Saturday, September 5, 2020

Hiding the Smells

“Does it smell like... perfume to you guys?” our downstairs neighbor asks as we meet downstairs to put the trash on the curb.

I inhale deeply. “Yeah, sorta?”

“I think [our landlord] sprayed deodorant down here to cover the smell of the garbage,” she says ruefully.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

What I’ve Been Thinking About Today (from an email to a friend)

"Business is slow, but picking up gradually. 

I often come home too tired to work on music or write, as it’s physically and emotionally pretty demanding (selling involves being ON the entire time, and there’s quite a bit of running about fetching shoes, putting shoes back, standing up to go to the mirror with her to look at the shoes, sitting down to try on more shoes, getting different sized shoes, moving the bins of shoes to a different place to make room for more shoes, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum, ad absurdum). I am, for obvious reasons, reminded of Rimbaud, though I would not say my earlier work showed as much promise, or that my diminished artistic output is quite as much of a loss. 

I feel lucky to have a job, and [the company] is honestly quite excellent - they’ve turned their offices into voter registration hubs, publicly and vocally support Black Lives Matter despite (or perhaps because of) substantial looting of stores during the recent protests as well as making some pretty dramatic structural changes to increase equality among employees and management, and paid for all furloughed employees health insurance for the duration."

Delight

The customer I sold a pair designer rainboots to last week texts me a video of her receiving them and unboxing. There’s the lifting of the lid and rustling of tissue paper, and then she squeals in delight as the well-made, very attractively designed boots are revealed.

I watch it three times in a row and then text her back. “Your sounds of delight truly made my day,” I write.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Surprising Indifference

“Oh my God,” Katie says, stopping suddenly in the middle of the sidewalk. “What is that?”

“That” is an enormous spider, posed very photogenically in the center of exactly what you would think of if somebody asked you to picture a spiderweb with an enormous, spooky spider in the middle.

We take some pictures of it, but I am surprised how few other people want to see the very large spider sitting in the middle of her web.

Monday, August 31, 2020

If You HAVE To

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

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

Unseasonably Cool

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

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

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

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Inflection

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

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

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

Friday, August 28, 2020

Lowered Expectations

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

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

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

Plot Twist!

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

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


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Evening Commute

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Old Notebooks

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

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

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

Somebody Never Watched “Sound Of Music"

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

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

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

“Same difference."

Monday, August 24, 2020

Better Than Smart

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Shelter From The Storm

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

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


I Understand

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

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

Friday, August 21, 2020

Mechanical Animals

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

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

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Walk Away

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Guest

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

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

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

Monday, August 17, 2020

“Do You Want A Picture Together?"

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

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

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

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

How Much?

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Our Dog, The Gardener

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

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

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

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Wrong Word

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

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

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

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Searching

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

It Is At LEAST An Hour From BX to BK

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

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

Then Katie gets a text.

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

Arched

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

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

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

Monday, August 10, 2020

Smooth Jazz

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

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

“Me too.”

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

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Two Olivers

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

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

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

For Your Safety

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

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

“Why would I get sick?” she asks.

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

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Schadenfreude?

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

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

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

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Music Of Horror

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

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

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

“No, it scans."

Surrealist Maps

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

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Wind

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Non-Euclidian

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 3, 2020

Accusing Pout

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 2, 2020

A 2020 Horror Short

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

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

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Dan Brown Is Getting Lazy

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

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

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

Friday, July 31, 2020

Ferocious

I sit down outside the grocery store to wait for Katie next to the dog who is tied up out there, and the dog, smelling the two slices of pizza I'm carrying, becomes very friendly. 

His muzzle makes him less than effective at stealing slices, though, so we sit in companionable silence for a while, me scratching his ears and stroking his fur, and he seems content with that.

His owner comes out of the store after a bit and her expression seems mildly irritated to see the two of us, her dog and me, hanging out peacefully. 

"I suppose you didn't notice the muzzle," she asks sardonically, and I shrug and smile.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Not The Cute Side

I finish my phone call with my newly expatriate friend whose recent marriage allowed him to move to Italy, and go the to kitchen where Katie sits at the table, drinking her coffee.

"When are we moving to Europe?" I ask.

"As soon as we get wives," she says, looking up from her phone. "We can't even get to the cute side of Niagara, right now," she adds.


Behind The Mask

We’re getting a rundown of all the new items that will be available for fall at the store - it’s a lot of information, but I’m doing my best to take it all in.

Emily is describing the kids’ shoes that will be available (“walkers can have either flexible or non-flexible soles,” she tells us) when it suddenly occurs to me that we’re all wearing masks. Some are the masks issued by the store for us to wear, some are black or colorful masks from home, but as her mouth opens and closes to let the words come out all I can see are her eyes and the working of her jaw behind the cloth.

I think about veils, and burqas, and how quickly the strange and unusual becomes commonplace, boring even.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Heat Wave

“I hope you don’t mind,” my customer says. Her mask sucks against her nostrils and mouth as she breathes hard. “I think the heat got to me, and I just need to sit here for a minute.”

“You need me to get you some water?” I ask as gently as I can.

Time For More Fashion

"You seemed a little upset the other day," I tell my co-worker. "Everything work out?"

"What was I wearing?" she finally asks, after a moment's confusion. "I don't remember days, but I remember outfits."

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Making Noise

I put the saxophone down and listen to the playback. Later on, when Katie listens to it too, she says it has a real "Miami Vice vibe." I was going for more M83, but the drums sound like Nine Inch Nails.

The music and the thrill of making something still singing so loud in my head that I'm vibrating, I walk out of my room to the living room to lie on the couch, where my roommate looks up from the puzzle he's working on to smile and say, "Hello."

Turn To The Left

"So she bought an Alexander Wang tuxedo suit, and yeah, it's for a wedding thing and she loves it so I'm definitely keeping my mouth shut, but I think about the, like, whole consumerist thing and it bums me out a little," my friend behind the bar at work tells me.

"I get that," I reply, "but it's a lot easier to think about fashion, especially with the designer items that aren't covered in labels and stuff, as art."

"Yeah, I get that," he says.

"And since art is, in the end, a form of communication, the question then becomes, with fashion, what is being communicated?"

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Read The Room, Man

The subway car isn't empty, but it's about full for what ever passes for a normal Thursday night in pandemic-time. People are sitting appropriately distanced, and everybody is wearing masks.

An older gentleman (wearing a mask, thank god) steps on the train, and, unprovoked, sits down next to me, like that's something he can just do.

