Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List

Page 13


While you were gone, Ely constantly sang the line about wishing you were here to pass away the dull weekend, when he would hover around the doorman station late at night after going out clubbing with his friends. He was singing about you, not me. That much was always clear.
Clearly he wanted to push the boundaries with me. A doorman doesn’t get drunkenly accidentally on purpose bumped up against the mailboxes, or called upon to replace a flickering hallway light at three in the morning, and not figure that out. But Ely didn’t push further. He never made a move. You should know that.
Do you know why a Scottish band wrote a song about a New York baseball player? I’m concerned. I feel like there’s a potential Scottish invasion of the U.S. in the works (England and Wales abstaining). Belle & Sebastian are part of the advance team.
Stay alert.
Track 4
The Jam: “The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow)” This song is for you and Ely, me and Lisa.
You and I, we both know what it’s like to swallow the bitterest brand of pill that people like Ely and Lisa dole out. We understand how it feels to fall prey to the sickness of loving Elys and Lisas—those who won’t love you back the way you love them. The pill’s bittersweet chaser is not that they can’t love you back the same way. It’s that they won’t. They won’t open their minds to the possibility. They won’t expand their expectations of romantic love past their own predetermined boundaries—gender, age, [insert innumerable other unfair, random reasons here]. Sucks.
Track 5
Fiona Apple: “Criminal” This song is for Bruce the First.
Naomi, you’ve been a bad, bad girl. You’ve been careless with a delicate man boy.
I don’t know you well at all, obviously, but I feel like I could possibly trust you. I have to believe that anyone who lies as much as you do will in the end do the right thing, if for no other reason than you’ve already stripped bare what’s real from what’s not. I know you know the difference.
I’m going to trust you not to break that boy just because you can.
Track 6
Nada Surf: “Blizzard of ’77” This song is for my parents.
The first time my father saw snow he was five years old. He had just moved to this country. A blizzard had struck during the night, and when he awoke in the morning, he couldn’t see out his bedroom window. Only by sitting on his own father’s shoulders could he get a clear view to the vastness of the white outside the front door to their house. The snow was taller than him—my father thought it could swallow him whole if he ventured out into it. Then, as he tells the story, he saw an angel. She was wearing a pink snowsuit, and she sat in her father’s lap as they rode a tractor clearing a path from the street to his house. He recognized her from his school class, where no other kid would talk to him because he didn’t yet speak English. Once the angel and her father had finished clearing the path, they jumped off the tractor and shoveled the remaining snow leading to his front door. “Welcome, neighbor,” she said to him. In Swahili.
My father does not speak Swahili; the Neighborhood Welcome Committee had been misinformed. But he quickly dressed and ventured outside, following the angel’s tracks.
He grew up to marry that girl.
Track 7
Kirsty MacColl: “A New England” This song is for my mother. She loved this singer, and particularly this singer’s cover of this Billy Bragg song.
When I dropped off the varsity basketball team in high school, when I neglected to apply to college, when I scorned my brother for his Causes and Ideals, my mother would sing this song, adjusting one lyric in particular because it reminded her of me.
Gabriel doesn’t want to change the world
At the end, when she wanted me to distract her, but really she wanted me to distract myself, Mom asked me to make mixes for her to listen to at the hospital. Just go to the music library on our computer at home, choose some songs, hit shuffle, then burn, she said.
I never made a mix for her that didn’t include a Kirsty MacColl song—it’s like a law for me now. Any Kirsty Mac-Coll song reminds me of my mom. Whimsical, soulful, funny. Missed.
Both Kirsty MacColl and my mom had two sons. They both died before their forty-fifth birthday.
At least my brother and I knew it was coming. We got to say good-bye.
Track 8
Bruce Springsteen: “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” This is my mother’s song for me. Jersey girl.
I was born blue and weathered, but I burst just like a supernova.
What you need is a muse, she used to tell me. A Mary or a Janie. Then she’d say, But be careful. Those Marys and Janies can be dangerous to a boy who could walk like Brando right into the sun and then dance just like a Casanova.
I don’t want to be a Brando or a Casanova. I don’t even want to be a rock star. Don’t know why I’m in a band other than a girl told me to do it. I only front the band because I’m the best-looking of the bunch. The other guys are way more talented.
I wouldn’t mind a muse. Or to be amused. That would be a refreshing change.
Track 9
Kurtis Blow: “Basketball” This is my father’s song for me.
For six months after the funeral, Pops laid off me. Day after day, I could be found in the park or at the Y playing pickup b-ball with any team who’d let me hoop. Fine. Dad didn’t give me grief about grieving through sweat and dribble, through game.
But man, you never heard such swearing in a language you don’t understand as when another year’s college application deadlines had passed and I finally told Dad I didn’t plan on going back to school—not at all, not ever.
Fine, no more. You think you’re going to keep living in my house and spend your days playing basketball? You got no real plans, young man? Well then I got plans for you. You’ll be a doorman.
