Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Red White and Bluetooth

The couple lounging across the bench beside Dog Beach aren’t making any friends this afternoon. Their enormous Bluetooth speaker might not offend quite so badly, were they not blaring the early 2000s greatest-jingoistic-country hits, violating the peace of Prospect Park with lyrics promising to put the proverbial boot up Saddam Hussein’s ass.

As the music reiterates how proud they are to be Americans insofar as that relates to the country’s continued military dominance in the name of a rather vaguely defined “freedom,” one part of the couple leans awkwardly out over the muddy pond, taking a picture of something out on the water.  

As she extends her phone unsteadily, her partner laces his fingers in a handful of her t-shirt, bracing his feet on the slick paving stones to counterbalance her considerable bulk until, satisfied, they climb aboard their mini scooter and they and their music mercifully recede into the late afternoon sun.

Monday, April 29, 2024

A Transitional Season

A haze covers Brooklyn today, nudging the temperature up and disguising everything under a glare, so when we walk to the park I decide to wear sunglasses.

Normally, I avoid sunglasses because I have this weird sense, when I wear them, that I’ve put this barrier between me and the world - I feel dissociated from everything, like it’s no longer real, and while I look like I’m walking around like a normal person, I’m actually hidden inside, peering out from behind my glasses where no one can find me. Not only that, but when I look at things, the colors, the depth, everything is different, leaving me feeling even more separate and alienated.

But lying on the grass, wearing sunglasses, staring up at the sky through the branches of a tree, I find myself noticing the edges of each individual leaf, the depth of the sky, the clouds that pass overhead, their texture and weight, and I’m glad I’m not blinded by the glare, that I feel like I’m part of the day. 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Gang Activity

The rum they gave us at the Hawaiian pop-up market smelled of fermenting bananas and chemicals, and of course I drank too much of it too fast. Not a lot, but I’m a lightweight these days, so it swirls around in my body like an oil projector for a good while afterward, distracting me from the words I’m trying to read. We lie on the grass in Washington Square Park, Katie napping in the dappled shade of the new blooming trees, me failing to make any progress in my book, finally giving up and watching the beautiful people walking in the sun.

A group of young men glide swiftly by on skateboards, weaving in and out of the Sunday strollers, their narrow, wiry torsos defiantly bare, and one of them, in an incongruous Army helmet, turns and gives me a grin as he speeds past, as if daring me to stop him when he’s already gone. 

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Bookstore Day

The shelves gape like open mouths, shoved full of words, each book a tooth, gritting against the texts. 

You can look for years, searching every mouth for the magic words to set yourself free - philosophy or fiction, theology, poetry, the mystics, words, words, words.  

A wave of dizziness passes through me, reading the titles on the spines, so much time wasted looking for something to solve my problems in bookstores, libraries, universities. 

“I think I need to eat something,” I tell Katie, and she nods solemnly. 

Friday, April 26, 2024

How to Write A Four Each Day

Pick up a cut nail from the sidewalk beneath a construction shed on Union Street. Note the shape: ancient, wedged, and blunt. Think of Jesus if you’re so inclined, of carpenters, of wood and built things. Slip the nail into your pocket, along with the rest of the poem, and continue your walk home.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Have Mercy On The Hypnic Jerk

I drag through the day at half-speed, lethargic even after a full night’s sleep. When Katie comes home after her appointments, I’ve managed to vacuum a couple rooms and sweep up a little, and we lie down for a nap before we have to go out again for the night.

I settle down on my side, slow my breathing, and gradually relax, and I’m almost able to fall into sleep when the relaxation snaps with a sudden spasm, a muscle in my legs contracting, as if a spring that had been held in place by tension is loosed and kicks out at random, and I have to start the process all over again. Maybe this is how you know that you’ve relaxed enough - when the governor switches off and the body gets rid of all the weird seizures it’s been repressing all day acting normal. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Feeling The Illinoise

Writing about music, the cliche goes, is about as useful as dancing about architecture. 

But we saw a dance show today which included in its subjects The Sears Tower in Chicago (which is now called the Willis Tower for reasons), and it made me cry. The dancers blazed across the stage, their bodies beautiful and mobile, pumping their limbs and leaping into the air, lifted by emotion and each other, and I don’t know how to speak of them without resorting to sentimental platitudes.

