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A Whiter Shade of Pale

by Rudy Martinez

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I was too late.

Earlier in the afternoon, as the Senate was voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, I was sitting at the bar at work, having just clocked out of yet another demoralizing and whirlwind shift. To my right sat a young man, of distant Russian descent, an eight-year-old if I had to guess, who kept bugging me about the Pokémon he was drawing. It was an interesting juxtaposition, witnessing yet another political earthquake occurring in real-time as some kid, not yet awake to the ways of the world, sought my companionship. After the “score” 50-48 forever entrenched itself into my consciousness, my head found itself within my hands, and my young friend knew that our conversation was over.

MSNBC kept cutting to protesters gathered in Washington D.C., the capital of Decay.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of women and their allies expressing anger, confusion, betrayal, and utter disbelief as White Men mark yet another victory.

I began to wonder, as a reporter estimated that upwards of 200 protesters had been “detained,” how much longer we were going to stand in front of our crumbling institutions, helplessly staring, before delivering a final blow.

Less than an hour later, I found myself at a bar with three friends who double as co-workers: Three straight White Men. I was mostly quiet, not wanting to engage in conversations about drunken shenanigans or venues in Atlanta. I didn’t have the heart to simply get up and leave. “Look, y’all. This isn’t a personal affront, but I can’t find it within me to be around straight White Men today—I just can’t.” That’s all it would’ve taken, 24 words. But, I sat there. I had three drinks and allowed myself to laugh a handful of times, occasionally looking off into the distance and wondering where people were gathering to express their outrage. In the hours before I arrived in New York, I wrote about finally being able to live in the Center of the Known Universe, a place where people reacted to the news as it was happening by gathering in public places. This what you’re supposed to do after important events, go outside to ponder with others—I learned that from a Philip Roth book.

One of my friends invited everyone back to his place in Crown Heights to keep drinking. I wanted to go to Washington or Union Square. Maybe I could catch the tail end of the outrage. Maybe I could shed myself of an unbearable feeling of solitude by partaking in the Public Sphere, if only for a few minutes.

I was too late.

When I arrived at Union Square, the only evidence of outrage that remained were a handful of colorful signs and two policemen. Now that I think of it, the two policemen may have just been on regular duty. I smoked a cigarette and decided I wanted to head home, but the L was shut down—soon it’ll shut down for 15 months. So, I walked toward Union Square, hoping that the outrage emanating from NYU would last through the night. I don’t know why I got lost: It could’ve been the slight buzz, cognitive dissonance, or the very distracting need to take a piss, but it took me 40 minutes to reach Union Square. So it goes. During my 40-minute trek, I realized how inept I still was in regard to getting around the City, and I grew increasingly frustrated at the countless bars and restaurants full of affluent New Yorkers watching College Football, drinking $20 cocktails while tipping less than 20%.

A friend tells me that I do know my way around the city, but there’s a part of me, conspiring on a deep and discreet plane, that is purposefully leading me in the wrong direction. This conspirator wants to tire me out, because he’s convinced that the City isn’t where I’m supposed to be. I like this theory, but I don’t have the time necessary to self-reflect on its validity.

There weren’t abandoned signs at Union Square. Instead, the usual roster of students, hustlers, freaks, and couples went about their night. Silhouettes kissed and passed blunts as I sat and smoked, uncomfortable in my own body, filled with guilt for reasons simultaneously ludicrous and justified, listening to Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

“Always has been, always will be, too late.”

My friends are still drinking, but I am tired.

The man on the unicycle at Union Square, the one who juggles for kids and is paid by parents, has never dropped his bowling pins.

Not in front of me, at least.

Every time I ride the train home, I realize the ubiquity of self-imposed isolation. I occasionally participate, if only for a few minutes.

Brett Kavanaugh is 53 years old and sometimes run 5Ks. The Supreme Court’s website has yet to attach a photo to his short biography.

“…took his seat on October 6, 2018.” And so on.

“…born in Washington D.C., on February 12, 1965.” The personification of ideological purity.

It doesn’t matter that mid-terms are in a month. Whether the “Blue Wave” or the “Brett Bump” prove to be the stronger force of unnatural and guttural origin, I simply don’t care.

Wait.

I do care.

Right?

At the end of Darren Aronofsky’s Pi (1998), our “hero,” he of torturously brilliant mathematical “skill,” gives himself a lobotomy. Like in that Ramones song.

Wait.

I do care.

Right?

A vain and desperate man sits at the edge of a bed in a hotel room fifty years ago. He is watching TV. Scenes of war, both at home and abroad, prove to be incessant. “I think I’m having a nervous breakdown.” The hotel is somewhere in the Midwest.

Wait.

I do care.

Right?

Earlier today, I wondered why my young friend preferred Venice to Minsk.

I am tired.

Right?

It’s two years ago. Election night. I’m drunk, and I call my mother to tell her that this is no longer a country “for us.” How naïve.

I cared then.

When I got home a couple of hours ago that I realized I have officially been in New York for four months. I could’ve celebrated or done something I would’ve done anyway and deemed it a celebration, but I was too late.