Monday, March 8, 2021

Not Looking

I glance up from my as we cross the bridge, and accidentally catch the eye of the woman sitting across the train from me. I politely avert my eyes, don't want to appear to be a creep, but happily there's a magnificent sunset out the window just over her shoulder to look at instead. 

But as the skyline burns fiery red and gold, shading into deep blue behind the glittering catenary of the Brooklyn Bridge, I realize now there is another issue: she knows that I'm not looking at her, but she's watching me not look at her, and knowing that I know she knows that I'm not looking her, etc., etc., etc. So of course, in this state of reflexive self-consciousness, I'm completely unable to enjoy the lovely spectacle of a sunset, but thankfully by this time we're back underground, and I return to safety of my book.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Flirting

"Where are you from?" she asks. presumably in response to some regionalism I dropped in my speech.

"Oh, I've been her since 1996," I reply airily. 

"You look far too young for that!" her eyes widening in shock.

"If my wife were here, she might think you were flirting with me," I tease, and the laugh-lines around her eyes deepen with her smile.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

East Coast/West Coast

"I needed a break back in May, so I visited my folks on the West Coast," she says as she tries on the shoe. Then, after a few seconds, she says, looking down at it, "I don't know, but thank you for bringing it out."

"Listen," I say gently, "if you don't like the shoe, it's okay, just say, 'I hate it.' Don't stand on West Coast politeness."

Friday, March 5, 2021

Truth By Default

"We've done both trainings," my co-worker tells our manager when she asks, as he gives me a significant look.

"Actually, I still need to do the first part," I say, and my co-worker rolls his eyes at my blowing his attempt to help me. There's no point in telling him that I'm not super great at lying, so I don't usually bother since it tends to be more trouble than it's worth, and easier to just do what I said I was gonna do.

"Sorry, I didn't know the play," I tell him later as a way to patch things up, but he doesn't seem to mind one way or the other, so it's fine.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

He Suspects I'm Not Real

I've only got a few minutes before we have to leave to meet our friend, so I make my trip to the grocery store brief: a few frozen meals for lunches at work, a couple of energy bars, a quick self-checkout, and I'm on my way.

But here, at the exit, I am blocked. A tall, middle-aged, blond man stands outside in front of the automatic door, talking earnestly into his wrist, triggering the sensor so that the door will not open outward from my side and kill him, as I would so dearly like to do at this moment.

I tap sharply on the glass, and he startles, surprised at the presence of other human beings in his world, before he moves off to one side with a partly sheepish, partly annoyed expression so I can leave.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

A Letter To An Occupant

"Mail for you," our roommate sings, tossing the envelopes on the table.

"For me?" I exclaim in mock-delight.

"Well, mostly for Katie."

"This one says 'New York Resident,' so that's me," picking up one of the envelopes and waving it at him.

How To Hang Out

"I wanted to let you know I'm hanging out with my friend next Wednesday," Katie says as she puts in her contacts before leaving for work.

When I act confused as to why she's telling me this, she explains she wanted me to know for when she's gone that day, and I start laughing.

"Well, honestly, it just never occurred to me that you meant 'hanging out' like in person," I clarify, "I thought you meant that you were going to have a Zoom call."

Monday, March 1, 2021

Called Out

"Jammie, could you check on that document that Scott printed?" my manager says. As I move to the computer, I say, in what I think is a very polite tone, "Mind if I take a look?"

Apparently, I was not as mindful of my tone as I thought, because both of them start laughing, and Jammie says, "That means, 'Get the hell out of my way.'"

My manager, still laughing, agrees, "I try to tell him."

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Worth It

After a fight on the subway between an unmasked idiot and an idiot wearing only a face-shield escalates into one of the idiots pulling the emergency brake not once, but twice....

And after I sprint to the other side of the Atlantic Avenue Station to try and catch a different train (since the one I was on was stuck in the station while the police came to investigate the maskless idiot fight), only to realize that I left my shoes for work back on the train I had originally been on....

And after walking all the way to the East River in Manhattan in the rain, waiting in three lines for a couple hours, and signing a ton of paperwork....