I don't look at him, I don't react verbally, I don't flinch, I just stand up and go sit in another part of the train, which he could have done, if he wasn't a socially clueless idiot.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Breathing Problems

"I'm so sorry to ask you, again," I say, using my best 'customer service voice' so that the emphasis only barely shows. "But, just for your own safety, could you please pull your mask up?"

The clearly buzzed woman who has been flitting around the sales floor with her mask around her neck like a not-very-attractive scarf looks at me balefully and then pulls it up over her face. "I have a hard time breathing when I wear it," she says petulantly, and I just nod and reply, "Uh-huh."

Monday, July 13, 2020

Oprah's Book Club Nominee (nonexistent category)

"Did you read 'The Lemonade Year'?" my manager asks me during a slow period at work

"No, who wrote it?" I reply.

He gives me a strange look, and then repeats himself, enunciating to be understood from under his mask, saying, "Have you tried the lemonade here?"

"Though, to be fair," he continues thoughtfully, "that does sound like a pretty good book."

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Nothing To Be Sorry About

The woman in the flowered turquoise muumuu is standing directly in front of the washing machine where my clothes are waiting, looking at her phone.

"Hi," I say, pointing at the machine. "I'm gonna just go right where you're standing, and then I'll be outta your way."

She startles and apologizes, starts to move out of the way, and I tell her, "Nope, you're fine, nothing to be sorry about."

Four Sentences

"What was your Four Each Day about?" she asks as we prepare to go to bed (and watch videos until we fall asleep).

"I didn't write one," I say, a bit defensively.

"It's not that I ddn't have anything to write about, it's just," I continue after she gently asks what I think about that, "I just didn't feel like writing one."

"That sounds like four sentences," she says after I'm finished.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

U See This?

Aaron at U-Haul goes looking for my rental truck, then saunters without urgency back to where I'm standing. My truck (for which I have gotten out of bed early, to come here early, to pick my truck up early, so we can load all of Katie's sculptures and displays early, so we can arrive at the market early enough to get a good parking space and not drive all over God's creation looking for one) is conspicuous in its absence.

He makes a "wait here" sort of motion with his hands, so I do, and then he comes out, ten minutes later, with a new set of keys and still no sense of urgency (I must be feeling stressed for both of us) and walks to get me another truck, since the last one apparently "wouldn't start."

I feel a certain amount of relief when he drives up with my truck, only to have my hopes dashed by the sight of, in the back of the truck, where all the stuff is supposed to go, a half-an-inch of standing, soapy water, and I call Aaron back over with, "Hey, take a look at this for me, would you?"

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

I Don't Listen To Enough Murder Podcasts

Katie rushes excitedly into the kitchen and shows me the foot upon which she dropped the computer a few days ago. The bruise just above her instep sulks with purple and green and pale yellow. "I have lividity!" she yells with delight.

She explains that lividity occurs when a person has been dead in one position for a long time, and the blood in the body pools in one area, and when I seem less than enthusiastic, she seems incredibly disappointed in me.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Keep Walking

The guy with the messy hair and the enormous, dirty backpack passes us from behind as we're walking down the sidewalk. He's not wearing a mask, but we let it slide because we're outside, it's a nice day, and sometimes you just can't be bothered to fight every battle.

Then he stops up short in front of a house and, pointing to the "Black Lives Matter" sign in the window, says to the person in the yard, "You know, Black Lives Matter doesn't have anything to do with the death of George Floyd...."

Whatever he had to say next is lost, though, as Katie and I walk up and Katie, with an imperious shoo-ing gesture, says to him, simply, "Keep walking," and, with a startled look, after quickly pulling up his mask, he does.

Friday, July 3, 2020

To Vibe Or Not To Vibe

"You see, I knew we were both Cancers," my customer says after I tell her that my birthday was a few days before hers. "That's why we're vibing so hard."

Just then, behind her, a large, floofy white dog, with an intelligent, carefree expression and perky ears, gets off the elevator, and wishing to share my good fortune at seeing such a creature with my new friend, I ask, "So how do you feel about dogs?"

"They're okay," she says, shrugging, and I know for a fact that we are not, remotely, vibing, at all.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Empty-A (say it out loud)

The subway is pretty empty, even for a Wednesday evening in what is still, arguably, a partial quarantine. We ride along underground for a while, me reading my book, until the train climbs up the bridge and heads out over the water.

Another train runs parallel to this one, dark beneath the shadowing trestles of Manhattan Bridge, while behind it the city still sits in the dying light of the end of day. I watch the train for a while, and turn back to my book.


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Distance

The grass is still wet from the earlier rainstorm when we walk through the park, but the clouds are quickly clearing.

"Looks like we've got the place to ourselves," I tell Katie. 

"Yeah, I booked the entire park for your birthday," she replies, surveying with satisfaction the meadow, empty as it is except for the birds meticulously combing the grass for grubs and worms. "I think the nearest person is at least a tenth-of-a-mile away," she adds as she points to tiny, distant children playing with bubbles on the hill, and they might even be further than that.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

2020 Weather is On-Brand

My work keeps me below street level, one floor down, with limited access to windows, for most of the daylight hours. 

So when I come out of work this evening, the gust of wind and spray of water in my face are my only foreshadowing to the absolute deluge in progress in Manhattan. The sky has that yellowish, sickly pallor or a bad storm, while the wind vents its spleen on the construction site just down the street by ripping up pressboard barriers and hurtling them across the sidewalk. 

A security guard at the construction site and I alternate between taking video of the sheets of rain and nodding to one another until, in a howl of fury from the sky, it starts to hail, and I can't help but laugh.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Why You'd Want To Live There

"We just moved to New York from L.A. this week so I could start my residency in radiology," she says as she slips her feet into the sensible black pumps I chose for her.

"Wow! Seems like a good move," I say, but her expression quickly shows me I've made a misstep.

"I mean, a good lateral move," I backtrack, and she seems to accept that. 


Cloudy Skies

"Finally I have a dog to report!" I exclaim to the confused looking lady with a small white dog in her purse.

After I explain to her that I am under obligation to compile a report of every dog I see on the shoe floor while I'm at work, she allows me to approach.

When I offer my hand, palm down, knuckles first, for the dog to smell, she says, "Oh, he can't see, and his nose doesn't really work, either."

The dog, white with a few pink, bald spots peeping through on his scalp, stares off into nothing with eyes the color of a stormy ocean sky, clouded grey with white whorls, and when I draw my ignored hand away, he yawns.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Powerbar

"Sorry to interrupt," begins the litany of the beggar on the train, and it continues in a monotone drone during which I continue to read. 

