To be on the road at eighteen was like looking at life through some soft focus lens. Add Peter Pan Bus Lines to my weird little dream, and life just seemed more than perfect and more than appropriate; I mean, it was the cheapest way I’d found to go from Connecticut to New York and then to Chicago. I was off to see this prospective art school there, but more so, it was an easy way out; one of many strange escapes I’d taken as both an aimless teenager, and or a somewhat less than well planned out young man.
My Gus Van Sant themed bus cruise really was the best I could’ve done for myself at the time. I mean, me, all by my lonesome when I had no car, nor job, and very little money to my name? I guess the cheap bus ride was the best/only way to get out of my formerly Nowheresville suburban Connecticut life that soon became so old hat that, I’d take off on any bus to nearly any growing, shiny urban Mecca of my liking, for nearly any reason.
Unfortunately today, my trip was mostly over because I’d run out of both money and a place to stay, so it was only my own inevitability that I was going back to a Connecticut-like version of hell, via nowheresville.
My last few ounces of freedom were only when I’d just arrived in New York’s famed and (yes, Jim Carroll was right) smelly Port Authority around Midnight. It was only after a seemingly endless 24-hour plus ride back from Chicago to New York. None of my wild semi-random trip to investigate art school life had went as as I’d planned; regardless of that, I still enjoyed all of it: those shitty bus seats, living on bags of chips and recalling those stolen hotel vodka nips, that low rent hotel, and then that ill-prepared Art School Admissions Advisor, who was both great and terrible all at once. At least I’d recorded it all in my little brown journal and reviewed while inside that piss-smelling station.
And for a few minutes I thought again that maybe I’d just stay right here in this cruddy station and be homeless, which kind of seemed like a nicer alternative than to deal with the violent dysfunction that awaited me at the every end of my trip at the end of this fucking shit family rainbow. Truth be told, if it wasn’t such a cold Spring, I might’ve considered staying on the streets of New York and or somewhere else even less interesting.
As our wobbly yet economical ride finally entered that monolithic gray stone bus and train station I sat up to experience those gray walls and that carbon monoxide-filled station air all over again. I’d have to switch buses again which meant I’d switch to another dust-caked red, orange, and blue striped bus with warn interiors made of red velvet seats. Or again, I could just stay right here, in such a smelly steel and stone station with all of the other lost boys and girls. Sometimes life’s choices didn’t really feel like choices, but more just the lesser of a couple of lame evils. Either way I’d just have to patiently wait around, smoking cigarettes, blasting my walkman and scribbling in my journal, waiting for a newer yet equally disappointing, gassed up Peter Pan bus to come to take me away.
So, while my free time eked away from me, I took the escalator upstairs and scoped out my limited options for New York that might feed for just 3 dollars. Got myself a soft pretzel and leaned up against the outside walls and enjoyed the vibes of New York’s romantically yet still seedy and weird 90s skyline.
Random people of course had panhandled me, until they realized that they probably had a lot more money than me. I smoked a few Kools and watched the varied people come and go: Not some commuter crowd, but more so those night people: street types, rent boys, and sexy street walking types in high heels.
Some guy tried to sell me cheap Broadway Show tickets until he gave me a closer look. I finished my pretzel up just as some transit authority cops stepped up to me to tell me that I couldn’t really ‘loiter’ (or as Pigs like him called it some sort of: semi-runaway please help me solicitation in exchange for monetary ‘help’). He questioned my ID, and made sure I wasn’t some sort of underage runaway (not that he’d really do anything anyways) and then told me:
“In or Out buddy.”
I was made to show him my transfer bus ticket and as he pointed out that I’d missed my transfer bus to CT and it almost felt like he’d gotten off on making me panic, while he then told me in due time that another shitty bus would be coming along soon enough. He walked me to the escalator and then wandered off to bother someone else. Downstairs, I went off to quickly and carefully use the Port Authority bathroom; as even in suburban Connecticut I’d heard about those NY Port Authority bathroom stall stories again all of that was mostly via Jim Carroll.
At that time, I didn’t know shit, but at least I hadn’t forgotten my last bus trip lessons I’d learned only a few months ago in Massachusetts; some hell night that was best saved for another decade or so in and out my therapist’s office and various psyche wards; so that dark of the soul was with a rather complicated and misunderstood creature.
For now, I’d just be in the now of Manhattan, and deny any such trauma. I’d just enjoy that cold and beautiful night coming to an end in NY. So now, it was just me and my personal guard up; I had some crapy Swiss Army knife unhooked and in my pocket. Damage or not; me and my dull blade were surly going to make sure that no one was gonna fuck with me like they did poor ole’ Catholic Boy Jim. I took a long piss inside a stall and told whoever it was that had followed me in and or was knocking on my door to please go take a number somewhere else.
After I zipped up and shook off the paranoia off me and my cock; and went and washed my face, my hands. I then smelled my armpits which weren’t exactly smelling so great. I washed up a bit more and then smacked my own tired face to help keep awake.
It was in that mirror that I’d looked back at myself and saw it; the truth of my current scene-fucked but not quite ballsy enough to go wander off and live in Central Park like some off kilter Disney knock off movie, but still not yet ready to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.
