Thursday, January 30, 2014

Expressing Attitude

This woman, a guest in our meeting, while clearly intelligent and on it, seems to me to be a little contemptuous of my company (though she's trying her best to hide it), and it's starting to get on my nerves. When people get attitudes, I tend to tune out, but I'm doing my best to give her the benefit of the doubt, go against my regular habit, and really pay attention.

So I'm staring right at her as she's speaking to the group, listening to her points and trying to take it all in, when she turns and looks directly at me.

"Would you please not do that?" she says sharply, indicating my popping knuckles, which apparently I was cracking without even knowing I was doing it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Stars Don't Care

I'm walking back from the bar in the bitter cold night, and I look up into the sky. I seldom do that in the city, because of the light pollution, but tonight I can see, just over the buildings, the constellation Orion, big and bright and easily recognizable.

There have been so many opportunities to fuck up my life, through neglect or foolishness or pride or any of the half-dozen or so other vices I'm prone to. But here I am, going home to a warm home, same stars there's always been burning away indifferently above, and I am comforted.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Whole. Hearted.

"And so they'd have to hide live people in the rubble," I tell my boss, "just to give the dogs someone alive to find."

"I know it's a tragedy, but it still seems so much worse when you see it through the eyes of an animal," she says.

"Yeah, that might be because you've never really met a dog that wasn't wholehearted, and them being that way allows us to see people wholehearted."

"That's a good way to put that."

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Government Sure Do Take a Bite, Don't She

The music is too loud, so I turn it off. I have to concentrate. It's for the family, her and me, so I have to get it exactly right.

She looks at the number on the screen, says, "Wait, how much do we owe in taxes?"

Automatic Writing

Outside, the sun is only a slightly brighter patch in an expanse of gray, more a suggestion than a source of heat, light or hope.

Inside, I type away, busy at work on my novel, but the post-brunch catatonia is quickly catching up, and my eyes drift closed in the midst of a sentence.  I take dictation from dreams that I don't know I'm having.

I snap awake, and read where I've typed, apropos of nothing around it, "...and she wants to kick me off the Cheer squad."

Sunday, January 26, 2014

No Romping for You, Buddy

We walk through the snowy park, gray sky above, white and brown and black everything below, watching dozens of children on the hill across the meadow sledding down, grabbing their sleds and running back to the top to start again. Dogs off leash dash ecstatic through the white, tongues lolling, laugh-panting in joy.

The friendly noses of two airedales say hello to hands and hips as their owner explains that one of them is recovering from surgery, and therefore "can't romp." It must be awful, to have this playground, just waiting for your romping, and to not be able to do the thing.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Remembering my Future

Friday nights, I like to stay up late, watching TV, while Katie sleeps next to me, breathing softly. Periodically, the cat will climb into bed with us, standing on my chest, blocking my view, asserting her presence.

Since we got rid of cable, I spend a lot of what used to be prime late-night "weird TV" time watching YouTube, and tonight I've found a song from my misspent youth I used to listen to while riding my bike back and forth to school. I can see the wash by which I used to ride, some English fellow singing about the Knife, a thirteen year old kid, wishing for more than Tucson, wishing for soft sunshine and cool ocean breezes, for cloudy days and some kind of magic that I found, two-thousand miles away, and not where or in the way I would have expected.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Crowded Subway Is No Excuse

"I don't usually sit on the subway," I say to Katie, who nods. "But now all this stuff is at, like, eye level," I continue, indicating all the people around us.

"So now I want to touch stuff - like reach into her jacket pocket," right in front of us, "or adjust her volume," woman off to our left who's been listening at deafening levels to what sounds like a recording of someone building a house by hand using a hammer and a singing saw.

"Yeah, don't do that," Katie agrees.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Okay, But it's More Fun Down Here

After the lights went out in our whole building, we went out to the stairwell to check on our elderly neighbor. He's one flight up at the top of the stairs, and after we ascertain that Con Ed is on it, and trying to get us hooked back up "in a few minutes" (few like not that many? or few like a couple hours?), we figure we'll just finish cooking and wait for the power to come back on.

