Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Steady On

I’m pushing two large boxes on a dolly down the sidewalk, and I’m trying to be relatively decent. That means, as I pass the elementary school where, through an accident of terrible timing, the entire world is picking up their kids, that means not running these oblivious idiots (and their children) down with my dolly.

This woman walking toward me pushing a stroller, however, is not oblivious at all, and for a brief moment there is a clash of wills as she and I walk straight at each other, neither of us swerving, counting on the cultural weight of our respective burdens to give us the right of way.

Finally, at the last moment, both of us diverge slightly from our paths, leaving us a small bit of wiggle room through which we pass, neither one of us looking at the other.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

“I’m Gonna Need A Second."

“So then I finally get an IT guy on the phone,” says Katie, describing her ordeal with customer service today, “and he says, ‘There will be ninety seconds of silence.’”

“Like he was going to put me on hold, but then he didn’t put me on hold! He just sat there for a moment and took a deep breath,” she sighs in imitation.

“Like he needed to pull himself together or something,” I say, laughing.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Example

Katie tells me about thread she discovered this morning on a neighborhood website about a dog who was left abandoned on a Brooklyn street who was subsequently rescued and given much needed surgery, and concludes her story by saying, “Humanity is garbage."

“But I like you,” I say.

People are fine, but humanity is garbage,” she says. “Would you like an Airborne?"


Water of Kindness

The crosstown bus is crowded - packed with all the people who would normally be riding the broken L train - but the driver patiently gets them all on, and extends the ramp so people using walkers and wheelchairs can board.

An older woman in colorful headdress and matching dress pushes her walker up the ramp like a queen boarding a ship and parks at the front of the bus. Then, at the next stoplight, she reaches into the basket of her walker, pulls out a water bottle, walks it up to the driver, and hands it to him with a smile.

He takes gratefully and thanks her, and she waves off his thanks and makes her way back to her walker, where she and I exchange a smile.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Provider

While I wash dinner’s dishes, the cat sits in the hall just outside the kitchen with a most severe expression, waiting for me to get over my incredible stupidity and feed her.

“The cat is so disappointed in me,” I tell Katie.

So disappointed,” she agrees. “I think the only reason she’s not as disappointed in me is that she think you feed both of us.”

Friday, September 13, 2019

Coming On Fall

“Joan Shelley,” says Katie, coming into the bedroom from her shower, her shoulders above the towel wrapped around her still glistening and pink. “Like the River Loves the Sea.”

So I put on a song from the album, and sit listening, and for a moment it’s like I always listen to music, with my heart tense, primed and expectant for some kind of epiphany, some revelation of ecstasy.

But after a minute, I realize that living in this feeling isn’t really listening, per se, so I let my heart relax, and the song, a delicate, folky thing that makes no gesture toward grand, quietly works its way into me, and it is somehow, lying in bed with the air conditioning still on and a few weeks of summer still left to pass through, it is somehow fall, and the leaves in my mind are turning from green to gold and fire.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Trompe L'Oeil

A trick of perspective turns the subway map 3D, stretching and flattering it out while simultaneously deepening the page. The farms and parks of Queens seem to extend out into the distance, while JFK and Coney Island curve down into Jamaica Bay.

Manhattan stays the same, though. Its obdurate grid floats on the Hudson, self assured as always, uncompromising, face-front to the world.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Schadenfreude

Katie works in her studio at the end of the house while I lie on the couch in the living room watching Bill Hader get interviewed on YouTube.

“Wow! Jimmy Fallon is getting fat!” I yell to her.

“Good!” she yells back.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

That Kind of Cat Person

“I don’t want to be one of those cat ladies,” the woman says, gesturing grandly. Nobody’s coming into the booth to buy stuff right now, so I don’t worry about it.

“Why not?” I ask. “If you like cats, and you’re not causing anybody trouble, why not just sort of lean into it?”

“Well,” she concedes, “maybe I just don’t want to end up on ‘Hoarders.’"

Monday, September 9, 2019

Pretty as a Picture

“Excuse me, who made this?” the patient asks, pointing to the blue and grey print up on the wall opposite my desk.

“Oh, that’s Matisse,” I say. “He was around in the middle of the twentieth century, and toward the end of his life he did a lot of work with cutout shapes that he arranged to look like people.” 

“May I take a picture of it?” she asks shyly.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

A Restless Soul

The DJ played a song I like while I was working at the market today, but I didn’t get to listen to it because I was talking to a customer, so while I’m walking to the subway after my shift I find it on my phone and hit play.

I stride past a woman who is looking down at her phone, past a couple holding hands, while the music sings of reincarnation and trying to get at least one life right. The music swells and smiles, grabs my heart and squeezes it with joy, and I feel myself starting to cry with longing for all the lives I don’t remember, that I probably never had.

I cover up my mouth to push the sob back down into my chest, but people just walk by, because this is New York, and if you want to cry on the street, nobody cares.

For Fun

“That’s new,” Katie says, pointing out the new electronic sign that let’s commuters at the entrance to the subway know how long until the next train arrives. “Now we don’t have to throw ourselves down the stairs.”

“Unless we want to,” I add. "You know, for fun,”

Friday, September 6, 2019

Head Inside

“Problems arising from the burial in the unconscious of material which is not in its province are partly caused by personal attitudes,” the book I’m reading says. “Frequently however the problems are caused by attitudes which seem built into our society rather than being a personal matter.”

A little boy with some older people runs ahead of them, leaping off the path and lifting up his head to yell up into the sky as he lets the low hanging needles of a pine tree graze his face.

The wind blows harder for a moment, and then the moisture in the air turns to a fine mist that speckles my khakis and my leather bag, and, not wanting to get rained on, I stand with a sigh and head inside.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Find My Friends

I couldn’t have been asleep long, could I? 

The house is almost dark, though, and Katie still isn’t home from her errands, so I check the app that I have that lets us find each other when we’re apart (which is seldom). Her little blue dot on the screen hasn’t moved from where I last saw it before I accidentally napped, and my mind conjures visions of her struck down crossing the street, lying hurt on the pavement, or just her phone abandoned downstairs while she herself is disappeared by some nefarious person who left it there to torment me.

Still groggy, I slip on my shoes and run downstairs only to find her, sitting on the stoop, chatting on the phone with her mother; when she hears me open the door behind her, she turns and smiles.

You Should Look Out The Window

The weather comes on every ten minutes on the TV at work to tell me that there’s a storm watch until six o’clock for Brooklyn, and I believe them.

It’s a few minutes before five and everybody’s wrapped up for the day, so I tell the boss, “Hey, if you don’t need me, I’m gonna split and get ahead of this storm.” 

Everybody looks at me weird, but I’m already out the door, so it’s fine.

Down on the street, the sidewalks are wet and the air smells and feels like a damp armpit, but the sun is out and the skies are clear, and I feel a little foolish.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Watch and Learn

She doesn’t even look at me as she comes into the booth, but makes a line straight for a piece of Katie’s art that contains a death’s head moth (the type of moth made famous for the outline of a skull on its back by the movie “Silence of the Lambs”) where she stands studying it, fascinated.

“I always like to see the people who go for that piece right away, because even though they don’t look alike, they’re definitely a type,” I say conversationally, and she (thankfully) smiles.

“I bet it’s interesting to guess what butterflies certain types of people go for, right?” she says, looking around.

“Nope, because if you try too hard to guess, you’ll miss what they actually do go for,” I say.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Hard to Ignore

“So, how’s the business going,” I ask my friend after we’ve put in our lunch order.

But just as he begins speaking, an older man drunkenly stumbles through the door of the restaurant and demands to speak to a manager.

In a piercing, querulous voice, he details how he fell down outside the establishment yesterday, and he demands compensation, no not tomorrow, right now, dammit, no he won’t leave, he’ll stay right here until the manager comes (all the while waving a walking stick around like he has a mind to start braining people with it if he doesn’t start getting some answers).

Eventually he is talked outside, where he is left cursing at the facade of the restaurant, until finally I interrupt my friend, saying, “Listen, I’m really sorry, you’re going to have to repeat that, since I have no idea what you just said."

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Happens All The Time

She walks into the booth and doesn’t say anything for a long time. She just stares at the butterflies with tears in her eyes.

“My grandfather used to call me his butterfly,” she says finally, her voice choked. 

“I understand,” I say, and she turns and walks out of the booth.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

I’d Like To Speak To The Manager

“I think you’ll find given your age that your ability to see things up close will continue to diminish until about age seventy,” the optometrist says as she makes notes in my chart.

“Who do I fight about that?” I ask, and she laughs nervously.

“I don’t know, evolution?”

“I’ll be writing a strongly worded letter,” I say seriously.

Nothing Further From the Truth

Jeremy, who works behind the counter at the pizza place we frequent, gives us a finger point and a smile when we walk in.

“You look like you just got back from vacation,” he says. Katie is wearing a Brooklyn Cyclones baseball cap, and I’m in shorts and a “Soylent” t-shirt I got for free.

“Nope, we just finished working at home all day,” Katie says with a weary smile, and I shrug.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Cabbage

“One thing I learned from that cabbage recipe we like,” I tell Katie as I cook dinner. “Don’t be afraid to let your veggies get a little brown.”

“Why aren’t we eating that cabbage right now?” she asks intently.

“We’ll eat it tomorrow, I forgot about it."

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Thwarted

I exit the building after a particularly trying morning, ready to recharge my batteries eating my lunch under a tree in the park.

But as I walk out from under the scaffolding around the entrance, my face is coated in a very fine mist, and the entire park is hazed in what feels like a low-hanging cloud.

I lift my face as I continue up the stairs at the to the park, enjoying the feel of the almost-rain on my face. Then I realize that, as fine and unassuming as this rain appears, if I stay out in it longer than a few minutes I’m gonna be soaked, and with a resigned sigh I turn around and go back inside.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Throb and Rumble

Walking past the construction site in the morning, everything is hidden behind enormous plywood walls painted blue. But work is definitely in progress, because even the sidewalks vibrate with the uneven percussion of machines pounding away at the earth, and people walk by a little more quickly, uneasy at the sound.

