I was on a payphone in Chinatown and I wanted to break up with her. I had just moved to New York City, in part because I knew I couldn’t break up with her if we still lived in Pittsburgh together. I had to move 300 miles away first. It was 1994 so I can say thats the kind of person I was all the way back then but maybe thats the kind of person I still am and it gets much worse with old age.
It was one of those corners in the city where I had to walk miles to get there and then I don’t think I was ever on that corner again. Chinese people were swarming all around me and my girlfriend was on the payphone saying, “How come you can’t talk anymore? What are you doing there?” But I told her I had to get off the phone because I was going to run out of money. And there I was, my first week in New York, surrounded by hundreds of Chinese people, completely alone.
After that I decided to walk east. My sister had told me that the more east you walked in New York City, the more dangerous it became. But its funny how hypnosis works. In other words – hypnosis works. I walked about as far east as Avenue B. There were no people around and it was 4pm in the afternoon but I was so terrified with fear I could barely move. I couldn’t turn around and I couldn’t walk forward. I was frozen with fear. I hailed a cab and took it all the way back west to Seventh avenue, where I felt safe.
I was living with Elias the Chessplayer. His brother Jorge, is maybe the most talented chessplayer in the history of chess. Maybe wasted talent now. Who knows? But Elias was a good chessplayer also. And all the girls liked him.
There was a girl living across the hallway. Pretty. She was engaged and living with her fiance. He was a lawyer or some other kind of profession that dresses in a suit. One time when Elias and I were both there she knocked on the door. Elias answered and she came right in. She wanted to borrow salt or butter or something. Then she saw me. Elias gave her salt and she left. She lingered at the door a second and said something to Elias.
Elias said to me, “she wants me. She borrows something every day. I bet I can go over there tomorrow and bang her during the day while her fiance is at work.”
(Jorge, Elias’s brother, was already crushing grandmasters at age 11)
He was probably right. And it scared me. Because I was that girl’s fiance. I wasn’t Elias. I was more the other guy. The guy who never would know.
At the time I lived out of a garbage bag. I had one suit in the garbage bag. And then for weekends I had one pair of pants and a couple of shirts and underwear. I’d wake up in the morning on my futon on the floor and pull a pair of pants out of the Hess garbage bag, a button down shirt, a jacket, and then walk to work.
At work there was an Asian girl named “Winnie Ho”. I’m definitely going to have a crush on anyone named Winnie Ho but she never spoke to me and some people thought she was married but other people weren’t so sure. I was friends with Bob, who was very much into chess and we would play all the time but I would win a lot so ultimately he would stop playing me.
I had no idea what I was doing those first few months at work. The job was officially to get HBO on Time Warner’s interactive TV platform. It was the first attempt at interactive TV and I was one of the first people to attempt it. But I had no idea what I was doing and everyone was almost immediately disappointed in me. Nobody knew what to do with me because I had almost zero skills.
And at night I would make attempt after attempt at meeting new people. I was hanging out with a friend of Elias’s once. He was overweight, bald, and had bad teeth. He told me I should try a dating service. He told me he was doing very well with the different dating services. But then he looked at me, “the only problem is you have to put a picture in there.” 17 years later I’m still insulted by that.
Across the street was a doughnut shop. I could always find Elias there, eating doughnut after doughnut. Everyone behind the counter yelling at him in Spanish and everyone always laughing. I’d walk in, more Spanish, more laughing. doughnuts for everone! I wouldn’t understand a word of it but I’d try to laugh also even though they were probably laughing at me.
Or I could walk to Washington Square Park where everyone would know me and want to gamble chess with me because I’d always give the right odds that would make me lose. The more I lost, the more friends I had.
My grandparents would want me to take the D subway up to the very end of the Bronx, where they had spent their entire lives only now it was so decrepit and run down it had little of the memories left that I cherished from childhood. Still, once a week I would go and sleep on their couch lined with plastic and the place would have that comfortable grandparent smell I’d known since I was a kid.
(in the 70s, the D Train used to be beautiful)
The loneliness was crushing on me that whole year. I couldn’t breathe with it laying on top of me, preventing me from doing anything my daydreams were pushing me to do. It was 1994, a year that spit up just about nothing in the annals of history. You can’t even find 1994 on wikipedia, it was such a boring year. It was the year before I became busy. The year before I turned into a superhero. I was the geeky Peter Parker before he became Spiderman. Or the crippled Don Blake, before he became Thor. Its 5 in the morning right now and I already need another coffee. Looking back at it, it was maybe the best year of my life.
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