Friday, April 19, 2019

A Nice Try

The little old lady comes into the doctor’s office where I’m temping, and we’re immediately confronted with a problem. She speaks very little english, and I speak even less spanish.

“Lo ciento por mi espaƱol,” I say, deciding to have a go at on-the-fly translation of my go-to french phrase, but apparently my mangled attempt is good enough.

“Is okay, papi, you a good man,” she says, smiling and patting my hand.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Public/Private

The line at the post office is predictably long, but everyone is being patient and quietly waiting their turn without complaint.

One woman, however, has decided that this small waiting area, with its gray, dingy walls and cement floor, its hard, reflective surfaces perfect for amplifying sound - this place is the ideal place to make her phone call.

“Well I told her what the caterers would charge... haha, yeah I know, but what about Thursday?” she says, full voice, as if she were in the privacy of her own home.

“I mean, why?” she continues, asking the question that everyone in the room except her is asking right this moment.

How Long Before the Cat Eats Me?

The writing isn’t going badly exactly, it’s just not going the way I want it to go, so I drop the notebook and pen on my bed and walk out into the hall.

I get about halfway down the hall before sinking to my knees and then slowly pitching forward until I am lying face down on the runner rug, my chin pressed into the floor, look like nothing so much as a hairless bearskin rug.

The cat, hearing me settle in to my newfound spot, circles me in some concern. Finally she stops and stands a few feet in front of me, and whines.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Copy of a Copy

One time, in high school, I got sick, and since I had to stay home from school for a few days my parents rented me some videotapes from Casa Blanca Video: one called “Urgh, A Music War” which had all of these live performances from various UK and American punk and New Wave groups, and a music video compilation called “Beast of the I.R.S.” (I.R.S. being my favorite record label at the time since they had the band R.E.M.).

Nowadays, of course, many of the pop cultural artifacts of youth now exist only online, if we’re lucky, so on to YouTube I go to find the detritus of my memories, and lo and behold, there's the whole thing - even a grainy, pixelated version of one of my all time favorite songs: Radio Free Europe by R.E.M.

The thing is so degraded though, a bad copy of a bad copy of a videotape, that it’s hardly recognizable. Like my memories, it’s mostly something I have to make up in my head - just a copy of a copy, emotions that I conjure up from ghosts.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Magnolia

The morning rain gives way to blustery winds whipping harried clouds across a shifting sun as Katie and I walk home from the grocery store, and trees toss their newly greening heads around, while the few that have already opened their flowers wave them back and forth frantically.

Magnolia,” Katie growls in her best heavy metal voice as we pass one in full bloom, its pink flowers like cool flamingo flames.

“I’m not sure that’s how it sounds,” I say, laughing.

“I bet it sounds like something when each of those flowers open,” she says, and suddenly I can imagine the buds bursting open like cannon fire, explosions of color and plant sex into the spring air.


Sunday, April 14, 2019

Where I Belong

Delta Airlines has separated Katie and I on our flight, so now we’re both sitting in middle seats several rows apart, but when I get to my seat, the older man and woman sitting on either side of me look at me expectantly.

“Would you like an aisle seat?” the woman asks pleasantly, and of course I say yes, because I’m six foot two at least, and the aisle is always better.

But now we have a bargaining chip, and as soon as Katie sees me sit down, she’s commences negotiations with the person sitting in the aisle in her row.

A few minutes later, a tall asian fellow ambles up the aisle to take my seat, and I gather my things to go back and sit next to Katie where I belong, saying to the couple in my row, “Lovely meeting you!"

Saturday, April 13, 2019

What Drives Us

“I don’t use the signal all the time because sometimes, when they see you’re trying to get in, they’ll speed up,” our driver says.

While the rest of us take this in he continues,  “Coming from New York, you see some things.”

“So when it comes to driving, who's better, New York or Atlanta?” I ask.

“People in New York know how to drive,” he says with a chuckle.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Indecisive

We talk to the artist for a while, since there aren’t too many other customers at the festival at this hour. Her work is beautiful - thin sheets of wood bent into swoops and waves, parabolas of grain and knot, stained and tinted and twisted together into some sort of three-dimensional language - but there’s not a price to be seen.

She chalks it up, with a raspy laugh, to her inability to get started in the morning, part of which she attributes to her indecisiveness as a Gemini.

“I’m not picky,” she says, grinning behind sunglasses, “I’ll just have a bite of what everyone else is having.”

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Just Visiting

Looking through the window of the drop-off laundry place on our block, I become instantly wary when I see the cops standing at the counter talking to Judy, who runs the place. She’s gesturing broadly and speaking rapidly in Chinese as I come in, but I don’t want to pry so I just smile and slide my ticket across the counter.

“Everything’s okay, we’re just visiting our friends,” one of the cops says with a grin, and Judy nods happily.

“I mean, I was just gonna keep myself to myself,” I say as I feel my shoulders lower about an inch.

Having a Day

“Just go home,” the guy behind the counter at the donut shop says brusquely into his phone, before repeatedly stabbing the screen to hang up. “What do you want?”

Katie and I repeat our order, then repeat it again because he’s staring at his phone again without doing anything, and as he finally gets our donuts I whisper to Katie, “Seems like he’s going through some stuff.”

“Have a better one,” I say on the way out, but he’s staring angrily at his phone, and doesn’t hear me.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Singular

Since we have to be quiet while Katie’s being interviewed, our whispered conversation eventually fizzles out, and I go back to scrolling through memes on my computer while our friend and his baby stare out the kitchen window at the low descending rain as it settles in over the backyards and gardens of the buildings behind ours.

After the interview, the baby is put down for a nap, and our friend sets up the lights to take pictures of Katie’s studio. Bored with memes, I stand up, stretch a little, and go stare out the window myself for a while, when what should appear but a woodpecker, darting from branch to branch with sharp, angular jumps, and a blue jay, who leaps arrogantly ever higher to the top of the same tree, periodically pausing to shout his claim on everything in earshot of his cry.

I wonder if our friend and his baby saw the birds, if they marveled at the different ways they moved, if the baby might someday remember, or if I was the only person in the world who saw.

Monday, April 8, 2019

She Has Things Under Control

The woman standing by the Citibike stand yells at the man walking away from her (toward me), and he yells back, but I can’t make out what they saying

“You just mad ‘cause you ain’t getting fucked,” he says, and now I think I’m looking at some kind of lover’s spat.

“You know I caught you trying to grab my purse,” she replies, and whoops! I got it wrong.

They do this for the three minutes it takes to reach her, with the two of them yelling variations on the above for the entire time, but when I reach her, she stops yelling, and fixes me with a look as if to say, “No thanks to you, buddy.”

My First Torta

“And you thought Mexican food didn’t use bread,” I say, munching happily on my first ever torta.

“To be fair,” Katie says, putting down her taco to address my slander, “I phrased it as a question, so maybe you could just get off my dick.”

“I will never get off  your dick,” I say seriously.

“Awww, marriage means never having to get off your spouses dick,” Katie says happily.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Paparazzi

I’m talking to one person, finishing off a sale, when I notice, over their shoulder, another person sneaking a photo of one of Katie’s pieces. I’m loathe to break off my (pleasant, lucrative) conversation just to tell some rando to GTFOH with their visual thievery, so I decide to ignore them this time, but I can’t help being reminded of so many other photographers (attempted and otherwise) in the past.

