Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Worth A Shot

While I stand at the window waiting for my takeout, I hear my brother-in-law (visiting from out of town) behind me. “That looks delicious,” he says to one of the people in the group who just came up. 

“With all this covid shit, I can’t even ask for a bite,” he adds ruefully after she agrees that whatever she is eating is, in fact, delicious.

“I mean, this is New York,” I say over my shoulder, “so would you have even gotten a bite before covid?"

House Cat

“So what are you doing after this?” I ask her as I fit the shoe on her foot.

“I gotta get ready for the ball drop, see, I don’t wanna do nuthin’ but go from the couch, to the kitchen, get some more champagne, go back to the couch.”

“So you basically want to just go from one room to the other. You want to be a domesticated house cat, right?"

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Between The Lines

She goes off to use the bathroom, leaving her mother and I at the register with her shoes. “She’s a genius,” her mother says, and I nod agreeably.

“She seems pretty together,” I say, because she does.

“I would buy her anything she wanted,” she replies, but what she’s really saying is, I would die for her.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Battery Low

I swerve my new electric scooter around piles of leaves, branches strewn in the bike lane. My heart is beating quickly, and I consciously have to relax my grip on the handlebars - I’m headed downhill, fast, and I’m not entirely convinced I know how to stop.

The battery indicator begins to blink, and I realize that the single battery light I thought meant I had plenty of power actually meant nothing of the kind. The scooter slows down to a gentle walking speed on its own, and I begin to make my way home.

For The ‘Gram

I walk out of work, exhausted, and head down the block to the subway, pulling the collar of my jacket closed against the late-December wind that’s kicking up the trash up and down the street. 

I only see her, at first: dark hair in a fetching up-do, short, shimmery, form-fitting skirt, make-up flawless (no mask, natch), legs bare despite the bitter cold, standing at the curb with her hip cocked like she’s waiting for a cab or a movie producer. She’s posed before a beautifully lit plaza, and although the whole thing makes for a lovely tableau, I cannot for the life of me figure out what the situation is: is she coming out of an event, or waiting to go to one, and if so, what event, and where?

Then I notice the guy kneeling by the curb, taking her picture on a small camera, and I realize I’m probably seeing some sort of Instagram thing, just the two of them, maybe her with her boyfriend, having him take her picture to recreate some sort of facsimile of glamour from which she can gain some internet notoriety, maybe some likes, and who knows - maybe it’ll go viral.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Wake Up, It’s Christmas

Christmas comes under a yellowish-grey sky, bringing rain that washes the slush from the streets. We chat over piles of food and Christmas carols twinkling out of bluetooth speakers, talking about politics and family members we don’t get to see this year. It’s been a weird year, but there’s nothing too off about this Christmas, right?

Outside, a warming wind blows.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Eve - Retail Version

 I toss the shoebox back on the shelf in the storeroom where it belongs and pause, leaning my head against the cool metal frame and feeling my chest rise and fall with my breath. I look at my phone and scroll absent-mindedly through a couple of pictures before my manager walks in.

She gasps when she sees me, then says in a shocked voice, “Scott, there are people out there!"

I do not startle, and my face does not change expression when I deeply and reply, “I just need a minute."

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Eve

It’s still technically the middle of a pandemic, but it’s also the day before Christmas Eve, so the streets are packed. The red and green of the traffic lights echo the season. Roads are clogged with traffic, cars impatiently lined up at every stop light and back to the previous one, exhausts grumbling at the delay.

A car booms Christmas carols from blown speakers, rattling its own windows with flabby bass, and the rest of the cars edge forward and stop, forward and stop, forward and stop.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

2020 At A Glance

Several signs on the church door says “no loitering on the church steps”; someone has scrawled “WWJD” on all of them.

A dog catches sight of itself in a mirror, and begins to snarl and bark viciously, then immediately forgets what he was doing when a treat is tossed in front of him.

A dirty sidewalk, recently cleared - the path forward seems clear, but filthy ice and snow sulks in long, heavy piles on either side.