At night the subway home stops on the bridge, with the peculiar silence that comes in a stopped train when the constant roar of the air conditioning stops and sudden silence engulfs the train where we hadn’t even noticed there was noise. But even in the newly yawning abyss of the absence of a din, there is a throb and rumble as other trains pass us going back into Manhattan, a restless bass ostinato that unsettles and makes us anxious for going.

Monday, August 26, 2019

See You Next Life

The park where I eat lunch most Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays is also a grave, a great beautiful memorial to thousands of Americans who died hundreds of years ago as prisoners on British ships during the Revolutionary War.

And like most gravesites, it is, far from being a spooky haunt for apparitions and ghouls, a quiet, lovely, slightly melancholy place: butterflies float above mildly unkempt lawns; children run laughing around the plaza under which lie the bones of those who died in pain and fear just off the shore, within sight of their homes; and just a few yards away, a woman coos and babbles over two babies she is entertaining on a blanket on the grass.

Katie asks me via text what I’m thinking about. I reply, “I was thinking about the two babies that are lying on a blanket, and wondering if in our next life we could figure out a way to be twins.”

Sunday, August 25, 2019

She Was Home Like Five Minutes Later

Katie stands at the door a little after 10 PM. “I’ve got my phone and my debit card,” she says, “and I don’t have my ID, but it’s okay because my debit card has my name on it.”

We’re both thinking about a news story we read a few months ago where a guy left his apartment to move his car and went missing, only to turn up almost two weeks later in a hospital because he was hit by car, and nobody knew who he was since he didn’t have any ID on him.

“Come home soon, I love you,” I say, making sure to say it and mean it just in case it’s the last thing I ever get to say to her.

Why Does It Cry On Such A Nice Day?

A beautiful day: blue sky piled high with fluffy white clouds sailing on cool breezes that only just cut the hot sun’s mild aggression. And yet.

And yet there seems to be a crying child on every street corner from here to the park, some of them just crying as they are led by sympathetic parents down the sidewalk, others straight up wailing as their adults look on with exasperation.

One child cries like she’s been shot as she’s being carried bodily across the street while she strains back toward the other sidewalk with all her might, and when her mother reaches the far end of the crosswalk and puts her down, she collapses in a small heap of blubbering child, and the proceeds to try to crawl back into the street.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

He’s Sure

I’m scooping fresh cat litter into my refillable jug at the pet store when the two of them walk by. He actually runs by, a small wire-haired terrier, followed by his owner, and they both go to the chew aisle where he stands looking up at her expectantly.

“Well, go ahead and pick one,” she says, where upon he very carefully begins looking in each bin, carefully considering his options until he finally, gingerly, grabs a rawhide bully stick almost as big as himself and drags it over to his person.

“Well, if you’re sure,” she says, picking him up, and he wags his tail enthusiastically.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Couldn’t Have Happened to Two Nicer People

He’s middle-aged, if I had to guess - a paunchy, middle-aged, white guy in jeans, a t-shirt, and the requisite baseball cap, with the only thing really setting him apart from any number of people walking down Union Street in Park Slope being a large American flag on a pole that he carries over one shoulder like a rifle.

A white guy carrying a flag and not being in uniform or marching in a parade of some kind signals “danger” to me, so I judiciously cross to the other side of the street where I can walk in parallel to keep an eye on him. We walk together that way for a while, with him in my peripheral vision, until he passes behind a parked car, where the flag suddenly stops moving.

I pass a little beyond the car and see that he has been stopped by one of the clipboard kids - street solicitors (read: scammers) that hit up pedestrians for money for probably non-existent charities - and, after watching for a moment, I happily continue on my way, a smile on my face and a jaunty spring in my step.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Sudden Storm

Even though the clouds have been piling up since I came home from work, the storm still seems to come on quickly, like a single yelling voice turning into a shouting crowd. The lush green backyards out our kitchen window are tossed by the wind and rain, the trees gyrating back and forth in the frothing air.

“I wonder what the front looks like,” I muse as I cook, but Katie is already on her way to her studio to look out on the street.

“It’s a river,” she informs me on her return.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

New York

“Oooohhhh, take me off your mailing list, for kids who think it still exists, for those who think it still exists,” the singer wails in my headphones as he laments a New York that used to be. We’re going over the bridge again, a very Groundhog Day sort of feeling, and I’m looking upriver past the glittering spans of the Williamsburg Bridge up into Queens.

The train passes over something on the third rail that sparks like a flash bulb going off, white light obliterating anything more that ten feet from the train, and everything in that circle stark and harsh.

Then the spark is gone, and the New York City shyly returns, a little less bright to my eyes than it was a second ago, but still there, still glittering, after all.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Looks Like Rain?

Katie is sitting on the front steps of our building when I arrive home from my shift at the doctor’s office, waiting for the guys who are delivering her chest of drawers that she recently purchased. She sees me coming down the street, and even though she’s clearly pretty tired, she manages a smile.

I take off my bag and sit next to her, and we talk about our respective days, and rate the steady parade of dogs out for their evening strolls. 

“That cloud,” Katie says with a worried look, pointing up at a dark gray customer that seems to have come out of nowhere, “moved in about five minutes ago, and the guys are bringing the piece in a pickup truck."

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Working a Double

The words on my phone blur, and I wasn’t really reading them anyway. I blink hard, once, twice, and then open my eyes as wide as I can and try to look at something else for a second.

The aisles of the market are somewhat full, but not packed, and nobody seems to be buying stuff. A balding man and his wife at a nearby booth bend closely over a counter crowded with boring, basic jewelry at least half of which I know for a fact was imported from China, and they seem to be frozen for a moment, like figures on a screen that are just about to start moving, and I watch them for a while before I look away.

I Miss Drive-Ins

One of the characters in this movie lives behind a drive-in movie theater, and the shot of him driving back to his house gets the sound of a drive-in exactly right: all the tinny little speakers that are meant to go in your car windows blaring out the sound track to the movie so that it carries in a faint chorus across the parking lot.

When I was a kid, the DeAnza drive-in in Tucson would have a swap meet in the hours before dark. My parents would take us there, and I would run around in the deepening dusk as the vendors packed up their wares and folded their tables in preparation for the movie to start.

The hot desert air would cool, and I would find my way back to the station wagon where my dad was fiddling with the heavy, metal speaker to get it hooked over the door, and the sound would come on, the screen would light up, and the magic would begin.

Friday, August 16, 2019

All In the Timing

“Key lime pies!” Katie exclaims in delight on seeing them in the display at the pastry shop.

“Oh, I’m sorry, someone called in and reserved every single one of those,” the woman behind the counter says with a frown.

There’s a silent pause, a moment of exquisite tension as the woman behind the counter and Katie lock eyes, and then, almost simultaneously, they both start to grin.

“I’m glad it’s not true, but I really appreciate that joke being made,” Katie says, laughing.

Liminal

A huge yellow moon lifts above the clouds as we ride the Manhattan Bridge in a taxi over the East River to Brooklyn. The everloud glittering towers and spires of the island behind us are quiet, and ahead of us, Long Island waits for us with its own problems and beauties.

Bridges are connections between the spaces, which is what makes them beautiful. They are like fall and spring, and their loveliness comes from the fact that we cannot remain on them, but must use them to get to where we are going. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

He Didn’t Want To Fill Out A Form

“Sir, everyone else has filled out the form....,” I begin gently. The other patients in the doctor’s waiting room are carefully looking everywhere else but at the two of us.

“This isn’t about everybody else, this is about me!” he says, his voice rising.

“Yes, I can see that,” I sigh.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Monthly’s Can Only Swipe Once

A well-thought-out, but ill-considered reply from me to a senator’s tweet has me blocking folks left and right on Twitter today, and their bad vibes leave me pondering why people can’t just be nice to each other to the point that I don’t hear the woman behind me at the subway entrance.

“Excuse me!” I finally hear her say, and move one headphone off my ear to show that I’m listening. “Can I pay you cash to swipe me in?” she asks.

“Sorry, it’s a monthly,” I call behind me as I swipe myself in and dash down the stairs to the train waiting to take me home.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Working Man Needs Rest

“Yeah, Lana del Rey kinda makes you want to kill yourself,” Katie finishes.

“Yeah, maybe if you're depressed,” I reply, laughing, “but if you’re not depressed then she’s sly and charming. I’m not depressed.”

“Your eyes are bloodshot and you’re ready to go to bed at 7:30, but you’re not depressed,” Katie says, looking at my heavy-lidded eyes and patting my cheek fondly.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Processing Trauma

We’re on the Brooklyn Bridge when the cab driver breaks the quiet of the ride.

“Did you hear about that accident on the West Side Highway?” he asks a little too loudly.

“Yeah, it sounded awful!” Katie says.

“I was there at about 3:45” he says, his heavily accented voice, quieter, but still quite loud in the small cab, “the lady’s whole car was on fire, and the flames were so intense that none of the four cars there could get close enough to help."

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Shift Change

The bus pulls over at the stop and lets a few people off, but then the driver, instead of continuing on his way, opens up the little armored plexiglass and steel door to his driving vestibule and steps out. 

I’m literally one stop away from where I was planning on getting off, and I briefly consider getting off and walking, but I’m not in a hurry, so I stay put. A woman, small and tidy in her uniform, steps in front of the bus and examines something while the current driver strips some gloves from his hands and throws them into a duffel bag at his feet.

The two of them exchange cursory greetings as she gets on, and he waves a lazy farewell as she encloses herself in the driving vestibule, powers up the bus, shuts the door, and pulls slowly away from the curb.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Are We Really Friends?