He finishes his recitation, and shuffles down the car, intoning "Can you help?" at intervals, all according to script so far, when I remember the powerbar I neglected to eat for a snack today. I hand it to him, and he accepts it, and then he sits down two seats away from me, which is, of course, entirely too close for social distancing, and so I, without fuss, rise and move away to stand in the doorway.

He sits there for a while, sorting through his haul for the car, while I continue to read, until I've almost forgotten about him, whereupon he gets off at the next stop, and I look down to see that he's left the food I gave him on the seat, uneaten.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Another Day In The Park

A huge dragonfly hovers and darts above us in Prospect Park meadow, and then disappears as the breeze kicks up a little. The blue sky is rough with thin clouds, and the guy twenty feet away has finally ended his conference call, so he and his dog are just sitting quietly, enjoying the shade.

Katie sighs, "I can finally smell the trees!" A hawk climbs a circling thermal higher and higher, and then he, too, disappears.

Re-opening

"I'm just happy to be out shopping," my first customer in three months says. "Back in March I caught Covid-19 and was in the hospital for ten days." 

Beneath my mask I try to smile encouragingly. "Well, I'm glad you're here today," I tell her.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

It Is So Choice

"You going home to vote?" I ask my co-worker as we walk downstairs from the stockroom.

"Yeah, I got my absentee ballot but I forgot to fill it out," she sighs.

"Oh, Katie and I voted absentee - it's awesome. I highly recommend it if you have the means."

Monday, June 22, 2020

A Good Time

We go around the circle at work, our manager calling on us as we raise our hands, and we tell the group how we identify racial, ethnically, culturally, or otherwise, and what pronouns we’d like to use.

It’s going pretty well, and a few of us raise our hands at the same time, but the manager calls on two Afro-Latino women before me, and they tell stories of racism in their communities.

“Scott had his hand up,” someone helpfully points out after they’re done.

“Oh, I think now is a good time for me to listen,” I reply, half-jokingly.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Street Books

I started going through my books, purging a little, getting things I hadn't read yet or had no intention of reading again out of the house. I managed to leave a small offering of books out for the streets on our stoop.

As Katie and I came back from a walk we saw an older couple going through the box, picking one and walking away, with the gentleman saying something to the lady he was with.

She must not have heard, because as he walked by he repeated in an irritated  tone, "I took it because I said I'd never read the second part of Angels in America."

Saturday, June 20, 2020

What Scares The Suburbs

"Is that harp music?" Katie asks. 

I sit up and look around the part of the park where we're sitting enjoying the sunshine. "I don't know," I say, "but that definitely sounds like singing."

Down the path in the direction I pointed comes a sizable, orderly group of protesters, chanting over and over, "Black lives matter!"

Friday, June 19, 2020

Pink and Blue

"So you're gonna need to separate the boy's and girl's clothes after you size them," my manager tells me, and she leaves me to it.

At first the whole idea kind of irritates me - they're clothes for babies, for God's sake. I thought we were past this sort of thing.

But it tuns out to be quite easy for me to separate out the boy's clothes from the girl's, and I'm done with my task in less than a half-hour.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

What Does That Mean?

"I trusted my boyfriend to shave the sides," he says, "but this front part is just going to curl until the barbershops open."

"Can't wait," I say, taking off my hat to let my hair spill out. "I mean, look at this," I add, shaking my long bangs down to cover my face.

"I'll be honest," one co-worker says, looking at my unruly mop, "I thought your hair was just like that."

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Telling On Myself

One of the managers is called out by a younger employee for wearing a Run DMC t-shirt.

"Yes," she admits proudly, "I saw them live. That's how old I am."

Later I tell her I saw them too, with the Sugar Hill Gang, and she looks shocked.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

I've Got One Like You At Home

"Don't you stand over there, thinking you're taller than me," my co-worker calls across the mostly deserted sales floor to another male co-worker who is, clearly, taller than her.

"But I am taller than you," he explains calmly.

"No, you're not, you're not, because I feel taller," she retorts. "And neither are you!" she says, turning on me.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Naked

The dog pond in Prospect Park, an actual pond, with plants and wildlife and whatnot, contains two dogs and one small child when we arrive. The dogs splash about and collect sticks from the water to bring back to shore, and chase each other with reckless, doggy abandon, while the child, a kid of about four years or so, paddles and splashes as well, yelling at his mom, who is relaxed in her attentiveness and seems unconcerned by everything.

The dogs continue to paddle, but the kid, after some negotiations with his mom, comes back onto dry land, and promptly strips naked to get into dry clothes, and everybody just sort of ignores it. I notice the naked kid, which is momentarily startling, but then figure that if nobody else cares why should I, and go back to watching the dogs, who seem just as comfortable with not wearing clothes as the kid.

No Treats

We lie in the sun on the slope of the grassy hill, staring up at the leaves. A black and yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly floats lazily by, while a cloud passes behind a radio tower in front of a deep blue sky.

A dog wanders to the end of its leash and, seeing us, begins making eyes. "Watch your treats," his owner says, like she's seen this sort of thing before.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Robot Is Productive

I prefer talking to people, working one-on-one with them to get them what they need, but in lieu of that, this solitary work will do nicely. I pull a small pile of boxes full of shoes off the shelves, scan their barcodes with a shimmering red laser, print out a new barcode and price on dark red stickers, slap that new barcode over the old one, and move on to the next. It is mindless, repetitive work, but it allows me to fall into a light trance, finding the exact number of moves needed to complete the task with minimal effort then, once that problem is solved to my satisfaction, to listen to music and make up songs in my head.

I argue with people who aren't there about how they wear their masks, I think about what I was doing a year ago, I make up lyrics to songs I haven't written yet, and then, when their cadence grows too insistent, I pause in my robotic productivity and write them in a note on my phone, as not to forget.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Unclean

Dressing for work when your spouse is asleep, even if she’s okay with the lights being turned on, can be a dicey proposition. When it’s been a bit tough to do laundry, and you’re rushing, and you’ve maybe not been the most attentive to sartorial concerns because you barely left the house for three months. and you’re dressing in low light to be considerate of your sleeping partner, it can be downright risky.

So when I step out the door into the full light of a sunny June day and look down at my bag to make sure I have my keys, I notice the... is it maybe spatter from the time I made pancakes a few months ago, or what exactly is it? Regardless, these pants are in no way clean enough to be presentable for work, and the bus rumbles past as I run back upstairs to change.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Instant Regret

I'm working with the anti-theft sensors they put on clothes today. They consist of a piece that looks like a giant thumbtack that pierces the fabric, and a piece that then fits over the end of the pin part, locking it in place until it is removed with a powerful magnet by a bored cashier making minimum wage.

