Monday, August 31, 2020

If You HAVE To

It’s a good day for it, if you have to stand out side a clinic to wait for a doctor’s assistant to shove a cotton swab up your nose. It’s overcast, not too hot, a light breeze blowing, and everybody seems content to stand in line six feet apart hugging the building while the impenetrable wall of cars roar down Flatbush a few yards away.

A guy rides his bike up the sidewalk, giving the line a wide berth, and normally I find such flouting of the laws and rules of the road despicable, but after a moment I shrug. If you have to ride down Flatbush on a bike (you don’t, of course, and you shouldn’t, but if you have to) I guess I’d rather you not die in the horrific traffic than obey the rules and put yourself in danger.

Unseasonably Cool

We make it to the park after work while the sun is still shining. The lawn is filled with families and friends, hundreds of people, dogs, folks playing volleyball or flying kites, a group dancing, another group playing music, plenty of room for all of us to be together while still staying far enough apart to be safe.

I suggest we sit in the sun at the edge of the shadow falling across the lawn from the sun setting, and we spread out our blanket, open a bottle of wine, and pull out slices of pizza.

By the time we’re finished doing that, the lawn is entirely in shadow, and Katie pulls a purple sweater out of her bag.

Saturday, August 29, 2020


She’s tried on seven pairs of Nikes already, and she doesn’t like any of them. “I just hate what covid has done,” she complains as I pull out pair number eight. “I had a membership at gyms, at Pinnacle Club, at Equinox, I had a pool I swam at, all gone.”

I sigh inaudibly beneath my mask as she continues, “I just can’t believe what’s happened to me!”

“What’s happened to you,” I say without inflection, looking her dead in the eye.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Lowered Expectations

 “So what are you doing for your bachelor party?” I ask my work friend.

“Well, first we were going to Vegas,” he says. “Then we were thinking maybe Chicago, but now it’s like, maybe we’ll just have some beers on somebody’s back porch?”

“That sums up 2020 pretty well,” I say, nodding.

Plot Twist!

After a few moments of trepidation, the dog jumps in the water to fetch the stick and swims bravely back to the rock where his owners await him with it clutched in his teeth. He drops the stick in the water in front of them and, his fears conquered, waits eagerly for them to throw it again.

He glances backward at the water from which he has emerged triumphant, and in doing so, misses the Australian Shepherd mix that slips in between him and his owners. The interloper grabs the stick and slips away, and it is several moments before our hero notices the theft and, after a moment’s shock, gives chase.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Evening Commute

The city skyline is a jagged sound wave, if we had the means to play it and a speaker the size of the world.

Pinnacles and spires lit from behind by the sun setting, each one a call to the next, a response to the last up and down the island.

She pulls down her mask to reveal a face better concealed and points her phone out the train window at the bridge passing south of us. Lights like jewels, like flecks of burning magnesium, evenly space the spans, and I turn up my headphones and close my eyes.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Old Notebooks

The box from storage is full of old notebooks, both from high school and from college in Arizona. I pull out a few to look at them, and this one in particular is full of scribblings that look like a serial killer wrote it.

I’m super proud of the fact that I am not overwhelmed by nostalgia, but this one looks like what depression feels like. 

I put the books back in the box and shove the box back up in the storage space.

Somebody Never Watched “Sound Of Music"

“These shoes are from a German manufacturer,” I begin.

“German, wonder if they killed my ancestors,” she interrupts.

“Well, actually, they’re really Austrian.”

“Same difference."

Monday, August 24, 2020

Better Than Smart

“My son starts college next week,” my customer tells me.

Repressing the urge to ask Does he really, though? I simply ask, “Oh really?”

She catches my tone, regardless, and says, “Yes, I worry because he is so irresponsible!”

“Well, I myself have lived by the fact that it’s often better to be lucky than smart,” I tell her, and she nods forcefully in agreement.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Shelter From The Storm

The sheeting rain that drove everyone off the park lawn and under the shelter of these trees shows no sign of abating. Katie, while still keeping up her end of our conversation, continues to nonchalantly swing her fists back and forth around her in an effort to keep the non-mask-wearing park-goers at literal arms length.

