The cosmetics and perfume counters at Bloomingdales smell like Christmas to me. Lights and mirrors, glass balls and wreaths, motorized displays and piped in music shout Christmas cheer from every available surface of the sales floor, and the vulgarity of the display makes me cringe inside. We have commodified Christmas almost completely, deadening ourselves into mere consumers, purchasing anything and everything to try and fill the void left where a childlike love and wonder used to be.
And yet: the sales floor of Bloomingdales, or Macy's, any department store really, makes some inner child in my heart sing with happiness at the knowledge that Christmas is coming, really truly coming, and that same inner child breathes in the smell of the Chanel counter and smiles, and he eats all of these lights and mirrors and ornaments and wreaths and displays and that one Mariah Carey song up with a fucking spoon.
I reach into the bag blindly, groping for my comb to tame the disaster that's become of my hair during the morning commute. This is, of course, in direct violation of all of my recent attempts to "do easy."
The pencil lurking in the darkness of my satchel does its work quickly, and I almost hear the little "pop" as it pierces my thumb like a needle. I jerk my hand back and watch a bubble of blood well on the tip of my thumb, remembering the time in junior high when I accidentally stabbed myself in the knee with a pencil, and wonder if this time, like then, will leave a mark that lasts years.
"It's just sad," the woman says, referring to the butterflies Katie sells. "The way they're all dead."
"You know," I say, looking her in the eyes, "it's kind of like how, in paintings from the Enlightenment, they'd put skulls in their portraits. It helps you remember that we're all going to die, and not to waste a minute of your life."
As I'm standing on the subway platform, staring idly across the tracks to the opposite side where people stand and pretend you can't see them, my eyes alight on a thistledown seed, floating in midair in the tunnel, delicate little hairs perfectly still.
It drifts on unseen air currents, like something underwater rising and falling languidly with the tide.
After my questions exhaust themselves, I hear in my head a word, and behind it, a phrase, with the promise of more to come, so I scramble in my bag to find my notebook to write it all down, only to discover I left it at home.
I pull out the paper on which they printed my poor review for work, and scribble a poem on the back, and when I look up, the mysterious seed has disappeared.
Wish I could see the guy that likes to draw penises pointing at the mouths of all the people in the ads at this subway station, just to catch him in the act, you know? The ad for the newest Broadway play: dicks; the ad for the Daily Show: dicks; the smiling woman on the health insurance ad: dicks - like, a whole lotta dicks.
But what is this guy like, really? Whether he's just a kid, or a grown-ass adult, he can't be that bright, 'cause he didn't draw any dicks on the guy in the ad for the Museum of Sex, and that just seems like a missed opportunity.
"This guy, with the thinning, curly black hair and olive complexion," I write in my notebook as the train rocks me gently back and forth, "and this blonde woman playing solitaire on her phone sitting on the subway, I wish them happiness."
"I don't care what they've done," I continue scratching, "or what they've done, and I certainly don't care if they have good thoughts or bad, because none of those things matter."
"And this guy reading over my shoulder," I write slowly and clearly, tilting my notebook so he can get a good look, "I wish him happiness, too."
"There was this science fiction book I read," I say, continuing my thought. "The author describes the conflicts in in the northern hemisphere as basically being a single conflict, with more or less intense phases, starting around 1066 and lasting hundreds of years, with a culmination of violence and ideology around 1945."
"So basically, it's like we're just at the start of this next phase of ideological conflicts that are gonna last awhile," I say, "and these are sort of the opening salvos."
My boss, now visibly uncomfortable, says, "Okay, let's look at the calendar for this week."
Every time I'm about to fall asleep, the dog barks her short, dry, cough of a bark and startles me awake. This happens four or five times until there's a knock at the door.
Our downstairs neighbor is there, with some feathers for Katie, wrapped in a tissue. She sees my disheveled look, my eyes slitted and bloodshot, and a look of concern crosses her face as she asks, "Oh, we're you trying to nap?"
When I moved to New York, almost 20 years ago now, I couldn't afford to take the subway, so I walked everywhere.
Tonight, I'm walking through the Lower East Side, remembering all those other walks, feeling the city speaking through the soles of my shoes.
A man standing in the park on the corner lights a cigarette and the smoke swirls arounds his shroud of shredded winter coats. The wind picks up the rags of him and spins them with leaves as I shove my hands deeper into my pockets and run across the street.
She climbs out of the baby carriage and barrels straight toward the dog, grunting, arms out. hands flexing. The dog watches in horror, and then, realizing what's happening, retreats up the stairs.
The kid can't climb the stairs with her little legs, and the dog won't come down (nose to the door, absolutely refusing to acknowledge whatever nonsense is going on behind her), so they remain at this impasse while I watch, delighted.
It's a couple seconds before I realize that her dad is looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to go in and end this farce, and I hurriedly fumble my keys in the door and shout, "Good night!" over my shoulder to the expectant child standing at the bottom of the stairs with her arms outstretched to pet my dog.
I have a distinct memory from high school: on the school bus for a band trip to California, somebody wants to play the soundtrack for the musical The Phantom of the Opera, and I can't handle it. Even at that age, the soaring romantic emotions leave me feeling heartbroken and inadequate, unable to express the music of my soul.
I can laugh about it now (Andrew Lloyd Weber! What was I thinking?) but I still occasionally feel like that 18-year old kid. Some kind of high school Salieri, dreaming of beauty and truth, but unable to even listen to beautiful music without eating my heart out.
On the way back in the house from taking the dog for a walk, I reach down to pick up a discarded scratch lottery ticket someone wedged between the stoop and the railing. It's one of those tickets where you scratch off one or two numbers, and then, if you match it, you win some money.
But the tickets are already printed, I think to myself. The winning ticket has already been printed, and you might have bought it or not, but you won't know until you scratch it off.
"Goodnight," I say to the woman who cleans our office, before I notice how she's standing. She's leaning on her waist-high trash bin with both forearms, holding a hamburger wrapped in paper in one hand.
"Goodnight," she replies, unsmiling, her eyes dead. Without looking away, still leaning over the trash bin, she tears off a piece of the burger and pushes it into her mouth and begins to chew.
Ginkgo trees are developmental throwbacks, with the entire length of their angular limbs festooned with fan-shaped leaves. The other trees, more modern, yet somehow more old-fashioned looking. push their leaves to the ends of their branches, like hands, groping the sky for more light.
The ginkgoes have already turned, this fall, and their brilliant yellow leaves litter the sidewalks and clog the gutters. The other trees still hold some of their green, turning more slowly, reluctant to acknowledge the coming cold.