SHITTY EVERY POSSIBLE TIME ALWAYS
It started off as terribly as it could have.
I had just boarded the subway after getting an email from Melanie, an email I certainly wasn’t expecting. I’d sent her my manuscript over a month ago, never thinking she would read it, and she just emailed me now saying she wanted to talk about it, along with the address of the hotel she was staying at, and I jumped on the SEPTA blue line to meet her there. It was about eight or so stops from where I was to where she was, so I whipped out my phone to reread her email.
Wow. Just wow. Finished your book. Have to talk about it. I’m in town for a week or so. Please visit me at the Four Seasons. I’m in room 702.
I read her message over and over as the phone sat in my sweat filled hand. Happy as I was that she had read it, I would be lying if I wasn’t a little curious about the whole thing. She didn’t say she liked it, she didn’t say she hated it, but since we haven’t talked in about three years, the fact that she read all three hundred and fifty pages and then wanted to talk about it with me had to mean something.
In retrospect, it’s a very good thing I did question her intentions. If I hadn’t then I wouldn’t have read her email forty times and I wouldn’t have memorized her room number. Although, I suppose If I didn’t question her intentions than I wouldn’t have had my phone out in the first place. Even looking into the past from the future, certain choices aren’t as clear as one would like them to be. Either way, I ended up questioning her intentions, which made me reread her email about forty times, which caused me to have my phone sitting idly in my sweaty hand on the subway, which then in part caused a scruffy homeless man to snatch my phone out of my hand and dart out of the subway car right before the doors closed at fifth street station. After the email disappeared from my view suddenly, I looked up to see the back of his dusty brown coat as he slinked through the closing doors and ran out of sight.
The worst part about getting your phone jacked on the subway is getting your phone jacked on the subway.
The second worst part about getting your phone jacked on the subway is the embarrassment you feel with the rest of the subway car now looking at you, knowing that you were the idiot who had his phone out in plain site for the scruffy homeless man to take. The pity stares mixed with the pockets of laughter and smiles set me off in a rotten mood. On top of which, now I had nowhere to divert my attention, since I had no phone to occupy my time.
I arrived at the Four Seasons wearing my black, overly bulky leather coat, stained blue jeans, and a ratty pair of grey sneakers. Walking up to the front door I was worried whether I would be allowed in. The hotel itself was grandiose and prestigious; hardly the environment for a broke, twenty something pothead who’s trying to sell his first novel. Nevertheless, I walked toward the elevator quickly while I still remembered the room number, passing by older business men in expensive suits and brightly colored polos. The elevator brought me to the seventh floor and I followed the hallway until I reached room 702. The door had a brass metal knocker and I tapped it against the wood three times.
“Who is it?”
Melanie’s voice immediately brought me back to when we dated. It had been about seven years or so since I last saw her, despite speaking over the phone a few years ago. I confirmed to her it was me while I stood directly in front of the peephole, positive she was looking through it. She opened the door wearing a brightly multi-colored sun dress over purple leggings with a silk scarf dangling around her pencil thin neck. Metal and gold bracelets clanged around her wrists as she outstretched her arms for a hug. As we embraced I could feel the curvature of her spine through her clothes and got a real sense of how skinny she was. Seven years after we dated she’s now thirty six and weighs about the same as a fourteen year old girl. Her size zero leggings looked baggy as she walked toward to the center of the hotel room, talking a mile a minute and starting three different conversations at once.
“I love the four seasons. This is by far my favorite room in here; I ask for it every time I come. Are you hungry? I just checked in two days ago. I’m not sure if you noticed, but I didn’t tell anybody online that I was going to be here. I hope you didn’t tell anyone I’m here. Did you? I didn’t eat anything because I wasn’t sure if you’re hungry. We can get some room service or go down stairs to one of the restaurants, but if we do that than I need to fix myself up because, well, look at me. I’m seriously a hot freaking mess right now. Have you ever been to this hotel? Seriously, it’s amazing. There’s some good food from what I’m told downstairs but it doesn’t matter to me where we eat. Did you eat yet? Did I ask you that already? Oh my god, like seriously, thank god you’re here because I have been getting so sidetracked. Total scatter brained. What do you want to eat?”