And to be fair, they weren’t dancing about architecture, but I’m still the one here, failing the words, seeing them hours later when I close my eyes, hoping I make one thing in my life as beautiful as what I saw today.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

A Smile For Leaving

“Be careful,” she says as I adjust the chin strap on my helmet and click the little dial in the back that makes it tight around the back of my head.

“I will,” I reply, wheeling my scooter out into the hall. She’s standing in the doorway to the kitchen, watching me leave, her brow furrowed a little.

“Seriously, be careful,” she says again, and her face clears, a decision she’s making, and she gives me a smile before I go. 

Monday, April 22, 2024

Monday In The Park

We hike the Long Meadow, my backpack bouncing on my back, stepping across divots and over hillocks where memories of winter’s rain and cold have heaved up the ground in uneven patches of thick green grass and exposed earth. Today, the sun is shining life into the world, and every tree that isn’t fat with blossoms is covered in a fuzzy new green halo to try and capture their share.

We set up shop in the sunshine on a slight rise with a view up and down the park, spreading out a blanket and lying down to watch the people and read. Katie pulls her hat over her eyes and falls asleep, while I stare at the line between the tree tops and the deepest indigo sky I’ve ever seen, and the tiny planes on their way to Europe pass far, far overhead, halfway between us and God. 

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Who Are We To Argue With Darwin?

“God, what is that?” Katie says looking over my shoulder. Towering over the heads of the crowd, deeper into the heart of darkness that is Times Square, we see a man wearing an enormous panda suit, lumbering through the masses. Many people work the hordes of travelers dressed in dirty, tattered costumes as low-rent versions of Spider-Man, Batman, Mickey or Minnie Mouse, Elmo, Grover, Deadpool, posing for pictures with the tourists and then shaking them down for tips after the fact, but this panda suit is at least nine feet tall, and mildly terrifying.

“It’s the next stage of evolution for the costume guys,” I tell Katie, loud enough so that hopefully other people will hear, and she smiles indulgently and only rolls her eyes a little. 

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Democracy In “Action”

The man with the clipboard steps in front of us as we’re about to cross the street. “Are you a registered voter in Brooklyn?”

He wants us to sign his petition to get a candidate on the ballot, but when we see who it is (an extreme left-wing candidate whose presence will serve only to split the vote and allow for a greater chance of a right-wing win) we almost hand him the clipboard back, but we give each other a look and sigh.

“Everybody gets a chance,” Katie mutters, signing, and I do the same. 

Friday, April 19, 2024

Dad Jokes

The very professional and only slightly harried phlebotomist apologizes for not being allowed to insert an IV. “We’re a little short on nurses today.”

Are you familiar with the phenomenon of possession? Reader, with all sincerity I tell you I heard issue from my own mouth, unbidden but impossible to arrest, the voice of my father, dead lo these almost three years, saying, “Oh, I’d say you’re plenty tall.”

She laughed politely, and Katie, bless her, forced a laugh to cover my shame (contractually obligated as she is to laugh at moments like these), but all I could do was mutter, “Thank you for laughing at my dumb joke” as she slid the needle in.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Watch The Time

Despite the cold, despite carrying a cane, my hair too long and much more grey than when I first haunted these streets, I still glow with a mild, pleasant frisson when I walk down by NYU. 

I can see the ghosts of the weed guys patrolling the entrances to Washington Square Park (“Green? Trees? Smoke-smoke-smoke”), outlaws rendered superfluous by the dull respectability of law. And across the park squats the staid old brick nunnery where an ex-girlfriend exiled herself in despair after we broke up, before she transformed herself into a photographer and disappeared for years. 

And all around, in the present, the students: insecure and absolutely certain, loudly pronouncing their loves and opinions to impress one another, feeling their awkward incompleteness and yet more graceful and full of life than they may ever be again in their lives, walking these streets like lions or children, greeting each other with joy, arm in arm, lonely, anxious, suicidal, foolish, radiant, brilliant, beautiful, not knowing or caring how wonderful it is to be young, how fast it goes away.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

After School Special

The kids, freshly sprung from the incarceration of the school day, infiltrate the aisles of the bodega like a herd of sheep - skittish, unpredictable, and faster than one might think. They move like a river, jostling one another and pouring around obstacles, dragging chocolate bars and coke cans and Little Debbie cakes in their wake. 

