December is "Best of" Month - Introduction
Poker with the Boys
I'm three scotches to the wind and it's fuckin' ass cold outside. I've lost $25 in a game with a $20 buy-in, on a budget with nothing coming in. Andy, drunker than I've ever seen him, claims that I am “the best looking one at the table.” “Without a doubt,” confirms Paul. I play Vanna White, dealing their final games of high stakes Omaha. “This is POKER!” Andy exclaims more than once. After, we convene under the awning, hands shaking as we light up our cigarettes, talking about the euphoria of high-stakes gambling, why Bruce Springsteen sucks, and what it's like growing up with Central Park as your back yard. I think my luck has finally turned around because, just as I push my way through the turnstile, my train arrives. It takes a minute before I notice, in the corner opposite me, a voice that puts Tom Waits' to shame.
“... and I was neither cold or hot. And I was neither alive or dead.” His teeth were rotted. His hair could have hosted birds. “How do you know what God looks like? You don't. You don't. He is energy.” His jeans were ripped in unfortunate places and held together with a cacophony of stitching and safety pins. “He is energy that wraps around you. All that stuff about male and female... it don' mean nothing, 'cause God is energy.” He's looking at me now. I share embarrassed smiles with the yellow-fleeced man sitting next to me. On the next bench down, two hand-holding lesbians giggle. Further down, a Hispanic man wraps his arm protectively around his Latina. The bench after that, a gay man stops digging in his gym bag long enough to check out a trim blond exiting the train. “And it is so warm, that feeling that you are loved. When you are wrapped in that energy. You don't care about your physical pain, you don't care about what you own, because of that feeling of warmth, because you are loved.” He's looking at me still. His foot is wrapped in a bandage all the way to his ankle. It is stained yellow by its own juices. And. God. The smell! I exit at 103rd and wish that I had brought gloves to protect against the biting cold. Wish that I had $6 to buy more cigarettes.
My life is so compartmentalized and harried these days. I wonder if it really happened that, this morning, I woke up in the warmth of my lover’s arms. Longing to lounge away the day with him, my schedule, stabbing me out of bed, triumphed instead. That, this afternoon, I was so absorbed in a paper on copyright infringement that I was still writing it in my brain an hour after I arrived at the poker game. And that, not an hour ago, I was rocking out to AC/DC watching my mid-thirties poker buddies air-guitar and beat imaginary drums as if it were all still good. But now, I open the door to my empty apartment, and I am alone in the way that only happens in Manhattan. And in that darkness, it’s easy to worry whether my fate isn’t going to be the same as God-man's.