Saturday, February 22, 2020

Dopamine

The woman across from me on the train sits hunched over the scratch-off lottery ticket, carefully picking and choosing which spaces to uncover.

The card has been designed to tap into the ancient part of our brain that loves to scrabble at the earth to reveal buried food, the part of our nervous system that doles out a small dopamine rush every time we accomplish something, even if that task is essentially random and almost certainly pointless.

I turn away to push some buttons on my phone.

When I look back, we’re crossing the bridge, the ticket is crumpled up in her hand, and she’s looking pensively out the window at the cold blue sky, the city looming into view, the river rolling beneath us, or maybe nothing at all.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Church Wedding

Katie and I married twice, first in Manhattan at a wedding venue and then in Brooklyn in a Catholic church, the church wedding being mostly for the benefit of her side of the family, including a couple of dead relatives who may have had opinions about the whole affair.

Today, we went looking for our wedding certificate to prove to our health insurance company that she could be on my benefits, and we found both the Manhattan and the Brooklyn one.

When I asked which we should use, Katie said, “The first one! The second one was just to keep the ghosts at bay."


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

New Smells

The dog in the backpack is doing pretty well, all things considered. He doesn't seem to mind the crowded subway car, or the slightly awkward way in which he has to hold his paws because of the angle of the backpack, and his soft brown eyes gaze on we commuters without judgement or alarm, even as the patch on the backpack that holds him ("PLEASE ASK TO PET') hints at issues with people in the past.

When I pull my yerba mate tea out of my bag and pop off the lid of my cup, he lifts his head and begins to strain his head this way and that in an attempt to look over his shoulder to see where this unusual smell might be coming from. "It's possible he's never smelled this before," I tell his owner, and she agrees.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Greetings

The news of the death of a friend of ours shocks Katie and me pretty badly, so when I leave to walk to the drugstore down the block, Katie asks me to be particularly careful, particularly since an app she follows on her phone warned her of fighting and police activity a few blocks from the store.

The street is mostly quiet tonight, though, and even though there's no one around, I find myself examining the trash waiting for pickup on the curb, wondering if I can pull something from it to use as a weapon in the event of confrontation.

The drugstore is a strange oasis of fluorescent lights in the foggy darkness, and I quickly find the items I came for and check out with a young man who stands behind the counter with a blank expression and downcast eyes. 

"How you doing, man?" I ask, hoping for some sort of human contact, and he looks up to meet my gaze, and I am blessed by his smile.

King For A Day

"I'm just worried," she says, examining the loafers she's wearing in her reflection with concern, "that these shoes might be a little too Louis the Sixteenth."

"I think the heels would have to be higher for these to be anything but a Sun King kinda deal," I reply flippantly, and she turns and just sort of looks at me. Realizing I may have gone a little over everybody's head, I quickly add, "Not that I know anything about French Regencies or whatever!"

"No, that's right, I was just marveling at what you did there," she says with a smile.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Names Are Important

The man lounges on the couch while on his lap, back paws on the man's stomach, forepaws on the mans crossed leg, stands a small white and russet colored dog. The dog's ears are erect and alert, and he scans the sales floor with a look of ownership and concern while standing utterly still.

I compliment the man on his excellent dog, and add, "They're really making chihuahuas awesome these days."

"He's a rat terrier," the man informs me with a withering look.

Honesty

"How you feelin'?" my friend at work asks during a short pause in the rush.

"Honestly, man, I'm a little worn out," I reply, and his face lights up.

"I'm glad to hear that!" he says, laughing. "You can't trust someone who says they feel great all the time."

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Different Reasons

"There's ham in these," she says with distaste, picking apart the free breakfast croissants the company provided for the meeting.

"Oh, do you not eat pork?" I ask mildly.

"No, I like bacon, just not ham - did you think I was Muslim?"

"Mmm, lots of different reasons to not eat pork," I reply as I go back to my meal.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Read The Room

"So the orgone is basically an anti-entropic principle," I tell my very sick wife as we lay on the couch, after she informs me that Orson Bean died recently. "Entropy is the concept that systems tend towards greater and greater disorder, you know, the second law of thermodynamics, which some people think makes creation from nothing kind of problematic.

