The ones who switch to seltzer
are all younger than you:
thirty-five or thirty, twenty-two.
At parties now, they chain
smoke, muscular as Christ,
their faces lit like end-
of-spring bonfires. Before
they sobered, there were broken
hands, sand, blackouts, and
the kind of sex that's more
like throwing up. And yet,
they are so lovely now:
tan refuseniks, both men
and women glistening
in a way that lightfoots,
slowly sipping Rex Goliath,
never do. Teetotalling
has, somehow, saved them, kept
their minds like buffalo,
their heartlines luminous
as mariners' maps, while you,
the photo-finish of
get fat, not blitzed, on beer.
You're old, or getting there.
The world's unfair: the zodiac's
a lie, and every problem drunk
you eyed in college—punk
or labor activist,
pre-med, post-goth, classicist—
has shaken off that sheen
of fake rebellion on the way
to real, grown-up despair.
They could not help themselves,
they couldn't stop, and so
they quit. What's wrong with you,
that you should ply them now
with drinks that—honestly—
you don't know how to mix?
You almost miss the cool,
reflective chip of ice, the way
your first martini spilled,
and watching wasted boys
perspiring, their eyes
like tacks: they couldn't, wouldn't, watch
you back. Does safety mean
that someone's got to be
impaired? If someone must,
let it, at long last, be you,
mouth blurry as a shot
of Snap, your confidence
some perfect ping pong
volleying through an extra stout,
your beer gut softly beautiful.
In Tokyo, the long dream of Riverdale fades
like spilled Hitachino Nest. Who was I back then?
Seventeen, my stomach an empty eel,
no eye for women. I knew my way around
a short sheet. I knew Big Ethel's tears
must taste like celery salt, and what
the secret S stood for on my ringer T,
and how to bang out "Sex and Candy" on a drum kit.
Eyes shut—some dumb mystic—I could predict
whether a random tin can buoyed SPAM, or chaw,
or licorice Altoids. But high school ended,
and everybody scattered. Even Archie lost
his knack for wise-ass love triangles. At Oberlin,
I found, the food was infinite, and infinitely bad:
grease-trap soft-serve; gristled albumen. I slept through
Pornography: Writing of Prostitutes. I slept
through everything, until they didn't ask me back.
And that was it for me. I mean, I lost my appetite
for Rutt's Hut rippers, fake IDs, and Philadelphia Story.
My cut-up beanie, badged with stars. My belief,
that pure Americana, that anything could be finagled.
Now, I make my way past love hotels
and rabbit cafés, one hapless ex-pat among
the salarymen. The subway smells like cut salami.
Is this Japan, or just an afterlife where nobody
likes cheese? Every pal I knew back then
is bankrupt, mortgaged, or screwing someone
on the side. Their kids have eyes as tight as ticks.
So I couldn't face the entropy of growing up.
Here, I might be strange, but at least
the sunsets flame like diesel gasoline
and the noodles are all hand-pulled, alkaline.
It tastes good, is what I'm saying. Like gold.
as a demo reel. I still don't know
what turns a woman's buckwheat gaze,
but I can melt pork bones
into tonkatsu broth, and I've learned
some breakaway Japanese. Unbroken pleasure's
larded like kae-dama. It's a soft-cooked egg.
ON DRUNKS: I was a bit surprised to find that -- just as I was entering my early 30s, finally felt I had learned what makes a good Manhattan, and was confident enough to occasionally have three whole drinks at a party -- a lot of my peers were giving up alcohol altogether. I'd spent my college years a step behind, barely getting tipsy. "Drunks" came out of that uncomfortable social realization that perhaps those of us who'd been too sober in our youths were now doomed to be viewed as irresponsible lushes in adulthood.
ON JUGHEAD, MID-LIFE: I loved reading Archie Comics in my childhood, but I wanted to know what happened to the rather stock characters when they grew up and aged out of the perpetual adolescence imposed upon them by Riverdale High. I don't think that Afterlife with Archie (which I hadn't yet read when I wrote "Jughead, Mid-Life") or Archie Meets the Punisher go far enough to create a sense of psychological realism. Here, I've envisioned a Jughead, self-exiled abroad, that David Chang could (maybe) love.