Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Attempting To Create Meaning

"Existentialism is the idea that life is meaningless, and that we have to create any kind of meaning in life for ourselves," I explain.

"Sure, but to say that there's no reason for things to happen, that things happen for no reason at all, that's just stupid, and it's not true," she replies in exasperation.

A guy in torn pants holding what looks like an open but turned-off flip phone, with a hair cut that appears to have been administered by someone who didn't like him very much, walks by our seat on the stoop, and asks, or maybe demands, that we give him twenty dollars, or maybe he tries to explain to us that someone further up the block gave him twenty dollars, and we should definitely think about doing the same?

I finally settle on, "Sorry, we don't have any money," which seems to satisfy him, and he staggers off into the night.

Monday, March 30, 2020

No Thanks To You

We sit out on the stoop of our building with a blanket across our laps, Katie and I, taking in the cool night air and watching the few people out on a Sunday night, trying to make eye contact in a friendly way to express both that we mean no harm, and that we're grateful for the distance between us. Most of them return our friendliness, but one man walks by, stiff legged, and makes eye contact with Katie without changing expression.

"Not even a smile? Jeez!" she calls after his quickly retreating back in disgust.

One year ago: Soul Landfill
Two years ago: Undead Letter Office
Three years ago: Truth Bomb
Four years ago: Spider Senses Tingling

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Thanks For Staying The Hell Away From Me

We brave the streets to get a quick walk in, looking for cherry trees almost in bloom, for buds fat with flowers about to burst out, but today is rain and slate gray skies, so the color will just have to wait.

A woman comes out of her house walking toward us, and to maintain a safe distance Katie and I step between the parked cars and walk out into the middle of the empty street. Seeing this, the woman smiles gratefully, and we make eye contact for just a second, acknowledging this weird form of politeness, our shared vulnerability.

After we've passed each other, Katie and I slip between the cars and back up onto the sidewalk to continue our walk, and we start to laugh.

One year ago: No New Friends
Two years ago: Put Them At Ease
Three years ago: Rainy
Four years ago: Spring Cold
Five years ago: Ouija Doge
Six years ago: Good Intentions
Seven years ago: Final Day Before Vacation

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Unanswered Alarms

We sit on the stoop in an empty Brooklyn night. A guy bumping reggaeton pulls up in a cheap white car to the stop light half-a-block away, his joyful music lifting up into the quiet, and the only other person out turns to watch, like he's thinking about reporting it, but can't think to whom.

He stands there for a while after the car pulls away, then crosses in the middle of the block and walks on the other side of the street from us, pausing only to take a photo of the inside of the empty drop-off laundry place before ambling on.

The music from the car fades to be replaced by the faint sound of far away sirens, and Katie says, "Unanswered alarms."

One year ago: Defending Joy
Two years ago: Consolation
Three years ago: The Golden Hour
Four years ago: Workout Buddy
Five years ago: Just Needed Permission
Six years ago: In The Way
Seven years ago: Raggedy
Twelve years ago: His and Hers

Friday, March 27, 2020


Katie drags a chair down the hall past me into the bedroom where she's setting up a little makeshift office using a lap table and the cat's scratching post/perch.

"I'm trying not to confuse my lizard brain by working in bed," she explains.

A few hours later, I get up, tear the headphones off my head, the same loop I've been working on for the last hour still blaring in them, and start pacing around the bedroom.

When I explain to Katie that I'm getting antsy, she calmly says, "Go do one hundred jumping jacks," so I do.

One year ago: Signs of Spring
Two years ago: Asking the Big Questions
Three years ago: Payola
Four years ago: Go Inside
Five years ago: A Snack-ish Friend In Need
Six years ago: Have You Seen This Man?
Seven years ago: The Mountain Goats In A Florida Cemetery
Twelve years ago: Why I Have Trouble Decorating

Thursday, March 26, 2020


Finally, in frustration, I use the artificial assistant on my phone to search, "Why is my dough still sticky." I have to use the assistant because my hands are almost entirely encrusted with tacky, glutinous dough which seems to stick to anything I touch.

