All the Young Dudes
This dude at the bagel store said Nice shirt. And he was a dude. Some manly partner with a little sensitive streak of pink hair in his brown locks that he never dyed pink but you know it’s there when he says, Nice shirt. I said, It’s really old, pointing to holes at the neck line. No, he said, it’s a good shirt, and I knew what he meant, what dudes mean about old, worn, beat the shit out of cotton shirts that wear like skin. So, I fist pumped him in my mind, put on my own dude voice and said, We gotta stick together us dudes, in my mind, too, because deep down I have no real dudeness of my own to call myself the big man, the habanero cowboy, Mr. I Got This Man. And happy, I left the bagel store, got on my magic carpet and floated over West Roxbury wondering on our encounter, wondering if he were talking about the holes or the writing on the shirt, Party With A Purpose, and on the back, Everyone has a reason to dance, because everyone does, even when death and failure are right around the corner, or hysterical Mario Kart characters like Luigi and Peach burning on fire in the back of your brain unable to let you sleep into the bowels of the world’s anxiety. Everyone has a reason to boogie ugie ugie no matter the ring tone and I wondered if he knew that the shirt was a celebration of a benefit dance for Boston Children’s Hospital but it could be any children’s hospital where all the children have tubes in their arms and oxygen masks on their cheeks. And if he did, sitting there waiting for his coffee, then he was really a dude, a big man, a beating heart with tight muscles and some serious blue eyes. So, I parked my carpet outside of the YMCA and walked back down to the bagel store and there he was, waiting for his bagel, still, and I said, You know it’s for the kids, the shirt, right? and he grabbed my hand, twirled me around, dipped me twice, and sashayed me down the street, the way all the young dudes carry the news of the world in their back pocket so, just at the right moment, they can reach out, pick you up, and carry you across the threshold.
No matter how many times you walk the dog you don’t want to walk the dog. You want to open the door and let it run up and down South Street, in and out of caves, down mountains and through subway tunnels. You want nothing to do with its urine and good will. You couldn’t care less if it got hit by a tractor out to do a slow burn in the field. It’s not that you are a man with no heart. It’s not that you can’t open the compassion furnace in your breastplate. It’s just that you are careless and careless may be a cop out for something darker, an abyss. You fell in it once, in your early 20s, and never thought that the ropes of love, the spindle of someone’s touch, the thread of a friend’s dark coat, could get you out. But, it did. And now you are here again and the dog has to pee and shit and eat rabbits and sticks and you can’t muster the fortitude of a thousand tangerines to take it for a walk. It’s dark out and the snow is coming and the subway tunnels will fill up with rats and old songs, like the ones you sang when you were a kid about circles and miners, and you think, damn, just let her out. Go with her. Don’t even put on a coat, shoes, mittens. Just walk into the darkness and see where it takes you. But then she barks at the ghosts in her dog vision and you think, How many times does one have to go into the darkness to know the darkness? How many angels are in there anyway to soften the heart? You don’t have a choice. Who does? So, you put the leash on the beast, boots on your feet, rat spray in your pocket, and you’re off. Oh my God, you are gone to meet them, the angels, in all their halo spitshine, flapping their rust-colored wings.
MATTHEW LIPPMAN‘s collection Mesmerizingly Sadly Beautiful (2020) is published by Four Way Books. It was the recipient of the 2018 Levis Prize. His next collection, We Are Sleeping With Our Sneakers On, will be published by Four Way Books in 2024.
Artwork by Evan Nicholls.
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