Suddenly, from behind us around a bend in the path, comes a sound of several dozen people all screaming with dismay. We all look around in consternation, but we can’t determine the source of their trouble, until we hear the sound of the rain rise from a downpour to a deluge, and the wind begins to thrash the trees with serious intent, and even our temporary shelter isn’t enough to keep us from getting wet.

I Understand

A young guy on the train, skinny, pale scalp shining through his buzzcut hair, scratches at his acned cheek while staring moodily out the window at the lights flashing by outside. My initial paranoid rage at his lack of mask throbs like a supernova in my skull for a brief moment, then subsides into the usual resigned disgust.

But then, unexpectedly, from somewhere deep in my chest, a surprising sense of something like pity wells up. All us poor, stupid children, trying not to get sick, some of us retreating into safe routines, others pretending that if we don't acknowledge the danger it won't get us, some of us making dangerous, foolish decisions because we're scared, others trying not to feel the overwhelming burden of acting in the best interest of others when we don't even know how to do that for ourselves, hating others or ashamed of them or just trying to get by and yes I understand but I still get up and move down the car to get away from the maskless idiot.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Mechanical Animals

The light changes, and I stand at the corner, waiting for opposing traffic to cross. The driver in the car doesn't look at me, likely is only aware of me in a peripheral way, and her face is blank, expressionless but for a mask of what I can only assume is boredom.

None of this surprises me, or offends me, but it does get me thinking about how people outside the car only sort of exist when you're driving. And really, the converse is true, too: when you're walking, there's not really people in the cars - they're not really driven, as much as they're mechanical creatures that seem to move of their own volition.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Walk Away

 "One of the girls in that group was a bitch," my co-worker says after my customer has left.

"Oh yeah?" I say in my most neutral tone.

"Yeah, I was working with her, not the one you worked with, and we didn't have her size, but when I apologized she was like, 'I wasn't going to buy it from you anyways, I just wanted to try it on and then I was going to buy it online.' So I just walked away from them and didn't come back."

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Guest

“I love helping people find shoes for their wedding, and I take my responsibility very seriously,” I tell her as she goes to sit back down. 

“I suppose it would be pretty satisfying,” she says, unbuckling the shoe that she will end up taking home with her to wear when she gets married next month.

“I mean, I’m part of somebody’s memories forever, even if they don’t remember me,” I continue over her laughter, and I strike a pose and raise my voice a little. “I’m in your wedding,” I sing, dancing.

Monday, August 17, 2020

“Do You Want A Picture Together?"

We stood on the path where it passed over the deep gully and listened to the waterfall while leaves fell lazily into the stream. 

The father-and-son duo we passed on our way into this part of the park caught up with us, and we scooted to one side so the little boy could see over the big rocks and down to the water below.

The father took his son’s picture with the waterfall in the background, and told him to “look up, look up,” so he would be facing the camera.

Katie offered to take their picture together, but he declined, and they got back on their little scooter and continued up the path, while we stayed behind, and Katie found a spider web spun between two rocks, glistening in the sun.

How Much?

 (editors note: “Wood” in this usage refers to the extra shoes shown to a customer remaining after the customer has chosen which shoe(s) she will purchase, and “running” refers to the act of returning said “wood" to their respective places in the stock room)

“Hey,” I tell my manager, “I’m finished, just need to run my wood.”

“Cool, just come her, lemee ask you,” he says seriously, motioning me over, “uh, how much wood would a woodchuck run if a woodchuck could run wood?”

Without a word, I turn and walk away from him in feigned disgust, while he calls after me, “But I had you going for a second, right?"

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Our Dog, The Gardener

Some of the plants in New York City that grow during the summer resemble prehistoric throwbacks: enormous, elephantine leaves, thick, meaty stems, and brazen, flamboyant flowers that seem like they’d be more at home in a Cretaceous-era jungle than in a concrete jungle.