I dropped my book bag down on the floor and slowly walked around the room inspecting all of the furniture, artwork, and views from the windows. It had been a long time since I was in any hotel room, let alone one as nice as this one. Melanie just continued to talk as I explored, half listening to her and half waiting for a pause to sneak a word in.
“Of course, I remember now. You eat everything. God, that’s so refreshing. Lately I’ve been surrounded by people who don’t eat. Vegetarians, pescatarians, vegans, religious nut jobs who don’t eat pork, and other ones who don’t eat fish. Like seriously, just eat it, you know? Of course you know. Oh my god, I am so scatter brained right now. There’s so much I have to do, and there’s so much I want to talk about. Like, oh my god, your book. Like, wow. Seriously Stephen, I never knew you could write like that. Like, you seriously wrote a whole book. I’m so proud of you. It’s making me think, what am I doing with my life, ya know? Like, I should be doing a lot more writing. No joke, you’re making me jealous. But not right now, we can get into that later. First of all, it’s amazing to see you again. You look great. You said you’re bartending now right? Or serving? I don’t remember. Either way, you look great. You said you’re hungry right? Okay, we should get something to eat. So we can either go to the restaurants downstairs or we can get room service? Oh! Actually, we do have to wait here for a little bit. I’m expecting my friend Anton. He should be here soon. At least he said he’ll be here soon. Knowing Anton he probably got lost. Like seriously, you don’t even know, the last time I was supposed to meet Anton, his wife, Nelly, called me up like ten minutes after he left saying that he had called her for directions because he couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag.” Melanie paused for only a second or two while she let out a sharp laugh. Before I had any time to ask who Anton was she continued to talk about him like I already knew him. “So Anton will be over soon assuming he can find the place. I just don’t get that, ya know. Like we all have cell phones now that do our taxes and start our cars. They can also direct us to where we need to go, ya know? I just don’t get how somebody could get lost in this day and age.”
She kept talking while I felt my pocket for my missing phone. Without facebook and twitter to distract me, I sat on the couch quietly, listening to Melanie dominate the conversation as the memory of the time we spent together flooded back. I had met her seven years prior in some bar I can’t remember. I was with two of my friends and we were thinking of opening up a watering hole of our own. We used that as an excuse to go bar hopping and do ‘research’ on what we liked and what we didn’t like about the current Philadelphian bar scene. The last stop of the night was a dark corner joint at the edge of Northern Liberties. The three of us were sitting around a table, nursing our full beers, when Melanie jumped into our conversation by asking us what type of music we wanted to listen to on the juke box, waiving a dollar in her hand as if it were a red cape and she were trying to taunt a bull. Seeing as she was a pretty girl, and noticeably a little drunk, I jumped out of my seat and took charge as that bull, leading her to the juke box by the small of her back and picking the most universally loved songs with the selection which was provided. After working my game for about fifteen minutes, I could see my friends wanted to go, so I got Melanie’s number and made out a little in the bar before leaving.
The next day I sent her a text and she called me up almost immediately. The following two weeks we spent exploring the city and our bodies. She studied poetry at a community college in the suburbs and often spoke in verse whenever she thought it was appropriate, which I felt was never. After two weeks I found her to be incredibly annoying and began to make my distance known. I probably could have broken away entirely, and maybe I should have, but I didn’t. Something kept drawing me back. No matter how shitty our time spent together was, I still felt this urge to keep trying. I always thought when I was away from her that she was this special and prolific woman, yet when I was with her I found her to be overly spiritual, dramatic, and annoying. Listening to her go on and on about nothing and everything all at once, made me think of what a colossal mistake I made sending her my manuscript out of the blue. Still, I was here now, and I wanted her feedback. So I tapped the side of my pants pocket where my phone was supposed to be, and I sat silently, listening to her blab while I waited for a man I never met named Anton.
“Seriously Stephen, you don’t even know how incredibly chaotic my life is right now. Like, it’s a mess. My mother is driving me crazy and my brother’s wife is a devil woman who I passionately hate more than anyone else in the world. I know hate is such a strong word and I never like to use it but if you’ve ever met this woman…ha. You would lose it. Like, seriously Stephen, you would just freaking lose it. She is incredible. She totally is the most hostile woman ever to my brother. It’s awful. I feel so bad for him. It’s ridiculous. Okay, okay, okay so we’re waiting for Anton…where is he? You said you were hungry, right? Anton has to be here soon. So how are you?”
