The neon lights of the vertical cinema sign along Route 495 in North Bergen read "ema 12," with the letters stacked upon one another and the numbers paired up below them. The windows of the car were beginning to fog up, as if the defrost wasn't working, but it was only the driver who chose not to turn it on yet. The cloudy windows coupled with a light mist falling in the early-morning hours teamed up to create a time warp, a sense that what I was looking at wasn't present-day, but a long-ago image seen in a book or a movie or described in a piece of spontaneous bop prose tucked away in a Kerouac novel.
For no particular reason, I conjured the thought of a family driving past the theater with a young daughter named Ema -- the singular M one of those naming anomalies parents seem fond of these days, like Mychael or Jayde or Kacee -- and pointing out the failure of fate that personalized the sign for her. And then I slipped into a nostalgic recap of a lovely weekend, the kind I don't get to have regularly because I tend to work on Saturday nights and the kind that you make plans for in advance and hope when the time comes that the events live up to your expectations, and they did just that.
I slept until nearly noon on Saturday after working Friday night, but when I did wake up, the day was bright and beautiful -- high 60s, sunny, truly springtime. I went for my first run in weeks, and the first in just shorts and a T-shirt -- no need for long sleeves or long spandex under my shorts. Casey and I ran a few errands (apparently joining everyone else in Clifton in taking our cardboard to the recycling center, judging by the three overflowing dumpsters and stacks of boxes around each one) and then prepared for a night in the city.
Casey chose Shoolbred's and we settled into the soft chairs around the fireplace. Friends trickled in and we ordered some food and more and more beer. The first couple of hours went by at a pleasantly slow pace, but then the last two merged into a blur of fluttering from conversation to refill to conversation. Before I knew it, we were outside on a busy Second Avenue hailing a cab to take us home. I remember few goodbyes, and Casey says she asked me for money when she settled the tab and that I pulled out my wallet, handed her $40, and replaced my wallet. Of this, I have no recollection. I'm still amazed that I made it out of there with my jacket and the items divided among its pockets (none of which have any kind of closure): my camera, wallet, Moleskin and a pen.
Casey and I were headed back to Hoboken to get the train home to Clifton, and Nate and Marie were on their way to Nate's apartment there, so he took charge and negotiated a deal with the driver of a Town Car. We got in -- Nate in the front, me between the women in the back seat -- and headed for the Holland Tunnel. No longer with any sense of time, I'm not sure how long we sat in traffic before realizing the Holland Tunnel was closed. Nor do I know how long it took to get up to the Lincoln Tunnel, but somewhere in there -- when we had finally started moving with any progress -- I realized that the flashing city outside the windows was nauseating me, so I stared down and focused on my rolled-up jacket in my arms and maintained a grin on my face for the sole reason that Jorja Fox's character on CSI once said that smiling -- presumably the muscles involved -- suppresses the gag reflex.
I succeeded; had this been an eating -- or drinking -- contest, I wouldn't have been disqualified for regurgitating any of what I'd put down. Where we failed, though, was getting to Hoboken in time. When we arrived at the 36th St. entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, I was able -- thankfully -- to look up and see the cars backed up on the access road. I know from experience that a backup at this point means a long drive beneath the Hudson -- 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour maybe. Casey and I objected -- loudly -- and redirected the car to the PATH. After a much more reasonable period of travel, we were exiting a cab at Nate's apartment. Following a quick look inside, he drove us back to Clifton, our last chance at boarding a New Jersey Transit train having come and gone more than an hour ago, probably as I was grinning.
Once home, Casey and I loudly and drunkenly discussed our love for our house, our cats and each other, then took our inebriated asses to bed around 4 a.m. I slept until noon, but somehow, the debilitating hangover I expected would be my payment for the night's activities didn't quite materialize. Sure, my mind was foggy, my head a little achy, my movements gentle and measured, but I didn't feel the need to spend the afternoon on the couch. I got onto the computer, I watched baseball on TV. I also went with the greasy lunch: a large plate of nachos, a little extra cheese for comfort.
I also didn't have the whole afternoon to recover. I was due into work at 6 p.m., plus we had plans to cross the two rivers to Brooklyn for an orthodox Easter dinner at Jen's. Unfortunately, my deadline meant a short visit of a little more than an hour -- just enough time to enjoy the varied selection of meats, to have some pleasant conversations with even more pleasant people and to feel that, in the entire time we were there, Jen barely sat down. But we left after all the food had been presented, and she had already dug into a plate of her own, so I'm sure she spent the rest of the evening enjoying the company and the feast she had prepared.
I tend to be anxious when going to small gatherings at which I only know the couple who invited us -- wondering if I'll be able to carry the conversation or seem interesting enough around people who don't share my overblown interest in Notre Dame or the Mets -- but I didn't have any apprehension before Sunday's party, nor during it. I found myself not wanting to leave, though after Saturday night's events, my energy level was already lowered, so more food and a longer stay on a comfy couch would only have exposed everyone to the yawns and blank stares I had to shake off later at the office.
It's afternoons like that, nights like Saturday, friends like those we got to see this weekend that I should recall more often when I have a night off or an afternoon invite, yet I don't know if I can muster the stamina to leave the house after a few trying days at work. It sure makes it easier to go back to the office with warm smiles and friendly faces etched in my memory to help me look forward to the next open date on my calendar.
Lou Gehrig in Asbury Park
4 years ago