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It’s my last night in New York City. Tomorrow, my flight out of JFK will be delayed more than an hour, and I’ll miss my connection. It’ll be the first of many nights I spend in Detroit. I don’t know that yet. I have thirty-eight dollars in my wallet.

The bar I’m at, called Sputnik, after the Russian satellite, is cozy and lacking in patronage. I’m here with a friend of yours, and I’m drunk. The others we’ve invited aren’t here. They won’t be. The waiter spends time making awkward conversation and trading quips with us. He’s got a full facial beard, and he is funny.

By the time I get to Detroit and realize I’ve lost all my credit cards, I won’t remember any of his jokes. Toward the end of the night I draw a picture on a napkin and slur at him about putting it on the wall. He tells me I’m an accomplished artist, with work in a Brooklyn establishment. I tell him the fries were greasy and that one cup of ketchup wasn’t nearly enough.

The girl I’m with is getting more drunk, and I wonder why I thought Sangria was anything other than fruity wine. I ordered a pitcher of it. Wine, I was always fairly sure, came in bottles. Still, my sips have gotten smaller over the course of the evening, and hers have become slurps. Gulps. Barely a hundred pounds, this girl, and it’s hitting her hard. The conversation has devolved into status updates and whining exclamations.

I think about my visit to Coney Island, and compare it to the last two times I went to the beach. In Chicago, the sand was wet and flat, the people bunched together according to ethnicity. There’s a carnival atmosphere. Vendors scoot through, children and adults play abridged versions of baseball and soccer on improvised fields the size of tennis courts.

I stand there in pants and a sweatshirt, hoping nobody looks at you. Comes up to me and asks, in a voice I can barely hear, “why are you here?” But why shouldn’t I be here?

I stand around a minute or two more, until the nervous knot in your gut punches your ribcage, and then you leave. Pull the bike off the fence and ride home, angry at yourself for letting anyone get the best of you.

I think about the time before that, in Michigan. I got lost in the woods on the other side of the dune. I spent hours running up and down yelling for my dad while both of us tried to figure a way to find each other from opposite ends of a telephone call.

I sweat through my clothes, and later, as I walk along the shoreline with my shoes off I’m glad you got lost. It was an adventure to wonder, even for a moment, if you might never find a way out. If the only way I’d ever talk to anyone again was on a dying phone.

“He’s gone,” the police would tell my parents, “but at least you can say goodbye. Be glad. He might survive out there, but he’ll never find his way out, and we’ll never find our way in.”

“Hurry it up,” the cop says, “I’ve only got one bar of battery left, and I want to save it for later.”

The sand on Lake Michigan beaches squeaks under our feet like a party of dead mice as you walk.

My father tells you about an idea he has for a movie, where a serial killer has started killing all the movie stars, and you discuss how much you’d have to pay Bruce Willis to play himself as the one who discovers the plot and must overcome the fact that he’s simply an actor.

I tell him it’s a good idea.

That was in Michigan.

In New York we wait for another train. It’s the same every time. People look at us, but more often they look away. Nobody smiles.

A man dances and snaps his fingers to an imaginary beat, bobbing his head to music you can’t hear. He has no headphones, but he’s enjoying himself, and I'm jealous.

The train comes, but it’s not ours. A woman gets on, skittishly attempts to exit, but the door closes and she is resigned to whatever fate the tracks bring her. Across the tracks, a man sits by himself, reading propaganda.

In Detroit I’ll run out of money. I won’t have my credit card. Chicago will seem so much further than it does even now, at Sputnik, with the girl, both of us drunk on Sangria. I don’t know this yet.

Tonight, intact with possibility, is all there is.

Pay what you want

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