I'm trying to be efficient, so I pick up a huge handful of the thumbtack parts, only to realize as I'm doing so that something designed to pierce fabric is also, inadvertently, designed to pierce skin. 

I immediately regret picking up this handful of plastic cactus as one of the sharp points stabs my knuckle and another slips underneath my fingernail, and voice my regret with the universal signifyer, "Ow!"

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Right Bus

I jog across the street to the bus stop just in time to catch the bus, and settle into my seat breathing hard.

After I've calmed down a bit and we've traveled a few blocks, I look up from my book to notice we've stopped by the side of the road, and I realize that I was in such a hurry to get on that I can't remember which bus I actually got on.

When I get up to ask, though, the bus driver cuts me off, explaining, "I'm way ahead of schedule, so I'll have to stop here for a few minutes."

"That's fine, I just wanted to make sure I got on the right bus," I tell her

Monday, June 8, 2020

"Normal"

There's a few people on the street this early, mostly dog walkers and the occasional healthcare worker, identifiable by their scrubs. The sky is blue, the air (what I can taste and smell through my mask) is clean, and something about the morning reminds me of a normal day.

Even the sight of every person wearing a mask is welcome, and it occurs to me that, if that becomes "normal" I will be okay with it. It practically seems normal now.

Break Things

I pick up the bottle of Campari by the neck, and the weight of it in my hand feels... good. Like something that would be nice to smash on a wall or a chair, to swing at the head of an offensive person, to chuck at a window or a car.

"When you pick up a bottle, to you ever get the urge to just smash it?" I ask Katie as I place it back on the bar cart.

"I have to fight off the urge to break a bottle every time I pick one up," she replies with an intense grin.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

What Is The Law?

We walk past the Jewish day care on a warm Saturday afternoon. Ten or so kids play in the yard, banging on pans, throwing balls, chasing each other around the small fenced-in yard, and all overseen by two slightly harried looking younger women.

It's Saturday, the traditional Jewish day of rest when no work should be done, so I ask Katie, "Do you think it's possible for work to become play, or for play to become work?"

We go back and forth about it for awhile, but end up speculating whether or not the women watching the kids are considered under the law to be "working" even though they very clearly are.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

After Curfew

As I take the trash downstairs to the curb for pickup, a small but perceptible wave of anxiety blossoms in my gut. Although the likelihood of anyone, cops or otherwise, being outside this late on my very quiet Brooklyn block is vanishingly slim, the thought of being caught out after curfew makes me tap my front pocket to make sure my wallet with my ID is there.

I step down the stairs and drop off the bags, and take a quick look around. A light rain sparkles in the street lights and falls on the parked cars that line the road, but there isn't a soul around.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Ghost Rider

Legs pumping, heart pounding, every breath as deep as I can make it as we ride our bikes up the final hill in Prospect Park. I can taste my own breath in my mask, but I don't mind, because the sun and the air feel good on my skin, I'm outside, and despite everything happening in the world, I am grateful to be alive.

I coast down the other side waiting for Katie to catch up. "I am a ghost, because I just died going up that hill," she informs me as she rides up.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

King of Squirrels

We pause at the fence of the empty park, a few yards down from the padlocked gate, to watch a squirrel eat what looks like a muffin, maybe? or the remains of a bagel? He (or she) looks to be one of those elusive black squirrels, but a particularly fine specimen, with reddish tufts haloing the healthy dark fur of his back and haunches. He ignores us completely as we ooh and aah over his magnificence.

"No picture will do you justice," Katie says, even as she attempts to take a picture.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Other Way

Katie and I have had a few arguments today, but evening has come and we're calm, happy, and relaxed on the couch.

"I've been trying to be more assertive lately, not avoid conflict, say what I mean. That may be why," I tell her.

"You should go back to the other way," she says simply, taking a bite of her ice cream bar, and we both start laughing.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

A Nice Day For It

My work cut us loose early today over fears of nearby protests causing problems with people's commutes, so I ended up home a little after 1:00 PM. It was a lovely day, so I lay down on the back deck and stared up into the trees while the wind tossed the sunlight around.

A cardinal flitted into a tree, burbling happily about nothing, and I closed my eyes and listened to his song. Then I woke up and the sun had moved across the sky.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Trash Panda TV

I come in to the living room from playing piano, and Katie has The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on the TV in the background while she works on her phone, and I sit and watch it for a while until it's time to get ready for bed. She's fine with turning it off mid-movie, because she's watching it "for free" on Netflix, because, "I don't rent stuff to watch by myself! I can watch garbage and be perfectly content."

"You're like the raccoon of entertainment consumption," I say, kissing her on the forehead as she nods happily.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Distance

"Do you live in Brooklyn?" my new co-worker asks. She's standing a little too close, but I don't say anything, because maybe I've just gotten used to not being close to people I don't live with, and maybe I've got to unlearn some habits to be out in the world again.

"I live in Staten Island," she answers herself. When I express consternation at the distance she has to commute, she reassures me, "Oh, I have a car."

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Eating My Feelings (Making A Mess)

Katie is solicitous of me tonight, because she knows I'm a little nervous about going back to work tomorrow (even though there's nothing to really worry about).

"Did you get enough treats, like did you want ice cream?" she asks kindly.

"I had ice cream, thank you, because that's how I got chocolate on my shirt," I explain.

"Of course you did," she says, laughing.

Effectively Feral

I prep for my coming earlier schedule by going to bed earlier the night before, but I still wake groggy, my legs unsteady beneath me as I struggle to stand. The cat hollers outside the bedroom door, hoping against hope to guide me by the sound of her voice to the kitchen to feed her, since I seem entirely incapable of finding my way there on my own.

After she's fed, I stumble to the bathroom and stand on the scale pondering my dreams. I had dreamed I was the personal assistant to a mutual friend of ours, and she had been dripping with diamonds and rubies that her husband had bought her, and my heart had sank at the thought of trying to be an assistant again when I was so desperately unsuited for the role after being out of an office for over a year and being, at this point, effectively feral.

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Level Of Discourse

"Wait, what song is that?" I ask my roommate.

"It's from Robin Hood," he replies.

"I thought it was a seventies song, and all I could think of was 'ooh-da-lally-ooh-da-lally' so I thought I was wrong...," I say.