After I dried my face off and left the bathroom, I made my way back down the stairs and over to terminal 10-B and grabbed myself a seat on the chilly concrete ground in order to fully enjoy my layover in hell.
A few minutes into a second cig was when I first saw them: this beautiful horror-show couple. Both of them, were oh so very over-excited and skinny: He had jet black hair and might’ve been in his early-30s, and she had bleached blonde and in her mid 20s. She was equally if not a bit more skinny than he was, like some an overtired skeleton punk rocker; and somehow from that; the two hypnotized me. I let my NIN Broken album play and blast into my ears:
(Remember that?) It was this remixed album of Pretty Hate Machine. It was as if Trent Reznor’s dark and moody music seemed to compliment the couple’s actions and motions quite nicely, but after a short time-I just had to know what they were saying to each other.
I mean it was obvious that they were angry by the way the way they moved, shook their arms and danced around each other. I got as close as I could while others stepped away from them I stepped closer at they shouted at each other; arguing about something that was a some sort of mystery. As I eavesdropped I found out it was about whose “missing” crack pipe it really was. The young woman seemed to notice a teenage me watching her and then winked at me, which prompted the man to turn over to me and to tell me to "mind my own fucking business" and so, like a the skinny suburban mouse that I was-I apologized and backed off into the surrounding crowd.
Sooner than later that dark conversation got louder and louder and it all seemed to go nowhere but down, down below the stale smokey air that surrounded us. I nervously lit another smoke while watching them.
I had to admit that despite it all there was this sort of deep romance to the two of them and at time, the only literary reference I could’ve thought of was that of some sort of drug addled version of Romeo and Juliet.
As I inhaled my menthol cig, I wondered what these two fuck-ups had in-between each other? Was it love? Or just a mutual hatred of being alone? Or maybe it was just nicer to waste away with company?
Then again, I thought to myself: If they were some sort of normal, boring jerk-wad couple would I still have wanted to watch them? Probably so, as even at my own 18-knew nothing about love, nor what a real relationship was. I mean who knew about love anyways?
Besides all of that, the real only thing I’d actually figured out of these two weird and wiry lovers, was that: one of them had either lost some score of crack or maybe had secretly smoked it up and then just lied about losing that said crack-pipe; your typical 90s romantics gone awry, and as their moments of conflict moved along, they took longer and longer pauses to kiss and or light each other’s cigarettes while they also subtly and not so passive-aggressively debated with each other about the merits of either ‘going all the way to Las Vegas’ on some Greyhound bus for what sounded like a honeymoon, or just ‘staying the fuck right here.’
As I watched and listened in: my time and theirs seemed to move slower and slower as they imploded in on each other as he repeated again:
“It’s gonna be Vegas or you can stay here, for fucking ever!”
It was from that phrase in which I pictured them forever stuck inside that concrete gray bus station; forever drinking out of small brown paper bags, getting high via glass pipes and or panhandling for just enough money to keep them smiling or at least just numb and high.
I’d thought that maybe one day soon after that maybe she’d probably have some sort of miscarriage, and then maybe he’d do some jail time for causing it, and then; they’d go right back to it; right back to that magic and timeless corner of Port Authority while getting older, more wrinkly and or even gray haired-as if their years turned into seconds and or minutes.
Within a half hour, that skinny manic man’s voice got so loud that some chubby silver-badged train cop came up and broke it all up, and in two minute or less those cracked-up lovers became as quiet and as complacent as they could be, until that same cop walked away from them.
By that time, it was my very very last chance for that last early morning bus to Connecticut that had come and I’d decided to just go away and back to hell.
And no, that couple didn’t influence my choice to go, but I did get this kind of an unknown sadness in that, I just wasn’t able to watch; whatever it was that had happened to those leftover lovers and I’d just have to settle for my own memories of this and or just recall my dear old dad’s drunken rants at my then stoic and withstanding mother’s tolerance as a substitute form of deranged love and entertainment as they too had already separated only to get divorced soon right afterwards.
And so, as my petrol-infused chariot pulled away, I wanted to see those two drug addled lovers hug it out or something else so profound, but that never really happened, so I’d just have to settle for imagining their shouts into the chalky air:
“O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou crackpipe? Deny ye stole it and refuse my name, you fucking piece of nothing?”
And then he went and said: “It is not here-Death be my Father.”
“We will never be Capulets. We will never leave here.”
And then like theatrical magic those two would then swallow that poisoned wine over and over again, until it simply killed them-and or did something else as equally important to them. And as I looked out into that glimmering, and hopeful yet hopeless New York night; I thought to myself that it was all so very sad, yet still held some sort of small thimble of hope somewhere in there alongside that danger and the weariness that all time held for us.
Every now and then, I escape my LA home and I somehow wind up in New York, and when I’m in the city, I’m tempted to go look for that loveless yet loving, silly flightless birds and imagine them as they were; just so eternally lip-locked and or squawking at each other like some shadow play stuck inside of some fragile yet never ending wormhole of space and time.
Carmelo Valone is an author, artist, and future therapist.