Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Ending A Conversation

"I love these boots," she says in her thick Eastern European accent, "but there is something that bothers me about them, and I cannot explain it."

I don't miss a beat as I start packing up the half-dozen or so shoes I've brought her. "Well, I'm sorry I wasn't able to help you find what you needed today," I say, which is my favorite way to end an interaction while making it sound like they're the ones ending it. 

"You are very patient, very kind," she says apologetically as she's leaving, almost as if I'm not the one who sent her on her way

Monday, November 23, 2020

Among The Redwoods

"What was your favorite part of camping this summer?" I ask the young women I'm fitting for combat boots.

"The redwoods," she answers without hesitation.

"You can really feel the fairies among the redwoods," her mother continues, and the young woman seems to accept this as a completely normal thing to say. The dog lying at her mother's feet does not look at me, but he sighs deeply, and puts his head on his paws.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

NPCs

"No one was bad," Katie says of the people she met today. "They were all just so... forgettable."

I think back on my day, and find a similar theme: no one said anything that surprised me, or enlightened me, or told me anything I didn't already know, or that I really needed to hear.

I wonder if it was them, or if it was me?

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Basic Elements

Katie comes out of her studio as I'm cooking dinner.

"The house smells so good!" she shouts down the hall toward the kitchen.

"You know what you have to cook to make people think something delicious is cooking...," I say as I chop broccoli.

"GARLIC AND ONIONS!" she yells.

Friday, November 20, 2020

And She’d Have Won

We’re watching random music videos on YouTube, because it’s that kind of night. HAIM does a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” there’s a mashup up of thirty or so songs from the year 1979 strung together in a single video by a group called The Hood Internet. Then, I see a video for Prince doing a live cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and I immediately click.

“I would have bet every dollar I had that you wouldn’t be able to pass that video without watching it,” Katie says.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Dr. Wife

A restless night with what feels like a pulled hamstring leads to me lying in bed for longer than usual after I awaken.

I’m thumbing through my phone when Katie comes in with a thoughtful look on her face. “Let me see your knees,” she says.

I obligingly throw off the covers and she examines my legs for a minute before she points at my left knee, pronouncing, “No, that ones definitely bigger."

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Calm

“Oh, he’s not very friendly,” she says when I ask to meet her dog.

“Fair enough,” I say, carefully avoiding eye contact with the dog and projecting my calmest demeanor.

Later, when we’re sitting down and she trying on shoes, the dog climbs into her lap, barks once, and then settles down to watch me with a calm expression.

“He’s being very good,” she says with surprise, but I know it’s because I’m projecting calmness.

Tricking Myself Into Productivity

I gave myself permission to do nothing today, my day off. Which is why I now find myself on my knees wearing heavy blue rubber gloves, scrubbing at the sides of the tub with an old kitchen sponge while the smell of bleach and cleaning supplies filters through my mask.

I tel l myself that it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be better than it was, which takes some of the pressure that I put on myself off. I used to be paralyzed by the thought of all the work that needed to be done on any given task, but now, I just do what I can in the time that I have, and don’t worry about if it’s perfect, or even if it’s done, and that seems to get more done than anything else.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Too Long

‘I’ll be one minute,” I tell my manager as I head down the escalator.

One minute?” he asks sarcastically, and I roll my eyes.

“Are you going to be like this the rest of my life?” I say in exasperation.

“Well, for sure the rest of my life,” he replies cheerfully.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

You Can Tell By The Way I Walk

The DJ they brought into the store for the weekend is bumping some BIG tunes, and as I ring up my customers, I absent-mindedly shimmy a little.

“My manager hates it when I dance,” I lie self-deprecatingly, just to get them to laugh, which they do.

“We’ll tell him we forced you to!” one of them cries.

“Oh, there’s no way he’ll believe that,” I say, boogieing, and they join in.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Falling For The Big Apple

“It was mid-December, I was on the Upper West Side in a cafe with a women I thought I was in love with,” I tell my customer. "It was about midnight, and it started to snow, those huge, slow flakes coming down, and I looked out the window into the night and just thought, ‘I love New York.’”