"You're bringing the whole apartment down, Scott - get your head in the game!" Katie calls from another room.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Putting My Foot In My Mouth

"When will things come back?" our roommate asks in a plaintive tone as I wash dishes in the kitchen.

Katie cheerfully lists off a number of institutions (like the Met and others) that are working towards reopening, before adding pragmatically, "But, you know, New York will be last, since we have the most people."

"And we had the most people die," I add thoughtlessly.

"Oh, I don't think that's helpful," Katie says.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Bet It Was About Masks

We walked to where I'll be starting back to work next week, following the bike route to make sure there weren't obstacles like construction or cops parked in the bike lanes. Everything seemed clear, and most people seemed to be wearing masks and making at least a nominal effort to maintain social distancing.

When we got home, Katie looked at her phone. "The Citizen app says there was a fight at the intersection by your work just now," she tells me.

Friday, May 22, 2020

The New Helpfulness

I stand on the curb and play with my phone while Katie runs into the drugstore. Some people stand a few doors down next to a mattress, like they're moving a bed into, or out of, an apartment, and subsequently the group disperses, leaving just one person out there, also playing with her phone.

A gust of wind comes up and catches the mattress where it's leaning up against the wall, and it sails to the ground with a resounding thump.

My first impulse is to go over and help her pick it up, but then I think: I don't know her, and more importantly, she doesn't know me, so I just stand a few yards away while she handles things, and I try not to look like I'm ignoring her plight.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

A Matter Of Public Record

The line to get into the co-op extends around the block, passing right in front of our door, so we often see people in the queue standing their socially distant six feet from one another while they wait. 

As we come out to walk to the park, we see that the gentleman waiting directly in front has neglected to put on his mask to be in public. Katie pauses at the top of the stair to take out her phone and take a picture while I stand in front of the shop on the street level floor of our building, waiting for her to finish.

When she's done, we head down the street, and one of us points out a very good dog coming up, which we are obligated to point out to the other whenever we see them.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Stubborn

"I'm going downstairs to sit outside," I tell Katie. I even change into jeans, just in case it's cold out.

But when I get downstairs, it's actually even more blustery than I anticipated, and I end up wrapping up in a blanket against the wind, which honestly doesn't really help much, as the wind sneaks cold fingers in the gaps to chill me.

Rather than go upstairs, maybe grab a jacket, or just abandon the whole thing as a bad idea, I stubbornly stay and finish reading my chapter, because I came down her to read, and by god I will read, dammit.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

An Outing

I lie on my back and listen to the sounds of the park with my eyes closed: a dog barks, a kid talks about the plot of his favorite video game with his dad, some girls chat about what they ate for lunch, birds chirp and quarrel above and around us. Tufts of grass poke into my back, but in spite of that I find myself almost dozing in the warmth of a lovely spring day.

It's almost enough to make me forget what's going on, why no one is within six feet of us, in one of the most crowded cities in the world.

Katie says something, but her voice is muffled by her mask, and I ask her to repeat herself.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Dynamics of Our Relationship

“So is it just a cat getting a treat?” Katie asks as the video nears the end.

“I think so. This is the sort of wholesome content I’m here for,” I reply.

“Well, I’m over here making a Theodore Kaczynski avatar for Facebook, so just keep holding up your end of...,” she gestures to the two of us, “...this."

I Got Over It

The sun is gently bright and the air is warm, but not warm enough to make my mask uncomfortable, as we walk along the park.

But the unease mixed with a little bit of discouragement I woke with this morning still hasn't left me, and constantly having to monitor the people around me, how close they are, whether they're wearing masks or not, isn't helping, so I walk in silence for a couple blocks.

"Is there anything you want to talk about or...?" Katie asks helpfully.

"I'm still kind of sad and anxious right now, and I'm trying not to make it anybody else's problem," I tell her.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

What Am I Gonna Do About It?

We sit out in the sun, under a tree, while the wind gusts and falls. I stare up into the fluttering new leaves with hardly a thought in my head until I see a movement that is neither leaf nor breeze.

A bird sits on a branch high above me, his tail feathers hanging over my chair.

"Hey, don't poop on me, or we're gonna have a problem," I call up to the bird, and he obligingly turns so his tail feathers are facing the other way, but I'm not sure what I would have done if he had decided to poop.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Anticipation

I'm playing a game on my phone in the kitchen when the cat walks in, clearly on her last legs with hunger. She stalks to the center of the room, gazes up at me with huge, soulful eyes, and her mouth opens without noise, in a silent meow from the depths of feline despair.

A glance at the clock tells me she's right, and I fetch the can and spend a few precious seconds mashing the can-shaped wad of processed meat into something slightly less unnatural while she circles me, now in full voice, all signs of her previous ailment vanished, yowling impatiently.

"I try to make things nice for you," I explain, and she angrily meows again.

Fair Point

Mid-morning, we're still in bed, Katie nestled on my chest, and I'm ranting about the song "Drops of Jupiter" by Train, as you do. "They had an almost perfect song, like, a beautiful song, and they started singing about fried chicken and 'the best soy-latte that you ever had,' and just ruined it."

"You should write them a letter," Katie mumbles sleepily. Then, more clearly, "And make sure you put the date on it so they'll know you're still mad about a song they wrote twenty years ago."

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A Nice Day For Queueing

To avoid crowding the tiny post office, Katie goes in while I stand on the curb. I eventually move away from the entrance, because people keep asking me if I'm waiting in line to go in, so to avoid confusion, I end up watching the door from the corner.

But instead of waiting in line, people keep walking in to the post office, to the point where it starts looking like a clown car in reverse - like, I know how small that place is, and you all do not fit.

Finally Katie comes out, her expression difficult to read beneath her mask, and as we walk home she proclaims, "It is a nice day - why couldn't all those people wait outside in the sunshine?"

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Connection

Katie goes to her window, and I go to mine, each of us on either side of the china cabinet. I unlatch and open the top pane, slide down the screen, and wait.

Then I hear it: a man's voice shouting, "Yay!!!!!" followed by what sounds like the entire block erupting with cheering and clapping, Katie bangs on a pot with a wooden spoon, I whistle, clap and scream, the entire lot of us letting out a pent up howl from the depths of our tension and confinement.

After a couple minutes, my energy spent, I move to close the window, and a woman hanging out a window on the fourth floor across the street calls out, "See you tomorrow!"

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Declarative

"I'm just a better songwriter than I am a singer," I say somewhat bitterly after finishing a less than satisfactory take on a new song.

