Saturday, June 19, 2021

Arguments

"Do you need an extra hand carrying the trash downstairs?" Katie asks.

"No, I've got it."

Downstairs, a dark-gray pickup with a matte paint job that makes it look like a military vehicle has parked in the spot where the garbage goes. I sidle behind it and place the garbage where it belongs, and then have an argument in my head with the owner of the pickup, insisting, "I didn't touch your stupid truck."

Friday, June 18, 2021

Mark 5:1-8

The woman on the train is yelling in Spanish, so the object of her distress isn't completely clear to me, though I catch words - demonio, puta, Dios, Jesus - that indicate to me that, whatever the cause, it's not anything I'm going to be able to see or address. She slams her bag on the subway bench next to me, but I am resolutely not giving any energy to her or whatever invisible denizens of the darkness she believes are tormenting her, so I keep reading my book until she quiets down.

Another woman across the aisle tries to help, and speaks very gently to her in Spanish, but this seems to rile her up, and she goes on another loud, angry, frightened rant until she is crying, weeping in rage and fear. 

We reach a subway stop, and without hurrying or drawing attention to myself, I stand, exit the subway car, and quickstep over to the next car, where I easily find a seat, sit, open my book, and continue reading without anyone yelling in my ear.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Picnic

Another plane looking smaller than a grain of rice passes far, far overhead through the heart-stealing blue, and Katie and I lay back on the blanket in the middle of the Great Lawn in Prospect Park, lazily speculating on its origin and destination.

"Europe, headed to China, maybe?" Katie says.

"Or maybe the Middle East, Dubai or something, headed north," I reply, though she remains unconvinced.

The beautiful, smooth, impossibly tan young couple on a blanket several yards over on the next hill start to make out, and jazz drifts over the lawn; a dog runs, some kids yell, and the sun slowly falls behind the trees.

Monday, June 14, 2021

AITA?

"Yeah, we're a little low on sizes for running shoes because everybody got out of lockdown like, 'Oh I gotta get in shape,'" waving my hands in faux panic.

"Yeah," she says, laughing uncomfortably. 

"Cool, lemme go see if I can grab you a seven-and-a-half, my name's Scott, I'll be right back," I say cheerfully,

It only occurs to me halfway to the stockroom that what I said might literally have been what she just went through, and that I may, in fact, be the asshole.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Yucking Someone Else's Yum

I'm super excited to bring out the boots she asked for, but when I get there, she says, "Nah," hooking a thumb over her shoulder to the woman next to her, "she said they looked stupid."

The "she" in question watches as I bring out other choices with head cocked and eyes showing all the trust and empathy of an angry parrot. With the same expression she says, "Well they'd look stupid for me, but maybe on you they'd look cute."

I decide to act like I don't hear her and bring out another pair, "Tell me what you think of these."

Friday, June 11, 2021

Hard Worker

I speak to my manager (a Caribbean woman who I've known for a while) about a former boss of hers, and she seems to think pretty highly of her.

"She's not up here," she describes, waving her hands up above her head to indicate some distant, removed realm of boss-dom divorced from the rest of us. "She always helped out, worked on the floor, worked hard."

"She worked so hard," she adds thoughtfully, "I sometimes forgot she was white."

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Emotional Height

"I want you to know," Katie says seriously, "I don't think I'm taller than you."

"It's just that my feelings are all the way up to here," she adds, raising her hand a foot or so above her head.

"No, I've seen it happen," I say, agreeing.

"And when I'm mad," her eyes flashing, "I don't care how tall I am."

Priorities

The bedroom is dark when I arrive home mid-afternoon just ahead of the rain rolling in. I turn on the lights, expecting to see the cat in her accustomed place on the bed, but to my surprise, she's nowhere to be found.

Later, as I'm working on the computer, my roommate comes out of his room. Without prompting, he says, "If you're looking for the cat, she's hanging out with the air-conditioning in my room, and she's not coming out."

Monday, June 7, 2021

Feet

"No, it hurts me," she points at the arch where the strap cuts across her instep, "right there."

The papery skin of her feet is dry and cracked, mapped with bluish veins, her toes (nails carefully enameled bright red) contorted toward one another by years of torturously tight, beautiful shoes that she can never wear again. It hurts just to look at them, and I involuntarily imagine someone caring for her enough to rub them with lotion, massaging them tenderly until they are relaxed and soft. the toes straight, the skin smooth.

"I'm sure it does," I say gently, and ease the sandal off.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

No Takers?

Guy rummages through the rustling plastic bags and trash with which he's filled his backpack until finally, at the peak of his frenzy, he announces, "Shit!" loudly enough for the entire train to turn his direction, then punches the bench next to him hard, making a resounding crack.

He catches a woman a few seats down watching him and this enrages him for some reason. "What?" he demands, ready for an attack, an argument, a fight, hoping for someone upon whom to vent his rage.

She shakes her head then looks away, and he contents himself with muttering "Shit," over and over under his breath in a disappointed voice.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Panhandler

I'm a block away when I spot him - the shambling gait, the slumped shoulders, the silhouette straight out of a Romero movie that I know is waiting for me.

He stops for a moment, poised in the shadows, before walking my way, and when he reaches me, I know what will happen.

Sure enough: "You spare a quarter or sumthin' so I can get sumthin' to eat," all slurred together, eyes hooded and dull, but before he even gets the sentence out he has already passed me and moved on to the next. All the sincerity has been burned out of him, and now its just a numbers game, getting what he needs, one pedestrian at a time.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Honesty

As I set the shoes down in front of her, she says the words all of us dread: "Actually, I already bought these online, but I wanted to see if I got the right size, so this is smaller."

