Saturday, October 31, 2015

I Alone Have Escaped to Tell Thee

I know what hell looks like. I've seen what the world will look like when all those doomsday scenarios we celebrate on TV come to pass, and it has left me hollowed out and shattered.

I've seen the haunted look of the damned who were once in charge, pushing back against the tide of humanity breaking on their doorstep, the looting, the torn clothing, the fear in the eyes of my fellow human turning to rage and hunger when they are denied what they need.

I've been to a Party City on the day before Halloween.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


"Right on!" I say, when the guy in my building hands me my package from Amazon.

"Can you even say that anymore?" he asks, laughing together with one of the older guys who works in the shop downstairs.

"Well, it's not exactly fashionable," I say, smiling and turning to go, "but it makes me feel good."

"Right on, right on," they repeat back and forth to each other as I head upstairs.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

So Much For Atmosphere

In the interlude between deluges, I hustle the doge outdoors for her evening constitutional. 

Everything is a wreck - streets like rivers, cars covered in leaves and trash, all permeated with the stony smell of rain on slate sidewalks. I inhale deeply, relishing the atmosphere, when a sudden gust of wind strips the tree on the corner of it's leaves, and a particularly wet one swoops up under the scoop of my umbrella and thwacks me right in the eye.

I'm so startled, I can't help but laugh.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Not As Helpful As I Could Have Been

"I just don't think it'll be good enough," my friend at work says about her college entrance essay.

I've heard this one before, however, and merely reply, "Well, screw your courage to the sticking place."

"What does that mean?" she asks.

"It means 'man up.'"

Monday, October 26, 2015


The giant gray dog sees Coco coming from half-a-block away, and I switch her over to the opposite side of me with a soft tug on the leash, so she won't have to deal with any untoward advances.

But as we approach, the other dog, tail wagging, comes in to greet us, and his owner, rather than holding him back, does the opposite.

He drops the leash.

I literally gasp, but the dog displays remarkable restraint, sniffing politely as Coco tries to hide behind his owner's legs

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Walking Distance

The woman at the counter of the Thai place favors me with a look of pity. "Uhh, we don't have an order from anybody named 'Scott?'" she says, slowly, as if I might be stupid. "Maybe you ordered from a different restaurant?"

Rage mounting, I consult my phone and, sure enough, we ordered pickup from a Thai restaurant of the same name approximately 9 miles away, in Manhattan, where there's no way I'm going to go pick it up.

Rolling in the Deep

The guy ducks under the half-closed rolling shutter outside the bagel shop, and for a second he sees me, seeing him. We lock eyes and then, like the good New Yorker I am, my eyes sort of unfocus a little, and I keep it moving down the street.

But apparently, our interaction is not complete. Behind me, I hear him speak/sing, "We could have had it aaaaalllllll," and I know he's singing directly to me, though I can't immediately recognize the tune.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Nodding Off

What is the word for work-induced narcolepsy? Because I have it.

As soon as I'm done writing for the night, though, with a movie on and a glass of absinthe in front of me, I'm wide awake. Katie's in her workshop, gluing butterflies on things, and I'm narrating "My Neighbor Totoro" to her, and remarking on how much more it makes sense since we visited Japan.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Doggie Facebook

Rather than going to her usual spot, peeing, then jumping up on to the sidewalk to kick nonexistent dirt over it, the dog is nosing around her favorite stump with unexpected intensity.

"What's going on?" I ask, mostly rhetorically.

She ignores me as she takes another loop around the stump, sniffing at each place another dog has peed as she goes, until she finally leans up against the stump at the most awkward angle possible, nearly falling over in the process, and squats. Here, apparently, wedged between the car and a dead tree, with almost no place to stand, here is the ideal place for her to leave her contribution to the conversation.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


"It smells like oranges in here," A co-worker says as she walks by my desk.

"That's because Beverly just ate an orange," I reply without looking up from my computer.

"Oh. Okay," she says, and walks back to her desk.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


The sign says "we are delayed because of...." I look out the train window, and for a second I can't tell if the darkness in the tunnel outside is moving or not, until, with a jolt, it does, and we continue on our way.

Am I standing still, believing I'm still moving? How will I know until I start moving again?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Accelerate Out of Danger

I pump the pedals from my hips and the streetlights double their tempo overhead. I fly down dark Brooklyn side streets on my bike, and I remember, once again, why I love riding so much.

A rumble and rush of stinking air buffets me from behind, and an instant later a garbage truck roars by, inches from my handlebars.

I don't even pause, I don't flinch, and I don't get angry, because any of those would only slow me down.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jealous Again

The printer doesn't work, but after an hour of reinstalling drivers and re-entering passwords, I print out the story for my writing group.