Once they’ve selected their snacks, they mill about in front of the register in chattering clumps of 3 and 4, self-segregated by sex, until, through some sort of teenage brownian motion, then manage to reach the cashier and pay, almost always in small change.

i finally get my turn in front of the harried man behind the counter and joke, “Making all your money at once, huh?” and he laughs, but his laugh has an edge. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

Don’t Start Nothing, Won’t Be Nothing

The woman standing ahead of me in line for the unisex bathroom stalls in the Whole Foods has all the trappings of a tourist: the leggings and puffer vest, the baseball cap, the Fanny pack around her waist instead of as a crossbody. 

“Is there a ladies room?” she asks me.

My hackles raise a little, since there are obvious signs that prominently show symbols for both men and women, but maybe she’s just worried, and NOT making some kind of political statement, so I ignore the implications of what she said, and just address the content.

“You’re fine,” I reply, attempting in my tone to convey both a casual familiarity with unisex bathrooms, and also a friendly, relaxed demeanor to let her know that she doesn’t need to worry about being around men in a bathroom, unless she says something weird about gender or something.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Once And Future Badass

“It’s too long for me, but you should try it on,” Katie says about the denim duster our friend is selling at the flea market. It’s pretty amazing, but a glance in the mirror reveals that, in order to pull this jacket off sartorially, I would need to restructure, not just today’s outfit, but my whole wardrobe and possibly my entire lifestyle.

“Yeah, it’s cool,” I tell our friend, “but I kinda felt like the jacket was wearing me, you know?”

“Maybe once the apocalypse hits you can be trenchcoat guy,” he replies, nodding, “let ‘em know you’re not to be fucked with.”

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Confused But Friendly

A friend of ours is getting rid of some things from her apartment, and we’re carrying some bags and boxes and bins full of fun items home.

A woman stops Katie as she’s adjusting the weight on the bin in her arms to say, “Oh, was Manhattan Vintage good, because we’re on our way there now!”

Confused, but friendly, we start to answer, until we realize that the logo on one of the canvas totes Katie has over her shoulder says “I ❤️ Manhattan Vintage.”

After we’ve cleared up the confusion (we’re not coming from Manhattan Vintage, even though it looks like we just bought some really fun vintage items) and are continuing our journey home, Katie remarks, “Forgot what bag I was carrying.”

Friday, April 12, 2024

This Old Thing?

I finally look up from my phone to notice that almost forty-five minutes have passed since the doctor said he’d be “right back.”

With a sigh, I slip my sneakers on. The rest of my outfit consists of a t-shirt, thin, elastic-banded, disposable shorts that the nurse provided because my jeans didn’t roll up enough to give the doctor access to my knee, and some “fun” yellow socks I wore under my jeans that with everything else make me look a little like I might be on my first day of homelessness.

I approach the nurses station, ignoring the looks I’m getting, and gently ask, “Hey, did somebody forget about me?”

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Different Ways Of Being Angry

She taps lightly on the back of the car blocking the crosswalk as we maneuver around it. The driver calls out angrily, “Why you touching my car?”

“Because you are in people’s way!” Katie fires back.

She resumes chatting with me, completely unconcerned, as we continue walking to the library, but it’s about a block before I’m able to listen again, because a piece of me is still back at that crosswalk, waiting for that guy to get out of his car, and going over various methods for knocking him down if he did, like I know how to fight or something. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Do Your Best

I run my hands along the wall of the new tattoo parlor opening in my neighborhood. The color scheme is dark blues and neon purples and gold, and the wallpaper is a swirled, cloudy black and blue. 

“Are you seeing all my fuckups?” one of the new owners asks, which of course that’s all the person who did it sees after they’ve finished - all the places where they could have done better, the little errors they made, the places where it just wasn’t perfect. 

But all I could see was the way the seams on the sheets matched up, the smooth texture, the monumental amount of work, and even if it wasn’t perfect, it was still pretty amazing, which isn’t profound, but it felt like it was important, and maybe somebody working on something who’s reading this needs to hear that. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Might As Well

 Katie lying down on the grass with her eyes closed while I grab my phone. “If you hear some bells, don’t worry about it,” I tell her.

“You going to meditate?” she asks, without opening her eyes.