We look at her foot in the shoe (a sandal with a raised edge around the footbed), and I tell her bluntly, "Your toes are sticking out over the edge. It's too small."

She thanks me, leaves without buying anything, and I gather up the shoes and head to the back, and when a co-worker asks me how it went, I answer honestly, "Well, she didn't waste too much of my time."

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Schrodinger's Intersection

Two delivery guys on electric bikes arrive at the four-way stop at the same time, one going east, the other going south. They neither of them stop, instead edging out into the intersection on a collision course in a game of Delivery-Guy-Chicken until they are forced to stop or hit one another.

Which they do, i.e., stop, leaving them both out in the middle of the road, and posed with a dilemma. They must go; they cannot go; politeness would dictate that one of them let the other go first, but neither will give way to the other and show weakness, leaving them there, eyeing each other with a mix of exasperation and menace, and I zip past them on my scooter before the question is resolved, so for all I know they may there still, until their bikes' batteries run out of juice. 

Time Travel

"Well, I definitely have the hyper-focus thing," I told Katie the other day as we discussed the symptoms of, and sort-of half-jokingly self-diagnosed ourselves with, Attention Deficit Disorder.

"Do you really, though?" she asked with gentle skepticism, probably remembering the many times when focus was not the operative word for my spacey, light-as-air connection to the real world as I daydreamed through the day while my life degenerated into chaos (also a symptom).

Today, as I'm reading, really getting into it, imagining in vivid detail the lives and adventures of the characters, a loud voice speaking outside the booth startles me back into awareness, making me jump. I look at the clock and realize that I have no idea what's been going on around me for the last five minutes, and I do a quick scan of my surroundings, just to be safe and make sure that someone hasn't stolen my pants or something.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Most Hated President?

Note: Katie’s feelings of loathing and disdain for Woodrow Wilson are well known.

“I always get irritated when people get Memorial Day wrong by thanking veterans for their service - that’s Veteran’s Day!” I tell Katie as she works in her studio.

“Also, you know how Woodrow Wilson was instrumental in establishing Veteran’s Day?” I ask mischievously.

“Would you like to wind me up, or should I just do it myself?” Katie asks, after doing a slow take at the mere mention of his name.

The Real Sam

She's hardly said anything except the occasional quiet, "Yes mom," or "No mom," while "mom" has been dominating the conversation - telling me what shoes to bring out for her daughter, pushing for this or that look, telling her daughter what she should like, dislike, wear, do, say.

"Sam's kind of tired today," mom explains to me, while Sam unenthusiastically tries on another shoe, scratches her thin arms, plays with her phone.

Then a call comes in, and Sam transforms - her face lights up, she takes the call, and then she proceeds, for the next minute or so, to become another person: animated, screaming with laughter, starving for gossip ("Are you kidding me? He didn't! Shut the fuck up!"), and obviously thrilled to be young and alive.

As soon as the call ends, though, mom tries to reassert herself: "Sam, oh my God, Sam, put the phone down."

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Fifteen Years

"So where are you from?" I ask, after I determine they're not locals. It's a good question to get people to talk about themselves, which is what most people want to do anyway.

"We're from Yuma, Arizona," she says, as if I wouldn't know where that was.

"Oh, I grew up in Tucson," I say, "but I haven't been back in a while."

Friday, May 28, 2021

Nodding

"Is this train going to Brooklyn?" he asks after I take out one of my earbuds. I tell him it is, replace the earbud and he leans against the window and looks at his phone.

A few minutes later, he's nodded out and dropped his phone with a loud clunk, but instead of picking it up he just stays there with his mouth open, eyes closed, breathing deeply, his acned skin shiny with a thin sheen of sweat despite the cool night air.

Another passenger shakes him awake, and he retrieves his phone, looks at me and, after getting me to remove my earbud, asks, "Is this train going to Brooklyn?"

Subletting

"So if I get her shoes, you get my shoes," one of the women says to the other as I pass them on the sidewalk.

"So I'm the beneficiary of you being the beneficiary of her," her friend answers.

"Exactly."

"Like I'm subletting your good fortune."

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

THUNDERstorm

To my wife's delight, the sky has finally begun to darken, and the wind is kicking up. A blue tarp covering the fire escape of the building across the street billows and snaps, ballooning out like it's caught a favorable breeze and will shortly be sailing the red brick apartments out to sea.

I pause the show we're watching and Katie eagerly runs to the window to report behaviors in the face of the coming storm: couples huddling beneath too small New York umbrellas, a man with a baby carriage sprinting down the street in flip-flops to try to beat the deluge and his partners inevitable approbation at subjecting their infant to the rain.

All very entertaining, but still..., "Where's the thunder?" Katie asks, her voice tragic with disappointment.

The Golden (mask) Rule

She and her friend come in to the booth in the park where we sell Katie's butterflies, both of them wearing their masks around their chins (understandable - it's beautiful outside, and no healthy, vaccinated people need to wear their masks outside according to the CDC), but since it's a rule of the park, and since we're going to be in close quarters breathing on one another, I politely ask if she could pull up her mask. She does so without complaint, but adds, "You don't have to worry about us."

"That's okay," I tell her. "I wear my mask as much for your sake as for mine."