The dog has smooth, russet fur, and yellowish eyes that might be a bit disconcerting if they weren’t filled with such a kind expression. Her owner confirms that she’s friendly, so I hold out my hand palm down, fingers gently curved, for a cursory sniff, and then she goes in for chin scratches almost immediately.

After we’re done getting acquainted, I thank her owner for the privilege, and return to setting out my lunch: a sandwich, some chips, an apple. The dog perks up and sits at attention while I continue studiously avoiding eye contact, but eventually, realizing that no treats are forthcoming, she lies back down at her owner’s feet with a heavy, regretful sigh.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Why So Serious?

The C train I’m on doesn’t list the stop I need, no matter how many times I look at the map that says my stop is on this route. Maybe it’s just going express, skipping the stop I need, which is no big deal - I can just get off the train before that and wait for a local.

But my anxiety keeps growing as I get closer to my transfer point, until I’m checking my breathing, and working actively to calm myself.

When we arrive at the stop, the computerized voice announces that this is an express train, pauses, and then announces that this is a local train, listing all the stops, including the one I need, and I feel the knot in my stomach evaporate.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Luke 15:8-9

About an hour after lunch, I realize I’m thirsty, which shouldn’t be, because all I have to do is fill up my water bottle and....

I stand up from my desk and walk quickly to the back and tell my co-worker, “I’ll be right back.”

The hill up to the top of the park is steep, but I take it at almost a jog despite the sick feeling I have, straight toward the bench where I sat and ate my sandwich an hour ago.

There, sitting right where I left it, is the old Nalgene bottle I’ve had for more than fifteen years, and my heart lifts like I’m the luckiest man alive.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Balancing Act

The Finnish couple in the booth have ooh’d and aah’d appropriately at Katie’s amazing work, and the husband has wandered off to another booth while the wife and I chat.

“I understand how delicate this work is,” she says seriously, holding up a butterfly to the light and watching it shine, “because I knit, lace and things, hundreds of different stitches in one piece, and I will not let anything go out unless it is perfect.”

“Well, I’m glad people like you need lackadaisical people like me to help them take it easy,” I say.

“Yes, I have found mine, and I am glad she has found hers,” she replies, nodding firmly.

Monday, August 5, 2019

I Like To Share

“I got a treat for you,” my co-worker says, reaching into her desk drawer and pulling out a huge bag of peanut M&M’s. A starburst in red on the bright yellow background declares that this is “SHARING SIZE!” which is fine by me.

“I”m sharing, so if you want M&M’s you know where to find them,” I say to another co-worker as he passes, but after he walks out of earshot, the one who gave them to me comes up.

“I didn’t give ‘em to you to share with him,” she hisses.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

“I’m Here To Rescue You"

I stand at the bottom of the subway stairs looking up and out to the sidewalk above, where it is bucketing down rain thick and silver against the streetlights. A whole group of us are down here from the last train that let off, and periodically someone makes a run for the surface, or a soaked individual shaking the water from his head or a giggling, wet couple comes down to join us in the station.

The rain slackens and redoubles, getting heavier and heavier, and I curse my lack of foresight for not bringing an umbrella, even though I checked the weather yesterday and the forecast only called for a ten percent chance of rain.

Then, at the top of the stairs, in a t-shirt, a pair of red terrycloth shorts, and colorful rain boots with pictures of owls on them, stands Katie, with an umbrella for me in one hand, and a big smile on her face.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

I’m Lucky

“So, are the butterfly wings lucky?” the man asks, his eyes searching mine.

“You know what the secret to being lucky is, right?” I say, smiling. “Knowing that you’re lucky.”

“I like the way you think,” he says, picking up a piece to purchase.

Desire Paths

I step off the paved path in the park and start climbing the hill, thinking about the phrase “desire paths” and what a good song title it would be.

A desire path is a trail worn into the landscape by foot traffic, either human or animal, and it’s called that because it’s the way that people naturally go, no matter what the designer of a park might have made as “the way to go.”

I trudge up the desire path to the top of the hill and pause in the heat and humidity, breathing a little hard, then I sit down and take out my lunch, only to just sit there for a while with it on my lap, staring at it.

Finally, I take one last, long deep breath of the wet air that sits like a heavy, foul smelling blanket of wet dog hair on my chest, and then I put my lunch back in my bag, stand up, and start trudging back down the hill again.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Prejudiced

“I used to live out in Kew Gardens for about ten years,” I tell the old Brooklynite in the market booth.

“Oh, that’s not New York,” he says dismissively. “Used to be farmland into the fifties.”

“And we don’t even talk about Staten Island,” he adds with a scoff.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Nothing, I Guess?

“What are you doing?” asks the little boy.

I cast a wary eye across the plaza to where the group of adults who are supervising him and his playmates are sitting, and think for a moment how I want to engage this.

“I’m reading,” I say, setting down my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and holding up my book.

“But what are you doing?” he asks again, failing to keep the exasperation from his voice.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

A Common Scam

The guy sitting one bench over on the subway has a small pile of CD-ROMs in his lap, with obviously home-printed labels and insert cards. His eyes are closed as we ride across the bridge.

I remember my first week in New York, walking through Times Square, when a guy came up to me and, in increasingly aggressive tones, “sold" me his rap CD for ten bucks (which, of course, turned out to be blank - a very common scam).

The guy with the CDs on my train gets off at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, and I wonder who he’s gonna try to scam tonight, or if he’s just hustling for his music.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Truest Words

The world slides past my exhausted eyes as the cab takes me from our move-in morning at the booth to my shift at the doctor’s office, but I rouse myself enough to ask the driver if he minds if I eat my breakfast sandwich in his car.

“You gotta eat,” he says with a friendly smile.

When I’m done, he rummages in his bag for a moment, then pulls out a bottle of water, saying, “It’s too hot outside.”

Whether from being worn out, or from his kindness, my thanks are very emotional, but he waves off my gratitude, adding, “No one’s coming down to save us, so we have to take care of each other."

A Change In The Weather

A strange night-wind kicks up just as we leave the U-Haul place after dropping off the truck, making Katie and I squint into the dusty bluster.

“Wind usually means a change, but it’s just gonna be ninety-one tomorrow, too,” Katie says as we walk down Fourth Avenue past the park.

A few blocks later, we feel a few drops of rain that quickly change into a downpour that soaks through our clothes.

“Well, there’s the change,” Katie says, laughing.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

No More Drama

Our neighbor’s dog Val growls at the black lab as it walks by, and Katie and the lab (and the lab’s owner) step off the left of our stoop to chat. Katie coos and fawns over the lab, giving her scratches and pets, while Val retreats behind her owner’s legs.

Her growls and barks become increasingly plaintive as the lab and Katie ignore her, until finally she ventures over, tail tentatively wagging, to sniff butts with with newcomer.

She quickly panics again, though, and gives a snarl to the lab, who responds with a single deep, chesty bark that sends Val between my legs with a fearful look, while the lab settles herself down on the sidewalk with a sigh, as if she’s tired of all the drama.

Friday, July 26, 2019

A Version of Heaven

I step off the curb, then step back onto the sidewalk, for no reason.

A few seconds later, an SUV takes the turn a little tight and passes through the space I just was.

I continue on my way, crossing the street and walking the block to my home, but I imagine a “Sliding Doors” sort of moment where I actually got hit by a car - like, what if I actually did get hit by a car just a second ago, and this is my version of the afterlife.

I get upstairs, and there, sitting on the couch looking at her phone, is the woman I love, and the cat comes up and demands pets, and I am home, in my favorite place, with my favorite people, on a Friday night.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Produce is a Serious Matter

I go pick a pint of peaches but stop to briefly consider: they all look alike to me, but is it possible one is “best”?

“They’re all hard as rocks,” the guy running the market says matter-of-factly.

“Ah,” I reply knowingly, “dinosaur eggs.”

“It makes it so they transport well,” he says, fixing me with a look as if to suggest that my flippancy is very much frowned upon.

Field Report on Native Fauna In and Around Ft. Greene Park

I leave the hospital to go sit in the park for lunch and see, walking under the scaffolding along the curb beside the parked cars, a cat. She holds, in her mouth, the body of a mouse, and after giving me only the briefest of looks, she speeds along to other destinations known only to her.

Later, I sit on a bench beside a lawn in a plaza at the top of a hill beneath a sky that looks like it came from a Japanese animation: pure blue, thick clouds that would probably taste like soft mounds of whipped cream if you ate them, a benevolent sun that seems incapable of the killing heat he inflicted on us only a few days ago.  A female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail flaps lazily over the grass, and I watch her black wings with mild interest until she’s out of sight, then go back to my book.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Hercules

The server begins to pick up our dishes after dinner, stacking the plates on one arm as he gathers everything up. 

He clearly has no intention of making more than one trip, and so the pile on his arm grows to be rather large indeed, but still he keeps stacking.

After asking Katie’s mother to hand him a knife that he inexplicably missed, Katie’s father offers him a loose straw with a gently mocking smile. 

“Ah, the perfect addition to my collection,” the server says as he takes the straw, returning the smile.

Monday, July 22, 2019

When The Sky Opens Up

“The ground is wet but we are not,” Katie texts me before I get off work, and so I leave my umbrella at my desk when I go.

The sky looks relatively clear while I walk to the subway, but by the time I get to my neighborhood, it has darkened in a very threatening way.

I almost make it home before the sky opens up, but fat, wet drops begin plopping all around about two blocks away, and then there’s nothing for it but to run.

And run I do through the sudden deluge as it begins to pour, but it doesn’t save me, so that when I get upstairs, Katie looks at my bedraggled, soaked self and says, in genuine surprise, “Is it raining?"

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Vaping

The MTA app on my phone, along with Google Maps, both say that the bus is approaching right now. But as I sit at the bus stop in the scorching summer sun I'm pretty sure I can see the bus they are referring to across the street from me, and it is very much parked.

