Dirty Thirty – Tom Gaffney
“Incredible. And that’s when you fell in the river.”
“Amazing,” Mike echoed, “you are an idiot, but we’ll let you remain in the gene pool.”
“Yeah, I fell into an eddy,” I added, “picked the right spot, because outside of there that river was moving.”
“What a crew of fools.” concluded Jen. “Amazing you made it this far.”
“Climbed out of the water. Dried off, went home and slept, then got back in the game.”
And so, with a toast and hugs we said goodnight. Falling in the river. Boy was that a messy night. The things we waste our luck on. It sure is funny though, tales you build a life on.
My birthday, so we kept things close for me. I could walk home.
“See you this weekend – dirty thirty!” the farewell out an open car window was stark in comparison to the quiet that had turned from evening to night.
Dirty thirty indeed. Solo dirty thirty? A momentary disappointment, but it is what it is. As a younger man, he never would have imagined that he would find himself at thirty, here, banking some coin, working too much, living in an oversized condo, with a view no less.
I should be happy, or at least feel some degree of satisfaction.
Don’t feel like going home just yet. It’s not that late. I’ll walk down to Gas Works. The night is dry and fairly warm. The season is beginning to turn. Daffodils are popping up and the cherry trees are starting to blossom.
Where did you think you would be at thirty?
I’m not sure. I did not think I’d be alone though.
Well, come on. Out with friends tonight. Family this coming weekend. Is life unsuccessful if one does not get laid on his birthday? You could pay to get laid. Craigslist! You name it.
Right, there is answer for everything, distasteful and not very interesting, but an answer if one really wants it. What time is it now, midnight?
It’s not even your birthday anymore.
How long it would take to arrange a meeting? Fine, fine. The lack of a more meaningful social relationship at this particular point in the evening is leaving me a bit disappointed.
True, a man of your caliber – what is the world missing?
A man of my caliber? What the hell does that mean? One pauses to reflect on the occasions, pauses to take a measure of where their life is at. So, I work. I contribute. I participate. Are there any marks though? Anything to be really proud of? What are you going to be doing in six months? In a year? No idea, and no one in particular you are planning on doing it with.
Listen though: a cold assessment of most anyone’s situation would be similar. I don’t believe in thirty, I’m not done. But I am keeping it to my terms. I shouldn’t be satisfied or overwhelmed with nostalgia for what is already complete.
It’s the being alone, tonight, for the past six months that’s driving you to the mope.
If I were really drunk I could have avoided this internal dialogue.
If you were really drunk you would not be bothering with this walk.
Mentally, Gas Works feels like it is in the middle of the neighborhood. But it’s about a mile from 45th down to the water. Normally you are jogging down here at a different part of the day. This walk is moving slow. Car after car home for the evening, silent window upon silent window, and the dry empty pavement the only things keeping me company.
Feeling lonely, but glad there is no one around. No dialogue, no pitch, no plan making. Sure, I want to complete my picture, but I want to do it my way. And I want to feel good about it tomorrow.
How long was it before I could laugh about nearly drowning myself in the river? Sometimes it still terrifies me. The folly of youth. Climbing, drunk, careless, and stupid: more than enough to get you evicted from the gene pool.
Finally Meridian Ave is coming to an end. Hey, I’m walking the line. Or I did – or I’m just about done walking the line. Time to go up the hill.
The path to the sundial circles around a few times, but I’m up too late to care about that. Straight up I go, trying to make it some kind of an adventure, somewhere in my mind.
My solitude is broken by a couple standing on top, sharing a joint and talking quietly.
“No worries. It’s a public park after all. At least one other person had a good idea tonight. The city looks beautiful.”
He offers me a hit from his joint, and I am more than happy to oblige.
The city is big and quiet and apart on the far shore of Lake Union. Bridges to the left and right, quiet fishing boats in the foreground: tranquil, still, and stoned like me. A fortuitous happenstance. Pretty city, friendly people. I thank and say goodbye to my new compatriots, looking for the simplicity of solitude. Talking is too much, people are (or find you) too confusing.
I reach the water’s edge, or the railing at it. I reach for the ear buds and my phone, grab a seat on the park bench.
What’s it going to be? I have reached my choice limit, choices are too big and filled with silly portent that I am unwilling, and really have no need to, currently confront. Shuffle it is, and soon I am awash in the bass and the drum, the saxophone and the trumpet. At ease, I wonder if that is the order they really come in?
The heartbeat isn’t the first thing? Is it the rhythm?
I lean back and watch the city.
The music slowly fades. The next thing I know some guy in running clothes is shaking me. He’s got gray hair and a sweaty face and he’s asking me if I’m okay.
Startled, I jump up, intending to say I’m alright. And I am. But my phone flies from my hand in the course of me jumping up. I watch it arc into water, off on its own swim.
I can see the phone under the water, no sadness or upset. All I can muster is a chuckle. And that’s fine.
The jogger shrugs and carries on, reminding me as he departs, “you shouldn’t sleep in the park.”
The early morning sky is gray, twilight creeps but sunrise is still a ways away. Almost everything remains still and sleepy.