Sunday, September 30, 2018

Deep Thoughts

As I’m stopped at the light on a glorious, sunny, warm early fall day, a tall, blonde woman cycles through the intersection on a chunky blue Citibike, her long, smooth, straight hair streaming behind her, dark sunglasses perched on her long, elegant, tanned face.

I think to myself, watching her, “The things that we think of as ‘cool’ are often actually ‘warm.’ They’re objects, or people, or experiences, that, far from having a chilling effect, are really someplace where we want to stay, that make us happy, that warm us.”

When the light changes and I make it to the other side of the intersection, though, I find myself mulling over this thought, and I realize it sounds like a bunch of nonsense.

An Expensive "Hobby"

Katie's butterflies have clearly induced an existential crisis in this woman, as she tries to process how her boyfriend (whom she dubbed “her butterfly”) moved away to Costa Rica, where he wrote her to tell her about all the blue butterflies he saw when he arrived, and should she buy this blue butterfly as a reminder of him, since he might not ever be coming back?

“So is this a very... expensive hobby?” her friend asks in a soft British accent, attempting to deflect from her friend’s very visible meltdown.

“It’s really more of a business?” I answer after a pause. “I mean, you know you have to pay money for these, right?” I continue, both of us laughing now.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Binocular

The guy seated at the end of the subway bench has some form of full-body Tourette’s, and he is twitching up a storm: arms flailing, then smoothing down his clothes, almost standing up, twisting his neck to look in seeming alarm at whatever is hehind him, then taking a deep breath and trying to settle himself before the whole cycle starts up again.

When we reach Dekalb Avenue, a man gets on, but I only notice him after we’ve pulled away from the station, because I hear music.

I turn to look for the source, only to find this recent arrival with his phone blasting music for the whole train to hear as he dances what looks like a tormented version of the Funky Chicken to some current pop hit, all the while grinning a massive, very satisfied looking grin.

So, to my left is the guy with Tourette’s, throwing his arms up in the air and flexing his torso and neck, trying to maintain control as best he can, and to my right is the dancing fool having the time of his life antagonizing an entire subway car with his shitty pop music as he dances like he’s receiving electroshock therapy, and all I can do is sigh and start fishing around in my bag for my headphones.

White Man With a Gun

The security guard walks on the subway platform with a sidearm, holstered, sure, but still just on his hip like it’s the Wild Wild West or something. I walk behind him, leaving a safe distance between us, and watch him carefully - he’s much shorter than me, squat and thick, but it’s clearly all muscle, like he’s sorta roided out, and he’s shaved his head, which makes it easy to see the folds on the back of his neck.

“I gotta start lifting weights or something,” I think to myself. On further reflection, though, I remember his gun, and I realize that if he decided to go off, muscles or no, there wouldn’t be a whole lot I could usefully do.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Small, International Kindness

The weary-looking, sweet man with a little bit of a spanish accent and I get to chatting while he peruses Katie’s sculptures in our booth, and when I find out he’s working with the UN delegation from Paraguay, I enthuse about my love of his countries most popular tea, yerba mate.

Upon hearing this, he confesses he doesn’t really drink the stuff, but he has some in his car that was a gift from the Paraguayan ambassador, and would I like it?

I try to tell him that I really don’t want him to go to any trouble, but he insists and dashes off into the market.

A little later, he returns with a paper bag filled with almost half a kilo of tea, and he shyly suggests that Katie and I come by the embassy, and he’ll introduce us to the ambassador, just because we have occasionally thought that if everything in the US really goes to hell, it might be nice to move there.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Farther

“Where do the butterflies come from?” the little boy with the shirt that reads HYPERSPACE asks as he stares in wonder at Katie’s sculptures. His dad grins and watches to see how I’ll react.

“Well, they come to us from far away, from countries all over the world,” I say.

“Farther than Ohio?” he says incredulously.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Leg Day

One of the guys I know who works at the market is waiting in line for the bathroom, absent-mindedly lifting his backpack like he’s working out his biceps and staring off into space. 