The video that comes up is of very little help - a young, smiling, good-looking blond man telling me that it's all in the technique and that I just need to be more "nimble" with my kneading. I continue to knead, hoping that soon, if I just keep going, it'll all come together.

One year ago: Bears Are Sneaky
Two years ago: Extrapolation
Three years ago: In The Moment
Four years ago: Fear Of Missing Out
Five years ago: Creation Can't Be Forced
Six years ago: Imaginary
Seven years ago: My Wife Is Very Charming
Nine years ago: White Light In Action

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Fresh Vs. Recycled Air

We sit on the stoop at 10:30 PM to get some fresh air and a view that isn’t our walls, watching the few cars and the occasional passers-by, with a blanket across our laps. Everyone mostly keeps their distance from us and from each other.

A plane flies overhead on its approach to La Guardia, and we silently watch it cross the sky, and then sit in silence for a few moments.

“The thought of being in a plane right now makes me very uncomfortable,” Katie says finally.

One year ago: House of Sickness
Two years ago: After Party
Three years ago: Just Kids
Four years ago: Sometimes, I Am Seen As The Problem
Five years ago: Domestic Bliss
Six years ago: Hipster Vehicular Envy
Eight years ago: Then Who CAN You Tell?

Tuesday, March 24, 2020


The house is mostly quiet. Outside, it's raining and gray - barely a soul on the street - and I can hear the hiss of falling rain on the sidewalk.

I didn't go outside yesterday, and I won't go outside today. I sit on my yoga mat with cold toes, breathing deeply, waking up.

One year ago: Talkers
Two years ago: Reptilian Triumph
Three years ago: Meet the New Boss
Four years ago: That Ol' Devil Moon
Five years ago: Shake It Off
Six years ago: Home

Monday, March 23, 2020

Overcrowding and Collapse

I add one last glass to the already crowded upper rack of the dishwasher, struggling a little to fit in between a coffee mug and a small white ceramic ramekin, and a little plastic peg holding it in place gives way, collapsing the whole thing.

I manage to catch it before it breaks completely, but not before most of the contents slide to the front and a couple of the more fragile glasses are flung to their shattering doom on the kitchen floor.

The whole thing makes a terrible racket, and my roommate calls out from the front of the apartment, "Everything okay?"

When I answer in the affirmative, he replies, "Doesn't sound like it."

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Points and Dots

After weaving my way through the oblivious shamblers whose idea of social distance is to not look up from their phones as they weave back and forth across the sidewalk, I arrive at the liquor store to pick up my order. There's a bit of a line, if two people count as a line, the start being that guy and the end being me, and we hug the closed window shade store to let people pass with an appropriate amount of space, while still standing at least six feet away from one another.

"I like your shoes," I practically shout to him, indicating his white with red polka dot cloth Nikes.

"My what?" he says, momentarily confused, then looking down, he smiles.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Antisocial Distancing

One bag of trash, two bags of recycling (separated paper and metal/glass), I zip downstairs to put them out for collection.

The street is utterly empty - no cars, no passersby, no early revelers heading out to the bars, just a light wind and me and the clanking of glass and metal, the rustle of trash in the bags, the clunk of the door shutting behind me.

I drop the bags at the curb and look up to see, about a block away, one person walking slowly up the street towards me, passing under the streetlight, about to cross the intersection.

My hackles immediately rise, and I head up the front steps, trying to appear unhurried, fit my key into the lock, open the door, and go inside as quickly as I can, making sure the outer door is locked before opening the inner door, shutting it firmly behind me, and heading upstairs to my apartment and bed.

Friday, March 20, 2020

NOT Social Distancing

Walking home from the park, we meet a small scrum of children coming down the sidewalk the other way, their parental escort in tow.

Because we're trying not to accidentally kill anyone with diseases too small to see, we give them a wide berth by standing off to one side, hugging the fence, and they pass us by.