I hesitated answering as I wasn’t sure if she was finished talking or if she just needed some time to breathe.
“Eh, not so good,” I said. “My phone got jacked on the el on my way here.”
“What? What do you mean jacked? And what do you mean el? Is that where you’re working now? Is the restaurant called el? Wait, what do you mean your phone got jacked?”
“No, the el is the SEPTA blue line; the subway. It goes from Frankford to 69th street…”
“Oh right, right,” she said, interrupting me. “Go on.”
“Okay. So I was on the el when some homeless guy stole my phone.”
“Wait, what?! Oh my god, Stephen. Why didn’t you say something?”
“I just did.”
“Yeah but you should have said something the second you walked in here. Are you okay? Is everything alright?”
“Yeah. It’s just my phone. It sucks, but whatever. It is what it is.”
“That’s like a big deal. If somebody stole my phone, like seriously, oh my god. I would lose it, like seriously lose it. Wow, what are you going to do? Wait, don’t answer that. I think I hear my phone ringing. Do you hear that? Oh Jesus, Buddha, Abraham…where is my phone. It’s got to be around here, oh wait. Here it is. No, I guess it wasn’t ringing. Okay, so wow. Your phone got stolen. So were you like using it when, oh wait. It is my phone, Anton’s calling, hold that thought. Anton? Yup I’m here with my friend Stephen. Nope, he’s cool. Room 702, see you soon. Sorry about that; Anton’s on his way. Afterward we can get something to eat. You said you were hungry right?”
I took a breath for Melanie and said, “Yeah, kinda. I could eat.” She continued to talk my ear off until Anton, a young black man wearing dirtier clothing than me, walked into the room. I watched him as he inspected all the same things I did: the artwork, the furniture, and the window views. I could safely assume that Anton was also not use to spending time in fancy hotels. I stood up and shook his hand than sat back down on a chair in the corner. He sat opposite of me while Melanie sat on the bed, still dominating whatever conversation could form with the three of us. Twenty minutes crept by and I took a momentary leave for the bathroom. When I returned, Anton was gone.
“He had to leave,” Melanie said. “He told me to tell you goodbye.”
I asked her if we were going to get something to eat, only so I could start talking about my manuscript, which was essentially the only reason I was here.
“Yes, yes, but first I just need a pick me up. Do you still do your thing?” She pressed her index and thumb together in front of her mouth and I assumed she was talking about me smoking pot.
“Yeah, from time to time.”
“Cool, do you mind if I…” she trailed off as if it were obvious what she was going to do. I told her I didn’t care, which I didn’t, and she proceeded to take items off of a coffee table in the center of the room. She reached into her purse and pulled out a small razor and a drinking straw which she then cut three ways. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small bag of cocaine, pouring out the entire contents on the desk, and then began cutting up the bigger rocks with the razor. She sliced up lines all the while talking about her brother’s wife and how she was a terrible person and how he could do so much better than her; all of which for me meant two more people I never met and didn’t know. After snorting two lines and pinching her nostrils together she passed the straw to me and offered up the third line already cut up. I hadn’t done coke since before I met Melanie, and I certainly hadn’t planned on doing any tonight. But still, I had no phone to distract myself, and I needed something to stay interested while Melanie talked for the two of us. Plus I didn’t want to be rude, so I took the straw, bent my head down, and sniffed up the white powder till it was gone. Instantly I could feel my nostril go numb as a familiar tingly sensation trickled down the back of my throat. I pinched my nose in the same manner as Melanie, watching her out of the corner of my eye cut out more lines. We never ended up getting anything to eat, and we barely talked about my book. Instead we spent the night railing the entire bag of blow and talking about what we’ve been doing for the past seven years.
When the sun came up I had to leave. I worked as a waiter during the lunch shift of an upscale restaurant and I needed to go home to get my uniform. Plus I wanted to shower, and my brain in general started to hurt from lack of sleep, too much cocaine, and an endless barrage of hearing about Melanie’s life. We talked about how great it was to see each other and how we should meet again soon and all those other things you say to somebody just to say. As I was walking past the hotel lobby on my way out I glanced at myself in a nearby mirror. Between my baggy attire and my bloodshot eyes it should have been obvious to everyone who saw me that I had done drugs all night. I slinked away from the building full of wealthy business men in a silent shame, but still very glad I was finally free from Melanie, and at the same time wondering what had possess me to meet her at all.
