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Thursday, March 31, 2016

TERMINAL CITY







1
I am so glad the cool, old places of Denver are being torn down.  The cold water flat in the river basin, near the train yards, where Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg made a pledge of total honesty to each other.  That dive bar Tom Waits sings about in “Nighthawk Postcards” and “Drunk on the Moon,” is now an oyster bar.  The all-night coffee shop where lil’ Pete would play piano and sing bawdy sailor songs:


Nothing could be finer than taste of your ver-gina in the mooorning.
Nothing could be sweeter than your lips around my peter in the mooorning.’”


This has been torn down too.


I am glad those places are gone.  Those places we used to frequent when we were together.  Those places where our memories are worn into the naugahyde booths, our stories carved into the oiled bar-tops of a once sleepy city that is now growing like mold, pulling nutrients from the Denver decay that has been enriched by the blood, sweat and tears of a thousand previous inhabitants, who eventually laid down their pen and paintbrush to die the most talented unknowns of their generation.  


Good riddance, old Denver. You were a rotten, stinking twerp of a city.  A city people fled or flew over on their way to real cool cities.  A city whose natives were so eager to be from somewhere else they would claim LA or NYC as their home, having only lived there a scant few years.  A city whose soul is dark and complex like that beautiful goth girl you never approached because you knew she would be quickly bored with your basicness.  


Thank god that Denver is being torn down.  I am relieved to be no longer reminded of the countless nights she and I roamed it; two midwestern malcontents trying to prove (to whom?) our good times are as good as any good time.  We spent our nights in the warehouses, under the viaducts, and posted up in dive bars of a city not seeking the approval of labels or networks.  We never paid for a drink back then.  There wasn’t an alley that didn’t know our passion.


I am so glad all the cool places are being torn down.  


Now I can walk the streets free from painful nostalgia.  I have no fond memories of that Patagonia store.  We never drank martinis and kissed until I wore your lipstick in that Ramen restaurant.  I now walk Denver as free as if I moved to a new city. The bright, happy faces I see, walking by with their trophy dogs, don’t remember a thing about us, or the old places we used to haunt.  Denver is now clean and attractive.  Gourmet.  Sensible.  Trendy.  Safe.  Active.  


With my worn out boots, a thin paperback stuck in my back pocket, and a beat ass cardigan sweater with holes in the elbows, I reflect the old city, the city that smelled of creosote and dog food.  I walk the rivers until they meet at the confluence, listening to the stories of betrayal and conquest that  unfolded near these banks since the time when mastodons shared the prairie with infinite bison, stretching from the mountain base to the far reaching plains.  


New Denver bests old Denver in so many ways. It has much better coffee.  Reading a paperback and drinking coffee is still my favorite thing to do here, even if the coffee-shop is cold and precise like Scandinavia.  


Clacktity, clack, clack— “What’s the Wi-Fi password?”


steeeam, hiss, gurgle, foam— “Oh it’s yirgacheffe”


clackity— “How do you spell that’”


foamy— “With two f’s”.  


2


I should learn to be alone. I seem to always be in a relationship.  I swing from one relationship to the other like crossing monkey bars.  I never let go of the one I’m on until my hand is sure to grasp the next one.  More than one friend has said to me, “You should learn to be alone.”  
Should is a funny word.  You should workout.  You shouldn’t eat meat.  You should pay attention to politics.  You shouldn’t drink so much.  You should learn to be alone.   The word should reminds me of the word shall, but the word shall sounds like God or Moses or Abraham is giving a command.  Maybe if the people who care about me were more commanding and said “You shall learn to be alone,” I’d be more likely to listen.  Blowing off a ‘should statement’ is easy, like not paying a parking ticket in a state you don’t plan on returning to anytime soon.  Blowing of a ‘shall statement’ takes conviction, like not standing up when the President of the United States walks into the room.
.
Marie is young (don’t ask) and new to the city, but she smokes Pall Malls, which makes her old Denver.  Also, she doesn’t own a pair of sandals and has never been to the mountains.  She came over one night after the bars closed. When I woke up she was reading the paperback next to my bed.  


“Don’t worry.  I didn’t lose your page.”  She said softly.
“I wasn’t worried,” Her knees were tucked up under her chin with the quilt over them.   “You want coffee?” I asked.  “Yes please,” she said.  The morning light was muted grey through the fabric of my blinds, her black hair in sharp contrast to her fair skin.  


