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  • Kristin Rossi

The Mighty Canal

I stood against the wall with my whiskey soda, feeling a lot of feelings. I was dealing with a lot of feelings, as people do, all of the time. None of the feelings were particularly bad. This wasn't sophomore year of high school, and I hadn't just returned to the homecoming dance floor after a quick trip to the gymnasium water fountain to find the young man I'd been courting dancing with a girl whose height was normal for age fourteen, the smug harlot.

Again. This was not sophomore year. Sophomore year was twelve years ago. I'm not 4'9" anymore. I can now fit into clothes from the dELiA*s catalogue, which is something I wish I could convey to my adolescent self, as I'm sure it would be a large comfort to her. I would also convey something along the lines of "stop bringing your Furby to school, you're embarrassing yourself."

My whiskey soda, my feelings and I were leaning against the wall of a bar located in what I like to call Romantic Gowanus - an area of Brooklyn that surrounds the Gowanus Canal. The Gowanus Canal is a body of water that has gonorrhea, and that's not a joke. The Gowanus Canal has murdered every living thing that has dared enter its murky waters, including but not limited to an adventurous whale that locals named "Sludgie" shortly before its untimely death, and a confused dolphin that no one named, probably because they still felt bad about the whole Sludgie thing. The Gowanus Canal literally has a butthole in its name.

Buttholes and venereal diseases aside, I was happy to be spending an evening in Gowanus. I live walking distance from the canal, and it's not often that I'm able to go out at night and not worry about subway service changes and the dreaded "fuck it I'll take a cab" mentality that seems to get more and more reasonable with each passing fifteen minutes. Plus, if the moonlight is right, the green tint of the canal gives off a beautiful glow. Romantic Gowanus.

The feelings were still happening, all over the place. None of them particularly bad or overwhelming, like I said earlier. They were just happening. Sometimes when I'm in a bar, I'd rather have feelings than conversations. It's nice to internalize your tipsy thoughts every once in a while rather than pour them all over some unsuspecting friend or bar patron. 

Every once in a while, I'll gently cross the border from "classy lady has two glasses of wine and then retires to her chambers" to "some girl is trying to convince everyone in the bar that she once beat Mary-Kate Olsen in a fist fight."

I'll start with the best of intentions, nodding politely and laughing when prompted - but four hours later I'll be in an in-depth conversation about all of the opinions in my head at that moment in time. What I lack in actual vomit, I make up for in projectile opinions.

I was two drinks deep, and I'd been standing alone against the wall with a constipated look on my face long enough for a nearby couple to give me reassuring thumbs up as if to say "Good for you. You're out there."

So I took a lap.

I shimmied through the packed bar crab-style, as you do. I annoyed everyone I touched, as you do.

I don't know what it was about being ass-to-belly with complete strangers that made me want to make a decision in that moment, but I made a decision in that moment. I was going to complete a grand experiment that evening. I set it up in my head as I had learned to do in middle school science lab - which is to say, I created a hypothesis, listed materials, conceived a procedure, with the end goal of forming some sort of conclusion. I think there are other components to a traditional lab write up but I'm a grown woman with a BS in English so, you know. Relax.

Dr. Connal-Nicolau - my 7th grade science teacher - would be thrilled with the things I've accomplished using the tools with which he equipped me. Here's what I was working with.

I'd made good on the procedure thus far. I found a small clearing where I could stand without knocking elbows, and encountered an obstacle almost immediately. A song came on that I recognized, and with every fiber of my being I wanted to tell everyone in my immediate area that I knew the song, that I liked the song, and that I was going to do my own personal rendition of the song right then and there.

Resisting that urge was as mentally exhausting as trying to calculate a tip while someone is watching you try to calculate a tip. But eventually the song ended, and I emerged from the din unscathed; victorious.

Feelings, feelings, feelings. Reverence, mostly, for the noble lives lost in the murky oil depths of the mighty canal. How did that dolphin end up in the canal, I thought, as I sipped my third drink. Did he catch a weird current? Did he take bad directions from some asshole lobster? Did he have dolphin sex with his best friend's dolphin wife and get driven out of dolphin town? It doesn't matter, I thought. He's dead now.

Another feeling I was experiencing was mild anxiety as I stared directly across the room at Danny Tamberelli, wondering how I was going to go about handling it. It being that I was in the same room as Danny Tamberelli.

If you don't know who Danny Tamberelli is - don't worry. This isn't about him.

