Can I tell you something, just one line? I mean, one more line. Because, you know, the last one wasn’t very good (I’ll admit that much), and because, well, I think you’re so much more beautiful than all the bad pick-up lines in the world, and even the good ones.
A smile? I see a smile, okay, great. We’re on. Wait till we get in the club. Wait till…
The waiting was the problem. Johnny Baker had been waiting for over an hour, and it seemed as if he had only moved five feet forward. In actuality, it was only five inches. He was standing outside The Boom Box; he had been standing outside The Boom Box since eleven-fifteen and it was now nearing twelve-thirty. And fortunately, at least The Boom Box had big speakers (with a name like that …), so at least Johnny could bump and grind, or at least two-step his way to another (always the next one) pretty face he saw on line, and at least they could talk about what? Life’s tragedies, the weather, the common experience of WAITING, or maybe a story from college? Maybe a story about the end-of-the-year party, the one that crashed hard. The one in which the cops came and he ran for his life, or at least for his clean record; running away from his own apartment.
Before he could utter a word, or even a line, the girl turned to her friend. Turned away from him.
It’s Thursday night, for chrissake! Johnny murmured. Thursday night and look at this fucking wait. My goodness. Good God. And work is going to bite me in the ass tomorrow. It always does. Work. Fuck.
And here he trailed off, afraid of what might slide onto his sealed lips next, afraid to even think it.
But he was net happy, wasn’t he? Net happy. That was the phrase he used to describe his current life situation, the last time he had seen his psychiatrist. The last time he had requested a temporary leave from his medication. Prozac and Zoloft, and sometimes Cymbalta. I’m net happy! he repeated, this time aloud, running his hand through his hair, the gel sprinkling snowflakes on pavement. I’m net happy! Making wads of cash, living in Turtle Bay (Turtle Bay!), wearing the best clothes (he looked down at the new Yamamotos adorning his feet and smiled, for the first time that evening), and meeting the hottest chicks.
But that’s why they call it net happy, Johnny said, silently, still talking to himself, lively and charming, as talkative as ever, moving from a moment in his psychiatrist’s office to the memory at Lehigh (to be well-liked was all that mattered then), to his office on the twenty-fourth floor of the Bank of America building on Park Avenue (a view of the clouds), to the penthouse he was checking out on Rivington and Clinton (the scene, New York Magazine says, is moving downtown)—he was traveling, alright, just not with his feet.
The music grew louder—Rihanna segued into Beyoncé—and Johnny continued to tap his sparkling Y3s on the pavement, looking for someone—anyone—he knew or wanted to know or that he could know for a moment and soak up for the rest of his life. Because that was what life was for Johnny, a memory he could relive at the worst of times and sometimes even during the good ones. And each time would be better, and more meaningful, and more pleasing.
He heard laughter, he heard shouts, he heard the clinking of glasses and the clanking of high heels. He wanted to be inside, on the other side, and if he could just move, if he could just slip past the doors, inside the walls that separated him from everyone else, everything would be so much better…
He moved a step forward and inched his way into a conversation about Lady Gaga or Katie Osbourne (Gaga, definitely Gaga), the whole time carrying on the conversation in his head that would sound aloud like this:
“There’s nothing in the world worse than waiting on line. I rate them in order from best to worst, with AIDS at the top, then terminal cancer—getting my dick chopped off Lorena Bobbitt-style and full-scale paralysis are on the same level for obvious reasons—working at the North Pole the day before Christmas, then random acts of violence that no one would ever willingly subject themselves to but must be included for their potential likelihood to occur at some point (the world’s a fucked up place), like circumcision with a butter knife after puberty, or masturbating with sandpaper, followed by world hunger and poverty (lumping them together adds to their standing), and of course, waiting on line to round things out.”
While Johnny was talking to himself, he blurted out tidbits of information—“‘Alejandro’ was on my workout playlist for three weeks straight”—here and there, a spattering of nods of the head and faint murmurs to keep it going, anything to stay in the moment and out of it completely.
Why did he succumb to this? Why this seesaw, this tug-of-war with bonding, empathy, companionship? He wanted it, didn’t he? Why did he prevent it at the same time? Why was he so immune to emotional contact? Why did he sabotage himself? What was he afraid of?
There were far too many questions swirling in Johnny’s head and he stopped listening to everything—himself, the girls—two blonds with hoop earrings and floral skirts—the music blasting from The Boom Box, the telephone ringing off the hook from a nearby payphone (what the fuck is a payphone?), the catcalls, the questions (“Are you at Joe McNeil’s table?”), the tire shrieks, the car honks, every taxi halting to a stop outside the club, everything, and instead only stared, looking from one face to the other until they became a great big box of flesh, one Siamese blond-blur, and he was looking serious, and humble, and studious, looking with great intensity at nothing at all.
And then the girl—one of them, or both of them—the girls said in unison: “So what do you do for work?”
Johnny laughed, grinned, ran another hand through his rigid wave of hair and paused to breathe, like he was delivering the State of the Union.
“I’m an investment banker,” he said, and for a second he almost handed them his business card. For a second, he didn’t feel so excluded, so anguished, so condemned. For a second. “Bank of America.”
He thought about the business card: the font (Andale Mono), the name JOHNNY BAKER etched in all-caps across the center, and below that, in smaller type: Regional Equity Analyst
But then he thought about the near-disaster of the afternoon. (He stepped a foot forward.) An e-mail from a subsidiary in China had nearly turned calamitous when he forget to include the necessary data regarding a recent merger and acquisition, or inquisition, which is what he often called it at company cocktail events, sometimes standing with a female coworker, sometimes on the outskirts of a crowd, and always with the same grin, and instead submitted a stream of self-photos he took in the locker room the week before, after a particularly good pump (chest and tris). The file names were nearly identical. Did he sabotage himself again? Or was he simply unlucky, an existential hero in his own postmodern tragedy?
He moved forward another step and now he could at least see the thick glass doors, the squat, black man standing in front. At least he could make out the list he was holding in his hand. At least he could imagine his name on there, too (is my name even on the list?). At least he could picture what it was like inside the club: dark, strobe-lit, bodies moving in between other bodies, a table full of young, beautiful women, vodka cranberries and screwdrivers in each hand, the sound of the bass thumping and the crowd clamoring, and everyone sweating and slipping deeper into the night…
Had he been talking out loud this whole time? The girls turned away from him. Again. He looked behind him, he looked to the side, he looked straight ahead. It was all just one line.
“Attachments are killing me.”
Chris Campanioni is a first-generation Cuban- and Polish-American. He has worked as a journalist, model, and actor, and he teaches literature and creative writing at Baruch College and Pace University, and new form journalism at John Jay. His “Billboards” poem that responded to Latino stereotypes and mutable–and often muted–identity in the fashion world was awarded the 2013 Academy of American Poets Prize at Fordham Lincoln Center and his novel, Going Down, was selected as Best First Book for the 2014 International Latino Book Awards. Find him in space at www.chriscampanioni.com or in person, somewhere between Brooklyn Bridge Park and Barclays Center.