As I waited for the water to boil I turned on NPR, washed the dishes in my sink, and watered my sweet little orchids in bloom.  She continued to read in bed. When the coffee was ready I took it to her.
“Want me to read to you?” I asked.


She looked up at me with espresso brown eyes, almost black.  
“Can we take turns reading to each other?”  


That was three months ago.  She never left.  I figure any person you live with--lover, friend or otherwise who allows you to perform your morning ritual uninterrupted--is worth inviting to stay.  Plus she is a very positive person.  She never talks shit on people.  I love that perhaps most of all.  


Although Marie hasn’t been in the city long she knows the good carnicerias, and Asian markets to shop in.  Neither of us drives. We take public transportation up to Federal Boulevard and walk to the stores she knows.   We break through the crusty snow banks, searching for black rice wine vinegar or fresh tamarind.  


We stop into the dive bars tucked into early ‘70s strip malls for a vodka soda or whiskey ginger.  ‘This bar is filled with sadness,’ Marie says about a place called Theo’s Gamble.  


I look about the place.  There are some old guys sitting on barstools staring at the TV, nursing pints of headless beer.  The bartender, also an older guy,  is arranging beer bottles in the cooler.  The walls glow a cheerless yellow in the fading afternoon light. ‘Yeah, but look next to the cash register.  See that poster board with the betting grid on it?’  She nods.  ‘That’s for the people who come in here. The regulars.  This is their place.  I’d bet they’d even say they love it here.  It may be a sad place, but it is really loved.”


Marie and I are on the same sleep schedule.  We eat dinner, drink wine and then crash out early.  We don’t fuck at night.  Only in mid-afternoon.  Mid-afternoon is the best time to have sex.  You are not too tired, too drunk or too full from dinner to really get into it.  Having afternoon sex is like when you had a free period from school and could go home, smoke weed, and fix yourself lunch.  You feel like you are getting away with something while other schlubs are working away.  


Marie feels everything deeply, which makes her a depressive person.  There are lots of tears and needing to be alone.  She talks to her sister daily.  They bond on the misery of the world.  It’s better she talks with her sister.  Whenever she comes to me with her deepest woes I try to find a solution to the problem.  She doesn’t want a solution, just a shoulder to cry on.   I’m a problem solver to a fault.  


It’s been three months since Marie moved in and about six months since I broke up with my ex.  The Denver I operate in now is much different than the Denver that is being torn down.  The Denver I am getting to know is old and crummy.  I feel at home here.  The stores have bulletproof glass and security bars.  You can buy just one tire off a stack of tires, if you need just one tire.  It smells of roasted chilies and exhaust fumes.


3


Legend has it the land that Denver city sprouts from is cursed.  If you spend enough time here you witness all good things fall apart.  The story of the curse begins on a hot day in the summer of 1858.  Two brothers, both just arrived at the foot of the Rockies from an arduous trek across the plains from Georgia, dropped their packs at the nexus of the Cherry Creek and the South Platte River.  They were on their way to California, to find their riches; they were both swept up with gold fever.  


As they sat on the banks of the confluence and looked west toward the mighty wall of the Rocky Mountains, one brother spied a few glimmering flecks just beneath the surface of the water, pulled out his equipment and began to pan.  Within a few hours he had filled a small glass vile with gold flecks that he swirled in front of his brother’s face.  His brother had panned but without the same luck.  His vile remained empty.  


As the sun began to set and whiskey was tossed back, feelings of greed and inadequacy soon overtook the gold-less brother.  He became cantankerous, pounding on his soft spots, like only a brother can.  The tension escalated until the gold-rich brother drew back his Colt single actions six-shooter and unloaded every single bullet into the torso of his brother leaving him to rot on the banks of the conjoining rivers. His brother’s pierced body oozed vital fluid which formed a thin tributary as it coursed through the sandy banks of the confluence toward the swirling waters of the two rivers.  


They say the brutal fratricide, set off a curse which  reversed the flow of the rivers.  Instead of two rivers blending together at the point of the confluence to make one river, the one river was now split to make two.  The curse,  caused by greed , is to divide: According to those that passed through this land for many thousands of years before the brother’s desecrated it the curse is as follows: ‘may your families split in two, then your communities then your nations.  When the division is complete and all has been lost the two will make one again and the bison will return to the prairie.’  