"So, do you want to come downstairs and wait with us?" Katie asks.

"Thanks, but I'd rather just sit alone in the dark," he says, in a gravelly, amused voice.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Good Problems to Have

Man gets on the subway with a little person (not a "little person" but literally, maybe I should have said "small person" but she wasn't that small) who I assume is his daughter. She's all bundled up for the cold, faux fur lining on her hoodie, little boots, very stylishly dressed for someone who's no more than, I'm guessing, five.

Two guys, young guys, mid-twenties, across the aisle from each other get up at the same time to offer the little girl their seat. So now her daddy is stuck, for just the briefest of seconds, trying to figure out which way to go with all this bounty of politeness.

What Am I, A Child?

Katie is loading up the washing machines while I stand idly by. She is, in this as in most things, supremely competent, which sounds like it wouldn't be that hard when you're just putting clothes into a machine, but she's got a particular way of doing things that is fast and elegant, and which she's thought through, and right now, I'm just keeping her company and trying to stay out of the way.

Once she's got things set up and in order, she asks me to put coins into the machines, and like a child finally given a task he knows he can accomplish, I leap into action.

Which is when I turn a little too quickly, hitting the detergent bottle with my shoulder, sending it flying, spraying blue viscous soap that seems to almost instantly cover everything.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Seen That Trick Before

The guy passing out candy in Union Square holds out two Airheads to me.

My mood is impeccable, so I take them with a bright, "Thanks!" and keep walking, but he steps in my way.

"Could-you-make-a-donation-for-the-kids...," he begins to recite, no pauses between words, his voice monotone, his eyes dull.

"Tell you what, I'm gonna give these back to you," I say, barely breaking stride, pressing the candy back into his hands.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

And We Probably Won't Do Much On Saturday Two

"So, what did you do today," Kevin asks. We're eating takeout and watching Kung Fu movies while gradually getting mildly(?) drunk on the absinthe I brought back from Paris (which us about as equal measures ridiculous and fun as it sounds).

"Well this was basically Saturday One, since we've got Monday off. We did all the usual stuff we do on Saturday, but then we get another one tomorrow, so we didn't do much of anything else," I say as the sounds of mayhem rise onscreen, and the melting ice transforms the liquor from crystal green to pearly white.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Back and Forth

"All the self-help books and spirituality bullshit books say that you have to 'stay in the moment,' and I know from experience that that's where 'bliss' or whatever lies," I say. Katie nods.

"But the inability to look into the future and plan for what works, say, a week, or a month out," she continues, "makes you miserable."

When a dog is happy, he's never been anything but happy, but when he's unhappy, it's the end of the world.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Irish Farewell

Busy day tomorrow, and I'm staying late to get a jump on it. Actually I'm doing some other work that I need to catch up on, but once the guy I'm waiting for gets out of his meeting, he'll tell me what needs doing, we'll finish stuff up, be ready for the morning, and I'll head home, satisfied with a job well done.

Except that everyone is getting out of the meeting, and I'm still waiting, stupidly. Apparently, he dashed from the meeting at least an hour ago, and left without saying goodbye.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

She'll be Glad to Know

After waiting on the platform for what seems like ages, watching half-a-dozen trains go by, finally squeezing on to a packed car, enduring the dead eyes and hopeless faces of my fellow commuters, and witnessing two women nearly get into a fight over a child's restless acting out, I am almost desperate to just be nice to someone, if only to make myself feel better about the world, humanity, and my life.

An older woman trying very hard not to bump into anyone or get in anyone's way by contorting herself to take up as little space as possible offers me my perfect opportunity, and I say, "Come on over, plenty of room here," motioning her towards me with a smile. "We'll all get through this together."

She takes me up on my offer to ride more comfortably and, as she's getting off, favors me with a smile of her own, saying, "Now, you make sure to tell your mother she raised you right."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Lessons Learned

The puppy does that adorable "bow" that puppies do when they want to play: legs stiff out in front, chest lowered to the ground, ears back, eyes smiling.

The other dog, though, is apparently not so well socialized, and comes up fast, nose down, eyes hard. There's a moment of stare down, and then other dog snarls and snaps at the puppy.

