“Fuck The Rain” and I ride again, photograph by Liam for GQ.
“Fuck The Rain” and I ride again, photograph by Liam for GQ.
I hate working holiday hours because it means that the store is open until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The logic of keeping us there so late on weekends is lost on me because so few customers come in, most are out to dinner or drinking long before we close.
There was this Asian girl shopping in the store around 8 p.m. on Saturday. She was walking around our empty store looking at costume jewelry alone. When I asked her if she needed help, she seemed really reluctant to speak to me. At first, I thought it was because she didn’t have a good grasp of the language and just asked again. This time, she responded, in perfect English with very little trace of an accent. While she spoke, I noticed her upper lip curling around her teeth and the way that she was smiling - not really smiling so much as stifling all upturning of the corners of her mouth. And then her resolve flickered for half of a second and I saw the the gleam of metal on her teeth.
She was probably in her early or mid-twenties, embarrassed by her braces. It was something so familiar to me that it stung. She reminded me, in that moment, of my sister.
I have always had a difficult relationship with my family. My sister and I are three years apart which means that I fall into the role of the protective older brother, trying to make sure that she doesn’t make the same mistakes that I did. Not wanting to know if she does. But because I’m the only sibling she has, I also have to be the person willing to listen to the things she doesn’t want to tell our parents.
It’s been hard for me to realize that I can’t be there to help her all the time. And that’s led me to taking the weak way out, by not talking to her very often so that I don’t have to hear about things I can’t change.
That little Asian girl really bummed me out.
I don’t usually think about college. Half the time that’s because I can’t remember a lot of it. The other half is a conscience effort not to.
The weather today did pull up memories of my first year at WMU and going to the coffee shop with a friend. The thrown together assortment of tables were littered with board games with almost all of their parts. As we sipped what was probably very mediocre coffee out of chipped, mismatched mugs and played half of a game of checkers, we talked about ourselves.
It was nice, getting to know someone else like that, in a very relaxed and comfortable way. Especially when contrasted against the whirlwind that was “Welcome Week” and meeting people outside smoking in a 2 minute window or while drunk or under the influence of whatever else.
We never became very close friends, not much more than a familiar face on campus or at parties. Most importantly it was someone you knew would probably have cigarettes if you were out and was willing to bum you one. And I’ve since lost contact with this person, in just five or six years there are very few traces of her in my life. Not even on Facebook. But those few hours remain as some of the most memorable parts of my college life, as insignificant as they had seemed at first.
Dear Retail Customers,
I must not have expressed myself well last time. Because you are still making my life a living hell.
I don’t understand. I am the only male in my section. I am Asian. I have goofy fucking hair right now. Seriously, I stand out. So how? How is it that you can still forget that we had a half-hour long conversation about the watch you are now buying from someone else? There was absolutely no spark of recognition behind your eyes when I said, “hey, you were in here a couple days ago.”
I am so tired. I work really hard so that you come back to me. I try to make it known that if you need anything, you should ask me. I give out a LOT of business cards. When you pass by and say that you bought it from the brunette girl or the lady with the headscarf, it makes me cry on the inside.
I call you a lot. I send you cards. I even e-mail you now! Why, then, are you asking me when we’re having a sale? I TOLD you when it was. You missed it. Maybe if you answered your phone, I could have answered your questions so easily.
When you say, “I’ll keep it in mind,” what exactly are you talking about? Will you keep it in mind for when we’re not on sale so you can hem and haw over it again? I hope you realize that you are the reason I’ve broken out my emergency bottle of gin at 7 p.m. alone on a Saturday night.
You are the fog that fills the pure drudgery that is my 5-days-a-week life.
Only Nick Wooster could pull off that madras Gant blazer that I love.
Recently, I challenged my friend to come up with a soundtrack to her life while I did the same. Not songs that correspond to different ages and memories, that would be far too embarrassing, but songs that we would want played if a movie were made about our lives. We did this because we are dorks.
One of my friend’s selections was Jimmy Eat World’s “For Me This is Heaven.” The four-minute ballad poses questions to the listenener, one of which is “if I don’t let myself be happy now, then when?”
It’s something worth thinking about. Now, sitting in the park, smelling the coming rain and watching the sparse drops smear my pen’s ink and make my already horrendous handwriting yet more illegible, I let my mind wander. I watch the ants move from the almost unnaturally green grass to the canvas of my shoes (I really have to stop sitting on the bench over the anthill). I’m staying out here until I finish this or the rain becomes torrential.
I’ve come to realize that maybe I self-reflect too much on here and I’m prone to making proclamations that either don’t come to be or don’t stay that way. I do this because putting it in writing is supposed to make it more permanent and be a constant reminder. Obviously, that’s not always the case.
I think that I’ve been holding myself back through a combination of bad choices and a fear of making more. That is the way of the chronically shy and insecure who take great pains to appear otherwise. No more. I am about to turn 24 years old. “If not now, when?”
Breaking up my usual lunch routine with the Hancock Building.
I needed a day off. The heat is so oppressive and the air is so heavy and sticky that walking through it feels like there’s wet cotton in my lungs but I have to do it because vacation’s over and it’s back to the grind of work. My 24th birthday is in less than a month. It snuck up on me.
It’s funny, I love working downtown and I love living where I do but on some days it only serves to emphasize how much more I want. And I’m sitting here, with lightning splitting the gray sky and rain flinging itself horizontally at my window, hoping that it means that tomorrow will be a little fucking cooler and knowing that it doesn’t. I stick my head out my screenless window, I take a deep breath and let the angry droplets wash away the accumulation of my day, all the sweat and grime and the tears that I swear are from yawning. I let them wash away old memories of teenage angst and fresher memories of early 20s confusion.