Except for one of the children, a thin tow-headed kid bringing up the rear, who, ignoring the path the others took, blithely ambles within inches of me as I press up against the wrought-iron gate to a looming brownstone.

When I make eye contact with Katie, she says, "I saw that kid at the grocery store yesterday - I recognize his jacket."

Thursday, March 19, 2020

More Social Distancing

We lay out our blankets in the triangle of grass at the confluence of two park paths, Katie and me on one and her cousin and his girlfriend on the other, a few feet away from us. We don't even hug like we usually do when we meet, but the urge and desire to share food prove impossible to resist, since we brought cheese.

We talk and laugh until the sky gets gray and dark, and we watch the dogs walk happily by with their blank-faced owners who seem to have forgotten how lucky they are to have a dog. A blonde women in a gray tracksuit walks by, eyeing us suspiciously, until she makes eye contact with me, realizes I've caught her staring, and quickly looks away.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

How To Cut Slack

“Excuse me,” the voice says behind me in the grocery store, but in that way that clearly means, “Get out of my way, idiot.”

I’m somewhat of a big dude, tall anyway, and I’ve always been a bit self-conscious of my size, so without thinking I take a step closer to the produce to let her pass (even though there was plenty of room), and she does without making eye contact or acknowledging me in any other way.

It’s right afterwards, of course, that one’s politeness passes and one is left with that sense of having been pushed around, when the resentment rises and one begins rehearsing all manner of scathing replies, each more devastating than the last, none of them sufficient to cool your umbrage.

But then I look around: at the empty shelves, at the stock people furiously restocking, the tension in everyone’s shoulders and the worry in their eyes, the six feet everyone is trying to keep from everyone else; and I take a deep breath, then another, and try to give that lady the benefit of the doubt.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Not Possible

The governmental requests for the public to isolate seem to have been largely successful, because the store is really empty today, so when two people and their dogs come, our relief at seeing anyone not directly working here translates into them being treated like celebrities.

The dogs seem perfectly thrilled with all the attention - Minnie the Dalmatian, and Goldie the Golden Retriever - especially Goldie when I rub her outrageously soft ears.

When I remark on their superlative fluff, her owner agrees, noting, "They were washed in angels' tears."

I look at the dog's beatific smile as I continue to rub her ears and I ask, "What could this face have done to make an angel cry?"

Monday, March 16, 2020

Capitalism Twists Us

"Hey, can you send me that article you were talking about?" a manager from another department asks me at the bottom of the escalator.

"Sure," I say, texting him a link to an article I found quoting several City Council members calling for the mayor to shutdown New York City before the pandemic spreads further.

"I'm hoping they don't really shut things down until Wednesday, 'cause it's Saint Paddy's Day, and my wife's makes like, half her money for the year bartending that day," he says.

"I'm not one to take away from anyone's money, but... you hear yourself, right?" I ask as gently as I can.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Work Ethic

"My boss is in Florida, so I think I'll stay out on Monday," she says when I ask if she's been able to work from home.

"But I can walk to work," she continues as I box up the shoes she's buying, "and there are people who live way farther from work than I do, and they came in. So I kinda had to."

"Well, if guilt at the cost of our health isn't the capitalist protestant work ethic in action, I don't know what is," I say, standing to walk her to the register to ring her up.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Social Distancing In Action

The store has been mostly empty all night, and the vibe has been a little subdued, but here I am. An older couple come down the escalator, chatting blithely away, and I give them a big smile as they walk past.

"Where's all the people?" the gentleman asks with a grin, boggling comically at the empty floor.

"Oh, I think you know," I reply gently.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Early Spring

Tiny pink petals dot the branches of the cherry trees lining my street, straining at their claustrophobic buds. It seems early in the season, to me, for them to be so eager, with a cold bite of lingering winter still hidden in the breeze.

But it has been unusually warm this month, the whole winter in fact, and perhaps they know something I don't. The flowers don't read the news or listen to the daily litany of doom, but I wonder if they're getting their beauty out into the world before things get worse.