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Grounding

The fluorescent lights don't hum, and as far as I know I don't have a "brain cloud," but the lunchroom at work is definitely getting to me. I'm sitting at my usual table, having finished my usual lunch (microwaved pesto tortellini, which is honestly pretty delicious), about to read a little in the book I'm currently reading (Italo Calvino's The Baron in The Trees - have I read it before? I don't remember any of the plot, but maybe? Why wouldn't I have? I've read everything else by him) and I'm so tired, just so wiped out, that when the thought occurs to me that I maybe should go outside to the park in the [checks clock] forty-five minutes I have left to me before I have to go back out on that floor and sell another shoe, I feel actual resentment, toward myself, for even suggesting that I exert myself on my own behalf.

Which means, of course, that I have to do it. 

I haul myself to my feet, trudge down the hall to the exit, and climb the seemingly endless flights of stairs required to actually exit the building to the street, where, with each step, I find my tread growing lighter, my vision clearer, my breaths deeper, until I arrive in the park and lay on the grass, and the weight that I have been unknowingly carrying around is laid to rest on the earth, and I stare up into the trees and watch the wind spin and shake the leaves while pigeons mill around trying to get laid, and the clip-clip-clop-clip-clip-clop of the carriage horses sounds like techno beats fading in and out, and then I smile.

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Question

"So who's your favorite music artist?" the man asks as I ring him up.

What is it about that question that causes the brain to seize up entirely? I can speak at what my loving and forgiving wife would testify is excruciating length about the various members of bands, what albums they played on, the relative merits of their abilities on their respective instruments, their substance abuse issues, the contributions those substance abuse issues made to their lyrics and/or music, and so on, but ask me this simple question (along with it's corollary: "What are you listening to right now?") and I become inarticulately stupid, unable to remember what I might have been listening to this morning, let alone what my favorites might be.

"Oh, you know, I like..." grasping for a name, "Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Prince."

Saturday, May 22, 2021

There Are No Bad Dogs

"He's not very friendly," the woman says as I reach out my knuckles toward her panting dog. She's been taking pictures of him throughout the store as he gets more and more visibly stressed out.

He barks and snaps at me, but the way I'm holding my hand he has nothing to bite, and his front teeth bang harmlessly into my knuckles without leaving a mark. 

She gasps in alarm, but I just smile and drop my hand, saying, "Well, he's doing a good job anyway."

Friday, May 21, 2021

Outside/Inside

When I first started working this job, the stockroom - all the shelves, the stairs, the concrete floors, the lights and the insulation surrounding the ducts - was new. 

Almost two years and a pandemic later, things look a little worse for wear. I walk through the labyrinthine aisles and step over peeling duct-taped lines on the floor, ripped up insulation, scuffs on the walls and floors. 

I scan my body - painful knees and hips, tired eyes and back, cracking skin on my hands - shrug, grab some boxes, head back out on the floor.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Et in Arcadia ego

The park is partying green today, the trees throwing their hands up green, green heads bobbing to the music, exhaling deep green clouds of intoxication under a festival blue sky while we heavier, denser mortals lay on the grass as if it's a peaceful spring day, which it is.

"I keep staring at the dead tree," Katie says, pointing far across the lawn to a single spindly gray skeleton of a thing standing alone between two aggressively green trees.

"It looks like it could have some thin leaves coming in though, see the purple?" I say. But when we get there, we're able to see that it's very much dead, a corpse of a tree, stiff and tall, and the color was just a combination of the illusion of distance, the proximity of life, and too much optimism.

Respecting One's Elders

"Hey!" yells the spandexed guy on his bike as he roars through the intersection. 

The subject of his ire, a slightly stooped white-haired man crossing against the light, stops, startled, and then recovers, "Don't fuckin' yell!"

Spandex-warrior-man is already through the intersection and speeding down the hill. "Fuck you Boomer!" he bellows, and the brownstones resound with his cry.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Checked Out

"You doing okay?' my friend asks as we walk through the stockroom.

"I gotta be honest: I'm on my fifth day in a row being here and I'm actually kinda checked out right now," I tell him with a certain amount of false bravado.

He laughs because I don't usually talk like this at work. The thing is, though, is that while it's not exactly true, the act of saying it seems to free me up - I feel this weight of trying and straining lift from my chest, so that all I have to do is survive the next four hours and be useful, and everything will be fine, which leads me to believe that I should have been doing it like this all week.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Do The Right Thing (Without Thinking)

Trash on the floor of the stockroom, don't stop, gotta get back on the floor, gotta sell, doesn't matter, nobody cares, just leave it, already past it: stop.

Out loud, "Goddamit."

I turn around, walk the five paces back to the spot, reach down, pick it up, throw the trash in the bin.

It's never automatic; every time I have to choose.


Sensitive

The mask of white spreading down from eyes to muzzle makes the dog look old and worried, and his owner, herself in mask and turban, with a gray sweatshirt that announces in all block-caps “CANCER CHEMO YEAH IT SUCKS”, seems to have worries of her own. We speak briefly, long enough for me to greet her dog with outstretched knuckles before wishing her the best and dashing off to sell another woman shoes.

Later, a DJ begins spinning in an effort to give Saturday’s mad shopping rush a party atmosphere, but the initial volume is too high, and an assault of pop music rumbles and shrieks through the store, drowning out conversation and rational thought. Shoppers and salespeople alike grimace and shake their heads, shouting to be heard above the din, while the dog sits next to his person on the couch, head buried in her side as she pats his back consolingly.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Unmasked

An unmasked nose no longer blind: smell of sawdust and cigarettes by the construction site, sour odor of trash, waft of cooling asphalt presaging a hot summer to come. Soft caress of evening air against my cheeks dissolves the workday, and I am lifted out of my day into the night.

I come to the door of my apartment, and the sight of myself in the glass is startling. Who is this person looking back at me with his whole face, and what is he doing out in the world unmasked?

