Friday, September 24, 2021

Busking

The subway car erupts with the wail of “Greensleeves,” but only the first verse, played at maximum volume on violin by a stringy, deeply tanned man with greasy, thinning hair.


When he reaches the end of the verse, rather than the song lifting into the soaring chorus, he simply starts over in a loop. He has some feel for music, it seems, holding certain notes longer in tension and speeding up as if tumbling down a hill in the descending phrases, but his overall ineptitude leaves the ends of notes trailing off, fraying out of tune, and the repetition begins to grate almost immediately.


His eyes are closed in (real or feigned) rapture, and the tendons on his skinny arms that protrude from the gaping sleeves of his dirty black oversized t-shirt strain with the emotion he is trying to convey through this one half-remembered phrase from an ancient song, until finally he stops for one blessed moment, before splitting the silence again with a ramshackle version of the theme from “The Godfather.”

Monday, September 20, 2021

Intuition

She comes shyly into the kitchen wearing a pretty dress to show me. "Oh," I exclaim, "how lovely."

She accepts my compliment then, her eyes narrowing, asks, "What's wrong?"

I insist that everything is fine, but she says, unconvinced, "Maybe you just don't know it yet."

The Stick

"The Stick" is a physical therapy tool - a semi-rigid plastic stick with green handles mounted on either end and spools of hard white plastic threaded on it. You use it like a rolling pin to knead tired and sore muscles, separating and relaxing the fasciae and working out knots and trigger points that are causing problems.

I'm watching TV on the couch and using it on my left upper thigh, which feels terrible. It's working when I feel the muscles get tired, like I've been exercising in a gym.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Anniversary Adventure at the Feast of St. Gennaro

We leave the restaurant in that perfect state of sated and lightly tipsy, where the world has just a touch of sparkle around the edges, and you have no particular reason to say "no" to things, so you say "yes."

"Are we going the right way?" I ask, knowing we are, but wanting to see if Katie might have a better way. 

"If we're going toward that we are," she replies, pointing at the multi-colored flashing lights spoking the ferris wheel a few blocks away in Little Italy.

Later, at the top of the same ferris wheel, as we look west across the island, with the crowds and noise and traffic far below us I remark, "Look, you can see America from here."

Midlife

"The problem with normalizing the so-called midlife crisis," I type into my phone, "is that by doing so, it is made banal. The overwhelming sense of meaninglessness is exacerbated by the fact that your despair lacks even the dignity of being unique."

A few hours later, I learn that a co-worker's brother was shot three times in a random act of violence. He'll probably live, thank goodness, but I bet he's not worried if his life is meaningless.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Wedding Bell Blues

At my physical therapy appointment, I explain my various pains that have cropped up over the last week - cramps and pain in my knees and hips, better than they were but still not great, and not helped by the fact that I'm on my feet 10-12 hours a day working. 

We talk a little about the exercises that I've been doing to mitigate things, and then there's a pause, and I ask, "So, how are you doing?"

She stares for a minute, looking at me but not really seeing, and I have time to see the circles under her eyes, the lines that weren't there two weeks ago, the sort of mildly traumatized glaze of a person who's seen some shit.

"Oh, you know, getting ready for the wedding," she says after a pause, and I nod knowingly.

Old Queens

The ancient pug in the dog stroller is promenaded about like a pudgy child emperor, her eyes half-slits of boredom, while her owner shops for shoes and occasionally harangues the salespeople. There is nothing in this world that can harm her in any way, that she knows of, and she is master of all she surveys.

"What's her name?" I ask solicitously, scratching this furry, undercooked soup dumpling behind the ears.

"Jezebel," her owner says proudly, and Jezebel lets out a phlegmy wheeze.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

He's Friendly

The enormous English Bulldog sprawled at her feet spots me and shoves his way to his feet like an avalanche in reverse, all rolling solidity. 

"Oh my god," I say reverently, "what is his name?"

Her eyes twinkle mischievously - she's used to this, and so glad I asked.

"Muscles," she says as a velvet sack full of boulders shoves his head into my knee and almost knocks me down.
 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Meta-metta

I briefly consider feeling grateful for all the living beings on this train, and I feel a small wash of happiness at having had the impulse, even if I can’t actually conjure up the gratitude itself.

All the people who made this bridge upon which I cross the East River, the train, the clothes I wear, the shoes on my sore, weary feet, the music I pipe into my tired ears: none of them are on this train, but maybe I can let the people on this train stand in for the ones who have given something of themselves toward my comfort and pleasure. Maybe that’s how I puncture the swollen blister of my resentment I made at work today.