I have to admit that the alternate song choice here was the “Dentist!” song from Little Shop of Horrors. If I’d chosen that song, I would have told you to imagine the word doorman instead of dentist when the guy sings about how Son, you’ll be a dentist. I would have explained that the song is about the singer’s destiny to become a dentist, as determined by his proclivity for causing people pain, and as decided upon by his parents. The message was meant to be about parents and destiny and not about a desire to be a dentist or to cause pain, by the way.
My father’s destiny was to be a doorman. He likes that destiny. It’s a fine one, for him. He’s worked for decades at the same posh building on Park Avenue. He rakes in the tips at Christmastime. Seriously—our family once vacationed for a week at a four-star resort in Barbados courtesy of that income, before Mom got too sick to travel.
He’s a good man and it’s been a good life for my dad, being a doorman. I do feel like perhaps it’s not my destiny.
I ended up not using the dentist song on your mix, because including a show tune would be too gay even for a guy who doesn’t care about labels.
Side note: Do you have any idea what it means when someone says, “That’s so gay”? I suspect it has nothing to do with actual homosexuality anymore. I think it means nothing at this point. Really, just nothing. “That’s so gay.” Totally existential. Maybe I should have used the dentist song after all.
Track 10
Shuggie Otis: “Inspiration Information” This song is for the sake of the song.
My dad wants to school me in the noble ways of the Manhattan doorman, but what I’ve learned from my dad that’s actually useful is that you can insert a Shuggie Otis song in any position on any random mix and the song will work. As beginning, as transition, as closure.
And if you have any information regarding inspiration, I’m all ears.
Track 11
Grandmaster Flash: “The Message” This song is for you.
It’s a really depressing song with a great beat and an unforgettable hook. You’re kind of a depressing person with a great look and an unforgettable smile—when you choose to flash its grandmasterliness.
New York City—yeah, it’s a jungle just like the man says. I’ll be Tarzan if you want to be Jane. Hell, I’ll even be Jane if you want to be Tarzan. My mind is open, girl.
Yours could be, too—if you’d let it. You’ll let me text-message with you, you’ll appear at my band’s shows in the middle of the night, but live and in person in the building lobby? You barely have a word to say to me. Like there’s some line in the sand between the desk and the doormat that you’re too scared to cross.
Track 12
Nina Simone: “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (Merci, Mr. McAllister, you bilingual freak. You fill up elevator space just like this song does.)
What’s the big deal with France? How come everyone wants to go there? Let me tell you about France. Their music sucks. Their movies suck. Their berets suck. Their croissants are pretty good, but the place overall still sucks. My family went there once on the way to visit Dad’s homeland family. EuroDisney. Need I say more?
Are you worried that if we have a real conversation, this is the kind of empty chatter that would fill it?
Let’s take the risk. Here’s a start: If I could choose a place to go, I’d choose . . . random spin of wheel of fortune . . . Madagascar. I feel like it might be one place in the world that’s about more than a Starbucks on every block. Want to come along?
Track 13
Jens Lekman: “F-Word” Jag valde den här sången så at du skule bli förälskad i mej. I chose this song to make you fall in love with me. (Thank you, Mr. Karlsson, the unexpected Swede in the penthouse apartment. Or should I say “tahkk”?)
Fuck it, here’s the stinkin’ truth: I’m just trying to be clever here. I hate myself for choosing a smart-ass song, like it’s not possible to make a mix for a beautiful girl without inserting some form of obvious ha-ha irony from the Smiths or the Magnetic Fields, etc. You have to admit it’s a cool song, though. I promise to balance it out with a pathetically sentimental song choice next.
Track 14
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Walk through the Fire” This song is for you and your mom.
If you took a poll, I’m sorry to tell you that at least 80 percent of the residents in this building who know you or have come into contact with you would vote Yes, Naomi—she is a bitch.
Buffy could be a bitch, but cut the girl some slack—she once had to kill her true love in order to save the world. I get it, Naomi. You’re like Buffy. You have to make hard choices about people.
Speaking of hardness . . . would you be pleased or weirded out to know Buffy was the girl I used to dream about when, er, getting to know my high school self a little better? Never mind—consider the emission, I mean admission, rescinded.
When your mom noticed me watching a Buffy rerun on the little TV on the doorman desk one slow night on the job, she admitted that watching Buffy was her shared solace with you after your dad left. She told me how you cry and cry for Buffy. You cry when Angel shows up to be Buffy’s prom date even though they’d already recognized the futility of their true love and broken up. You cry when Buffy’s mom is taken away by natural instead of supernatural causes. You cry when seasons six and seven really don’t reflect the quality of seasons one through five except for the musical episode.
Those bitch-calling Naomi naysayers in the building wouldn’t know that at six in the morning, when my shift is ending, you rush out of the building and down the block to bring back coffee and bagels for your mom. That you hold her hand and walk her to Washington Square to see her off to work. To make sure she gets there.
Buffy was my mother’s solace, too. I’d watch it with her on the good days. My brother would laugh at me and say how gay I was for getting all teary-eyed when Willow went mental after Tara died. Brother-man, love you, but who’s laughing now? Who’s the doorman / part-time band singer who inspires girls to throw their panties at him on the stage, and who’s the impoverished grad student making ends meet by go- go dancing at XXL, where boys slip dollar bills into his G-string?