The other owner, who clearly knew that her dog was like this and was just hoping that this time, this time he wouldn't be like that, draws her foaming dog away from the clearly shaken puppy who is now huddled next to his owner, and throws a half-hearted, "Sorry," over her shoulder.

The Shameful Science

The Q&A after a public lecture or reading is almost always fraught for me, because Q&A's always seem to bring out the crazy in people. Like this guy: you can always tell the nutjobs by the way they ramble on for a while before they get to the point, and his question finally winds around to the idea that, if everything is vibration, why can't people effect the weather by increasing their "good" vibrations?

Which is straight up nonsense, of course, but the scientist lecturing in the planetarium at the American Natural History Museum doesn't dismiss the wack-a-doo out of hand.

Now, I know there's a part of me that believes that New Age crap, and even as the vicarious embarrassment that comes from watching somebody make a fool of themselves in public rises in my chest like bad water welling up in a choked drainpipe, I find myself thinking, "Well, it's not true, exactly, but I get where that guy is coming from."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I'm Not Worthy

"I choose to see this award, not as a reward for past achievements," as usual after watching awards shows, I'm practicing my acceptance speech, "but as a goad and an obligation to even higher standards in the future."

The laundry still isn't put away, the catbox uncleaned, the bathroom, while not filthy, needs a good wipedown, and I'm about 4000 words into a new project that the muse has yet to visit.

I walk from room to room, tidying up, putting things away (doesn't have to be perfect, just has to be better than it was when I started), shutting cabinets, starting the dishwasher. I imagine a tux, the heft of a statue in my hand, accolades, cashed checks, artistic achievement before my peers, awards, silly things, and I know the only thing to do is to keep calling out my lesser desires, and keep trying to make it a little better, just a little, than when I started.

A Block is About 100 Steps

We manage to make it to the greemarket at Grand Army Plaza when it starts to pour. The sky opens up, and we run, making it to an awning, still soaked and laughing, as the gutters fill with brown, soupy water.

A little boy and his father are poised at the edge of the awning, bouncing in anticipation of making another run for it.

"It's only a hundred steps to home," the father says, and the little boy replies, "Let's go!"

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Both Wrong

I'm at this reading, George Saunders (look him up if you don't know, short story writer) and Ben Stiller, whom I'm sure you know, and the packed, cold crowd is getting squirrelly. Some older Manhattanite ladies in bangled sweaters, an overly developed sense of self-importance, and a radically underdeveloped sense of proportion have taken it upon themselves to be the fire aisle patrol or something, and they take a woman to task for sitting in front of them.

Suddenly this guy with an accent I can't quite place (Nordic? French?) gets into the act, and in typical European fashion, defends the sitter's right to sit wherever she wants, nevermind the Manhattanites sense of fairness or the rules.

Even after the sitter leaves, wisely beating a retreat in the face of such controversy, the Manhattanites and the European bicker, and though I can't really side with the privileged ladies and their fussy ways, the European's arrogant attitude is so typical of the Europeans I've met that I can't really side with him either.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Think Skinny Thoughts

I sidle into the already packed train with a small, apologetic sound and grab the bar, trying not to smush the people in front of me while still keeping my ass inside the closing door.

There's that moment where everyone is packed into the car that the train approaches maximum density, but the doors are still open, and everyone sort of prays that nobody gets slappy and tries to shove on, but of course here comes that guy, saying, "Hey, can you move in a little?" and magically, he fits.

"Ask and ye shall receive," I say before I realize that I'm actually saying those words out loud, with my mouth.

"Never know unless you try," he replies jovially, and I wonder how much our fellow passengers hate us right now.

The Play IS the Thing

Katie told me a really great story, about how a stranger held the subway door for her at a really crucial moment this afternoon, and she thanked him and gave him a chocolate.  It was an awesome story, with lovely little moments and all these great details: the way the guy kicked back his leg to hold the door (and she kinda kicked back her own leg, demonstrating), and the way the guy's eyes lit up when she gave him the chocolate, and how he laughed, and his wonderful accent, and how he savored the chocolate while devouring it at the same time.

