Tape Loop

The dude working at the anarchist bookstore was this dude I used to know.

"You recognize him?" C. said, and it took me a minute but I did. Jeff Lerner – not his real name, I'm not that terrible a person – the crust punk, good-looking but too dumb and not kind, the sort of dude who would have joined a frat if he hadn't found the pit at basement shows first. Me and C.'s friend's girlfriend, back then, had been the kind of train-hopping fire-breathing forty-drinking lady I'd aspired towards, until she ran off on our friend with Jeff Lerner, and Jeff Lerner was such an idiot I never thought too highly of the girlfriend after that. Jeff Lerner had looked almost exactly like someone else I was unsuccessfully and very unrequitedly in love with, and I'd briefly entertained the idea of pursuing Jeff Lerner as a poor substitute, but he was too awful even for that purpose. All of this was a million years ago, when I was a tiny baby hooliganing around with the circus, and Jeff Lerner tagged along with us everywhere. He had no skill other than walking while blackout drunk and no aspirations other than pestering the tolerance out of even the most benevolent among us, which was certainly not me; I remember once he got so ridiculous at one of our shows my ordinarily unflappable fire-juggling then-boyfriend hit him over the head with a frying pan without missing a beat. He woke up in the van on the way home, none the wiser and none the worse for wear, but after that we didn't let him come with us anymore.

I've known C. since even before then, since we were eighteen and big-eyed and dumb with the possibility of the world. He's one of the only people from that time who's stuck with me, in no small part because both of us dreamed the same dreams then and are making them happen now. When I come out here I stay at C.'s house and we go boating in the Arboretum and eat vegetables out of his garden and ride bikes along the Fremont Canal and watch movies projected on the wall in his backyard and eat ice cream, and it's like the best kind of summer camp because it's just our lives, just the breaks we take from doing more or less what we wanted to do all along. But no matter how far forward our lives take us they circle back endlessly in unexpected ways, crossing the same points and the same people again and again. "Like a tape loop," C. said in the car, on our way to swimming. We were in his van, bought very used from the Church of the Nazarene and with its logo emblazoned on both sides, and other drivers were double-taking as we passed them. We don't really look like church people.

At the lake C. and I and his girlfriend sat on the dock and put our feet in the water and watched a canoefull of three sunny-haired college girls in bikinis drift past us, two of them paddling desultorily and passing a joint and a beer back and forth. The third girl was sprawled out in the back of the canoe, blissed to immobility, her hands trailing through the lilypads. Those particular years of my life do not ever inspire in me any kind of nostalgia but something about that canoe of girls made me remember what it felt like to be very young and careless and full of summer, the bright sky overhead and all your life unfixed and wheeling. I wanted to toast them with my own beer but that seemed a little creepy so I kept it to myself. You can't help but salute that kind of attitude, though, or contact-high off what it felt like to have it. On my very best days I can find it again sometimes.

In the anarchist bookstore I brought my books to the counter and Jeff Lerner rang me up. "Dude," he said, holding aloft Deathless , "I like totally can't wait to read this." "Yeah," I said. He was looking right at me without a flicker of recognition. I prefer to think I'm a totally different person now than I was then, but that's not as true as I wish. A lot meaner and better clothes, a little leaner in the face, wrinkles at the corners of my eyes where they didn't used to be; not exactly a disguise. But here was spaniel-eyed Jeff Lerner, eyeballing me like he thought I thought he was cute, no indication he remembered the countless house shows we'd been at together, the months he'd followed me and my friends around like an inebriate puppy. I had a very sententious moment at the register, as I do every time I come to Seattle: The Places I Have Been, How They Have Changed Me. Jeff Lerner had one of those terrible anarchist haircuts, everything short except for a single dreadlock springing from the crown of his head. He was wearing probably the exact same thing he'd had on when I'd known him, cutoff black Carhartts and a filthy band shirt and the smell of shower-free anticapitalism. I rolled my inner eye and signed my charge slip. Jeff Lerner gave me my books and I walked with C. out into the sunshine.

"Do I really look that different now?" I asked, fishing for a yes. "Nah," C. said. "Jeff Lerner always just was dumb."