Monday, August 31, 2015

Assertiveness Training

"Okay, here's what I'm going to need you to do," I say to the Time Warner representative, because I'm working on being more assertive. "You guys are going to comp us the week that we don't have service until you can get a technician out here."

"Of course sir," says the rep, without skipping a beat.

Caught off guard, I can only say, "Well, thank you," and wonder if I was too hard on him.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What Year Is It?

Despite my intentions to write more clearly, the words squeezing from my pen grow more and more indecipherable. 

"I'll just close my eyes for a second," I think, but the notebook is already flat on my chest, and I'm unable to keep my eyes open, regardless.

I awake an undetermined time later with the cat on my chest, flexing her needle-like claws through my shirt and into my skin.

"How long have I been asleep?" I ask her, but she just blinks and purrs.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Neither, But It's Sweet of You to Think So

"I'm sorry, did I hear you guys say you needed recommendations for a place to eat?" Katie says to the couple (whom we've never before seen in in our lives) standing by the traffic light.

In less than five minutes, we're chatting like we're old friends - Gary and I are discussing his growing up on the Upper West Side, and his travels in the Middle East, while Sam acts like she's about to invite Katie to her wedding.

"You live in Park Slope?" he says, his eyes twinkling. "Let me guess: finance, or law?"

Friday, August 28, 2015

I Have a Tell

"You don't believe it!" Katie says, pointing at me. "You have your lying eyes on."

"But it's true!" I protest.

"Look, I did you a favor by explaining one of your 'tells,'" Katie replies.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

No Big Deal

"Look," I say apologetically, "if you tell me you're not coming in, like if I know you're not coming in ahead of time, I can't let you take a sick day. People will get suspicious."

"Yeah, I understand," he says in his usual deadpan fashion. "It's no big deal."

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Does This Pillow Smell Like Chloroform to You?

"So how did you do going to sleep to the dog videos last night?" I ask Katie.

"It was perfect," she says.

"Like someone tapping you on the temple with a tiny silver hammer," I say, laughing.

"More like chloroform: nice and slow."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


A couple sits perched on the stone wall by the old Reformed Church, talking intensely, and the dog seems to want to pause and check them out, but I steer her away, as I don't want to intrude.

"I don't see why you have to make this about you," the woman says, her voice flat and uninflected. "I'm trying to get better."

I pass through the edge of the gravity well of their despair, and slingshot away, down the sidewalk and into the night.

Monday, August 24, 2015

That's What I Meant

I'm sitting on the stone steps leading up to side door of the church, on the phone with my mom. The moon floats in and out of clouds, hazed and fuzzy in the humidity.

"I'm just really glad we're okay, these days," I say.

"Well, I thought we've been okay for a few years," she replies.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


"Same color, same face, same tail," says the unexpectedly friendly stranger as we're walking down the street to the dog's favorite pee spot. "But your dog seems a little... short."

"She's a shiba inu," I say, as if that explains anything.

"Damnedest thing I ever saw," he says, shaking his head in disbelief.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


The guy behind the counter is about five feet two inches, with a marked hunch and a comb-over that hides nothing on his narrow pink skull. His nails look like little half-circles on square, blunt fingers, and his hands shake as he caps and recaps his yellow highlighter pen.

"So here's the emergency roadside assistance number," he says slowly, highlighting a phone number on the van rental contract before capping, then un-capping the pen yet again, to highlight another number, "and here's the mileage."

I'm trying not to be impatient with him, so I keep my face carefully composed as I nod and say, "Uh-huh."

Friday, August 21, 2015

And Not Fictional

She seems to be hanging around the bin of kitty litter at the pet store, waiting for someone to talk to, or maybe I just have one of those faces that make people feel like opening up.

"So he's a dwarf," she says, showing me a picture of an enormous, resigned-looking tabby with stubby legs in a Santa Claus costume, "which means that he can't clean himself."

She tabs through the pictures on her phone, continuing, "He really looks like Garfield, only handsomer, don't you think?"

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How You Treat the People Who Serve You

"Well can I get four of each of the different dumplings?" my friend asks, after she's already told him no. "Like, chicken, and shrimp, and beef?"