I watch the bus for a good twenty minutes before I notice the guy sitting in one of the passenger seats, looking at his phone, and I can’t tell for sure, but I think he’s driver, sitting there just chilling out.

Then I see him pull something away from his mouth, and a thick, fat vape cloud billows out of his lungs, and for some reason the thought of my bus driver vaping away comfortably in an air-conditioned bus while I sit beneath a blazing furnace of sky in the middle of a heat way just fills me with rage.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Soundtrack Of Our Lives

Watching the movie Yesterday, which is about a young musician who wakes up from a cycling accident to find that he is the only person in the world who has ever heard of or heard the songs of The Beatles, and proceeds to pass their catalog off as his own.

It’s a good movie, buoyed by an amazing soundtrack, but the best part of it is its ability to create a space in which it’s possible to actually hear the Beatles music again as if for the first time.

I find myself remembering finding, at the tender age of twelve or so, an unlabeled cassette tape in my sister’s collection (where I stole all of my most important music) which had, on one side, Queen’s A Night At The Opera and on the other, The Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I hear those tunes again in my head now - the way they sounded like nothing I had ever heard before, the way they seemed to point a way forward to what I wanted to be, the kind of like I wanted to lead - and even though the movie isn’t as dramatic or intense as all that, I find tears streaming down my cheeks, and I cover my mouth with my napkin to make sure I don’t sob too loudly.

The Service Industry

“No, man, you gotta put the phone number on there,” he says sternly to the older Asian man behind the counter at the laundry. He stabs the laundry ticket with his finger, and repeats, “Put it on there.”

“'Cause people, they need to get their stuff back,” he says, with a sweeping gesture to take in all the old articles of clothing people have left behind over the years that are hanging from the ceiling and stacked on the shelves (nevermind that I personally know, having gone to this same laundry for years, that the previous owner sold the shop to the current owner twenty years ago on the condition that he leave all of the very old lost items exactly as they were when he bought the shop).

Still, after that interaction has ended, I still feel kind of bad going up to the counter to drop off my laundry and saying to that same older Asian man, “Please have this ready for me by eight o’clock today."

Friday, July 19, 2019

Where Else?

After Facebook throws up a “Six years ago today” post on Katie’s timeline, I go back in my blog to see what we were doing.

Turns out we went to Ikea, and go irritated with each other, and I snapped at her, and she snapped at me.

When I relate this to Katie, she looks at me incredulously. “You put that on the Internet?” she asks.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Haunted

Nothing seems quite right - I’m hungry, but I don’t want to cook; tired, but I don’t want to sleep; feeling creative, but everything I make seems awful to me; my side of the room is messy, but I don’t want to pick up or clean, and I certainly feel guilty as Katie becomes industrious and starts picking up her side of the room.

I take a bag of garbage downstairs, drop it in the bin, and then continue through the vestibule to the outer door, where I stand on the stoop and watch the rain. The storm is supposedly the remnants of the hurricane that battered New Orleans earlier this month, but it still has a lot of energy and water in it, so it’s really coming down, sheets of rain against the streetlights, and the gutters are running like rivers.

I stand watching it, feeling uncomfortable in my own skin for the first time in ages; there’s only a few cars and a couple of delivery guys on e-bikes hurrying though the rain to their destinations, and I wonder if something that I thought was gone has returned.

DINKs

“So we’ve got four adults and a child coming,” I tell the hostess.

“Does the child need a high-chair?” she asks.

The child is four years old, so I don’t think so, but I text Katie, “Ask her parents if she needs a high chair.”

“I don’t really know how kids work,” I add.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Against Pity

The very old man in the waiting room with the sad, thousand-yard-stare and the seemingly only-marginally-engaged caretaker is breaking my heart. I find myself pining after my wife, and hoping that neither of us has to live long without the other when we get old.

After his appointment, as he’s shuffling toward the door, his caretaker asks him how his appointment went, and he says in a flat voice, “Looks like they’re gonna have to cut off the ear.”

As she reels in shock at this revelation, he glances over, catches my eye, and winks.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Congrats, It’s a Spike

I feel foolish, but I’m too far from home to walk it, so there’s nothing for it: I have to go in this bike shop to get my flat fixed.

They take my bike in the back while I pace the front of the store like an expectant father in a cliched cartoon from the Fifties.

“Well, when I’m fixing a flat, I don’t rest until I find the cause,” the repairman says finally, as he comes out from behind the counter holding my wheel.

“I think this is it,” he finishes with a small smile, holding up a thin piece of metal about an inch long.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Time is a River

"I forgot it was Saturday,” Katie texts me as I’m sitting in the shade eating lunch down by the East River.

Suddenly I have this vision of a day bounded by the four corners of a box on the calendar, squared off and completely denatured, a box called Saturday following a box called Friday, followed by a box called Sunday, and so on, forever.

That isn't how time is truly, though, but to see it as it is terrifies us: days unmoored from the work week, the vertigo of freedom, the singular flow of time as everything changes.

The saying goes, “The days are long but the years are short,” but what day is it really but today, sitting by the river watching it flow past, the same river, but never the same?

Friday, July 12, 2019

I Wrote This On My Phone

NYC used to be a city of driven, fast walkers, all of us too busy, too stressed, too on our way to look up and gawk at the spectacle of commerce and culture throwing skyscrapers toward the sun. You could tell a tourist by the way they looked around.

The two women walking in front of me this morning on the way to the subway stroll down the sidewalk, not looking around, heads still down, but their eyes and minds deep inside the small glass tiles in their hands. One stops up short as an electric car passes silently inches away from her in the intersection, and she looks up, mildly annoyed her reverie was broken, and then puts her face back in the glass and continues her morning stroll.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Times Better Get to Changing

“Did I ever tell you about Mr. from my freshman year of high school?” I ask Katie as I take out my contacts.

“The creepy band director who slept with one of his students?” she replies.

“Yes! but it turns out after my slightly cursory Google search that I can’t find out if he ever got charged with a crime, and then I’m pretty sure he moved to Nevada and got a job as a band director there, so I’m guessing not?” I say.

“Every woman needs to carry around a brick in their purse so that when they feel that rage they can just chuck it through the nearest window,” she says, wringing out the shirt she’s washing in the sink with just a tiny bit of extra twisting, like she’s visualizing a neck.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Born In the Sign of Water

I am covered in sweat by the time I get to the pool on this hot summer day, and I lock up my bike and head inside.

The locker room is moist and smells like urine, so I hurry up and change into my swimsuit and head out on the deck.

I haven’t swam laps, like really swam the way I used to, in more than five years, I think, and certainly not since I had cancer.

When I dive in, the water is shockingly cold, but only for a moment, and I instantly feel at home in a way that nowhere else on earth can really match.

It’s a Stretch

I start off writing about spilling ice cream, and then Katie reminds me of how we made pizza from scratch earlier in the day.

“You could talk about the gluten,” she says, and I remember us stretching the dough out on the pan. It would stretch out and then contract back, and we would gently knead it with our fingertips until it stayed in the shape we wanted.

“You stretch your muscles out every morning,” she says, referring to my yoga practice, “and we stretched the gluten the same way."

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

A Medicine For Melancholy

As we walk across the meadow near the entrance to the park, I can feel my anxiety fading. We lie on a hill and stare at the sky, and I think about whether or not I can see the air between me and the clouds moving, until a hawk sweeps through my field of vision, and I lean my head backwards to watch it go.

We walk over to the pond to enjoy the dogs swimming and chasing each other around until we both have relaxed almost completely, then we start to walk back home.

As we pass into a shady grove, Katie says, “Isn’t it nice to know that the best cure for anxiety for both of us is a free walk in the park?"

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Window Crib

I look up from the bike lane to the apartment buildings on the other side of the road. They’re the usual midcentury four story boredoms of brick and a dearth of imagination, with bars over the windows from when Williamsburg was a bit dicier of a neighborhood.

Up on the third floor, however, in one of the windows where the bars have been built out to accommodate a window air-conditioning unit, a small child sits in the little nook where the air-conditioner would be, suspended out over nothing, curled up and calm.

She sees me, gawking at her, and she smiles a pleased, knowing smile, while she slowly raises her hand to wave at me.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Different Responses to Stress

“Okay, I’ll be right down,” I hear Katie on the phone in the other room where she’s been napping.

I instantly sit up in the bedroom where I’ve been napping and mentally prepare to do something, though I’m not sure what.

“They’re downstairs right now with the delivery,” she says, coming into the bedroom and grabbing clothes.

“Please don’t laugh at that,” she says, because I am as I hunt frantically for my shoes.

Dog Beach

There’s a spot in the park where people bring their dogs to swim in a pond, and they call it “Dog Beach.”

Today we went down to Dog Beach to watch the dogs. A pit bull swam back and forth like he was looking to try out for the olympic team.

When his owner managed to get him out he whined and pulled at the leash, but she didn’t let him go back in. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Scorpio Rising

“I think it’s Scorpio,” I say, pointing out the three stars and the tail.

“I don’t think Scorpio is as big a deal as people think it is,” Katie says thoughtfully as we head back toward the park entrance.

“That is so you: inexplicable opinions held with deep conviction,” I say, laughing.

“We were just looking at the sky, so I don’t think it’s inexplicable at all,”she replies, sounding only mildly offended.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Cooking With Gas (CO2)

“Brown sugar can help..., wait,” Katie says, stopping me before I go off, as I usually do, without listening to the whole thing. “Baking soda will also interact with the excess vinegar and turn it into carbon dioxide,” she says, more firmly.

I sprinkle less than a quarter-teaspoon into the too-vinegary black beans, and sure enough, they furiously foam up with fine brownish-black bubbles and then subside. A quick tasting shows them to be, if not perfect, then at least miles better than what they were just a moment ago.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

I.G.Y.

Laying back on the deck chair by the rooftop pool, I can feel tiny sparks on my skin as the sun gently unknits strands of my DNA.