I think about this curse as Marie and I wait at a stoplight on Alameda and Federal Blvd. ‘ Is all lost?’  I wonder.  The light turns green.  Crossing the street I see one of those hybrid trophy dogs.  “Look it’s a labradoodle,” Marie says, her face expressionless as the dog pulls against its leash, trying to smell her crotch.  The guy is holding the leash  in one hand and with the other a  to-go coffee.  

Shit,’ I thought to myself, ‘I didn’t know there was a coffee shop around here.’  

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Commencement Speech Jefferson County Open School 2015

I was an honored to give a commencement speech when my son Charley Landes graduated from Jefferson County Open School in 2015.  The speech follows:

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I came across this article and thought it interesting. 

March 6, 2002
The Headline-  Dog Chastised for acting Like a dog
SACRAMENTO, CA— Obeying the instincts bred into him by millions of years of evolution, Shiner, a 2-year-old golden retriever, incurred his owner's wrath Monday by acting like a dog.  Shiner’s owner Terri Solanis was heard shouting "Stop barking at that damn squirrel!” and  asking "Can't you sit still for five minutes?" Solanis has previously scolded Shiner for sniffing feces encountered on the sidewalk, licking his own groin, and wolfing down his food.
 Issue 38 of the onion

It’s my best guess that what it takes to be an adult is a selective amnesia where in we forget what it’s like to be a teenager, and act surprised when teenagers act age appropriate and very much the way we acted when we were teenagers.  

Since the time before indoor plumbing and paperclips teenagers have never been content to sit around the fire and listen to the oral history as conveyed by an elder villager drunk on fortified wine carrying on about the good old days and the dangers of the dark woods.  Teenagers rip around those dark woods, skinny dipping in the hidden pools, chasing down the silver stag, being kings of carrot flowers and goddesses of rainbow sugar.  Sometimes clumsily and sometimes with the remarkable grace of innocence, teenagers come through the years, and become adults.  And as I defined adults obtaining a selective amnesia to not only to forget the joy of the dark woods, but also to fear the dark woods. 

It is why I am so honored that you chose me to speak to you on this glorious day of your graduation from a forward thinking and enlighted high school.  It is an honor because the spirit you carry in your bodies is the most vital and potent spirit I know.  A spirit undiluted and pure.  A spirit most alive away from the campfire out under the pearlescent, swirling galaxies glittered with more stars than there are grains of sand on Earth.  A spirit that believes in loyalty and friendship.  A spirit of rowdiness, adventure, curiosity and play.  A spirit of empathy.  I am so humbled that I can be amongst you on your commencement day.  I am recharged and refreshed in your presence. 

I left the security of the hearth and jetted out into the dark woods the moment I could.  When I graduated from high school (barely) we all threw our caps into to the air and yelled “Hooray!”.  I was out the door before my cap hit the ground.  I hitched a ride to South Carolina and slept on a friend’s couch, earning money shoveling shit on a horse ranch, bar backing at a Marriott resort and selling safari clothes at a Banana Republic in the mall.   I would ride my bike 10 miles total from job to job across the isle of Hilton Head, a golf and tennis resort.  Nobody rode bikes on the island.  I was received much like an armadillocrossing a road in Iceland.  People didn’t know what to do with me, they  were clueless on how to “share the road”.  My presence just pissed them off. 

I started work at sunrise with the horses then ended work at the Marriott hotel bar at 1:00 am shooing drunken convention goers out of the bar so they could make horrible mistakes in the privacy of their own rooms.  The hours in between I would be at Banana Republic selling leather bomber jackets to doctors and lawyers while their trophy wives eyed trinkets and baubles. 

Did I tell you when I got to Hilton Head I was broke?  No joke broke.  No money for food broke.  In the kitchen where I was staying was a package of white rice, a half a block of swiss cheese and hotdogs.  If you cut up the hotdogs and sautee them, add the rice, then stir in shredded (not cubed) swiss cheese you can make a pretty delicious meal.  I ate that for almost two weeks as I saved money for my first months rent.  I was just 18 and had an 18 year olds appetite. Between the manual labor and the bike riding I was burning more calories than I was eating.   Wasting away I thought of food and nothing else.   Well,  err I was 18.  Let’s say I thought of food and little else. 



