I am so glad the cool, old places of Denver are being torn down. The cold water flat in the river basin, near the train yards, where Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg made a pledge of total honesty to each other. That dive bar Tom Waits sings about in “Nighthawk Postcards” and “Drunk on the Moon,” is now an oyster bar. The all-night coffee shop where lil’ Pete would play piano and sing bawdy sailor songs:
“Nothing could be finer than taste of your ver-gina in the mooorning.
Nothing could be sweeter than your lips around my peter in the mooorning.’”
This has been torn down too.
I am glad those places are gone. Those places we used to frequent when we were together. Those places where our memories are worn into the naugahyde booths, our stories carved into the oiled bar-tops of a once sleepy city that is now growing like mold, pulling nutrients from the Denver decay that has been enriched by the blood, sweat and tears of a thousand previous inhabitants, who eventually laid down their pen and paintbrush to die the most talented unknowns of their generation.
Good riddance, old Denver. You were a rotten, stinking twerp of a city. A city people fled or flew over on their way to real cool cities. A city whose natives were so eager to be from somewhere else they would claim LA or NYC as their home, having only lived there a scant few years. A city whose soul is dark and complex like that beautiful goth girl you never approached because you knew she would be quickly bored with your basicness.
Thank god that Denver is being torn down. I am relieved to be no longer reminded of the countless nights she and I roamed it; two midwestern malcontents trying to prove (to whom?) our good times are as good as any good time. We spent our nights in the warehouses, under the viaducts, and posted up in dive bars of a city not seeking the approval of labels or networks. We never paid for a drink back then. There wasn’t an alley that didn’t know our passion.
I am so glad all the cool places are being torn down.
Now I can walk the streets free from painful nostalgia. I have no fond memories of that Patagonia store. We never drank martinis and kissed until I wore your lipstick in that Ramen restaurant. I now walk Denver as free as if I moved to a new city. The bright, happy faces I see, walking by with their trophy dogs, don’t remember a thing about us, or the old places we used to haunt. Denver is now clean and attractive. Gourmet. Sensible. Trendy. Safe. Active.
With my worn out boots, a thin paperback stuck in my back pocket, and a beat ass cardigan sweater with holes in the elbows, I reflect the old city, the city that smelled of creosote and dog food. I walk the rivers until they meet at the confluence, listening to the stories of betrayal and conquest that unfolded near these banks since the time when mastodons shared the prairie with infinite bison, stretching from the mountain base to the far reaching plains.
New Denver bests old Denver in so many ways. It has much better coffee. Reading a paperback and drinking coffee is still my favorite thing to do here, even if the coffee-shop is cold and precise like Scandinavia.
Clacktity, clack, clack— “What’s the Wi-Fi password?”
steeeam, hiss, gurgle, foam— “Oh it’s yirgacheffe”
clackity— “How do you spell that’”
foamy— “With two f’s”.
I should learn to be alone. I seem to always be in a relationship. I swing from one relationship to the other like crossing monkey bars. I never let go of the one I’m on until my hand is sure to grasp the next one. More than one friend has said to me, “You should learn to be alone.”
Should is a funny word. You should workout. You shouldn’t eat meat. You should pay attention to politics. You shouldn’t drink so much. You should learn to be alone. The word should reminds me of the word shall, but the word shall sounds like God or Moses or Abraham is giving a command. Maybe if the people who care about me were more commanding and said “You shall learn to be alone,” I’d be more likely to listen. Blowing off a ‘should statement’ is easy, like not paying a parking ticket in a state you don’t plan on returning to anytime soon. Blowing of a ‘shall statement’ takes conviction, like not standing up when the President of the United States walks into the room.
Marie is young (don’t ask) and new to the city, but she smokes Pall Malls, which makes her old Denver. Also, she doesn’t own a pair of sandals and has never been to the mountains. She came over one night after the bars closed. When I woke up she was reading the paperback next to my bed.
“Don’t worry. I didn’t lose your page,” she said softly.
“I wasn’t worried.” Her knees were tucked up under her chin with the quilt over them. “You want coffee?” I asked. “Yes please,” she said. The morning light was muted grey through the fabric of my blinds, her black hair in sharp contrast to her fair skin.
As I waited for the water to boil I turned on NPR, washed the dishes in my sink, and watered my sweet little orchids in bloom. She continued to read in bed. When the coffee was ready I took it to her.
“Want me to read to you?” I asked.