On the runway far down below, passenger jets loft themselves majestically into the air, as if by magic, and the sheer impossibility of such large, heavy objects doing such a thing, while still resolutely continuing to do so, over and over, is very soothing.

Katie lifts her phone here and there, and takes photos of herself, and of me, of our food, our drinks, the planes, the inexhaustible white of the pool deck and furniture and all, and I watch the runway and think empty thoughts.

Two women pose in the pool with the runways behind them, and a third woman takes a picture of them, while far away, a black plume of smoke rises from a burning fuselage which has been lit on fire, we are told by the softly murmuring management, “as a training exercise."

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Revel-ry

It hardly bears mentioning that Brooklyn streets are made mostly of cracks, holes, bumps, and rage. Even on quiet Sunday streets, stealthy potholes and greedy seams lie in wait to rattle the teeth of an electric scooter driver and his passenger as they scoot around town on his birthday adventures.

But as we come around this particular corner toward Greenwood Cemetery, we find ourselves on virgin asphalt, seemingly laid this morning and smooth as the sea before God moved across the face of the waters. Trees interlace above our heads, creating a bower of green, and we sail beneath them, cool breeze in our faces, and Katie says, “Oh, this is nice."

A Rainbow In The Dark

The storm is kicking up dirt and dust, whirling little cyclones across the street as I’m getting ready to leave, but it’s not until I unlock my bike that it really starts to rain.

It falls with varying degrees of malice almost all the way home, but I push myself to outrun the giant tumbles of dark grey crowds looming overhead.

I make it to my apartment, only to find that I’ve left the wall of gloom behind, and a rainbow glitters in the dark above eastern Brooklyn.

When I take a shower, it’s fully thirty seconds before the water runs clear from all the dirt on me.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Maybe A Little Sullen

“May I please speak with Cindy?” says the pleasant voice on the other end of the line at my temp gig at the doctor’s office.

“Cindy’s actually out, so I’m working with Janice today,” I reply.

“Oh, you’re working with her? Bless you, she is something else,” she says.

Presidential

“Oh my God, just shut up!” I yell at the TV as Gillibrand talks over yet another person on the Democratic debate stage, and instantly feel a little weird.

“She’s your senator!” Katie says admonishingly, and I stop to take stock - is it because Gillibrand is a woman?

“I wonder why I’m so irritated at Gillibrand, but not at Kamala Harris?” I say, after thinking about it.

“It’s because Harris is acting presidential, and Gillibrand is just shouting,” Katie says.


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Bless

She doesn’t have a German accent, but her name is pretty German, and when I ask her for her insurance card, she smiles in a slightly condescending, very German way.

“You probably don’t accept it,” she says straightforwardly - not like she’s happy to be superior, but that’s just the way things are.

“Well, let’s take a look,” I reply.

Sure enough, the card, entirely in German, is for a public health care system we can only dream about in the states, and when I read the title on the card (“Gesundheitskarte”) I absentmindedly say “Bless you,” and that makes her smile for real this time.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Demons In Your Brain

I’m waiting outside for Katie when the large woman with too many grocery bags walks by scowling.

“Get the fuck away from my head!” she suddenly shouts as she passes.

I very carefully do not move, and watch her in the reflection of the shop window until she is out of range.

I know you are going through something terrible, I think to myself, but you can’t go around scaring people like that.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Hebrews 12:6

The air smells like the insides of plants, like the color green, like the earth gave a relieved exhalation after holding its breath for an entire winter.

We climb up and down on unmarked trails through the park until we come to the main path and a set of stone stairs, where we find, midway down, an earthworm undulating his way across the step from one side of, presumably, inferior soil and decaying matter, towards the other, obviously superior soil and decaying matter on the other side.

We sit down on the step and stand guard so no one steps on him as he ripples across the granite, until finally, after almost falling off the step entirely, he stops beneath a thin layer of leaves as if he has reached his destination, though he is several inches from a thick delicious pile of loam and decaying leaves.

I reach down and pluck the leaf from on top of him, exposing him to the light, and there is a delayed reaction before he adjusts to the reality that he is not yet where he needs to be and starts moving again towards the goal.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Two Sides

He’s wearing a camouflage “Fox NEWS” baseball cap, and the woman with him (presumably his wife) is wearing a t-shirt that reads, “American Branches...” (this over a silhouette of a tree made of an American flag) “...Norwegian Roots” (this over a silhouette of the same tree’s roots made of a Norwegian flag). I can instantly read all the dog whistles and overt symbols, and recognize that these people are likely right-wingers, and my hackles instantly stand up.

Flashback to about an hour before this: A woman walking past is jokingly asked if she owns the illegally parked car with American flags draped all over it, and she answers, in the poshest of British accents, “Certainly not with all those flags on it.”

I instantly feel a defensive patriotic reaction, like who the hell does this woman think she is?

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Calves

The guy in front of me is on a fixie - a fixed, single-gear bicycle - and I’m definitely faster than him on these downhills. I can tell because I keep having to hit my brakes so I don’t pass him, since the bike path is kind of narrow and busy, and passing isn’t super safe right now.

Then we both turn the corner to head south on Vanderbilt, and there’s this long uphill, and the wind is no longer at our backs, and I suddenly notice that this guy’s calves are really cut, like really defined?

And I’m watching him just sort of get smaller and smaller ahead of me, until he passes through the upcoming intersection a good half-block before I get there, and I miss the light, and he’s gone.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Sunshower

By the time I get to my stop, the early-morning storm that flooded the streets and soaked my clothes despite my umbrella has abated somewhat. The steady rain that has replaced the deluge continues, but then something strange happens.

The sun comes out - not a lightening of the sky after dark clouds have passed, but the actual sun just above a swift scudding dark gray cloud line that roils over the park while behind me the wind tears the clouds into tatters. The sun is full-on shining through the rain so brightly that nobody seems to know whether they should keep their umbrellas up, and some people are getting drenched while they squint upwards in confusion at an uncertain blue sky that makes no sense at all.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Foggy Night

After the rainstorm, we go for a walk in the park, through air so thick it feels like you could grab handfuls of it and shove them in your mouth, and they’d be chewy. It’s not for breathing, this air, it’s for drinking.

Invisible runners plash on the asphalt as they come up from behind, and their footfalls recede into leafy darkness. The humid air somehow limits the reach of the streetlights, turning every pool of illumination into a little respite in what is otherwise impenetrable cloud.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Times Change

When I’d walk through Washington Square Park in the 90s, the dealers always seemed to know me, and they’d indicate the availability of their wares with a discrete “Trees, smoke, trees, smoke” like a Giger counter ticking more and more quickly as I approached and slowing and fading as they receded in the distance.

Today, as I’m walking down Broadway, a dreadlocked man breaks away from his conversation without looking at me and gives a casual, “Edibles.” as I pass, then goes back to laughing with his friend.

A few blocks later, I walk through NYU, under trees overhanging the sidewalk with long, rain-heavy limbs. The sounds of the city are muted, and I try to listen to the quiet before it’s gone.

Give Until It Hurts

“It feels like the worse things get, the better the good people get,” I say as our train passes over the bridge.

“Well, there’s just more separation,” Katie replies. “I was going to give this homeless guy sleeping on the train ten bucks, since it was all I had.”

“But then he started masturbating,” she continues.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Tempus Fugit

I look up from the magazine I’m reading at the touch of rain drops on my forearms. The sky is darker than the reflected light from the page, and my vision goes hazy around the edges as my eyes adjust.

This is what I imagine my vision might be like when I’m older, say, forty or fifty years in the future, and I look around, sort of taking it in; the details and the lack of details, the way the colors stand out against the dark.

A voice in my head, kind of resigned and longing, says, “Oh, It’ll all go so fast!”

Pivot!

At the top of the stairs, I grab the set of shelves we’ve been hauling up to our apartment and lift it out of Katie’s hands to pivot it onto the landing.

She looks up at me in mild exasperation. “You don’t have to do it all yourself,” she says.

“You’re right,” I say, after all the excuses have filed unspoken through my head and I’m left just with my pride.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Hebrews 13:2

We make eye contact as he’s coming down the aisle, and he comes straight into the booth and starts looking at Katie’s work.

It’s been a bit slow, so I’m glad for the business, but some things come to my attention that give me pause. One, he’s extraordinarily tan - every inch of his exposed skin is that particular shade of leather red that indicates excessive sun exposure over a long period of time on a white dude; two, he’s carrying a rolled up sleeping bag strapped to his back and nothing else - no backpack, no fanny back, none of the usual accouterments of the tourist or tech bro that frequents this side of town; and three, he kind of smells like he hasn’t showered in a while - not excessively so, but my nose is pretty sensitive these days, so I could tell.

On the other hand, his shoes were clean and looked pretty new, and his eyes seemed intelligent and mildly interested without looking fanatical or deranged, so I just say, “Hey there, how are you?” and he looks up from the piece he’s holding and smiles.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Look Up

My usual lunch spot in the park is overrun with children today, so I find a nice park bench out of the way and sit, while the air behind me fills with their shouts and playful screaming. I don’t mind the screaming because they’re far enough way that it all sort of blends in together into a nice wash of sound.

I read through Twitter, click over to Facebook for a moment (only to quickly click away in bored horror), then realizing that the sky has gone a little dark, I put down my phone and look around me.

A bank of clouds has passed over the sun, and the sky has gone a pearly, diffuse gray, so I watch the trees and the clover-covered hillside I’m sitting on, thinking about trees sinking fingers deep into the earth while I eat a PB&J.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Perspective

The train car reeks of rotting vegetables, like depression and anxiety given a smell that permeates the air. I look around me in disbelief, since normally a smell this pervasive and high-toned will attract notice, but aside from the car being a little less crowded than usual, people just stay in their conversations and reading their newspapers like no one even smells it.