“Might as well,” I reply, as the birds continue to sing, and some kids play up on the hill, and the earth remains solid and supporting us, and the sun beams gently down, and I take a breath, then another, then another.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Looking At The Sun

The viewing area is full, but we’ve found a spot, put our eclipse viewing glasses on, and are ready for the show.

The sun goes from disc, to crescent, to sliver, to a few seconds of absence. The terrace outside the Natural History Museum goes silvery-gray, and a cheer goes up as darkness descends. 

I don’t know if it’s the beauty of an astronomical event, the fleeting moment of togetherness with millions of people, or just the fact that most of the people here will never see something like this again, but regardless, I’m crying as the sun slides back into view, and I keep my glasses on so I don’t have to explain.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Louder Than Words

Before we leave Dog Beach, Katie approaches the man who has been tirelessly throwing a stick into the water for his (also tireless) border collie to fetch for the last half-hour, 

She compliments his gentle, intuitive way with the dog, the way that the two of them seemed to understand each other completely, and he graciously thanks her, adding that his connection with his pet is “non-verbal.”

After we’re on our way, I say, “I’m glad you went up to him. If I had done it, I would have told him I loved him, and that I hoped he was happy every day for the rest of his life.”

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Portrait, Terminal 1, LAS

Golden sun on the high white girders, sunrise reflecting off the planes lurking at the gates outside.

The same useless gear - t-shirts with winking slogans, shot glasses covered in facsimiles of playing cards, casino branded boxes of chocolates - at dozens of differently named, but otherwise identical, stores.

Four Starbucks, at least (let’s go to the good one - no not that one, the other one).

Slot machines burbling their electronic come-ons at every gate, promising endless distraction, perhaps a payday, while the sun comes up over the desert, out where the silence lives.

Friday, April 5, 2024

What Are You Gonna Do If It Isn’t?

She herds the gaggle of children into the movie theater around the 15 minute mark of previews, a good dozen or so of all boys, all around 10 years old, maybe 11. They cross in front of our seats, not terribly loud or annoying, just regular kids being kids.

It takes her a few minutes to get everybody in the right seats and settled, again, not a huge problem, but more hassle than I would have wanted to deal with. 

THEN, in a moment of near-silence, she asks of no one in particular, “Is this the theater for Ghostbusters?”

Thursday, April 4, 2024

The House Always Wins

Names of streets near Las Vegas, NV (a literal desert town) specifically in the subdivision in which my mother lives: Sandpiper Village Way, Crystal Stream, Gentle Spring, Aqua, Tadpole, Marlin Cove, Bamboo Bay. There are others. 

Las Vegas is the ultimate destination for magical thinking - even if there isn’t water, if we invoke it enough in our street names and just keep building, it might not matter.

Even though the house always wins, if we keep trying, maybe our luck will turn, maybe the right card will turn, and we will finally, finally be free. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

The Suburban Jungle

Opening the backdoor to the patio sets off the burglar alarm, which mom has set to arm automatically, and the sound is apocalyptic. A strident, screaming klaxon, it sends the dog into a howling, barking frenzy until I can get to the keypad in the laundry room and turn it off.

After I apologize to my mother, the dog, and my racing heart, I take the recycling out to the bins in back that sulk in the dim light of a street lamp.

Something about the dark, the quiet, and the suburban isolation, along with the shriek of the alarm still echoing in my head, leaves me deeply uneasy, and more nervous than I’ve ever been in a big city surrounded by arguably greater danger and more people.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Beauty is Inconvenient

“These hallways used to be beautiful,” my mother says as we walk down plain white corridors to the elevator after her dentist appointment. “Like the chandeliers,” she adds, pointing the graceful glass hanging in sheets surround the lights out over the foyer.

“Why do you think they changed it?” I ask. 

The modern elevator beeps gratingly before the cheap metal doors slide open, and she says, “Oh, people were bumping into the artwork that hung on the walls, and it was easier to just get rid of it.”

Monday, April 1, 2024

Trying To Be Nice

“How’d you do today?” I ask after he presses the button for our floor in the casino parking garage.

“Well, it’s a new ball,” he replies, indicating the swirled-red and black bowling ball he’s go balanced on the top of his rolling luggage, “so I’m still trying to get the hang of it. 175 averaged over 3 games, but the other day I did 187 over five games.”

“Sounds like progress to me!” I say nonsensically.