Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Category: Imaginary Conversations

The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost

I came home last night after my 10 o’clock—yes, 10 p.m.—flag football game to find my 31-year-old self (aka, me, last year) on my futon checking his email. The lights had been off and I hadn’t seen him, and I threw my bag on the futon without looking, and…

2009 Bryan: Watch it!

ME: (startled) Aaaaah!

2009 Bryan: Hi. Love what you’ve done with the place. Nice shirt.

ME: (looks down at tie-dyed uniform) Thanks.

2009 Bryan: You wear tie-dye often?

ME: It’s my flag football uniform.

2009 Bryan: You play flag football?

ME: Yep. This is the third season.

2009 Bryan: Nice. What does the lady think?

ME: The who?

2009 Bryan: (uneasily) The lady… what does she think about it?

ME: Oh right, her. Um…

2009 Bryan: Oh.

ME: I’m sorry dude. I know you were excited, especially right about now.

2009 Bryan: (clams up)

ME: It’s just…

2009 Bryan: …

ME: We were still acting a little “young.”

2009 Bryan: I’m trying not to act young!

ME: It’s the fact that you have to try at all. You’ll get it, eventually.

2009 Bryan: So now all we do is write blog posts (turns computer around, shows screen to this blog) and play flag football? And rearrange the apartment a bit?

ME: Yeah, you like?

2009 Bryan: I guess. I don’t see how I’m going to come up with this.

ME: A lot can happen in a year if you let it.

2009 Bryan: (angry) What does that fucking mean?

ME: It means that now that you’re not hiding out in your party palace in Astoria, you can actually grow up.

2009 Bryan: Oh for Christ’s sake.

ME: You know, one of our good friends say we talk in general terms about religion more than we realize.

2009 Bryan: You’re not like some crazy Christian or anything?

ME: (makes sign of cross) No.

2009 Bryan: Shalom.

ME: L’Chaim.

(2009 Bryan’s phone rings. I pull out my phone—the same one—and look at the time. It’s the girlfriend, on the way home from work. It’s a conversation I don’t need to hear, so I go take a quick shower and come back to find him finishing up. And then.)

ME: So?

2009 Bryan: She’s going home. How do you screw this up?

ME: It’s been two weeks. Easy, buddy.

2009 Bryan: You are condescending.

ME: Take my advice: Just do whatever you’re going to do. Nothing is going to change. You’re going to be back here in a year anyway.

(I hear keys in the door and am startled. The door opens, and it’s 33-year-old Bryan, wearing a snappy suit and sunglasses. He carries himself well, but there is an odor of booze on his breath)

33-Year-Old-Me: (Declarative statement:) Boys.

2009 Bryan: Nice suit.

ME: No fucking way.

(33-Year-Old Me just slaps me lightly on the cheek, like a soccer player, and moves over to the desk, where he sits with a dopey smile on his face and starts to talk to 2009 Bryan.)

33-Year-Old Me: Hey dude.

2009 Bryan: What’s up?

33-Year-Old Me: Now listen up. 2010 Bryan knows what he’s talking about, mostly. Just ride out whatever’s going on here until it’s over. But for God’s sake, enjoy yourself.

2009 Bryan: He just told me about that.

33-Year-Old Me: Told you about what?

2009 Bryan: Mentioning God.

(33-Year-Old Me snatches laptop from 2009 Bryan, types furiously into Google until this picture is showing)

33-Year-Old Me: Now do me a favor and shut up for a second. (2009 Bryan would not normally take such talk, but frankly, he’s entranced by the suit. The line from Catch Me If You Can echoes in my head: “They were all looking at the pinstripes…”) That was just S—— on the phone, right?

2009 Bryan: How do you know all this?

33-Year-Old Me: I had the conversation, remember? She said she was just going to go home after work, and you said that made sense, because you have to work tomorrow and it would be too late?

2009 Bryan: More or less.

33-Year-Old Me: Dude! Go over there! Live in the moment!

2009 Bryan: But I’ll be tired… (Both me and 33-Year-Old Bryan look at him like: Get over it.)

33-Year-Old Me: (with dopey smile, takes cigarette out of pocket and starts tapping it on the desk) Live a little dude. Go surprise her with flowers or something.

2009 Bryan: (entranced by cigarette, doesn’t even mention it) Okay.

ME: Get excited, man!

2009 Bryan: Okay! (gets up, walks to door, pulls out out phone to make a call as door closes behind him.)

ME: Wow. That was good.

33-Year-Old Me: Tell me about it.

ME: (in appreciation) Nice suit, man. Why are you wearing it?

33-Year-Old Me: (starts taking it off) Thanks. It was mostly for effect. Scare the kid, you know?