Work was horrible. I was so strung out from my night of debauchery that my service suffered greatly. I had swiped the wrong credit card to the wrong check, forgot to get an entire table their order of unsweetened ice teas (which they later yelped about), and dropped a plate of macaroni and cheese all over the dining room floor in the middle of the rush. My manager sent me home shortly after that with a nasty look which said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but you better fix it by tomorrow.” What made the day worst was it was gorgeous outside, the first warm day since the previous summer, and everybody besides me was out enjoying it. The SEPTA blue line was packed with beautiful young people in shorts and t-shirts while I stood uncomfortably in the corner, sweating in my bulky leather coat and blue jeans from the previous night/day. At this point, I had been up for just about thirty six hours straight and I was desperate for some sleep.
The train rocked as we pulled in to Second street station. I needed to get off at Girard which was two more stops but once we stopped at Second street the train never started again. I stood crunched in the corner, feeling the individual sweat beads drip from my armpits as those more fortunate than me laughed about how long the train was stopped, like it wasn’t the most aggravating event in the world. After ten minutes of wondering, a voice filled with static came over the intercom announcing that the train was malfunctioning and everybody would need to get off. We flooded out of the doorways and onto the platform and, once we were all off the train, the doors closed and the train pulled away. I stayed for another fifteen minutes at Second street station, wondering if another train was coming, but decided to leave when my irritation level rose dangerously high.
As I left the turnstile and ascended the stairwell, I heard the sounds of an approaching train faintly in the distance. I reached into my pocket for another two dollars, but discovering I only had a dollar and change, I murmured some obscenities under my breathe and walked for forty five minutes from Second and Market to Berks and Girard wearing my winter leather coat through seventy degree heat.
Arriving home after what felt like some deranged, unwanted vacation, I plopped on my couch and packed up a bong. The plan was to get high and pass out till work the next day. Why I ever bothered to check facebook I don’t know, but god damn me for doing it. A little red alert told me I had a new message, and of course it was from Melanie.
Amazing news! I just talked to a good friend of mine who works in a very distinguished publishing house all about YOUR BOOK. She’s super interested and wants to read it (yay!) I know we didn’t talk about it too much last night, but your book needs a revision. She’s flying tomorrow morning on a business trip and wants to read it in flight so if you’re serious about being a published author you need to get in contact with me immediately.
I wanted to ignore it. I wanted to smoke the bong in my lap and day dream about how Melanie and I would have turned out if I didn’t find her so damned annoying. I wanted to pretend like everything I went through in the past thirty six hours was all just a dream. I wanted to do all of these things almost more than anything else, but the one thing I wanted to do more was to be a published author. Plus her statement about my book needing a revision harbored in the back of my head unable to be ignored.
I ended up disregarding the message in exchange for about ten minutes of getting high before I caved and messaged her back, telling her I would meet her at her hotel room. It was only several minutes later before she replied.
Great! But don’t come back to the Four Seasons. I moved across the city to the Rittenhouse (I’ll explain when you get here). I’m in room 512. See you soon.
I finished the bong, showered, and checked the weather before heading out of the house. The sun was starting to set by the time I made it to the SEPTA station and I scurried up the stairwell just in enough time to catch the train.
In an odd twist of fate, the train this go around was nearly completely empty. I sat next to a window as I watched graffiti writing fly by my view too fast to decipher what the crudely drawn letters spelled out. I rested my head against the cold metal wall of the subway car and I noticed a filthy white middle aged man, one with a mangy beard and wearing three equally filthy coats, hunched over himself sitting several seats in front of me. He was easy to ignore at first, but then he started to groan. I quickly scanned the rest of the car for anybody else who could have been a witness to this man’s situation but, quite unfortunately, I found myself alone. Several hours ago it was so packed on this train I couldn’t move an inch in any direction. Now, it’s just me and the groaning guy.
I kept pretending to stare out of the window but groaning guy’s groan grew exceptionally loud. I needed to go to Fifteenth street and I was only on Second. I decided I wasn’t going to ignore groaning guy for six more stops so I called out to him, “Hey buddy. Hey, are you alright?”