"So orgone is the idea that there is an anti-entropic principle, an organizing principle which is essentially consciousness, that pervades the universe, and which has it's expression in people primarily in the human orgasm...," I continue.

"I hate everything you're saying right now," she says, looking at me beseechingly, as the tissues she's used to plug up her runny nose mute and distort her voice almost beyond recognition.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Sick Day (Off)

There's not much to talk about today, as it turns out. The tickle in the back of my sinuses has blossomed into a blockage, a heaviness in my chest, aches and pains and the occasional throbbing catastrophe in my head. 

Ibuprofen knocks most of it out, leaving me tired and unable to sleep at the same time, though that could just be a function of my daytime FOMO, the sense that if the sun is up, I should be doing something or other. 

Katie stands in the kitchen, peeling potatoes to make me soup while I putter on the old laptop I'm attempting to fix, whiling away the hours, wondering where the time went.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Greeting Others Safely

“Welcome!” I say cheerfully to the woman browsing the table of shoes (this is my go-to greeting at work, as it is less aggressive than “Can I help you?” and allows the person some space, but also lets them engage with me if they actually want something).

“Oh, I’m just looking,” she answers brusquely (the standard response for a person who just wants to be left alone.

“Sure!” I reply, ratcheting up my smile another notch. “That’s why I only said, 'Welcome!’"

Sunday, February 2, 2020

A Real Phony

This particular area in the Disney park seems like a carnival that blew into town and set up in a vacant lot. The four of us walk around, enjoying the ambience without really taking too much notice of things until John pipes up

“Do you see how they made it look kind of like an old parking lot?” he says, pointing out the asphalt on the ground, the faded, painted parking spots, the cracks in the pavement.

Suddenly the entire artifice of the place stands out in stark relief, a fake so convincing and blatant in in its having been designed and placed here on purpose that it becomes a different kind of real.

Also “On-Brand"

I am struggling to remember what I said that made me laugh so hard because it was so “on-brand” for Katie and I, but all I can get is, “I was saying something to you...."

“And then I said, ‘That was me, I told you that story,’” she replies, and she’s about to tell me what the story was when I interrupt her.

“Right, and it was...,” and then I trail off, unable to remember it.

“Well now you’ve scared it right out of my head,” she says.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

That’s Why

Work wasn’t great today, and after getting home late and eating a large helping of my feelings (homemade waffle with ice cream and chocolate sauce, followed by three slabs of garlic toast), I pull myself together and take the garbage and recycling out. 

As I’m trudging up the stairs to my apartment, I find myself thinking: why do I work so hard, if not to be exceptional, and if I’m not exceptional, why am I working so damn hard?

I open the door and Katie is standing in the living room, holding the cat, while “Footloose” blasts from the speaker. 

The three of us proceed to have an impromptu dance party to the dulcet tones of Kenny Loggins and company, and I instantly feel better.

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Parisian Wife

“So where are you going in Europe?” I ask her as she tries on another pair of shoes.

“We’re going to Barcelona, Madrid, and Paris,” her husband answers. “We go to Europe a lot, but somehow we always seem to end up in Paris.”

She smiles at this, and he continues, “She would probably say that we’re going to Paris via Spain."

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Pet Shop Girls

I shake the final scoop of kitty litter down into the plastic jug until it’s as full as I can possibly make it, and think to myself “mene, mene, tekel” because I’m that kind of nerd.

I walk up to the front of the store, but no one’s behind the counter. Off to the left, a woman stands behind a display selling raw food for dogs, but she’s on her phone and ignoring me completely, not in a pointed or rude way, but just that she genuinely does not know I’m here, and I just watch her for a little while, enjoying the sensation of watching someone who isn’t conscious of being watched.

Eventually I clear my throat, and when she looks up, eyes wide, I say, “So, are you it?"

The Cardinal Sin

We’re listening, rapt, as the NY Philharmonic soars through the piece they’re playing. The soloist grins, and he sways with the music, his body a palpable expression of his joy.

