Wednesday, December 30, 2015

We Know Our Own

The woman in the hoodie with ears and a rainbow mane spots the woman in the fuchsia and black striped tights the same time I do. Striped tights is reading a comic book.

Rainbow mane hoodie walks by, slows down, peers over the shoulder of striped tights, curious to see what she's reading. I think of dogs passing each other on the street, friendly and curious by default, having recognized a kindred soul, sniffing to see what the other has found.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

That's On Me

"Well, you stayed up a little later spreading butterflies, so we went to bed a little late," I say.

She straightens up from washing her face in the sink and looks at me skeptically in the mirror. "Sounds a little like you're blaming me," she says.

"No, I should've gotten my shit together," I say, sighing.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Back to the Grind

After a week off, it's only three hours or so in front of a computer before I feel stupid. I can't remember shit, and the piles of papers I left before Christmas now actively offend me, for some reason.

And now this column of numbers I'm trying to reconcile from a list of signatures is refusing to add up properly. I pause, breathe deeply while massaging my temples, and recount, somehow managing to get yet a third, entirely different number from the previous two I'd come up with.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

An Ill(-ish) Wind, Part 2

I'm sitting at the flea market, minding Katie's booth and my own business, when out of nowhere, a wave of something like sadness wells right up from my feet and through my suddenly tender heart to my throat, where it catches on a lump. It's a sudden access of compassion and pity for the entire stupid human race, all of us striving and misunderstanding each other and trying as hard as we can to get love and fucking it up almost every time because we don't know how.

Not a second later, just a few feet away, a baby lets out a cry that quickly ratchets up a register into a wail as his mother leans over, desperate to discover the problem.

I wonder if it's like what happened the other week, only this time, instead of clumsiness, it's existential sorrow and sympathy.

If Someone Tells You They're Crazy, Believe Them

"I like your Looney Tunes shirt," I say. It's a plain white button-down, with the heads of Wile E. Coyote, Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, Tweety, and Sylvester running down the front.

"Thanks, and proud of it," she answers.

"Just to be clear," I say as she continues to nod enthusiastically, "you're telling me you're Looney Tunes?"

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Holidays Bring Up Feelings

"Why you lookin' at me? Don't look at me like you know me!" he says threateningly to the guy who always begs for spare change outside my front door.

It seems to end there, with the angry guy going in the bodega across the street, leaving the beggar standing in the overcast morning starting at the ground with his head down.

But when I come back from taking the doge on her walk, the beggar seems to be gone, until I spot him on the other side of the street, hiding behind a tree.

Friday, December 25, 2015

What, 'Cause She's Black?

"Yeah, she's pretty old," I tell the kid hanging outside his apartment smoking. 

As the doge and I prepare to continue our walk the kid says, "Well, Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, you know."

"The dog probably celebrates Kwanzaa, right?" he adds as an afterthought.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

I Actually Did Do That, Though

The news from is not good. Even though I ordered it weeks ago, "It looks like one of your gifts might not get here before Christmas, Pookie," I tell Katie.  

"Well, maybe you shouldn't have waited until the last minute," she says, trying to make me laugh so I won't feel guilty. "Like that time you made stand on the corner in the cold on my birthday while you ran into Best Buy to get me a present."

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Booze is a Depressant

But why, I think to myself walking along in the warm evening, the dog tottering along behind me, am I like this?

I could make a resolution to write fifty-two new stories next year, one a week, I continue, but even as I think it, and the dog noses the corner of a gate surrounding the small, absent sections of sidewalk they use to plant trees, my heart sinks.

And then I remember: I spiked my eggnog with bourbon before we watched It's a Wonderful Life tonight. Now all my thoughts are filled with dreams deferred and defeatist nonsense.

Blast Zone

The text she sent before I got home read,  "The house is a supreme wreck," but I don't think I was really prepared for the level of devestation that greeted my arrival.

After a brief tour of the blast zone, I took the doge outside for a walk, and Katie called me from her company's Christmas party.

"I know it's bad," she said as the doge stumbled along behind me, "but it was way worse. I cleaned up some."

Monday, December 21, 2015

HD Killed the Video Star

The TV at my parents' house is huge, and very high-tech. But the picture is so good it might actually be too good.

Whether it's a soft focus Hollywood classic from the Fifties, or a live football game, every picture looks like video, like it was shot about five minutes ago, and presumably in your backyard.