At the next stop, I flee the rampaging odor to the next car, where I find three young men shoveling what looks like rice and chicken and beans out of aluminum take out containers and into their faces. The smell of food, just normal take-out from some bodega, while usually unwelcome, smells like manna after the catastrophe in the other car, and I settle into a seat directly across from them with a smile and a sigh.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Fitness

I’m sitting on a park bench, staring up into the trees as the breeze riffles absentmindedly through the leaves. Periodically, shorts-clad fitness enthusiasts run through the plaza, or pause to do stretches at the foot of the Prison Ships Martyr’s monument, or push ups, or leg lifts.

Of course they do this on the plaza where underneath are interred the bones of literally over a hundred thousand people who died centuries ago, and of course everyone dies and no amount of stretches or running or breathing exercises or cold exposures or anything else is going to prevent that.

I had a point, but I guess I’ve already made it, so that’s the end of that.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Mobius Train

The subway running parallel to us on the bridge goes slightly faster than we do, and the windows slowly cycle past us.

No one in the other car looks up this time, so I watch the riders in the other car in anonymity as they pass: readers, sleepers, people with headphones on, people standing and chatting like figures from a silent movie.

I get the peculiar feeling that I am outside the world, looking in, but that the train I’m looking into is actually my own, the one I’m in right now. For a brief vertiginous second, the universe twists around itself, and I am watching for my own eyes to meet mine, peering out from the train, watching for me.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Leafy Privilege

The tree in front of the church isn’t dead yet, but it’s certainly not looking in the bloom of youth. Its leaves are thin and sparse, its branches stark and spindly against the streetlights, and even in the fog that sits on Brooklyn like a wet blanket tonight, ribboned plastic bags snarled in the limbs stir in invisible breezes like ghosts floating through the aether.

But the bags get me thinking, so I start to look for them in the other, healthier trees as I walk down the street through the mist, and I notice: the healthier trees are lush with leaves, thick and robust of limb, and free of bags, completely.

I wonder, do the healthy trees have something that allows them to free themselves of the errant plastic bags that still litter the streets, or are they healthy because they are free of plastic bags?

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Helpful

The synthesizers at the expo are laid out on the tables like every kid's dream of Christmas, with blinking, cheerful lights and fun little screens, but this particular one I'm playing with is really giving me trouble. I feel the anxiety mounting in me as I twiddle knobs and plug in routers and push buttons, only to be rewarded with ugly, rasping electric howls or (worse) utter silence.

Finally, I turn to the guy in the cool black t-shirt with the fashionable mustache and the slightly bored expression and say, "Hey, I'm not really sure how this works."

His bored expression disappears at the prospect of talking about something he loves, and his eyes light up as he comes over and says, "Yeah, actually it's really fun!"

The Peace In-Between

The L train is notoriously unreliable on the weekends, so, with a feeling of almost reckless abandon, I walk past the subway station and down 8th Avenue to 14th Street to take the crosstown bus.

Once onboard I notice at once the disadvantages: the train is two stops, but with traffic, stoplights, and people getting on and off, we crawl along the surface while I imagine beneath us the subways hurtling through the darkness at double speed.

But after my initial impatience passes, something else happens, and the slower pace begins to feel more civilized. I find myself enjoying the lights of the shops, the couples strolling down the sidewalks, the black and yellow cabs weaving in and out of traffic like sharks, and I feel much more connected to my city than down in her guts, shuttling along, blindly worming through the city without going through the places in-between.

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Silent Treatment

It’s not the same squirrel; it couldn’t possibly be the same squirrel, in a different part of the park, in a park with hundreds (maybe thousands) of squirrels, there is no way that this squirrel sitting on his haunches by the path, munching away on something in his paws, is the same squirrel as the one I talked to the other day.

Still, as I’m walking by, I say, “I dropped an apple core by one of the trees back there. I bet if you’re quick, you can get it before anybody else.”

He doesn’t make eye contact, and he doesn’t stop munching, even when I pass within a couple of feet of him - he just stares stonily ahead like I’m not even there.

Desert Lessons

The top floor of this building where I’m delivering a check seems to have been designed as an afterthought, like a greenhouse plopped atop a normal building.

It’s as hot as a greenhouse, too, especially today, with the sun beating down through the glass walls while I sweat, waiting for an elevator.

The woman waiting with me sees me take a drink from the water bottle hanging off my bag and remarks, “Ah, smart.”

“I grew up in a desert,” I say, “you always carry water."

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Don’t Call Me Buddy, Pal

The park is cool in the shade, and I’m reading and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when I feel eyes on me.

I look and, standing on the bench, about a foot from my hand, is a squirrel with a slightly ratty tail and an absolute absence of fear.

“Buddy, this isn’t for you,” I say, as kindly as I can, not wanting to violate his trust by shouting, but of course all he recognizes is tone, so he takes it as an invitation to come closer.

“Listen to me, man, I’m not giving you any, so you gotta get outta here,” I say a little more forcefully, gesturing sort of generally out to the rest of the park, but he just cocks his head, lifts up one paw as if to move even closer, and chitters quietly at me, like we’re having a mild disagreement and he just needs to convince of the reasonableness of his position before he can take possession of my sandwich.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Etiquette

The new subway poles sprout singly from the floor until about halfway up, where they split in two, only to rejoin at the top. This creates twice as many places to hold onto for standing commuters in crowded trains, while taking up less space than two poles.

Except for this guy, who gets on the train and, instead of just leaning on the pole (a cardinal sin in subway etiquette in any case), loops his arm through the duo pole and then leans against both poles, including the one onto which I’m holding.

I try to control my breathing, try not to hate this small, balding, man as he scrolls through his phone, but I do shift my hand so that my (extremely hard and pointy) knuckle digs into his shoulder, and he stands up, startled, while I am suddenly very interested by the subway ad directly above his head.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Three’s Company

The three boisterous ladies are almost out the door of the doctor’s office when one of them stops with her hand on the door, holding it just before it closes all the way.

I can hear her out in the hall as she starts to hum in a rough voice, a tune that I almost recognize, then she sings it, “Da-da-dada-da-daaahhh..., how’s that song go..., ‘Come and knock on our doooor....’”

“That’s who you look like!” she suddenly shouts in triumph, opening the door all the way and pointing at me. “Jack Tripper!"

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Caught

The tall, well-built, handsome man turns around and signs “I love you” while mouthing the words to his wife and baby before walking away. The three women working the booths around ours follow him with starry-eyes and then turn to each other.

“Oh my god, did you see him, I was just....,” one of them starts.

“Ladies, ladies,” I say, mock-reprovingly, and they all start to giggle.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Bringing People Together

“I used to have these framed butterflies, they were called ‘Butterflies of Peru’,” one of the women says. “But I want to replace it because I gave it to my best friend.”

Her friend looks up with tears in her eyes from where she’s perusing some of Katie’s sculptures and the woman says, looking at her, “Yeah, because they’re that special to me, I wanted you to have them.”

Now they’re both crying a little, and hugging in my booth, and I guess I must have gotten a little something in my eye, because I’m tearing up a little too.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Eye In The Sky

He's two park benches away, his shirt off, nonchalantly reading a book in one hand with his other arm draped casually over the back of the bench, his dark brown skin gleaming in the sun.

She sits next to him, one bench over, clearly with him but completely different in attitude: her face a screwed-up mask of grief, her shoulders slumped, hands holding her head like she’s keeping it from bursting, or shattering.

He tries to ignore her as she starts to cry, her angry, accusatory tears ripping out of her in hacking sobs, but finally he concedes to whatever trauma she’s going through with a perfunctory, “Shhh, sh.”

After I finish lunch, I walk to the center of the plaza that the benches frame, and look up at the huge column that is the focal point of the park, and there, many stories above, perched on top, is a bird that I can clearly make out to be a hawk, its stooped shoulders brooding over the unknowable dramas far below.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Line of Sight

If you look down the length of the subway car, you can see through a window in the door into the next car, and so on down the line, a series of long rooms lit in yellow light filled with bored looking people sitting on opposite walls and standing holding shiny metal poles to keep from falling down.

I’m watching a woman in the next car read a book. She’s got short hair and is stylishly dressed, and I wonder what I would look like were she to look up and see me seeing her.

The train goes around a curve, and my line of sight down the cars bends away, leaving only my reflection in the window to swim from the shadows into view.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Let Them Fight

The squirrels are particularly assertive in their demands for treats as I sit on my park bench and eat lunch today, and they only retreat after I repeatedly, but politely, insist that my peanut butter and jelly sandwich is not for them. 

Then comes the toddler, rolling across the plaza like a miniature kaiju, roaring out his miniature toddler roar, chasing the nonplussed squirrels past the line of benches to the trees beyond, while his father, following at respectful distance, notices me watching.

“A squirrel scared him the other day,” he explains in a soft Caribbean accent, “so now he thinks his yell chases them away.”

“I mean, he might be right,” I say admiringly, as the toddler circles a tree while a squirrel looks down at him in confusion from its branches.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Measuring the Sea

The rain really picks up during my walk from the subway home, complete with dramatic flashes of lightning shattering the night and deep-throated grumbles of thunder rolling across the sky. After I make it home, I check the weather channel online, I suppose to find out just how objectively bad the storm I just walked through was, only to discover warnings of wind speeds “upwards of 30 knots."

“Did you know that a nautical mile is longer than an actual mile?” I ask Katie as I look up from the Wikipedia article.

“Are they measuring the crests of the waves, too?” she replies.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Happy to Help

Katie’s booth at the market is an oasis: a green carpet resembling grass, vines and flowers intertwined through and around the shelves, the shelves themselves thronged with beautiful butterflies in elegant glass, so it doesn’t surprise me much when our friend who works at a different booth comes in during a slow time of a hard day and, with a deep sigh, sits down on the carpet behind me.