I finally got my first Covid-19 vaccination shot today!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Shut Up, Brain

I haul three full, heavy bags of trash and a big pallet of taped together cardboard boxes downstairs to the curb, all the while thinking too myself, “Yeah, I’m pretty strong, pretty in shape.” I imagine my muscles bulging beneath my t-shirt and figure I look pretty cool, maybe even sexy, especially for being, like, almost 50 years old.

And then I imagine my life force as a limited thing that might allow me to live to be very old, like my grandfather who lived to be 102. 

But, I then think, what if I used up a chunk of that vital life force, of which I have only a limited quantity, beating cancer, and now I’m only going to live to be, say, 80 or something, and right then my knee throbs and I realize I’m tired, and it’s time to go to bed.

New Music In The Pandemic

"So, since you're a music supervisor for a living, I have to ask: what have you been listening to?"

My customer pauses to think, then answers, "You know, I haven't been really able to listen to new music, except if it's to get a song for a show, but then it's....."

"It's work," I interject.

"Exactly, and everybody who's sort of in this business that I talk to has been saying the same thing - we keep going back to the old stuff, the comfort stuff, because we don't have the focus to listen to new music."

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Almost Normal

A man sits on the base of a statue playing guitar, with a jar filled with dollar bills in front of him on the wet pavement. Listening in a half-circle around him are children and their mothers - the children playing with one another, the mothers chatting - while he plays and sings, mellow tunes on an unseasonably warm day.

Groups of people walk by, their boots muddy from the melting snow, and dogs on leashes, their bellies muddy too, kids on scooters and teenagers laughing, out enjoying an afternoon, and, aside from the masks, it could be any day in early spring.

“It almost feels normal,” I say to Katie, and she tilts her smiling face up into the sun.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Long Way To Go

"I just got my second dose of the vaccine," she says shyly. Her old, blind dog stares past me with milky blue eyes and dubiously sniffs my outstretched hand before finally commencing a tired but friendly wag and pressing the bony length of his body into my legs.

"That must make things so much better for you!" I exclaim as I scratch her dog's flat head.

"Yes, it's better," she says, looking around, "but everything is still the same."

Do What You're Good At

A fellow employee occasionally uses me to ring up purchases he makes for his wife, which often helps makes up for the days (like today) when the weather, or a still occasionally rampant pandemic, slows traffic into the store. When I thank him for it, he says, "Well, you're always pretty cheerful and optimistic, and I wanted to show appreciation for you."

"You know, I'd do that for free," I confide.

"We frequently do."

Monday, February 22, 2021

My Excessive Enthusiasm Occasionally Alienates

"Okay," I say to the increasingly uncomfortable man whose girlfriend told me she was having trouble convincing him to go to Disney World. "Are you a Star Wars fan?"

"I like Star Wars," he admits reluctantly, looking like he very much regrets his decision to accompany her into the store to buy shoes today.

"I'm not as big a fan as some people," I continue as my unintentional harangue really starts to hit its stride, "but when I saw the full-size Millennium Falcon, I cried a little."

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Being A Woman

“That’s pretty much how I handled manicures in college. You could really just dip your fingertips in nail polish, wait for them to dry, and then wash the nail polish off your skin, leaving your nails with a perfect manicure!” 

She goes back to showering while I shake my head and laugh. “There’s so much I don’t understand about being a woman,” I say.

DO NOT EAT

The silica gel packets ("DO NOT EAT") in the shoe boxes, along with the seasonably chilly weather, seem to be drying my hands out quite badly this winter. No matter how much I slather them with lotion, my palms crack, and touching anything only serves to remind me how destroyed they are.

Katie's hands are often a similar wreck after months of making many thousands of her pieces, and I say, "My hands look like this," raising my work-roughened hands, "so hers can also look like this." We laugh.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Ice

The slushy snow on the ground slips beneath my boots, so I deliberately trudge on my way home from the subway, planting each foot heavily on the sidewalk as I go. Some places that have salted have only wet patches, but others are straight up snow fields, lined with paths packed down by numerous booted feet.

It's probably going to be quite cold tonight. I'm not particularly worried about falling right now, but going to work tomorrow will probably be treacherous. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Use Of the Mute Function

After a night of unsettling dreams (long, empty rooms with doorways leading into menacing darkness; realizing I had done something to hurt Katie's feelings; going outside without a mask and being unable to enter a nice restaurant while people walk by and glare), I wake up to a Facebook thread of two people I know from high school arguing.

