Thursday, November 28, 2013

Bloody Soil

After the consumerist nightmare of the Champs-Élysées, we stand atop the Arc de Triomphe and look out across the foggy city spread out below us in radiating spokes from here. I've spent most of the day imagining the wars and revolutions that have bloodied the streets of Paris, and now I'm looking down from a monument to a biggie. The high relief friezes on the front of the arc show men and boys (and the occasional very angry woman) getting ready to go to war, drawing swords and rushing off to do battle against whatever foe the state has mandated this time.

When we come back down to earth, a coterie of soldiers have taken over the plaza by the monument to the unknown soldier, and summarily we tourists are shooed away to make way for some solemn ceremony or other, of which we will never really be a part.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Life Skills

The Eiffel Tower soars to the sky, lattice and lace and much lighter than anything that enormous has any right to be. Every hour on the hour hundreds of lights as bright as flashbulbs go off across the girders of the frame work making it dazzle like it's giving off sparks.

Down below we watch in awe, until the guys hawking cheap-ass trinkets (plastic Eiffel Towers that change colors, key chains with names like "Kaatie" or "Lazaa).

Fortunately, my time in New York has taught me how to deal with the random street hustler: "No thanks," I say, my voice stern.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Check Your Bags (And Your Privilege)

"Whose is this?" the woman asks the people surrounding the charging station. She then unplugs someone's phone and plugs hers in. 

"That's mine," another woman says, walking up. "And it's not done," she continues and unplugs the first woman's phone, who looks genuinely surprised that someone would question her right to a fully charged phone.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Elusive Glasses Are Somehow My Fault

The dull-eyed girl behind the counter becomes, somehow, even more dull-eyed as she talks on the phone to their storeroom. "But I told you to keep them here," she says sullenly to someone on the other end.

Finally, she hangs up and regards me with near-hostility. "They sent them over to the other store," she says to her boss who hovers anxiously nearby, all the while still looking at me.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tales from High School

"And Tim would always ask if we were done with our food, so he could eat the leftovers," Kevin tells my wife. "So finally we just started licking our food so he'd stop asking."

"That was me," I tell him. "It was Tim who started licking stuff, and really, it didn't stop me." 

"Repent, Harlequin!" "Yeah, no, I'm good."

Once again, I look to the television for the time, only to remember that there's no clock there. When you give up cable, one of the things they don't tell you is that you may not have enough clocks in your house.

Sure there might be one or two in the kitchen, on the microwave, say, or the stovetop, and everybody in New York carries around a supercomputer in their pocket these days that's linked to a freaking atomic clock somewhere in Nevada or some such nonsense.

But there's something simultaneous frightening, and a little thrilling, about not exactly knowing what time it is, not caring, just letting the hours wash over you, living a slightly more elastic existence unfettered by the tyranny of time.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Friendly Wine Makes Friends

My wine tastes bubbly and sweet and shamelessly friendly, and I'm feeling friendly, so I ask the guy behind the bar if he knows anything about Paris. It's sort of my go-to question lately, and I ask it of anybody who seems interesting or seems knowledgeable about food, or wine, or whatever.

He looks at me seriously for a second, and then dashes off to grab something to write with.

"Pookie's four-a-day," Katie sings to herself, smiling, sipping the last of her wine.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

No Making Out Tonight

She points at my upper lip. "What's that?"

"It's either a zit gone crazy, or a cold sore," I say, trying not to reach up and touch it. 

I'm almost certain it's a cold sore, though.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Old Before Her Time

Woman with a cane, glasses, down filled puffy coat, bustles onto the train and down next to me on the bench. She continues to bustle as she settles in, fixing her hair, worrying her bag, twisting her headphones into and out of knots, wriggling the entire time, like a kid who has to go to the bathroom.

I try not to be rude on the train, only looking directly at people when I'm pretty sure I won't be observed, but I turn to look at her and I'm surprised - she looks like she's maybe late-twenties. She seems much younger than all that nervous, busy energy would have led me to believe.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fall is Just the Space Between

Rush rush rush rush sound of scuffing through the yellow ginko leaves piled along the sidewalk. Smell of the ginko seeds, stinky feet and cheese and vegetal.