“Don’t skip leg day,” I say, walking up, and he laughs.

“Man, I haven’t done legs in months,” he replies.

“Yeah, well, don’t listen to me - I haven’t been in a weight room in, like, ten years."

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Getting It Right

Getting the first set of shelves out of storage and up to the truck was a disaster: wires everywhere from the lighting, the furniture pads falling off, pieces of garland trailing behind me. The second one was a little easier, though, and the one after that, too.

As I wheeled the fourth set of shelves down the long hallway of the storage facility under the buzzing fluorescent lights, I wished, fervently, that I was the type of person who got things right on the first try.

But then I realized that almost everybody has to try and fail before they get it right for most things, and that the type of person I wanted to be probably didn’t exist.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Bees Vs. Wasps

The first day of fall shines like a polished penny, and the greenmarket by the park is so thick with people that the sound of them rises up into the blue sky with a hum and buzz. We walk past the booths filled with bright reds and greens and purples and yellows of fresh vegetables and the herbal smells of basil and oregano, thyme and mint as a thousand hands sift through piles of kale and chard, each of them looking for the perfect bunch.

One vendor does brisk business in grapes, and his tub of green and purple beauties is swarming with bees so thick he has to wave them away, but the bees only zip up into the air for a few seconds to settle back on the sweet delicious treats and resume sipping.

What looks like a wasp buzzes around my head, and I instinctively lean away in alarm, but Katie looks at me dismissively and says, “There are too many bees for there to be any wasps here."

Taking Out the Trash

It’s Friday, so we gather up the recycling and the trash and bag it up to go out to the curb - empty cans of cat food and empty plastic tubs of coffee and mayonnaise rattle around in rustling blue plastic bags.

“I thought of a really good thing to write about for my four each day while I was making dinner,” I tell Katie as she ties up a white kitchen bag of trash, “but I forgot it.”

“There’s still time,” she says mildly.

“Yeah, but I’m really good at forgetting things,” I say.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Scale Model

The guy in the storage space next to ours comes back out, and, almost shyly, hands me a stack of photos, saying, “You know how I told you my dad and me used to build model trains for people? This is what we did.”

The photos are poorly lit, and sometimes out of focus, but full of little details: the deep blue rivers and ponds dotting a miniature landscape criss-crossed with rail road tracks on gravel grades, the water towers and oil wells, the little people walking past the smoke shop, the tattoo parlor on the corner.

Something about the pictures seems to evoke a different time, a different world, where railroads tied the country together, and grown men built shrines to the places the trains used to go.

Jaywalking

I wait, standing between two parked cars in front of my building, to cross the street to San Toy Laundry, where we’ve been dropping off our clothes since I moved in here nine years ago. I’m smack in the middle of the block, and the light at the intersection to my left has just turned red, while the intersection to my right is still green, but empty of cars. So I set out.

There’s a car coming, about half a block further on from the intersection to my right, and even though I know I have plenty of time, I hurry a little, imagining for some reason that the driver, seeing me out of the crosswalk and clearly breaking the law, might speed up out of some misguided outrage at a scofflaw like me, or just out of spite.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Anniversary

We walk to the subway for our anniversary dinner after the rain lets up, and the whole world has been scrubbed clean and sparkling by the deluge. Sun comes out from behind clouds and paints the old brownstones in honey and butterscotch, while a plane flies through a patch of sky as clear as glass.

The remnants of the storm are off east of us, a high, heavy bank of clouds, and I remember the day I asked Katie to marry me, and a storm that came through that day, too.

“There’s probably a rainbow,” I say to Katie, pointing to the clouds, remembering the rainbow we saw that day, years ago.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Prophylactic Measures

On TV, a field of black, two pictures of... is it the surface of an alien world? or just a soap bubble. Then, hands come in and grab the pictures and smoothly pivot them, crossing them and gliding them through this primordial, fertile darkness, until we see that the frames of the pictures are actually, phones: specifically the newest iPhones, shining like jewels, like crowns, like stars in the firmament.