He's a white guy, angry about something that happened when they were teenagers, and she's a black woman, angry about him being a white guy and accusing her of that thing that she claims she doesn't remember. I don't know either of them at all these days, but I do remember her being kind of mean when we were kids (I'd certainly never mess with her!), while he and I have kind of fallen out lately. 

The whole thing is like a long, angry car wreck, and even though I have no idea what happened, and reading it makes me feel like I drank battery acid, I can't look away.

Personal Space

Everyone in line with me on the sidewalk to get into the post office seems to have their own interpretations of what "six feet social distance" entails, but we're all outside and everybody is masked, so I figure it's not a super huge deal.

Except this tall white guy in line behind me, wearing his Strand Bookstore beanie, his face buried in his phone. He keeps creeping up on me, getting closer and closer, to the point that, where a normal person would stand on the opposite side of the store front door I have just passed, this guy has decided that directly in front of the door is the best place to park his carcass, and everybody trying to go in and out of said store can just squeeze around his oblivious ass. 

"Not sure that's the best place for you to stand - you might get knocked down by folks going in there," I tell him as directly as possible, but he just sort of looks at me and I turn away in exasperation to ignore him for the rest of my time here. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

What Did He See?

I round the corner, only to find the sidewalk, not exactly blocked, but certainly obstructed, by a pretty big dude. He's standing between a pile of snow that extends the length of the curb covering a wide strip of the sidewalk, and the wall of the building, the corner of which I have just rounded, and he is staring, loose-jawed and blank-eyed, at something disconcertingly over my shoulder.

I turn to look at whatever has arrested his attention, but the only thing I see is a delivery guy on a moped, adjusting his helmet in the intersection. 

I hug the wall and sidle past this behemoth, my nervous heart going a little faster, but he doesn't even move, or indeed even seem to notice me at all, and I continue on my way with him still staring at that intersection, even after the guy on the moped has ridden away.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Changing The Subject

“How are you doing?” I ask my customer. 

When I ask this, I try to be as sincere as possible - just let them know that I know times are weird, and I really am interested in how they’re doing, with everything.

“Well, the guy I was supposed to be here on a date with today called me up at four in the morning to call me a ‘fucking bitch,’” she replies, much less bitterly that her words might suggest.

“Okay, well, you’re not, so we’re gonna talk about something else right now, like shoes,” I say firmly.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Overshare

My customer and I are getting along famously, and she confides in me some things about her mother, then, realizing what she just said, looks a bit embarrassed.

"I probably shouldn't have told you that. Bit of an overshare," she admits.

"Look, do I seem like the type of person whose uncomfortable with oversharing?" I reply.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Scritches Induced Narcolepsy

The dog ignores my proffered hand (palm in, knuckles curved and slightly relaxed, of course) and just sort of saunters by me, only to stop with his back to me, within touching distance.

"Oooooh, he dissed you!" his owner says, a little shocked. 

I, however, see the situation a little differently, and take the opportunity to reach out and scratch him right behind the ears, whereupon he sits down, and falls asleep sitting up while I continue to scratch.

"He falls asleep so much we call him 'Stinky, the narcoleptic piggy,'" his owner elaborates, and I smile.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Media Vita in Morte Sumus

I'm walking out of the stock room at work, out into the omnidirectional light of the sales floor - I'm tired after a long day, and I take a deep breath, noting with a certain stoicism the parts of my body that are starting to feel worn down: knees, back, feet, wrists, etc., etc., etc. 

It occurs to me that, at some point, parts of me will stop working entirely, and then more parts, and eventually the day will come when I will close my eyes and they will simply never again reopen, and "I" will be no more.

This is not news, of course, but for the first time in a while I find my self feeling the fact of my eventual non-existence, and it thrills through me with the anticipation of going up a roller coaster - a thin thread of fear knotted right in my belly with a sort of wonder and amazement. I can almost see the darkness that is right on the other side of life, but as soon as I do, the part of me that is alive and demands that I continue to be so thrusts the thought away with both hands, and I am back in the waking world, holding a box of shoes, walking on the tile floor, doing my job, getting through the day, happy to be here, but a little disappointed, as if I almost remembered something, then forgot it again.