But it's her story, don't you see? I loved the way she told it, the animation of her face, her smile that was his smile, and though I sometimes steal her stories for my own, this time, all I want to do is show you her, telling her story, the little play she acted out for me, just for me, only for me.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


They've taken all the apples in from the outside stands at the bodega on 7th Avenue, but the tattered hand-lettered signs still remain, selling fall's last macouns and braeburns (more likely galas and mealy red "delicious"). In their place are a few paltry bundles of firewood, wrapped in stretchy yellow plastic stacked where fruit should go, tossed around and lonely.

The cold is all anybody talks about, because it's all one can think about when confronted with the sheer, overwhelming physical monstrosity of it, hunched over the city, fangs bared. I'm wrapped in layer upon layer (upon (layer)), and still I can feel tiny patches of exposed skin begin to crystallize and die in the short walk from the subway to the blessed warmth of home

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Might Keep Her Warm. Might Not.

The blonde woman smokes in the doorway, out of the wind. It's still not as cold as it's going to be yet, but the wind carries hints of what's to come, a chill foreshadowing of doom.

She squints at the smoke, thin cigarette pinched in her fingers, lips pursed in disapproval of the world. Whatever she sees, it's not enough, or too much, or she just wishes it were doing something else, burning, maybe.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Good Night

The apartment is quiet after we turn off the television. There's no stirrings downstairs, where we will occasionally hear them watching a movie, or upstairs, where our elderly neighbors keep the hours of the old and seem never to sleep, pacing late into the night on unknowable errands.

Katie climbs into bed and lays on her back, breathing, eyes closed. The cat, seeing us settle in, jumps down off the bed with an ungraceful thump, off to her usual haunts, and our home begins its journey through the darkness, a small oasis of peace.

Attention to Detail (Taking Things Too Seriously)

I'm cleaning up after a long afternoon of beer making, wiped out and fretting about all the things I'm sure I did wrong. You'd think that it would be easy, just following directions, but it requires concentration, and there are so many points where one can screw up, potentially ruining a batch and wasting hours of work.

"I'm sure you did fine, and even if you didn't, it's a learning... what's wrong?" Katie says, as I almost collapse, folding in half at the waist, my knees buckling.

"I forgot to add the maple syrup," I say, covering my face with my hands.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Why Should a Photo Fade?

She sits on the subway, talking to her friend, and I can see what she'll look like when she's old. It's a talent I've had since I was a child, and I can see and hear it, plain as day: the jowls, the rasp that right now sounds sexy, but in a decade or two will just sound tired, the lines around her eyes.

There was a time when we were all younger than we are now, evidence of which we may find in photographs. We used to say of memories that they were like "faded photographs," perhaps more for the alliteration than anything else, but the metaphor may soon need to be retired, as the digital images we substitute for photographs never fade, the pixels staying exactly the same, forever, and no one born after, say, 1996 or so will have any idea what we're talking about.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Never Going Back Again

"So after we went to bed around five, he got up at nine to," she pinches her index finger and thumb together and lifts it to her lips, "you know, and then came back to bed." She shrugs.

I remember my (long past) days of wake and bake, slipping back into bed in the gray hours of morning, stoned and almost suicidally lonely, the delicious cool sheets caressing me as I lapse into unconsciousness.

The simultaneous longing and revulsion curdle in me, and I shudder.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

I Believe You Have Something of Mine.

"Excuse me sir," says the hobbit-like man with the mustache once he's finished arguing with his wife. "Could you get some of those down for me?"

He's pointing to the giant 15 roll pack of toilet paper stacked up to the ceiling above the meat section, and I hand him the onion I'm carrying and happily oblige.

Once he's got it and he's walking away, I have to chase him down to get my onion back.

Him, Too

Cold wind off the water burns my cheeks, but the three hot toddies smoldering in my belly keep me warm as the fireworks explode over New Jersey with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground.

"Thank you Jersey," I say. "Home of Bon Jovi."

"And Bruce Springsteen on a good day," the woman next to me chimes in.