“You know one of my favorite places to sit on the floor when I was growing up?” I say as she calms down a little in the sunbeam. “The kitchen.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve felt comfortable sitting down on the floor,” she says, a little sadly, and I nod.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Appropriate

The hot, sunny day curdled into in a drenching rainstorm, leaving a thin film of humidity over everything as I walk home from the subway.

As I cross the street, a car waiting to turn edges closer to the crosswalk, and I hear, from inside the car, a woman’s voice shout, “Fucking move!”

I neither quicken nor slow my pace, but continue to the curb, and as soon as I’m out of the crosswalk, the car roars through, with some further choice words I can’t make out and a cackling laugh from the passenger side.

They speed to the next stoplight, only to get stuck behind a garbage truck, and I smile.

Unsolicited Advice

“Yeah, I can’t really take credit for any of this,” I say, indicating all of Katie’s sculpture art in the booth, “since my wife makes all of it.”

“You’re a lucky man,” the guy replies.

“You know,” I say, and something in my tone makes him look up at me, so now we’re eye to eye, “the secret to being lucky is knowing that you’re lucky.”

He takes this in, then says, as he walks away, “I’ll keep that in mind."

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Little Drunk People

The play date seems to be going well, until the mothers decide it’s time to go. They call their respective toddlers, and while the little girl toddles dutifully back, the little boy, on being called, takes one look over his shoulder at his imploring mother, and then takes off in the opposite direction with a determined waddle.

He’s in no real danger, and he can’t go very fast, but his mother, clearly having gone through this bit a fair number of times, watches him wander like a drunk person over the grass with a resigned look in her eyes.

“Um,” says the other mother tentatively as the boy totters over to a tree and leans on it with both hands like he’s trying to push it over, “have you thought about maybe giving him a bribe?"

Friday, May 24, 2019

Attention Must Be Paid

The three girls get on the train in full voice, joking, talking trash, taking up all the air in the car. The doors shut, and one of them shouts, “What time is it? Showtime!” and her friends laugh, they’re not really doing Showtime, but the rest of the train ignores them, and this simply will not do.

She steps to the aisle, turns to her friend, and as she starts to do a little shuffle, says, “Clap or something, girl."

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A Nice Day For a Picnic

A mob of very young school children, thirty or forty at least, herded by a train of attending adults, come into the park while I’m eating lunch. Their semi-tidy line, a convoy of big heads all about the same height on top of small, compact little bodies, collapses into small pods of children as the adults lay out blankets for a picnic on the grass under the trees.

Periodically, one of the children will stand and revolve over to another pod, where he or she will talk to an adult, or to another child in tiny, piping voices that I can’t really hear except as a high countermelody above the burble of noise in the park, and then yet another child will stand and move to yet another pod, like some diagram of an obscure chemical process, ions and protons exchanging their orbits in a lovely, burbling dance.

I watch the groups shift and the adults try to keep track as the children wander here and there, beneath the trees, on the grass, under a blue sky, the bright sun shining down, and a pleasurable pressure builds up just behind my eyes; I take it all in, and sigh.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Helping the Lost

There’s only one turnstile at this subway entrance, and this woman’s inability to figure out how to swipe her MetroCard through the reader has caused a serious line to form behind her.

Finally, the green “Go” sign lights up, but then she pushes the turnstile around without going through it, and everyone in the line groans.

The woman behind her walks her to one side, gently explaining her mistake, and then goes through, seemingly leaving the woman stranded outside the subway.

But then she comes around to the fire exit door, slams her hip into the bar, and lets the woman in with a grim smile, leaving before the woman can thank her.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Witchy

I’m exhausted from a long night and an early morning, sitting at the front desk of the doctor’s office.

“Okay, if you could just fill out these forms, three pages, make sure you fill in every line, sign the third page...,” I say to the patient in front of me, when I sense the woman I work with behind me.

“Hey little boy, want some candy?” she says in a witchy voice, then cackles at her own joke as she puts three small pieces of chocolate next to me.

“You know that got creepy, right?” I interrupt myself to say to her, which brings on another fit of cackling.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Ah, Youth

The two kids behind the counter at the Uhaul are flirting pretty hard, and they don’t care who sees.

When he asks to borrow her scanner to complete my transaction, she hands it to him with a wicked smile and a saucy, “Tap it.”

This gets a big, knowing laugh from him, and then he shakes his head and sings quietly, in a thick Caribbean accent, “Me ‘fraid the pussy bite me.”

Now they’re both laughing, totally in their own world, and I just stand, smiling, pretending I don’t know what’s going on, happy just to see them enjoying themselves, each other, their youth.

Sarcasm is Impolite, But Appropirate

“So a lot of the problems between, say, the Hutus and the Tutsis, I mean, it would be ahistorical to not see how that came from colonialism, so a lot of the racism in specifically Africa supports and comes from white supremacy,” I say to Katie as she’s getting ready for bed. “Anyway,” I sigh, “it’s complicated.”

“Oh, wait,” Katie says from the bathroom as she pretends to take notes on her hand, “you say racism is complicated?”

I laugh as she continues, still pretending to write, “I just want to make sure I get all this."

Friday, May 17, 2019

They Can’t All Be Deep

After several weeks of eating lunch in a sort-of park (really more a patch of grass with some public art and a couple of benches) that took almost fifteen minutes to walk to from my work, today I ate lunch in Fort Greene Park, which is a real-ass park, with hills and paths and trees and lots of grass and a graceful, tall memorial to the Prison Ships Martyrs. It was less than five minutes away.

I climbed up some stone steps and followed a coarsely graveled concrete path to a bench where I sat and ate a sandwich while, far below, the Mr. Softee ice-cream truck played it’s cheerful, incessant song over and over.

I was reading while I ate, so it took me a while to notice that I had dripped a little bit of food on my pants; then it started to rain.


Not Talking to Me

The grocery store doesn’t seem to have the brand of turkey dogs that Katie likes, but I’m lingering by the packaged meats section, hoping they’ll magically materialize. 

“Disgusting,” a low voice behind me says, and I turn to see an older black woman watching me with a sour look. “All this meat, don’t even know what’s in it, killing things, chemicals, disgusting.”

I consider engaging, but after a moment’s thought decide that she wouldn’t care if I was a vegetarian even if she knew, and so I retreat into the white New Yorker’s standard gambit of “they must be talking to someone else."

Thursday, May 16, 2019

New Panhandling Technique

We’re standing on the corner after the play, chatting away about nothing, just enjoying one another, when a skinny man in a navy blue hoodie walks up

He asks for change, we don’t have any, but instead of that being the end of it, he gets agitated and starts saying he “won’t take no for an answer.”

Now this kind of bullshit may work on the tourists, but we’ve been here a while, so it goes back and forth for a minute until finally, Katie steps forward and says, in her most serious Katie voice, “We don’t have anything to give you.”

Something snaps in his eyes, he says, “I give up,” and he’s walks into the crosswalk and lies down in the middle of the intersection; an SUV drives up, honks, and then goes around his prone form.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Not Much of a Mystery

“I think there must be something going on with eggs right now,” I tell Katie. “A dozen are ninety-nine cents.”

She agrees this is amazing and goes online to find out why, finding articles from 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2018, all of them positing different reasons for the price of eggs, but this doesn’t satisfy her, so she goes quiet for a while, reading.

“There are just a lot of eggs,” she finally says after a few minutes, with a note of disappointment. 


Monday, May 13, 2019

Getting My Steps In

I can take the stairs up to my current temp job, nine floors.

At about floor four, I’m starting to breathe a little harder, but by floor eight my legs are burning and I’m really huffing.

I reach the ninth floor, pushing the pace as much as I can, get to my little reception desk, and have a seat. I can see the rainy day descending out the office window, while I sit at the desk, legs throbbing pleasantly from the exertion, and my anxiety has mostly disappeared.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Mother’s Blessing

“I often think back to that conversation we had, years ago, when you first met Katie,” my mother says. “You asked me, ‘Don’t I deserve to be happy?’ and I said yes, you did.”

“And now I am,” I say.

“I’m so glad you found someone who makes you happy,” she says.

Escape

A minor back injury, not serious, but painful, makes this shift at my friend Dan's booth selling vintage toys seem a lot longer than it is, and standing on my feet all day is not helping anything. Finally, I take his advice and have a seat for a few minutes, just to rest, but something in my expression must have shown my frustration, because one of the other vendors (a bit of a joker) walks over with a serious look on his face.

“Are you in debt to Dan or something? ‘Cause if you are, say the word, I'll give my people a call and we’ll get you out of here."

Hard to Tell

Bill takes out the garbage for my apartment building, like a super, except that’s all he does in that capacity: he takes out the garbage and nothing else.

“I like to play this game when I go out to bars,” he tells me as he’s hauling the trash to the curb. “I tell the bouncer, ‘If I'm less than twenty years older than you, I’ll pay double, but,” he stops and puts up his hand, like he’s swearing an oath, "if I’m right, and I’m twenty years older than you, or more, then I don’t pay to get in.”

He looks pretty good for his age, dark hair, no grays, sort of indeterminate Mediterranean face that looks kinda old starting in their mid-thirties and just settles into that, so I tell him, “I bet you win that game a lot."

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Object of Discourse

I’m standing by the window, looking out on a gray and gloomy day, when Katie comes up behind me.

With an audible gasp, she grabs the back of my head and points my face towards a beautiful dog walking across the street.

“One day, you’re going to break my neck doing that,” I tell her, laughing.

“Listen, my elbow hurts, which is clearly what we should be talking about,” she replies.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

We Cinephiles

“What movie you going to see tonight?” my co-worker asks.

“We’re going to go see the new Avengers movie,” I reply happily.

“Ooooh, some of the women get special five dollar tickets to see things and they went and saw Avengers and they said it was so good,” she says. “Y’all see Deadpool?"

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Eye Contact

The heat in the sauna is enveloping and invasive: I can feel the hot air sinking deep into my lungs with every slow breath as my body struggles to raise and lower my chest against the weight of it.