Ecclesiastes 9:11

We spot each other at about the same time: both of us carrying packages, both of us heading in the same direction towards the post office about forty-five minutes before closing.

We both know the long lines that typically occur around this time at our local post office, so when she quickens her pace as we cross the street about a block from our destination, I do too. We're roughly parallel to one another, but my legs are longer, and as we stride between a couple of socially-distanced people having a conversation she clearly panics and, abandoning all semblance of decorum or dignity, begins to run.

I start laughing, because I know exactly why she's running, but when she arrives (only a few steps ahead of me), she sees the extensive length of the line, her shoulders slump in defeat, and she turns around and walks away, while I, still laughing, get in line, dead last, and wait my turn.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Missed Connections

The dog on the corner looks exactly like my late dog Coco - a black and tan Shiba Inu with a foxy face, alert eyes. and a very curly tail. I look at her and say "Hi!" very excitedly, like you do with all cute dogs. But she's a Shiba Inu, so she doesn't give a shit about me - I'm not her person, or related tangentially to her person in any way, so I effectively don't exist, and she ignores me.

The light changes, she crosses the street with her owners without a backward glance, and she's gone.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Third Times A Charm

"Can you give me two dollars?" the guy without a mask asks me for the second time. The entire train car has already turned him down once, but I guess he's figuring that another pass through might change his luck.

Now he's standing at the door, shaking his head incredulously as I watch him out of the corner of my eye. "It's not working!" he says to himself in disbelief before coming down the train yet a third time to see if the first two times were a mistake.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Putting On The Ritz

The women in the office downstairs are a little tense, and I ask why. "Oh, they think there's a mouse in the cabinet where they keep their snacks," one of them says, opening the drawer of the small filing cabinet.

Sure enough, in the drawer, next to the (slightly chewed) sleeve of Ritz crackers, sits a very startled mouse, who books it as soon as he realizes he's been discovered.  

Bedlam ensues, with screams, people jumping on furniture, papers flying everywhere, the whole 50s cartoon mouse schtick, and I feel lucky to have witnessed it.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

I Know Why The Caged Bird Tweets

Some unknown event occurs in the middle of the night, and my phone loses its charge and shuts down.

I somehow manage to wake up approximately near the right time (my alarm was on my phone, of course), and spend most of the morning trying to get my formerly useful brick of metal and glass to come back to life.

After it finally gets a charge, I tell Katie, "I was actually starting to feel sort of good without a phone, like I was free."

"Back in your cage, songbird," she says wistfully. 

Nothing Is Forever

The graffiti on the subway door, written in small letters at a little over head height, reads “Trump forever.”

On seeing it, I bark a single, sardonic laugh, and then look around guiltily to see if anybody heard me, because laughing in public for no apparent reason, especially laughing like that, is sort of creepy. Afterwards, I sit staring at the offending graffiti, fantasizing about writing “sucks” between the first and second word, like I’m a child, only to decide that doing so would only add more nonsense for somebody to have to clean up.

A large black man gets up and stands in front of the door, waiting for the train to pull into the next station, and I watch him carefully, to observe his reaction to such obvious fuckery, but he doesn’t even appear to see it, and the doors slide open, disappearing the words, so he can get off the train and go about his totally normal day.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Real B-Word

"You've been very nice," her mother says after I hand her the receipt for her shoes. "We asked the man at Bloomingdales for his card so we could contact him about sales, and he ignored us, like we didn't even say anything! He didn't want to help us at all."

"Oh, we don't use the B-word around here," I tell her conspiratorially, and she laughs.

Oldies

The grocery store is playing the usual medley of "oldies" over the sound system, and tonight, that means songs from more than twenty years ago, otherwise known as the greatest hits of the nineties. 

An earnest young man from the increasingly distant past sings about rain falling angry on the tin roof, and I find myself thinking about recording a cover of the song at the request of my sister as a gift, and I sing along walking down the produce aisle.

A guy looking about my age is stocking the end cap with bags of Tostitos tortilla chips, and he's singing along too, which makes me smile.

