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BASS 1998; Harlem, 2005

This summer, all summer, shootings have been on the rise. I am working on vignettes about the present. But also, I think about Bob Owens all the time.

Our last hug as I left the city in 2009, presumably forever. How I pulled back after squeezing tight to ask, “What the hell is wrong? You’re skin and bones.” Did he actually say he couldn’t hide anything from me? Did we joke around? Or did we immediately start talking about his impending death? Did I give him grief for refusing treatment before or after I told him I loved him? Did I tell him I loved him?

This summer, I’m at a table and everyone is playing spades. They ask me who won. Even if I had paid attention, I’m busy thinking about dancing to soft jazz with Tall Sam on a late evening in central Harlem, 2005. No one at that party knew I could dance. Tall Sam may be the only person I have ever let lead. He is such a good dancer.

Earlier this summer, I told the story about crashing D’s birthday party in 2014. We threw A in a cab before he could make a scene. It took we three surprise guests combined to convince him to peacefully leave. He only threatened to fight us. He actually tried to fight the cabbie. Even grown up and living all over the world, when we come home we find our same childish selves.

After I danced with Tall Sam, I went to the bathroom. I found a gun on the hamper. Found implies I was looking for something. Really, I sat on the toilet and said, “Oh fuck.”

I still don’t remember if the gun was there before I gave A $5 or after. Sometimes I tell this story like it’s my fault. Sometimes I tell it like I was trying to prevent something. The story is almost always about finding myself in a situation. I open the play and start reading, hoping I don’t see Chekhov’s gun. Maybe someone else hopes to see it. Bless their wild selves with a thousand lives.

I just finished reading Karen Marron’s new book BASS 1998: Stories. She also remembers that night in 2005. I remember talking to my partner about the hamper with the gun and running into the night. I remember A being red faced and angry; Bob Owens being all limbs. Karen remembers me.

How beautiful is it to unexpectedly find another angle to a story you’ve been revisiting as you watch your home turn wild again? As the world flails all around us, half a world from each other, we find ourselves remembering the various perspectives of the same night.

Bob Owens always had a vodka and coffee on his bike ride to work. He’d ride along the Hudson from Harlem to Union Square. He picked up a bacon, egg and cheese at the bodega down the street from the bookstore. He’d come in and work the shelves in the history section, listening to NPR while all the kids talked about whatever we kids talked about. I’d sneak over by him to ask him things. I have no idea what any of my questions were. I do remember how his breath smelled. The way he’d tell me the state of the world with tiny bits of egg and bread adding emphasis.

His wild was the stuff of legends. I’m still waiting for someone to finish compiling the recordings of him during his last month.

While we’re waiting, read Karen’s book. It’s short and it has a nice kick. Here’s a gem.

“It is so easy to let yourself go. To keep it from happening, you have to spend you whole life holding on to yourself. You would think that if you let yourself go you would float away, untethered. But people who let themselves go have no fear of this because so much binds them to the ground. So much they could not rise an inch above it, even if they wanted to do that more than anything in the world.”

Think of Bob Owens and all the wild youth he inspired. If you’re reading this and you have a Bob Owens story, tell someone who didn’t know him. If you’re inclined, add something in the comments; give his ghost new life to guide this new wild.

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