“It’s funny you should say that,” she replies, her eyes shining. “Because I met a guy I thought I loved when I first moved here, and we did all the New York-y things you do, and I thought ‘Ooooh, I’m falling in love with him,’ but really, I realized I was falling in love with the city!"

Friday, November 13, 2020

Away

The guy sitting across from me on the train is wearing a mask, but it’s still rather alarming when he abruptly sneezes without covering his mouth.

“Bless you,” I say reflexively, and look up as he goes back to scrolling through his phone.

He sneezes again, this time, at least, into the crook of his elbow, as all good New Yorkers are taught to do in the literature they leave for us to read when we move in to our first apartment.

Without speaking, I stand up and walk down to the opposite end of the car, away from this sneezing maniac.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Existential Hunger?

On the train after a slow, rainy day. Everyone staring at their phones or reading books.

But how many days do we have left, how many hours have we spent reading, looking away from the world, staring at glass bricks and processed hunks of wood and hallucinating?

(this seemed really profound when I thought of it on the train, but I think I might have just been hungry)

Real Genius

A lot of people lately are buying running shoes. I ask them, “Oh, are you a runner?”

“No,” they usually say, “I just want to walk more.”

“That’s okay,” I tell them, “I only run when chased."

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Startling

In lieu of the usual tongue-clicking sound I make to get the cat’s attention, I wiggle my fingers against each other in her general direction. 

This sound, the sort of flip-flip-flip sound that my fingers makes, seems to alarm the cat, and she repeatedly startles as I do it.

To make sure I’m the one that’s doing it, I do it again, and she startles again, only more so.

I apologize to her profusely and pet her until she settles back down into her spot on the couch, and her eyes slit back towards sleep.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Belt And Suspenders

“The receipt you have there for Customer Owned Goods is all you need to reclaim your shoes after they’ve been stretched,” I tell her.

“Could you please bring me the original receipt anyway?” she asks apologetically.

After I’ve fetched it and given it to her, I brush aside her apologies, saying, “I appreciate people who plan ahead and like to have contingency plans, like my wife. I sometimes say that she likes to wear belt and suspenders."

Sunday, November 8, 2020

It’s Over

I’m standing watching the escalator for customers when my friend Ben taps me on the shoulder. He’s holding up his phone, screen towards me, and it reads “Biden: 279,” as he says, “It’s over.”

My knees get kinda week and I lean over, palms down on the table, tears in my eyes. He kindly pats me on the back and walks away.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Handcuffs And Death

The guy who has been across the street from our apartment yelling incoherently most of the night has disappeared by the time I take the garbage down to the curb for pickup. The night is cool but not cold, and I pause on the top step in front of my building while a couple passes walking their dog, who sniffs the pile of trash with evident interest before being pulled away.

Later, the shouting man has returned, and Katie and I turn off the light in our front room overlooking the street to watch him. Though his shouting seems aggressive, and I certain wouldn’t like to meet him in his current state, he doesn’t seem to be harming anyone, so we stand in the window while he stalks up and down the sidewalk, yelling aggrievedly about handcuffs and death.

Friday, November 6, 2020

A Second Opinion

I lean over, bending at the waist in a sideways motion, to pick up my guitar and move it so I can vacuum, when something in my side and back contracts and spasms unpleasantly, and I gingerly lower the guitar and stand up straight, resigned in my heart to an afternoon, and possibly an evening, of being uncomfortable and moving slowly.

Later that night, as I'm explaining to Katie what happened, I muse, "I'm a little worried it might be a kidney stone."

"With the amount of water you drink?" she asks incredulously. "No, forty-nine years old, you picked something up, pulled something - you're old!"

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Protecting Our Stuff

While the businesses surrounding the winter market are boarding up in an excess of caution as we count votes in the presidential election, another vendor comes up to ask about whether we feel safe leaving our inventory in the booth.

“I’m sure it will be fine,” I tell her. “There won’t be, like, real unrest unless Trump tries to steal the election, plus, not that I like cops, but there are plenty of police around.”

She looks confused, and I worry I may have overstepped, so I add, “You know, there are just a lot of cops around, so people probably won’t try anything."