Despite working 18 hours a day the worst part of my day was the hour lunch break I had to take while working at Banana Republic.  It was hot as hell on that island so I stayed inside the air conditioned mall.  Killing time.  Walking past windows displaying things I didn’t need and couldn’t afford.  I spent a lot of time sitting at a table in the food court.  An overworked, famished, teen-ager sitting in the middle of a food court, surrounded by the succulent scents of mouth-watering pizza, chow mein noodles, fried egg rolls, chik’fil a sandwiches, gyros meat sizzingling on a spit, are you kidding me.  I do not make light of torture but damn… that was torture. 

Finally I earned enough money to pay my rent and pay back the IOU’s I had accrued during my time of pennilessness.  After all debts were paid I had a grand total of $15 to get me through the next two weeks until I got paid again.  I knew exactly what I was going to do with that $15 dollars.  GORGE MY FACE WITH MALL FOOD!

When my hour break came I strolled past the food court offerings and started creating a complex algorithm where in I tried to figure out just exactly how many calories I could ingest for $15 plus the 20% discount given to all mall employees.  The Stromboli from Sabbaros is more food for the buck than a slice of pizza, I definitely  need egg rolls and fried rice.  I shopped the food court carefully. 

Like a patient lover I wanted to extend out this great moment as long as I could, so before I made my purchases I decided to stroll the mall one time.  I went into the bookstore which I had been in many times before.  There was a new cat working behind the counter.  He was a few years older than me, had curly unkempt hair, wore Ira Glass Glasses, and had a small button of Karl Marx pinned to his lapel.  Yes.  In 1989 he was an OG hipster. 
“Can I help you find anything?” he asked.
“Nah,” I said.  Hunger seizes your tounge.
“You like black comedies?” he asked.
Black comedies?  I thought.  I know we are in South Carolina but damn have some tact.  He must of seen the consternation in my eyes because he quickly followed with.
“You know dark comedies?  A comic work utilizing farce and morbid humor to make light of a taboo subject.” 
“Morbid humor is my favorite”  I say. 
“You should read this then,”  he says reaching for a thick tomb, on the cover is a cartoon image of a man in a winter’s hat, scarf, thick coat and a big yellow bird pulling on his ear.
I read the cover “A confederacy of dunces by John Kennendy Toole” I read flipping it over to see the price, “$13.99”.
In that moment a new variable entered into my algorithm.  I can spend my $15 dollars and eat well today and then sit in the food court for the next two weeks with nothing to do but suffer or I can buy this book and be occupied during my hour break until I get paid again. 

I bought the book. 

That moment, being alone, hungry and broke in the dark woods I found my passions.  Food and Books.  Food and Books.  Food and Books.  These are the two things to which I have since dedicated my professional life.  And with restaurants and bars in two countries, my first novel on the shelf, another in the works and being the fiction editor of a quarterly literary magazine pursuing my passions has served me well.

I don’t know where you will find your passions.  Perhaps under the tutelage of a great professor, maybe on a long walk next to a river,  or on a visit to a foreign country, or while volunteering to help those in need.  I don’t you’ll find you passions, but I’m do know passion does not sit next to the campfire, passions play in the secret gardens of the dark woods.  Class of 2015 Do not be afraid Go out and find you passion. 




Friday, December 25, 2015

Frantic. Crazy. American

Frantic.  Crazy.  American.   
By Daniel Landes




Imagine my surprise when I first saw the I am American tattoo across my forehead.  Ori, an Israeli guy I met in Amsterdam, pointed it out.  There it was, a garish tattoo, reflected off the glass of a storefront window.  Behind the glass was a lone woman in lingerie; tits pushed together, her thin lips coated in pink glossy lipstick.  She was running a large brush through her hair.    
“What are you 22 years old?” Ori asked.  “I’m surprised you never noticed it before.” “Yeah me too,” I said rubbing my forehead.  Ori was leaning against the glass looking out toward the street smoking a cigarette. “Your nationality is overt,” he said.  We had been ‘window shopping’ in the red light district that afternoon. “All day you’ve been wanting to go in for a shag.  You want to go in so badly.  But you won’t let yourself.  You are so American.”  He was right about me wanting to go visit the women behind the glass and that I probably wouldn’t.   Shit, I thought, I am so American. 

