Recent Posts

Creative Writing Assignment

Creative Writing Assignment: follow a stranger and make up a story about them. Saw this guy on my lunch break yesterday. The outfit is real; the rest? Well, it could be...
He mostly doesn’t think about it anymore, except for when he meets a particularly good-looking stranger…only then does he wonder: Can they smell the curry?

Constantine (“Connie” to what few friends he still has) lives above a Thai restaurant. What started out as a dirt cheap apartment and kind of a funny joke in the smells of the spiced meat seeping through his floor has turned into 23 years in a red brick one bedroom on a street where it is INCONCEIVABLE that anything is the same as it was 23 years ago…let alone a single gay man or a Thai Restaurant. Sometimes, during his neighborhood walks, he’ll narrate for people in his head about what that Yoga Studio used to be (liquor store) and what that Liquor Store used to be (hardware shop). Sometimes, he’ll hand-pick, for company, a particular imaginary presence from his mental stable of dead friends and lovers to satisfy his mood or the route he’s going to take, but lately Connie’s just been talking to no one. He thinks about that sometimes and it bothers him a little.

Today is a special day, though. Today he’s doing press.

Connie knows it’s important to blend in when observing the public, so as not to inadvertently affect any scene he might witness. He chooses his outfit with care: ancient t-shirt from the days he used to run marathons (his runner’s calves are all that’s left of that version of Connie, and he is shyly proud of them), khaki shorts, worn-in black loafers, sweat band (it is nearly July in DC, after all)…and he can’t resist but to add one little piece of personality: a pair of square diamond earrings which Glenn used to say looked like cufflinks, they were so large. Connie puts them on while looking in the mirror in his bathroom. They weigh his earlobes down. They make him smile.

Down the rickety wooden stairs that are directly over the kitchen of the Thai place and he can hear the sounds of the lunch rush in the banging metal and shouted orders below him. He gave up eating Thai food long ago: when a food is so constantly present it permeates your skin, eating it starts feeling like cannibalism. Marc thought that was a vulgar saying, but Connie liked it; it said exactly what he meant.

Out the back door of the red brick building and it is a wall of heat outside today. Connie congratulates himself for his foresight with the sweatband and adjusts the strap of his Canon A513 camera with the new S100 lens. As a rule, Connie doesn’t like new things. But this camera? Is really something else. He spent a huge portion of last winter at the Botanical Gardens, playing with focus, shamelessly hogging the Orchids from the tourists to capture the textures and colors he saw, then finding the best print shop on the Hill (no small feat as that is clearly a dying art) and matching those prints with handmade frames from Eastern Market (antiques whenever possible), and now his curry-smelling one bedroom has a whole wall of spring, year-round.

The Capitol Hill Rag has tapped Connie to do a piece on the re-opening of Eastern Market. The Market has always been one of Connie’s absolute favorite things about DC because it’s always the same, but always new. He was devastated when a fire ate the main building of the market and has been cautiously accepting of the temporary digs across the street. But now, after two long years of being crushed into inadequate space and the anxiety over whether or not the Crepe Man was going to have enough room to set up this week, the Market is reopening. There is a big festival and Connie gets to write about it.

Connie’s done some freelance work for The Rag over the years (he can just hear Gary snickering at how pretentious freelance sounds and he shakes his head; he feels the earrings move and thinks of Glenn) mostly because of THE HAPS. He can’t help but think of it in all caps (THE HAPS IN CAPS!) because that’s how he used to print it: and print it he did, in the old way. Every issue would get a limited run, produced by him, on his very own hand-cranked letterpress in his red brick apartment. He can still call up the smell of the ink (stronger than the smell of the curry, at least to him) and the sheets of naked, fresh paper lying in bricks all over his apartment, his one-bedroom turned into a press room once every couple of months. Marc, or Glenn, or Paul (whoever it was at the time) didn’t have a lot in common other than a love for Connie and a sudden need to get out of Connie’s apartment during that one week when Connie only had eyes for THE HAPS. He imagined it was the closest thing to childbirth he would ever experience.

THE HAPS covered what was HAPpening around Capitol Hill—at least, the things that interested Connie. He made it because it pleased him. Of course, things change. For one, he could never print photographs like the ones his Canon could capture with a letterpress. Also, as his circle was whittled away by time and disease and he found himself seeing fewer and fewer people and then mostly at funerals and those weren’t like the parties they used to go to together, he found the urge to create THE HAPS asserted itself less and less. He hadn’t done an issue in, oh? Four years now. The urges still came, but weaker and with more time between, the same way the urge for sex had started fading from his body; and freelance (take that, Gary!) assignments like this one mostly took care of those feelings.