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Wizard

“The most messed up I’ve ever been was, god, years ago,” I tell Ben during a lull between customers. “I was at a party, drinking tequila, and I smoked up. The party ended with me hiding under the kitchen table, scared because I knew this guy I didn’t get along with was a wizard casting curses on me.”

“Isn’t it amazing how sometimes we need substances to show what’s really going on?” he deadpans.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Rescued From The Tracks

What started as “well I might be a little late to work” has rapidly become “oh I am definitely going to be very late,” because here we are, all of us on this Q train, stopped on the Manhattan Bridge.

I am sitting at the very front of the train, in the seat right next to the conductor’s cabin, where a sign on the door admonishes me to “Keep your distance,” though I have no idea where I would go, when I hear, from inside the cabin, a loud disturbance.

Then the door to the conductor’s cabin opens and out of it, like a clown car, come numerous hard-hatted, safety-vested track workers, way more that should fit into such a small space, all carrying various pieces of equipment and joking with one another in a sort of relieved way about how they’re glad that’s over.

Finally, the last one comes out and says to the others, “Okay, ready to do it again?"

Sunday, November 1, 2020

No One Dies Inside Disneyworld

My friend at work stops in the middle of our conversation, points at the ground, and says, matter-of-factly, “Stinkbug.”

Thus ensues a bit of running around which culminates in me carrying said stink bug, who is now very confused, in a plastic cup up the elevator and out the front door of the store to the curb, where he is dumped unceremoniously in the rain.

There is some discussion on my return to the shoe floor as to whether we really saved him, per se, but we all finally agree that, though he’ll probably die outside, at least he’ll die in his “natural” habitat.

When I relate this story to Katie later that night, she muses, “You should have compared it to Disneyworld."

I Am Not Feeling Festive

“Have any Halloween plans?” I ask the couple I’m selling to, hoping that the answer is “no.”

“We’re going out to dinner with some friends, having some drinks,” she answers while he continues to look at his phone. I successfully conceal my wince, and I know they’re not technically doing anything wrong.

“It’s hard to feel like it’s Halloween when I’m pretty sure it’s still March,” I say, and they laugh.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A Special Occasion

We’re almost at the pizza place when we see the two older people, a man and a woman, bidding each other farewell on the sidewalk. 

“Well, let’s hope it’s not so long until next time,” he says, giving her a gentle fist bump.

“Oh, you’re gonna make me cry,” she replies, hand to her chest.

“Hey, that’s why I had the sambuca with the coffee beans - it was a special occasion,” he says.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

New Normal

 I drop off the truck at U-Haul after an exhausting day, only to realize that I left home without a mask.

It’s early Tuesday evening in Brooklyn, so the streets aren’t too too filled, but I find myself checking a full block ahead to see if anyone is approaching, walking out into the street to give folks plenty of space, and just generally feeling deeply uncomfortable.

I don’t know how people do it, walking around with their whole face hanging out like its normal. When I finally got home I was so relieved. 

Freegan

Loading the truck full of Katie’s art and displays takes several trips, and on one of them I come down to find a gentleman parking his bike in front of our apartment building. He takes off his helmet to reveal curly brown hair and a long face, partially concealed behind a mask.

He pulls a paper bag out of his backpack, then leans down and unties a garbage bag sitting on the curb, which, it turns out, is full of what appear to be day-old bagels from the bagel shop next door.

He carefully goes through the bag as I continue to load the truck, pulling out ones he likes the look of and throwing the rest back in, until his paper bag is full, and he and I do not speak the entire time, even though I pass him more than once, because I figure he’s doing nothing wrong, so why make a fuss?

Monday, October 26, 2020

Sometimes You Can Just Tell

We step out of the apartment into the overcast fall day, Katie in her new, brightly hued sweater dress and leather jacket and me in a hooded t-shirt and army green button down, fresh-faced and ready to go vote and the first thing I hear is two young women eating under the tent for the bagel place next door, discussing politics.

“Like, don’t act like you’re all virtuous just because you’re voting and I’m not...,” one says to the other in this nasal, aggrieved tone before I pass out of earshot.

