Millennials, Suspended Like Stars / by Sam Abelow

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On a humid and hazy night, at about half-past eight, a week before Thanksgiving, Haley sat next to me as I jerkily drove the dozen minutes from her house to a downtown strip where a meager music venue was. We parked, having arrived just at the same moment as my friend Jeff — who looked subtly stoned and certainly jovial. Jeff, who wore a thin button-up shirt, greeted me with a hug. I could feel his belly, which is pushed outwards by an unusually concave lower back.

He gave a reserved hug to my girlfriend, and said, “Hey Haley, I think we met once. How are you doing?”

The three of us stood at the front of the venue. Jeff, in harmony with a habit he developed years ago — which for a time in my teenage years, became one of my own — smoked a cigarette. The fumes rose through the warm and muggy November night. Climate change, I suppose, was to blame for that. But, as much as the balance of the entire globe had been altered, it seemed that Jeff’s habits — which have been entangled with nicotine and oral gratification — still remained the same. For habits in the individual, like the global environment, take drastic and focused effort to change — whether, or weather for better or worse.

From down the sidewalk, through the pale-blue atmosphere, Tyler walked with sureness towards us. It was as if all of the world’s troubles, all of my own anxieties dissolved with the sight of Tyler. His wide smile was as genuine as Forrest Gump and as striking as Tom Cruise.

“It’s good to see you. I can see the glow in your eye from all that meditation. You still doing four or five hours a day?” I said.

“Yup,” Tyler said. “I try to sit for at least five.”

“I know what that’s like: suddenly being in this world seems like a strange contrast,” I said.

Jeff was finishing with his cigarette as he was introduced to Tyler: the meditator, a speckless hermit teased out into the streets of carnal filth, who seemed to illuminate his surroundings with a starry light. This radiance was pure and intangible and seemed distant only in relation to where the rest of us stood.

The doorman wouldn’t let Haley in, since she was under twenty-one. But, in-between loitering and Kyle joking that we might just go wander around in the woods and chant, we noticed that our friend Robert was inside.

Emerging from the modest setting, came the short, brown-haired, boyish-man, aged thirty-two. He had a big smile, as genuine as Tyler’s, but a bit more like the cat from Alice in Wonderland, than the statuesque male that Tyler evokes. Robert gave each member of the group a hug. I addressed Robert as “the guru,” since I had attended his drum circle the week prior. In that small gathering, myself and Haley, along with a middle-aged white woman searching for healing, and a young asian woman full of curiosity towards all things superstitious and metaphysical, got in touch with our inner “warriors” and the “quantum energy fields.” Robert was a spectacular singer, who used his voice in bizarre and original ways, at one moment a Tibetan chanter, the next an operatic tenor, then almost as if a xylophone was intoning itself through his throat and mouth.

At that moment a girl — who was about a foot and a half shorter than Haley. who had crisply pressed blonde hair over a body that was oval-shaped like a Matisse gesture — attempted to surpass the doorman. In his austere and boorish flannel, this doorman was a mumbly blockage to a less than rowdy event inside. Rejected and confused, she bumbled back onto the sidewalk.

“Hey,” I said to her. “You just get carded?”

She looked up from her phone, into which she furiously pounded away short and sporadic phrases, along with the blipping images, which communicated the most essential and primordial emotions known to man: the emoji. “Yeah. I couldn’t get in,” she said.

I suggested that we might try another spot, then asked for her name. It was Kristine.

“I think we should just go to the woods and do some meditation,” Tyler said, looking off, as if he might’ve found a refuge in this downtown strip.

I laughed, then said, “Let’s go to this bar down the street where a band is playing.”

Everyone meagerly, indifferently and ambiguously agreed, except for Kristine who said, “Yeah, let’s go try it.”

✽ ✽ ✽

The degree of interest that I gleaned from Kristine was that of someone who goes out each night of the weekend, or who, more accurately, goes out most Thursday nights as well — and, for that matter if there’s a Wednesday or Tuesday where something's happening, then that too. Kristine was someone who is so thoroughly in the habit of seeing “what’s going on tonight,” that it has become not just a compulsion, but a fervor.

The repetitious nature of these events had long since lost their novelty, and yet the insatiable desire continued. This endless, seemingly necessary aspect of her life was rooted in the need to consume alcohol, which acted as both the impulsion to go out, as well as a relief from the dull and unsatisfactory nature of the social events she had been attending. Also, there was the need she had to hear other people’s jokes, life stories and see faces smiling and bodies swarming around her own.

Kristine asked, “Are we gonna go to this next spot already!?”

“Aren’t we always in the next spot? Are all spots not just revolving around the infinite and magnificent spot of the present moment?” I said, with a smirk.

