I still have the tablecloth. The red & white checkered tic-tac-doe tablecloth is the only thing I ever held on to. I decided the moment I knew what I was going to do that I was going to keep it, so years later I could give it to the woman I loved as a reminder of the magical night that sealed our fate.
We were meeting at a Mexican restaurant, down on the Chelsea-Village cusp. Once upon a time it had been our favorite bad Mexican restaurant in New York -- but that was before the Baltimore yuppies discovered it, and it had become the bad Mexican-Yuppie restaurant in New York. I remember now it had such sad-sad salsa, friends. And gloppy not chunky guac that was so creamy and thick with white bread shmaltz it must've blended canned jalapenoes with a jar of Miracle Whip to get its texture. But cheese-even-Velveeta-wouldn'tve-claimed was why the place was so popular with the yuppies. That and the prices. Not too high, but not so low that you suspected they were stuffing the ever popular California burritos with dog, like all us amigos who had done major time south of the border believed they did in the real Mexican restaurants.
I can see what was happening now, but nothing made sense to me then. Jesse and I'd been separated almost a year, but I wasn't sure how long it had actually been. Sometime after the first couple of months I completely lost the linear narrative thread of life. There was just drinking beer, smoking grass and swimming in pain. And not a wave of it either, but a whole fucking ocean I was sure I'd never get across. But for one reason or another, every day I managed to keep going, though by this time I had no hope of ever spotting land on the horizon again.
So this isn't her POV; it's mine. Though she did all the talking. Boy, did she do all the talking. I don't even think I got to throw in one It's great to see you-You look beautiful-I sure have missed you-I can't live without you, before she went into her diatribe about what a bad husband I was (she actually used that phrase -- a loop from her parents failed marriage), then she started screaming, I didn't listen to a thing she said, and repeating over and over that there was no magic left in our marriage and how she wanted to get on with her life-blah-blah-blah. . .I say blah-blah-blah not out of disrespect for her, but because she repeated the same goddamn "no magic" line over so many times in a row it sounded like a broken record -- though what it actually must have become was a magical mantra that somehow totally froze the entire yuppie-packed restaurant like they were in one of those old E.F. Hutton commercials.
As she obliviously barked on and on at me, I looked out of the corner of my eye to see if the rest of the customers were staring at us. To tell the truth I was so embarrassed by her outburst I wanted to crawl under the table. I didn't, and still don't believe in washing your dirty laundry in the street. But it didn't seem to matter what she said, or how loud she got, because the yuppies in the restaurant were all frozen in time. I mean, they weren't talking or eating or even sucking up on the twofer Jimmy Buffett frozen Margaritvilles the restaurant served along with the ever popular dinner special. They were all completely stuck in mid chew, or suck, as they case may be -- trapped in the unconscious flytrap of our time warp. Even today I like the way that phrase sounds -- our time warp. If you don't count hostility, we didn't have much left at the time, but we did have this absolutely beautiful time warp that froze a whole restaurant full of Baltimore yuppies in mid chew, or suck, as they case may be. If that's not magic, I don't know what magic is. It felt like the whole scene was right out of Carlos Castaneda to me.
She was wailing on such a high vibrational frequency not even the waitress -- "Hi, my name is Katja." -- could stop her when she broke in with a litany of the night's specials, or came back and refilled the sickly sweet twofer Jimmy Buffett Margaritsvilles before laying out the ever popular dinner special on the red and white checkered tic-tac-doe tablecloth. And then came back smiling minutes later with extra orders of guac, salsa, chips, chili, and who knows what else she kept bringing and laying on the table, but she sure as hell kept bringing it all through the meal, though if memory serves correct I don't think we ever even ordered any of it.
All I knew was I wanted an ice cold beer. Wheew! Did I ever! And even more than that, I wanted her to have had an ice cold beer with me -- I'd been trying to get her to have an ice cold beer with me for the whole 12-and-half-years we had been together, but she was too eccentric to drink a beer, so I knew if I asked her, she'd go off on me being a lush who couldn't even sit through a single solitary meal without swilling down a keg to go with it. She knew if she joined me, just for one, the very act might make me so happy I'd never have to drink another beer my whole life. But for some reason I've never been able to figure out, she didn't want to give me that satisfaction. Though for some even more bizarre reason, I always thought that that conceit was aimed more at her father than me. I'd read enough psychology to understand her not wanting to make him happy, but did she really have to transfer her revenge on him to me?
