tell me how nice it smelled and how when he was a boy in England his grandfather used to sit him on his knee and tell him stories, all the while smoking a pipe, much like mine. Of course he didn’t do any such thing. He stayed exactly where he was, minding his own business, not wishing to be bothered. And in his solitude, he was probably balancing the dual thoughts of wishing his wife would just be ready to go home because he was tired, but also loving the shit out of her for her joie de vivre. In short, he was being a human fucking being; a man, just like anybody else.
And yet, I noticed that there were only three of us out there now. There was me, Patrick Stewart, and Awkward Silence. So I had to think fast. “Hey, Mister Stewart! Good luck with Blunt Talk,” is what I absolutely did not say. And I was so proud of myself for all the other things I did not say besides. It was then that his wife reemerged from the bar, unsatisfied with the musical offerings. And so it was that they walked off into the warm, muggy, disgusting, humid, but quite literally benighted ((Sir Patrick Stewart, after all.)) Brooklyn night.
Alone now on the sidewalk, ((For presumably Awkward Silence had by now gone back inside.)) I finished what was left of my pipe. And I was proud of myself. The man had come out for a nice night and nobody had bothered him. And when we were alone together on the sidewalk, I didn’t bother him either. And maybe that’s why he moved to Brooklyn. So he could be somewhere where people would respect his privacy. Because say what you will about New Yorkers, we definitely do not get star struck.
Right. Back to the party. It was a lovely time. I haven’t seen L & R since well before I left for Berlin and I was absolutely delighted to see them again. What’s more, I quite like L’s boyfriend. He works in theatre, does lighting. I used to do that. We both love bad puns and history and deadpan humor. So we get on great and always have some good laughs.
Then there’s R’s boyfriend. Also a lovely guy. And he too has a beard. Except I could have sworn his beard was much bigger the last time I saw him. But I didn’t want to say anything about it. You see, I was quite literally terrified. I was afraid that if I said, “Hey, wasn’t your beard much bigger last time?” R would cringe and say, “Dave…that was not this guy…that was the last guy…also, you ruin everything.” But it was the same guy, he had just had a trim. And what’s more, he bought me a beer. ((I realize this doesn’t add much to the story. But it was a part of the night. And more importantly, I’m a big fan of R, so I wanted to make sure I said something nice about her boo. And what’s nicer than buying me a beer?))
Another thing that made the night great was that A was down from Connecticut. A, along with L & R is somebody I’ve known for more than six years now. And more than the other two, there’s history between us. What I mean is, there are things which could have – and still could – complicate our present friendship. And yet, our friendship is entirely uncomplicated, and I can not express how much I love her for that. Anyway, she was there, and I was just so happy to see her and catch up with her.
I also want to say this about A. She is deceptively brilliant. I know that sounds like a backhanded compliment, but I don’t mean it so. I’ll try again. A has got a very colloquial way of speaking. It’s very down to earth and extraordinarily unpretentious. And it’s not that you don’t think she’s a bright kid when you talk to her. You very quickly realize that the lights are on. It’s just that you would never think, “Wow, this dame has a brain on her.”
Then the other day, she writes this email. It was part of a chain between me and her and L & R, and also K. And, my friends, what an email. It was beautifully written. It was insightful. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it was brilliant. And she always does this, A does. She always says or does something that makes you go, “Oh, right. A is fucking brilliant. How do I ever forget that?” And that is something I really admire about her. She is entirely confident. She has zero fucks to give, whether you think she’s smart or not. I wish I had that. I can’t seem to not tell people how I was reading Jules Verne, in French, because you should always read things in the original. Or how I did my Master’s in Ancient Greek. Or how Kafka is really great, but man, that is some difficult German, and did I mention I know some German? I can learn a lot from that girl, is what I’m trying to say.
I realize, as I’m trying to wrap this up, that I’ve said a bit about L and about A, but very little about R, even though she’s been a presence through this post. And as I’m coming to the end of this, I’m beginning to realize that this as much a tribute to my friends as anything else. So I beg your indulgence as I take the time to say something about her as well.
R is an interesting character. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she didn’t much like me when we first met. Indeed, she didn’t much like me for the first few years that we knew each other. But somewhere along the line, she “figured me out;” and those would be her words for it, I think. But she’s smart and funny, to say nothing of pretty, and she did “figure me out.” And now we really are friends.
Which is quite a thing, really. Because, for reasons that I won’t get into, it would have been very easy for her to walk away from me at one point and forget she ever met me. (The same is true for L, by the way). But she never did. And that speaks to the kind of person she is. And now I count her among my true friends; and her me, I think. And that is something of which I am always conscious, and for which I am always thankful.
And so here, finally, at long last, enfin, endlich, I must close. I can’t pretend that I’m happy to be back here and not still in Berlin. But I am very happy that I got to spend L’s birthday with her, that I got to see L…and R, and A. I’m happy that I got to hang out in the same beer garden as Patrick Stewart and pretend to meet him when we were the only two people on the street. But most of all, I’m happy for the friends I have. As I sit here unemployed, in a place I don’t particularly wish to be, I’m proud to say that I have people such as these to call my friends. Happy birthday, L.