“Man, I hated everything about that conversation,” I tell Katie.

“Oh yeah, even though I couldn’t hear what they said,” she agrees.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

To Make Himself Smile

He stands up after finishing his lunch to go back to work. At other tables in the lunch room, people are chatting, watching videos on their phones, eating, one guy is clearly asleep, with his head under his arm to shade his eyes from the fluorescent lights. 

As he leaves, he shoots his trash into the garbage can with an unfancy fade away shot, nothing but net, no one saw but me. “Kobe,” he says softly to himself, and heads out with a small smile.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Arriving At Home

I sit at the dinner table - in front of me, an empty plate that previously held a grilled cheese sandwich, and a bowl that had held vegetable soup. Across from me sits my wife, thumbing through her phone, a smaller empty plate in front of her.

I take a sip of wine, red and full-bodied and delicious, and a tension I wasn’t aware I had been carrying around in my shoulders and chest relaxes. I take a deep breath, and smile.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Just a Normal Conversation With A Customer

“It reminds me of a line from the Gospel of Thomas,” I tell the woman I am helping find shoes (after a long discussion of her work as a therapist and counselor) as she takes off the too tight Ugg slippers. “‘If you bring forth what is within in, what you bring forth will save you, but if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.’”

This seems to excite the psychologist side of her. “I would add to that,” she says, “that if you bring forth and name what is within you, it will save you."

Monday, October 19, 2020

Chaos Boys

Milo and his friend look to be about ten or eleven, and certainly act like it, with each daring the other to jump into the murky water at Dog Beach while the park slowly winds down toward the end of a cool fall Sunday afternoon.

Finally they hit upon a plan to upend a sizable stump that people have been using as a seat. Working together, they heave it up and over and into the pond with a sad, heavy splash.

Not content with simply spoiling a good place to sit, they eagerly grab a long branch and push it out further into the water, where it floats uselessly, and then, finished with their task, they stand on the rocks overlooking the pond until Milo says, “I dare you to take off your pants."


Sunday, October 18, 2020

In On The Joke

“Do you guys want some water while you’re waiting?” I ask the mother/daughter duo to whom I’m currently selling shoes, before I run into the stockroom in another attempt to find them what they're looking for.

“I don’t think you have anything strong enough for me,” the mother replies jokingly.

“Well, unless you’re looking for heroin, I think we can oblige,” I say, indicating the actual bar with booze we have behind her in the middle of the shoe floor, and her face goes stony.

There’s a moment, right after you make a joke that may have landed wrong, where the world seems to hold its breath, but the daughter must have seen the bar on the way in, even though the mother clearly hadn’t, and she laughingly points it out to her, while relief floods through my body.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Woodpile

Shoes left after a customer has concluded the transaction (either by buying something or not) are traditionally called “wood,” and it’s part of the job of the salesman to clean up their wood to keep the sales floor tidy. 

This pile of wood is something else, though: three different sizes of three different shoes, plus a couple random shoes for good measure, strewn about the floor surrounded by piles of the paper and cardboard and plastic bags that are used to pack the shoes.

I’ve seen this sort of thing before - the desperate attempts to engage the customer who doesn’t know exactly what she wants, or even what size, only that she doesn’t want whatever it is you brought out for her, but maybe if you bring out one more thing, she’ll finally decide....

As I pass the guy to whom the wood belongs, he laments, “Man, I’m not making any money today."

Thursday, October 15, 2020

We Must Take Sides

“I’m not going to vote,” my customer says. I manage to hold my tongue as she continues in an aggrieved tone, “Trump supporters don’t seem to care when I say that, but people who oppose him get really nasty with me."

I take a deep breath as I loosen the laces on the boot she’s about to try on. “They don’t get mad at you because silence favors the oppressor,” I finally say, as casually as I can.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

An Hour For Lunch

Yeah, that’s a good idea, I think as I sit down for lunch. I should totally do that.

I watch a few minutes of a show on my phone, and then realize that I do not remember the thing that I thought I should do.