We pass a stand of huge, reddish plants on our block that have grown so large that they’ve fallen beneath their own weight, and I remark on them to Katie.

“It’s because [our dead dog] Coco wasn’t here to take care of them,” Katie observes. “She wasn’t around to sniff them and chew on them and pee on them to keep them small enough to not fall over."

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Wrong Word

I’m so annoyed to see the woman who wasn’t wearing a mask get off the train at the same stop as me that I mutter, “Where’s your mask you stupid whore?” under my breath as I’m going up the stairs behind her.

Except that the loudness of the music in my headphones, combined with the lateness of the hour after a long day at work and a mask over my mouth that makes me a bit careless with my inside-vs.-outside-voice distinction may have caused me to say that louder than I intended it, as she clearly startles, looks back at me fearfully, and increases her pace.

Now, I feel bad about her being afraid, of course, knowing that she’s scared because I used the wrong word to describe her - i.e., I should have called her an asshole. I don’t want her to feel bad because she’s worried that some jerk is going to sexually assault her - I want her to feel bad because she’s an inconsiderate, selfish, possibly murderous jerk. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020


 “Well, they don’t have vanilla chocolate chip ice cream, so I’ll just have to put this,” I hold up the bag of chocolate chips, “into this,” indicating a tub of vanilla ice cream.

I grab the ice cream and we pass the other freezers where they keep the fancy ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s, Van Leeuwen, some kind of frozen thing made with coconut milk or something, and there is a guy in freezer. The door is open, and this otherwise normal looking guy is climbing up the shelves to reach something in the back on the top shelf, his body wedged entirely up in the Haagen-Daz ice cream bars and jars of artisanal gelato.

“Sure you don’t want to check the rest of the ice creams, just in case?” Katie asks me sarcastically.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

It Is At LEAST An Hour From BX to BK

We’re waiting in the subway station for the guy who’s going to buy a set of shelves we don’t need anymore. 

We took it apart (thanks IKEA!), loaded up the heavy glass shelves and the metal bits on a dolly, wheeled it down to the subway station (after confirming and re-confirming over the past hour what line he was taking down from the Bronx), even went so far as to bump the dolly down the subway station stairs one at a time so that he wouldn’t have to haul it down himself, and arrived at the station right at 1:00, like we agreed. 

Then Katie gets a text.

“He says, ‘Leaving the house now,’” she says, looking up from her phone.


 “You and I, we have the same,” she says, pointing at her eyebrow. She's indicating the way that one of her eyebrows grew so that it appeared as if she were arching it in disbelief, and how I have the same.

“People used to tell me to pluck it or comb it down, but I like it,” I reply.

“Well, during pandemic I just sort of...,” she waves her hands in the universally accepted gesture for *gives up*.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Smooth Jazz

Katie has been systematically rearranging the house for the past few weeks, and one of the side-effects of this is that we have a dining table again, after months in quarantine with the two of us eating dinner on the couch.

“I like this new way of eating dinner,” I tell Katie as we sip wine and eat to the sounds of smooth jazz playing on our smart speaker.

“Me too.”

“We gotta teach Alexa to play better music though,” I add.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Two Olivers

“I’m obligated to report every single dog I encounter at work to my wife, including breed, name, and disposition,” I say with my most serious tone to the initially bemused couple walking their quite sizable dog by the shoes.

But they quickly figure out the game and play along. “Oh, yes, of course, this is Oliver, and he’s a Labradoodle.”

“That’s my dog’s name too!” exclaims another couple with a much smaller poodle walking by, while both the Olivers strain at their respective leashes to try to sniff one another.

For Your Safety

 “What do you mean ‘for my safety’?” the older woman with the Russian accent says when I ask her, yet again, to please put her mask back on while we’re finding her shoes.

“Well, I don’t want you to get sick,” I explain.