And just as the music reaches a quiet interlude, we hear it: the rustle and crinkle of someone opening a bag or unwrapping a candy - the cardinal sin of concert-going - but instead of it stopping after a moment, or even a couple of moments, it goes on and on and on and on....

Katie, John and I turn almost at the exact same time to see what the hell is exactly happening here, only to be confronted by a woman rummaging through what appears to be, not one or two, but an entire grocery store’s worth of plastic bags on her lap, while everyone around her just seems to ignore her.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

train sleep

I close my eyes to better concentrate on the music. The rocking of the train and the hard subway seat fade away, and I’m left moving through the mix on my headphones, navigating the space between the cymbals and the toms on the drum kit, teasing out the separate threads of the vocal lines from the fabric they’ve woven together, feeling the bass out in the dark seas of pitch where notes cease to exist.

I can almost see it, some kind of light or consciousness at the center of the sound, right there, as close as a person can get to the center of the universe.

My body jerks and I awaken with a start.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Fatten Me Up

I lay my head in her lap as Katie scrolls through her phone. She looks down and then pokes the rise of protruding ribs underneath my t-shirt (my chest is shaped much like my grandfather’s and the bottom of my ribcage sticks out a bit). 

“I have muscles elsewhere,” I say.

“You just have to eat a stick of butter before bed,” she says playfully.

Backhanded

I’ve only just arrived to work when I hear the woman’s voice outside the stock room at the cash wrap asking, “Are you a manager?”

“Well I want to complain about one of your employees,” she continues after presumably receiving an answer in the affirmative. I freeze where I am in the stock room, listening: what will she say about one of my co-workers?

“I want to complain because he’s just too nice,” she finishes, lamely.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Different Kinds of Problems

“Speaking of the coronavirus,” Katie says nonchalantly as we walk into the grocery store. “There was a...,” she pauses, “...I’m sorry to say, viral video of a doctor freaking out on his supervisor because he was so overworked, just asking to be fired.”

A man perusing the avocados gives us a bit of a look as we walk by, and we ignore him. I go to the produce section, look around for a moment, and announce, “Looks like they moved the Brussels sprouts again.”

Thursday, January 23, 2020

What Women Have To Put Up With

My co-worker is smiling after the slightly sweaty man walks away from her, but her eyes tell another story.

“Oh, this random customer just asked if he could take a picture of me holding a shoe,” she says when I ask her what might be the matter. She takes a deep breath, her face flush, and her smile is hard and angry, just like when she caught a different customer taking a picture of her while she was bent over helping a customer.

“I guess it’s better if they ask first,” she says sarcastically, “like, I don’t mind if you’re creepy as long as you’re polite about it."


A Natural

The sky outside the window turns purple as the night slowly turns into morning. The cat sleeps on the couch next to where I’m lying on my back on the floor.

As I move slowly through a series of stretches and poses called sun salutation, I tie my breathing to my movement (the word yoga coming from the word “yoke,” after all) and my busy mind slows down a little. 

The cat, sleeping on her back, the pure white fur of her belly exposed, one paw thrown dramatically over her face, snores delicately, more relaxed than I’ll ever be.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Darkness

I woke up in the dark last night, terrified because I couldn’t see, when the reason I couldn’t see was, of course, that it was dark.

Tonight, as we walked home from the grocery store, I pointed out a vapor trail from an airplane that extended across the dark sky above. It was a slightly lighter streak of darkness against the greater expanse of night, barely visible in the closer glare of the street lights, and it took her a second to find it.

“See, you’re not losing your vision,” she said. 

Workers Comp

I grab a sizable pile of shoe boxes and head upstairs, and one of my coworkers gets nervous.

“Don’t want you falling down the stairs like [redacted] did yesterday, on the floor all laid out,” she explains.

“He was fine,” another co-worker scoffs. “Down there looking for a check."