All of them seem to have this smug, self-satisfied look about them as they raise their phones at that very particular angle, like they somehow believe that, in their act of pushing a button, they too are part of the act of creation, participants in the making of something beautiful, even though they have done literally almost nothing.

Finally, I can’t stand it anymore, and I lean around the person I’m speaking to with my friendliest, most aggressive smile, and say, “Sorry, no pictures, please."

Friday, April 5, 2019

It’s A Tonal Language

“So how does this work?” the woman sitting directly in front of the reception desk of the doctor’s office where I’m temping today asks. “I got here before her but she got called before me.”

“I hear you, but she finished her paperwork before you did, so she got called first,” I say, trying to be as straightforward and neutral about it despite feeling a little bad about how things worked out.

She watches me suspiciously for a few moments after I bend back to my work, then goes back to her phone conversation in Spanish, where she sounds a little like she’s talking just the tiniest bit of shit about somebody who may or may not be me.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

First Impressions

Blond guy, broad shouldered but not terribly tall, gets on the train when the doors open without letting people off first, so I don’t like him already.

He beelines for an open seat, ignoring the lasers I’m shooting into his back from my eyes, and sits down, and I see from his acned chin and slightly doughy look that he’s really just a kid. I watch him for a while, taking in his sullen stare, the lightly greasy sheen of his forehead, his pale blue jeans, and I don’t know why, but I’m put in mind of the type of kid who brings a gun to school.

My opinion of him is not improved when I notice the enameled American flag he’s got woven into the laces of his boots.

Urine Luck

The clearly harried HR director who’s been tasked with getting me situated at my new temp gig doesn’t really seem to know a whole lot of information about the usual tasks of the position, but she does have some interesting insights, nonetheless.

“Sometimes the guys will complain about the state of the men’s restroom,” she says cryptically, but I’m taking everything in, just trying to figure out what’s important and what’s not, so I nod and smile, and we move on to other topics.

It’s not until later that afternoon, when I hear shouts of distress, and a whole bunch of guys talking excitedly as they walk away from the restroom, that I remember what she said, and ask one of them, “Men’s bathroom?”

“I mean, how does a urinal overflow?” he replies with an amazed shake of his head.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Nineteen Cents

“I’ll tell you the best thing that happened to me today,” I tell Katie as she’s lying on the couch idly tapping her phone’s screen. “I went to buy the frozen concentrate orange juice, which was two sixty-nine, and then I thought, hey, I’ll check to see if there’s a deal on the not-from-concentrate orange juice.”

“And the not-from-concentrate stuff was two-for-five, so there was a deal, and that’s the best thing that happened to me today.”

Afterwards, Katie looks up at me where I’m standing triumphantly with the most pitying look on her face.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Sleeping Alone

“And this ‘sleeping apart’ thing has got to go,” Katie says, concluding her description of the hotel she stayed in while I dropped off the truck last night.

“Yeah,” I agree. “Nothing beats a warm pooks at your back and a schmecks curled in the crook of your arm to get to sleep.

“You know, to be fair, we didn’t really ‘sleep’ ‘apart’ much last night,” I add later.


Park Slope Is Closed

3:15 in the morning, I drop off the truck in the desolate U-Haul lot and begin my journey home. A cold wind blows down empty, foreboding streets, perfect for a mugging, and I pull up my hood, put on my mean face, and walk like I have someplace to be, which I do.

By the time I’m almost home, walking down President Street, I start to think my earlier suspicions were silly, as not only have I not seen another soul, but not even a car has passed me in almost 15 minutes.

Then I come around the corner to my house, and there’s the garbage truck, with three dudes picking up the trash, and I know I was being silly.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Good Buy

“I like your hat,” I tell the woman collecting signatures at the greenmarket as I hand her clipboard to Katie to sign.

She slowly turns to me, then touches the hat, a nice two-tone straw number with a medium brim, a round crown, and a little leather band. “Three, ninety, nine,” she says with pride. “And I’m never gonna get rid of it."

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Soul Landfill

In the bright yellow kitchen, I separate out the recycling into two piles - plastics and metals, and paper products - and then put the separate items into clear plastic bags to take downstairs to the curb for pickup.

For a brief moment, a wave of futility washes over me, as I remember Katie telling me that the country that does most of our recycling, China, has stopped accepting shipments from us, saying it’s too expensive to process. I suddenly have a vision of the afterlife, where we have no judge but ourselves, and I imagine this moment of karmic balancing: telling myself in the clear light of divine knowledge, “I knew that there was no real recycling, but I still bought products that used too much packaging and tried to tell myself that it was okay because maybe they were still getting recycled anyway.”

I sigh, and keep bagging.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

No New Friends

As the rhythm of the train gently rocks me towards sleep after a long afternoon running errands, I idly imagine the Tree of Life sigil superimposed on the map of the New York subway system (train lines as paths up and down the Tree, stops on the train as Sephiroth, each with their own attributes of angels, planetary energies, tarot correspondences, all that nonsense), and something clicks in my brain, an old familiar feeling.

It’s a spacious feeling, an anticipation, like the universe is about to open a door or pull back a curtain, to reveal some fundamental truth about my life and place in the grand story of creation.

When I was younger, I got this feeling all the time: revelations lurked around every corner, behind every stray cast of light from a knowing sky, and I was ever at the ready to throw aside everything and transform my life in the face of this new cosmology.

Today, it swells in my stomach like a joyous balloon, filling up my chest like the day before my birthday, but now, a piece of me watches the whole thing with cool skeptical eyes, unafraid, but wary and unconvinced.

Defending Joy

The sign on the gate to the church garden reads, “This garden to be used for prayer and quiet contemplation only.”

“When did they have to put that on?” Katie asks. She sounds mildly disappointed in, well, in everybody: the church, the people that took advantage of the church so they had to put a sign up, the kind of world that makes it so that we have to jealously guard the few refuges of quiet and beauty.

A man carrying a child on his shoulders and pushing another in a carriage passes us just in front of the church, and even though he’s clearly laboring, there’s a sort of determined happiness in the way he tromps to the stop light, pauses, looks both ways, adjusts the child on his shoulders so she’s more secure, and then continues on his way.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Signs of Spring

The sky stretches above us, perfect blue porcelain and cloudless, and a cold breeze blows southerly under the bright spring sun. 

“I think this is the butterfly tree,” Katie says of a bare-branched specimen that’s only just beginning to bud. She digs her phone out from deep in the pocket of her goose-down and proceeds to photograph the nascent buds.

Beside the tree, an ornate, old-fashioned looking lamppost stands, its lamp shattered and hanging at a cocked angle off the top, and I examine it, feeling, for some reason, that this is spring, too.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Bears Are Sneaky

Sudafed, while useful as a nasal decongestant (and for the occasional meth lab shenanigans), is not so useful to Katie in the the throes of a cold, since it makes her feel like she’s “being stalked by a bear.”

So when I suggest she take just one (half the usual dose) before going to bed, she demurs with, “Sure, if I want to sleep clutching a knife all night.”

“There’s no way a bear can get you from under the bed - there’s no room,” I gently explain.