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Another New Normal

"The CDC says we don't need masks inside anymore," my co-worker says, his eyes wide. "NBA finals coming up, graduations coming up, they're gonna do this now?"

Later, riding the train home, I find myself eyeing my fellow commuters warily, wondering: if they've heard the news, if they've been vaccinated, if anyone might be brave (or foolish) enough to take their mask down, or sit next to a stranger - but nothing seems to have changed. We all ignore each other, sit with empty seats between us, keep our masks up, as if we're not all going to have to adjust to another "normal" yet again, one where we have to decide who to trust, with no simple rules, and nothing certain.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Not Today

I grab the bananas from the shopping basket to weigh them, and discover the tip of one of them has gone black and split, with a stringy, sunken texture and a few tiny patches of off-white fuzz.

I look at it, then at the woman helping with the self-checkout area, who is looking at me. "I think I'm gonna get some better ones," I say, and she gives a sort of shrugging nod.

I leave the remainder of my groceries and walk back to the produce aisle with a strangely proud feeling, like I somehow stood up for myself, even though I didn't do anything out of the ordinary.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Imaginary Things

"We party like Post Malone," I sing the refrain of the pop song as I'm undressing for bed.

"You know, he wanted to touch a dybbuk," Katie says [ed. note: a DYBBUK is a creature from Jewish folklore believed to be the unquiet soul of a malicious dead person], "but he freaked out so his friend did it, and then something bad happened to both of them."

"Well, like I always say, those things can only hurt you if you believe in them," I reply primly.

"Just like bitcoin!" she adds.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Umbrella

I'm standing under the construction scaffolding, trying to get my umbrella to work, when the top of it just pops right of, and I'm left standing holding a metal stick and a spindly, deflated orange umbrella top that looks like a dead bat.

"Got your umbrella?" a co-worker asks as she passes by me into the rain. She's not being mean, just making a joke, but I resent her a little anyway.

"Sort of the opposite of an umbrella, but yeah," I reply as I attempt to get the two pieces reattached.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Authority

"Can you help me?" I ask the woman working in the activewear department. She's looking at me curiously, as I already have my arms around the waist of this mannequin and am lifting it up off its base, but goes along once she figures out I need the shoes off it for a customer.

"Do you have authority to take these?" she asks, joking.

"Watch me," I say with a smile, and sprint for the elevator with my prize.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Late Bloomer

The Wikipedia page of the beloved, successful podcast host reveals a picture of a pleasant-looking, middle-aged man in glasses who was born in 1974. "I suppose I should get used to the idea of reading about more successful people who are younger than me," I muse to Katie as she finishes her shower.

"More successful than what?" she asks reasonably.

"My potential!" 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Self Talk

"I work up in the Denim department, and I need shoes, but I don't like shopping for shoes because I'm short and fat and sad," she says in a Long Island accent without really changing expression. Even though her mask hides most of her face, her eyes remain kind of blank, like she's reciting a litany she's said so often she doesn't even think about it anymore.

"Well, I've got some options I think are gonna work for you," I say, and I'm about to go on before I decide that I can't let that slide. "And by the way, if anybody talked about me the way that you just talked about yourself, I'd punch them in the mouth, so you should be nicer to yourself."

Monday, May 3, 2021

My Pace

When I walked too fast the other night, I ended up injuring my back where it attaches to my old cancer site at the hip, so the past couple of days have been pretty painful. 

Today, when I walked home from the subway after work, I was starting to feel better, but I didn't want to aggravate the injury, so I tried to find a gentler pace.

I heard music playing from an open window, an old song by the Grateful Dead that I liked, while the wind stirred the fallen cherry blossom petals into drifts and spinning whorls across the sidewalks. 

The air was soft and warm against my skin, and I felt the fist inside my chest from work unclench as my breathing slowed, until it felt like walking the way I like to walk.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Figured It Out

The little girl's inability to articulate exactly why the shoe is hurting her is starting to wear thin, but her parents are still game to try on more shoes, and I feel like we're so close.

"You know," I say to her, "sometimes it's hard to figure out how things feel with all the distractions around us. What I want you to do is take a deep breath, and really try to feel the place where it hurts, okay?"

Next shoe we put on, she stops, closes her eyes, and breathes, then says, "It hurts my heel right here," (pointing at her achilles tendon), "because this part here is too tall!"

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Giant Steps

It's been a long day, and I'd like to be home as soon as possible, so I decide to walk as fast as this woman going up the subway stairs ahead of me. I figure it won't freak her out, because my legs are longer than hers and I'll just pass her, and the sharp clack of her boot heels on the sidewalk will provide the tempo for my steps, even if I'm in front of her (because she won't think the guy who is rapidly increasing the distance between them is following her, because I'm not).

So I do pass her, and my plan seems to be working, but then I discover that I have severely miscalculated the tempo at which this woman has decided to walk - she is walking fast and it actually takes a lot more energy than I was prepared to expend to keep up with the tick-tock beat of her heels on the pavement. My legs are big and frankly I don't like moving them this quickly, but I'm committed now, so the only thing left to do is walk fast and lengthen my strides until I'm so far ahead of her that I can't hear her walking anymore, which gets me home in record time, which I guess was exactly the point.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Baby Steps

The CDC has advised us that it's okay to be outside without a mask on, so tonight, on the way home from work, I decide to lower my mask while walking from the subway stop on Flatbush to my home.

I smell the wet air from today's earlier rainstorm, and the scent of clean sidewalks; the trees all seem to be breathing fresh oxygen just for me, and the caress of their exhalations is gentle on my cheeks, like a soft kiss.