And the rain is stopping. And it feels like my eyeballs are shaking because the rest of my body, the rest of my life, won’t move so something has to, right? I feel like I should look for other jobs because I’m starting to feel claustrophobic again within the confines of how I live my life but maybe this is how grown ups are supposed to be. It feels like I’m always quaking with barely suppressed anxiety and sometimes rage and sometimes I don’t even want to move out of fear of stumbling through more broken conversations and uncomfortably empty pauses.
“But,” you’ll say, “That’s what makes life so rich.” Sometimes when your days have flattened out into a plain, you need to find the valleys to be able to feel the peaks. So you think of the saddest thing you know, and I mean really know. It has to be something that you can practically reach out and grab, that you can strangle the shit out of just to be able to see in color again, not the sepia-tinted, hellish mini-world that you realize you’ve been wandering around in for months or years or maybe your entire life.
Work when there are no customers leaves me with a lot of time to consider other avenues. While I walk around with a grotesque mask that’s supposed to project amiability and not the near-palpable tension that’s actually pulling the corners of my mouth up, I have every opportunity to look into the faces of what few customers we do have and try to pick their lives apart in my head. How did he get here? Is she happy with what she’s doing? Do they think about me as a person, as I do them, and is it egotistical for me to hope that they do? My mind gets scattered and I have a bad back so I don’t pick up the pieces.
But now the rain and the lightning and the fucking thunder is starting again. And the fire trucks are screaming by my window. And all I want to do is look outside to see if the streets are flooded but I can only see by the intermittent flashes of electric sky and that seems like too much effort right now.
Ughhhh, I had so much more written than this but then my computer died and lost everything and I was hungover and on the train and now I just want to be done with it. Here’s the rest of my stupid fucking list.
9. The Velvet Underground - Loaded
Loaded isn’t usually the album that people think about when you start talking about the Velvet Underground. It’s not the bombastic debut of The Velvet Underground and Nico nor does it have the groundbreaking experimentalism of White Light/White Heat. But what it does have is a collection of some of the best “pop” songs that Lou Reed has ever written. Pressured by the record company to make something a little more commercial, Reed crafted some perfectly concise, catchy songs about dark subjects that helped spur along the alternative rock scene.
8. The Postal Service - Give Up
The Postal Service’s Give Up is something of an embarrassing entry but, as I said before, I’m not going to be ashamed of what I like. The collaboration between Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard spawned what has become one of my favorite songs ever, “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight.” While it can be argued that Gibbard’s lyrics lack substance or cleverness or subtlety (he’s really not that great of a writer…), they fit so well when paired with Tamborello’s glitchy backing beats that it doesn’t really matter that he slips up some times (A goalie tending the net in the third quarter? Really Ben, hockey has three periods and soccer has halves. Get with it). This is a really good album for sitting outside on a clear, sunny, not-too-hot day in the park. That’s what I use it for, at least.
7. Against Me! - …Is Reinventing Axl Rose
So many of these albums are on the list because they’re tied into specific times in my life. This is no exception. Sophomore year of college wouldn’t have been nearly as fun if we weren’t drunkenly singing along to …Is Reinventing Axl Rose four (five? Six?) nights a week. Yes, the instrumentation is sloppy. Sure, the vocals aren’t always in key. But the imperfections are what make it work. It meant that people with minimal musical backgrounds like us could learn and play along with these songs really easily. Which is what was mattered back then. But this weekend’s reunion with roommates at one of their weddings proved that those songs are still just as great to us four years removed.
6. Rilo Kiley - The Execution of All Things
I do not usually like female vocalists. It’s not me being sexist, I just tend to be able to appreciate men’s voices more. That is why Jenny Lewis was such a revelation to me back when I first heard her sing. “The Good That Won’t Come Out,” opening this album, manages to capture the kind of girl-next-door timber of her voice and still showcase how, at equal times, angelically wispy and powerfully exuberant it can be. It sets the tone for the rest of the tracks, that balance defines the album.
5. Bright Eyes - I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
I used to make fun of my friend so hard for liking Bright Eyes. She will never let it go. I still won’t admit that Conor Oberst is the all-out musical genius she’d made him out to be but I will say that this album is one of my favorite examples of a musician taking influences from roots, country and folk music and letting it color his work. He’s a great storyteller and the supporting instrumentation throughout is stellar in its ability to pull every track together.
4. Cursive - Domestica
So raw. Domestica was written and recorded while Tim Kasher was going through a divorce and the anger and confusion pours out of every note. Again, the imperfections are what makes it so great (I see a trend), the dissonance of the guitars and the scratchy, uneven vocals do a great job of making the songs all sound intensely personal even without the lyrics.
3. Damien Rice - O
Maybe the most desperately sad album I’ve ever listened to. Love it. Rice’s voice, especially in its upper register, has a certain quality to it. It’s so clear and powerful that his actual words don’t matter as much as the tone. Lisa Hannigan’s accompanying vocals take a lot of the songs from good to great. Gorgeous music.
2. The Pixies - Doolittle
A lot has been written about how much the Pixies influenced modern music so I’m going to keep this brief. Doolittle still sounds modern and there really isn’t a bad song on the album.
1. Jeff Buckley - Live at Sin-e
1. This is it. My favorite release by my favorite musician, a live album recorded in an intimate venue with a perfect mix of covers and originals. The covers are done so well that I can credit Live at Sin-é with my ongoing love of American Idol, The Voice, Glee and really any cover ever. There’s a couple of Bob Dylan covers that he does better than the originals and it has the best versions of his originals. This is the one album that I can always find the time to listen to.