to Hell
life in
New York City
by Eric Gillin



Went out for a drink last night to unwind from a long day, which didn't go as well as planned. I'd gotten some unpleasant email from two readers who felt my news updates crossed a line. At first, I felt defensive about the critique; a reflexive defensiveness all creators have before they realize their work is not so good. I'm sure the good doctors Frankenstein and Jekyll would understand.

I was a tad despondent, while gently rocking on the N train uptown towards home. The realization that my creation was a monster crept in. Now I was disappointed in myself because I'd let my exuberance for creative wording sideswipe me from the task of delivering news. I wasn't a wreck, though, and I'm not a recluse. I went to clear my head at the local bar, toting my pen and paper to work on some poems and doodle.

"One gin and tonic," I mutter at the barkeep, a gorgeous, rail-thin, blond creature speckled with tattoos. Across her back, just above the shoulder blades, one reads, "Fireball."

She complies and we chat until she is summoned elsewhere. I finish half my drink and begin scribbling furiously. It helps me forget the day and the bartender, who's cheating on me with every other so-called customer.

"She hands me cigarettes."

I lose 45 minutes to the muse and emerge from my quiet intensity with three rather nice poems, an idea for the epic plot of my long-form prose about Gotham and a strange doodle. A stirring next to me broke the quiet.

"Rustle, rustle," his pants said to the stool. His mouth said, "Kin Ay gat a Bahss, plees?" in some strange accent. I furiously waved at the bartender to get a Rheingold Extra Dry, which is $2 a bottle and not awful. I guess she's not in love with me yet.

A third person joined us on the edge of the bar, a young lady, with a glowing pen and a stack of paper. "Do you smoke?" she asked us. "Oh, hell yeah!" I shout over the music, enthusiastically enough that the bartender's face flipped to get a look. I knew what was coming. Free cigarettes. All I have to do is fill out a form while drinking in a dark bar and I get a free pack of butts. "Camel Lights! Camel Lights!" I keep screaming until she hands me the glowing pen to sign the paper certifying that I am in fact a smoker.

She hands me cigarettes.



Happily, I lit another cigarette, just to prove to the lady that I was, in fact, a smoker of Camels and a heavy one at that. She, much like my bartender, didn't seem impressed and went off with some other guys who probably smoked menthols.

Then I notice the guy next to me. He's bald, shaved fuzzy bald, with an earring like pirates wear in one ear. His face is lean, not emaciated and he is wearing an iridescent red shirt, which still shone brightly in the shadows.

"Haylo, Ay noteez you birdday eez may birdday!" he shouted, waving and pointing at my driver's license, newly returned by the cigarette lady, who was now probably dancing on tabletops in front of other guys with my bartender serving up free Rheingolds and Camels.

"What?" I ask.

"You birdday eez may birdday! You eyedee! Awgist one!"

"It's a treasure hunt with a broken compass."

Apparently, the gentleman next to me is my twin. Separated by a decade, with him on the upper end, but twins nonetheless. For the sake of readability, the "what" uttered above and the accent will no longer be used. Just understand that talking to foreigners in a loud smoky bar is not easy and add "whats" and "huhs" at your own free will. I will use "what" once more, but it's for a reason.

"What are the odds?" <sarcasm> "What's your name?" <more sincere>


"I'm Eric. Uhh, what do you do?"

"I'm an animator. I live Hollywood come here to do Broadway. I work on "Grease" and do animations in Hollywood. I do casting for Broadway. I live in Queens."

Never before have I heard "Queens" listed as something one did. I probably never will again. I explain what I do and continue pumping him for information. It's fun. It's a treasure hunt with a broken compass.

I went ahead asked the money question. "Where are you from?"

"Valencia. Espain. I'm from Valencia in Espain. I've been here since 1992 on a Visa."

Immigration and Naturalization Services may not be too keen on this man's seven years in America. I keep asking questions.

"I was student and now I work and do whatever I want. I'm on art Visa (art Visa?) and I do animation and then my bag got stolen two years ago from my locker in school and they took my money and passport and I was in big trouble. I go to immigration and they fix me up and now I have no money, so I work and make some. My grandmother wants me to come home so she can give me money because she doesn't want to send it. So I have to go there and I don't want to because I am here."



Somehow, after more beers and the fact that the bartender was now sending the barback over to grab me beers, despite my heavy tipping, we began talking about mortality and opinions on death and dying. Keep in mind, as difficult as talking to foreigners in a loud and smoky bar is, talking to them about death is even tougher. And if you're waiting for the "what," then wait no more.

"I don't feel like death is that scary. I mean, when death comes for me I don't get a vote, you know?" I say, offering my wise insight.

"No!" he says in a firm, loud, clear voice. It's one of the few things I really understood the first time. "Death does not choose you. You choose death. I know. If I had a gun right here in my pants and I pull it out and shoot at you in the face and kill you. You have choice. You can choose no to die! I did. I did! I choose to live and that's why America. That's why no Valencia. That's why animation and Broadway. When I was you age, 22, I got in an automobile accident. My friend, the driver was killed and blood was all over the car..."

"He points to a light scar seven inches long."






Anyone creeped out yet? Hot blooded Spaniard getting worked up about death and mentioning murders to a short analytical Jew more interested in a shiksa barkeep? I'm thinking, "How long until he snaps?"

"So my head hits through the windshield and I get cut here." He points to a light scar seven inches long from his right widow's peak straight back to the top of the skull. His short hair hides it well. "And the blood is squirt squirt squirt." He pantomines blood pushing from his head. "And I feel this mushy and I'm pushing my brains back into my head and the death is there but I push! I push! I put them back in! Myself! And then the hospital comes and I'm in coma for a while and when I wake up... Platinum plate in my head." He raps his skull. "Pla-teeen-uuum!"



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