He looked up at me with wide startled eyes and drool slobbering down to his chin. He resembled a dog with rabies foaming at the mouth. Still hunched over himself, his groan turned into a yell; a crying shriek of animal like intensity aimed directly at me. He became rattled and appeared agitated.
“Are you alright?” I asked him again, this time a little more gingerly.
“YOU GOD?! YOU GOD?!”
I stayed silent, and prayed somebody else would enter the cabin at the Fifth street stop. When nobody entered I thought about leaving but groaning guy seemed to momentarily settle down when the train pulled up to the station. I decided when the platform doors closed that I would slink out the doorway in the back to the other car, but embarrassingly discovered that the back door wouldn’t open. Groaning guy noticed me try to escape and began shouting again.
“YOU GOD?! YOU A GOD, YOU?!”
I crept to the platform door and hid behind the plexiglass, watching groaning guy slobber on himself and attempting to stand up. I debated in my head whether he lacked the strength and ability to stand on his own, but once the doors opened for Eighth street station, I chose not to risk finding out and left.
Instead of waiting for another train I walked the twelve blocks to the Rittenhouse hotel. I was tired of SEPTA and I wanted to prolong dealing with Melanie for as long as I could. When I arrived, I walked to the elevator and punched the button for her floor. I knocked on Melanie’s door and once again told her it was me when she asked, “Who is it?”
She opened the door and led me in, picking up exactly where we left off by talking a mile a minute and about three different topics all at once. To my delight, one of those topics was about my manuscript.
“Stephen! Oh my god, we have so much to talk about. First, like obviously I’m in a new hotel. Okay so you wouldn’t believe what happened to me at the Four Seasons. Actually, scratch that, are you hungry? Anton is meeting us again, he should be here soon. I’m not sure if you ate already, I should have asked you that. OH! And thank god you checked your facebook page. Like the stars have aligned and Jesus, Buddha, and Abraham must all love you for you to have your phone stolen but to still receive my message. Like seriously, this is a big deal. But I don’t want to get into that right now, we can do that later when Anton leaves. Where is he? He called me and told me he was on his way. Oh my god, where is my phone? Oh god, oh no. Oh no! Crap Stephen, I can’t find my phone! Oh wait, no never mind, here it is. Hmmm, no calls. I wonder where he is. So anyway, I was leaving to check out and this woman, this little bitch of a front desk person or whatever, asks me if I’m staying another night and, like seriously Stephen I wish you were there, because she gives me this attitude and like pinches her face like, ‘please say your not staying another night.’ I couldn’t believe it. I totally called her out on it too and she just went on and on about how she wasn’t giving me any attitude but like, what? Does she think I’m stupid or something? Like seriously, do I look stupid or something? I must be wearing a sign on my head that says treat me like shit and I won’t know or something. Anyway, I told her to shove off and that I’m going to email her supervisor and tell him what happened and I’m totally going to do that. But yeah, I kind of like this hotel more, so it was sign of the universe to come here. How are you?”
I shrugged, hesitant to add any more vocal noise pollution to the air but then decided to add something just so she wouldn’t ask me a hundred times if I were upset.
“I’m alright. The weirdest thing happened to me on the SEPTA line, on my way here.”
“Really? What happened?”
I told her about groaning guy, and about the packed train from earlier that broke down but really wasn’t broken down.
“Oh my god Stephen, that sounds awful. I don’t think you should take the SEPTA line anymore. Like seriously, you got your phone stolen, had to walk like two miles after they kicked you off, with no reimbursement by the way. And then you have to deal with some rabies infected homeless man, like seriously, that sounds straight up dangerous. I’ve never took the subway or a bus or anything. What does SEPTA even stand for?”
“I’m not sure,” I said, gazing out of the window for an escape. “But if I had to guess I would say shitty every possible time…always.”
Melanie laughed and talked some more about her hellish adventure with the Four Season’s front desk girl. From what it sounded like, the poor front desk girl really got a mouthful handed to her from Melanie. Even if she was giving Melanie an attitude, nobody deserved that sort of verbal abuse. I felt bad for the Four Season’s front desk girl, and wondered if she felt bad for me. I wondered if it were possible that two people who never met each other could feel sorrow and sympathize with one another anyway. I determined they could and found the whole thought kind of awesome. What I didn’t find awesome was Melanie being Melanie, and if Anton hadn’t shown up right then with a big bag of drugs, my night with her may have ended then.