“What?”

“I”m just teasing you.” As we walked down the strip, I turned to her and said, “So Kristine, what’s your story?”

“My life is a miserable mess right now.”

“Oh wow, that’s blunt! I like that. If you just hang out with us, the cosmic bliss will spread from our hearts to yours, in a way that’s pure and sublime, transcendent and psychedelic.”

She looked at me blankly.

I said, “I’m just kidding with you. Do you go to college around here?”

Kristine told me where she went to school; I told her about the philosophy class I was auditing at a nearby university. She was not interested.

✽ ✽ ✽

I might explain why in the first place the New Age guys and myself were out at such an hour, rather than sipping tea and meditating before bed. It begins with my girlfriend, Haley. She had been eager — in way that reminds me of when one has been cooking the same dishes for many months, and then wishes to try something from the Asian market, or the Mediterranean recipe book — to go to a party. That is, she wanted to do things that weren’t what old people did. Our activities had been selected with relative solidarity, but usually were solipsistic, with the exception of either strangers at an intimate spiritual event, or with a family member and close friend, in an erudite experience at a museum. The outings to a Symphony at Yale, or the home-cooked, pan-fried Halibut, buttered rice and roasted eggplant dinner, with a little bit of music and conversation, had been repeated to an extent where, if we, as a couple, had been devoid of the desire, the urge and the need to seek out some sort of younger and less refined interaction, a psychiatrist might very well prescribe us a certain medication — right there on the spot. However, a psychiatrist can find a diagnosis and corresponding chemical treatment in anything, so that’s not saying much. Anyways, Haley and I recognized that it was time to switch things up.

And I wanted to make this little night out hit the spot, so to speak, but wasn’t sure it could, considering what local options — literal “spots” to meet up at — were available. All this talk of the spot to hang out at and the spot it might satisfy in our social appetite may beg the question: What are the qualities of these locations?

The literal spot is a container, or an environment in which the most basic tribal needs — the feelings of closeness, by way of proximity to other apes-with-big-brains — are obtainable. This spot is a place where alcohol is served and inhibitions are lowered. Through this ritual we can release all of the tension which arises from the pressures of the social hierarchy — that is, the convoluted and complex ways in which people have arranged and structured the individual and familial survival. The metaphorical spot — the one inside us — is the source from which the literal one has come to exist out of; it is the inner spot, which begs to have an outer spot. Principally, the inner appetite for socializing and relatedness seeks to understand a great spectrum of potentials. This spans from the brute need to find a sexual mate, all the way to the most exalted states of collective union, where a whole group may obtain, in a centrifugal fashion, an expansive and intricately equalizing interplay of exquisite opposites, which magnetize and propel each other into the pinnacles of creative and loving expression.

Regardless, the short blond girl — Kristine — was absorbed in her phone. Interrupting this habit, I began to discover certain facts about her social life: her college doesn’t have enough “spots” (the literal ones), and the people are pretty lame; she’s looking for new friends; she likes classic rock, like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Nirvana.

In response to her complaints about friends, I proposed: “What are friends, except reflections of aspects of ourselves, as if life is a dream and each of these characters are trying to teach us about our own predicaments?” After no response I added, “Or not, though. Right? By the way, Haley and I are interested in making new friends.”

Then we exchanged numbers and I said, “Which emoji should go next to your name?”

She looked at me with great anticipation, for if I had chosen a devil, or a whale she might infer great offense.

“I think you’re a fish, a ladybug and a ghost.”

To this she giggled and told me that her friend was going to meet us at the bar.

✽ ✽ ✽

At a table, in the stuffy area in front of the stage, Kristine and Haley sat together. Meanwhile, Jeff and I said our hellos to our old guitar teacher, whose son was playing at the bar that night.

I was introduced to the guitar teacher’s son — who went back to setting up his guitar on the stage — as well as his girlfriend. She said hello with such a disposition of airiness and lightness that it wasn’t fully audible. She seemed to be more of a fairy than an actual lady. It was as if, after this evening she would disappear back to the ethereal garden from which she sprang from so mysteriously, even accidently.

I approached the son, who spoke in the tone that indicated: I love marijuana. And the more I spoke to him, the more I saw the dozen and a half LSD trips, where he and his girlfriend jammed, vibed and spoke to god — or the universe, or the mystery, or whatever. I saw how they had dedicated themselves to music. I don’t mean the study of music. What they dedicated themselves to was the continual high of getting on stage, even if it was at small bars, and the continual hope of that next record deal, that next big break.

