Sal: When I read art criticism, I never see—in my mind—what they’re describing. Their washes of blue are my teal stripes. And when I look at art, I never think what the critics think. I look at this [waves magazine] Velazquez painting and think that it’s beautiful and fancy and a little dull, never that it’s “an ontology of history.” How do they do that?
It’s not that I’m stupid or they’re stupid or criticism is stupid, just that I can’t…can’t think like that. I’m like the kids in my calc class who can’t even place the formula and the graph of the formula in the same math universe.
Sal: And now I’m reading a little art criticism. A few magazine pieces for that middlebrow experience.
Rosie: Middlebrow: an image nobody wants. Or perhaps a tired George Eliot parody.
Sal: I just want something that I can muddle through until it starts making sense.
(Ashley) I woke up this morning and kind of hated Portland. I mean, I love it, it’s my city, I never have and never will live anywhere else. But this Portland? Kind of sucks. I’d complain about all the hipsters and organic foot (yeah, foot) stores and whatever, but that Portlandia show has already done it, so that the only thing more boring than complaining about twee Portland trends is talking about how well Portlandia mocks them. Whatever.
What I really woke up doing was missing my Portland—the Portland of my youth, with its nothing-doing eastside and three cafes, the reassuringly stuffy Meier & Frank department store (10 floors of shopping, right downtown), a zoo where free-roaming peacocks could bite the occasional child without repercussions. It was small, drizzled and smoky, sprinkled with dive bars and dive coffee shops, places where you could play pool and drink weak coffee in thick, dark brown commercial mugs. Where a plate of eggs came in under $2 and everyone automatically got separate checks. I’m worn out by all the expense and excitement and education of this town now.
Public transportation is dramatically safer than car travel. According to the National Safety Council, riding a transit bus is 79 times safer than going by car. Traveling by train is 40 times safer.
(Rosie) I wish that I had happier memories of school. I spent enough years there, between undergrad and law school, did well enough there—I deserve a fond remembrance in return. But it’s all a blur of notes and library stacks and grind, of resenting the idiot students around me for being stupid or for being sheltered or for being both. I can remember bursts of happiness, but they are away from school and from all the humans there. They are me, wandering the streets of lower Manhattan on a brilliantly sunny day so cold that eating a street gyro (no hipster food trucks in those lost days) left me choosing between frozen bare fingers and sauce-stained gloves. It was magic to walk down Wall Street just because I wanted to and had taken the subway to the right stop. The light flashed off the windows and the water as I stood in Battery Park, strangely empty end of an island full of people.
Why didn’t I feel that magic when my professors explored the brilliance of minds past? I wanted to, wanted to be that alive in my student work, but they couldn’t match the (humdrum, I’m sure) meanderings of my own mind and the zip of the city. I suppose that’s why I now live a life without discipline, on the edges of the well-employed class, in a city brimming with water and bridges.
As in many an opera, the wounded hero took an unconscionable time to die.
(Rosie) He was probably a gorgeous guy once—a handsome boy of the early-90s with too much hair for my tastes and some sort of affected hat or busy jacket. His jawline is still square, his chin cleft, but they are too much for high cheek bones puckered by sagging eyes, for a straight nose that has turned pinched. His face has lost its balance, making the smooth line of his jaw a disturbing bulge if you looked at it for too long, which I was doing.
I was looking at his jaw because his crystal-blue eyes twinkled at me with the kind of practice that makes me puke. His smile was too smooth, his tone too confiding. Someone needed to tell this guy that he wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous anymore, to deliver a wake up and stuff the smugness lecture. Unfortunately, I seemed to be the only person in the world to have reached this realization, as everyone else in the cafe responded to his charm like flowers to sunshine. I think that I saw Ashley simper. She surreptitiously smoothed her low-zipped hoody, shifted her remarkable cleavage into alignment, sat up straight with a girlish sort of hope.
(Ashley) I never learned to sleep. I’m like the women who don’t know how to eat—how to sit down and eat a decent amount of proper food, and then stop. How hard is that? But instead they lurk in their kitchens, nibbling on frozen candy bars while they make their kids tofu nuggets and mac-and-cheese, wolfing down those same kids’ leftovers at the kitchen sink, returning later for heaping bowls of cold cereal with milk.
Me, I don’t know how to lie down on a bed in a dark room and go to sleep. It’s so dull, so frightening—the lack of input sends my brain racing over my many failures and the disasters that will rain down upon me because of them. So I creep back out to the couch and the TV, submit to its blare and glare until unconsciousness overwhelms me, recreating a childhood of falling asleep to my parents’ shows. On a good night I stagger back to bed, curl up between cool sheets next to my good-sleeping husband. After a bad night, I wake up with the taste of furtive cigarettes in my mouth and couch texture smashed into my cheek.