And it's so damn good I can hardly justify my existence, let alone writing another thing, maybe for the rest of the month.

I finally go to meet Katie at the Brooklyn Flea, and when I get there I instantly feel better.

"I'm having kind of a day," I tell her with a sigh.

Marry Your Opposite

The rearrangement of the sales space at the Brooklyn Flea market isn't going quite as planned, and Katie is getting frustrated. "I just wish," she says, taking a deep, calming breath, "that something would be easy."

I think, but don't say, about how this is one more way she and I differ. She will often start a project thinking it'll only take "a few minutes," and it ends up taking a lot longer, whereas I think a project like making some bookshelves will essentially take the rest of my life to complete, and so never get started.

Friday, October 16, 2015

We'll Do it Live

"You see," says Katie, as the train gently shakes us side-to-side, "I worry about all the possibilities."

"That's what makes you a more creative person than me," I say.

Later: "That's 'Plan A,' and then I have 'Plan B,'" she says.

"I don't usually even have a 'Plan A,'" I say, watching the sun play on the water as we cross the bridge.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


The white kid breakdancing on the subway platform "for tips" keeps doing the same preparatory shuffling cross-step over and over, with this lonesome, grieving look on his face.

A young guy in a gray suit puts a dollar in the baseball cap hat the kid has set out in front, inspiring him to bust out a couple of desultory shoulder spins.

He goes back into his test pattern as I walk past.  The salty funk of his long-fermented sweat smells desperate, and resigned.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


With my legs over my head in what's known as the "Plow" pose, I grab my hands and pull my arms together behind my back. It's kind of hard to visualize, but you might get close by imagining me in the middle of a dive at the Olympics, doing a pike, but then the pool turns out to be empty and I land on my neck. 

And as my shoulder blades squeeze together, the accumulated tension of two weeks carrying my bags through several miles of Japanese and American airports and train stations suddenly asserts itself, and the muscles along the length of my spine seize up.

I come out of the pose slowly, gently, all the while knowing that when I get up, I probably won't be able to stand up straight. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Jet Lag

As I'm making dinner, something Katie says has me doubled over with laughter, tears streaming down my face.

"Oh, you are tired," she says, with a shake of her head. I think, well there's my story for the day.

Lying in bed now, though, I can't for the life of me remember what she said.

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Long Day

The laundry across the street where we dropped off our clothes closes at 8, and right now it's twelve after.

We go there all the time, and I know that he usually stays open a little after, so I tear down the stairs, and sure enough, Michael, the owner, is at the counter going over the books.

He looks up, clearly weary after a long day, but still manages to muster a smile for me. The lines of his face look a little more pronounced than I remember, his thick hair a little grayer and disheveled, and the happiness I feel at his still being open is tempered somewhat by the unwelcome prospect that he might have kept his shop open waiting for me.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

We Give it Life

The brilliant white castle towering above gleams dully in the overcast sun, its curved, winglike rooflines and gables giving it the appearance of being about to take flight, despite its immensity. While lovingly restored inside and out, I can't help but wonder what it must have been like when it was lived in, with princes and courtiers and samurai walking its halls in soft soled stockings, wearing the wood down to a sheen, and servants preparing food and shuttling bedclothes from room to room, privy to every secret, gossiping quietly in corners.

I know the logic, of course: landmark treasures such as this one, the last of its kind in Japan, must be preserved, and using it as a residence, as it was it in the past, would only hasten its decay.

But I think they might have got it wrong - the only way some houses can live is if they're lived in, and the house in which no one lives moves closer to death 

Friday, October 9, 2015

In Peace Park, Hiroshima

The children all wear school uniforms in the style of old-fashioned sailors' clothes: white shirts, navy blue kerchiefs, navy shorts or skirts. They've gathered around the giant bell, and a few of them are manning the log that hammers the side of the bell to make it chime.

The rest are underneath, sticking their heads up into the cup of it to listen to it reverberate as it sounds its mellow, heavy tone. They giggle and clutch each other and put their hands on the bell to feel it shiver, and then then duck out and run into the park, laughing beneath a perfect blue sky, in the shadow of a shattered dome.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


Growing up in the Southwest gave me a very confused relationship to capital-h History: much of the actual history of the people who once lived in the area was erased by colonization, and what did remain was either worn-out relics of missionary efforts and tacky theme-park recreations of boom-town mythologies that were never made to last, or new and shallow creations of the last fifty years that lacked both depth and history. I found myself longing for worlds where history was neither something meaningless, nor something I had been taught to ignore.