Dozens of discarded lotto tickets lie scattered along an almost empty subway platform; when the train roars into the station, they flutter weakly like wounded birds, then stop.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Views of Brooklyn

An ancient-looking Jew, identifiable by his full black suit and tall slightly conical fur hat, stands in the loading dock fronting Third Avenue stroking his white beard and watches attentively as a portly man in overalls unloads giant blue plastic barrels from a hand truck.

Through an open rolling gate I can see school buses standing idle like herds of snow-covered sheep in an otherwise empty lot.

Trucks creep heavily over an elevated section of the BQE, silhouetted dark against a soot-grey sky the exact color of the slush that chokes the gutters. 

A tall, heavy-shouldered black guy standing on the corner in a long, elegant black fur coat and unnecessary sunglasses makes a joke, and his friends fall over themselves laughing.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Morning Sounds

Shuffling sounds in the apartment above, like a ghost sifting through piles of old memories.

Someone outside (or maybe in the apartment building next door, shoved up against our building) is singing an old Radiohead song from 24 years ago. His voice is passable, and he gets most of the long, lonesome high notes on the chorus, but he can’t quite nail the tricky melody changes in the verse. 

Somebody drags a shopping cart without wheels down the entire length of the sidewalk in front of our building, creating the scraping equivalent of a drone, counterpointed by the rhythmic beeping of a truck backing up.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Six Feet

 The train is getting a little crowded, but I bury my face in my book and ignore it as best I can.

Then a voice cuts the quiet. “SIX FEET SIX FEET SIX FEET SIX FEET!”

A family - mother pushing baby carriage with baby, father, unmasked child of about eleven or so - hustle past me down the train, speaking Russian in quiet, offended tones, while the rest of the train behind them watches them in silent judgement.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Rage Vomit

The cat has long lost patience with our late-night work schedule, as it interferes terribly with her feeding schedule: we don’t feed her until we go to bed, and since we’re up late into the evening working to prepare for the next day’s work at Katie’s booth, she might not get fed until 2 or later in the morning.

This is, of course, an intolerable affront to her, and she makes a good case by coming in periodically to announce that she has, by god, had enough of our shenanigans.

Katie and I are both bent over our work when we hear, from back towards the kitchen, a swollen yowling rising up from the kitchen where the cat has waited long enough for her dinner.

Katie jumps up and rushes back to the kitchen where, sure enough, the cat has decided to express her rage at our neglect by throwing up on something.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Worst “Showtime” Ever

He starts quietly enough, but insistently, like a dripping faucet in a quiet house. “The CDC was originally created by Nazis in 1947, Nazi scientists that the US brought over from Germany after the war to help create Operation Lockstep, look it up, it’s still going,” he says, his nasal voice filling the subway car.

He wears no mask to cover his thin, pubic beard, he makes no eye contact, remains seated staring at his phone as he talks, headphones on, and yet he becomes increasingly aggressive as he picks up steam. “They make you wear a mask to control you, and their agenda is obvious when you realize that the virus and the vaccine both originated in China and was financed by Israel and Bill Gates!"

Snow Storm

There’s a tipping point in each snow storm, a moment when the world goes from slick, dirty sidewalks and wet slush squelching down all thick and flabby, to something else. The snow begins to accumulate, first in furry patches on the streets and trees, then in large swaths that cover whole avenues in white silence. 

Then the light changes, and the air grows luminous from the reflected glow of all that blowing ice. It blooms from the ground up into the sky, the mirror of cloud above and icy expanse below magnifying one another, the street lamps, the Christmas lights, the warm glows of brownstone living rooms and apartment building security floodlights, traffic lights and drugstore signs, all reverberating and amplifying in the ever-expanding storm of crystals until the entire city is filled with unearthly, swirling light.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Wasn’t Being Funny

“What are you doing?” she says, coming around the corner into the stockroom where I’m typing numbers into one computer and writing the descriptions of shoes that come up into a spreadsheet on another computer, an activity that really gives me a chance to think about the choices I’ve made in life that led me to this point.

“The reject report - I own it now,” I say.

“Oh, I love Scott. He has such a dry sense of humor,” she says, laughing to another co-worker as she walks away.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Chinese Delivery During A Pandemic

The voice on the other end of the phone says, in thickly accented English, "Your food is on its way."

