I’m sitting alone at the bar trying to think positive thoughts about being one’s own best friend when Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” comes on. Naturally, I think of my ex, who remains undeserving of all the love I’ve expended on him like a diamond necklace wasted on a trailer park denizen. People say I give him too much power by constantly writing about him, but whatever. If I want to feel powerful, I’ll just regress back to my past life as Mussolini. I look briefly around at some of the other people sitting at the bar. It is two men, separate, but situated close to one another. It appears as though the lyrics are all too real for them and the bartender cuts the music somewhere in the middle to switch the song to “Empire State of Mind.” It feels like a disingenuous transition. Considering the demographic of the surrounding corner (at Lafayette and St. Felix) on which the restaurant stands, however, maybe the patrons of this establishment truly believe in the promise of New York. A segue into En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go (Love)” feels slightly more organic than the first one, playing into that whole wounded lover motif. “4 Page Letter” by Aaliyah continues to confirm the current auditory theme, with Aaliyah singing, “People always say that I play myself for you/They say that you don’t even notice me.”
As this song ends, my garden salad and side of mac and cheese arrives. It is soiled by the shift to some random shitkicker song before Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” comes on. It is then that I choose to choreograph my first bite of salad. “No Air” by Jordin Sparks featuring Chris Brown puts me slightly off of my bite minutes later. And I then think back to a recent conversation with some friends about what man could possibly “handle” Rihanna. Not that she’s a mess or anything, but she does have some very specific preferences for men. We decided Idris Elba would be best for her.
A commercial for Pandora comes on followed by Beyoncé’s “All Night Long.” This song reminds me of being in Amsterdam when Lemonade first came out. As I enjoy the last few tastes of my salad, “Ex Factor” by Lauryn Hill swells over the speakers. Oh god, why is this playlist targeting my wounds? Will I ever heal? Will there ever be a Lacuna Inc. for real? “Tell me who I have to be to get some reciprocity.”
At some point during the epic guitar solo of “Ex Factor,” I’ve delved into my mac and cheese, which, by now, has grown lukewarm. Like my life. A commercial for New York Presbyterian hospital interrupts the mood briefly, succeeded by Adele’s “Remedy.” Guess Adele is passing for black these days after her Grammys Beyoncé groveling. The gradual transition of white artists posing as black ones persists with Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby.” At this juncture, I order a glass of merlot.
As though on cue for the presence of wine, Usher’s “There Goes My Baby” is next. I don’t really care for him. “What’s My Name?” by Rihanna featuring Drake disrupts the romance of the song prior and someone behind me starts singing along to it. Drake clearly couldn’t “handle” Rihanna/wasn’t “just [her] type, o na na na na na na.” John Legend featuring Ludacris’ “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)” makes me think of the rougher Luda I once knew, the one who would have never collaborated with someone as soft as Legend, and would have simply licked me from my head to my toes without asking. The mac and cheese is gone.
“I’m Going Down” by Mary J. Blige goes back to catering to my fetishizing the pain of my loneliness and rejection as she wails, “I’m goin’ down without you around.” An insensitive patron near me mockingly imitates her voice. I want to glare at him but that would involve looking up from my piece of paper. “Let It Go” by Keyshia Cole featuring Missy Elliott and Lil’ Kim is something I barely have the focus for as a Jamaican man across the bar screams to me, “You don’t look good!” I say, “That’s not very nice.” The man next to him laughs. The Jamaican man adds, “No, I just mean it looks like you have a lot on your mind.” “I guess I do.” I don’t bother to explain to him that my mind is simply fraught with sonic reactions.
He sidles over without sitting down and says, “Let me tell you a story. We all go a little crazy without someone to vent to.” “Yes, I’ve seen it happen.” “When I was a boy I went to my father and said, ‘I have a problem.’ He said, ‘Keep it to yourself.’ I asked, ‘Why?’ ‘Because this word, problem, is negative. It pollutes the mind.’ From that day on, I never used it again. Whenever people at work come to me with ‘problems,’ I say, ‘No, tell me the situations.’ And I think you’ll find it will lift the blocks you think you have.” I nod at him and smile. I don’t respond, “Sure, me having $15k debt isn’t a problem. It’s a situation.”
I’ve sort of blacked out the playlist through this pearl of wisdom and come to as Drake’s “One Dance” plays. Ironically, my wine glass is still half full. More Mary J. Blige in the form of “Be Without You,” as in “I just can’t be without ya, baby.” Maybe this is Mary J. Blige Radio. The girl who has now joined the Jamaican philosopher at the bar sings along briefly before telling him he’s a psycho. Usher is abruptly cut in favor of Lauryn Hill’s “I Used to Love Him.” Now I don’t know if it’s Usher or Lauryn Hill Radio. A commercial about snacks. “The Sweetest Thing” by Refugee Camp All-Stars a.k.a. Lauryn Hill. It’s a song I’ve never heard. Thank god for Shazam.
I ask for my check to John Legend’s “So High.” And maybe by now, I am. High on salad, mac and cheese, merlot, free advice and the knowledge that every black woman has had as bad of a breakup as I have.
Whitney Houston-“I Will Always Love You”
Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys-“Empire State of Mind”
En Vouge- “Don’t Let Go (Love)”
Aaliyah-“4 Page Letter”
Mary J. Blige-“Real Love”
Jordin Sparks feat. Chris Brown-“No Air”
Beyoncé-“All Night Long”
Lauryn Hill-“Ex Factor”
Mariah Carey-“Always Be My Baby”
Usher-“There Goes My Baby”
Rihanna feat. Drake-“What’s My Name?”
John Legend feat. Ludacris-“Tonight (Best You Ever Had)”
Mary J. Blige-“I’m Going Down”
Keyshia Cole feat. Missy Elliott & Lil’ Kim-“Let It Go”
Mary J. Blige-“Be Without You”
Lauryn Hill featuring Mary J. Blige-“I Used to Love Him”
Refugee Camp All-Stars-“The Sweetest Thing”
John Legend-“So High”