“You don’t understand bears at all, do you?” she snaps.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

House of Sickness

Katie and I are both at different stages of a cold we’ve been fighting, and last night was particularly bad with coughing and being unable to sleep.

“Once my coughing did stop, though,” I say, choosing my words carefully, “I had trouble getting to sleep because there was... snoring.”

“Fair, fair,” Katie says, “but I was awakened a lot by your coughing, so.”

Later she adds, “You have this amazing talent for not coughing, for holding back from coughing, for a really long time, and then turning over and coughing into the back of my head."

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Talkers

“Let’s cross to the other side,” I say to Katie as we’re walking down the street. “There’s some ‘talkers' at the corner.”

And so we cross in the middle of the block, to the shady side of the street, to avoid the two kids in matching green outfits standing at the corner with clipboards, waiting to accost strangers in a shameless attempt to guilt the various monied walkers of Park Slope into donating to some relatively wary cause or other.

While we stand at the corner in a crowd waiting to cross the intersection to continue on our way unmolested, I wonder to myself what a traffic analyst would make of these two kids changing the pedestrian flow for blocks in either direction, as people like us crossed the streets to avoid talking to them.

We’re Not The Only Ones She Knows

“Look who it is,” I say to Katie, and sure enough, coming up the sidewalk is our neighbor friend whom we haven’t seen in ages.

“Man, I’m seeing all the people I know on on block,” she replies in a friendly way, and we settle in to chat for a minute. We exchange pleasantries, offer her a few compliments on her new look, but then she stops us.

“Actually, I really am seeing everyone I know on this block, and I kind of have to go meet him,” she says apologetically, indicating over our shoulders a fellow waving about half-a-block down.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Depends How Hard You Scrub

“I have a question,” I say to Katie over the hiss of the shower while I wash my hands at the sink.

“Am I being scolded?” she says sadly.

“No, it’s a legitimate question: Does it ever hurt your hands to wash the dishes?”

“Do you mean, like, ache, or actually hurt?” she replies.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

He Never Has a Second Cup At Home

The restaurant didn’t get my order - not their fault, okay, but still a bit inconvenient when I walk seven blocks to pick it up and they haven’t started it yet.

But I don’t lose my cool, tell them I’ll wait while they take care of it, and I guess my attitude rubs off, because after everybody calms down, they offer me a cool beverage while I wait, and I accept it gratefully, but warn them, “Nothing with caffeine, please.”

They’re not sure which of their drinks has caffeine, but one of the guys behind the counter shrugs and jokes, “Hey, I’m willing to experiment.”

“Oh, you’re willing to experiment on this guy here, sure, but are you willing to give me your phone number so I can give you constructive feedback on your experiment when I’m up at three in the morning?” I joke back.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Gratitude

I stand under the hot water in the shower, letting it run down my face and body, while Katie brushes her teeth at the sink. On her phone, a podcast is playing, reciting its usual litany of murder and betrayal.

Earlier, I watched a movie about drug lords and soldiers murdering each other in a country of poverty and despair.

The house is empty except for us and the cat, the doors are locked, we are well fed and relatively secure, and up above an almost-full moon shines serene in a quiet sky, but it’s not like that everywhere, and the calm order of my life seems, sometimes, like a miracle.

Not The Cat’s Birthday

We come back from dinner stuffed just shy of the point of injury, and let ourselves in to the apartment to the vehement protestations of our cat. She can tell time somewhat, and she can count up to three, so she knows the count is off and it is well past her deadline for dinner.

Katie sits on the couch while I go fetch her birthday presents from the bedroom, and the cat follows me back, meowing pitifully and attempting to indicate by example that the kitchen is just past the bedroom, dummy. I turn around and head back to the front of the house without feeding her, and her disappointment in my idiocy is palpable as she slinks back into the living room, like what did I do to be saddled with such negligent dopes.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Tear Down The Wall

In the greenhouse at the New York Botanical Garden, surrounded by a riot of green leaves and luscious orchids that swell and throb with color, my eye strays down to a small plant, growing in the seam between two stones in a wall. It’s not big, but it’s well established and solidly planted.

“Oh, that wall is done for,” I say to Katie.

“If we could see plants growing at the same speed we move around, we’d be terrified,” she replies.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Counter-intuitive

Leda, carved in stone, stares down lovingly at the equally stoney swan which she holds by the neck with gentle double-entendre, who gazes back with what can only be called lecherous affection (if such a thing is possible for a bird).

“So the God, Jupiter, or Zeus, really, was stalking her and changed himself into a swan so that he wouldn’t be noticed when they got together,” Katie’s mom explains as they stare up at the statue.

“That’s very counter-intuitive,” Katie says, looking at me and then back up to the swan.. “And I have several follow up question.:

Sagittarius Retrograde

Our friend talks about astrology all the time, specifically about her own sign (Sagittarius) and how she’s “such a Sag” (pronounced SAAHJ).

I don’t really “believe” in astrology - despite the fact that I probably could still draw a relatively decent birth chart for you if I knew your date, time, and city of birth, and with a calculator I could probably progress your birth moon - I just find it fun, and interesting, way of looking at the world.

So when I point out Katie’s necklace (which I bought for her for Christmas), I’m surprised that our friend doesn’t recognize the astrological sign for Pisces, which is Katie’s birth sign.

She squints at it for a second, then smiles brightly and starts talking about herself again.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Friendly?

“I see you’re married,” says the guy after signing my timesheet at the temp gig. “How long?”

I take a beat to process this, since: 1. I didn’t know he was paying attention to anything about me at all, because 2. this is the first overtly friendly gesture he’s made in two days and I’m not entirely sure what it means or why he’s decided to change it up now.

“Um, yeah, married nine years this September!” I say cheerfully after I recover and fold the timesheet to put it in my bag.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Dutch Courage

“Had enough for one day?” I say to the only guy who really talked to me like I was a person during my temp gig today as he’s grabbing his jacket from the closet - he’s an older gentleman, a board member of the company I’m working at, and Dutch, which makes him refreshingly egalitarian, and not at all taken aback at my familiar tone.

“There’s an American phrase I like,” he begins, thoughtfully. “‘Liquored up,’which I like because it reminds me of cowboys, so now I am going to go get, as you say, ‘liquored up.’”

“Well, it’s nice to have a hobby,” I reply.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Spam Filter

“Hey there, animal lover,” the guy standing on the corner with the clipboard says as I’m about to cross the street to go to the grocery store.

I feel sorry for these guys - I know they’re just trying to make a living, like all of us, and since they have few skills that anyone will pay them for right now, they have to be the human equivalent of a spam email, accosting random strangers on the street - so I try to be nice to them without wasting my time.

“Hey, it’s you again!” I say with a big smile and a wave.

His smile falters in confusion for a second, so I administer the finishing blow with a, “Hey, I’m not going to stop, but have a good day, okay?"

I Think I Know Which I Am

We’re walking down the street, about to pass a school yard, when a kid comes up to us and says, “My friend kicked the ball and it went under that car across the street.”

So of course I go and get the ball from under the car, feeling very grown up and sort of, well, “cool" isn’t exactly the word, but certainly helpful.

But when I throw the ball back to the kid, I manage to both throw the ball poorly enough to almost not make it to the kid at all, and throw my hat out in the middle of the street, and then when I go to retrieve my hat I only avoid being hit by a car because the driver of said car has seen that an idiot is about and slows down.