He came in, shook my hand, then we all sat down. After about five minutes of menial conversation I went to the bathroom with no intention of doing anything except to get out of the room. I returned several minutes later and, like clockwork, Anton was gone. Melanie was already clearing items off of the coffee table in front of us when I saw a ziplock bag filled with about fifty or sixty soft pink pills.
“What are these?” I asked, picking up the bag for further inspection.
“Oh I don’t know. They’re like speed or something for people with, what’s that made up disease parents give their kids? AHDD? ADHD? Something like that. I didn’t want to do coke again because, let’s be honest, that coke was awful. Simply terrible. I’ve never had coke that bad in my life. I didn’t want to call Anton out on it but like, seriously, it was really bad. So I told him to get me some perk pills and I definitely think he knows that I know that the coke he sold me was bad because I wanted to buy thirty pills off of him but this bag has like fifty. We’re going to need it because tonight’s going to be a long night Stephen. Oh, I’m so excited for you. Right, like, I haven’t even told you anything…”
She poured the bag of pink pills on the counter top and started pressing them down with a credit card, breaking each pill into small pieces than cutting them up with a razor blade from there. I watched and listened.
“So, a good friend of mine from back home works for a major publisher, but I don’t want to tell you which one. I don’t want you getting your hopes up or anything. Like seriously, if you knew you would lose it. Like freaking lose it. I’m talking big deal. So, yeah, she works for this mega major publisher and I was on the phone with her because she called me up to ask if I wanted to take swing dancing lessons with her. I was like, really? Swing dancing? She was like, oh yeah totally, it’s amazing. So I don’t know, I may do it. But, duh Melanie, you’re sidetracking. So we’re talking and I start talking about your book and how great it is and how new and fresh and original it is and she says she wants to read it. I must say Stephen, I got her pretty damned excited about it.”
Melanie leaned her head down and sniffed up a pink line of powder from the table, jumping right back into her story the second she came up for air.
“So, like seriously, don’t get mad but she’s a professional and what not and we just have to make sure your book looks as polished as it can be because, don’t get mad, but there are a lot of little errors and things that make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. I can totally help you do that but we’re going to need to go through chapter by chapter.”
She passed me the cut up straw and I stared down at the powdered line in front of me. It had been a long time since I last did coke before yesterday night, and just for the record, I had found it to be pretty damned strong. I’ve never railed any prescription pills up until this point, though I did know what drug it was from her description of it. So I leaned my head down and inhaled the crudely cut prescription through my nose and down my throat.
I could feel it’s effects immediately.
By the time I had passed Melanie back the straw she was already in mid conversation about something that involved character archetypes and how mine didn’t fit. We passed that cut up drinking straw back and forth for hours as we went through each chapter in my book, talking about everything and physically revising nothing. To her credit, that coke must have been terrible. Compared to the pink prescription speed we were railing then it made that entire bag of cocaine seem more like a cup of coffee. When high off speed, it didn’t make Melanie less annoying, but it did help to catch up to the same speed she was at which did make her more tolerable.
I left in the morning like I did the previous night and went straight to work. I was at least smart enough to leave my work shirt there from the previous shift so I didn’t have to go home first to pick it up. That was about the only good news from the shift. I wandered in dazed yet energized. Pretty much exactly what you would expect out of somebody who had been up for forty eight straight hours with stretches of high energy drugs being induced nasally eight to ten hours at a time.
I was tweaked.
Service hadn’t even started before my manger approached me and told me to go home after I had accidentally pressed the brew button on the coffee machine three times causing it to overflow everywhere near the service computer. Her calling words to me as I was leaving were, “One more incident from you and it will be your last.”
I took a three hour nap on the couch after I got home from work, which was interrupted by my roommate waking up from his ten hour nap at the ripe time of noon. Like a glutton for punishment, the first thing I did was check my facebook page. Not having any phone made me feel like I had a lost obligation of knowing what was going on everywhere all the time. I never realized how often I referenced my phone until it was no longer there.
The little red icon indicated that I had a new message and I correctly guessed before the page loaded that it was from Melanie.
So…SHE LOVED YOUR BOOK! We have to talk…in person. Big news. Please respond ASAP.