Then I spot, coming up the street toward me, a couple of people, one of whom is wearing a mask, and I begin to feel uncomfortable. By the time they reach me, my mask is firmly back in place, and I give them a wide berth as I pass.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Closer

The customer service rep at the bank is busy, so we sit playing on our phones in the sun by the floor-to-ceiling windows on large bolsters the same green as the corporate logo. The lady security guard stares past  us with a practiced expression that leaves some doubt as to whether or not she is eyeing us suspiciously, but after a while we just ignore her.

Another customer comes into the bank and is directed to have a seat, and, instead of finding a spot literally anywhere else in the rather sizable lobby, she comes and sits down on another corporate green bolster mere inches from where I'm sitting. 

"So much for social distancing," Katie says with a wry grin as I sigh and move away from the woman's offending back.

The Horror of Reincarnation

"It's for her Bat Mitzvah," the woman says, indicating her daughter, who regards me with a face devoid of expression save for a wide-eyed suspicion. My friendliest smile seems to only drive her further into the curve of her spine, where she hunches, all unformed and bristling with exposed nerve endings, like a clam without its shell. 

I find myself imagining myself at her age, likewise unformed and too-sensitive, and recoil at the thought. I would literally give anything, I think to myself as I slip her long, pale, foot into a shoe, to never have to be that young again.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Brooklyn Spring

The trees are rioting purple and pink and white flowers, while the ones without flowers shake brilliant new green leaves in the breeze. Beneath the cacophony of color, a man in stained jeans and a dirty mustard yellow puffer jacket crouches amidst a circle of trash bags bulging with his belongings, and he does not raise his eyes or greet me as I pass.

A plane glides across an ocean of blue over the Great Meadow in Prospect Park. I lie on my back and watch it pass while, over the trees bordering the Meadow to the east, a hawk hangs motionless on invisible thermals.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Listen

Older couple of ladies, mother and daughter, both of them speaking at the same time, their words tumbling over each others', demanding shoes, arch support, quality leather, but support, you know? and a platform, but not too much of a platform, how do people even walk in those things? well they're not for me, no, not for us, we walk everywhere.

Finally I bring out a bunch of shoes for them, and the first pair they try on, oh my god, they're perfect, arch support, you can really feel the support, and the velcro, and they're cute, right? absolutely, and we'll definitely be able to walk everywhere in these, it is okay that we have the same shoes, hahahahaha, who cares, if they're the right shoes, right?

"If your wife asks," one of them says, in a rare moment when the other one isn't speaking simultaneously, "we'll tell her that you really listen."

"Oh, I think she knows," I say.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

In/Out

As I'm walking into the shop, the black dog with the gray muzzle and the kind eyes noses my hand in a friendly sort of way on its way out of the shop, just in passing. 

"What a great dog," I say to his human, who turns as he reaches the door to give me a smile.

"This special guy is sixteen years and three months old," he says to me proudly.

"Let's go," he says to the dog, who has been patiently staring at the glass door, waiting for the man to open it, and when he does, they do.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

It's Different For Girls

My friend at work, a black woman, needs to go home - it's the end of her shift, she opened, and it's been a long week - but this woman she's helping isn't being very nice. She wants a different shoe, a better shoe, this one hurts, that one's too expensive, she hates the look of this one - so when my friend asks me to take over, I do so gladly.

I am, once again, completely non-reactive to her emotional shenanigans, and once she sees she's getting no reaction, she settles down, and we have a fine interaction. It may be in part due to my not playing her game, but I suspect it also has to do with my being a man, and women sometimes treat other women badly because they can get away with it. 

Mr. Brightside

After a long, late day doing inventory for the store, the whole sales team rides down the escalator together to go home.

"You know, we're only leaving a little later than when we usually close," I say cheerfully.

"Great job seeing the bright side, Scott," one of co-workers replies, the sarcasm dripping from her voice, which only makes me laugh.

"It was the dead eyes that really made it," I tell her, and she looks slightly pleased with herself.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Cosplay

It's the first nice day in a while, and the child in the stroller is accompanied by three adults, two in cloaks and carrying wands, and one with a camera. While the child seems to be enjoying the Harry Potter themed fun, the adults seem to really be getting into things as they strike various spell-casting poses and pretend to magically duel in front of the fountain while the other one takes photos.

At the same time, a group of very fancy-dressed young women stalk the same area, with one of them taking photos of another while the ones not being photographed shout encouragement and suggest poses reminiscent of the models they see on Instagram. "Every time you hear the click of the camera you change poses," one tells the next subject, demonstrating the head-tilt, the hand-to-chin, the look-away, "and you gotta unpurse your lips."

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Red and Purple, with White Cow Skulls

"That scooter's gonna give you a bad back if you try to ride it," I say to the mom whose daughter has scampered away, leaving her to carry said (very short) scooter. 

She gives this a small laugh, about what it deserves, but when her daughter comes back, she says, "The man said that I would hurt my back, because he was pretending I was going to ride your scooter."

This elicits a satisfying giggle from the girl, and I say, grinning, "That's what they call a dad joke!"

Later, the daughter comes up to me and, with a very serious expression, informs me, "I like your socks."

Friday, April 16, 2021

Stonewalling

"And I brought out these shoes as a replacement for your sneakers," I continue.

For some reason, this seems to offend her. "What I liked about the pandemic," she starts in a thick Russian accent, "is that I could shop in peace, and no one would bother me, I'm sorry, I know you have to bring me things, but, I'm just tired of it, talking and selling, I'm sorry."