“Whoa!” says the kid, marveling, I presume, at my singular lack of skills, while Katie watches with a simultaneously concerned and embarrassed look on her face, and I find myself pondering that old saying about God looking after fools, drunks, and old people.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Sun Was Still Out

My legs ache and my feet throb from having been walking around all day, but there’s still a long stretch of Flatbush Avenue to traverse before I can rest my bones.

When I walk past the bar on the corner, there’s a line outside - at 5:30 PM; on a Sunday. Okay, maybe something’s on TV, some kind of sports event or whatever, but that’s not what gives me pause.

At the door, the bouncer is giving each person who enters the bar a full and thorough putdown, checking for weapons, and really getting up in there on every person, and while I’m trying not to stare as I trudge by, I can help thinking: at 5:30 PM, on a Sunday.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Butting In

“What’s west Texas like?” her friend asks.

“Well, it’s like the surface of Mars, but it smells like gasoline,” I say, truthfully.

“That’s why we only pay a dollar forty per gallon,” a dude who was not involved with this conversation and who is not known to any of us says, butting in.

“I take the subway,” I say, deadpan, giving him a hard look.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Not My Place to Judge

Standing in line for the pharmacist, Katie and I chat vacantly about the shampoo and conditioner, and why the tubes of lotion are locked up with a key, but the nicotine patches aren’t.

A song comes over the store soundsystem, something about “making this place your home,” which sounds to me like one of those bands that wore suspenders and had creative facial hair and played acoustic instruments back in the early 2010’s. I think to myself, but do not say aloud, that this is one of the whitest songs I’ve heard today.

The black guy sitting in the waiting area for the pharmacy starts singing along, and I mentally shrug, because obviously it doesn’t matter what I think is white or not.

Etiquette, Shmetiquette

She’s blocking the entrance to the grocery store with one of the enormous tank-like strollers that are de rigueur for the mothers of Park Slope, staring intently at the screen in her hand, a million figurative miles away. I manage to sidle around her and reach the door just as she realizes she’s utterly in the way, and she makes a little “oh!” of distress and starts to wrestle her stroller out of the doorway, which now moves her into my way.

But I’m a polite guy, raised relatively right, so I try to move out of her way to let her pass through the door before me, but she’s pulling back to let me go through, only to see me trying to let her through, so she moves just as I see her pulling back, so I try to go through, which gets in her way, etc.

Repeat a couple more times, until I get disgusted and just go through the door, etiquette be damned.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Not Scared

“Some people got mugged at Grand Army Plaza,” Katie says, looking up from her phone.

That’s one of our usual subway stops, so I’m a little concerned, but we agree that a guy my size is unlikely to be mugged, all things being equal.

Later that night, we get off at Grand Army Plaza on our way home from a night out, and there’s a guy vaguely fitting the description of the mugger standing under the stairs looking like he’s sizing people up in a nefarious sort of way, so I point him out to Katie.

“Yeah, I like to make strong eye contact with people like that,” Katie replies, grinning sharply.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Wasted on the Young

“So when you were down in Miami, did you stay at your company’s hostel?” I ask the friend of ours who still works at the company Katie worked at before the butterfly business took off.

“Yeah, I’m too old to stay at that place,” he says ruefully.

“When I Katie and I stayed there last year, coming back at night? we’d just walk past the pool, surrounded by all these beautiful, young people, and straight back to our room,” I say.

“They’re just sitting there, with their whole lives ahead of them,” he agrees, shaking his head in amazement.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Good Trees

A square concrete block, about a foot-and-a-half on each side with some sort of spout or drain coming out one side, pokes out of the rapidly melting snow on one edge of this meadow in Prospect Park, and I sit down on it to watch Katie take pictures of the trees. She’s focused in on a pair of slim, smooth-barked trees that are otherwise bare but for the entirely out-of-season Christmas ornaments festooning their branches, and although they stand out a bit, the look isn’t completely inappropriate.

Once she finishes, she joins me on the block to admire some of the larger arboreal specimens, and she points out the small patches of snow that seem to serve as little accents on the darker branches.

But I’m taken by an enormous pin-oak that towers above the entrance to a tunnel, its naked branches stark and bristling against the blue sky, its thick, heavy trunk sturdy as a stone in the iced ground, its matte bark pied in green and blond and dark brown, and I can’t help but exclaim, “Goddamn, those are some good trees."

Monday, March 4, 2019

Reflecting

It’s 1:00 AM, and it’s snowing again, so I open up the top half of the kitchen window and rest my chin on the frame, drinking in the cold, stony tasting air.

The sky is close and gray, and the backyards behind our apartment building are lit up like dim daylight. I try to imagine how it’s possible that it can be so bright outside in the middle of the night.

Maybe there’s a feedback loop, between the light of the city reflecting off the clouds, reflecting off the snow, reflecting back up into the sky, like two soft mirrors facing one another, amplifying the ambient light and diffusing it all over everything, as the quiet snow swallows up the dark earth.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Bringing Peace

All the rock and pop music on my phone isn’t cutting it, so when the train goes up on the bridge, and I’m able to get a signal, I switch over to my classical music playlist and queue up “Venus, the Bringer of Peace” from Holst’s Planets suite.

As the twinkling notes of the song rise up in my headphones like stars appearing in the darkness, the twinkling lights of Manhattan rise up on the other side of the river. The music brings out the calm, stately version of the city, a version that, despite the avarice and hustle and grind, despite everything, really, still exists.

It’s much easier to see from so high up, but, even as the song continues, we descend the other side of the bridge and down, into the darkness beneath the city.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Snowy Morning

The cat’s pleas (delivered while stomping on my chest, full voice, with all the rage of a thousand kibbles denied) and my own restlessness rouse me from bed hours before my “shame alarm” is set to go off, and I stumble into the grainy half-light of the morning kitchen. Out the back window, the lightly snowy backyards of the buildings behind us are a study in half-tone contrasts, all white and black and a million grays in-between. A few final snowflakes hurry down the sky, like soldiers arriving late to a battle that’s already over, to lay themselves down in the field next to their brethren and dream of soft and quiet.

The microwave goes off, the cat’s food is ready, and I lean down to receive my high-five in payment for her food, which she, after a moment’s thought, reluctantly gives.

Friday, March 1, 2019

A Shinto Farewell

I stand in the now empty storage space. All of our stuff that was in here is now loaded into a rental truck and is waiting upstairs for me to drive it home.

“You’ve been a great space,” I say to the bare room, my voice echoing off the corrugated steels walls and concrete floors, “and you really helped us out, helped us to get free, so... thanks.”

I feel a little foolish for a second, but then I touch the wall, fondly, like I’m petting a horse, and a sudden, genuine gratitude wells up in my chest, so I sit with that for a bit, until I finally turn to leave, closing the door behind me.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Didn’t Get My Steps In Today

I flip the last switch, turning off the small lamp perched on the bookshelf, and the room goes comfortably dark. Before I head down the hall to take a shower and get ready for bed, I pause for a moment to check and make sure the door is locked, which it is.