Walk by a guy talking to somebody outside the Middle Eastern restaurant, and he says, "Let me go, man. It's freezing out here."

Monday, November 18, 2013


"It's a maltese-poodle mix," the short bald guy behind the counter says with a thick accent as he bags up my cat food. "But, you know, he doesn't like to eat."

I ask him what he means and he shrugs. "I get him liver, you know, and I cook it up, but if I don't cut it up into little pieces," and pantomimes turning up his nose and pushing a plate away.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Flight of the Hunter

Katie is standing at the apartment door, fresh from the shower, wrapped in a towel, door open, the light from the stairwell of our building streaming in. She's called me into the hall of our apartment with that calm, concerned voice that she uses when it's really important, but she doesn't want anybody to panic.

"Scott, can you help me?" she says. "The cat's run out into the building, so I need you to get the cat, and get me the can of Raid."

Almost Ready to Turn Off Cable

"Congratulations on not watching any TV on cable tonight," Katie says, after we finish watching a documentary on Netflix.

"Well, except for those fights on UFC," I say.

"Yeah, that's true," she says.

A few minutes later, we're watching Saturday Night Live, because Lady Gaga is hosting.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


The meeting takes place in the slightly less formal office, rather than the meeting room.

The staid, pleasant assistant's pants hike up a little, revealing the colorful, daring ankle bracelet she conceals beneath her cuffs.

The pregnant head of HR's hand falls naturally down into her lap, where it seems to curve around her swelling belly of its own volition.

The director of the department smells of cologne, or maybe shampoo, but either way we're sitting close enough that I can smell whichever it is.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cultural Confusion

"So I'm playing Tiny Death Star, and trying to stretch out so I'm like this." Katie bends over at the waist, staring at the ground.

"And when I come up, one of the men in that group of Japanese is staring at me, and he goes like this." She bows, with a concerned look on her face.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul

I realize I'm singing along to the song in my headphones when I catch the two people waiting in front of the apartment building do a double take as I walk by.

I imagine how I sound: that sort of weird, thin, high, quavery voice that people sing in when they're singing and they can't hear their own voice. It's creepy.

I continue down the block, deliberately singing louder, which is more obnoxious, but less creepy.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Not Exactly Suited for an Office

I sigh one of those sighs where you sort of puff out your cheeks and blow air out, and my co-worker says, "You okay? You've been sighing and tapping your feet and talking to yourself like crazy over there."

"Oh, hey, I'm sorry," I say, forcing my leg to stop bouncing up and down. "I kinda can't help it sometimes, 'cause of my ADD."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Quoth the Guy Who Has to Go to Work Tomorrow

Thanks veterans, both for your service, and for the day I've been given to hang out and do stuff.

With the cat curled up beside me on the couch, I've spent most of my morning editing this story. Later, I'll go out for cat food and a quick walk, then it's back home to practice my French, work on the story some more, read this book about Americans in Paris in the 1800's, and then bake some cookies.

"Working's for suckers," I say to the cat, and she yawns and goes back to sleep.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


At three in the afternoon, the sky is so dark it seems close to dusk. "Flinty," I say to Katie as we're walking down Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, referring to the color of the clouds, the smell of the air, the shade of the light. 

"What?" she says, then, nodding, "Oh." A few icy pinpricks of water hit my lips and cheek.

Maybe He Was Just Trying to Help

I come around the corner of the aisle to find Katie continuing a very serious conversation with the store clerk about paint.

"So you're telling me that this paint doesn't have primer in it?" she asks, even though the can very clearly says "paint & primer" on it.

Maybe it's this, or my rapidly progressing illness, but I am not feeling particularly charitable toward this guy's motives, especially when he continues to insist that there's no primer (in the paint that says the opposite right on the can).

I walk up and tap the can on the label where it says the magic word, and say, "Yeah, this one's fine."