ME: Oh. We own it, though?

33-Year-Old Me: You’ll find out.

ME: We smoke?

33-Year-Old Me: Nope, also for effect. (crushes cigarette in hand) Want to get a drink?

ME: I don’t know, I’m honestly pretty tired.

33-Year-Old Me: (mocking) Live a little! (and then) Ha. Me too.

ME: I’m gonna hit the hay. You gonna take the futon?

33-Year-Old Me: Oh Jesus, this thing?

ME: Will I still have it in a year?

(He can’t answer because he’s already snoring. I try on the suit jacket. It looks nice, but I’d probably rather buy a couch.)

My 17-year-old self and I argue and play basketball, I win

We’ll pick up my conversation with my 17-year-old self the morning after we left off, when I come downstairs for breakfast.

ME: Good morning.

17-Y-O-Me: (waves aimlessly, doesn’t take eyes from TV)

ME: Did you make coffee?

17-Y-O-Me: (looks at me like I’m crazy)

ME: Oh, right. You don’t drink coffee.

17-Y-O-Me: I’m not a pussy.

ME: Right. I forgot I felt that way.

17-Y-O-Me: Big softy now, eh?

ME: You wait until you have a 9-to-5 job.

17-Y-O-Me: I’ll never have one of those.

ME: Hey moron? (does a pointing back and forth between us to indicate yes, in fact, you will)

17-Y-O-Me: (throws remote at me, I dodge it, it hits glass front door but doesn’t break it)

ME: You idiot.

17-Y-O-Me: I’m the idiot?! You’re the one with the 9-to-5 job!

ME: It’s not that simple. And wait, are you blaming me for dodging something you threw at me?

17-Y-O-Me: Of course! You know the glass door is there!

ME: What do you want me to do, catch it?

17-Y-O-Me: Ha! Good one.

ME: Alright, that’s it. We’re playing basketball, right now. You and me. One on one.

17-Y-O-Me: (mocking) Don’t you need your coffee first?

ME: (fuming) Grab your shoes, dickwad.

(He grabs his shoes and we walk the 5 minutes to the basketball court in tense silence. I beat him handily. He’s in better shape, but not better enough, and he doesn’t use his body as well as I do. He challenges me to best two out of three but halfway through game two, which he’s losing, he starts visibly moping. He misses a jumper, and then…)

ME: What’s the problem, hair in your eyes?

17-Y-O-Me: (shoves me, I don’t lose dribble)

ME: Good defense? Where’d you learn that? (Does turnaround jumper, misses)

17-Y-O-Me: Look at Air Jordan over there! (tries running layup, goes out of control, misses wildly, ball rolls into the woods and under poison ivy. Him, instantaneously:) Your ball.

ME: I’m not getting it.

17-Y-O-Me: If I get it, it’s my ball.

ME: I’m not getting poison ivy because you suck at basketball.

17-Y-O-Me: (rage) If I get that ball, I’m taking it.

ME: If you’re taking that ball, I’m not playing anymore.

17-Y-O-Me: Fine, then I’ll just keep shooting until I win without you here.

ME: You think you can make 10 baskets by dinner?

(He attacks me, and now we’re fighting right next to the ball, rolling around in the poison ivy we were just trying to avoid. A car drives by and looks at us strangely, but we stop to both wave to indicate it’s all in fun, relatively speaking. When the car passes, we start again and kick the ball even further in and we stop, and, simultaneously:)

US: Shit.

(Looking all around us, at the plants)

US: SHIT.

ME: We should probably…

17-Y-O-Me: Go to the beach and get this stuff off of us.

ME: I’ll drive.

17-Y-O-Me: Like hell you will, grandpa.

(Ten minutes later, we’re in the car)

ME: Do you have sunscreen?

17-Y-O-Me: (chortles)

ME: I suppose you like getting sunburnt?

17-Y-O-Me: I don’t mind.

ME: That translates to “I’m too proud to put on sunscreen” in adult.

17-Y-O-Me: Oh Jesus.

ME: We going to South Beach?

17-Y-O-Me: Of course.

ME: I figured as much.

17-Y-O-Me: I love it.

ME: You would. I still like it, but I feel old there.

17-Y-O-Me: Well, I’m 17 and the ocean is the ocean.

ME: You’re looking for that girl, aren’t you?

17-Y-O-Me: (obviously lying) No!

ME: Yeah, you are. All the teenagers are at South Beach. That’s why I don’t like to go anymore. Look at it this way: If a girl was two years old when I was your age, she’s 17 now. Just think about that.

17-Y-O-Me: (pulls car over) Lambert’s Cove?*

ME: Lambert’s Cove.

17-Y-O-Me: (turns car around) I feel itchy already.