The Capitol Hill Rag had asked him for a brief write-up on the history of the Market, some images of the construction taking place, and then an eye witness account from the grand opening. Well, he could write the history without doing any research, he was planning on going to the opening anyway, and today was the day for construction photos—a million degrees out or not.

He took the short walk across Pennsylvania Avenue (the Capitol Building looming down the street never disappointed) and into the shady area around the market, lenscap off and Canon at-the-ready. He got some shots of the new brick road of the Market. Some shots of the temporary blue building across from the old/new brick one. He ducked into an alleyway behind the old/new building and framed up for a shot of a spring vine already climbing its way up the new back wall.

He wondered if the people around him could see ghosts the way he did. Not scary ghosts like in the movies Peter had always liked to watch (they did nothing for Connie), but the kind where you almost see a presence in your peripheral or when you glance really fast across a room, and before you consciously have the thought, you know who that person is: but then you look at exactly where they should be and there’s nothing there and you realize at that same time that they’ve been dead for 15 years and that’s when you know you’ve seen a ghost. As he lines up a shot of workers carrying dowels into the south end of the Market, Connie sees Patrick coming out the door with a bouquet of stargazer lilies wrapped in newspaper and understands, just like he did on that morning 19 years ago, that Patrick was both telling Connie he loved him and telling him he loved himself because stargazer lilies were his favorite and in his hometown if he even looked towards flowers his dad would call him a queer. Those two years with Patrick meant flowers were always around the apartment.

It is a young Asian mother with a baby in a stroller, and her husband holding the hand of a little boy. Connie lets the camera hang from its strap.
“Capitol?” She looks around helplessly.
“Oh sure: see that? That’s Pennsylvania. Just take a right there and you literally can’t miss it.” Connie is sure to point a lot so they understand the directions.
“Thank you!” They start to walk away.
“You know, if you’re going to be here this weekend, you should really come back here!”The family turns around.“This is Eastern Market.” Connie standing in the middle of the alleyway and he spreads his arms wide in the sunlight. “It’s been here since 1873, and this weekend, there’s gonna be a big party to celebrate cause it’s reopening!”The woman smiles at him and nods. Connie is sure she doesn’t understand but he appreciates her being so polite.“It burned down two years ago, and that was real sad, because this is one of the best parts of DC! I’ve been coming here for years. I live right over there, see?” Connie points towards his apartment. The father dutifully looks around. “I’ve been there for 23 years! Sometimes I can’t even believe it. What’s an old relic like me still doing here, right?”Connie shakes his head and laughs. He can hear Bobby telling him to shut up and leave these poor people alone, but he doesn’t care. “Well I just can’t leave! Really, there’s nowhere else for me to go. I don’t have any family, no kids—like your’s—“ he is pointing at their children and the woman nods again, “and it feels like sometimes, my family is still here, even though they’re all just memories now. There was a guy used to work here, and I’d buy coffee from him every Sunday morning. He roasted it fresh, and Glenn just thought it was the best. That’s saying something, too, cause Glenn was from Seattle, and they’re real snobby about their coffee, you know?” The woman’s smile has faded and the little boy is pulling on his daddy’s hand. “Paul used to always come back with these lovely handmade soaps and he’d send them to his mother, but she never called him and said thank you. Can you imagine that? Never even acknowledged that she’d received them. I told him just to stop wasting his efforts on that woman, but he never would.” Connie shrugs. The man and woman are glancing at each other now and taking small steps away from him. But Connie can’t stop: “The best was the Sunday night dinners that Marc used to cook for all of us, all fresh, all local stuff he bought here. I know that’s a trend now, but then, it was just the thing to do. I’m really not much of a cook, and who likes cooking for one anyway, you know?”
The woman smiles and waves abruptly at him, and she and her husband take off down the street towards Pennsylvania Avenue, towards the Capitol Building, towards the rest of their DC experience. The little boy turns around once and looks back at Connie. Connie waves; the little boy does not.

That night he sits in the old corduroy armchair by the window, his laptop in front of him with the pictures he took up on the screen, and a scrapbook on his knees. The scrapbook has all of his old issues of THE HAPS. Some of the pages stick to the ink as he turns them. They still smell the same, though not as strong. In a bizarre impulse he has purchased take-out from the Thai restaurant downstairs; it sits half-eaten on the sill in front of him. He looks at his screen and sees the new/old building; the brick road; Mexican workers with shy smiles setting up booths. He looks at his scrapbook and sees blotches of ink; stories about new restaurants; an ad for a cobbler. He looks out the window and sees Glenn; Peter; Marc; Patrick; Gary; and all the others. He sees himself reflected in the glass: old, grey, and wiry, like steel wool. He sees the city out his window.


Post a Comment