When Will We Get a Real Vacation

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He gave her a handmade Starbucks napkin flower, and proclaimed her the most desirable woman in the park.

“You make me want to be an investment banker, so I can take you on a yacht,” he did not say.

Her rainbow ponytail was like My Little Pony.

“One day, our children will shovel sand into the sea to stir up the elements,” he wanted to say.

From one journalist or blogger to another: How many “clicks” does “I’m a virgin” bathroom wall graffiti count as getting, if 100 people enter the room every day and it’s written right over the sink? How many does a spandex skirt edging up a 19-year-old’s ass on the subway steps at rush hour in Times Square? Or an off-tune accordion assaulting that same station four hours a day (weekdays only)?

If you leave the city, think of everything you’ll miss. Everything all the other people aren’t missing. Everything like the words on the bathroom wall.

One day, he wanted to tell her, we’ll give the man who asks us a nickel, because we’ll remember how many coins burdened our pockets when we tried to dance at a bar. One day we’ll stop getting nebulous text messages, and no more strangers will elbow us on the street.

One day we won’t have to harness our consumption of french fries, peach cobbler, marijuana, cholesterol, oil, empty orgasms, roommates’ milk or grandparents’ savings. Won’t have to fret about making an impact or looking good in the mirror or overcoming anxiety or washing our clothes

or answering emails or going to yoga or creating something beautiful or being kind

or riding bikes or having meaningless sex or unbearably incredible sex or reading enough books

or knowing which countries are at war or wearing the right amount of color

or making politically incorrect jokes or filing bankruptcy or remembering our own names

or breathing or beating our hearts.

We’ll die, and it’ll be someone else’s turn.

Listen To Me

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“I don’t believe in death. It won’t exist by the time we get there.”-Strawberry-maned young website founder on how technology will save the human race

A gerbil-like 14-year-old is splayed out in a cross atop a wooden railroad track. Mute after hours of wailing, she squints and grips the rungs.

She tossed her backpack to the surrounding beanstalk grass shoots: No more.

When running only strands you deeper in the forest’s bowels, halt. When crying prompts eye rolls and clampdowns, fall. Fall back in your uniform sweatpants and make authority pay for its blind hold.

Finally, something to own.

“Maddie!” perturbed women buzz around her.

Her witnesses are paid to slide her into a “pancake” under the tarp between them at night for safe keeping. To order her up shoddy trails, to dole her instant oatmeal and to scrutinize her feet for diseases.

To usher her towards psychological clarity.

Her mother sits home, watching the news in Baltimore, scratching through her savings. $30,000 for 8 weeks in the woods.

Her witnesses fail to pry her stiff small body off the wooden rungs. But it’s summer, so they take a break from their feet, roll up their sleeves, and work on their tans.

Elsewhere in the world, a star-glassed saxophonist with rainbow dreads is serenading a subway car with “Ring Around the Rosy.”

He’s used up three-fourths of his life, two-thirds if he’s lucky, and now he’s a broke lone soul. Thank God his mother made him do the school band.

A song lands 50 cents in his bucket.

The train comes hooting hungrily down the line, as if a person weren’t the driver.

No one knows when it should stop.

When Miss Piggy Left Kermit the Frog

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“I’m a sex addict. And I’d gone without for so long, that I’m like a formerly obese person who just ate McDonald’s the first time in months. And I feel so greasy, so bad. But all I want is more, more.”-Balloon performer leaning on my kitchen counter after a long night

I’m combing the stationary aisle of a corner drugstore for a Valentine-worthy buy.

“No, Mom, I don’t need your help.”

She has to be there. I’m 8 years old.

Miss Piggy pops out — literally, since it’s a pop up card — alluring the imaginary Kermit with a confident command:

“Let’s dance.”

I march it up to the Cobble Hill counter and tell my mother to pay.

Meanwhile my best friend in a matching black crop top with neon polka dots (from a dance recital, now hidden under our coats) just buys a box of chocolate for her too-short-for-her crush.

Pshh. I’ve got this one in the bag.