I only really remember Danny as ten-year-old Little Pete from a phenomenal 90's era Nickelodeon show called The Adventures of Pete and Pete. Even though he'd aged twenty something years, I knew it was him. Call it intuition. Call it destiny. Call it earlier in the night I overheard someone say that Danny Tamberelli was there. Whatever you want. I'm going with intuition.

In that moment, this is what I thought I looked like.

This is what I actually looked like.

My first thought, I'll admit, was that I was sure we'd be fast friends if I just went over there and told him that Pete & Pete was - like - my favorite show as a kid. As if I wasn't going to be the first asshole to come up with that garbage prompt in a crowded Brooklyn bar.

Ultimately I decided to leave him alone, which was a good decision for everyone. I was in the middle of an experiment, and I was committed to it. The whiskey was doing the thing that whiskey does, which is to say I was about a quarter tank away from Drunktown and feeling generally optimistic about things. I moved around the perimeter of the bar, trying to be conscious of the thoughts I was having - trying to compare them to sober thoughts, objectively. But it's hard to be objective about a drunk thought when you're drunk, which is something I've only just learned.

So alright, here's an example: I wanted to isolate the impulse I had in that moment to pretend I was on a surfboard and tell it that it was a stupid impulse, and that why can't you just leave Kristin alone while she's trying to be a sophisticated brand of drunk, but all I could think was "pretend you're on a surfboard, it'll be great."

What ended up happening was that I tried to be on a surfboard and I also tried to not be on a surfboard, which, incidentally, looks something like this:

I could see the thumbs-up couple from earlier across the room, and I was not thrilled about them seeing my sad display, as it probably confirmed their suspicions. That I was socially inept, and trying my hardest. The truth was, I could have actually used their moral support in that moment. But I'm too proud.

Someone started talking to me. He seemed nice enough, but my commitment to science trumped all other motivations this evening.

He was referring to the long, thin scar prominently displayed on my left forearm. It's a new addition to my external appearance, and I'm constantly having to explain it to people. Like it's some sort of tattoo that I consciously chose. Instinct told me to launch into what happened - that I was biking in Manhattan, got t-boned by a commuter van, needed surgery to put a plate on my arm bone, and do you know anything about MRIs? Because I don't know if I can get MRIs anymore based on the fact that I'm made of metal now, and those machines are basically giant magnets.

I kept silent, and I've got my integrity as a scientist to thank for that.

At some point he left, and I wondered if I had just let the love of my life get away. All because of some dumb experiment that was looking less and less like an actual experiment and more and more like a challenge that I was destined to fail.

Then came the ultimate test. A box of donuts sat unattended on an isolated table. I don't know where they came from or why they were there, all I knew was that they were real. I confirmed this by asking them.

What would possess someone to bring a box of donuts to a crowded bar and leave them alone on an exposed surface? It's a weird thing to do. One thing was clear - I was being tested.

Here's the thing: I'm hungry all the time. And when I drink alcohol, I'll inflict bodily harm on your own mother if she stands between me and french toast. You. You reading this. Your mother.

So you can imagine how difficult it was for me to look these donuts in the holes and tell them that I wasn't going to be turning them into poop.

I downed the last of my drink, and all at once I felt the full weight of my grand experiment come crashing down all around me. I needed to leave. All of the drunk thoughts were building up inside of me and it became clear that their intention was to make themselves known in a very real way. I made a quick move towards the exit, but it was too late.

I grabbed a donut and made a hasty move towards the exit, but not before muttering a few syllables at the alleged gentleman suitor.

Oh and not before doing the surfboard thing properly, which felt as natural and as welcome as exhaling after a long dive.

And of course I had to check in with Danny - make sure he knew how great he was, and how great in turn I was for recognizing his greatness.

And as luck would have it - that song I like came back on. My own voice rang in my ears, and somewhere an angel weeped.

The exit was in sight. My fan club was kind enough to pity-clap me through the finish line.

I was able to undo all my hard work in forty-five seconds flat. I finally made my way outside, only to be immediately slapped in the face by dead-of-winter ice wind. My feet carried me instinctively and deliberately towards the canal, and I wasn't in any position to object, so I didn't.

The experiment was over. All that was left to do was to fire up the Microsoft Word '97 in my brain and bang out the rest of this lab write up.

At least I was aware? I don't know. I told myself a lot of things as I sat there consoling myself. I was only fifteen feet above the poop water, and some combination of the cold air and unsettling smell was doing well to sober my thoughts. Don't be an asshole was one that kept bobbing at the surface.

After a few minutes of quiet reflection, I heard someone approach. I knew immediately that it was Adam, and my trance broke. I had forgotten that I had come to this bar with friends.


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