I throw on a mask, grab my keys, and run downstairs. I can see, through the gauzy curtain that covers the window on the inside door, an asian man on an electric bicycle watching my food on the stoop from under the brim of his helmet. He suspiciously eyes a person walking by, and then nods curtly when I wave to him as I open the door to grab my food, and speeds away.

Getting There Early

I get to the line outside the clinic a little after seven, to find only a few people already waiting: a single man staring at his phone, a couple sitting on the sidewalk rapt in conversation, a woman reading a book. The day is hazy and gray, a featureless, unfocused sky above turning the buildings and streets the same gray. 

I step into line, six feet away from woman and her book in front of me, and sit down to read my book, since the clinic doesn’t open for another two hours. Above the buildings and the streets and the people waiting in line and the traffic that periodically booms Christmas carols from rattling car windows as it races nowhere in particular as fast as it can up and down Flatbush, a single gull floats in complete unconcern to the chaos below, then changes direction into the wind and flies south, toward Coney Island and the sea.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

No Chewing

“You ever had a lemonade that’s, like, mostly pulp?” he asks.

“Is it good?” his friend replies.

“No, man, it’s straight trash,” he says, laughing. “Like, chewy."

Friday, December 11, 2020

Home is Where

I spend very little time outside, these days, things being what they are. A walk to the train on my way to work, a couple of blocks to the park to sit in the booth where we sell Katie’s butterfly sculptures to holiday shoppers, a trip down our street in Brooklyn to the glowing fluorescent lit aisles of the grocery store to pick up cat food: these are what passes for outdoor activities in the late capitalist morass of a pandemic in America.

But sometimes, leaving the light of the subway station for the dark residential streets of Park Slope where the only illumination comes from the dim glow of darkened living rooms in brownstones that seem too large to hold so few people, sometimes I’ll look up, wind will scour my face, a plane will fly across the face of the moon, lonely blue and red lights blinking out its destination in code, and I will think, “I’m going home. I didn’t go very far today, but I’m going back to the only place that matters.”

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Sheltering Sky

The hard blue sky of the desert is like god: perfect, remote, its gaze elsewhere. The water evaporates from a small animal, or a car burns lonely between nowhere and nowhere on the side of an empty highway, its thin transparent flames adding nothing to the heat of a merciless sun; the sky sees nothing, and cares less than that.

But here, New York - grey, stony New York - the sky is close and homey. Whether whited out in fast running snow, or dark and mordant with rain, or even cheerful blue on a fall day, it sees us and has reference to us; we contend with it in the language of skyscrapers and bridges, it with us in lightning and storm, but the city has a sky that knows us, as close as the roof of a world we can call home.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Forced Out

Only two people are allowed to sit at the larger tables in the lunch room, since people take their masks off to eat and that’s a great way to get people sick. People ignore that pretty frequently, though.

So when four people are seated at a table next to me, I start to feel uncomfortable, but I finished my lunch a while ago, so I just put my mask back on and go back to reading quietly, but when yet another person comes up to sit there, she thankfully stops because there are too many people already at the table, saying, “Oh, I can’t sit there.”

She then pulls up a chair, sitting directly behind me, breathing down my neck, and without a word I close my book, stand up, and leave.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Then And Now

Before the pandemic, disputes and mayhem used to arise on the trains with some frequency: everyone pushing everyone else in a packed car, sweating and angry to the point of complete interpenetrabilty, people trying to sit in already occupied seats, whole generations of boys and young men for whom gravity was more suggestion than law, twisting themselves into rhythmic, bounding waveforms to the accompaniment of terrible techno for spare change from the bored, captive audiences of the Q train as we trundled over the bridge. 

Sometimes I would pay attention, but more often not, if I could help it. I didn’t want the hassle of feeling responsible for what was going on in the world around me: if people wanted to get heated and start shit, well, that was their business, but please leave me out of it, thanks.

Now other than the occasional mask-shaming, people are mostly silent, and under my mask, I’m free to look at whomever I want: the drowsy workers in all black, the guys in headphones nodding along to thundering beats like davening Jews at prayer, the couple chatting quietly to each other, heads leaning together, telling their infatuation through their eyes.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Smells Like Irresponsibility

Today, after Katie finishes her shift, I meet her at a local craft market, and we go shopping for Christmas gifts.