I find myself taken out of my usual state of absorption in story and acting, instead focusing on the video quality, and watching these people on the screen "act" like they actually are in these fake situations, and then I start think about what craft services served the actors for lunch, and by the time I notice I wasn't paying attention, I've missed 5 minutes of dialogue.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

What Enlightenment Might Be Like

My mom doesn't know we're coming for her 80th birthday, and it's been years since I've been to visit, so when she sees me, her eyes kind of glaze over and her jaw literally drops. My sister steps back to watch, laughing happily, as I step up and say, "Hi, mom." She doesn't cry, but she seems pretty dazed.

Later, she still seems to be having a hard time processing, saying, "When you all walked in, I swear to God, I stopped thinking."

Saturday, December 19, 2015


After stopping the movie (Inside Out) twice to get ahold of my emotions, I finally give up. I'm just not mentally tough enough to handle it right now.

But the next movie I put on, ostensibly a comedy, has a pretty potent argument scene in it as well, and I find myself pausing even that to shake off the tension, even though it's played for laughs. I wonder if my inability to handle strong emotions in fiction is a sign of sensitivity, or just a lack of psychological fortitude?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Letting Go

"I wanted you to know, Scott," my boss says, "I'm not going to write you up for the mistake you made earlier this week."

"I didn't want you worried every time I pulled out a piece of paper," she continues, "or stressing about every single small error you make."

"Well," I say, "I wasn't really worried. I mean, if you were going to do it, you would have done it already, and besides, there wasn't anything I could do about it anyway, except continue to try and do my best."

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Holding On

I'm climbing the stairs to the apartment, weary, thinking about my past like you do, when I suddenly realize I'm not a very forgiving person.

I'm pretty laid-back, sure, and I don't usually get too uptight about things, but what I really mean is that the people I've "forgiven" didn't really hurt me.

The people who have hurt me in my life, and it's a pretty short list, are still on my list, unforgiven, a sore spot every time I think of them, which is pretty hypocritical, considering how many people I've hurt in my life who I sort of just expected to forgive me.

Not only have I not forgiven the people on my list, but I'm not entirely sure I know how to forgive them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Set Up

"Go ahead, pet her," she says to her boyfriend after successfully petting the doge (which most people can't, 'cause the doge is kind of a jerk to strangers). "Are you the chosen one?" she adds mischievously.  

So he reaches down, like you would to any normal dog, and she jumps like she's been shocked, causing him to snatch his hand back.

"Eh, I think you were set up," I say consolingly, rubbing the doge's head.

Monday, December 14, 2015

An Ill Wind

The guy walking about five, ten feet in front of me stumbles, catches himself, and continues walking.

At the same time, I also stumble, at the same time as I see him stumble, but like him I catch myself, and keep walking.

I didn't stumble on anything, didn't catch my foot on an errant piece of slate, or step on a cracked paving stone at a wrong angle, and neither did my doppelganger up there ahead. It was as if a wave of ineptitude blew down the street, catching us both with invisible hooks to trip us up, and then, fun over, it snuck off to trouble some other pedestrians.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Rough Trade

The creepy guy who sells rock and roll memorabilia from a folding table on the sidewalk spins his spiel to every passerby, and I'm no exception.

"That's a signed letter from Lou Reed about an album he was recording, and I could let it go for seven hundred dollars."

"And if I had that kind of money, I'd be happy to give it to you," I reply, laughing.

"Well, if you have anything to trade, you never have to use cash with me," he says in that smooth, oily voice he has.

Yeah, Sort Of

The very nice lady from Spain who runs the booth next to Katie at the Brooklyn Flea Market has very kindly asked what I write. This is before she tells me that her husband has a book coming out this year from a major publisher. 

Still, I feel a bit embarrassed describing my main project: "Well, the thing I do the most is this thing where I write four sentences every day about something that happened that day."

She nods very seriously at this, saying, "So it's a conceptual piece."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Dogs Make Friends

The kids (a bunch of girls, a couple guys trying to impress them) sitting on the wall are talking loudly, like kids, and somehow they're connected to the guys loitering by the bank across the street. The main guy in this group notices the group by the bank moving out, and he rounds up his charges, hikes up his pants, and walks by us where the dog and I are waiting for her to pee.

"Cute dog," he says gruffly, and I smile.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Mea Culpa

After the dust has settled, and everyone has calmed down a bit, I approach my boss.

