Oh Yeah Bravo / 29 November 2001

The switchover happened as I got out of her car and didn’t look back as I busied myself with the lock on the steel bars that separated my stairwell from the vagrants, including the mister who had, one afternoon, let himself into my car via the hastily taped broken window and was idly going through the contents of my glove compartment while enjoying a rainbow-colored popsicle. I assured him that anything of value had been taken during one of the eight or nine previous break-ins, making sure he understood that eight or nine was in no way an exaggeration and in fact might be a little low, I wasn’t sure, I lost count. Oh, hey, he says, sorry, I thought this was, I dunno, an abandoned car or something. (OK that just hurts, I say, but not aloud. I’ll admit the Accord’s seen better days but come on.) And so if you don’t mind, I say, gesturing out to the expensive slum lot where I was illegally parked. OK, sorry, he says, and: You know, you really should get that window fixed.

The steel bars slam home behind me and I notice that I’m hyperaware of the sounds of the peeling stairs and the unidentifiably awful cooking stench from the downstairs neighbors, and I’m moving very slowly, every movement controlled and self-conscious, and I’m wondering if she’s watching me go but of course she isn’t since I already heard her car take off, going the wrong way down our one-way alley. So who’s watching? Who’s watching this display of elegance and character? I’m performing, obviously, but who’s the audience? The godless rats that own this piss-soaked street, and I am of course speaking of Natoma at 6th in beautiful downtown San Francisco?

And that’s when I realized that something had just shifted, that this brief fling with H, while ultimately miserable and sort of eyerolling, at least prompted the switchover, acting as a minor catalyst for something that’d long been brewing. It was because of what I said just now:

[J unlocks car door, opens it, and then, at the last minute, turns and gives H a kiss on the mouth.]

H: [surprised] What’s this?

J: Nothing. [gets out of car, closes door]

H: [through open window] I like nothing.

J: Then stick with me. [turns, walks away, unlocks steel bars]

Never before or since have I had my life suddenly become scripted, the lines just so, the cadences worked down to the littlest beat, each gesture mapped out for maximum dramatic impact. And it was all completely extemporaneous! I was convinced that my life would, from that point forward, unfold like a tightly written play or perhaps a romantic comedy composed by a top-notch committee. The interplay would be witty and effortless, the rhythm taut and sensual, the subtext rich and powerful. And so I was no longer walking up the stinking stairs but having them move beneath me, and I worked the little muscle in my jaw, hesitating for a moment, thinking, my eyes looking off at nothing in particular but really all they were doing was not looking at the camera, letting the invisible masses take in my expression, puzzle over it—Does he really like her? Are they made for each other? Is he as fascinatingly complex as he seems? What will happen in the next scene?

Of course I never spoke scripted dialogue again, but that hasn’t stopped the performance. So I’m quiet. I do a few Method things when out in public like scratching my jawbone, rubbing the back of my ear. I give sardonic glances. I look at my phantom watch. I’ve developed a grace and precision that are utterly manufactured.

Joshua Green Allen

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