You Take Up Space
You take up space. Your bed in your house in your neighborhood in your city in your state in your country on your planet. You move through space. You follow paths. You make your own paths.
You create your own geography. Your habits, your work, your dislikes, your faultlines and detours. Your favorite bar, the cleanest laundromat, the quickest shortcuts, the safest alleyways.
And every time a business closes or you move or someone breaks your heart, you re-callibrate. You gotta.
Me, I'm an explorer, a traveler. I am the Sacajawea of my emotional landscape, NASA of my personal space. A cartographer. Or so I liked to think.
I stood outside the Southside and stared at the poorly handwritten CLOSED FOR BUSINESS sign with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. It's just a bar, I told myself, a bar like the dozens upon dozens of other bars in this city, like the millions and millions in the world.
But until that day, all roads had seemed to lead to the Southside.
We were sitting on stools at the far end of the bar, he told me it was over. Just like that, “I think it's over.” And it hit so hard that the stranger sitting too close on the other side of me said, “Damn” under his breath, which could have been unrelated, looking back. It's hard to say.
And so I adjusted my maps. I learned how to make my way around the city without passing his house or his job or his favorite coffee shop. But all roads lead to and from the Southside, so I kept it for myself. I kept it for us. I thought he might, too. So when he didn't come back for a few Thursdays, I started going on Fridays, too. And when he didn't come back for a few Thursdays or Fridays, I started going on Saturdays and Sundays, too. And when he didn't come back for a few weekends, I started making it a daily stop. And when he didn't come back for a few weeks, I still waited.
If you go to any place often enough, you create your own space within. I had my regular stool, two down from the one I last sat on with him, and it was understood that I would sit there every day, have two gin and tonics and a glass of water, and then another gin and tonic. Two limes, no straw, salt the napkin before putting it down. And then I'd leave my tip next to my last empty glass. Walk down 3rd Street 2 blocks and cut through the alley on Broad, a left on Larch and two blocks down to my house. Or 3 blocks down 3rd Street and over 4 to the McDonald's on Patterson if it'd been a rare 4 gin and tonic night, then cut through the parking lot, back around, and try not to stumble into any potholes along the way.
But now, with the Southside gone, where would I go and how would I get there? And would he be able to find me there?
“Well, hey there, my friend. Haven't seen you in here before.”
I was at Tavern 12. I'd started walking and just took turns when I felt like it and went straight when I felt like it and stopped at a bar when I finally felt like it. I was sitting in an approximate spot to where I say at the Southside. This man was sitting two spots over, an empty stool in between us.
“That's because I've never been here before.”
“You a teetotaler?” He was small, and looked tired, wearing a hat on his grey hair. I think it's called a porkpie.
“Not even a little. I frequent the Southside. Well, I frequented the Southside.”
“Ah, may she rest in peace. My condolences. Buy you a sympathy drink?”
“Sure. Whatever you're having.” He signaled to the bartender and out came two gin and tonics, of all things, with straws and the bartender didn't salt the napkin.
“You lived here long?” He asked.
“Yeah. Too long, maybe. I think I might move. Soon, like, really soon. As soon as possible.”
“No kidding? Where to?”
“Florida,” I said with a quickness that surprised me, because I'd never thought about moving to Florida but it was the furthest place I could think of. “Or maybe the moon. Know anyone who has Buzz Aldrin's phone number?”
He chuckled, “You'll want to call Stanley Kubrick to find out about living on the moon. Buzz can't help ya there, my friend.”
“Kubrick? The guy who directed the Shining?” He nodded knowingly, “oh, right. Because the moon landing was fake. Of course you think the moon landing was fake.”
“I'm no conspiracy nut, but facts are facts, my friend.”
“I'm not really your friend,” he moved a seat closer.
“See, if you look at the tape There are no stars in any of the photos. No stars in space? The angle and color of shadows are inconsistent. How would that happen? Artificial light. Stage lighting, if you will. The photos contain artifacts that are clearly studio props. There were BOULDERS with LETTERS on them. These are photos, my friend. Indisputable fact. A gal over in Australia told some newspaper that for two or three seconds she saw a Coca-Cola bottle roll across the bottom of the screen during the live broadcast. A dang Coca-Cola bottle! Other people saw it but were smart enough to keep quiet, I bet. And that's just the basic and anecdotal evidence. I won't get into all the questions about the very science of the space suits and the Apollo and all that.”
I let out a sigh in spite of myself. It'd been a long day. “But why? Assuming everything about these conspiracies are true, just for the sake of saving the argument, why go through the trouble?”
“Pride, my friend!” He slammed a fist so hard on the bar two other patrons jumped. The bartender didn't flinch and bit, “Pure American pride! We had to get there before the Ruskies. Boy, what a mess that would have been. We had to get there, had to claim it. Or at least make it seem like we didn. If you touch something, it's yours, right? So we get to the moon first, we put feet to moondust first, and it's ours. Think about it, when you picture the moon landing, what image comes to mind?”
I thought for a minute. Took a drink. Closed my eyes.
“Shit. I see an astronaut planting an American flag.”
He grinned wide, “An American flag that's beautifully waving in the wind, despite the lack of wind on the moon.”
He had me there. I ordered another round for us.
I told him he had to see the Southside to really understand. We couldn't get past the boards on the door but the windows were uncovered and we could look in at the empty chairs, the cleared out bar back, my corner stool. The jukebox was gone. The floor looked dirty, much dirtier than usual.
“I mean, it was different when it was open. You can see it, right?”
“Sure, sure,” he took off his hat, “I can see it. I sure can.”
The whole street was quiet. A couple I didn't recognize were arguing about something on the corner and I could see some movement in the liquor store next door, but otherwise silence. Not the calm, reassuring kind, but the unsettling kind. The sad kind.
And then a car went past. And I knew it before I even saw him.
“It's him! It's him!” I ran into the street, shouting into the ugly quiet, “I knew it! I knew it!” The car jerked to a stop and out he came.
“Jesus. What the hell are you doing?”
“I knew I'd see you here.”
“I almost hit you with my car. You develop a death wish since I saw you last?”
“We're hanging out at Southside.”
He looked behind me, “Who's that?”
“That's my friend,” I turned and waved, “This is him! Like, hmmmmm!” A silent tip of the hat from the doorway of the bar. “Do you know the Southside closed?”
“Isn't it sad? I'm really bummed out about it. I wanted to talk to you as soon as I heard.”
“Oh, come on. It was so gross. I haven't been there since you used to drag me. I can't imagine it got any cleaner or safer since then.”
“You never went after...us? Not once?”
“Not a single time. I hated that place. Hated it.”
“But it was our spot.”
“It was your spot.”
I looked behind me for support, but my friend was gone. I barely recognized the Southside. I barely recognized the street.
“Come on, let me give you a ride home. You still live in the same place?”
I leaned into him and walked toward the car, “Of course I still live in the same place. I'm thinking about moving to Florida, though.”
And the rest of the car ride was silent as we made our way through his version of the city, his shortcuts and known paths to my little corner where I, small and tired, lay in a ball on the living room floor and thought about small steps for man and giant leaps for mankind on a soundstage in California and what else I could have easily believed just because I wanted so badly to.
Christi Griffis is a writer and bonne vivante in Michigan's Great Lakes Bay Region's café society. Her twitter handle is @christig .
Photo by Brassai, Paris, 1930s.