I fix her with my most blankly benign stare, the one I reserve for people who have really overstepped themselves. "Why would you be sorry?" I say mildly, but my eyes are like a stone wall.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A Rusty Nail

I drop off the van and walk home, leaving behind the grittier environs around the U-Haul place and strolling through the brownstones of Park Slope. Golden light from the setting sun illuminates the buildings and the blooming cherry and magnolia trees. 

A woman walks by going in the opposite direction from me, wearing a t-shirt with a old-looking picture of a young woman on it and a range of years under the picture.

I pickup an old square nail, rusty and bent, from off the ground, and carry it home with me, tossing it in the air to feel its weight and flipping it from hand to hand to feel the texture of the rough rust on my palms.

Getting Back To It

"This is the first time I've been out shopping in over a year," she says, eyes wide over the pale blue line of her mask. I smile and nod.

"Well, thanks for choosing us," I reply, my tone (in my head) somewhat perfunctory, but she ignores it.

"I usually don't like shopping, but you made this fun!"


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Too Mainstream

"I was such a snob when I was a kid," I mutter. We're getting ready for bed after watching a short video about the band Pearl Jam. 

"This girl I knew once said the band I was in sounded like Pearl Jam, and I was so mad," I continue, "because I thought they were too mainstream."

"I mean, so did they," Katie replies.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Normal?

"Things getting back to normal?" is the typical question, after we've established that customer is fine, I'm fine, we're all fine, and yes, things are super weird. 

And usually what I'll do is say that, yes, in fact, things are getting better - I'm making more money, selling more shoes, the days get busier, the floor is full of customers.

But that also means longer hours, longer days, more of the day-to-day difficulties of being in retail, which is both something that I really like to do and, sometimes, a little draining.

So, yes, things are getting back to normal, and we're still figuring out what that means, and if we want it to.

Saying What I'm Thinking

After the doors on the train open and close for the fourth time and we continue to sit in the station, people really start to get wise to the fact that something is going wrong, and the guy sitting across from me starts to mutter and curse, his apparently already bad mood threatening to sour into something more generally poisonous.

Take it easy man, no need to take it personally, I think, sort of to him, but mostly to myself.

"Don't worry, it happens to me too, man," a skinny white guy says with a resigned smile to the angry fellow. "That means it's not personal."


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Cops

I'm carrying the trash to the curb when I see the flashing lights of the first police SUV pulling up. It is quickly followed by a second, then a third one, and then a Fire Department ambulance, lights spinning, but no sirens, parking in front of the bank.

The police get out, purposefully but without any sense of urgency, and walk into the bank, and I head upstairs to find Katie in the kitchen washing dishes, where I tell her, "Cops are downstairs at the bank."

She's already heading for the door before I finish saying it.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Keep It To Yourself

"There's something cool about walking in the city at night," I say after returning from a late evening walk to the drugstore a few blocks away to get the cat her nightly meal.

"Especially since we live in the suburbs now, apparently, and nobody is on the streets," Katie agrees.

"Yeah, it's like, somewhere there's a spot where there's no more sidewalk, and beyond that there's just the emptiness of the continent, and in spite of all the millions of people between you and that point, there's a place where there's just no one."

"That's not something I want to hear right before bed," Katie replies.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Tech

"What's going on?" Katie asks. I guess I must have sworn out loud.

"I was working on some formulas in this spreadsheet, and the computer just restarted before I had a chance to save it, but like, for the third time," I explain as the Apple logo appears yet again on the screen.

"Maybe it's time to start saving after every entry?" she says, only slightly sarcastic, patting me on the shoulder.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Saying Goodnight

The cat yowled about the cold all last night, so tonight before we go to bed, Katie asks me to shut the window at the front of the house, and to say goodnight to her plants. 

After I've closed the window and locked it, I dutifully go to each of the plants, saying goodnight to them individually, by name if I know it.

"Goodnight cane palm, swiss cheese plant, snake tongue, James Dean, fan palm, Wandering Dude, dolphin plant, Clooney. little palm tree, other little palm tree, guy on the hanging shelf."

Then, as I'm heading back to my bedroom, I call, over my shoulder as sort of any afterthought, "Alexa, goodnight," and all the lights turn off.

Psalms 19:1

Many years ago, when I was much more depressed than I am now, I thought that a good job for me would be to become an Episcopal Priest (since they could get married, have kids, work in a relatively liberal church, have housing, the whole thing).

For any number of perfectly good reasons, that's no longer a career path for me, but when you're an optimistic, enthusiastic sort, it's hard to get out of the habit of preaching to a non-existent congregation.

A beautiful day like today, with gentle breezes and fine, cheerful blue skies, with sunshine beaming down on freshly budding dogwood trees and daffodils, well, that could get anybody thinking kindly about a benevolent universe. Just walking down the street puts me in mind of singing a hymn, even just to myself.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Stability

We lie on the grass in the riverside park beneath the mountainous bridge and a blue spring sky. My jacket is spread out under us to keep the new mud and grass from staining our clothes, and Katie lies back with my head resting on her side.

I stare up at the bridge, and I can feel the weight of it, the long-spanning tension of the cables that hoist up the roadway and distribute the load onto the towers looming above us. A train lumbers across the river and Katie remarks, "Something that heavy on it, and the bridge doesn't even move."

Aqua Reef, Bear Glove, Wolfthorn

The older woman standing at the counter when we walk into the drugstore hears us come in. It's a small store, and a straight shot from the front to the back where she's standing, so when she turns she can see us, and we can see her.

