I’m at the Arb. It’s a quarter till five. It’s not as warm as it ought to be but, in hindsight, it’s not as cold as it would get. There’s that undefinable odor in the air. Wet wood chips and leaves. Newly blossoming flowers and that thick densely sweet powder that reminds me of black women that I can tell are black even when bundled up head to toe in deepest winter. I once followed that scent down the block and into a grocery store so I could prove to myself that I was indeed capable of smelling ethnicity.
That is what the day is like. I have been chasing specters of comfort. I have been following the cold sun and the aroma of the familiar. It leads me here to the Arb, to the musk of decay and the screaming scents of birth.
And I wait. I consciously [consistently, constantly?] wait. As I wait I think bitterly of Bukowski. Bukowski and his “No Help for That.” There is a place, Charlie, and it is here, at a rubberized table, at the Arb, on a Thursday, with no wine. I am dressed in sandals and my feet are cold, but it’s good to be off them. I try to see what the sun sees, but I am in shadow.
There is a path down to my right that is bounded by obscenely square beds of various grasses. It will eventually curve into something more organic. It will curve and snake through memories of Sally and coffee. A memory of raw sewage leaking from a conduit. And the decision to turn the other way. I only saw her once more after that. I look away.
An offshoot of that path, a year later, is a bench overlooking a hollow where I wished I had marijuana as I refined the bus story. I can’t tell which is worse. I look away. I stare at the entrance sign and I wonder if it says anything about bikes. I stare at the trash cans and wonder if I have the strength to even to that far down the path to dump my butts. I look away.
The table top is quilted with fine strands of rubbery plastic. It reminds me of spiderwebs and woodgrain, of packing material and dirt roads. Its beige, or tan, or a similar color that I’m told guys always have a hard time discerning. Its the color of this pen tip. It’s a fine weaving of silky strands and pits and it feels like corrugated cardboard, but rougher, deeper. I don’t understand it anymore than I understand flesh.
My goal is to wait for the phone to ring. To have a distraction from waiting for the phone to ring. It doesn’t occur to me how bizarre that goal is. I wait for the thing to happen to take my mind off it not happening. I stare at my phone. I pretend it is to check the time—it’s almost five—but it’s actually to see if I had somehow missed a call.
As I wait I attempt to balance my phone on its short edge on the rough table top. It takes a while. The phone’s bottom is curved, and the table is uneven. I eventually get it to stand. The trick is to get the curve of the phone into a pit on the table. The theory behind this endeavor is that when a call comes in the phone will vibrate and fall from its uncertain balance. I have a smoke while I wait for the fall.
The phone stands steady in its pride. Unyielding and unfailing—even against the cold wind, even against my harsh stare.