Friday, November 8, 2013

I got nothing

I'm watching Anthony Bourdain misunderstand Japanese culture. My head cold has finally come full bloom just in time for the weekend. I should probably be asleep, but I hate wasting time where I don't have to be at work. 

I'll sleep tomorrow.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

It Only Takes a Spark

He shoves onto the already packed 4 train with a curse that carries the length of the car. "Fuck you, fuck all a you," he says to no one, everyone, as the people around him protest.

He almost starts a fight with two more people in the time it takes to get us from one station to another, and when the train reaches Grand Central, he seems to be actively glorying in shitting all over everybody's morning.

"Fuck you," he repeats, "I'll kill all a you," and he laughs.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Making My Own Drama

I'm marking up my friend's story, pencil in hand, riding the train, standing, which means that I'm grabbing the bar with the same hand that I'm holding the pencil.

And this is what I'm reduced to right now. There's very little of actual interest in the day, so I'm talking about worrying that I'm gong to accidentally stab this pleasant, albeit rather plain-looking, woman standing just to my right with my very sharp pencil that I happened to find on the subway platform a few days ago.

I mean, I didn't stab her, but still, we went around a pretty sharp corner, causing me to grab the bar frantically to keep from falling over, and, well, let's just say it was kinda touch and go there for a minute.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Starvation Method

"If you gotta change your cat's diet," the clerk at the pet shop says, "and she's all finicky? Just change it."

"A dog'll be all, 'Oh, they changed my food," and just eat it. But a cat won't eat for a few days until he realizes you're serious, and then he'll be like, 'Oh damn, I guess they mean it.'"

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Best Spies Believe Their Cover Story

When I finally shaved my dreadlocks off, in my early twenties, I used to joke with my friends that I wasn't selling out, I was "going undercover." Presumably, the idea was that I would look normal enough to somehow infiltrate the "straight" world, while still being a freak on the inside.

Today, I catch sight of myself in a storefront reflection as I'm walking down the street: dress shoes, wool herringbone pants, white oxford shirt, purple silk tie, vintage tweed winter coat that looks straight up 1962, stylish short hair parted on the right, and I think, God, look at me. Looks like my disguise is complete.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

It's Up To Me

I unscrew the expanders on the sides of the air conditioner in my friend's window, then the screw holding it to the window frame. Katie and my friend are distracted, so they don't see my hand shake, but tell you what, I am a little nervous.

This heavy piece of equipment is just hanging out in space over the sidewalk below, and once I lift the sash, it could be free to fall, crashing to earth and killing whomever below. 

But that's not going to happen, I tell myself, white knuckle tight gripping the back of it as I say, "Okay, can you lift the window open now?"

Saturday, November 2, 2013

I Guess I Don't Either

The cat loves the taste of kava, and licks my hands even after I've washed them, tasting the bitter, dirt-flavored residue until, I suppose, her face goes numb. I don't actually know how kava effects cats, though I suppose that the mechanism is similar, and it makes them feel pretty good.

I remark to Katie how strange it feels when the cat licks my hands in such a persistent fashion.

"I love her little sandpaper kisses," she says, "and I don't care where her mouth has been."

Haunting the Bastard

Due to the various and sometimes truly awful misdeeds of my youth (to which I freely cop), one or two of my ex-girlfriends have blocked me on social media. They're not wrong, probably.

But since they remain in contact with people who have not blocked me, I occasionally observe traces of their existence: seeming non-sequiturs in comment threads that can only be responses to jokes I can't see, or agreements with cogent arguments I'll never read. They move like ghosts through my electronic existence - a shadow sighted out of the corner of my eye, a shiver sliding up my spine as a person who does not wish me well (if they think of me at all) moves somewhere nearby in the vast dark of the internet.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The D Train Is Bat Country

The guy in the Hunter S. Thompson costume twitches by the subway door and squints at the ads above the seats, trying pretty hard to draw attention to himself. "Method costuming," Katie whispers, nodding in his direction.

Trust the short, hairy, older eastern European in the suit and Santa hat to engage Hunter, though. "She knew who you were right away," he says, indicating his leggy, sharp faced and obviously inebriated date, "but it was several minute before I knew who were you."