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Janine Cipolaro

What To Do

Although I am the only male in the class, I did not start taking yoga to meet women. Yoga class is a good excuse to lie down and do nothing. For the last five minutes when the lights are switched off and the warehouse-sized room turns cave-like, we are instructed to observe sounds and sensations, and then let them pass. Every sound echoes like the inside of a basketball and every sensation is relaxed away. It could be real meditation if I could let all thoughts pass, as instructed, but today I think about sex, then I think about doing laundry, then I think about the two together and how relaxed my body is, like a warm blanket out of the dryer. Then I remember to clear my mind. Then I remind myself that idle hands are the devilís workshop, or so they say, so what of an idle mind? A million monks could be wrong. I mean, I used to think all that enlightenment stuff was really cool, but canít you be peaceful and interesting? Canít you be free from suffering and wear what you want to and dance like a maniac and meet someone at the laundromat who wants to come home with you and do it on top of the folded laundry? This is what I gain from yoga, more than the contortions. What Iím not supposed to be thinking about during the meditation.

Everyone is in an exhaustive daze when the instructor says, "Okay, wiggle your fingers and toesÖ.roll your eyesÖ..and turn over on your side." I want the meditation to last for hours. I want volleyball players walking by to look into the darkness and see the great empty space between our bodies strewn on the floor and the air ducts scattered on the ceiling. I forget all the chubby girls around me, and how their panting has slowed to a light snore.

I made a friend in the class, a girl named Kristen with a septum ring. We only just met and already we are instructed to use yoga belts as sadistic forms of bondage while pulling limbs straight and taut. I laugh sporadically because she looks uncomfortable and I donít know how else to react. Itís always raining when we leave the warehouse. I feel somehow younger than everyone because they wear yoga suits under business suits and I wear oddly fitting multicolored rags. But Iím pretty sure weíre probably all the same age.

They say at this age, at any age, women are more mature. I believe it on some level. A lot of these girls, however, couldnít identify a Johnny Cash song from a Tom Waits. And Iíd be willing to bet they donít know how to hold a conversation past hello. Iím talking about substance here, eye contact. They can go home and watch the Lifetime channel all they want if thatís whatís called maturity.

I am still thinking about laundry and how to make my clothes rattier and softer, so I go to the laundromat. There is only a dog waiting for something, probably the dryer, and the old balding woman who runs the place. Neither of them look interested in me. I open "Better Homes and Gardens" and rip out a recipe for some kind of appetizing concoction. I can hear a tattoo gun running across the street. I am secretive about the recipe just in case someone else is interested. Although I kind of wish someone else was interested so I would have a reason to concoct it.

I go home and dump the clothes out on the bed and spread them around and stare at them all laid out. Then I look at my feet; theyíre too dirty. I wonder if the chubby girls in white in yoga class noticed. I sit on the floor and look closer at my foot like no one will ever see it. I wonder what kind of first impression my foot makes. Itís twenty-seven years old. Iíve known it way too long to have any idea what it really looks like.

I figure I should eat something because Iím bored and itís about that time. The garbage needs to be taken out. Still. I look at the recipe and have no ingredients so I make dehydrated miso soup and mix it with ramen noodles, which are also dehydrated.

The salt intake makes me drink a beer at a local bar. I look at some girls there and think about how warm their little sweaters must be to dance in. One girl moves like machinery. Everything I can think of to say to her would make me sound like a total douche bag. "Hey, do you want to learn some yoga moves?" "Do you want to roll around on top of warm piles of clothing with me?"

I go home and jerk off into a clean sock and fall asleep with the light on. I dream about cause and effect and miso soup and Kristen and again Iím lying still, and letting thoughts pass like before. But really, once Iíve thought something and I forget it the next moment, doesnít it still effect every moment of my life from then on? And thatís something I have no control over. Not even with the aid of meditation, or drinking, or sleeping, or sex, can I stop it.

When I wake up in the morning my clothes are still piled up on the bed, but in the shape of a person lying next to me so I nuzzle it. Maybe I should get a dog or something. I want to take a walk because there are people out. But today every conversation I overhear makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable. To observe someone search for the next topic, to fill in the blanks with short expressions and sighs, is like watching Rock and Roll Jeopardy and trying to yell the answers through the TV. Not that my topics are any less awkward. I could probably catch someone off guard with an opener like, "So, did you have any interesting dreams last night?"

Thereís a dog tied up to a tree and heís smiling in the shade. I unknot his leather leash and we walk to yoga together. A few girls pet him and coo. One asks me his name and I pretend not to hear her. I tell her heís a he and a spaniel/rottweiler mix, although I have no idea. Yoga is three blocks north and I feel different with the dog, like if I were carrying a bag or wearing a new hat. I tie him to a light post in front of the building, kneel down and look at him very closely. He averts eye contact, so I decide it wasnít meant to be. After yoga I take him back to the tree.

At home I stare out my window at the wall of the business next door. They closed at five. Now it is six and autumn, already dusk. The wall is ugly beige, but partly covered with vines growing staggered upward an average of five feet. I go outside to inspect them up close and notice they have little feet that clutch the textures in the wallís adobe, or stucco or whatever. I am careful not to rip the feet out of their sockets as I peel the vines off the wall and drape them over my right arm. Their little fingernails are not sharp but firm and fleshy. In my bedroom I realize that their nails wonít grab hold so I use a staple gun to completely cover my postered walls with the exception of a few band names exposing themselves through curtains of ivy. Fucking exhibitionists.