A couple, a man and a woman, come in quietly and lay down at the other end of the room, but the constant proximity of near naked bodies at the spa today has made me very careful to keep myself to myself, so I say nothing and continue my slow, soporific descent into the center of the heat.

At last I’ve had enough, and I get up to make my retreat to the relative coolness of the hall outside, but as I do, I notice, out of the corner of my eye, the woman of the couple is lying down, face up, and is staring at me.

I do not make eye contact, and I do not pause, I simply pick up my towel, and exit.

Sunshine

I pop on my sunglasses right before I leave the house, but I can still feel the sun peeking around the edges, reaching around the frames to tickle my irises. After yesterday’s rain, the sky shines blue, and the air smells clean, and the dogs are leading their people around by the leash, and it’s just wonderful.

I’m running a few minutes late, though, so I hustle across the street to the shady side and begin my quick walk to the subway. In my hustle, I start to think about the woman who was mean to me last week at my temp job, the dozens of people who come in, demanding things of me, and I get so worked up over stuff that hasn’t happened yet that I almost forgot what a lovely day it is, when I walk around the last corner before the subway, only to be struck full in the face by more sunshine, and suddenly I’m back in my body, back in the here and now, ready to love the day as it is, grateful to be alive.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Margaritas and Memories

Mezcal is my preferred liquor for making margaritas - the smokiness of it, along with a smooth sweetness, just turns an ordinary drink into something more.

I’ve finished making guacamole, figuring we’d use the Cinco de Mayo nonsense as a nice excuse to cook food and make drinks that we love, and I take a long sip of my margarita. None of that sour mix garbage for us - margaritas in this house consist of fresh squeezed limes, agave syrup, and mezcal.

I inhale the scent of smoke before I taste anything else: it reminds me of pipe smoke, of campfires in the desert, of a sunset over saguaro, looking down from a high place as the rocks cool in the dusk, and the burning sky goes dark and fills with stars.

Taking Out the Garbage

I hoist my bike down the stoop and spend a moment adjusting my clothes and backpack for riding. The garbage and recycling bags I left out last night for pickup are where I left them, getting wet in the morning rain.

But lurking down every side street and idling at every street corner, the garbage trucks are finishing up their rounds, and I guess they just haven’t gotten to our house yet. One stops by the curb in the middle of the block, taking up the bike lane, and I ride in a wide arc around it, carefully checking behind me for overtaking traffic, only to see a good half-dozen other garbage trucks, circling the blocks like sharks.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Completing the Circle

On the way home from the store, we see, coming down the street, a former roommate of ours who, it turns out, has moved away and had only literally that moment arrived in town to pick up a few things, so it was a bit of a strange coincidence, running into her, and we marvel a bit over the odds.

Now this woman, when she lived with us, many years ago, was getting over her coke addiction, drank all our booze, and finally moved out under very strained circumstances, but she’s in recovery, paid us back for the booze, seems to be doing all right, and always comes into our lives at the most bizarrely opportune times - today, for example, we were cleaning the house in preparation for a possible new roommate - so it just seemed appropriate to see her.

“We’re just those people for you, I guess,” I say to her, hoping she’ll get what I mean, even if I’m not sure myself.

“You really are,” she says, hugging me goodbye.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Quick Trip to the Store

I take the stairs down from our apartment quickly thump-thump-thump-thump and out onto the street, down the street, chillier than it was earlier today, to the grocery store. Two ladies stare at the strawberries and pistachios as if they’re about to genuflect, but I don’t have time for their rapture, so I hurry between them to the produce aisle and my goal: tomatoes.

Ninety-nine cents a pound for beautiful, red, oblong plum tomatoes! I grab two and zip over to the self-checkout, where I use my bank card to pay thirty-nine sense for these lovelies, and ignore the bags and carry them home in my hands.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Maybe They Hear Us

We’re at the movies, watching a film of a live performance of the musical 42nd Street (is that complicated enough?). It’s a riot of color and movement, sound and vision, with smiling, beautiful people soaring across the screen dozens of feet high and luminous, and after every spangled, full-bore, blow-out of a number, many people in the audience applaud, including Katie, even though I can’t quite bring myself to clap for performers I know can’t hear me.

When I apologetically mention this to Katie (since I don’t want to shit all over anybody’s good time), she says, “Oh, I can’t help it. I’m like the dog in the car that walks back and forth thinking he’s making the car go."

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Truing the Wheel

After reading the internet about truing my badly dented wheel, and several attempts to tighten the spokes on the front wheel of my bicycle using a pair of needle nose pliers, I finally start looking for a real spoke wrench on Amazon - eight bucks.

“The bike shop is right down the street though,” Katie says as she grabs a drill from her studio.

“You mean I should probably have it done right for a little more?” I ask.

“Probably?” she says, heading back to the kitchen.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Boundaries

Katie and I stand in the aisle of the bus back from the airport, swaying and rocking back and forth as the bus weaves in and out of traffic through the construction zones that seem to have always surrounded La Guardia.

Katie catches my eye and raises her eyebrows, then looks down behind me, and I follow her gaze to the very openly displayed phone of the gentleman sitting in front of me, where he is sifting through some text messages I can’t read. I get the gist of things, though, from the several prominent, racy photos of a dude’s butt that the guy keeps opening to examine in greater detail.

“Well, if he wants to make it everybody’s business,” I sigh, and Katie shrugs like what are you gonna do?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Survival

“They’ve got something they’re calling a cancer survivor’s garden,” I tell Katie as we walk through the park towards the sky swallowing vastness of Lake Michigan. We agree it’s probably just got a bunch of bored cancer survivors standing around on display, wondering when they can leave.

“Do you think there’s a disease out there that’s as deadly as cancer, but it doesn’t get as much attention when it’s diagnosed?” Katie asks.

“Heart disease?” I venture.

That We Know Of

The woman working this booth, clearly done with the small red-headed child’s questions, smiles in relief as Katie and I come into the booth. “Well, here’s your mom,” she says.

“Oh, he’s not mine,” Katie says.

“He’s not?” she replies, looking with confusion between Katie’s red hair and the child’s.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Demise of the City Is Greatly Exaggerated

The Chicago River glitters green in the morning sun as we walk along its banks, but for some reason I feel melancholy.

“There’s all these tie-ups, and all these former factories on the river, but the river itself is empty, and the factories are all restaurants and condos,” I say.

“I see those tie-ups as potential,” she replies thoughtfully. “It’s cold right now, but soon this river is going to be full of people on their boats, cruising around, spending money, because Chicago summers are awesome!”

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Mrs. O’Leary’s Legacy

Katie pivots to look up and down the alley outside the bar we’ve just left. “The great thing about Chicago,” she says, glancing down at her phone, “is that cow burned the whole thing down, so they rebuilt it to be a grid.”

The alcohol swirling around in my head forces me to take a moment to process what she just said until it comes true. “I thought you were talking about that woman that kept bumping into you in the bar just now,” I say, laughing.

The Boy In The Bubble

The kids, around a dozen of them, are draped artfully over and around the Citibike stand at the end of the block. I watch them laughing, shouting at each other, tugging at the docked bikes, trying on various attitudes of cool, or sexy, and then forgetting and throwing their heads back to scream or suddenly staring off into the distance with a look of intense concentration.

I have my headphones on, listening to music, the beats rattling around the inside of my skull to make their own, larger space between my ears, and I walk within a few feet of the kids. For some reason I feel very vulnerable but the magic bubble of sound I carry in my pocket buoys me right past them, as if I’m floating several feet overhead, even as one of them shouts something at me I can’t quite hear.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Danger: Falling Kites

The dad of this seemingly enormous brood of children has taken over the kite from one of his boys, and has managed to get it pretty high up into the swiftly shifting blue and gray spring sky. He pulls it in a little then lets out more string, sailing it further and further up.

Finally he hands it over to one of his children, the child inexpertly yanks the string, and the kite promptly nosedives, crashing hard and fast into a (now rather annoyed) couple sitting on a hill nearby.

“Let’s go sit over there,” Katie says casually, pointing to a spot well away from the fallen toy as the family rush over to the couple, shouting their apologies.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Refused

At the doctor’s office where I work, women with children often bring strollers in to their appointments, since they’re still taking care of kids, and childcare doesn’t allow for sick days, but this woman with a stroller doesn’t seem to have an appointment.

“Is there a drinking fountain in this office?” she asks, and since I’m a temp, and since I don’t know what the policy is, I head to the back to talk to my boss, my first impulse being just to give the lady some water from the employee water-cooler in the back.

“Nah, we don’t do that,” my boss says, shaking her head, her lips pursed.

I go back to the woman with the stroller and regretfully inform her, expecting some kind of pushback, but as soon as she hears she heads out the door without a word, or even lifting her eyes, as if she expected nothing better from anyone.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Puddle of Filth

The wind kicks up at my friend’s booth where I’m working today, and some pieces of paper blow into a brown, oily puddle. A passing tourist points out that the “paper” is, in fact, a little less than half of a burned hundred dollar bill, but she and I agree that it’s probably not worth getting dirty over, since it can’t even be cashed in.

An hour later, the wind kicks up again, blowing a couple of sheets of stickers into the puddle, and without even thinking I grab it and instantly regret it.

“Oh great, now I have chlamydia,” I say

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Glitch In The Matrix

A man and his dogs pass us going the other way - two poodles, one brown, one black, the brown one shy and tentative, head down, stepping carefully and peering around with each step.

Afterwards, much further up the block, Katie and I stop to admire the blooming magnolias in front of a stately old brownstone until Katie punches me in the arm.

I turn to follow her gaze, and there, coming up from the same direction we’re headed, are the same dogs with the same man, same tentative brown one, none of them acknowledging that we just saw them walking away from us a good five minutes ago.

“I would like to know what route got them here,” Katie says, watching them as they pass us again.

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.