Monday, January 20, 2020

Pre-Post-Apocalyptic

After walking up four flights on an escalator that had been turned into regular stairs, the gentlemen with the cane who had made the journey with us questioned whether this movie theater was “ADA compliant.”

“This place used to be kind of awesome,” Katie says as we walk by a sign announcing that the elevators were also out of order. The drain of the drinking fountain is covered in rust, and dust bunnies hang from ceiling tiles that look like no one has cleaned in months.

I find myself thinking about the movie “28 Days Later” for some reason.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Suspicion

The tourists are gathered in a polite semi-circle around the MTA booth, and the guy in the booth is saying over the speaker, “So this is cash-only, here.”

I’m on my way to work, so I continue past, but something about what he said is bothering me as I walk up the stairs from the subway station: was he telling those tourists that he, in his capacity as MTA worker, was only accepting cash? Because that is 100% not a thing and it sounds like something a person who was running a scam on tourists would say to not have to record selling Metrocards to gullible tourists. 

But later, as I’m relating this story to Katie, I realize that he could have been telling these tourists about any number of establishments in the area, and that I should maybe be a little less suspicious.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Marriage

“Why did this post get more views?” I muse out loud.

“It’s because it’s funnier than that other post! I’m funny, I said something funny, and you were smart enough to write it down in a funny way, and that’s why it got more likes,” Katie replies passionately.

I laugh as I write it all down again.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Public Speaking

“Glarghb aaeagth abargh, garaghach baragathagh,” the beggar at the end of the car announces to everyone. He then proceeds to stalk the length of the subway car shaking his cup of coins at each person, occasionally glaring intently at a person when they fail to put any change into the pot.

“I wonder if he thinks he’s being intelligible,” I say to my friend after the man has finished his shakedown and moved on to the next car. “Like, it sounds like that, but he thinks he’s saying, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I fear I must intrude for a moment on your commute to ask your assistance....’"

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Tough Love

A co-worker walking by approaches me for a hug, and then seems to almost instantly regret his decision.

“Oh,” he says, sounding a bit like he’s in pain, “you hug kinda hard.”

“Sorry, I’m sort of enthusiastic,” I reply contritely, as I let him go.

“No, it was a good hug, I’m just fragile,” he reassures me.

Ripped Off

“You paid eight dollars for two slices of pizza?” she asks, incredulous.

“I mean, one was a white slice with spinach...,” I begin lamely.

“This is New York: I won’t bat an eye at a twenty dollar salad, I will thank you for not charging me more than thirty dollars for sushi,” she interrupts. “But this town was founded on dollar slices and eight dollars should feed a family of four!"

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Clowntown

The altercation at the end of the subway car between the yelling, angry old man and the shouty, angry young woman has escalated to the point where the woman is insisting, “You better back off, because in New York, we keep it street!”

“You don’t live in New York, you live in clown town!” he ripostes.

“I live in New York City, and I keep it street, so you just try me!”

“CLOWNTOWN!” he roars, and the woman sitting next to me puts her fingers in her ears.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Stay at Home

“Well, I don’t want to seem like I’m bragging about how much sleep I’m getting to new parents,” Katie says to our friends, and everybody laughs.

“If I try to put him down at seven, he’ll be up at seven,” our friend says. “So I just put him down when I go to bed at midnight, and we wake up a couple of times in the night, and then we get up at noon. It’s actually a lot easer than people make it out to be."

Time Check

The street person sitting in his sleeping bag looks up at me with hard, dark eyes wide in alarm beneath a shock of wild, white hair. “Is it ten o’clock?” he asks concernedly as I walk past.

“It sure is,” I call over my shoulder after a quick check of my wrist.

“Thanks, boss!” he calls back, genuine relief in his voice.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Undoing Minor Chaos

They’re so young it’s hard to even be mad at them, but this group of kids walking down Seventh Avenue in Brooklyn knocking down the sandwich board signs business put out front is pretty annoying.

But as they pass, leaving a knocked over sign or planter in their wake, passers by pick up the signs, right the planters, just generally undo their small demonstration of rebellion.

Katie and I pause in our walk to right a couple of signs. “It’s like they were never here at all,” I say.