Of course it’s locked, because, I realize at this exact moment, I haven’t left the house today, like at all. We spent all day putting the house back together after two almost back-to-back markets, and stayed in tonight watching TV, but for some reason it didn’t really occur to me that I hadn’t seen anyone but Katie, or anything besides the interior of this apartment, all day,

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Pains and Puns

“You know why this absinthe is white?” Katie asks in the liquor store as she takes the bottle out of my hands. “The color... is absinthe!” (she pronounces it like “absent.”)

“I can see why you took the bottle from me,” I reply, taking it back from her after I’ve recovered.

“It’s because if you’d been holding it you would have dropped it in admiration,” she says, looking very pleased with herself.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Sleeping In

After a last, stomping pass over both our recumbent forms, the cat finally gives up on trying to get us up to feed her and resentfully jumps down off the bed. I roll over with a slow sigh, and Katie languidly reaches over to her phone on the bedside table.

“Jesus,” I say, “what time is it?”

She lifts her phone up in the dim, grainy light filtering through the blackout curtains and groggily announces, “Ten AM."

Forgot to Eat

The erratic, fierce wind blows hard down an empty 5th Avenue in Brooklyn like a fussy child having a tantrum and breaking his own toys. Katie and I both pull up our hoods against the bluster and walk in silence with our hands shoved in our jacket pockets.

“You want to get something at the taco truck?” I say, my voice spacey from having forgotten to eat as much as I needed today.

“I want to get some food, go home, eat it, and have my husband back,” Katie replies.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Smile-off

Before I started working with the public selling Katie’s sculptures, I had no idea how many people there were in the world who are incapable of or unwilling to respond to a genuine smile.

She sees me, this woman in the orange jacket and the tall knitted cap, I know she sees me, and my smile is genuine, because I know it is, because I’m the one that’s making it. So when she finally does  make eye contact, despite her best efforts to avoid it, she doesn’t exactly scowl, but her face hardens into what can only be called "aggressive neutrality.”

Now my smile is a little forced, I must admit, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let it falter, and I don’t drop my gaze, or my smile, until she has exited the booth.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Overshare

“It’s hard to imagine what your mom likes to get her a present,” the woman says to her soft-spoken boyfriend. “Like you said, the only reason I know she likes me is that I have a working uterus.”

She darts a quick glance at me as his face reddens. “That was an overshare, wasn’t it?” she asks while he shrugs and nods.

All In The Family

“Hello!” she perkily half-shouts in response to my gentle, “Hi there,” from the back of the booth, and immediately the people with her start busting on her: “Is that how you say hello?” they mock.

“He startled me!” she tries to explain, but they’ve already moved on to the next booth.

“I thought you did fine,” I say after they’ve left.

“Family’s always so judgmental,” she says sadly.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Changing My Mind Again

The snow has given way to a freezing, splattering rain, but the ice still coats the sidewalks in a slick, treacherous rime. I’m wearing my cold resistant, impregnable Canadian snow boots with the deep-treaded soles, but just the way I’m built (tall, with a long torso lending me a high center of gravity) makes every step a nerve wracking potential skid right onto my ass.

Then again, I think to myself, what if my center of gravity wasn’t that high?

And just the thought makes me bend my knees slightly, and I can feel the ground under my feet, solid, and not all that slick at all, and I tramp down the sidewalk, confident and steady as the rain that continues to fall.

I Don’t Usually Talk Politics

I walk around the city, watching the tourists queue up to go inside the new mega-high-end-Starbucks, listen to the tech-bros have very intense conversations on their iPhones, and I wonder if this is how it felt to walk around in 1920s Germany: money everywhere, people living it up, and yet it feels like some form or another of capital-d DOOM is right around the corner.

Thinking about the slow-motion collapse of the Republic is disconcerting, mostly because it’s happening so slow it’s almost like it’s not happening at all. The effects are too long term to really assess the damage yet.

I’m not really worried about the current guy launching us into fascism, mostly because being a despot is too much like actual work, and he doesn’t really seem to have it in him to work that hard.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Against Manspreading

There’s a large group of women on the train sitting across the aisle from each other, at least a dozen of them, laughing and talking loudly when I get on. I spot a seat next to them, right by the door, barely big enough for me to fit in, and I smile apologetically as I slide into it.

They ignore me and continue their multiple conversations, raucously laughing and talking over each other. I try to make myself as inconspicuous as possible, and am suddenly very conscious of how much space I take up, carefully keeping my knees close together so as not to encroach on anyone by accident.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be

The old black Ford at the stoplight carries the rumbling throb of its engine around it like a bass halo to match its glossy paint job. The circular red tail lights with protuberant knobs the same color, the sleek curves and angular lines of its body, the fins, the white leather interior, all scream a heightened, fifties vision of the future that doesn’t really exist anymore. I shake my head in wonder as it rolls by.

But when I walk through its wake as it roars off into the night, all I breathe is the smell, the chemical taste, of gasoline and exhaust, and it’s been so long since I’ve inhaled anything like it that I have no question as to the source of the odor.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Reasons

A guy in shabby, dirty clothes lies across the bench in the subway, flat on his back with his eyes closed. He doesn’t smell that I can make out, as people in shabby clothes sleeping on subways sometimes do, but other riders seem to be avoiding that end of the car anyway, perhaps just on general principle (a man willing to violate the norms of the transit system so flagrantly (vagrantly?) might be capable of anything).

We pull into the station at Hoyt-Schermerhorn, which is distinguished both for its very fun-to-say name and by its unusual color scheme, in which the color brown predominates, and on the doors opening, the sleeping man stirs from his slumber, nimbly bounces to his feet and bops out the door, walking down the platform at an unhurried but determined pace.

So, of course, there are reasons, and Mr. Sleeps-on-the-Subway may have an active and rich personal and social life, but still I find myself asking: “Where, exactly, did that guy have to be?"

Icing Her Out

“I guess I’m not girly enough to like butterflies,” her friend says as she buys a beautiful specimen.

“You know who really likes butterflies that I was surprised about, is little boys,” I say while ringing up her friend.

“Yeah, they probably want to pull their wings off,” she replies with a vicious grin.

I stop what I’m doing and fix her with my iciest gaze, saying, “I haven’t found that to be the case at all."

Friday, February 15, 2019

Forgiving

“More boxes, eh?” John says, as he wanders through the ruins of our living room with his morning coffee. A shipment of glass came in earlier this week, and while we have plans to reorganize the house into something livable in March, our current market schedule makes those plans impossible to implement right now, which leaves us surrounded by stacks of large cardboard boxes as tall as Katie.

“Yeah, sorry we wrecked the place,” I say apologetically.

“It’s okay, I mean, it is your house,” he says with a shrug.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

To See What Other People Like

She’s buying a gift for her husband, who likes butterflies. She does not like butterflies, not in a nasty way, but in a freaked-out kind of way, which means that every minute in our booth is a tiny slice of torture for her.

But still she perseveres, going through each shelf, looking closely at the pieces, examining the butterflies and moths, considering the merits and drawbacks of each type of glass.

Finally, kneeling next to a shelf, she looks up at me with a genuine sad confusion, and asks, “What exactly do people like about these?"

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Puddles

I liked these winter boots that Katie got me so much that, after the first pair wore out, I got another, identical pair. They’re thick-soled and have a woven insert made of some synthetic material that makes them impervious to cold down to (supposedly) negative forty degrees, which is a ridiculous temperature in any case.