She looked up at me with espresso brown eyes, almost black.
“Can we take turns reading to each other?”
That was three months ago. She never left. I figure any person you live with--lover, friend or otherwise who allows you to perform your morning ritual uninterrupted--is worth inviting to stay. Plus she is a very positive person. She never talks shit on people. I love that perhaps most of all.
Although Marie hasn’t been in the city long she knows the good carnicerias, and Asian markets to shop in. Neither of us drives. We take public transportation up to Federal Boulevard and walk to the stores she knows. We break through the crusty snow banks, searching for black rice wine vinegar or fresh tamarind.
We stop into the dive bars tucked into early ‘70s strip malls for a vodka soda or whiskey ginger. ‘This bar is filled with sadness,’ Marie says about a place called Theo’s Gamble.
I look about the place. There are some old guys sitting on barstools staring at the TV, nursing pints of headless beer. The bartender, also an older guy, is arranging beer bottles in the cooler. The walls glow a cheerless yellow in the fading afternoon light. ‘Yeah, but look next to the cash register. See that poster board with the betting grid on it?’ She nods. ‘That’s for the people who come in here. The regulars. This is their place. I’d bet they’d even say they love it here. It may be a sad place, but it is really loved.”
Marie and I are on the same sleep schedule. We eat dinner, drink wine and then crash out early. We don’t fuck at night. Only in mid-afternoon. Mid-afternoon is the best time to have sex. You are not too tired, too drunk or too full from dinner to really get into it. Having afternoon sex is like when you had a free period from school and could go home, smoke weed, and fix yourself lunch. You feel like you are getting away with something while other schlubs are working away.
Marie feels everything deeply, which makes her a depressive person. There are lots of tears and needing to be alone. She talks to her sister daily. They bond on the misery of the world. It’s better she talks with her sister. Whenever she comes to me with her deepest woes I try to find a solution to the problem. She doesn’t want a solution, just a shoulder to cry on. I’m a problem solver to a fault.
It’s been three months since Marie moved in and about six months since I broke up with my ex. The Denver I operate in now is much different than the Denver that is being torn down. The Denver I am getting to know is old and crummy. I feel at home here. The stores have bulletproof glass and security bars. You can buy just one tire off a stack of tires, if you need just one tire. It smells of roasted chilies and exhaust fumes.
Legend has it the land that Denver city sprouts from is cursed. If you spend enough time here you witness all good things fall apart. The story of the curse begins on a hot day in the summer of 1858. Two brothers, both just arrived at the foot of the Rockies from an arduous trek across the plains from Georgia, dropped their packs at the nexus of the Cherry Creek and the South Platte River. They were on their way to California, to find their riches; they were both swept up with gold fever.
As they sat on the banks of the confluence and looked west toward the mighty wall of the Rocky Mountains, one brother spied a few glimmering flecks just beneath the surface of the water, pulled out his equipment and began to pan. Within a few hours he had filled a small glass vile with gold flecks that he swirled in front of his brother’s face. His brother had panned but without the same luck. His vile remained empty.
As the sun began to set and whiskey was tossed back, feelings of greed and inadequacy soon overtook the gold-less brother. He became cantankerous, pounding on his soft spots, like only a brother can. The tension escalated until the gold-rich brother drew back his Colt single actions six-shooter and unloaded every single bullet into the torso of his brother leaving him to rot on the banks of the conjoining rivers. His brother’s pierced body oozed vital fluid which formed a thin tributary as it coursed through the sandy banks of the confluence toward the swirling waters of the two rivers.
They say the brutal fratricide, set off a curse which reversed the flow of the rivers. Instead of two rivers blending together at the point of the confluence to make one river, the one river was now split to make two. The curse, caused by greed, is to divide: According to those that passed through this land for many thousands of years before the brother’s desecrated it the curse is as follows: ‘may your families split in two, then your communities then your nations. When the division is complete and all has been lost the two will make one again and the bison will return to the prairie.’
I think about this curse as Marie and I wait at a stoplight on Alameda and Federal Blvd. ‘ Is all lost?’ I wonder. The light turns green. Crossing the street I see one of those hybrid trophy dogs. “Look it’s a labradoodle,” Marie says, her face expressionless as the dog pulls against its leash, trying to smell her crotch. The guy is holding the leash in one hand and with the other a to-go coffee.
‘Shit,’ I thought to myself, ‘I didn’t know there was a coffee shop around here.’