Don’t Wanna Go Uneasy



180 w. 54th ny ny

Neighborhood: Midtown

So we thought a movie, and he says “you pick one.” I look into it and suggest either that one about the Rwandan genocide or “Raging Bull” in a new print at the Ziegfeld. “Remember,” I ask him, “remember how at some point they started issuing tickets for actual seats at the Ziegfeld, with seat numbers? I wonder if they still do that.” But he writes back by email to say neither of those seems like a date movie to him.

Instead he wants to go to the one about Ray Charles even though he’s seen it already. With no apparent irony, he writes, “it really hits a lot of notes.” He could have at least avoided pretending to give me the choice.

The morning of the movie date, I hear on the radio that down at NYU they are replacing the windows in the high-rise dorms because of those five kids who flung themselves to their deaths last year. The new windows will open just four inches, deemed insufficient space, by committee, for any screaming soul. Moreover, the reporter reminds us, they have already glassed in the atrium in the Bobst Library, from whence, perhaps gloriously, perhaps thinking of the person they were sticking it to, some others flew into the big black wall of nothing no mo’.

The movie follows the biopic formula: brilliant genius from hard-knock beginnings surmounts repeated obstacles, rises to fame, beds too many women, succumbs to the temptations of junk then falls down low usually involving the bathroom floor (cue voiceover: “And Then Tragedy Struck”), rises again to greater glory.

Walking up Broadway after the movie he says, “So what did you think?” And I say, “That movie was all about the ashtrays. And to a lesser extent the lamps.” He presses his lips together in an evil little smile and says, “You’re a pip, you know,” which is something I think my grandfather Gustav might have said to me if he’d lived long enough to see me grow up. Because I know he called my two older sisters his dollies.

When we were little, after Sunday school discussions of heaven, I would sit up in bed screaming, my under-juiced brain unable to process “eternity,” the mathematics of it blowing the circuitry. Later when I was hospitalized with meningitis and experienced actual hysteria, I would recognize the swirling chaos for what it was: fear of forever. Anything, I knew then, even bliss forever and ever and Amen, would be nothing but torment. Perhaps it is only suffering that renews itself continually, never gets old.

In the shower these days, I have been singing along with Laura Nyro: “I swear there ain’t no heaven and I pray there ain’t no hell, but I’ll never know by living, only my (beat) dying will tell.” And also that bit about wanting to go naturally, the melody rising like a jaunty plea on the last word of the phrase: don’t wanna go unea-sy.

It does not take me long to conclude that any man who would go to one of those sticky Times Square movie theaters where every last seat has a stain on it to see that movie for a second time, well, is that a man I can have in my bed really, let alone allow to reinsert into my life the notion of forever? But how can you tell him that, what man would understand? What sun-filled world would we live in if I could say, “Ted, since you willingly saw that movie twice, eagerly even, I’m afraid I can’t see you anymore,” and he’d say, “Well, if that’s the way it has to be then that’s OK, because in truth I’m holding out for the woman who would never tire of the story of Ray Charles, no matter how poorly told.”

That’s, let me tell you, that’s the world I want to live in.

In that world maybe I could say out loud that my overwhelming experience of life with men is one of crashing disappointment. Which is a disappointment in itself, I mean, not even anger.

But in this world, when I ask him not to come around anymore, this hopeful man turns some corner, trashes me with the fury of all men against all women from time immemorial, going back to goddamn Eve. The most interesting accusation is that I’m a snob, which is of course the evil twin of “pip.” And, you know, he’s right but not in the ways he thinks. Eventually he spends himself out and I have a couple weeks of peace.

Then one day, I receive by mail a sheepish apology note which I understand to be his last last word. It arrives in a padded envelope with four CDs labeled in Sharpie pen, “for Karen.” Fully three disks are unreleased live cuts by Neil Young. The fourth is a chick folksinger whom I listened to briefly when I was 26 and newly arrived in New York, still not having acquired much nuance, and not yet married, so not yet having acquired real despair, the kind you can’t blame on anyone else, what I’ll call the European kind. These days my Big Problem is that I’m so sure that no one gives a screaming damn, that no one is the least bit interested in what manner of fight I’ve put up. This puts me in a distinct minority among all the millions of American memoirists endlessly telling stories of what they have endured. And yet.

Included in the packet are play lists for the CDs with three pictures of Neil Young, and in all of them he looks positively insane (better to burn out, etc.). So out of superstition I won’t be listening to those. And the folkie, I mostly can’t listen to her anodyne crap anymore, it’s all just ashtrays and lamps. But I’m sure they’d all make excellent weapons, should my time ever come—those sharp, glinting, lovingly airborne things.

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