For about one week of the summer that I lived in my parents’ empty house, I took to putting on a tie when I got dressed in the morning. I thought that if I “dressed” for “work,” I’d be more productive. I didn’t get more done, but during this time I did steal a container of hummus* from Bon Appetit at the Princeton Shopping Center. I think I was rebelling against my tie and although I wasn’t caught I apologize for the whole sorry situation. Eight years later, when my mom was sick and I was in charge of making Christmas dinner, I spent $300 in overpriced groceries there in hopes of making up for it.
On the latter end of one afternoon that week, I decided I’d tried hard enough for the day and that I’d walk to town and get a beer or two. It was happy hour, after all. Princeton has like three bars, and they’re all lousy. I’m pretty sure it’s a town ordinance: Bars in Princeton have to suck. I headed for the one I knew to be suckiest, the too-sleek brushed-aluminum mood-lit Triumph Brew Pub, and on my way there I stopped at the bank for some cash. There, sitting on the sidewalk in front of the cash machine, was a kid I went to high school with, Kenny. Remember that I, unemployed, living with my parents, a hummus thief about to go drink alone, was wearing a tie. Kenny was dirty and dazed and looked in a bad way.
We had been on the Elks together in Little League. He’d been a harmless wise guy who used to wear his helmet cocked back on his head, and one time he hit a double and was so excited that he was jumping around near second base and Coach Davis yelled at him. In high school he stopped going to class and was into the Dead and tie-dyes and LSD, and once in the hallway I saw him knock back an entire vial of what I later heard was liquid acid. It must have been like fifty hits, right in the middle of the school day. Now, in the summer of 2000 on the sidewalk of Nassau Street, I tried to say hi to him and he just stared into the middle distance.
“We used to go to school together,” I continued, now feeling awkward. “I’m Will. You’re Kenny, right?”
And on hearing his name, he finally looked at me and said, “I was.”
I hesitated. “Uh…so who are you now?”
I asked him how he got that name, but that was where Onawa ended the interview. Somewhere within his gaze I got my cash and walked a few blocks farther to Triumph Brewpub, now with a new song in my head that went Onawa Xavier, Onawa Xavier. I don’t know where I got the “Xavier” part. I sat down at the low-lit bar and ordered a beer and in time, sure enough, I met an attractive blonde who had just finished her day at one of myriad financial-consulting concerns in that town. I told her I was a musician, recording two new albums in my home studio, which was not a lie, and maybe my tie helped a little but she gave me her business card. After a couple drinks she left, and I did too, humming Onawa Xavier all the way home, and when I reached my studio/parents’ house I was uplifted enough to bang out an e-mail to the Thunderegg mailing list—which, if you’re on the Thunderegg mailing list, you know is not a frequent affair. I included my new Triumph Brewpub ladyfriend’s address, hit send, and finally took off my tie with gusto to celebrate a day well spent—the way I remember my father doing when he came home from work at the bank when I was a little kid so happy to see him.
The next morning I woke and put on the tie and when I got to my computer, there was a message in my inbox waiting for me. It was from the blonde, curtly requesting that I remove her immediately from any and all future mailings. I immediately apologized, trying to explain that I hardly ever sent out Thunderegg news, and she didn’t respond. I would never hear from her again, but I would forever remain paranoid about adding people to my e-mail list. And I would never forget her name. I found her on Facebook just now. She got married in 2004. She visited Los Angeles at some point, but in the title of her photo set she couldn’t even spell it: “Los Angelas.” It is amazing the people we cannot forget.
Five years later, I recorded this song as a snippet, replacing “Onawa Xavier”—and consequently Kenny—with “I Don’t Want to Stay Here” as I stewed about how somebody had just smashed my car window on Carroll Street in Brooklyn for no good reason. Maybe that was the payback for the hummus. The next day was the first day of school in the Bronx, so I was already in a sorrowful mood. Summer was over. When I got up at six the next morning I would be putting on a tie.
* Dad: “I have drawn freely from the imagination and adhered only loosely to the pattern of my past life. To this extent, and for this reason, I ask to be judged as a writer of fantasy.” —Frederick Exley, “A Note to the Reader,” A Fan’s Notes