Birthday

I went out with Reilly for drinks for his birthday. We went to Shades of Green, a quiet Irish bar on Gramercy. Reilly had just lost a lot of money playing online poker. He’d played for seventy-two hours straight. I bought the drinks. We walked down to the Baggot Inn where his Turkish girlfriend Anastasia was working. A girl at the bar was reading Ulysses. At three a.m. in the morning. With a loud cover band. I asked her how the book was and she said, I just like want to read my book and chill, not talk to anyone. Anastasia came down from the comedy club upstairs and had a drink and smoke with us. She was wearing a wifebeater. Reilly and her had gone to Puerto Rico and fought the entire time. Anastasia’s friend Lawrence was there. He was wearing a White Stripes shirt. He always talked about how he wanted to sleep with Jack White. Reilly had on a shirt he had just bought that day from Century 21. He looked real pimped out. At four a.m. when the bar closed the bartender turned the lights out and we smoked and watched Cowboy Bebop. I met a girl from Pittsburgh. She was taking the Greyhound back there in an hour and wanted to be drunk for the trip. I said goodbye to her and we left the bar at five a.m. and went to Ben’s Pizza because Reilly wanted a slice and Lawrence wanted to see everyone doing the drunk pizza dance, when you’re drunk and trying to stand up straight and eat your slice of pizza. They hailed cabs and went home. I went to the West 4th Street Station and got on the D train or maybe it was the B train. I fell asleep and the conductor woke me up in Queens and told me there was a train across the platform. I thought I knew where I was, and got on the other train. After the first stop I realized it wasn’t going the right direction. I got off the train and walked down the street. It was getting lighter. I passed a diner with some girls in there and they looked at me and smiled. I bet I could have walked in there and ate breakfast with them. That’d be some hot confident shit. But I walked on. I had two dollars in my pocket and I’d cut up my credit card so I wouldn’t use it anymore. I went into an empty diner and ordered a coffee. The man behind the counter grabbed one of those disposable coffee cups even though I said it was for here. I like to drink coffee out of a real mug, not some Styrofoam cup. But he just grunted and poured the coffee and gave me a metal container with milk. I drank the coffee and tried to figure out where I was. The man was cutting potatoes, making a thud with the cutting board. He was using a huge knife and making gashes on the cutting board. On the radio there was a Christian talk show. The announcer had a real warm inviting voice that makes you want to be saved. He was interviewing some minister from the South. When he first brought him on the minister sounded tired, like why am I on this goddamn show at six a.m. in the morning when I could be sleeping? That’s something my father always equated: getting up early with holiness. If you got up early and prayed and read the Bible you were golden. If you slept in late and still got up and read the Bible you were shit. But anyways he was dead. Maybe he was up with Jesus right now, basking in the light of his eternal glory.
    Do you believe in God? I said to the man behind the counter.
    He looked at me. Yeah, he said. He threw a bunch of bacon on the grill.
    Of course. Everyone believes in God. The minister was talking again. He sounded more awake.
    If today you hear his voice, he said. Harden not your hearts. I remember that day I heard his voice. I was in a desperate situation, absolutely desperate. I had just gotten married, had one kid already with another one on the way. It was all too much for me to handle. I wanted to party and have fun. My wife and I were having trouble, some serious marital trouble, and I’d decided to leave her. I woke up that morning–it was my birthday–and decided to just leave, go out to California, start a brand new life. As if there aren’t troubles in California. I didn’t realize that you can never run away from your troubles. You have to deal with them where you’re at or else you’ll have them for the rest of your life. I said goodbye to my wife and son. They didn’t know anything was going on. I drove to work. I was going to steal a car from my boss and head out West. Steal a car and some money. I thought that would solve my problems. I had it all figured out. I’d taken some jewelry from my wife to sell also. But on the radio I was going through the stations and I heard a voice. It was the voice of a preacher. And in that voice I knew I heard the truth. That preacher somehow was speaking directly to me. Right into my soul. And that man said something that saved me. This is what he said–
    The man changed the radio station. He put on some music and went back to murdering his potatoes. It was an oldies station. The bellhop’s tears keep flowing; the desk clerk’s dressed in black. Well they been so long on lonely street, they’ll never, never look back. You make me so lonely, baby, well, they’re so lonely. They’re so lonely I could die. Well, if your baby leaves you, you got a tale to tell. Just take a walk down lonely street to Heartbreak Hotel.
    I put down my two dollars and left.