I supposed it was one of those zen koans I'd have to solve this life if I didn't want to have to face the same question all over again next time. As she raged on and on, I admit, I started to get turned on -- as sick as that may sound, sex was always on a much more magical plain when we were breaking up than it was when we were supposedly "happy" together.
That was a clue to solving the koan, but I wasn't sure where to go from there, unless it had something to do with something I read somewhere about opposites being attracted to each other, though they didn't necessarily really like each other that much. In fact, according to some Doctor-Professor I had read somewhere, sometime, it was not only quite possible, but quite probable that we were more likely to fall in-love with our enemies than our allies. This, according to this Doctor-Professor, was some sort of law of thermodynamics or quantum mechanics. Like: Is it better to live the passionlesss life in the passionate way, than to live the passionate life in the passionless way?
I was not about to debate this subject, even with myself. And certainly not going to attempt to share it with her while staring down at the red & white checkered tic-tac-doe tablecloth, and trying to grasp the economics of her charges against me. At the top of the list, of course, was the ever popular money. I had flunked the ever popular money. And apparently sex too; I could see it in her eyes that she thought I was some kind of a lowlife perv. On top of that, she didn't believe I was taking her complaints seriously. Or paying attention to what she was saying. Over and over again, she repeated " I want to get on with my life," as if what was happening at the moment was my life, and patently separate from hers.
Years later, I admit, the debate of how to live the life would occupy so much space I would have to leave for awhile. Go meditate on a metaphor on top of a mantra about a mountain, or a mole hill, or something that wasn't quite what it seemed it was. But on the night in question, while the waitress kept bringing us the ever popular seemingly never ending dinner special, I was more focused on trying to find a way to bring the magic back into our marriage before the whole damn waste of 12-and-half-years dissolved along with the untouched ever popular dinner special sitting in front of me. Up to that point I had spent a lifetime of pulling rabbits that weren't rabbits out of hats that weren't hats, so I knew there had to be something I had up my sleeve to save the day before it turned permanently into night.
I can still remember the moment I decided to pull the red & white checkered tic-tac-doe tablecloth out from under the ever popular dinner special. It may now be considered a right of passage by the self-satisfied Baltimore yuppies who adopted my move as a nightly ritual in what was once my favorite bad Mexican restaurant in New York, but at the time I did what I did I was genuinely on edge, and thought desperate times called for desperate measures. The question I asked myself before I made my move was not historical in the sense I intended to raise the level of the trick for my shamster colleagues, or even envisioned creating a new postgrad frat rat ritual for the next class of corporate clowns to come looking for a scene to trash, but on a much simpler level, Would my feat qualify as magic in the eyes and heart of the beholder sitting across from me? Or would she ignore the best tangent to catharsis I could conjure up in order to change some prescripted bad karmic scenario ! out to end our us?
If you feel free enough to use your imaginations you can picture what happened much more clearly than I care to describe the WHOOSH of the tablecloth at the exact moment the ever popular dinner special felt the earth move beneath it.
I would like to tell both you and her I considered the consequences of my actions before I made my move, but the truth is I am ruled by instinct, not logic. I did what I thought I could do at the time I recognized an opening appear before me. And oh yes, just to satisfy students of this sweet science's appetite for insight, I could see what would happen if I failed long before I failed, but I didn't believe it would ever happen.
Such is youth.
All these years later I have to admit I don't know much, but I do know that it's a fine line between courage and stupidity, and whether we fail or succeed in life has little to do with either. The strength of our marriage was certainly proof of that.
I believed that with all my heart then. I still believe that with all my heart now, though I must admit that time and the disintegration of cultural values have not only changed all our definitions, but chipped away at the belief system that holds together what we used to call the fine art of magic.
Whether it was this magic that brought Jesse and I together or ripped us apart, or this magic that brought Katja and I together, or ripped us apart, I'm not sure, but I know there was real magic there that night. You just couldn't see it. And neither could they. Which is why, no matter how strong the magic, you can't go back after you say goodbye, unless goodbye doesn't really mean goodbye, but see you in the next life. . .unless you see me first.
The editor-publisher of Smoke Signalsl and the now dormant SoHo Arts Weekly, Mike Golden's work has appeared in, among other places, Rolling Stone, The Paris Review, Exquisite Corpse, Between C&D and The L.A. Weekly. His book on the art-poetry and mysterious death of Cleveland poet d.a. levy, The Buddhist Third Class Junkmail Oracle, is now being developed as a feature film.
© Melt Magazine 2001