“Let’s go get a coffee and have smoke,” Ori said.  I looked back at the woman behind the glass as we walked away.  She blew me a kiss.  “I think I should go back to that one,” I said, “We share some sort of connection.”  Ori laughed.  “Okay go do it,” He said.  “Nah, let’s go have a smoke.  I’ll come back later.”  I said.

My libido, which had been pounding in my head like a caged ape all afternoon, decreased in intensity the moment we left the red light district.  Women, who don’t fuck for money, were walking down the street, just normal like.  Ori walked with a confident stride.  He had just finished with his two-year mandatory military duty for the state of Israel.   He was in Europe to party and try to ‘forget about all that bullshit’.  We were sharing a room in a hostel near the red light district.  Our room smelled like a dirty mop head.  It was my first time out of the US and I felt like a wide-eyed, rubbernecked, bumpkin gawking at everything I saw; like the scantily clad women behind glass selling their sex.  Ori was a big, handsome guy who knew how to handle himself. He was worldly.  I bounded at his heels like a little dog looking for this big dogs approval.  

We ducked into a quiet coffee shop where Ori ordered a gram of yellow hash, two CafĂ© Americanos and mineral water.  He started rolling the hash into long, thin sticks and laid them across tobacco and rolled it all up.   “What does it mean to you to be an American?”  He asked as he lifted a flame up and lit the spliff.  He exhaled a great plume of smoke over my head.  The guy behind the counter came by and dropped off our coffees. 

Ori sat with the spliff for a while, taking a puff, holding it, and then exhaling these giant plumes of smoke. When I hit it, I coughed out a weak cloud of smoke. 
“I haven’t thought about it too much.” I said.  “This is my first time out of the States and I have to say I feel a bit like a lost puppy dog.”  I took another drag and began to feel anxiety as the THC entered my blood stream. Often I get self-conscious when I’m high and clam up or freak out and have to leave but Ori put me at ease so I pulled my feet up on to the booth and released another weak plume of smoke; suppressing a cough. 

Looking out the window at the steady stream of bicycles passing by I hit the spliff again.  The bikers morphed out of focus as they passed the beads of moisture that were accumulating on the window as a fog rolled in “That’s not true,” I said to Ori, “I have thought about what it means to be an American quite a bit, but I haven’t felt comfortable expressing how I feel.” 
“Why not?” asked Ori. 
“It’s like telling people you don’t like sports or don’t eat meat.  People aren’t interested in hearing about it.  I mean, complaining about America is like complaining about your parents.  You end up just sounding whiny and ungrateful.  I don’t want to seem ungrateful, I’m a lucky to be born in the mouth of the wolf and all, but I’m also feeling very critical at the moment.”
 “The mouth of the wolf?”  Ori repeated.  
“Sure, the mouth of the wolf, where the fuckin’ teeth are.  My nation is always at war.   We are warriors.” 
“My nation is no different.”  Ori said. 
“I was never in the military like you, but I have blood on my hands all the same.  The food I eat and the bed I sleep in are the spoils of war.  The land I call home was taken from Native people by treachery.  A large portion of the infrastructure of my nation is built with forced and slave labor.  It’s not so different than any other nation I guess, but I think it is important to at least acknowledge our brutal past.  Once I began to acknowledge our true history I’ve found it very difficult to be prideful in America.  I don’t even feel compelled to talk about the good parts.  There is plenty of that chatter going around already.”

 Ori stirred sugar cubes into his coffee.  “Our nations are a lot a like, it’s perhaps why we are such close allies.  But really what does being American mean to you?  I am curious.” 
“Why are you so curious?”  I asked.  Ori looked out the window.  It grew darker as the fog thickened.  The amber glow from the streetlight outside was captured inside the dewdrops that clung to the window like little beads of sap.   They collected together and when they got heavy enough they ran down the window in beautiful streaks.   “I just spent two-years of my life training to defend my country.  To kill for my country.  I strung razor wire and defended an ever-expanding border from a people that used to call my country home.  My ‘enemies’.”  The air in room felt heavy.  “I feel corrupted by deep lies of Israeli exceptionalism.  I feel brainwashed.  Manipulated by our national mythology.  Do you?  Do you believe the lies your country tells you?” 

