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Whatever's Clever

Dedicated to the Memory of the Superga Air Disaster

from My Life's Work by Ben Seretan

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I met a close sleeper, barefoot boogie-er, 2am, on the stairs of the fire escape leading out from a senior center in Chinatown overlooking the cement courtyard of a high school. My clothes smelled like menthol cigarettes and dumplings, there was emptying-the-bar-cart scotch in my stomach, dust on the bottle. I had been lifting my friend who was moving away in the air repeatedly and screaming pop songs at the top of my lungs for hours, there was Seinfeld reruns playing on four TVs and a bar where you spun a wheel like from Wheel of Fortune to order a drink. You get the feeling living somewhere long enough that every block and every street corner has its own unfolding narrative, what I mean is that the events of 14th street and 6th avenue, for instance, are all part of one linear story. Like every time I've ever had bagels at Murray's feels interconnected, as one, and when I walk by there I think of that time the 8 of us met up and went to the Cloisters and shared a big jug of orange juice as the pre-amble to all those times we'd meet there before work and order whatever was freshest out of the oven and still warm even though there were years in-between those mornings in reality, you know? And every time I drive south on the FDR I remember doing it for the first time - wearing a suit heading home from a fancy work event fundraiser, they paid for the cab, and in an unbelievably lean time of eating tuna on crackers and surviving on free stale bread from my downstairs neighbor that trip was an incredible luxury. I felt like a prince, I rolled down the window and watched the East River speeding by, my hand riding the air out the window, the neon pepsi logo reflecting and breaking in the dark rolling waves. I think of it every time I come home from being out of town, it's all one long, localized story with time gaps like missing teeth. Supine on the astroturf at the senior center party, brain and blood on fire, feeling every stomp of the dance floor echoing through my body, I remembered being on that exact block 3 months previous. I had just shaved for the first time in as long as I could remember and I no longer recognized my face - I looked both fatter and thinner than I could have imagined, both younger and older than I felt. Waiting in line for a fung wah bus that would take me, ploddingly, down the eastern seaboard toward 3 weeks of being away, fantasies of swimming in creeks and biscuits keeping my hopes up as I drifted towards North Carolina. There was a hot, light, summer rain, the sun felt like it would never go down even though it was 9pm, and I stood holding all my shit - my guitar, my synth, my clothes - clutched against me under the awning, yawning. Finally we boarded, late, and I unceremoniously threw my shit in the maw of the bus' undercarriage. The interior of the bus smelled strongly of two opposing forces - gone cold popeye's fried chicken and rank port-o-potty. Garbage all over the floor, apparently they had not cleaned it since its last trip. Harrowing, I gathered my jean jacket toward my recently shaved face. Determined not to listen to a single podcast or look at instagram for my entire time away, I fell asleep clutching a book to my chest moments after the bus departed. And then I was gone. That single moment of departure was something I had clung to, life-preserver-like, in the drowning-est moments of the previous shit year - at least I had that. And then, once it came to be, it crumbled into dust, the hope lashed to it faded - I didn't have any landmark on the horizon. Senior center, 5am, I could see the street where I caught the bus below. One long story, one block. Then I looked at my buds, so in love, surrounded by friends, just about to leave this place where I feel like I'm walking by my own ghost on every corner. Departure. I wanted it. I said do you want to get out of here and we got in a car and we drove over that same dark river.
Show me the loneliest among you, staring out the window of the subway, not at anything in particular but rather at the movement of everything as it rumbles past. Are they alone often? Do they avoid going out, do they flounder in crowds, quickly running out of things to say? Do they quietly enjoy their smaller pleasures, savoring bites of crisp vegetables and taking comfort in getting a good night's sleep? Are their attempts to connect with others feeble, with one foot out the door, and a strong implication that cancelling last minute is not only acceptable but in fact preferred? Do they really hunker down on any excuse that prevents them from participating in life - a light fever, for instance? Do they feel a distance from the collective thrum of humanity, never truly one of, always at a remove? Do they consider this to be one of their defining traits, do they fact consider themselves special in this regard? Do they take pride in being ever apart?
I'm suggesting that this person is not lonely or, more precisely, they are not lonely enough to do anything about their isolation. Their loneliness - which they may feel at all times, hugging their shoulders like a heavy cloak - only impels them to notice and catalogue their distance, how many months spent single, the number of unreturned texts. Instead, find me the very last person at the party, the one whose hands remain in the air in a furtive pose long after the mood to dance has dissipated, the one who fails to notice the party's end having arrived like a cloud passing in front of the moon. They reach the party's end easily, they never tire, for there is no other reason for them to go home. That party in that moment is the whole of their motivation and when, following a failed attempt or two to recapture the kinetic mood of 30 minutes ago, they do finally leave and the hosts lock the door behind them with a crushing finality, that person will crumple under the weight of their own autonomy. Find me the person that is always out of the house, the person who quickly and enthusiastically agrees to plans, no matter how outlandish or last minute. Find me the person with a full dance card. Find me the person who attends art openings alone, the person successfully making small talk with strangers, the person going on tons of lukewarm, unfulfilling dates with strangers from the Internet. Find me the person who seems to know everyone, acquaintances abound. They will be the loneliest and once you notice it in them you will. They will be impelled by an unslakable desire for company, companionship, for integration and intimacy. Their loneliness, which rings in their ears whenever social interaction dissipates, drives them from their home as if the silence has lit the room on fire. They run screaming from the building and onto the dance floor, into the throngs, seeking out the indeterminate and anonymous comfort in the collective roar of a bar. The loneliest person has no one to go home to, nothing to tend to and, unable to face the terrifying void of their own company, they become the life of the party, constantly running from an advancing column of flame.

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from My Life's Work, released August 30, 2018

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Ben Seretan Troy, New York

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