*by someone who’s heard
the music plays on*
(frankie leone, just a man)
*most in new york city have an opinion about williamsburg, brooklyn.
there are those who hate the locale, some who love it, and others who don’t care enough to voice thoughts about it.
i’ve found those harboring resentment do so because they don’t live here. this section of the wildest sexiest beast of a city on the globe (populated almost exclusively by the young, attractive, artistic, intelligent, and wealthy) is a gigantic bullsesye for negative attention. these individuals are interesting to me.
people who feel the need to lie to themselves about the roots of their disdains remind me of me. they make me uncomfortable. more often than not i engage them with a ruthless drive to instill clarity.
experience has revealed those who love it generally feel this way because the smoke and mirrors of “hip” and “cool” have seduced them to a point where snarky remarks and jealous avoidance is easily resisted. these individuals aren’t interesting to me.
their delusion is beautiful, in its own way, and i don’t feel compelled to dispel it.
those that are indifferent have dull opinions. they don’t interest me either.
they are comfortable enough inside their own flesh that they don’t feel the need to conjure disingenuous beliefs to compensate for insecurity. there’s no reason to engage them in debate.
i put myself, after desperately trying to do the opposite, outside these three groups. i do my best to just exist here and study what i’ve been struggling to understand my whole life- other human beings.*
*there’s a sadness saturating the five foot five bodega man who runs the store on the corner of north 6th street and kent avenue one block from my williamsburg loft. his rotund frame moves through the few narrow aisles, and behind his counter with a slow despair i detected early in our acquaintanceship.
his soft-spoken voice carries the marks of his homeland of yemen. it floats passed his lips to express only what he needs to when he needs to because he needs to. he reminds me of me.
he makes me uncomfortable.*
*she’s gorgeous and she’s mine.
her skin’s snow white, and her body is tall and thin. it moves with a grace only the unconsciously extraordinary can. when looking at her statuesque features i feel like i might’ve cheated lady luck for us to come to possess each other. she articulates her inner beauty and i remember i did.
when i go to his bodega every day to buy her her favorite bagel sandwich (without being asked) i know i’m not doing it because i should or can. i’m doing it because i want and need to.
when buying things for herself sometimes she’s with me and sometimes she’s alone. it’s become clear whether she’s with me or alone he expresses that he sees the same things in her i do. he throws words like “sexy,” “wonderful,” and “lovely” across the counter whether i’m there or not.
i don’t like this.
a man can’t keep someone like her as a pet or prisoner. the beautiful go where they want when they want if they want, because they can. i know this, and i’m sure if i force her to figure it out she will too. with expedience.
i decide to mind my own business and let her deal with it in her own way, if she wants to deal with it.
every time he asks me where she is (with a wall of cigarettes and $10+ items as his backdrop) i feel my fists beginning to clench. it’s a good thing i’m not young in my mind anymore- the son-of-a-bitch would take a nap on his bodega floor after each reference.*
*my ben and jerry’s purchases at his bodega are at an all time high.
she’s decided to walk out of my life and has bought a one-way amtrak ticket out of town. i’ve spent the entire day staring at the empty space in our clothes rack where her tailored jackets and body-gripping button-ups used to be.
she’s coming back tomorrow to get her boxed up things out of the common space.
my eyes spike continuous tears down the unshaven skin of my face. she hasn’t always been kind to me, but the void she’ll leave (represented by the missing clothes) is more than i can bear.
it’s time for a number nineteen from his bodega. a “how do you do.” chicken cutlet, beef bacon (islamic storeowners), lettuce, tomato, avocado, onion, and honey mustard. a space heater for a chilly soul.*
*his unshaven face (whose growth is more substantial than mine) smiles and asks how i am in a routine tone.
“i’m getting by,” i reply.
he laughs lightly and changes the subject, “where is your friend? you know who i’m speaking of. the sexy one.”
today i’m not going to gloss passed this.
“it makes her and i uncomfortable when you flirt with her. it’s probably part of the reason she doesn’t come by here a lot anymore,” i respond, “it’s fucking inappropriate.”
he falters in himself, surprised. i’m one of his store’s best customers. i’m there multiple times a day getting things for myself and six roommates. he knows this and grants special prices on some items, a line of credit, and access to less-than-legal services the bodega can provide. i’m also six foot four, covered in tattoos, have significant muscle mass, and mentioned in passing i grew up hard.
he’s watching his step as we both suffer in uncomfortable silence.
“i’m sorry. i didn’t know you didn’t like when i play with her.”
i answer, “when you flirt with her. especially in front of me. you know she’s my girlfriend.”
i don’t feel compelled to tell him we’re now severed from each other, but he understands the history leading to this exchange. his expression is defeated and he isn’t maintaining eye contact anymore.
“i’m sorry,” he concludes quieter than usual.
i have no desire to beat this man down, emotionally or physically. i try to resolve this awkwardness i’ve created.
“it’s ok. it’s really not a big deal. i’m a lot more upset about things outside this store. there’s a lot going in my mind. don’t worry about it.”
he nods in unsure understanding. i pay for my sandwich, some electronic cigarette refills, and a bagel sandwich to give her for her trip tomorrow. as i turn towards the door he breathes, “i like your writing.”
i stop still and turn around. this is unexpected- he’s pretty far outside my usual demographic. i answer, “thank you for reading it. sincerely,” and wait for him to talk.
“you know i used to be artist too. long time ago. played music.”
“what instrument,” i answer.
“sitar,” and our silence resumes.
a few moments pass in his empty place of business before i ask, “why don’t you play anymore?”
“war. the south of my country, where i’m from, got fucked up ten years ago. i came here and started running stores. now i am old. i don’t have it anymore.”
“do you know the expression ‘cop out?'”
he nods with an expression of shame.
“you just told me a tragic story. it’s the kind of bullshit i write about. but the real tragedy isn’t the one you think. it’s that you’ve given up. i think you should start practicing.”
i can tell he’s really listening, but he doesn’t feel compelled to respond.
“have a good day sammie,” i say and offer my hand.
he grips it and responds, “you too frankie.”*
*heading back to what used to be “our room” in my raw loft on kent avenue and north 5th street i think about sammie. then i think about myself. an epiphany burns bright in my mind as my feet tread the sidewalk- we’re going to be ok.
if we want to be.*
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