My favorite thing to do in these boots is stride through the deep, slushy puddles that accumulate near the corners of the sidewalks without breaking stride, because it makes me feel like a badass.

But when I stepped in one today, the puddle splashed, and a guy attempting to walk around it got some on his shoes, and I felt a little bad, but I figured the best thing to do would be to keep walking, and try to do better next time.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Breaking the Law

Night - the sign on the opened gate to the darkened field behind the playground reads: “No Dogs On The Field.”

I hear laughing, and a sound like the jingling of keys. On the field are two people and two dogs, standing in the dark.

On no perceptible signal, both dogs simultaneously begin tearing in circles around the two humans, who are now doubling over with laughter, until the dogs suddenly stop, and in a spasm of ecstasy suddenly begin chasing each other up and down the length of the field, which only causes their humans to laugh harder.

Transform, But Not TOO Much

“I had something really transformative happen, so I wanted to buy a butterfly,” she says.

“You know, an interesting thing about butterflies,” I say, "is that when they transform from their caterpillar stage in the chrysalis into the butterfly, they dissolve completely. So there’s no structures left over from the caterpillar in the butterfly at all - the change is so complete.”

“A lot of people want transformation, but they don’t want to change anything that they are,” I finish as she smiles a sort of bewildered smile.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

My Phone Needs a Therapist

My phone has been exhibiting signs of some sort of personality disorder lately.

When I was composing a text to Katie about some ordinary thing, I typed, “It doesn’t,” and the predictive text suggested, for the next word, “matter.” As if nothing mattered - clearly depressive.

And when she sent me a text complaining about cold toes while she was working, I replied with, “I don’t like you having c...,” upon which my phone, seeing the “c,” suggested “conversations” which seems a little possessive and maybe a trifle stalkerish?

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Play It Cool

“I took my son to a Jasper Johns exhibit, because I wanted him to get a photo with Johns, but he didn’t show up,” the artist says sadly as he looks around at Katie’s work. “There was this other famous artist there, but I decided just to leave him alone.”

“Yeah, I see John Turturro in Park Slope all the time, but, you know, we’re New Yorkers, so we’ve got to play it off like it’s no big deal,” I reply.

“Oh, not me - I’m too much of a small town guy, so I totally freak out,” he says.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Working for Ourselves

“You knew what this was!” Katie calls down the hall after me as I go to retrieve her water bottle from where she left it in her studio.

I feel along the wall just inside the door to the tiny room where she makes most of her work, and flip on the light. I then crab-walk sideways around the jutting out branches, step over glass and cardboard and styrofoam to where her water-bottle is perched amid butterflies and congealed piles of glue, grab it and get out, shutting off the light as I go.

Her studio smells like sawdust, and I inhale happily, then close the door behind me.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Necessity of Beauty

“So what do you like about butterflies?” I ask the woman who has described her extensive butterfly tattoos while she examines Katie’s sculptures.

“Transformation,” she says simply, after giving it some thought. “And just, they’re so beautiful.”

“You know,” I say, warming up to the topic, "I don’t think people give enough credit to that, like they think that if something is beautiful, it can’t be important, or serious, or necessary."

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Clumsy

“It hasn’t been happening for six months,” I say irritably, picking up the pencils that I just knocked off my bedside table.

“I just want you to know,” Katie says in an infuriatingly reasonable tone, “so that when your legs give out or you pass out and you go to the doctor, and they ask, ‘How long has this been going on?’ you can say, ‘Oh, hey, this is what Katie was talking about when she said I was dropping things a lot lately.’”

Later, in the kitchen, the cat is peacefully gorging herself on a small plate of Friskies Turkey and Cheese Dinner when I open the freezer, pull out the ice cube tray and dump fresh ice cubes into the bucket.

Even though I don’t drop any, she still sprints from the room.

Eating (It In) Crow

The cold of the past few days has abated somewhat, but I’m still dealing with the repercussions. My hands are rough and scaly, cracking and bleeding in a few places, while the rest of my skin toughens into sandpaper.

It’s not too bad, really, except when I try to do the yoga pose I’ve been working on most recently, which is called crow, and which involves balancing the knees on top of the arms while the hands prop the whole thing up.  My skin is so paper dry that I can’t get my knees up onto my upper arms to balance, since they just slip off and send me sprawling on my face.

Monday, February 4, 2019

I’m a Hugger

“When I get my apartment cleaned, and get all new stuff, new furniture, then I can get one of these beautiful pieces,” she says, her eyes glittering as she takes in all of Katie’s sculptures.

I don’t tell her I’ve heard this before, so many times, from people who deny themselves beauty, deny themselves the things they want in this life because they don’t think they deserve them, because their lives are a mess, and who never get their lives together because they don’t really believe they deserve that, either.

Instead, I look at her, and as gently as I can, say, “I wish for you that life that you just envisioned for yourself.”

Her eyes still glitter, but now with tears, as she says, “Can I hug you?"

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Evil Eye

I’m almost at the bottom of the stairs when the older woman starts up the same side of the stairs, but when she sees me she moves over to the other side, and fixes me with a quick glare.

I only have a second to think, “God, it’s almost like she cursed me,” before I feel my foot slip out from under me. I don’t even try to catch myself, it happens so fast, as my shoulder hits the railing, and then I fall straight on my ass, letting out a bitter “Ha!” as I do.

She doesn’t break stride, she doesn’t ask if I’m okay, she doesn’t even look at me as she steps around my prone form and continues on her way up the stairs.

Asking the Real Questions

“I’m cutting things out. Therapeutically,” she says, proceeding to do exactly that with a piece of yellow cloth printed with the outlines of glittering gold flowers.

Before I can ask if it’s working, she looks at me seriously and says, “I’ve been meaning to ask you...,” then trails off.

I wait patiently, and my patience is rewarded when she continues, “Are there... any shows... you and Katie are watching?"

Friday, February 1, 2019

Friend Found

I think the guy at the counter that lines the window looking out on 7th Avenue believed he was going to have more room before I slid in next to him to watch the street outside while I waited for Katie to join me. All his buddies and co-workers, bunches of folks in khakis and polo shirts, all showed up and stand around holding their beers awkwardly behind me.

I looked down at my phone to see where Katie’s little dot appeared on the “Find My Friends” app, and she seemed pretty close. When I looked up, she was directly in front of me pressing her palms on the window with a look of manic glee on her face.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Not Helpful

It goes from a little blustery with some flurries floating around to complete whiteout conditions in a frighteningly short amount of time. Snow blasts against the windows and howls down the street, the uninsulated walls of the building where we work suddenly freeze, and I notice that about halfway up the giant window of our booth it is actually snowing inside - faintly, but definitely snowing.

I convince a market manager to put her hand up to feel, and she acknowledges that yes, it is in fact snowing, and then she just leaves.

She turns around as she’s going and says, “We’re you expecting more of a reaction?"

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Pouting

The collie-something mix lying on the floor of the PetcCo as I walk in gives me the saddest look I’ve ever seen - just heartbreaking depths of despair and sorrow - while her owner stands over her with his hands on his hips and an expression of disgust.

“Oh, you’re doing really well,” I tell the dog encouragingly.

“No she’s not. She doesn’t want to leave, so she’s pouting,” her owner says, and his dog sighs a long-suffering sigh.