✽ ✽ ✽

I went over to the table where Haley and Kristine were seated. I leaned on the edge, taking note of the cherry red drink, in a tall glass that Kristine was already half-way through. Haley was seated by my side.

Kristine said, “I was just saying to Haley: I didn’t expect you to have a shaved head. It looks good. You’re lucky you have a good shaped head.”

I passed my hand across my head, “Thanks for the compliment, I suppose.”

“You do look good with it. You pull it off nicely. Some guys don’t, but it looks good on you,” She said in a series bursts.

Jeff was nearby, sort of aloof and yet content. Well, he had the smile of contentment; the smile of someone who’s seen many permeations of silly and inconsequential meetings of loose minds at bars, house parties, after work mixers and all sorts of other configurations and contexts.

Kristine fixated herself towards Haley and myself, then said, “You two are so cute together. I just broke up with my boyfriend and he was a stupid, shitty person, and I was totally fucked up about it all, but you guys give me hope.”

Haley said, in a quiet undertone, with a smile across her slender face, “Thanks.”

“You’ve got a real catch, Sam. Don’t lose this one. My god, she’s so pretty and tall,” Kristine said.

Jeff took a sip of his gin, and then leaned over and touched Kristine’s crisp blonde hair, “Your hair is nice.”

“Thanks. It takes forever to get like this,” Kristine said.

I thought that Jeff would have a chance with Kristine if he pursued her; they seemed a good enough match physically; she seemed raw and lubricated already, and one could only presume she would only soften and open more throughout the night.

Kristine leaned over, as if she wanted to touch my skull, “Your shaved head — I didn’t expect that. It looks good. You have a good shaped head. You look good; you two are a great couple.”

“Is there any other aspect of me that you might find interesting other than appearances?” I asked.

As much as, in the equation of my appearance, she put an emphasis on my shaved head, which combined with other factors, including the shape of jawline, the line of my brow, and as much as she emphasized Haley as “a catch,” because of her ambiguous ethnicity, her symmetrical face and small, sweeping nose, large and gentle eyes, and because of her tall and slim frame, I knew that these calculations were arbitrary. This is because, appearances are like gourmet food: they satisfy one’s craving in an instant, but if the meal isn’t nourishing on a substantial level one becomes hungry again almost instantly, almost as quickly as it was consumed in the first place. At that moment, I knew that a meal worth having is one that fulfills the body, not the tastebuds; I knew that a girl worth uniting with is one that fulfills the soul, not the sex organs.

“Of course there are things,” Kristine said. Then she made a dry and exacerbated chuckle to fill time.

I might add that, furthermore, there is no doubt that a lover who has no compatibility besides the exterior, will inevitably be, like a meal that is tantalizing, yet greasy and of low quality, the best reminder (not only of the draining and regretful influence of toxicity on the heart or digestive system, but) of the transient nature of all reality. Tyler knows this as Maya (the illusion of form) and Samsara (the cycles of death and birth) in Buddhism and Hinduism.

✽ ✽ ✽

The opening act came on the stage. This was the guitar player’s girlfriend — the fairy girl. She strummed and sang her little folky tunes, like the whisper of a bluebird, faint and in the distance; she wandered through her rudimentary chords with much feeling — the feeling of aimlessness, the sentiment of a disembodied soul.

I said to myself: As an angel might dance in heaven, yet look down to the earth, we dance on the earth and yearn for the stars.

And I heard the response of wandering souls: But, how might I trade places with the angel? I would prefer to see the earth down below with curiosity, rather than know what it means to be thrown into it.

I had a series of thoughts: When we were born, each of us was swaddled in a blanket of amnesia. Upon arrival, we had forgotten what the transcendent self knows: that meaning is what makes life bearable, it is what grounds us to a fulfilling and balanced existence. The knowledge that our lives are meaningful brings about truthfulness and immense responsibility. Despite our apparent amnesia, we are not ever fully abandoned by the wisdom of our lost and forgotten inner-most substance.

In our daily, mundane and continuous suffering, we are always prompted to remember: It is a dance, it is a play, do not believe every word that they say.

And then, in the night, at the cusp of sleep, a soft and shy voice may speak. It says: Your thoughts and emotions can be torturous tropes, cycling round and winding you up; but, they can also be mirrors to see your deepest truth; they can be shadows which give contrast and insight of use. The mind is a window with blinds; when closed and curtailed it is opaque and confined; when parted and opened it gives ease to truth to surmise.

Tyler turned to me after the first song and said, in a daze, his strong blue eyes still shining, a smile breaking out along his cleft chin and strong jaw, “I think I knew her in a past life.”

Robert turned to Tyler, “Yeah! Me too.”

“So where were you in that past life?” I asked.