Katie doesn't seem to notice the woman, but something about her gaze, and the fact that she looks at me for a little longer than seems strictly necessary, unnerves me. While Katie walks up to the counter to pick up her prescription, I suddenly become fascinated by the names of Old Spice deodorants on the next aisle over and I casually sidestep over to read them more carefully, blocking myself from her view.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Existential

My knee gives a small, sharp complaint with every step as we walk a few blocks to pick up a mid-century modern coffee table we've been gifted, but I ignore its protests and continue explaining this morning's existential musings.

"So I don't believe in reincarnation, but someday these cells will be a part of somebody or something that achieves consciousness, and I'll have to go through all of it again, all of the suffering of growing up and growing old, and that just sounds awful," I tell her.

"Yeah, everybody will, but you won't remember, and you're pretty happy now, aren't you?" Katie asks.

After a pause, I say, "That's a good point."

Friday, April 2, 2021

April Fools

I press my hand against the cold window to feel an intimation of the outside air. After a week of balmy spring sunshine and not-too-cold rainy days, the temperature crashing feels like someone pulling the rug out from under us. 

"Will my plant be okay?" Katie asks, looking at a delicate trailing one hanging in the window. After a moment's consideration, I take it from its hook and place it on the table, before Katie (with a look of concern) lifts it from the table and hangs it on another hook far enough from the front window to be safe from the cold, where its tendrils are free to dangle in peace.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Deeply Resilient Infrastructure

On screen, an enormous nuclear-powered dinosaur trades blows with an enormous, ax-wielding ape across the cityscape of Hong Kong while Katie and I eat sushi (in honor of the lizard’s homeland) and drink banana-based cocktails (in honor of the ape). 

The architectural carnage (not to mention the actual carnage, which must be substantial, but is hardly ever shown) is catastrophic - buildings are used as weapons, as backstops from which devastating attacks are launched, as objects against which one’s opponent is smooshed.

As yet another neighborhood is demolished, I say matter-of-factly, “The global economy must be in shambles.

“I was thinking the exact same thing!” Katie exclaims, while in on screen Hong Kong, the power inexplicably stays on.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Snacktime

I smile into the breeze as I glide up 7th Avenue in the golden late afternoon sun. My electric scooter is fast (but not too fast) and agile (but not excessively agile), and I feel deliciously free and relaxed, flowing with traffic, gracefully detouring around the double-parked box trucks and taxis with wide, easy arcs.

I pull up to the curb outside the donut shop and watch the passersby as I wait for the woman inside to finish her purchase. She comes out and apologizes for taking so long and I grin, saying, "No need to apologize," before heading in to buy myself a snack.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Gangster

“You think that Irish guy’s dead?” I ask Katie about one of the mob crime shows we’re watching.

“There’s two episodes left, so he might come back at the last moment,” she says.

“Deus ex Mulligan,” thinking I’m clever.

“Deus ex mafia,” she replies.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Here's Your Sign

"One-twenty over eighty-one," the young nurse says as she pulls the velcro'ed blood pressure cuff off my arm with a satisfying ripping sound. "Lower than mine, but I'm working on it," she adds ruefully.

"I gotta say, I started doing about thirty minutes of yoga a day every day, and it really helped me - might help you, too," I say.

"I believe I was meant to meet you today, because I have been thinking about doing just that, and you are the sign that I should," she replies.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Coming Back

On the corner by the playground, two container trucks idle, their engines loud in the quiet neighborhood.

But as we pass by the trucks, we realize that their engines are actually off, and the rhythmic motor sound is actually coming from further up the block. We walk up the side of the park, past recently empty swings and jungle gyms now filled with masked-up kids and their guardians, past the bustling field where toddlers pick up plastic balls to fling them away so they can chase them.

We talk about how, a year ago, all of this went away, and how now it’s coming back.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Distracted

While Katie is taking her nighttime shower, I get ready for bed. I fill up water bottles with ice and fresh water (water bottles being the preferred choice when living with a cat, as it removes the feline temptation to get a drink of delicious human water from an open glass), change into my sleep clothes, and write this.

But when she gets out of the shower, even though we've got fresh water and I'm in my pj's, my nightly lines have yet to be written, and I'm lying bed avid perusing a book of cocktail recipes.

"I got distracted," I say sheepishly, but she doesn't even react, but simply smiles and nods, as if she already knew.

Volcano Heart

The video of the volcano in Iceland is half-an-hour long, so we fast-forward to the part where the side of the cone collapses, pouring out a massive wave of red, glowing lava over the landscape.

Katie and I gape at the spectacle from the safety of our couch, and I'm tempted to rewind to watch it again.

Her face is a portrait of contentment, and she sighs, "I love lava so much."

"Because it speaks to your soul," I agree, and she laughs.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Friendly Can Work Both Ways

"Can I say hi to your dog?" I ask about her ancient Pomeranian 

She looks up with a bored expression from her phone and says, "He's not very friendly."

Sure enough, as I hold out my hand, he begins snarling and barking, until I kneel down to make myself a little less threatening, which seems to mollify him.

Eventually, I'm scratching him behind the ears until he curls up on my feet and closes his eyes, causing his owner to say, "Wow."

Operating Hours

It's Sunday, so I'm pretty sure the library is closed, but since I haven't been inside it in over a year, I weave in and out of the masses of people chatting in the setting sun at Grand Army Plaza, cross Flatbush, and walk up the wide stairs to the curved stone front of the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

The open plaza in front of the library doors, in contrast to Grand Army, is almost deserted, except for a few transients sleeping on the large blocks of marble flanking the staircase, and a man sitting idly at a metal table. A couple of women are also ascending the stairs to the towering metal doorway, and I politely give them space until we're all three of us at the door, and I'm reading the sign for the hours of operation.