I was not excited at all to meet up with Melanie, yet incredibly excited that the girl I never met loved my book. The idea of not serving tables anymore was enough of a boost to visit Melanie for a couple more hours, so I responded telling her I’d be there soon. I debated about packing a bong before I left and decided to do it since, good news or not, I would still be hanging out with Melanie and I was going to need some level of inebriation to power me through it. It was a good thing I did because halfway through the bong she messaged me back saying she was at a third hotel, this time the Bellevue. She didn’t give a reason why but I was confident I would hear all about it.
The Bellevue was located directly on Broad street so I would need to once again take the SEPTA blue line to Fifteenth street and walk from there. I arrived at the station in enough time to watch a train I barely missed pull away, and I stood leaning back against the grated platform wall to wait for the next one. I brought a book of short stories to read and was in the middle of a captivating tale of a father and his son’s fishing trip, when a pale white skinned girl stumbled past me drunkenly. She swayed from side to side when she walked and the features on her face were ravaged by scars, lumps, burns, and other hideous marks which masked her once former beauty. She was perhaps a little older than me, although could easily have been mistaken for thirty years older than me. Her torn 2008 Phillies championship t-shirt was stained and, at medium, three sizes too big, swallowing what remained of her frail and delicate body. Watching her stumble to a bench I envisioned the path of destruction which took her to this point. I remember thinking that somebody should write her story to give her life more meaning. Then I thought that perhaps I should write her story since, after all, I was a writer.
I entertained the idea of what her life would look like on paper for another ten minutes or so before the iron horse roared it’s way down the track. I was still only on three hours of sleep for the past two days but I was too excited and energized about this mystery girl who works for a equally mysterious publisher liking my book. My eyes were wide, my blood was warm, and I was ready for anything. Melanie did say it was big news. Big news is big news.
My tortured damsel stumbled onto the train with me and plopped down in the foldout seat specifically reserved for the handicapped. I sat on the opposite side of the railway car, facing her. I don’t believe she ever once looked up but I couldn’t stop from staring. Perhaps it was the lack of cell phone to distract me, or the prospect of writing her story which compelled me, or perhaps it was simply the lack of anything better to do, but I watched her intently the entire train ride to Fifteenth street. Her body bumped around with the movements of the train like she was a bowl of jello, yet her face hung a look of permanent depression. She lacked any will to notice the world around her as she sat, slumped in the foldout chair, unaware of my infatuation with her; or perhaps aware and unaffected by it. When Fifteenth street came, I got off, secretly hoping she would get off too. I suppose I really hoped she would stagger all the way to the decadent Bellevue hotel so I could follow her and get notes for her story that I just decided to write. Maybe she would leave clues about the choices she had and the decisions she made. However, when the doors opened at Fifteenth street station, she sat still in the foldout chair on the SEPTA blue line. I walked past her and paused at the doorway, looking back blatantly and obvious; staring at the lines on her skin, the bones through her fingers, the blemishes and holes on her arms, the purple veins running up and down her wrists, her knotted hair greasy and clumpy, her shriveled pruned lips, and her ghostly white skin. I stared intently and deeply until the doors closed, until she disappeared from sight along with her story I never got around to writing.
I walked into the Bellevue, which like the Four Seasons and the Rittenhouse, was a very exquisite and pristine hotel, full of artwork, sculptures, and money. A seasoned veteran at this point, I walked past the lobby and once again knocked on Melanie’s door, telling her it was me when asked, “Who is it?”
Melanie opened the door in her normal fashion, talking with bursts of energy about a litany of things I knew nothing nor cared anything about. I faintly listened for something that had to do with my book but my mind was distracted, still thinking about the girl in the subway. I sat in a plush leather chair completely silent for twenty minutes before interrupting Melanie’s story of some dude she made out with once and what he had to do with some food she ate at some restaurant she went to.
“So what’s this big news about? What’s going on?”
“Oh my god! Like duh, obviously that’s the biggest thing going on right now. Okay so I totally emailed her the copy of the revised manuscript and she totally read it on her flight this morning and she loved it!” Melanie released a high pitched squeal and opened her arms wide inviting a congratulatory hug. I sat like the girl in the subway, unaffected and still.
“She read it all?” I asked.
