A SHORT UPDATED HISTORY OF THE EVER POPULAR BELIEF IN MAGIC
I still have the tablecloth. The red & white checkered tic-tac-doe tablecloth is the only thing I ever held on to. I decided to keep it, so years later I could remember the magical night that sealed our fate.
We were meeting at a Mexican restaurant that had been our favorite bad Mexican restaurant in New York before the yups discovered it, and it became El LameO. In the beginning it had such sad-sad salsa, friends. And gloppy not chunky guac that was so creamy and thick with white bread schmaltz it must’ve been blended canned jalapeños with a jar of Miracle Whip to get its texture. But cheese even Velveeta-wouldn’tve-claimed was why the place was so popular. That and the prices. Not too high, but not so low that you suspected they were stuffing the ever popular California burritos with dog, like all us amigos who had done major time south of the border believed they did in real Mexican restaurants.
Jesse and I’d been separated almost a year, but after the first couple of months I completely lost the linear narrative thread of time. All I could do was drink beer, smoke grass and swim in pain. And not a wave of it either, but a whole fucking ocean I was sure I’d never get across. But for one reason or another, every day I managed to keep going, though by this time I had no hope of ever spotting land on the horizon again.
Before I could even say a word, she went into a diatribe about what a bad husband I was (she actually used that phrase — a loop from her parents failed marriage), then started screaming and repeating there’s no magic left in our marriage so many times in a row it sounded like a broken record — though what it actually must have been was a magical mantra that somehow totally froze the entire yup packed restaurant like everyone was in one of those old E.F. Hutton commercials.
As she obliviously barked on, I looked out the corner of my eye to see if everyone was staring at us. But everyone else was totally frozen in time. I mean, they weren’t talking or eating or even sucking up on the twofer Jimmy Buffett frozen Margaritvilles the restaurant served along with the-ever-popular-dinner-special. They were all completely stuck in mid chew, or suck, as they case may be — trapped in the unconscious flytrap of our time warp. Even today I like the way that phrase sounds — our time warp. We didn’t have much left, but we did have this absolutely beautiful time warp that froze a whole restaurant in mid chew, or suck, as the case may be. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what the fuck magic is. The whole scene felt right out of Carlos Castaneda to me – even though I admit it was on the low end of the curve, barely able to turn A Yaqui Way Of Knowledge into A Yuppie Way Of Carnage. Still. . .
She was wailing on such a high vibrational frequency not even the waitress — “Hi, my name is Katja.” — could stop her when she broke in with a litany of the night’s specials, or came back and refilled the sickly sweet twofer Jimmy Buffett Margaritsvilles before laying out the-ever-popular-dinner-special on the red and white checkered tic-tac-doe tablecloth. And then came back all through the meal with “on the house” appetizers, we had never been served before.
All I knew was I wanted an ice cold brewsky. But I knew if I ordered one, she’d go off on me for being a lush. For some reason I’ve never been able to figure out, she didn’t want me to enjoy myself. Though for some even more bizarre reason, I always thought that that conceit was aimed more at her father than me. I’d read enough psychology to understand her not wanting to make her father happy, but did she really have to transfer her revenge on him to me? It seemed like one of those Zen koans I’d have to solve if I didn’t want to have to face the same question all over again next life. If indeed there was one.
As she raged on, I was having some serious doubts about the whole cosmic mahgilla, though I’ve got to admit I started to get turned on anyway — as sick as that sounds. What can I say? Sex was always on a much more magical plain when we were breaking up than when we were together. That was a clue to solving the koan, but I wasn’t sure where to go from there, unless it had something to do with something I read somewhere about opposites being attracted to each other, though they didn’t necessarily really like each other. In fact, according to some Doctor-Professor I had read somewhere, sometime, it was not only quite possible, but quite probable that we were more likely to fall in-love with our enemies than our allies. This, according to this Doctor-Professor, was some sort of law of thermodynamics or quantum mechanics. Like: Is it better to live the passionless life in the passionate way, than to live the passionate life in the passionless way?
I was not about to debate this subject, even with myself. And certainly not going to attempt to share it with her while staring down at the red & white checkered tic-tac-doe tablecloth, and trying to grasp the economics of her charges against me. At the top of the list, of course, was the-ever-popular-money. I had flunked the-ever-popular-money. And apparently sex too; I could see it in her eyes that she thought I was some kind of dirty lowlife perv. On top of that, she didn’t believe I was paying attention to what she was saying. Over and over, she repeated ” I want to get on with my life,” as if what was happening at the moment was my life, and patently separate from her cliche.
Years later, I admit, the debate would occupy so much space I would have to go meditate on a metaphor on top of a mantra about a mountain, or a mole hill, or something that wasn’t quite what the alliteration seemed it was. But on the night in question, I was more focused on trying to find a way to bring the magic back into our marriage before the whole damn thing dissolved along with the untouched ever-popular-dinner-special sitting in front of me. Up to that point I had spent a lifetime of pulling rabbits that weren’t rabbits out of hats that weren’t hats, so I knew there had to be something I had up my sleeve to save the day before it permanently turned into night.
I can still remember the moment I decided to pull the red & white checkered tic-tac-doe tablecloth out from under the-ever-popular-dinner-special. It may now be considered a right of passage by the self-satisfied yups who adopted my move as a nightly ritual in what was once my favorite bad Mexican restaurant in New York, but at the time I did what I did I was genuinely desperate. The question I asked myself before I made my move was, Would my feat qualify as magic in the eyes and heart of the beholder sitting across from me? Or would she ignore the best tangent to catharsis I could conjure up in order to change some pre-scripted bad karmic scenario out to end our us?
If you feel free enough to use your imaginations you can picture what happened much more clearly than I care to describe the WHOOSH of the tablecloth at the exact moment the-ever-popular-dinner-special felt the earth move beneath it.
I would like to tell you I considered the consequences of my actions before I made my move, but the truth is I am ruled by instinct, not logic. I did what I could do at the moment I recognized an opening. And oh yes, just to satisfy students of this sweet science’s appetite for insight, I could see what would happen if I failed long before I failed, but I didn’t believe that would ever happen.
Such is youth.
All these years later I have to admit I don’t know much, but I do know that it’s a fine line between courage and stupidity, and whether we fail or succeed in life has little to do with either.
I believed that with all my heart then. I still believe that with all my heart now, though I must admit that time and the disintegration of cultural values have not only changed all our definitions, but chipped away at the belief system that holds together what we used to call the fine art of magic.
Whether it was this magic that brought Jesse and I together or ripped us apart, or this magic that brought Katja and I together, or ripped us apart, I’m not sure, but I know there was real magic there that night. You just couldn’t see it. And neither could they. Which is why, no matter how strong the magic, you can’t go back after you say goodbye, unless goodbye doesn’t really mean goodbye, but you’ll see me again next life . . . unless I see you first.
© 2016 Mike Golden
Originally published in Melt #13, 2002