About midway down the juice aisle, another guy with a little gray at the temples pushes a cart past bottles of apple and prune juice, and he's humming along to the chorus, and my smile grows a little rueful, knowing us all as I do.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Slush

The old man with the cane is avoiding the dangers of the only partially cleared sidewalks by walking in the streets, and the cars are just sort of going around him as he shuffles along.

Finally, though, he seems to need to get up off the street, and so he makes his way to a crosswalk to get on a corner.

"Careful, it's really deep right there," I point out as he's about to surmount a small snowbank down to a deep slush-puddle.

But apparently he doesn't hear me, because his next step dunks his canvas-sneaker-covered feet into icy curb slush, and he makes a small noise of distress before pulling himself out and moving on.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Sisyphean Snowstorm

Though the phrase is "whiteout," the better term might be "greyout," as the snowstorm from last night continues into the afternoon, and turns all of Brooklyn into static.

As far as I know, the law says that you don't have to shovel the sidewalk in front of your business until after it stops snowing, and it hasn't stopped snowing all day, so the sidewalks are mostly treacherous, narrow footpaths where the few people out have tamped things down with their boots, banked on either side by humped, unclimbed slopes. Nevertheless, a few intrepid folks are out with broad, rectangular shovels, attempting to stay ahead of the rapidly accumulating snow piling up in front of their houses.

When I thank one of them for clearing the way, he replies ruefully, "Thanks, but I think it's a losing effort," and then digs back in.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Snowy Night

Snow falls thick and fast across the outline of the church steeple silhouetted black against the dark grey sky, and I think about the many reasons to love snow, any of which individually would be sufficient.

One, it blows sideways, drifts down, swirls through the beams of streetlights, and fills all of space, illustrating the sheer volume of air all around us, which can give us a much needed sense of proportion and perspective, by showing us how big the world is, and how small we are.

Two, the flinty, distinctly snowy smell of it, the taste of it scooped off of a drift like a hat topping a wall or a snowed-in car, the way the air of a snowy day feels in your nose. 

Three, the sound and feel of it crunching beneath boots and shoes, the way it blankets the streets and sidewalks, muffling the harsh noise of city life into a muted hum, the way it hushes the world.

In Disguise

It's like she took someone else's hair, dyed it to be the same color as her hair, braided it, and then wove the braids into a hat that she proceeded to festoon with cloth flowers, none of which match the rhinestoned sunglasses she wears indoors. When she opens up her bag, there are crumpled up wads of money, packets of tissues, and small plastic bags that you get from the liquor store, and she uses a pink fabric measuring tape to check the heel heights on every shoe I bring her.

Every time I go back into the stockroom for another pair of shoes, I take a moment to breathe, because this is my job - I'm good at it, and I like to take care of people, and I don't know for certain that this woman is wasting my time, so I'm just going to give her the same service I give everybody.

She ends up buying three pairs of shoes, and hands me a card with her contact info, letting me know that, in addition to her quirky sartorial and grooming choices, she also has a couple theaters uptown named after her, and that she'd love to have me help her shop again.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Sarcasm

The accordion player on the Q train is very good: his riff on Toccata and Fugue in D Minor during "Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel gets a laugh, and each song gets a smattering of applause. 

He makes his way down the car, joking and playing, until he gets to my end, where he plays a little until he notices the guy across from me taking a video.

As the train pulls into the station, he stares into the lens of the guy's phone and starts saying, "You're welcome," over and over - "You're welcome, you're welcome, you're welcome" - each one increasingly more aggressive, until finally he gets off the train and takes his musical show to the next car.

"You know, I don't think he meant that," I say out loud, but either nobody hears me, or they don't think it's particularly funny. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Legalize It

Since no one is coming in to the store, we have a few moments to chat on the shoe floor while we tidy up.

"I mean, I can't afford Game Stop stock right now, but I'm not mad that a bunch of hedge fund guys are losing their shirts," one guy says.

"All my money's in cannabis," another says ruefully. "Just legalize it, guys, so I can retire."

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Getting a (Relaxed) Grip

The electric scooter is buzzing along, and I am having a great time, dropping down into the center of gravity that allows me to thumb the accelerator all the way down and swing my hips to weave through traffic.