Katie opens her eyes part way to look at me and reaches out a hand from where she's been napping on the bed. "You're speaking in declarative sentences," she says sleepily. "I can't argue with you when you do that."

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Another Mouth to Feed

"Please remind me to feed Esmerelda before I go to bed," Katie says. 'Esmerelda' is the name of her sourdough starter, which she has been assiduously cultivating for the past week and a half or so.

The process of "feeding" a sourdough starter involves adding flour and water to a spongy mass of yeast and dough, and at a certain point you start doing this process twice a day.

When she feeds it in the morning, there's a little excess dough that she turns into a savory little fried pancake, and usually she gives it to me, as a treat.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Seance For The Living

"Is this by that band that did 'Come Sail Away'?" Katie asks as I'm playing a song by Yes.

"No that was Styx, and they're American, but I can understand why you'd think that. My friends and I would have discussions about which American prog band was the best: Kansas or Styx, and of course you have to say Kansas, although Styx has some really good tunes, too, but as far as musicianship goes...."

"Look at you, having conversations with ghosts," she says, going back to getting ready for bed.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Telling on Myself

We decide to watch the scary movie about the grotesque doll that's possessed by the demon and kills people.

About a third of the way through, Katie says, "You get scared and you start to talk a lot."

I sort of half-heartedly attempt to defend my honor.

"It's okay," she says, "I just wanted to know that you have a tell."

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Or Little Dry Erase Boards

We stand outside the liquor store for a minute or so waiting for someone to notice. Finally, the woman behind the counter sees us, and we spend a second shouting and gesticulating through the glass (hindered in making ourselves understood by the masks we're wearing) until she opens up the door to hear us better.

"I'm here to pick up my order, under the name Flaherty?" I tell her.

As she goes in to fetch our wine, Katie remarks, "We ought to just carry signs around with our names on them."

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Everybody Just Getting By

As we're about to head out to the post office we see through the glass of the front doors, perched on our front stoop, a dude talking on his phone, blocking our way out.

Katie politely but firmly knocks on the glass, and the guy hurriedly stands, pulls his mask over his mouth, and retreats to the curb.

"Sorry," he calls out as we exit.

"It's okay," I say, and Katie agrees, adding, "Have a nice day!"

Monday, May 4, 2020

Scratch Vocals

My foray into the outer world has left me stressed, and I'm back in the safety of my bedroom trying to record vocals for a new song. It's a little low in my range, and I just can't get the pitch to stay steady. I can feel the tightness in my diaphragm.

I get through the song, but it's not what I want, so I leave it and go sit on the couch with Katie, and then we go clap and yell out the window until we're hoarse to tell the people who are still working we love them, and that makes me feel better.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Taking Its Toll (House)

"Did you make these from scratch?" our roommate asks after eating one of my chocolate chip cookies.

"He always makes them from scratch," Katie answers.

"Stupid," he says, miming slapping me across the face. I obligingly snap my head in the correct direction, indicating that I have been struck because I made delicious cookies.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Public Shaming

We walk up Seventh Avenue in Brooklyn, weaving back and forth across the sidewalk in an attempt to keep appropriate social distance. I can taste my own breath in my mask and I feel a little anxious just being outside.

"That guy's doing it wrong," Katie says loudly, pointing at a man with his mask dangling around his neck. He furtively pulls it up over his mouth and nose and doesn't make eye contact as we continue on our way.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Vitamin D'oh

"I'm crabby," I announce as I'm walking down the hall. Katie's building a virtual city on her phone when I get to the family room, so I say it again: "I'm crabby."

"Are you crabby about someone or something in particular?" she asks calmly. When we've established that it's just sort of free-floating, she muses, "Well, you haven't been outside in like, three days, so...."

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Every Day I'm Puzzlin'

We stack the most recent jigsaw puzzle on top of the previous one before we start the next one - Katie calls it "incepting" - and the stack is up to at least four by now.

This new one promises to be problematic, though, since it may be missing a piece, and an edge piece at that. The pieces are pretty small, too, and they're all cut from pretty much the same mold, so any given piece fits pretty well in any spot, which can be a challenge for somebody who occasionally reverts to just putting pieces places to see if they fit.

But while Katie works on her business, and our roommate cooks himself dinner, I sit at the table where we've set up, and allow myself the small dopamine thrill of fitting in the correct piece in the correct spot, building a picture that's already made, with no consequences, with low stakes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Compare and Contrast

I sit out on the back deck, in full sunshine, basking like a lizard and periodically working on projects for the family business. The bright light is reflecting off of my keyboard, making me squint.

Back inside, I feel like I'm in a cave: it's dark, and cozy. While I like it, it only really feels good because I was outside, even for just a little while.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Days Blend, Part the Second

"Well they had the cushions out on their new deck furniture, but then it rained yesterday, so they took them in," Katie says about the neighbors a few houses down.

"Wasn't it gorgeous yesterday, and it rained the day before that, and today?" I ask.

"But didn't you say later, after we came in, 'I'm so glad we went out when we did?'" she replies. "Or was that this morning?"

Monday, April 27, 2020

Without Nostalgia

The old hard drive is here - "old" is relative, five years maybe? - but finding the adapter, and the cable, is a bit trickier. One's in the closet, the other hiding under a pile of unfiled paperwork.

But once they're both out, the portal to the past is opened, and pieces of plastic and metal, wires and magnetic media, are transformed into memories, old songs, pictures of people I'd forgotten, movies I haven't watched in years, a version of me that only exists in ones and zeros. 

I scroll through, without nostalgia, like an anthropologist looking at a case study of a person who hasn't lived for hundreds of years.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Something Off

We passed him on the way to the grocery store: a guy, standing inside the little fence in front of a brown stone, no mask, dirty clothes, completely still staring up at the construction scaffolding above him.

Katie's been doing this thing where she very loudly remarks on people not wearing masks in public, hoping she might shame them into doing the right thing, and most of them ignore her or furtively slip their masks back on, but this guy didn't even seem to hear her.

So when we were coming back after a good half-an-hour and saw him still standing there, and he had yet to have moved, I remarked uneasily, "What is this guy's deal?"

Katie saw him, said, "Cross the street?" and we continued our walk on the other side of the road.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Days Blend

"Thanks for a nice day," I say as we come in from sitting on the stoop. There had been even fewer people than usual out after midnight, except for a couple of cars and one slow moving police SUV.

Katie smiles and says, "Thank you for a nice day." Then, more thoughtfully, "What happened today?"


Friday, April 24, 2020

Careless Stomping

While cleaning up in the kitchen, I breakdown the pizza boxes from tonight's meal.