“See, this is why I have to mute the commercials,” I turn to Katie where she’s skimming through her phone on the other end of the couch. “I’m weak minded.”

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Couldn’t Have Said It Better

“So I rinse off all the soap suds in the pan, turn it over, and there’s soap suds on the bottom too, of course, but after I rinse off the bottom, I turn it over and there’s soap back in the pan,” I tell Katie.

“You know what’s happening, right?” Katie says, patiently, gently. “When you rinse the bottom of the pan, the soap runs to the edge, and if you don’t wait a second and just quickly turn it over, it runs back down the sides into the pan.”

“You know, there is a way to say that without me feeling completely stupid,” I say, laughing.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

An Audience of One

“Well maybe I’ll just get this puke green shirt instead,” the guy says, after a preceding ten minutes of talking shit about everything in the booth. 

“You know, I noticed that the jokes you tell seem to be aimed at an audience of one,” I say finally. “But I guess if you can only make one person laugh....”

He doesn’t seem to notice, and continues to talk shit, but the girl he’s with makes eye contact with me, and the smile that she’s been forcing grows a touch more genuine, just for a second.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Family Business

“You don’t buy eggs in the morning anymore,” the woman behind the counter at the deli says with a pout as I put my purchases up: loaf of bread, bag of Cheetos, Amy’s frozen pizza, and an apple.

“Well, I don’t have a day job, anymore,” I reply as I put my card into the chip reader. “I work for my wife, so I eat my eggs at home."

“You work for your wife,” she repeats, flat, not a question, exactly, but a general query to the universe, like, what is that like?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Warm Reception

“Scott Williams,” I tell the receptionist at the clinic when she asks me for Katie’s emergency contact, and she notes that my last name isn’t the same as Katie’s.

“I forgot my ring today,” Katie says sadly, holding up her left hand.

“It’s okay, you’re still married,” I say.

“You guys are cute,” the receptionist says, shaking her head.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Last Call

The bartender at the wine bar has gathered the glasses, wiped down the counter, passed out the checks - it’s last call.

But here she comes, breezing in through the door with her straightened hair streaming behind her and a triumphant look on her face. The bartender, after explaining to her that they’re closing, and being reassured that she only wants “one glass,” reluctantly sets one glass of white up in front of her and leaves her to it.

She sips it slowly as beads of condensation drip down the bowl, and swipes through her phone with an expression that’s both intensely focused, and distracted.

Not Helping

The man standing by the stairs leading out of the subway station is talking to everyone who got off my train, but I can’t hear what he’s saying because I’ve got my headphones on with the music way too loud. A couple of people and I run interference for each other, blocking his line of sight as our paths cross and re-cross in a confusing enough pattern that he doesn’t know who to talk to, until we’re past him without engaging, up on to the streets and away.

But as I begin my walk home, my conscience begins to nag at me: I have change in my pocket, and a swipe on my MetroCard, and I can help, even if it’s just a little bit.

With a sigh, I head back to the subway station, but when I get to the bottom of the stairs, I suddenly recognize him from an encounter a few years back where he tried to scam me into buying him a fifty dollar MetroCard, and I turn around and march right back upstairs with a clear conscience and my change back in my pockets.

Monday, September 10, 2018

I Just Look Like I Belong

As soon as I go back out to the waiting room of the clinic, though, I realize I’ve made a mistake leaving Katie alone to get her wisdom tooth extracted.

Ask the doctor if I can come back in, I text her.

Just knock on the door, she texts back.

And here’s the definition of privilege: I knock on the locked door to go back into the busy clinic area, they don’t know who I am, and this random person opens the door, starts to question me, and I just walk right by them, knowing where I’m going, and they let me.

Tailgating

When we get to a narrow section of the sidewalk, I slow down so that Katie and I are walking in single file, and she looks over her shoulder at me curiously.