I stare at the paused image on my screen, wracking my brain for it, but nothing comes to mind, and eventually I just give up and unpause the show.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Guilt Is A Useless Emotion

The boots that I suggested Katie purchase last year specifically because they were waterproof seem to be no match for today’s rain. 

“Yeah, there are wet spots on my socks,” she says looking down at her soaked toes as we enter the grocery store.

“Man, I feel like I really let you down,” I say.

“Don’t make this about you,” she replies mildly.

Anti-social

The mini Australian Shepherd startles as I approach, then proceeds to make this huffing noise that is, almost, but not quite a bark.

“We’re trying to socialize him again,” his owner says apologetically as I kneel with my knuckles held loosely toward the dog. “He was fine before lockdown, but he seems to have forgotten how to be around people.”

“Yeah, that seems to be going around,” I say, as the dog huffs again.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Still A Little Ways To The Robot Uprising

“We moved a piece of furniture, and there were all these dust bunnies underneath it,” my father tells me on our phone call. “So we watched the robot vacuum cleaner go past it once, twice. On the third time, it got it.”

 “This is what passes for entertainment in lockdown, right?” I reply.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Everyone’s A Comedian

Being outside for so many hours yesterday (while wearing a mask, and with my hair falling over one side of my face) has left me with a rather peculiar sunburn, covering most of the left side of my face down my cheek to a line right above my nose, and leaving the right side of my face relatively unaffiliated.

Today, I wore a new pair of shoes that matched nicely with my pale-pink pants and a crisp white button-down shirt.

“Oh, I like those pants,” says my friend Ben. “They go so well with your face!"

Friday, October 9, 2020

Do The Math

The sky is what I like to call “anime blue”: a clear, intense, friendly blue, characteristic of a warm spring or early fall, that seems to promise a bit of adventure and fun. I’m standing on an asphalt playground at a school on the Lower East Side, helping fit kids for shoes that the company I’m working for is giving away.

“So what’s your favorite subject?” I ask the boy sitting in front of me while I unbox a new pair of sneakers.

He looks very serious under his mask, thinks for a moment and then says, “I think I like math best."

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Mars In Retrograde

On the walk home from the subway, I wonder if the guy who made eye contact with me as I walked up the stairs is following me home and hoping I turn down a side street so he can rob me. I find myself eyeing the small plots of earth where they planted trees along 7th Avenue, searching for rocks or pieces of trash that I can pick up to beat somebody over the head.

There’s an empty beer bottle, standing in front of a shuttered store front that might do the trick.

They say if you think everybody hates you, you need to take a nap, and if you hate everyone, you need to eat something, but what’s the solution when you find yourself imagining violent ways of murdering somebody with objects found on the street?

Monday, October 5, 2020

Play By Play

The thin black woman with the young doberman pinscher and the enormous pit bull picks up the waterlogged branch and throws it into the water yet again. The doberman, all giant paws and gangly legs, splashes awkwardly into the water to retrieve it while the pit hangs back on the shore.

A young and impetuous yellow lab named, awkwardly, “Jeff” tries to horn in on the stick action in a tug-of-war when the doberman comes out of the water, and then, when that doesn’t work, tries to hump both other dogs. 

The woman, seeing that Jeff’s owner (a young, diffident man in Birkenstocks and socks at a pond no less) is unable or unwilling to pull him off of her dogs, very calmly walks over, hauls Jeff up in the air by the collar, and says, gently admonishing, “Now, no humping."

Saturday, October 3, 2020

New York City Cops

After Katie’s run in with the cops earlier in the evening, I’m surprised they have the audacity to still be in our neighborhood, but walking to the store, I have to pass three police vans, with their occupants (unmasked, natch) hanging out in front of the Old First Church.

I do not make eye contact, and I do not speak to them, on my way there or back from the store.

A Black man is crossing the street going in the direction of the cops and I want to say something to him, tell him to be careful, but really, what would I say? He’s not doing anything, not that that matters.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Belgian Shepherd

I walked home from the subway, and saw a man with a shaggy german shepherd. I thought to myself, “Is that dog called a Malinois, or am I just making that word up?”