But here I feel the weight of ages, in the zen garden by the bamboo grove, under the green, tree-covered hills rising to blue skies mottled with gray, uncertain clouds. The temple monastery, practically unchanged in almost 500 years, stands serene and unconcerned behind me, as piebald carp flash orange and white in the murky pond beneath a low overhanging pine, while overhead an unseen bird trills ancient songs, and I sit in the shade on an old oak bench and think placid, unhurried thoughts about time.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


The young girl in the school uniform sitting across from us on the train out of Kyoto puts her manga back in her purse and stares at the passing houses out the window beneath the almost lowered shade.

When she notices out of the corner of her eye that I am ducking my head a little to also watch the scenery beneath the lowered windowshade, she reaches over and raises it a notch, without making a big deal out of it.

I nod, acknowledging her kind gesture, and she favors me with a shy, touching smile that I can help but return with a smile of my own.

As soon as I do, though, I recall the seaweed snacks I'd been munching just before boarding the train, and I wonder exactly how much shit I've got stuck between my teeth.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Familiars of the Gods

Sure, we bought the crackers specifically to feed the deer who roam wild in this shrine, but these guys are getting pushy. Katie is surrounded by three young deer who are acting like they're ready to shove her to the ground and take the damn crackers by force if necessary, while the guy next to me with the horns is nipping my hip to make sure I know he's ready for his snack.

When I am a bit slow in responding, he lowers his head and stabs me in the thigh. I bat his horns aside and, communicating in a way that I believe most mammals understand, hiss, and he takes a step back in shock at being so affronted.

Monday, October 5, 2015


Apparently we were staring at the map a little loudly, because the man in the dark suit has come over to offer assistance. 

When we explain to him that we're looking for a bus that Google tells us is right here but which is, in fact, nowhere to be found, he smiles apologetically and grabs a guy holding piles and piles of maps.

So now we've got two guys helping us and we're still no closer to finding the bus, until we manage to communicate to them where we're going. 

They tell us a bus that we were going to get on anyway (before I started paying more attention to Google than to what was going on in front of me), and Katie manages to not look at me like I'm once again the dumbest guy in Kyoto.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Bodhisattva Vow

After a few hours by bullet train in the Japanese countryside, we arrive in Kyoto and, after parking our luggage in a coin locker in the station, Katie and I head off to explore.

The first temple, described by the guidebooks as "the last word in gaudiness," is, while a bit on the large side, hardly as tacky as the description would lead one to believe. A moat full of shimmering carp surrounds an enormous compound in which a good half dozen buildings, all dedicated to one form or another of the Buddha.

As Katie and I kneel together in the temple, I feel this enormous pressure, almost physical, in the almost exact shape of the space surrounding us, and I can feel the area in my body around my heart slowly opening, and I think, "How can I make this happen for everyone, all the time?" but there's no real answer.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Better Without God

The second time we were approached today was the only time they didn't talk about religion. The first guy just wanted to talk about the difference between Soka Gakkai International and his Original True and Completely Not Made Up Like SGI Buddhism, but I told him we already had some. The third time was a little lady who wanted to "lead us to her church," which I'm pretty sure is how a slasher movie, I can't recall which one, starts.

The second time, though, was just a bunch of kids who asked to speak to us and do a "small cultural exchange," and they were sweet and funny and not at all religious: just a tall, gawky guy with the shock of bleached-orange hair and a shy, smiley girl who used to live in Hokkaido, along with their classmates, trying to talk about Japan and remember the words for what to call the Statue of Liberty.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Speak Low

"Speak soft!" the Japanese tour guide says sharply to the obnoxious man who has been talking over him for the last fifteen minutes. "There are other people here."

And suddenly, my dislike of the obnoxious man and his loud, entitled European family melts somewhat, because I know that he might not be able to help it. I know what it feels like to be too large and too loud and too sarcastic in a land where people are polite, neatly proportioned, tidy and almost entirely lacking in irony.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Tokyo Morning/Night

After the priests march solemnly through the square in front of the temple, their paper thin white robes rustling over the rhythmic clip-clop of their thick soled sandals, the acolyte pounds the enormous wooden drum, and its hollow boom rises high above the silent trees surrounding the temple compound. A shimmering drone begins, woven through with a reedy, nasal melody, and then a mournful flute joins in as the Shinto funeral procession files into their seats in front of the shrine.

Later that night, the lights go down at the Robot Restaurant, and the performers hammer on smaller versions of the same drum the acolyte played this morning, but this time they wear outrageous wigs, and a sound system pumps gallons of techno music through the auditorium while flashing LEDs shove every color possible down our gaping eyeholes. Dancers in skimpy outfits and terrifying masks gyrate to the beat while glittering robots show us yet another side of Tokyo.