Until I hit the long downhill stretch at the bottom of the park, and as I accelerate suddenly I find myself tightening up, gripping the handlebars too hard, trying to slow down, wobbling as my momentum fades, losing all my mojo. I'm reminded of when I was learning how to ski, the panic that sucked the life out of me, and how old I felt as agoraphobia gripped me and I imagined myself falling forever up into the sky.

I consciously slow my breathing, bend my knees, relax my hands, look down at the speedometer for a second to realize I'm not going much faster than a brisk walk, and then hit the accelerator and speed myself down the road.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Revelation

"You know how they say pepper is black?" I ask Katie as I storm into the bedroom from the kitchen. "But when it's ground up it's actually black and white!"

While I stand there, rapturous in the light of my revelation, Katie says, "Well, when pepper is whole it's black, which is probably where it comes from. Are you going to be okay today?" she adds.

Monday, January 25, 2021

New Words

"But the voice of the main character was just a bit too...."

"Precocious?" she says, stepping out of the water where she was rinsing. "I just learned the opposite of that word," she adds, making a face, "but I forgot it."

"If you remember in the middle of the night," I say seriously, "wake me up."

Love Language

A woman I admire a great deal, the manager who trained me for my current job, was just promoted to a new position out of state, and she sent a group text with words of wisdom to the people she hired. 

"She listed everybody on the text with a little memory or a phrase for them, and I was a little upset when I read mine was just 'Attention to Detail,'" I tell Katie as she's making dinner after I get home from work.

"Well, to be fair, that is literally the same criticism you've heard from every job you've ever worked," Katie says.

"Of course it's true," I reply, "I just had to realize that constructive criticism is her love language."

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Not What I Meant

"Weird times, right now, so, how are you doing?" I ask seriously as I sit down with the two women. The one in the expensive puffy designer jacket puts her mask back on after taking a long pull on the straw of her pale pink smoothie. 

"Yeah, I know what you mean, like I'm just trying not to get angry because I know they want to use me freaking out as an excuse to raise taxes, because government has always been so good at solving problems in the past, right?" she says animatedly.

"Okay," I say after a pause, "let's take a look at these boots."

Friday, January 22, 2021

A Problem With Lottery Tickets

"Is that 'billion' with a 'b?'" Katie asks when I tell her the amount of the jackpot for the lottery.

"Buy five tickets," I reply.

"Do you have ten bucks for me?"

"You know I don't."

By That Much

I can read the sign above the subway entrance saying "Q Downtown - 0 minutes" (which really means 1 minute) from half a block away, so despite my trick right leg and bum left knee, I start running.

I get down the stairs and into the station and down to the platform in record time, but the train has already pulled out of the station by the time I get there. I stand on the platform watching the lights receding down the tunnel while the arrival sign above the platform says that the next Q arrives in 11 minutes, which seems like an eternity. 

I stare across the tracks to the uptown platform, feeling sorry for myself, watching strangers read books, listen to music, stare off into space, and then I pull out my book and try to escape for a while.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Tip Your Delivery Guy

The app Citizen, which monitors police radio and 911 calls, alerts us that ten guys on bikes are beating somebody up down the street from us, which sounds like an awfully big fuss for Inauguration Day, and also kind of unfair, so we put on jackets and go to see if it’s really happening.

When we get there, the intersection is empty except for the usual cars waiting as the light quietly changes from red to green; a half a block away, a couple is walking their yellow Labrador Retriever. 

We look around for a bit, and then Katie gets on the app to let them know it’s not true. “Maybe it was a bunch of food delivery guys beating up somebody who didn’t tip,” I muse.

Yeah, I Knew That

The photoshoot by the skating rink seems to be going pretty well, and the photographer is getting good shots of the model drinking hot chocolate topped with artfully arranged whipped cream cresting the cup like a sweet dairy Matterhorn.

“If I was a photographer,” I whisper confidently to Katie as we watch them spritz another dollop of whipped cream on the cocoa, “I’d make sure all those chopsticks and napkins and trash on the ground around her were picked up.”

“Those things’ll never be in the photo, Scott,” she replies. “This is a food photoshoot."

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Birds Of A Different Feather

A red light and a couple of passing cars prevent me from crossing the intersection, but it's my lifelong tendency toward distraction that has me staring up into the sky when I see them: two enormous pigeons wheeling and soaring in the pale January sky above the brownstones.