As the server tries to keep her patience, I look at him incredulously and say, "What are you doing to these nice people?"

"I don't know they're nice," he replies.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Problem of Education

"So you must have read all the big names, growing up in Russia," I say to my co-worker. "Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekov."

He sighs. "When you are young in Russia, they make you read those authors, so when you are an adult, you do not want to open them again."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


"You're all set, thanks," I say to my co-worker as I take the paperwork back from him. I start to sign my copy, a quick scribble resembling the letters that spell my name, but I stop, breathe, and start again.

I take my time, not overly careful, just trying to be deliberate, moving my pen with smooth, patient loops and strokes across the page. I finish and admire my handiwork, a signature that my elementary school teacher would be proud of, while my co-worker has long departed down the hall and away to more important business

Monday, August 17, 2015


"Nice hat," I say to the woman behind the counter. She's wearing a black baseball cap with a gold triforce symbol, referring to her love of the video game series "The Legend of Zelda," a series I have spent more hours than I care to count playing.

"Yeah," she says, "I love Twilight Princess, but I'm still stuck on Majora's Mask, and I've been playing for months."

"I know what you mean," I say, sighing and giving her cash for the white paper bag with the eclair.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

THAT Kind of Marriage

After a long, hot day working Katie's butterfly business at the flea market, we climb into the cab of van and turn on the air conditioning full blast.

As the sweat crusts to salt, Katie sits back and sighs. "Air conditioning is the greatest invention in history, and I'm including the polio vaccine," she announces.

"You never disappoint," I say, shaking my head.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

They're Too Short

"So I asked him," the woman at the checkout counter says, double-bagging my eggs even though I asked her not to. "I say, 'Do you want me to sugar coat it, or do you want the truth?'"

They've been remodeling the grocery store, and I asked her what she thought.

"And he wants me to tell him the truth, so I say, 'Well, it looks really nice, but the new checkouts suck.'"

I'm a Liar

The dog poops under one of the trees that lines the sidewalk (which is somewhat frowned upon) and in the dirt right next to the fresh turds is a beautiful, polished stone. After I scoop up the poop (turning the bag inside out around it with a single, practiced motion) I stoop down and grab the rock for one of Katie's butterfly sculptures.

As I walk away, I imagine what I would say if anyone asked, for instance, "Who took the single rock that I left in the woodchips under that tree?" or "I saw your dog poop, and even though you picked it up, are you kidding?"

But in my mind I'm denying everything, without shame, and getting away with it (even though nobody asks).

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Impersistence of Memory

"Do you remember the salary from the paperwork we filed a few weeks ago?" my boss asks. She's been after me lately to be more conscientious about details.

"No," I say simply, because, of course, when she says it I remember, but when I was writing out the form we're talking about, I didn't. Not that that does me much good right now.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Brief Discourse on Style

When Willie Nelson sings, he's so far in the pocket it sounds like he might be singing a different song. His guitar has a second hole, a worn out spot just down and to the right of the main one on his acoustic, and it sounds like he hasn't changed the strings, maybe ever.

And "singing" is sort of a strong word, anyway, when really, as Katie says, it sounds like he's doing a very loose spoken word interpretation of whatever song his band happens to be playing.

But when it all comes together, you realize he's doing exactly what he wants to do - not because he can't play in strict rhythm, or right on pitch, or with a new instrument - but because he wants to do it exactly the way he's doing it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Nicest Thing He's Ever Said About My Work Ethic

We're on a video chat with my Dad, discussing Katie's business. "Well, he works for cheap," Katie says, referring to my helping her out at the flea markets she does over the weekends.

My dad laughs. "Well, I had him work for me one summer," he says, referring to the summer of my thirteenth year, where I was pretty sure my parents existed solely to torture me, "and he did okay."

Monday, August 10, 2015

You Should Be More Specific

The dog stops and shakes, her harness rattling like sleigh bells, and we continue on our walk. When we reach the corner, one of the kids with the clipboards who hits people up for donations for her (probably nonexistent) "basketball team" steps up with a brittle smile stuck on her face.

"I'm sorry to bother you," she begins.