Later, at dinner, Katie mentioned seeing a man walking a dog, a shaggy sort of german shepherd, and I wondered, is she talking about the same dog?

A few minutes ago, I looked up the word Malinois, and it turns out I wasn’t making up the word at all.

Williamsburg and Points North

The bike ride to my friend’s house, one of the first rides I’ve taken in months, is easy and smooth up the coast of Brooklyn into Greenpoint. I keep having to put my ego in check to stop killing myself to try and pass people, and to stop getting mad when people pass me.

After I park my bike, we go for a walk, back down the way I just came, and we pause to admire the peculiar view this part of Brooklyn affords us, with the Chrysler Building and the Empire State and all the other icons of the city jostling up against one another.

“You’re used to Manhattan being spread out along the horizon, but here, it’s like it’s all compressed into a flattened, weird perspective,” I observe, and my friend wisely let’s this remark pass without comment.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Adults Are Talking

Two old white men walk on to a stage. There’s a kiddie pool filled with shit between them, and one of the men begins to splash around in it, flinging handfuls of the stinking, runny stuff at the audience, at the other man, at the curtains and walls. The other man does his best not to get hit, but he’s so used to the smell that he doesn’t try that hard to get out of it.

I watch this on TV until it ends, and afterwards, various people talk about what a mess it was; outside, a short squall rattles the windows and pounds ringing raindrops onto the metal hull of the air conditioner before subsiding back into the night.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Unwanted

I found a pair of Timberland boots on the street several years ago - old and a bit worse for wear, but serviceable. 

A campfire during a recent camping trip melted the soles right off of them, and so, after many years of good use, I put them out on the stoop for the tide of material goods that routinely takes boxes of books and other objects off our hands to carry them away.

Three days later, they are still there.

“Nobody wants your boots, Scott,” Katie says with finality as we come home from the grocery store to find them, still perched where I left them.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

No Thanks

The thin old woman is bent beneath an enormous backpack half the size of her body as she gets on the train. She peers nearsightedly at the empty seats peeking out between socially-distancing riders but seems averse to sitting so close to others.

When I see that she doesn’t have a place to sit, I count to five silently to see if anyone will give her a seat, and when no seat seems forthcoming, I stand and, gesturing, offer her mine.

She looks at where I was sitting, then back at me, and declines with a dismissive gesture before going to sit between a woman and two teenagers, while I shrug and return to my seat.

A Vibe, A Mood

She likes the shoes, but they are a little flashy for her. Her sister, with whom she’s been speaking English and Arabic all night, says, by way of advice, “Well, if you want practical shoes, get those,” indicating a different pair she was looking at, "but if you’re here for mazag, well....”

“Wait, what does that word mean?” I ask.

“After all the Arabic we’ve been speaking, you pick out the best word,” she replies, smiling.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

All Night Long

I place the last bag of trash on the curb in the cool night air, and when I stand up, cheers rise from the direction of the park like the sound of an approaching parade: joyful and raucous. 

Then, a flight of bicycles, dozens of them, flashes through the intersection in a noisy mob, laughing and calling to each other, chased by the whizz of gears spinning and the hoot of sirens.

A compatriot of theirs holds back the meager traffic while they pass, then pedals hard after, followed by a police car, then a paddy wagon, and then an ambulance, lights flashing in annoyance at it all.

Upstairs afterward, I find myself humming a Lionel Richie song as I brush my teeth - everyone you meet, they’re jamming in the streets, all night looooong....

Friday, September 25, 2020

Dog Beach At Dusk

The light fades from the sky above the park, but we can still make out a haze of mosquitoes over what they call “Dog Beach.” The small doggy swimming hole, sectioned off from the larger pond by a low chain-link fence, is mostly empty except for what looks like a black-and-white pitbull-and-something mix who stands motionless in the water, staring at nothing.

He stays like that, ears forward, eyes fixed, for a few minutes until a ripple in the water hooks his attention and he quickly turns, making this new patch of pond the focus.

“Turtles,” a woman holding a leash explains, and we watch him for a while until a family, sans masks and loudly speaking Russian, invades the beach to take pictures, and we head out.

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.