But they're far too large to be pigeons; as my brain, which expects to see pigeons, starts to take in what's actually in the sky, I realize that one, with the muscular body and white underwings, is one of the hawks who lives over in Prospect Park a few blocks away, and the other, jet black with extended pinions like fingers grabbing the air, is a raven or a crow.

Almost as soon as I am able to process this, I lose sight of them behind the rooftops, the light changes to green, and I am tempted to wait there on the corner, mouth agape, staring at the sky to see if they come back.

I do not wait, but I am late for my train, regardless.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Morning

The sun streaming through the front window refracts into multicolored light through the bottles on the bar cart. I write at my computer while the cat sleeps in her perch.

Outside, a baby screams its displeasure all the way down our block. The cat meows in irritation at the noise, stretches out a single paw that ends in vicious claws, then settles back into her slumber, tail wrapped around her nose.

What Did The Fist Say To The Face?

The discussion about professional mixed martial arts fights is getting pretty heated in the lunchroom. 

“How you not gonna get mad when the guy is punching you in the face?” one of them asks incredulously.

“They’re professionals, it’s not personal,” his friend replies, laughing.

“Well, you tell that to the fist on your face,” the first one says.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Missed Connections

The guy leaning up against the pole outside the subway turnstiles looks like he’s waiting for something.

Now, while it’s illegal to ask for a subway swipe (it’s panhandling), it’s not illegal to give someone a subway swipe, so I try to give a swipe if I can, but the thing is that people can get in trouble with the cops if you make a big deal about it, so you’ve got to be subtle.

So I make eye contact with this guy while holding up my card as I’m leaving, indicating I can get him into the subway if he wants.

But apparently that’s not what he’s there for, and he has no idea what I’m doing or offering, so we just end up making awkward eye contact until I’m past him and on my way out of the station.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Herding

The small brown dog looks up expectantly at the young girl. Her attention is elsewhere, but his is entirely on her.

She gestures using her hat which she has been holding in one hand on this particularly mild evening, and the dog attempts to grab it with his mouth. Failing this, he circles her twice, then, when she moves on, he follows her, head high, happy to know he did his part to keep the pack intact.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Concentration vs. Tension

A day of tidying and putting new furniture together has had me concentrating all day, and apparently it has not done wonders for my mood.

"Your eyes are hard," Katie says concernedly.

I try to relax them to no avail. "Your shoulders are up, too," she adds, and I'm about to deny it before I notice that they are, in fact, up around my ears, and I consciously push them downwards. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Things We Do For Love

There’s no crowd in the art-supply store, and I find the notebook I’m looking for (Moleskine, red, line-ruled, medium) no problem. I’m searching the aisles for a better pencil sharpener when I spot, and am spotted by, a small horse that turns out to be a Great Dane. 

I politely ask his owner if I can say hi, but the dog is already spooning me in such a way that I almost, but not quite, fall down. 

“My wife would kill me if I didn’t pet your dog,” I explain as I attempt to stay upright.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

On A Mission

I can feel the rough, pitted surface of Seventh Avenue through the wheels of my electric scooter. It's about 1:30 in the afternoon and double parked delivery trucks and lunching commuters have turned parts of the street into an impound lot without a fence. I slalom in and out of the bike lane, into oncoming traffic (all at safe speeds, of course) to avoid colliding with cars who've decided to unload their passengers right in my path, or to miss the garbage can that the movers have simply left in the middle of the street.

I come to the cafe, pop the kickstand, run inside and tell them, "Marble twist and a chocolate frosted, no sprinkles, please."

Monday, January 11, 2021

Forgot

I’m already out the door, standing on the steps, when I see a woman walk by, bundled up in her down jacket, fluffy hat, scarf, and mask.

Which reminds me that I am outside, and that I have somehow managed to leave the house without a mask on.

“Oh my goodness,” I actually say, out loud, with my mouth, which is uncovered, and which apparently belongs to a prim schoolteacher from 1950s Illinois, because who actually says, “Oh my goodness?”

I hear the woman wearing her mask snort as she laughs at me, and I turn to head back upstairs to remedy my mask-less face.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

New Band Name

“It’s called a ‘Refined Creeper Neo Chelsea’ rainboot,” I tell the father/daughter duo who are buying it. "‘Refined Creeper’ also happens to be the name of my new band,” I add.