Stand Clear

We start to accelerate in the tunnel, the steady hum of the wheels on the tracks ratcheting up to a rumble, then a roar.

I wonder if this time we’ll finally manage to hit warp speed. If the light that illuminates the orange B on every car, the gray aquarium light of the interior of the train pouring out of the windows and car doors, will streak out in long trails behind us, then flatten and smear into imaginary colors as we hit the event-horizon of light and shoot out of the ground up into space.

But of course we slow down and pull into Grand Street station, doors open, stand clear.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Manual Steering

His father reaches down and places one hand on top of his head, like the man is palming a basketball, and with that hand, he guides the small child through the crowds getting off the L train to the stairs.

At the stairs, however, he changes tactics, and, instead of palming the child's head, he begins walking up the stairs behind him, sort of herding him with his legs as the child, slowly and deliberately, begins  climbing the stairs.

The father doesn’t look bored or impatient, or even mildly put out by having to do this with his kid. He reaches down at the top of the stairs and, once again, steers the child through the crowds.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

You Make the Color

“So I spent years,” he continues, still holding his boyfriend’s hand, “I spent years as a little kid looking for a blue crayon that matched that color,” pointing to a blue morpho butterfly shimmering on the shelf.

“You know the story about that color though, right?” I tell him. "The wings are covered in millions and millions of tiny, clear scales that are so close together that they act like prisms, and only the blue light escapes.”

“So the color isn’t in the wings at all - it’s what happens in the light between the wings and your eyes."

At the Rock Show

The band is blasting out nostalgic hard-rocks hits, the floor is packed, the mezzanine is packed, the bar is packed, and the stairs from the mezzanine to the floor are also packed, so I’ve shotgunned my beer to avoid spilling it on anyone as people jostle me to get by, and now I’m stuck at the top of the stairs trying to get back to my friend on the floor.

A woman in front of me bobs and weaves a little, jockeying for just the right moment to get down the stairs, and I shout to her, “If you make a break for it, I’ll back you up.”

“Oh, are you trying to get to my husband too?” she yells back, and we both laugh.

But a few minutes later, she makes it through the crowd down to the bottom of the stairs, and I do follow her to my friend, and when she catches my eye, I shrug and shout, “I told you so."

Thursday, January 24, 2019

After the Rain

I’m midway down the block when a pretty woman rounding the corner of the music conservatory leans down to her young child and motions for him to look up, and the two of them break into huge smiles.

When I get past them I turn around to look in the direction they were looking, already knowing what I’ll see, and sure enough a rainbow stretches across the clearing sky shot with rose- and salmon-tinted clouds.

I turn back to my route home down 7th Avenue with a big grin on my face, and an older woman coming out of a restaurant across the street sees me, seeing her, and she smiles.

My smile gets bigger, and she swings her long hair and lifts a cigarette to her mouth, and a car crosses between us, the clean air is like polished bronze, and even though winter isn’t over, we still have a moment, just to breathe.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Nothing to Say

Katie follows me into the kitchen. It’s about ten at night, and I’m just getting home from my shift at the booth to eat dinner. 

We putter around fixing food for a few minutes, until finally I say, “Yeah, I got nothing.”

“Oh, me neither,” she says, relieved and apologetic at the same time.

Lucky

“So you can have any superpower except flight, invisibility, or super strength? Then I’d choose telekinesis,” Katie says as we get home from seeing Into the Spider-verse.

“I think I’d choose the ability to manipulate luck, like Gambit, right?” I say, unlocking the door to our apartment.

“Don’t you kind of already have that, though?” she asks while the cat stands just inside the door, meowing to be fed.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Carefully

The tray beneath the spigots on the water cooler (emphatically labeled “NOT A DRAIN”) is completely full of water, and the floor is covered in puddles.

I gently pull out the tray, carefully lifting it so as not to add to the general carnage of wet on the tiles, and carry it over to dump it out in the sink, all the while thinking about the innumerable, similar times in my life where, by trying to be careful, I’ve tensed up and made a mess of things.

I feel a certain pride that now, firmly on my way to middle age, I’ve finally figured out how not to be so worried about being careful that I make things worse.

I grab a nearby mop, swipe a couple of quick times over the puddles to dry them out, and return the mop to it’s bucket, where it lands with a satisfied plop.

Stay Inside

“We’re from Miami,” the woman adds as I wrap up her purchase.

“Can we do something outside now?” her friend whines. “It’s just, we came to New York and we’ve been inside the whole time.”

I turn away as they continue their conversation, and out the window behind us the sun sets the color of molten gold through the lattice of the trees, and I can feel a chill through the glass as the temperature on the street begins to drop.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Personal Questions

At the market, waiting in line for the vendor bathroom, the woman standing in front of me abruptly turns and asks, “Do you just need to fill up your water bottle, or do you need to pee, too?”

“I, uh, I need to, um, use the restroom too,” I finally manage to stammer, and she explains that if I’d only needed to fill my water bottle, she would have let me go first.

We stand for a few moments in silence until I say, “You know, it’s kind of awkward asking a stranger if he needs to pee....”

“Yeah,” she says, nodding, “I totally thought the same thing as I was asking you, but by then it was too late."

Didn’t Stick

The enormous Frenchman manning the door at the restaurant feigns surprise, then terror when he sees Katie. He playfully retreats towards the back of the back of the restaurant as Katie sings out, “Oh my God - you’re still here?”

He pretends to hide behind his lapel as I say, sotto voce, “Didn’t they fire that dude after you stopped working here?”

Katie’s smile remains fixed as she whispers back, “For being a drunk, yeah?"

Thursday, January 17, 2019

You All

“You know, in English you have, what, one-point-five million words?” he says vaguely as he stares at Katies sculptures. “In Hebrew we only have seventy-thousand,” he adds, raising his index finger as if he is making a very important point.

“But you have no separate word for the plural you,” he says, shaking his head, as if this is the most absurd thing he has ever had the misfortune to hear.

“Americans in the south say y’all,” I suggest.

Intrusive Thoughts

I cross the street between the two cars after looking both ways, and even though I’m perfectly safe, in the middle of the far lane, the image of a woman being hit by a car flashes through my mind. She wasn’t hit particularly hard, and the car wasn’t going very fast.

It was weeks ago, but the memory still shocks me. I walk down the street, carefully stopping at each corner, and I wonder how she’s doing, and if her back healed up okay.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Buy All the Things

“Okay, so we’ve got a list of, like, five things to get at the grocery store, so we can just get them and get out,” I say as I lock the door on our way out. Katie gives me the most pitying look, as if to say, I love this man, but I clearly have married a mental deficient.

“I like all the choices,” she says by way of explanation at the bottom of the stairs. “Marry your opposite!” she adds.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Escalation

The old man slips into the vestibule of the storage space right behind me, and who can blame him? It’s absolute balls-cold outside, and I don’t begrudge a man taking some shelter from the wind for a minute to make a phone call, which is what he proceeds to do.

After a few minutes winding his way through the automatic answering system of whatever labyrinthine governmental agency he’s currently fighting with, he finally gets to a person and asks about having lost his New York street vendors’ license.

