Why You Can’t Live Right
Beads of peach Snapple glisten on Allen’s shaggy beard, dribble onto the front of his Capitals jersey. “See, this is why you can’t live right,” he says. He’s eyeing me from the edge of our desk, over the top of his third bottle of the morning.
“Because of Billy Joel?”
“Hell yes because of Billy Joel.”
I cross Doug off the list; I’ve just been stood up by my third freshman comp student in a row. “My mom bought the tickets. It was a birthday thing.” My thirtieth, her sixtieth.
“She doesn’t like Springsteen? God, even Carrie Underwood would be better than Billy Joel.”
I try telling him about the guy who sat next to me, an x-ray tech with twins in high school; he took the day off and drove all the way from Lancaster, knew every single word, even to “Zanzibar.” “And there was a Unitarian choir in front of us. They all got t-shirts, put them on over their argyle sweaters.”
Allen flips his bears up toward his mouth and rolls his eyes. “I bet you’ve never even been there for something legit. Like a hockey game?”
“I’m not really into sports.”
“You’re a Pittsburgher,” he says. “You’re into sports by default.”
A blue backpack flashes by. “Doug?” I lean out of our cubicle, hopeful. “Over here, Doug.”
It’s not Doug; it’s one of Allen’s zealous Sex, Violence, & Graphic Novels students. They confer, then Allen says, “We’re going to Starbucks. Wanna come?”
I check my watch. “What if he shows up late?”
Allen drops his tea into our wastebasket; it clatters against the other bottles. “Seriously?” He shakes his head. “Stuff like this—it’s why you can’t live right.”
This is why? This? Not because I pick Snapples out of our garbage can and zip them into my bag to carry home for recycling when the bins outside the office start to overflow? Not because I walk sixteen minutes from campus to the bus stop, rain, snow, or shine, rather than pay the extra $2.50 for a transfer? Or because I’ve been propping a kitchen chair with hardbacks stacked on it against the side door since the lock busted at Christmastime to avoid talking to the landlord with his creepy lazy eye? I can’t live right because of a thrice-divorced, Grammy-winning recovering alcoholic in his mid-sixties—not because my last date, sometime last year, showed up to the Indian place on Craig St. half-drunk and sweating and still I sat through garlic naan, chicken vindaloo, and mango ice cream, saying, Yes please, Thank you, Can’t believe it? Wow! What about these sleeping pills? The fear of dogs? Binge-watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians or how I’ve stopped wearing shorts so my mom won’t see the hummingbird tattooed on my thigh?
I can’t live right because of the Rosenbergs and H-Bomb, Sugar Ray and Panmunjom—whatever the hell that is—and not the eleven different volumizing products stashed in my hall closet or the Fruity Pebbles I ate for dinner tonight, and last night? Or how about when I got so pissed at this guy in Parkway traffic I yanked the car into park and got my left foot on the pavement before I thought, What the hell am I doing? I’m here in Pittsburgh, paralyzed on page twenty-one of my dissertation since last fall, but I can’t live right because of Billy Joel, who’s minding his own business in Allentown?
Forget my growing contempt for Hard Times and Mary Gaitskill—it must the scratched Songs in the Attic CD languishing on my dresser. Forget the professors who stare at me with eyes flat and empty as the Fort Pitt Tunnels—it’s probably that annoying habit I have of singing along to “Uptown Girl” every time it’s on the soft rock station. Forget the cubicle where it’s impossible to work without someone making witty remarks about their Tumblr posts or giving an inane review of 71 (“complex yet action-packed—a potent hour and a half”); forget Allen with his endless rambling about The Watchmen, From Hell, Judith Halberstam, his complete lack of filter and fluency in Greek, his Asics, his sister with leukemia; forget him and his sugar addiction, his caffeine addiction, his awful beard, the beard he swears he won’t trim till the Capitals win the Cup, the beard he’s always touching, lifting, stroking, cradling, the one I lay here thinking about some nights, like now, God knows why, before my head clouds with sleep, trying to conjure an image of him bare-faced; the one whose grainy bristles I can almost feel against my collar bone, skirting my stomach, between my thighs; Allen, shutting his goddamn mouth for once, just once, then opening it, right at the perfect moment, exactly—forget it, all of it, forget all this, because I can’t live right, I can’t I can’t and this, this is why.