"That's okay," I say with a smile of my own, looking in her eyes as I walk right on past her, and her smile drops into a scowl.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Morning Snapshots

Man on his morning run brushes past, close enough for me to feel the breeze from his passing, and I watch him race away down the sidewalk, the leading wave of his impatience fading with his footsteps.

Short guy in a suit walks the other way, his tiny tie a blood-red choke-knot beneath his chin. It pushes up the fatty folds of his neck into fleshy collar that seems ready to throttle him, despite the undone shirt button at his throat.

A woman bumps my bag gently in the narrow aisle between the zucchini and the peaches at the greenmarket, and I only think to check for my wallet when I'm on my way home later. 

About Time

After a night with Kevin at the kava bar, I make my way home, only mildly krunked, and catch a glimpse of my reflection in the plate glass window of a shoe store. I'm having a good hair day, I notice with no small pleasure - my side part is hanging very fetchingly over one eye, giving me a slightly anime look.

I realize with a shock that this, this hair, this look I've got going now, as an adult (supposedly) looks familiar for a reason.

It's the exact style I was going for when I was in junior high school, imitating the coolest guy I knew, and now I've got it.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Sawbones Saves the Day

What to do before we watch the bloviating assholes that make up the front-runners of the Republican Party debate on national TV? It doesn't seem like there's enough time to really get any momentum going on any of the multiple projects Katie and I have.

But just as I'm about to leave to go pick up the food we ordered a few minutes ago, inspiration strikes.

"I'm gonna saw the bone off those antlers I bought," Katie says brightly, and goes off to do just that.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

How You Get Paid

"So I sent the landlord a letter by certified mail, asking for the rest of my deposit," our friend says. We're standing at the curb by her SUV while she drops off some stuff for Katie, chatting as the dog stares off into space.

"But the smart thing was, I cee-cee'd my friend who is a lawyer," she continues with a sly grin.

"And I included a self-addressed, stamped envelope," she adds, shrugging.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pure Bred Jerk

"Look, honey, it's a shiba-inu," the man says to his daughter as we pass them standing by the bus stop.

"Well, ours is sort of mongrelized," he adds. "We think she might be part corgi, or maybe a terrier."

"Oh, well that might make her less anti-social," I say brightly as Coco stares off into the mid-distance, standing as far away as she possibly can while still being on-leash.

Monday, August 3, 2015

She Reminded Me of Her Name Soon After

I stare at the brown, fluffy puppy laid out panting on the floor of the train for several minutes before I recognize it as Teddy, the dog I met a few days ago, and his owner Kaylene. 

"I thought it was you," I say, and Kaylene turns around with a shocked smile. She's only been here a couple years, so she probably hasn't yet got used to the way that New York, a city of millions, throws people together. 

"James!" she says.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Consider the Trees

Katie is hard at work in her own personal sweatshop, making butterfly sculptures for next weekend's flea market, and her strong work ethic has shamed me into revisiting some of my old stories that I've been neglecting. But first, I open up some music files on my computer to limber up my creative muscles. 

This proves less fruitful than I'd hoped, however, and after a couple of hours, I'm only slightly closer to having a completed song than when I started, and the thought of writing just fills me with despair.

I snap the laptop closed and go out the window to breathe for a moment on the fire escape, where a sunny day dappling through green leaves and a gentle breeze don't give a good goddam about my work ethic.

Night Blind

The moon is huge and bright and yellow over the park. Katie and I lay on our backs with the cool grass tickling our bare legs, unspeaking, staring up into the sky while the dog paces circles around us.

I identify a couple of constellations (Sagittarius low in the south, Lyra straight above with Vega bright and blue), and then a shooting star, throwing off sparks like a roman candle, scrapes across the darkness.

A few minutes later, Katie stands up and heads over to Coco, saying, "Hang on, I think the dog is lost again."

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Flatbush Creek

We can see Bergen Street a block away, but Flatbush is closed, with police and fireman's tape criss-crossing the sidewalk and barring our way, and trucks flashing blue and red lights stretched across the road blocking traffic. Cops stand around idly chatting while, in the center of the road, water bubbles up and sheets into the gutter, turning the Avenue into a river.

"Water main," the policeman explains somewhat helpfully when we ask if we can walk under the tape to our destination. "Gotta go around the block," he adds shaking his head.