I like crushing them, so I put one down and stomp on it with my bare feet.

The little three legged support in the box that keeps the lid from hitting the pizza pierces the lid and only manages to avoid puncturing my foot because my feet are tough from not wearing shoes for the past month and a half.

When I show Katie the bruise on the bottom of my foot, she says sympathetically, "The tiny tables are the worst!"

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Forgot

"What?" Katie says from the other room.

"Nothing, I just sighed."

"I thought something was wrong."

"No, but sometimes when I'm concentrating on something I forget to breathe."

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Weight

Thunder rumbles in a a doubtful yellow sky, and I watch as the massive clouds roll in.

There's no transition between raining and not-raining - it's dry, and then the sky just opens up and dumps while the trees bow their heads in gratitude to the weight of the water.

A dove flutters down from the wall into a backyard behind our apartment building, seeking shelter from the deluge. He lands on a thin sapling branch and struggles to keep his wavering perch with desperate shakes of his tail feathers, as he's buffeted by wind pelted by huge, heavy raindrops.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Adventures In Cleaning Supplies

The search for dishwasher detergent continues, so after I drop off the groceries at home, I put on my mask once again and head out into the world.

I walk up the block to the bodega formerly known as "Super Ace," but they seem to be out too. The aisle with the cleaning supplies has the same lightly bombed look as the one at the supermarket - it's not that it's in complete disarray, but the giant chunks of empty space on once full shelves is somehow more disconcerting than if it were a mess, like a bunch of chipped teeth in a mouth of otherwise perfect pearly whites.

I grab a couple of things the grocery didn't have (hot sauce, hand soap) and when I get to the checkout, the woman behind the counter is wearing her mask hanging off of one ear, doing neither of us any good whatsoever, but I just want to go home, so I don't make a big deal about it.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Go To Bed

"As a natural night-owl," Katie says as she towels her hair after her evening shower, "I am enjoying you being more on my schedule."

We stay up late, and wake up relatively late. It feels pretty natural but the cat is used to us going to bed earlier and having the house to herself.

Now, 2 AM rolls around and she stalks the halls, yowling to herself and at us - demanding, perhaps, that we go to bed.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

In Apartment Washer and Dryer Unit

Washing underwear and t-shirts in the sink stresses me out a little, because it requires a certain amount of judgement. How much soap is enough soap, and are you sure you squeezed all of it out when you rinse everything?

After I'm done, the bathroom is humid and cold and clean smelling, with clothes hanging from the shower curtain rod and from every available hook. I look in the mirror above the sink at my uncut hair, and smile ruefully.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Doing Our Part

After the daily cheering for the healthcare and essential workers, I retreat to the kitchen to continue cooking dinner, but as I come back out to check on Katie, I hear her chatting with someone out the window.

At first I assume someone is flirting with her from one of the buildings across the street, but it turns out to just be an old friend of ours who walked up from his end of Brooklyn in hopes of finding a specific cheese. 

"How are you?" he calls up from the street through his face mask.

"Well, we're young, white, we live in Brooklyn, and we're staying inside..., basically we're fine," Katie answers after a few moments' consideration.

Friday, April 17, 2020

End of Month One In Captivity

I take Katie's phone, upon which we are video calling with her brother, and walk downstairs.

"You're kidnapping me!" he yells, and I ignore him.

We stand on the stoop for a while, watching the empty buses pass on the otherwise empty streets and reminiscing over better times.

"Hey, remember when you stood here and watched our downstairs neighbor run around the block naked in the snow?" I ask him, laughing, and he mentions he might have video.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Practice Makes Perfect

Tonight, it’s savory pancakes for dinner, because there are no rules, and if I want to make pancakes for dinner, then so be it, and the devil take he who says “Hold, enough!”

The first one is always tricky, because, unless you’re using one of those fancy electric skillets where you can set the temperature, you’re always just kinda guessing as to the heat, but I must have been guessing well today, because the first one, and all the subsequent ones (full of melty cheddar and scallions, served with bacon and sour cream), came out perfect.

“Seems the more I do something, the better I get at it,” I say to Katie, as if this is somehow unusual.

“Sounds like the pattern of your life,” she replies, kindly.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Daily Routine (Time Travel)

I get up at nine in the morning, look at my phone for a minute, and it's suddenly ten. So I do my exercises, yoga, stretching, breathing, meditating, some calisthenics, and it's suddenly noon.

So I take a shower, make some food, watch a TV program, sit with my wife and chat a moment, look at my phone, do some inventorying for the family business, and suddenly it's 3:30.

Play a little music, and then it's time to make dinner and the day is done.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Seven O'Clock

The opening credits for the show are about to roll when Katie reaches over and grabs the remote to hit pause. "It's seven," she announces as she heads over to open the window, but even with it closed, I can already hear the cheers.

She stands on a little sturdy stool that she's placed by the window, and leans out while I stand behind her, both of us cheering and whistling. It's taken several days, but the whole street now seems to be getting in the spirit: some banging on pots and pans, some applauding and hooting, some whistling, those on the street itself honking horns as they drive (there may even be a vuvuzela somewhere in our block), all of us making some small contribution to try to keep everyone's spirits up, to acknowledge the people who work so hard while all the rest of us sit inside and try not to get sick.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Ready to Ride

After I finish checking the tires and the chains one last time, we haul the bikes downstairs to the street, Katie's under her arm, mine balanced on my shoulder.

"Don't carry your bike like this if your legs are short," Katie chastises herself as she struggles to wrangle wheels and pedals and tubular frame that seem to fight her like a living thing.

She heads out the door and to the sidewalk and fixes her helmet while I lock up behind us. I come down the stoop, she looks up at me and smiles.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Things I Didn't Think About A Month Ago

The handkerchief I wear tied over the lower half of my face compresses my nose, flattening it out a little, and making it kind of tough to breathe nasally. I have to adjust the mask periodically if I talk, too, which makes me very self-conscious of how close my hands are to my face.

We walk down the widest street in our neighborhood, on sidewalks twice as big as any of the others, and easily keep the now regulation six feet between us and other folks out walking like us just before sunset.

"All sidewalks should be this big," I tell Katie, and she agrees.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Tiki Drinks

We've had an orphan handle of spiced rum (a jaunty pirate with a devilish grin posing on the label) for literal years - we don't know where it came from or who it belonged to, and since nobody in this house particularly likes spiced rum, there it stayed, an orange-brown specter haunting our bar cart like an unwelcome guest.