Kristen and I meet that night for the first time outside of class at a local bar. I donít know how to keep her entertained for longer than twenty minutes so I get exceedingly drunk hoping sheíll do the same. She points out for me that yoga as a way of life does not include binge drinking. I ask her if she wants to meet my dog and she says okay. We go to my house which is nearby.

"So whereís your dog?" she asks.

"Oh." The memory of retying him to the tree surfaces. "I think he ran awayÖ.erÖmy roommate took him for a walk. Here, check this out."

We go into my room and I donít have to point out the vines because they are obvious, hanging off the walls and dangling from the ceiling.

She opens her mouth. "Whoa. This is your room? How did youÖ.?"

I lead her out and close the door behind her. "Look, Iím gonna go to bed now. Sorry my dogís not home." I know Iím way too drunk and never should have showed her. I babble a bunch of random stuff because I think she wants to kiss me as I lead her out the door. "See ya later, er, at yoga, thanks for coming out."

"Okay, but, do youÖ.ohÖalright, later." I close the door and know that the vines will soon wither and then she wonít want me anymore.

I look at my albums and none of them seem appropriate for the occasion so I listen to the radio for the first time since like sixth grade on a whim. What are the Fourteen Year Olds of America getting themselves into these days? I donít recognize it, but goddamn if it isnít catchy! Anyway, thereís a contest on for the eighth caller so I call in and win. Radio contests these days donít even ask you to have a basic understanding of trivial facts, just a fast finger. To tell the truth, I was probably the only one listening at two in the morning. I am to pick up a free Justin Timberlake CD at the station. I ask them if I can get it on vinyl. "No." Either way Iím gonna scratch it to hell.

I decide never to go to yoga again because I donít want Kristen to see me in those vulnerable positions. Iíll just wait until I run into her on the street someday and itíll be really awkward and sheíll be thinking "what an asshole." Then maybe a few weeks after that Iíll run into her at the bar and I will be in the mood to talk to her and sheíll be thinking "I can be with anyone I want if I put my mind to it. No one is unattainable, especially not this asshole." And I will be in a more appropriate state of mind and able to kiss her after all.

So I go to the radio station and pick up my CD instead. The cover is flashy; I can tell itís overproduced. I hand it to this woman walking out of the post office and she accepts. I wonder if she was just mailing a letter to the Justin Timberlake fan club, or maybe a package to herself since no one ever gives her any presents. So I can be her hero and her Santa Claus. Then I vanish, like heroes always do.

Actually I just go to the graveyard. On the way there I make sure to walk only in sunshine, so it takes awhile because I have to keep crossing to the sunny side of the street every time I turn a corner. I imagine that the buildings are rubble. In the cemetery itís sunny but the headstones are cool to touch. The ones made of sandstone have crumbled in slabs that lay on the ground above where the corpseís head should be. I try to read all of the names and dates but most of them have been sloughed off somewhere in grainy heaps. This is the cemetery I would like my tombstone to be in, but not my tomb. I would rather quickly turn to ash than gradually decompose.

I avoid the shady areas and when the sun looks low I go home and turn the lights on and close the curtains. I pace around and worry, thinking how whenever I see someone I know they always say my name at least once instead of just "hello, how are you." And I never say anyoneís name. Iím good with names, itís not that I forget them, itís that when I see an acquaintance I am instantly barraged with images of how I know them and what I know about them. Their name is the last thing that occurs to me. But I know how it feels to hear my own name. I know I revel in that extra attention, that little extra bit of affection as much as anyone else does. So Iíll have to work on that.

Another pressing habit has to do with the people I meet when Iím drunk, or those Iíve had only one brief conversation with in my entire life. I see them on the street and I avoid eye contact because I know if I say hi to them once Iíll be pressured to say hi every time and it will become more and more clear how little we know each other and how false our relationship truly is. There is no solution to this predicament so I get in the shower and think about it some more. My feet will not come clean.

In my dream Kristen is there, but I know itís not her, sheís just a symbol. Iím on the beach, probably in Mexico, and sheís in the ocean, pretty far out so I can only see her head and neck and her hair lying flat out around her. Itís dusk and feels like autumn, although seasons are tricky when youíre on the beach. My feet are buried in the sand, so I canít go in the water. They seem to be stuck, and then in my dream I fall asleep on the sand and thatís when I really wake up.

I only like to do my laundry in the afternoon, around four, so I wait till then when the sun is low and will shine warmest on the west side of the street. Itís too soon to do laundry again so all I have to wash is a bunch of dirty socks. Thereís Kristen, also doing laundry, or at least sitting outside the Laundromat by chance. I get a ticklish feeling, like a little girl would if she saw Justin Timberlake.

"Hello, Kristen, how are you?" I think about her name and how it sounds so good and crunchy coming out of my mouth. We kind of bask in the sun for a while, facing west.

"Because itís autumn," I say, "this is when the sun is most orange. I wonder if light is diffused differently through the cooler air or something like that."

Kristen comes back to my house with me and doesnít ask about my dog. I throw my laundry on the bed and turn on some music I think she might like, some Yo La Tengo. We lie on our backs on my bed looking at the dried ivy leaves, falling slowly around us like they should, because itís autumn.

Janine Cipolaro is completing her B.A. in English at Northern Arizona University.  This is her first publication.

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