“Why would I get sick?” she asks.

“Ma’am,” I say after a few seconds of boggling silence, “that is a loaded question."

Saturday, August 8, 2020


I haven’t been outside all day, but for some reason I’m surprised to find it’s raining when I get off work. Rather than pause to put on my rainboots, though, I decide to risk it and walk in my shoes to the subway station.

At the end of the block, as I turn the corner to walk under the scaffolding that protects the outdoor diners that crowd the sidewalk, I step on the metal subway vents with rain-slick shoes and my feet slip right out from under me, landing me with a painful jolt on my hip.

I sit there for a moment, assessing the damage while the diners all stare at me blankly, then stand as steadily as I can, and a man seated with his family grins at me in a way I can’t quite interpret.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Music Of Horror

 “You know, today is the anniversary of bombing Hiroshima,” I tell Katie over the dulcet tones of the 80s light jazz we inadvertently asked our smart speaker to play during dinner.

And,” Katie adds, “it’s the date of the first execution by electrocution.”

“Kinda weird talking about this stuff with this playing,” I say, indicating the music.

“No, it scans."

Surrealist Maps

I see faces in the subway map. 
The East River wears a stovepipe hat and laughs toward Brooklyn
While Riker's Island and LaGuardia stare out at me with suspicion
And the frog of Jamaica Bay thinks about swallowing JFK.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020


The storm must have stopped a few hours ago, because the streets are almost completely dry. Clouds shred and tumble across the blue, chased by strong, warm winds.

A couple who aren't wearing masks cross my path, he's squinting into the wind, her hair is blowing. 

The wind is so strong, there's no way I could get sick, I think, but I adjust my mask anyway.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020


"I just think that we should measure it." I try to explain again, desperation creeping into my voice. 

"And I am telling you," Katie says, clearly trying to control her frustration, "that there are no right angles in this apartment."

"Okay, what about this - what if we hang the shelves from the top and then measure the other places to attach them once they're on?" I say, thinking I'm compromising, but then I see Katie's eyes widen.

"Are you telling me you want to do my original plan, the one you shouted down?" she says through gritted teeth.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Accusing Pout

Though I often give the impression of being one of those simultaneously admired and loathed people known as a "Morning Person," I am, in fact, just stubborn enough to give myself enough time to wake up so that, by the time I come into contact with others, I have been awake for sufficient hours to actually be awake. 

But when I am actually getting up, I am as bleary-eyed and stumbling as any other pre-caffeinated  sleepyhead who can't seem to rouse themselves to do anything but turn on the coffee machine and try not to kill the first person who speaks to them.

So when I was setting up my yoga mat for my morning rituals, the cat might have known better than to weave between my legs (whether in affection or an attempt to get me to feed her more), because that is precisely the moment when I stepped on her little front paw, causing her to yowl pitifully and run off into the next room.

I did my initial breathing exercises under the shadow of her accusing pout, and spent the rest of my morning being roundly ignored.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

A 2020 Horror Short

The woman speaking Russian to her companion and English to me decides to buy the shoes. Her one good eye, brown and hard, watches me carefully as I ring her up while the other eye, milky blue and completely occluded, stares off into it's own dimensions, seeing what I cannot imagine.

As she's putting her card into the reader, she turns away to cough, once, twice, hard, dry coughs, and despite myself and the masks we both wear, I cringe. I finish the transaction, thank her, and then, after she has gone, excuse myself from the selling floor to wash my hands and change my mask.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Dan Brown Is Getting Lazy

"The way I usually pay," she says, picking up the pair of flip-flops, "is that I have access to the Vatican 'copter."

"...'copter?" I say hesitantly in reply to this apparent non-sequitur. 

"The Vatican helicopter, yes," she says patiently, as if I am a particularly slow child. "My work rescuing the children gives me access to the Vatican accounts, and people who help me buy supplies, I then deposit thousands into their accounts, as a thank you," she continues as I begin to slowly back away.