“Damn Ori.  If you want jump into the deep end I need to switch from coffee to beer.”  Ori began rolling another spliff.  His brow was furrowed.  
“Answer my question,”  He said.  “What does it mean to you to be an American?”


I was stoned.  The coffee was bitter.  I got up and ordered a beer.  Sitting back down, I put my elbows on the table and looked right into Ori’s eyes.   “Look man,” I said, “I am the spoiled child of the most notorious crime family in history.  I’m a viscous baby.  A werewolf in diapers.  I am the Auspicious One destroying with fire and bullets and planting ugly seeds in the burnt and bloody earth.   I’m reaping mutated fruit that tastes like nothing but pithy lackluster plastic.  I’m a goddam Pilgrim, a Yankee, a Confederate, a Texas Ranger, a Chemist, a Pusher, a Twisted Psychologist and a Fake Doctor.  I’m a mad fucking scientist, a super villain hell bent on world domination.  I am the Apathetic One.  I don’t give a fuck about anything but my ham sandwich.  Don’t touch my ham sandwich or I’ll blow you into smithereens.”

Ori looked at me, eyes wide.  “Jesus man, you are stoned.” 

“Yes, and I’m super hungry.   Let’s go eat.”  I said.  The fog was rolling away as the sun returned and began evaporating the moisture from the window.  “No you go on,” Ori said, “I’m going to get back to the hostel.  I’m awaiting a phone call from my mother.” 

We departed.  I was too stoned to navigate food or beer so I hopped on my bicycle and began to ride around the canals.   Melding into the river of bikers I flowed along with them with no destination in mind.  When I reached the outskirts of the city the bike herd began to thin until there were only a few of us left.  The road opened up into suburban neighborhoods.  While in the commercial areas of the city I felt comfortable but once I got to the outskirts of town, amongst the residences I felt out of place and immediately lonely.  There are families that live here. My family is far away.   I am alone. 

Up ahead a woman was riding her bike along the road.  She had inadvertently tucked her grey wool skirt into the top of her panties exposing most of her buttocks and the silky whiteness of her underwear.  I peddled hard to get closer to her.  She rode fast and effortlessly.  Her blond hair flowed behind her.  She had on a white blouse.   As I got closer I noticed she had on nylon stockings.  The nylons pressed the ruffles of her panties flat.  The seam of her nylons ran between her ass cheeks splitting them into two perfect hemispheres.   Standing up on the pedals I pumped hard to keep up.

She rounded a corner and pulled her bike into a bike rack outside a small neighborhood market.  I parked my bike just out of sight.  As she got off her bike she realized the state of her skirt.   Untucking it she pressed it flat against her thighs and ass.  She bent over to lock her bike against the rack.  I stared from a distance.  My mind raced through scenarios in which I may engage her in conversation.  Each scenario ended with me undressing her.  My libido, the caged ape, began to pound between my temples again.  She entered the market.  I followed.  Although the store was small I kept a distance between us.  Her cheeks were rosy from exercise and her eyes piercing blue.  I felt like a puppy dog.   A few more people entered the store.  I stood next to her as she pulled a bottle of water from the fridge.  She smelled of salt water and roses. 

Stuck in my throat was the word I wanted to speak to her.  Just one word.  Hello.  It wouldn’t come out.  She stood behind an elderly man with smoke grey hair and waited to pay.  I stood behind her and inhaled her scent deeply.  The ape pounded harder and harder against the cage.  My plan was to talk to her once we got outside.

I said nothing to her.  As I unlocked my bike my inner voice said ‘you are super creepy.’  It’s true. 

When I returned to the hostel Ori was sitting at a long table in the lobby with four or five other travelers.  There was hash, weed, loose tobacco and about a dozen Heineken bottles in front of the group.  
“Ori I need to talk to you.”  I said franticly.  The group looked up at me.  I looked away. 
“What’s up man?”  Ori asked “You look like a fucking crazy person.”  The group laughed.  “You are driving yourself mad.  Just go and do what you want to do.  Go back to the red light district and fuck.” 
Embarrassment washed over me.  I knew Ori was 100% right though. 
“I’m going,” I announced.  “I’m going to do it.”  I walked out the door toward the red light district.

 I walked for hours in the red light district that night.  Frantic.  Crazy.  American.