"It's closed, isn't it?" one of them asks, and I nod sadly before turning to make my way back to the park.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

I Should Think Not

“Oops!” says the student nurse who’s administering my second vaccine dose. “I think I have to go get you a new vaccine.” She holds up a syringe (which she insists came that way) with a bent needle.

“I’ve never bent a needle on a person before,” she says as an aside, “just a mannequin."

Friday, March 19, 2021

No Worries

The next time I come out to the truck, a guy is sitting on a sidewalk planter beside it, smoking a joint.

I have to park the dolly pretty close to him, and I give him an apologetic shrug which he accepts without responding.

"I said, sorry about the smell," he says with an appraising look after I finish loading the dolly.

"Don't worry about it," I reply with a smile, and he smiles back.

A Connection

The old guy without his mask on is talking pretty loudly (and with mention of "grenades" and "snipers, in a disturbing fashion) to the young guy, and Katie isn't even bothering to hide that she's watching. The old man is unkempt and unwashed, his voice accented, maybe Russian or Eastern European? but perfectly understandable. 

I envision a version of events going down where this guy gets aggressive with Katie if he notices her watching them, just because he's obviously not entirely mentally well, but I can tell Katie doesn't think this is going to happen, and the kid seems to be keeping things pretty light, so I take a deep breath and calm down.

"There's some kind of connection being attempted here," she says, indicating between the kid and the old guy, "and I am fascinated by it."

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Deductive Reasoning

I am staring at the subway turnstiles like a dog trying to do algebra when the guy in the MTA vest walks by. The issue I'm having is how to get this oversized bag filled with two humungous helium balloons (a giant grinning toucan and an enormous gold pineapple) through the gates along with the other decorations and the cake I'm carrying.

I humbly ask him for help, and he graciously obliges by opening the service gate for me so I can just pass through, bags and cakes and balloons and all.

"Happy birthday to whoever it is!" he calls cheerfully after me with a grin and a wave.

Monday, March 15, 2021

You Should Not Breed

The woman with the howling baby declines to get on the elevator, and as the door closes the man riding back down to the shoe floor with me sighs in relief.

"That is why I hate babies around me, or near me," he says conspiratorially. "And why I am never going to have one," he adds.

"Well, clearly there's a good reason for certain people not to have babies," I say, in an agreeable tone.

Power-up

The sales floor finally slows down to a few half-hearted shoppers absent-mindedly re-arranging the displays, the adrenaline wears off, and the full weight of a busy, understaffed day hits me. I grab a few boxes of shoes and head down the escalator to the stock room while the disco-pop hybrid they play continues to thump and wail in the overhead speakers.

Outside the stockroom at a register, a woman waits with her tall, white poodle, both of them waiting for an associate to check her out, and I sidle up, asking to greet her dog.

The dog ignores his owners assent and my outstretched hand, and immediately comes in close to spoon me, burying his muzzle into my thigh, and stands very still while I feel a life bar over my heart fill like a power-up in a video game.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Enjoy Yourself

“Wait, ‘Daylight Savings Begins?’” I read off of the calendar alert on the computer.

“‘Daylight Savings Begins,’” Katie repeats from the other room. “Yeah, I guess that means it’s later than it is.”

“Well shit!” I reply, after a short pause.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

No Gin

I don’t look up until he mutters, “Goddamn.” That’s when I see him across from me on the train, pouring a bottle of tonic water into a small plastic cup.

With the careful, slow movements of the truly inebriated, he sets the cup on the seat next to him, where it promptly spills as soon as the train lurches into motion.

I expect him to curse again, but he just looks down sadly at the pool of tonic water he’s created - he sighs, I sigh, and then we both go back to what we were doing.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Getting The Right Guy

"I'm sorry," the nurse says tentatively as I'm about to go into the machine, "could you please tell me your name and birthday again?"

"You never have to apologize for doing your job well and not getting the wrong guy," I tell her. "Why would apologize for that?"

"Sometimes people are old, or they get irritated because we ask so much, or... well just sometimes people are really mean!" 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Trivial

"What's blue curaçao anyway?" the guy at the liquor store asks.

This taps right into my genetic predisposition to explain everything to anybody who asks (and many who don't). My parents and my sister either currently are, or once were, teachers, so I guess it's in my blood.

"It's just regular orange curaçao, but dyed blue, for some reason," I say, trying to play it off like it's not a big deal to know stuff, even though I'm secretly delighted.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Way of All Flesh

The tub has been draining slowly, lately, turning showers into wading pools. It seemed to happen overnight, working well one day and then suddenly not, but of course it must have been a process of some kind - the gradual accumulation in the pipes of hair and soap, the buildup, maybe over years, of shampoo scum and dirt until, finally, the water could no longer pass.

I find myself imagining growing older as I think about this. Errors in the DNA proliferating, wear and tear accruing to joints and ligaments, the whole system running down until, one day, seemingly out of nowhere (while actually quite predictable, a bill long due) the system loses integrity, and either is put back together, or fails. 

Monday, March 8, 2021

A Case of the Mondays

Even though the train's stopped in the tunnel, I've still got two bars of service on my phone, just enough to squeeze out a text to the group chat at work letting them know I'll be late. The conductor, his voice garbled by the speaker, blarghed at us a few minutes ago to inform us that the smoke condition at Columbus Circle had fucked our morning commute. Nothing to do now but wait - won't be long now, I'm sure.

Forty-five minutes later, we pull into the station and I stumble out of the car, already burnt out on the day, with a full shift at work still ahead.

Not Looking

I glance up from my book 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.