A New Game

We come down the hill into the park, right at the start of the big meadow that makes up the northern part by Grand Army Plaza, to find an unruly clutch of very small children running amok around three bemused asian women who look nothing like the white scions of Brooklyn they are here to watch over.

"Haley, don't play with the stick," one of the women shouts to a blonde girl who is having a very serious discussion with her equally small male counterpart, but of course playing with the stick now sounds like a very good idea indeed, and so she picks up the stick, which is almost as long as she is tall, and takes off running with it.

And she's fast, no doubt, but she's not fast enough to outrun a nanny on a mission. The woman catches the child and plucks the offending stick from her hand, to very little objection from the little girl, who then toddles away to find another stick with which she might get someone to chase her.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Passive Aggressive/Aggressively Passive

I’m sitting on a worn wooden bench on the train platform at 57th Street when the skinny, sketchy-looking white guy with the thin facial hair rolls up on me. He makes sure to make eye contact before sitting down two seats over, and as he sits, he pulls something out of his pocket that lands with a metallic thump on the seat between us, loud enough to register even over the sound of Beck in my headphones.

There’s some sort of attempt at intimidation happening here, maybe even attempted robbery, but I’ve been here before, and I know that there’s a script here, and if he doesn’t get the response he’s looking for, the little drama he’s trying to enact won’t be able to proceed, so I don’t look at what ever he’s holding between us. The train rolls into the station, and I unhurriedly stand up, go the door as it opens and step on the subway, only now glancing back to watch sketchy white guy look up and down the platform in agitation, then dash away like he’s being chased.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Knowing Her Place

"Can I say hi?" I ask the dog's owner, but the tail wags and eye contact my new furry friend and I have going speaks of a connection far beyond some human's capacity to affirm or deny.

Before the permission has faded from the air, I am on one knee, the back of my hand toward the dog in a relaxed way, just like I was taught, and after a perfunctory sniff and a lick, I am enveloped in the wiggly charms of a bluish-gray french bulldog.

She open mouth laughs in that way that bulldogs do, her entire body an ode to joy as I rub her sides, scratch her back, wobble her jowly cheeks.

"You know that customer service has treats, right?" I say out of politeness to the owner, so she doesn't  feel left out, and she nods politely back, like the retainer for a very popular member of royalty, knowing her place while her majesty's subjects adoringly worship.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

What Celebrities Do

Chloe Sevigny and a man I don't recognize stand next to me on the train platform as I wait to catch the subway home from work. The appropriate response to celebrity in NYC is to leave them alone, and since I'm exhausted and emotionally blank, it doesn't take much effort for me to just ignore them, like a proper New Yorker.

My efforts continue as we get on the same Q train together, and unlike my usual method of observing everyone and everything around me, I find myself closing my eyes in an effort not to look at them, and, lulled by the gentle rocking of the car, I promptly fall asleep.

Upon waking, I discover we're already at 14th Street and they're getting off the train to do something or other, who knows what celebrities do.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Real Reason

"What's with the stank face?" asks the man behind me coming up the stairs from the subway.

Before I have time to process how I might answer, a woman's voice answers, "That's just my regular face."

All of us come out the subway station into a rainy evening, with tiny needles of cold stinging our faces, and the traffic shush-ing by, wet tires on wet asphalt.

Later, I hear her say, "Sometimes my knees hurt, all the sitting on the subway."

Thursday, March 5, 2020

A Susuration of Wings

"Pookie, look," I say, pointing above the row of brownstones.

Across the soft blue late afternoon sky of a premature spring, a flock of pigeons flying in perfect sync bank over the street and around the spire of the church. Their wings make a quiet shhhhush as they wheel above us, making several passes like one mind spread over a myriad of bodies.

Katie and I stare in wonder for several minutes, Katie with her phone raised, getting it all on video, and I wonder if the tiny mic can capture such a subtle sound