“Yup. The whole thing, at least I believe she did. She called me today and told me that she totally read it and loved it and she passed it along to her superior to read and if he likes he’s going to want to talk to you about books that you like and authors that are similar to you, so be prepared to have all of that information ready. Oh my god, Stephen I’m so proud of you. This is like big news, ya know? Like seriously, many authors never make it this far, you should totally be stoked. So are you hungry? Of course you’re hungry. Oh my god, I never even told you the reason why I’m here. So I was in the Rittenhouse last night and I was with my friend Mary and we ordered room service and when it came up it was awful. Like seriously Stephen, it was awful. The food was cold and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t cooked all the way through, so I called to complain and I got this unbelievable attitude by, I don’t know, whoever was on the other line. It was some older guy who…”
“I don’t care,” I blurted out. There was several seconds of unnatural silence which followed and I could feel the negative energy build in me as I put pieces together in my mind. This was not big news. We did not need to meet in person.
“Ugh, well, you totally should care because you work in the hospitality industry. I mean don’t you think that’s outrageous that they would send cold food up without it being totally cooked. I mean Stephen, you should have heard the infliction in this guys’ voice on the phone. He was such a super dick…”
She continued to talk and I continued to grow angrier in my seat. At this moment I hated Melanie more than anything in the world. I was tired, stressed from work, and now completely fallen from my fleeting dream of having made it as a published author. Perhaps she was right, and it was big news that my manuscript moved from one waiting desk to another, but to me it wasn’t big enough news. It was certainly not big enough news for me to be here, sitting in this third hotel room, trying to keep up with whatever stupid drama Melanie had caused in her life.
“…I know people who work for like the Inquirer and, seriously Stephen, I’m going to tell them all about this super douche guy. Like, I’m not going to forget that. Absolutely ridiculous. Oh, wait I’m sorry, total scatter brained over here. So we can go to this irish bar downstairs if you just want like pub food but there is also this really cute coffee shop down the street that I was totally dying to check out…”
The responsible and adult thing to do would be to deal with it, make up some excuse to leave, and take a big Melanie break. Maybe it was the lack of sleep that clouded my brain or maybe it was the animosity I felt compounded over the past couple of days.
“…Mary and I had this white fish but I forget what it was called. I mean, obviously we weren’t going to eat the undercooked slop that the Rittenhouse had sent us. Hold on a second while I try to remember the name. Greco’s? Was it Greco’s? I can’t remember. Maybe it was something similar. Is there anything similar to Greco’s in this city? Wait! It totally wasn’t Greco’s. Hold on, let me text Mary. Oh my god. Oh my god, Stephen where is my phone? Oh god no! No, no, no! Oh my god I must have left it at the Rittenhouse. Dammit! The last thing I want to do is, oh wait. No, never mind. I found it. Thank you Jesus, Buddha, Abraham…”
I began to wonder if there was even a mystery girl who works at a mystery publisher. I began to doubt everything Melanie had ever told me. It all seemed like one jumbled piece of information sewn together by her own imagination. Maybe this mystery girl doesn’t even know Melanie that well and just lied to her to get her off the phone. That was a totally reasonable possibility.
“…so I guess we can just get some drinks or something if you’re not that hungry but think about later tonight because you’re probably going to be hungry then and I seriously don’t think I’m going to trust room service for a while.”
“I have to go,” I said suddenly, standing up and walking toward the door.
“Wait what? Why?”
“Because this isn’t big news. Because there is no reason I need to be here. Because this isn’t big news and I can’t help but think you lied to me.”
“Wait what? Lied to you? Stephen, what the hell are you talking about?”
“You made me come all the way across the city to tell me something that wasn’t big news and you could have told me online. I can’t be around you right now. You’re driving me crazy.”
As if the word crazy said out loud set off some Pavlov dog like response, Melanie lost it. She started screaming at me about how unappreciative I was and what kind of foolish decision I made. I used it all as an excuse to leave immediately, which is exactly what I did. I walked back to the SEPTA line and sat on a bench thinking about the events that transpired. People walked by, glancing at my direction when they were close and staring from a distance. I must have looked pretty awful. I was on my third day with little sleep, annoyed, frustrated, and disconnected from the world. They probably thought of me the same way I thought of the girl from earlier: ravaged by my own poor life choices. It’s no wonder I felt the urge to write her story.