Friday, October 13, 2006

October Rain and the Saddest Words In The Language 

It’s only Wednesday, which means it’s too early in the week to be out this late at night. Lately I’ve been having to get up at the same time as all the human beings so keeping these zombie hours is getting a bit rough. But the clock on my phone keeps pushing the numbers after the 3 higher and higher. It’s 3:15. And then it’s 3:22. And now it’s 3:43.

I step outside the bar for a smoke. A long avenue cutting down through the lower east side toward the end of Manhattan stretches out in front of me. The streets are slick with rain and a few light drops are still falling. The tops of the trees look yellow under the street lights but I’m not sure if they’ve changed with the season or it’s just the lighting. I’m sure there’s a full moon in the sky somewhere behind those clouds but that’s a secret kept from those of us whose vantage point is from the ground up.

A young woman who I had been speaking to in the bar follows me outside. She’s got long, very straight blonde hair and excited eyes. She had been drinking a vodka and soda, with an extra lime thrown in. I couldn’t remember what we were talking about but I think it had to do with why I was wearing a suit at half past three in the morning. I told it wasn’t an interesting story because it wasn’t. And that’s why I’m not telling you either.

She lights her cigarette off of the end of mine and starts talking.

“So in this book I’m reading there’s a scene where two characters are talking, and a group of others are listening. It’s like a salon or something. And one of them asks the other, ‘What are the three saddest words in the English language?’” she says.

She’s talking very fast. Too fast for this late into the night. There’s too much energy and excitement in this girl for a rainy October night. I imagine what it would be like to take her home. And then I imagine what it would be like to try to fall asleep afterwards while she chattered away into the dawn. I decide we would definitely be taking separate cabs home from this place.

“So the guy thinks for a while,” she says. “And then he replies, ‘I give up.’ It’s brilliant. At first everyone thinks he doesn’t know the answer. And then they realize that is his answer. It strikes them as profound. Surrender is the ultimate heart-break.”

I nod. I’m not sure now if she is trying to seduce me or trying to convince me to seduce her. Or just trying to tell me something I need to know about the world. I hope it’s not the last one. On nights like this I feel like I already know too much about the world.

“But then the guy who asks the question shakes his head. ‘I’m afraid you are wrong,’ he says. ‘The three saddest words are What If?’ What breaks our hearts the most, what keeps us up at night, are the things we never tried,” she says.

She’s right, of course. I discovered long ago that embarrassment usually passed with the hangover but regret over lost opportunities could last for years. Maybe a life time. It’s a lesson I don’t like to think about much because it reminds me of those lost opportunities all over again.

There’s no doubt now that she’s trying to seduce me. Who talks about lost opportunities to a stranger outside a bar at quarter to four in the morning unless they want to spend the night with them? I wonder what I can say back to her.

“That’s impossible,” I say. “What If is only two words. Those might be sad words but they aren’t the three saddest. You should burn that book and pretend you never read it.”

I flick my cigarette out into the middle of the wet avenue, turn my collar up against the rain and head off home for one of my last nights living in Manhattan.