Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lonely in the City

In the summer of 1983, at the age of 29, I moved to Washington, DC and entered the Master of Laws Program at American University Law School. This wasn't exactly the culmination of a lifelong dream. I'd come to Washington to become managing partner of a major law firm, and, in fact, I'd been signed two years earlier as a law clerk by Sagot & Jennings, one of the more reputable law firms in Philadelphia. I thought the line from law clerk to managing partner would be straight and short. But other than occasional rejection letters, I wasn't making much progress, and I was beginning to wonder why I'd ever left Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia's not hard to find on the map. That's where I'd been born and raised, and my family -- what's left of it, still calls it home.I missed them - my family, I mean. And I missed big-city life. I barely knew a soul in Washington, which at that time, back in the early 80's, was just a sleepy Southern town. Actually, I didn't know anybody. I was renting a one-room apartment in Cleveland Park. The previous tenant had been the Spanish Embassy. I could still smell the Arroz con Pollo when I first rented the place.

Washington is very tough on lonely people. When my classes ended at American University, I'd walk the 20 or so blocks from Scott Circle to my apartment in Cleveland Park, and see all these happy couples on the street, arm in arm or hand in hand, smiling and cooing at each other, and I wondered when it was going to be my turn. I wanted to be happy too. At night, I'd look at all the lit-up windows in the surrounding high-rises--millions of them (or do I exaggerate?)--and I'd imagine all the happy people sitting down to dinner, watching a romantic movie on TV, then crawling into bed to make love for hours on end. When you're lonely, you tend to think you're the last lonely person in the world. You can't even imagine that there are other people out there--single people, couples, even married people--who are just as lonely as you are. But they're out there, of course. They're everywhere.

Some of them even stayed at 3801, where I lived. There were women who would slip me their phone numbers, asking me to please call, they were available. And there were lonely men, too. I remember one tenant in particular, a man in his late forties - we'll call him Stanley S.: he always buzzed the front desk just as I entered the building after classes and asked the clerk to please send me up with the afternoon papers. This was in the days before Tim Norton manned the front desk. It became something of a running joke at my building: "It's Gary's boyfriend again, pining for him." I'd go upstairs, newspapers in hand, and he'd open the door in the buff and ask me to come in."I can't," I'd say. "I'm sorry.""Oh please, Gary. Just for a minute or two. You're so handsome.""No," I'd repeat. "I'm in training for the priesthood and I only do it with young boys." I lied of course. I wasn't in training for the priesthood and I didn't do anything with young boys. And he'd look at me with those big puppy-dog eyes, like he was about to cry or something, and ask if I was sure. "I'll do anything, Gary. Anything at all, Just say the word. Tell me what you want. Spell it out."

To be honest, I felt kind of bad for the guy, I could relate to that kind of loneliness. I was meeting people here and there, sure, but I couldn't afford to go out. Anyway, that was twenty years ago. I'm still lonely, still on the brink of despair, running from dark place to dark place. You know the drill. Psychologically, I'm one of the walking wounded. That's why I always carry a pen in my right hand. I always carry a pen in my hand in case I come up with another idea for something to write. Some new, previously undisclosed, painful memory of which I need to unburden myself.

My life is just one miserable patch of painful experiences. It's so sad, so lonely. I guess I just never learned how to connect with people. I'm just one sorry, lonely, sod.

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