As they’re finishing up, I thank them for letting me help them out. “Good luck with the new band,” says the dad over his shoulder with a wink.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Don't Overthink

"My top three customers? I mean, I haven't seen a few of them in months now, and with the pandemic, it's impossible to say...."

"Scott," my manager says, "you're overthinking it. We're selling shoes, not putting people into space."

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Everywhere Signs

On our way to my doctor's appointment, we pass a shoe repair shop in the subway station. It's closed, as so many places are these days, with a sign on the glass that reads, "To get shoes call 917-xxx-xxxx I will bring them to you," which is nice. 

"That sign is kind of ominous," Katie says, indicating a totally different sign. This one's an EXIT sign done up in traditional subway Helvetica, but in a hotly glowing orange red which I agree is a little off-putting, but it does the job and we head to the surface.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Epiphany

They didn’t even bother trying to buzz our apartment to deliver the package before they took it to the Post Office and told us to come get it ourselves.

After I return from the Post Office with it, Katie asks me, “Did you give ‘em hell?”

“No,” I say resignedly. “The lady looked tired, and after everything going on today, I just felt like being nice to somebody."

An Agent Of Small Chaos

The produce aisle is heavy with color -- smug red tomatoes, thick green peppers nestled up against yellow peppers against red ones, bins forested with leafy greens and overgrown with brainy white cauliflower. 

A woman parks her cart next to an island in the middle of the aisle, effectively blocking anyone from getting through, and then walks away to grab something on the other side.

Her back is to me as I sidle past her cart and I give it a quick bump with my hip, sending it rolling across the aisle to follow her and crash into the display.

No one sees me do this, and I do not break stride as I grab some cilantro and continue on my way.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Not Mad

The small black poodle ignores me completely when I put my hand down and stares up at his owner expectantly. “He’s not unfriendly,” she explains, “he just really wants a treat.”

“I’m sorry I don’t have a treat, fella,” I say, and he looks at me and begins barking impatiently.

Later, when I tell Katie about how mad the dog was, she explains, “He wasn’t mad, just disappointed that you were wasting his time."

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Separate But The Same

I’m walking through Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library. To my right is the Library itself, gray stone in the misty-wet day, old-fashioned pillars and tall windows capped with arcs of glass, like whiskey poured from a glass decanter in a gentleman’s dark wood and leather upholstery study - a taste of old New York that you can still find, even in the early years of the 21st Century.

To my left, though, is the city as it is now: tall, aggressive glass skyscrapers, indifferent to us on the streets here below, their faces constantly heavenward or turned inward in brooding contemplation of the world-shaking decisions made within their glacial facades, today their lofty heads shrouded in low clouds that give them an even more elitist, otherworldly air.

I straddle the divide between these two expressions of the same world, recognizing how little they have reference to me, simply pleased to be in their presence.



Saturday, January 2, 2021

Keep It To Myself

“What’s its name?” I ask the owner of the severe underbite attached to the face of a chunky English Bulldog in a baby carriage.

“His name is Juno,” she says proudly. 

“Juno?” I ask, making sure I heard correctly.

She affirms that the dog is named Juno, which is a female goddess’s name, but I decide not to point that out, because Juno seems happy, and the owner is happy, and what the hell do I care?

Friday, January 1, 2021

2021 Off To An Auspicious Start

“Forgot to say ‘Happy New Year’,” I shout to my co-worker, by way of apology.

She gives me a strange look over her shoulder as she’s walking away, and then replies, “Happy New Year!”

A minute later I realize that, while I meant to apologize because I had forgotten to tell her Happy New Year, as a result of the weirdly ambiguous way that I had phrased that, she probably thought that I was chastising her for not saying it to me.

The feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach takes all morning to dissipate. 

Last Gasps Of 2020

After I pick up the food for tonight’s festivities, I realize I’m pretty close to where Katie is manning the booth selling her sculptures.

I walk toward the park, but the block seems a lot longer than I remember, It’s only by the time I get to 8th Avenue that I realize I’ve gone the completely wrong direction, and spent a good ten minutes doing it.

By the time I get back to where I started, it’s raining.