One of the stores, a soap and candle and beauty supplies store, isn’t too full, so we go in and take a look around at shelves full of soft, matte spheres and ovals of soap, egg-shaped bath bombs in tasteful shades of lavender and off-white that foam when you drop them in hot water, candles squatting in decoratively rustic ceramic cradles, and wide, open-ended glass cylinders full of fragrant herbs.

The woman behind the counter leans over and casually says, “You can take your mask down to smell anything, of course.”

I give Katie a look, and we beat a hasty retreat.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Everyone Knows It’s Windy

The wind whirls around to snatch umbrellas from the hands of the unwary. Like a fullback, faking a run down the field only to switch directions to grab a pass out of thin air, it blows northerly, then cuts back to abruptly pluck your umbrella like a giant, bright orange dandelion seed lofted into the air to sail down the street and crash into the filthy gutters.

If you are crafty enough to hold onto it, revenge will be exacted in the form of a destroyed, inverted umbrella, popped by a sudden gust into a useless satellite dish fit only to receive rainwater. The best thing to do is dance with the push and pull of the wind as it leads you in a waltz down the street, lifting and swooping your umbrella in leaps and arcs to a tune that sounds like a mournful sigh.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Falling Asleep On The Train

The last thing you see when you fall asleep on the train is the book you’re reading. You don’t even really see the book in the way you normally see stuff when you’re not falling asleep on the train. You’re looking at the book, eyes sliding across the page like you’re putting words in your brain, but you’re not actually reading, not in any meaningful sense, and then you’re thinking of something else, dreaming it, actually, and your eyes have closed without you even being aware of it. 

If you’re lucky, the book almost falls out of your hands and your eyes snap open in a blind panic a few moments before you pull into the station, and you stumble off the train and back out into the world.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Crossword With A Pen

An old woman in pink plastic Birkenstock-style sandals over grey and black socks sits on the train working a crossword with a pen, next to a pushcart covered in a blue partly-translucent bag. The cart, one of the folding wire ones favored by old ladies on their way to the laundry, seems to be appropriately full of clothes, along with various, smaller plastic bags of the type favored by take-out places. 

As the train tilts around corners and into stations, the unsecured cart rolls away from her, and she’s forced to reach up a claw to snatch it back to her side before it escapes. This happens several times before she finally shoves a sandaled foot in front of the back wheel of the cart as a brake, and she settles back in to her crossword again.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Way Out In Brooklyn

I don’t even see him until I get off the B Train at my stop: white guy, skinny, wearing a red MAGA hat. 

At least he’s wearing a mask. I’ve never seen one in the wild, either the hat or a person who would be so brazen as to wear one, so I check him and it out through the window as I’m leaving, but neither of them are interesting enough to bear much description, except for the slight pallor to his skin and the unhealthy blue ghost of stubble that shadows the flesh of his neck.

When I tell Katie about him later, she says, “Oh, he’s getting off the train in like twenty more stops."

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Deck The Halls

Our Christmas decorating has ground to a halt as I attempt to festoon a series of hooks in the ceiling with silver garland while Katie and my roommate John offer various less-than-encouraging critiques.

Part of the problem is that the hooks are a remnant of the time when this room, now the family room, was an art studio for Katie, so the hooks are placed in formerly useful, but not necessarily aesthetically pleasing, locations.

Finally, after a few attempts and a lot of pained sighing from Katie, I give up and take it down, to the relief of all.

When a different arrangement is found for hanging garland from the ceiling, Katie says, “Well, hanging it from those hooks took years off my life, so this is a lot better."

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Feeling Bad Is Extra

She knows she’s being difficult, and she apologizes, but that doesn’t keep her from asking for more, and being more obnoxious about it: more shoes, different shoes, no I don’t like that, I told you so, why did you bring that, etc. 

She knows, but she does it anyway, which either means she’s apologizing, but she doesn’t really mean it (entirely plausible), or she knows, does feel sorry, and simply can’t help it.

I find myself wondering, as we go upstairs to find an umbrella to replace the one she literally just left somewhere in the store, which it is. Where do I screw up, know I’m screwing up, do it anyway, but still feel bad about it?