Thursday, January 9, 2020

Remember?

I pace in front of the restaurant - if I go in, I’ll forget this melody I’ve got going in my head, and my phone, on which I would record it as a voice memo, is currently back at work, charging.

I sing it to myself again, even as the wind kicks up, chilling my hands and cheeks in the cold winter breeze.

I write down some lyrics on an old napkin I dig out of my bag.

I sigh, looking longingly at the front door of the restaurant, then start to walk around the block, singing the melody to myself yet again.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

And Now You’re Singing It Too

“They’re making The Nanny into a Broadway musical and the day it opens I’m going to have to kill myself,” Katie says as we’re lying in bed.

“Please don’t,” I say. Then, thinking about it, “How’s that song go again?”

“Don’t you put that ear worm in my head right before bed,” she replies angrily.

The Souls of My Shoes

I wipe down this pair of boots I dug out from the back of my closet with an old rag, and they seem to respond to the attention. A deep luster slowly surfaces in the soft, wrinkled brown leather, like a cat stretching out as it warms in the sun. 

Next, I shine them with a leather oil conditioner, and they seem to wake up even more. Before, they barely looked wearable, but now they seem to stand on their own, weathered but alert, wise with age and ready to carry me into a new day.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Vision

A couple of stops before my destination, I close my book and put it back in my bag, then sit for a while, alternately blinking and widening my eyes. I’ve recently found that I need a few minutes after reading to bring myself back to the “real” world, or I’m out of it and spacey for the rest of the day.

We pull into a station where the doors slide open, and I find myself staring through the frame of the doorway out onto the platform at a perfect tableau: in the foreground, a yellow strip on the platform bordering the edge, then a russet painted metal pillar that supports the roof of the platform, then a black trash can brooding sullenly behind them both. I stare for several minutes at this strangely portent diorama, vibrant and obscurely meaningful, struggling to figure out what it signifies, what I’m supposed to see, but then the curtain falls and I’m left looking at the steel doors of the train, back in the normal world again.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Layers

We walk through Carroll Gardens to the movie theater to see the newest Star Wars movie. The clouds are high and gray, with edges of gold as the sun goes down in late afternoon. I’m wearing one of the biggest, thickest sweaters I own, a huge brown zip-up monstrosity with giant pictures of ducks knitted into the pattern of the thing, and even though it’s warm, I still feel a little of the wind that cuts through the air reaching through the thick weave of it to try and snatch the warmth from my skin.

“I think I’m wearing exactly one layer too few,” I say stoically to Katie, and she frowns in concern.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Missed It

I can visualize everything about the scene: I was putting cat food into the microwave to take the refrigerated chill off it, Katie was walking out of the room into the bedroom, maybe, and she yelled something hilarious. But for the life of me I can’t remember what it was.

“I had my four each day, but then I thought, ‘Oh it’s too early,’” I tell Katie sadly. “I thought I’d remember, but I forgot."

Writing As A Lost Art

The manager insists that everyone write three thank you notes to customers before leaving work today, so I sneak off to the break room to write in peace. Two younger co-workers of mine come in and sit next to me to eat their lunches (bags of Wendy’s: burgers, chicken nuggets, all “mad unhealthy,” she says), and since I’m almost done, I don’t mind the company.

“Your handwriting is so beautiful,” one of them says, noticing I’m writing all my notes in cursive. “I’ll bet you were the type who practiced writing all the time when you were in school."

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A Sturdy Roof Over Our Heads

We sit eating pierogis at the bar in the food pavilion of the market at Bryant Park, looking up at the roof. The pavilion itself is a several-stories-tall temporary structure they’ve built housing various food vendors, and its clear plastic roof and wooden floor makes it look like nothing so much as a giant greenhouse.

“What kind of industrial-strength plastic must that be,” Katie says, remarking on the clear panels of the roof. She means to not leak with the rain, but I find myself imagining the entire structure covered in snow, huge white drifts of the stuff piling up on the roof, weighing down on the plastic panels which are strong enough to withstand it, God knows how.