“No, you don’t need to send the police down... why would you... I didn’t say it got stolen, I just lost it!” he replies with increasing agitation.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Outsmarting the Cold

We pull up in the U-Haul parking lot to drop off our rental truck after a long day of loading in for a new market. The location is ostensibly still open, but the lot looks conspicuously empty, with only one other truck parked in the returns area under a frigid, empty sky.

We come alongside the only other truck, Katie laughs, and I see, in the cab of the other truck, two guys in heavy coats huddled together against the cold. The one nearest us rolls down his window with a smile, motions me to do the same, and says, “Leave the key in there, and I’ll send you the receipt."

Out of Shape

I was only in Nevada for four days, two of those traveling, and yet walking seems way more difficult than before I left. Just walking home from the subway, my legs seem reluctant to do what I ask, to walk the pace at which I need them to walk. 

A woman tap-tap-taps past me, her heels clicking on the sidewalk, and I grit my teeth at my slowness. I hike my bag up on my shoulder and force myself to walk faster, and my heart pounds in protest.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Carsick

In the taxi coming home from the airport, hoping for a nice, quiet ride after a long flight, but instead, the driver zooms in and out of traffic, speeding up and slowing down and speeding back up again, like a ship out in choppy seas. 

“Remember how I said the driver who took us to the airport drove like my grandma?” I ask Katie. “Well this is my punishment for that.”

“Are you really suffering though?” she replies, her face a sickly green.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Blast Radius

The volume in this movie theater is loud enough to cause me actual pain during the explosive battle scenes, to the point that I roll up napkins and shove them into my ears in an attempt to save my hearing.

Later, during a quieter scene, my dad comments sarcastically on a particularly poor choice made by the main character, and my mom vocally agrees. I worry for just a second if we’re being too loud, after all, somebody near us did move during the previews.

Then the robots start fighting again and I stop worrying about it.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Consider the Lobster

“Dawn [my sister - SLW] was about four, and your mother and I were at a restaurant in Chicago celebrating something, and the guy who ran the bus company that did all the buses for the school district I worked for was at the same restaurant,” my dad says as he wipes his hands on his napkin after his surf and turf birthday meal. “He asked us to sit at his table, and at some point he found out that I had never tasted lobster, so he made sure to give me about a quarter of his, and that was the first time I ever ate lobster.”

“Did you like it?”

“I loved it!” he replies, as if the even asking the question was kind of odd.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Misdirection

“I think we have a couple people over here who are going to steal your dog,” my dad announces to the other table. The beautiful border collie mix sitting at their feet (allowed in the restaurant because he’s a “therapy dog,” though none of us really buys that) doesn’t even look up, but his people laugh nervously.

After everyone awkwardly returns to their meals, Katie and I gently chide dad for blowing up our scene by telling everybody our plan to steal this dude’s obviously fake (but clearly wonderful) therapy dog, but he waves us off.

“If I tell them you’re going to steal their dog, they won’t expect it when you actually do steal their dog,” he says sagely.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Brave New Mall

At the mall, I walk up the escalator (on the left, natch) as far as I can go, until I reach people standing two across, left and right side, blocking my way.

Up ahead of them, a couple other people are standing, too, and I just don’t have the energy to interact with two sets of folks, so I step to the right and stand the rest of the way up.

After I finish my errands, I go down the escalator, only to encounter the same problem again, and I realize, looking at both the down and the up sides, that nobody is walking on the escalators.

Suddenly everything is in perspective, and I am no longer annoyed: I am in a foreign culture, and my standards do not apply, so I meekly stand on the right (though it doesn’t matter where I stand), and try to figure out what the rules are in this brave new world.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Get a Haircut

“Got anything for today?” I ask the old man sweeping up around the chair at the salon.

“What do you need?” he asks with a smile, but I just take off my hat, and my hair flops down onto my face. “Ah, looks like it’s been a while,” he says, laughing.

“There’s a man who knows his work,” I reply.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Mistaken at the Compost Stand

I dump the frozen contents of the plastic bag into the compost bin: tea leaves, coffee grounds, egg shells, onion skins, avocado pits and skins, broccoli ends and cauliflower leaves, lemon rinds - all sorts of stuff. The man who works the composting drop-off for the city walks over and taps my contribution down into the bin while I stoop to pick up a eucalyptus branch that didn’t make it in.

Seeing me do this, a woman dropping off her her own compost apparently mistakes me for one of the city workers and, smiling brightly, says, “Thanks for being here today!” which is something I say to the workers, too.

“Sure!” I reply, but I wonder if I sound as fake and odd when I say it as she does, mistakenly or not.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Developmental

After searching the self-serve IKEA computers proves fruitless, I go to the help counter where the large, friendly man assures me I did nothing wrong.

“Those computers are retarded,” he says, shaking his head as he types in my search query. His use of the term “retarded” raises an eyebrow with me, but I don’t feel like getting into it, so I let it slide.

“There you go,” he says finally, and directs me to the aisle and bin I need with a smile and a wave.

Fat Stacks

Making a deposit at the bank with a fat stack of cash makes me feel like a baller-slash-drug dealer or like Uncle Billy in It’s a Wonderful Life, either way like something awful is about to befall me. So when I get up to the bored teller on a Thursday afternoon, I’m already a little on edge.

She takes one look at my stash, my wad, my racks, my stacks, and her mask of boredom tightens into bland irritation as she says, “It’ll take a second for you to unfold it, so go ahead and step over there and do that while I take care of the customers behind you.”

“It won’t take that long, but okay,” I reply testily, but she actually manages to get through the entire line before I finish and sheepishly make my way back up to her window.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Joy in Tedium

By the time I get to pulling staples out of the fourth shelving unit, I’ve entered a sort of “flow” state, where everything seems to be almost effortless. We stapled all sorts of greenery onto these shelves to decorate them while were selling Katie’s work at the holiday market, but now it’s time to tidy everything up. Since we were always a little rushed when we set things up over the past year, there are multiple staples in everything, all over the place, and some of them are easier to get out than others, but every time I do get one of the shelves completely cleaned of staples, I feel a little thrill of accomplishment.

One of the deeper staples requires a little muscle to remove, and I strain against it for a moment until it comes free of the wood with a satisfying creak of protest.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Volcano, Part II

Based on our conversation yesterday, Katie has convinced me to watch a movie from the late 90’s called “Dante’s Peak,” which is about Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton recreating the movie “Jaws” but with, you know, an exploding mountain.

Rotten Tomatoes, a movie rating website you might have heard of, puts it at 24%, but Katie has given me the secret to enjoying this particular film, which is to root for the volcano.

The world spinning logo of the Universal Film company fades to black followed by a silhouette of a mountain which then, naturally, explodes, and Katie nods in approval. “Always introduce your main character first,” she says.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Live Volcanoes

While we wait for the clock to turn over midnight and pivot from one year into the next, I pull up YouTube on the tv and search for one of the topics of conversation of the night.

“Live Volcanoes,” I speak into the microphone, and up on the screen pops a video entitled “Happy New Year! Live Stream Volcanoes Around the World.”

Katie, John and I are thrilled at this perfect synchronicity with our earlier discussion and I eagerly click only to be greeted by a split screen showing the silhouettes of several hills and mountains against various skies. Quiet mountains, simmering beneath, perhaps, but all of them still and silent as the planet continues to spin through space, geology completely unaware of our arbitrary transitions that remain meaningful to us, despite everything.