ME: Oh, don’t be such a drama queen. It wouldn’t work that fast.

17-Y-O-Me: (takes hand, rubs it all over my face) You’d better hope not.

ME: (pushes stick into neutral, he immediately puts in back in gear)

17-Y-O-Me: … (rage turns to admiration)

17-Y-O-Me: Okay, that was pretty good.

(We high five, and then some pop song comes on the radio that we both like and we blast it and start singing together.)

•••

* This would obviously not be happening at sunset, but I mean jeez.

My 17-year-old self and I debate LeBron James

Imagine my surprise when, after writing two columns on LeBron James on Friday morning I walked into my childhood home that evening, which I thought was empty, and was confronted with my 17-year-old self watching SportsCenter, LeBron news on repeat. (Please ignore space-time continuum problems.)

ME: Hi.

17-Y-O-Me: Hey.

ME: Do you know who I am?

17-Y-O-Me: (looks me up and down) I have a guess.

ME: Okay, I can tell you do. Because, like, you’re me and we’re still pretty similar.

17-Y-O-Me: (makes show of playing with long hair) In some ways.

ME: I never would have said something like that.

17-Y-O-Me: Apparently you would have.

ME: That either. I wasn’t that aggressive.

17-Y-O-Me: Maybe you should have been.

ME: So, uh… how about LeBron?

17-Y-O-Me: It’s crazy.

ME: He looks so douchey up there. (At the moment, the highlights from the Heat Beach Party are playing and Neil Everett or Linda Cohn is screaming something. Chris Bosh is acting like a wrestler.)

17-Y-O-Me: I don’t know. He looks like he’s having fun.

ME: Douchebags can have fun too.

17-Y-O-Me: What’s wrong with having fun?

ME: Um, nothing, I suppose. But if I was a Cleveland fan, I’d be upset by this.

17-Y-O-Me: But you’re not.

ME: Yeah, but I can empathize.

17-Y-O-Me: Yeah, it sucks. But so what?

ME: Well, I mean, I have a few good friends from Cleveland…

17-Y-O-Me: Oh. What does that matter?

ME: Are you saying empathy is bad?

17-Y-O-Me: (suddenly defensive; I notice this trait from my youth) No, that’s not what I’m saying.

ME: Then what are you saying?

17-Y-O-Me: Isn’t this just kind of cool?

ME: I don’t know. It just feels so yucky.

17-Y-O-Me: Sports are yucky all the time.

ME: I suppose that’s true…

17-Y-O-Me: No really, sports are yucky all the time. Who gives a crap? They’re only sports.

ME: Funny that you say that when you’ve spent your entire life trying to learn everything possible about them.

17-Y-O-Me: (mimics entire sentence in play voice, then turns beet red in embarrassment)

ME: (ignoring it) You know what sucks for us?

17-Y-O-Me: What?

ME: All that memorization we did—who played what position for what team when, all the records and stuff—anyone can get all that off their phone now. Everyone’s a sports expert. It’s really hard to make a name for yourself.

17-Y-O-Me: We probably should have been a lawyer.

(We look straight at each other like: No way.)

ME: You know what you need? Some financial advice.

17-Y-O-Me: I make $15 an hour at Brickman’s at the moment. I’m doing just fine.

ME: I mean long-term, numbnuts.

17-Y-O-Me: Numbnuts. Real original. What are you, from Jersey?

(I pounce on the couch in a rage and we start fighting for about 30 seconds before we simultaneously yell “Glass table!” to remind each other that we risk breaking it, and we stop)

17-Y-O-Me: (sarcastically) Yeah, you’ve changed.

ME: You mean I’m stronger?

17-Y-O-Me: (turns red, doesn’t want to admit it) Whatever.

ME: Whatever.

17-Y-O-Me: (suddenly) Can you buy me beer?

ME: You don’t even know what you’re doing with that stuff.

17-Y-O-Me: Oh, and you do.

ME: You DICK! (start fighting again)

17-Y-O-Me: Glass table!

(I keep fighting, he pushes me off)

17-Y-O-Me: You know, it’s almost like you come back here to just to fight me. I mean look at you! You’re worse than I am. I’m perfectly calm, and by the time you leave you’re sitting on the couch just like me, watching ESPN over and over. It’s almost like you feel like you can’t do that in the city, when you totally can. Not my fault you can’t remember that the good things in life are simple. We island folk have it good.

ME: “We island folk.” You pretentious fuck.

17-Y-O-Me: Whatever. It’s true.

ME: Hey dickhead, I have news for you.

17-Y-O-Me: Oh yeah, what?

ME: I’ve had sex.

17-Y-O-Me: AWESOME.