"I see you're eating lunch, so I'll make this quick," I say, and she puts down her sandwich to give me her full attention. "I don't apologize in the midst of a crisis, because it comes off as fake, it doesn't make anybody feel any better, and it's beside the point. But I just wanted to say," deep breath, "I'm sorry for the trouble I caused."

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Phone Snatchers Abound in Midtown

This guy standing outside my building, narrow, stooped shoulders, pinched face, kinda squirrely looking, squints at me as I leave for the day.

He makes eye contact through the smoke from his ratty-looking hand-rolled cigarette, and steps up, way too close, saying, "My phone is broken. Do you know what time it is?"

A cold bolt of adrenaline hits my stomach as I check my watch (careful, now, not to touch or even gesture toward the phone in my front left pocket), and I reply, voice hard, "It's ten after."

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Overheard at Work

He stands out of sight, just around the corner from my desk, talking to his supervisor about his latest visit to a client.

"...and she's asking me if I go to church, if I know Jesus, all that. Same time, she's rubbing Ben Gay all into her legs and stuff, and the smell! Reminded me of my grandmother, may she rest in peace."

Monday, December 7, 2015

Chopping Onions

We didn't fight, exactly - I just said something stupid right after she got home from a stressful day, and she rightly called me out on it and left me in the kitchen cooking dinner.

I was still sort of muttering to myself in that way you do when you know you're in the wrong, but you haven't yet entirely admitted to yourself that you might be the asshole, and I was cutting onions, really strong ones. My eyes were watering as I carefully sliced them into quarters and diced them.

I realized I didn't want to cook our food with anger and make it taste bad, so I breathed deeply and calmed myself and tried to project as much love as possible into the bulgar wheat, the onions and peppers, the avocado, the taco shells, the salsa.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

First Rule

"I'll be okay," I say. "I'm just tired."

"No you're not - you're dying," Katie says, watching my face. "Oh my God, did you read the comments?"

Old Salt

Katie peeks out from the bathroom. "Did you stumble, doge?" she asks sweetly.

Sure enough, Coco seems to be having another minor bout of old dog vestibular syndrome, which is making her head spin. She staggers to the door for her evening walk like the apartment is a storm-tossed ship that tilts and lifts without rhyme or reason, and I sigh and go for the harness so I can carry her down the stairs to the street.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Bright Side

Occasionally, my desire to encourage people and help them see the positive side of things makes things awkward.

"Oh, my dog is fifteen years old too," the woman smoking out in front of her brownstone says after Coco, outraged at her overfamiliarity, barks her dry, coughing bark. "The vet says she won't live too much longer."

"Well, I hope she lasts you through the holidays," I say cheerfully before walking quickly away with my smile dripping down my face.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Discourse on Unheimlich

"The Wiz LIVE" on TV felt too long and rushed at the same time. We popped popcorn and were prepared to be impressed, and we certainly enjoyed parts of it, but overall it just left us bored and a little depressed.

I remembered the feeling of watching the movie when I was a child, watching Michael Jackson bend, twist and tremble as a scarecrow in some alley in what looked like an apocalyptic wasteland while the crows told him, "You can't win," and Katie told me stories of how much the Wheelies terrified her as a little girl. There was something profound and frightening and weird about that show that I don't think the producers could really capture, that feeling that a child gets of seeing something he doesn't completely understand, but which he knows is terribly wrong, which made the brighter, happier sections shine more in contrast.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Lighten Up

I came home and made a butternut squash and saffron risotto, and then Katie and I sat on the couch and ate it and drank wine and cuddled. 

The risotto was rich and comforting, and after we finished the wine, we drank eggnog. We watched the tree in Rockefeller Center light up and thought about San Bernadino, both the city, and the song I've been singing all day since a couple of vicious people decided it would be a good idea to kill a bunch of other people.

Maybe that's all I have to say: it seems pretty dark, but look for the light.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sounds Pretty Good, Even to a Vegetarian

"It's like Army Base Stew," our new friend says about the sausage stew (a simmering broth stocked brimful with sausage, tofu, scallions, hot dogs, and what I'm pretty sure is Spam) at the Korean restaurant. "But it's really good with a slice of American cheese on it."

I'm understandably skeptical, but he continues, "It melts, right? And makes the whole thing kind of creamy."