“I dunno. I just have this feeling, like I’ve known her soul before,” Tyler said.

Robert and Tyler both turned, their eyes sparkling, to watch the fairy girl sing another tune.

Despite noticing her pretty voice, I too saw her past (a more immediate one than Tyler) as a quiet girl in high school, whose timidness and sensitivity made her recoil from the competitive and lively division of social groups. She had found herself averse to the institutionalized, mechanistic production of an “adult” — the education system. Her prior history came to me. That is, her past life as a daughter, brought-up in a conventional household, who eventually found a community in music and festival culture, as well as through psychedelic drugs and the expansive, visionary states that felt like the first homecoming she could actually enjoy.

I looked over at my old guitar teacher, who was apparently both bored and stoned.

✽ ✽ ✽

When the opening act finished, Tyler and Dave joined me, by the table with Kristine and Haley. Tyler and Dave stood there smiling widely, wildly, absurdly, and magically. I allowed myself to indulge in the presence of their child-like joy. We were laughing at nothing, laughing about laughing at nothing, laughing about knowing that we were laughing at nothing.

Tyler said, “I read an article before coming out that UFO disclosure was coming soon.”

I replied, “Have you ever experienced a UFO?”

“Well, I did have this wild experience last winter. I went to the beach at night, and I saw these lights flashing in the sky. I prayed, and was calling out that if the ET’s want to reach me that I’m here, I’m ready.”

I sent a cynical smirk over to Haley.

Tyler continued, “Then, that night I was meditating in bed, and I heard a rustling my closet. The rustling got louder and louder, then it turned into a sort of banging. I told myself not be scared, that it was probably an ET, but I couldn’t get myself to go over and open the closet.”

Robert listened as if he was the statue of a stoic, with the smile of a buddha.

“In the morning, I went out for a little. When I came back, my parents weren’t home. The closet door was open, and the clothes were everywhere. I noticed the room was freezing; the window was open wide,” Tyler said.

“Do you think the ETs opened the window?” said Robert.

“Well, maybe! My parents wouldn’t ever just open and leave the window open like that in the winter,” said Tyler.

“And windows are actually really difficult to open when it’s cold,” added Haley.

We all looked at each other, with big toothy smiles, wanting to believe.

Robert then said, “I once had an experience. I was driving for Uber at the time. I picked up this young woman and we started talking. Then we decided to smoke pot. So when we got to her house, I went inside and we rolled a blunt.”

“Stop right there!” I said in a teasing voice, “You start your UFO story with getting stoned!”

Everyone started giggling.

“Well yes, I was stoned when it happened. You see, we smoked out on the porch. She went back inside for a moment. Then, I saw across the sky a large ball of light. It went along completely straight.”

“Like in a horizontal line, parallel with the horizon?” I asked.

“Yes, just like that. And then it stopped, paused right there. After a second, I saw it disappear! I knew I saw a UFO!”

“Wow, that’s so crazy,” said Tyler in a lengthy drawl — another affirmation of his desire for contact with the ET’s to occur.

What is it that makes us long for another species in the sky? Does this fantasy compensate a world that is dry and cold, colorless and without gods?

I saw it so clearly then, how we are still the same as the people of ancient times; but, we have no Athena, Buddha, or Christ. We have the same need that our predecessors had, but our culture’s mythological provisions are short; so we turn our search to the stars, the mysterious place above, where mankind has not yet plumaged, raped and destroyed. We hope that it’s true, wanting to feel something beyond ourselves. It’s in the stars, not here; it’s in the vastness of meditation, not in the pursuit of capital and the discipline of adult life.

I then saw: these souls should be commended for their sensitivity, that has no place in the free market game. Their temperament is not constituted towards traditional achievement; they are designed as the few and far between that act as the bridge to a subtle place. They are placed here as reminders to those who are tough and motivated, to smile and muse, to listen deeply and dance.

I thought that night about how everyone, even the ancient shaman must come to terms, in one way or another, with some actualities of living. It seemed obvious that our culture pays our creative people to labor over sitcoms and action flicks; the art world places certain names on a pedestal of avaricious acclaim; the innovative are positioned within advertising excellence; but where do the less cunning types, the materialist rejecting ones go?

I saw that there is a need within all sorts of business-savvy, worldly Americans to meet with the mystery within themselves, which would reduce their hypnotic affair with opulent consumption, petty drama, violent conflict, and insatiable boredom. I saw that my friends, these floundering souls, are not contributing in the way that they could, and it’s no fault of their own, really.

America has prevailed within the game of consumptive-driven progress, but we’ve forgotten what living is really about: a silent mind, a steady heart, and a visage of the great beyond.