but not for me

by s.

I was walking through the deli across the street from my office a couple of mornings ago in search of seltzer. I stopped short when a line from the song in my headphones jumped out at me: “My friends are on the front porch getting wasted.”

I’ve been gushing effusively about the new Delta Spirit album all week; in my head, it pairs all of the pop layering that Animal Collective gets right with the kind of pure-hearted Southern rock I generally find wholly appealing. It is great, and it’s been making me really happy in the mornings, and on that particular morning I’d been reading Shop Class As Soulcraft. It’s the kind of book no one should let me read because it argues that our mental pursuits are aided by – and perhaps meaningless without – a real effort to make things with our hands. I was thinking about that and reaching for the seltzer when the Delta Spirit reminded me how I feel about drinking on porches, and after that it was a miracle that I even made it to the office.

I wanted success to look more like my childhood, when at age five someone let me have a hammer and some nails to make a doll table out of old wood scraps. Back then, we had an open-door policy, and I ran through our backyard in a green bikini as bearded men in muscle shirts and bandanas rode up in motorcycles and a bluegrass band practiced on the lawn. They’d bring me presents and I’d hide behind my mother because I was shy and too young to know they were the men I’d grow up to date or more likely, to become.

Now, when I get the urge to leave, it’s that scene to which I always want to return. It happens at predictable moments: when I’m walking down a crowded city street in the dead of summer, when I wake up hours before a boyfriend whose arms I can’t wrangle out of, when I’m reaching for a seltzer in the early morning hours before I take the elevator to an ordinary office. “My friends are on the front porch getting wasted” is suddenly a life goal.

I forced myself into the office building and up the escalator that morning because working in books ain’t half bad and neither is a paycheck. I was going through the morning’s emails when a friend started IMing me links to cheese making classes in the country and Southern houses with porches. “It is lucky that you don’t believe in signs,” I thought to myself before remembering that I do.

Tonight I left the office and went to the store to buy eye cream and another song came into my head of its own volition, being, of course, Sleater-Kinney’s “Ballad of a Ladyman.” I thought about how that song once felt like an anthem and I realized that age doesn’t change that many things: it still does. “I could be demure like girls who are soft for boys who are fearful of getting an earful, but I gotta rock. I’d rather be a Ladyman,” the song goes. It’s still a choice, but I bought the eye cream anyway. I think a lot about strength lately and what that means and how there is nothing and should be nothing clear-cut about being a woman. I was still listening to the Delta Spirit. They have another song that goes, “I want you to move to California for yourself, but not for me.” The protagonist seems to be the sort who knows he’s no good for the girl so he lets her go; perhaps he’d rather she be a Ladyman.

That reminded me that sometimes love is about recognizing when you’re bad for someone. Maybe you wrap your arms around them and try to protect them in the dark, but they wake up in the morning and assume those arms are what is keeping them from so many porches. Their friends are getting wasted on those porches without them, and your arms are sending them to the office with a seltzer in hand.