“I wanted to give the person behind us a chance to pass,” I say, indicating a woman who’s been shadowing us for almost the entire walk from the subway. People walking too close behind me still make me nervous.

“I think we’ve given her plenty of opportunities,” Katie says, after the woman once again fails to pass.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A Need For Perspective

“You think Biden could win, though?” I ask Katie, my head in her lap as I lie on the couch, weary from a long at work.

“He needs to get Liberman for VP,” she says, scrolling through her phone.

“Aw, man, Liberman’s the worst,” I reply, whining.

She tilts my face up to look at her, leans in real close, and, without breaking eye contact, says, “Scott, I need you to have some fucking perspective about this."

Friday, September 7, 2018

Nonverbal

After a night of work, I arrive tired at my door just as one of those kids with a clip-board who accosts people on the street for donations to their non-existent baseball or basketball team walks by. I’ve had some run-ins with those kids before, and I’ve been sort of nervous around teenagers since I was one, so my heart-rate goes up a little.

I’m carrying my satchel, but for some reason I pat my pockets for my keys as he passes me on my way up the stairs, even though I know they’re latched on a leather thong in the main pocket of the bag.

I think it was an unconscious action trying to signal to the kid, “Yep, just going inside this building here where somebody is expecting me and so it’s probably not a great idea to try to hit me up for money right this second."

Are Those The Same?

“So, it basically has me working three long days, and closing the rest of the time, but I’m basically doing that right now,” I explain to Katie about the new schedule I’m suggesting for our booth. “I’ve really just got two skills I can offer - I like to sell stuff, and my endurance is good.”

She thinks about this for a second. “Yeah, you’re really good with inertia,” she elaborates.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Political Stuff

Katie’s suffering with a sore tooth, and after I get off the phone with her dentist to schedule a visit tomorrow, I turn on the tv to try and distract her from the pain.

The late night talk shows are about to start, and I turn back to the internet to see if there are any homemade remedies we can use.

Katie mumbles from the other side of the bed, “No political stuff.”

I think about it a minute, turn on YouTube instead, and cue up “Bondi Rescue.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Not Exactly Tartare

He gives me a look as he walks by, but I’m looking at Twitter or something so I almost miss it. I see him when I look up, though, walking by the booth taking a huge bite out of something deep red and squishy with a look of savage glee.

Across the aisle from me, the woman who sells paintings of quirky animals has a look of abject shock, and the even the guy who sells beard products looks a little taken aback.

“Did you see him eating that raw steak?” she says, horrified.


Monday, September 3, 2018

They Work For You

“It’s just,” I say after we finish watching the comedy special, “I wouldn’t want to hang out with him, but he’s so good at what he does that I just know I could never be a comedian.”

“What he’s doing comes from a very dark place,” Katie says over her shoulder as she prepares dinner for the two of us.

“Sure, but he seems like he’s figuring it out so that it works for him,” I reply. “Gotta harness your demons and make them pay rent.”

We Thought It Was Funny

“If you want a real New York experience, down the alley there’s a dead rat that fell from the roadway of the bridge,” my boss says to the milling crowds that seem to be wandering aimlessly through the booth without buying anything. “It’s completely smashed,” he adds.

At least half the people within a 10-foot radius of him start at his words, and simply walk out of the booth, and we both laugh for the rest of the day at this very Andy Kaufman-esque moment.

Later, when I mention how I’m always looking for the human moments when I write about my day, referring back to this story, he says thoughtfully, “I’m not sure that one would translate.” 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Not Dying

Scratchy throat, runny nose, watery eyes, run down, with a just a soup├žon of despair: I sit in my chair at the booth where I’m helping out this weekend and try to muster up the energy to sell shirts.

The woman I’m working for comes by to help restock, and we chat for a little bit, until she coughs a small, dry cough. “There is some kind of allergen or something in the air, because it is getting me today,” she says, wrinkling her nose.

“Oh, I just thought I was dying,” I say, relieved.