But tonight, thanks to Katie's internet acumen and some pineapple juice, we're cracking it open - literally. The cap nearly requires a pair of pliers to get it off the bottle.

Somehow, though, in the marriage of fruit juices (orange, pineapple, lime) and syrups (grenadine), this low-rent liquor is turned into something tropical, something reminiscent of beaches and little umbrellas, a scent of vanilla on a warm summer breeze, a reminder that summer, the outdoors, something other than this apartment exists, and we drink the memory with gusto.

Friday, April 10, 2020

The Indoor LIfe

Thunder rumbles deep and long and close. "It's raining," Katie calls from the window.

I look up from my computer to see that she's made a massive understatement - a squall is in progress outside, visibility gone, streets running like rivers, trees whipping their heads back and forth to the push and pull of sideways rain.

I had no idea it was coming, and when, a few hours later, the sun comes out, I realize I had no idea it had gone.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Crisis Averted

An early morning bout with the NYS unemployment benefits website, along with a completely collapsed circadian rhythm, has me back in bed by 8:30 am, easily about to fall asleep.

I'm in my accustomed position on my right side, eyes closed and beginning to breathe deeply, when I hear, from down the hall, the rhythmic, distressed "mmrrr-aah-ah-ah-ah" of the cat yelling as she runs. She tears into the room, leaps upon the bed, runs up the bed to the crook of my arm and flops down with all the force she can muster.

Crisis averted, she begins to purr like a microwave cooking a casserole, and we both quickly fall asleep.

Occasional Gaps In The Clouds

We go out walking after 11:00 PM, to see the super pink moon, and because the streets are practically empty, so it's easier to stay away from folks.

And yet this man still approaches us before he seemingly catches himself, stopping a good ten feet away, and says, "I hate to ask this, but could you buy me something?"

Never mind that nothing for blocks is open, we both came out without wallets or cash in our pockets, so we tell him that and he stalks away, muttering to himself.

Periodically the thick cloud cover breaks and the moon peers through, huge and shining brilliant white, only to be quickly covered again, and we end sitting on the stoop, imagining the tops of the clouds, far above, radiant in silver pouring down.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Beneath The Mask

The older woman walking her two dogs toward us on the sidewalk notices us standing to one side, giving her right-of-way at appropriate social distance, but her expression is impossible to read beneath the surgical mask that everyone on the street seems to be sporting in one way or another these days.

"Is that an iPhone?" she asks as she approaches us, to Katie who is posting something as we wait for her to pass.

"Yes it is," Katie answers, looking up.

"Facial recognition doesn't work anymore," she says, and we can hear the smile in her voice.

A Glimpse Outside

There's a sound out the front window. "Scott, come in here," Katie calls.

It's 7:00 PM, so people are applauding for the health care workers - not on our block, but a block or two over, near enough to hear it. 

"The moon is up," she says, pointing, and we spend a moment or two looking at an almost full moon in a late afternoon sky until it passes behind a cloud.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Just to Feel Something Different (the Gom Jabbar)

"And I'm posting that on the internet, unless you want it to use it for your four each day," Katie says, after I tell her I'm going to go put my hands in ice water. I assure her she's free to do what she wants.

Somehow the metal mixing bowl I fill up with water and ice cubes seems colder that if I were using a plastic bowl, though of course that's unlikely, and I take a few deep breaths, hit the timer, and plunge my right hand in up to the wrist.

Instantly I am in excruciating pain, that, while it originates in my hand, seems to radiate up my arm all the way to my core, and the top of my head feels like it's expanding, like my skull is swelling up like a balloon, and it takes all my concentration just to keep breathing and leave my hand in while the timer slowly, slowly ticks down.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Alfred Hitchcock Presents

A robin has taken an immense and personal dislike to his reflection in the window of the new apartment building behind ours, and has been dive bombing himself, whacking into the window, and falling back only to repeat the process again, for hours now.

The sparrows are darting about in agitation while somewhere above us, a crow or a raven croaks and creaks and eggs the craziness on. 

A dove hunkers down on the downstairs neighbors' deck, giving us the side eye. A larger male comes up and starts chasing her around, hoping to get busy, and the robin dive bombs his own reflection again.

Friday, April 3, 2020

The Care And Feeding Of Your Body

The close quarters, the constant bad news, the worries about lost work, it can really get you up in your head, small stresses that turn into a sometimes overwhelming sense of isolation and malaise, so I'm grateful when Katie comes into the kitchen as I'm putting dishes away and lifts my shirt to hug me tight.

Her cool hands are on my skin, and she buries her face in my neck and inhales deeply. She breathes me in, and I breathe her in, too, the smell of her hair and her animal warmth that reminds me that I'm not just a brain perched on top of a meat machine that carts me around, not just a pair of eyes wired to a screen that pumps anxiety into my skull sixteen hours a day.

Then I feel her nails like little needles digging into my side, a tiny shock of pain, and she whispers in my ear with a quiet intensity, "If we don't eat those avocados tomorrow I am going to freak out."

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Escaping Confinement

We climb up the fire escape to the roof to bask in the sun like lizards on the black tar. The absence of walls and the expanse of blue sky and gray clouds smearing in the wind makes me a little drunk, and my heart buzzes in my chest while I stand watching tiny planes fly so high that they look like they'll never land again.

A cardinal sings in a tree behind our building, a warbling trill that ends with a "pew-pew-pew" like a laser gun in a science fiction movie, and Katie lies on a blanket, mirrored sunglasses covering her face.

A woman across the street on her roof jumps rope, and I can only see her the bouncing mop of her black hair and the rope as it loops over her again and again and again.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Boredom Sets In

Katie come back from the bathroom and flops in the chair.

“What’s your plan?” I ask.

“I have no plan,” she says wearily, “about anything.”

“Want to go to bed?” I ask

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Attempting To Create Meaning

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 30, 2020

No Thanks To You

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

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

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

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Thanks For Staying The Hell Away From Me

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Unanswered Alarms

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 27, 2020

Antsy

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Baking

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Fresh Vs. Recycled Air

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Isolation

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

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

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

Monday, March 23, 2020

Overcrowding and Collapse

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Points and Dots

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

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

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

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Antisocial Distancing

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 20, 2020

NOT Social Distancing

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 19, 2020

More Social Distancing

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

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

How To Cut Slack

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Not Possible

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 16, 2020

Capitalism Twists Us

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Work Ethic

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

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

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

Friday, March 13, 2020

Social Distancing In Action

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

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

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

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Early Spring

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

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

A New Game

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Passive Aggressive/Aggressively Passive

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

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