And I do: I hash out a poem chronicling four years of chasing “Nicky” (a baby nickname for Nick) miles under arched jungle gyms and through cavernous wood mazes;

of beating out his pink Power Rangers suit with my fringe-filled flapper dress for the second page of the community paper for Halloween;

of ice skating side-by-side at Prospect Park in my leggings and long swinging hair (to Mariah Carey no less!);

of mourning his absence through 1st grade two rooms away.

It’s a bold but snappy confessional.

And he devours it, while my best friend’s crush just stands there staring at his sweets.  Our 2nd grade classroom is wide, and segregated by genders. But cowlick-Nicky crosses to our side.

“What are you doing?” I squawk when he pulls up a chair to squeeze by me at a full round table. “There’s not any room.”

No, I didn’t want this! Did I? Well I don’t now!

So he walks away, and years later I run into him and his law school friends across from Washington Square Park.

“Nicky! Is that you?”

“It’s Nick.”

He’s strapping, poised, and a bit aloof. I invite him to my birthday party.

“Please come!” I text twice that week, offering drinks for his accompanying friends.

He doesn’t show, so I take to Facebook.

He has a girlfriend.

Climbing From Nederland

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“This is heavenly. Beautiful people, a beautiful place, beautiful music. We’re the luckiest people on Earth. We’re at the top one percent of the one percent.”-sunglassed Mickey Mouse-ish grinning tall dude at a daytime DJ party outside Queens museum PS 1 MOMA

I’m sandwiched between a Colorado consultant-turned-lineman and a Kansas Baptist-turned-tattooed programmer on a spiffed-up four-wheeler. We’re hiccuping up a red dirt road lined with Douglas firs towards the tree line.

(How many people have you been sandwiched between? Today. This week. This year.)

This is my second time hitchhiking. Only a 10-mile or so ride from the edge of a tame old mining town to a Rocky Mountain trail head, but I like that I’ve stuck out my thumb.

Like shouting, “all’s good! Thumbs up to this dizzying air!” Slash “if you look close enough you’ll see I’m wearing mermaid-colored nail polish!” And “Hey, my dad wouldn’t approve but he sort of pressured me to do it via a romantic hitchhiking essay he published today!”

A few couples in SUV’s turned us down, and my new Kansas friend blamed it on his tattoos (and the fact that he was not a female). But tattoos don’t count anymore, do they?

The one tattoo parlor in town was actually replaced by a pizza shop. But the storefront kept the “Tungsten Trail Tattoo” sign and is now the most hoppin’ pizza place in Nederland. It’s even more popular than the Carousel of Happiness, an actual carousel whose 103-year-old ostriches, monkeys and zebras are just a hop and skip away in the shopping center parking lot.

Goodbye, pizza. Goodbye, other humans tumbling away under the growing sky. The wind from the open front windshield leaps at us and the men on either side of me bond.
They like the idea of leaving it all behind.

So do I. Do we all?

The lineman did leave it all behind: he’d rather climb utility poles through the dead of winter than sit behind a desk and fumble with numbers. The Kansas guy was shoved out his girlfriend’s car in Texas and never went home for his belongings, so he ended up here. I bought a round-trip plane ticket two days ahead of time for a five-day hiatus from Brooklyn August, so here I am.

We all connect in the lineman’s boss’ vehicle as we edge up a docile elephant back erupting from the ground.

“Romans 3:23” is needled into my Kansas friend’s arm to remind him of his grandmother’s cross stitching framed on his childhood headboard. She sewed the verse after he came home distraught, picked on for having shabbier clothes than his friends.

“Never forget,” she said of the verse: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Translate: Everyone is equal, and equally inadequate.

Another line she coined: “It’s made with love.” Translate: “It’s made with either bourbon or butter.”

The lineman drops us at the trail head and we gallivant up rocks, dip our toes in streams, patter across tree trunk balance beams, weave through a maze of green.

Emerge in a flat open wildflower field. I crumple, unfurl, melt flat on my back, swallowed by the stems. Die for a minute.

Then we return to town, inhale a few drinks and “made with love” dinners in a Nederland tavern, and call it a day.