A very small girl with pigtails sitting in a stroller grins a messy grin around a half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and shakes her head in amused annoyance at something her daddy just said to her, and I guess that will have to be enough.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

A Worthy Sacrifice

I can't hear as well out of my left ear as I used to, and it bothers me. It feels stuffed up, and I keep having to ask people on that side of me to repeat themselves (which is embarrassing), but I assume it comes from listening to music at ridiculous volumes, going to ear-splitting rock shows in college, and playing in bands that were actually louder than jet engines (true story!), so I really only have myself to blame.

I'm walking home from the subway when one of my favorite songs comes on. I shove my headphones deeper into my ears until I can hear all the little details in the mix (while carefully avoiding turning up the volume, even though it's just under maximum), and stride on in rhythm to the drums pounding in my head.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Letting Go

We are returning the cat food we purchased last week when our cat was still alive - a couple of pouches, a can, some treats that we bought to try to get her to eat when she was wasting away - but something is wrong with the registers.

The guy behind the counter stares numbly at the screen while we gather the returns on the counter, until finally he asks for and enters my phone number and then scans each piece one at a time, pausing interminably between each scan as the computer grinds away.

After a few moments of this, he takes us to another computer, and this one seems to work better, even though he has to re-enter my phone number two more times.

Finally, when we seem to be arriving at the merciful end of our transaction, he goes to print out the receipt and even that is broken, out of paper, so he steals a roll out of the register we were just at, prints it, and releases us into the humid late summer afternoon.

The Lost Habit of Ecstasy

The man on stage with the guitar sweats and struggles, the instrument rigid in his writhing hands as he bangs his head and grimaces in joy. I know these songs, the songs of my not-too-distant late youth, and I can recall the radiant shocks of pleasure they once conjured in my gut that were in direct proportion to the desire I felt to escape what was once an almost constant depression.

That depression is gone now, and I watch the concert with a sort of detached contentment, a focused and alert enjoyment that does not seek to escape anything, but simply observes. I am sort of leery of this feeling, and wonder if this is what getting healthy feels like, or if it's just getting old - but then I look around at all the middle-aged men in the venue, and decide to just relax. 

Monday, September 6, 2021

Holiday In The Park

Lying on our backs in the shade, soft grass beneath us, breezes cool and gentle. The park murmurs to itself with the voices of children playing frisbee, with the meaningless whispers of couples breathing one another, with dogs barking, with music from countless speakers dancing over the lawn, while in the distance, the festive boom of a sound system beats out a playful, rhythmic bass.

"Two drinks at brunch and we're homeless in the park," Katie, eyes closed, mutters to no one. I watch the clouds dissolve in a blue sky, and a hawk soars overhead into the trees.

She Told On Herself

"It's a really great program that helps local kids, like I've personally helped measure the kids for shoes, and just ten dollars gets a kid a pair of shoes that fit. Would you like to help out?"

"Oh," she says, laughing, "no, I still have some shopping to do today, so I'll pass."

"Okay!" I say brightly, with just the slightest edge to my voice as I snap open her shopping bag with a flick of my wrist.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Absurdity

"I'm not gonna talk about my cat, because I refuse to cry at work...,"

"No, yeah, cool cool cool, I totally get it," she says, waving her hand and shaking her head. "So why did the chicken cross the road?"

"Why?"

"Scott, I don't know either," she says, cracking herself up as she says it, which makes me smile my first genuine smile of the day.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Transition

Paws that would grab my fingertip in a slow, needling squeeze are still, and her eyes, while open, see nothing. Even so, her expression reads as nothing less than a fierce concentration, and in this moment as the vet pushes the sleeping drugs into the catheter, she is still breathing. I can see her side rise and fall with the quick, shallow breaths of quickly approaching death.

I stare down at the floor for a moment, to try and master my grief, then force myself to raise my head and watch as the second dose goes in, and her chest rises, falls, and then the mysterious something that was my cat is gone, and we are left together in the room, weeping with a stranger beside a mass of fur and flesh that used to be our friend.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Cat's Sick

The icy anxiety I've been carrying around in my solar plexus hasn't dissipated by the time it's time to leave for work, but since time only goes in one direction, there's nothing for it but to go. The cat still lies in the middle of the hallway, drunk on the phenobarbital the vet prescribed to control what she thought were seizures brought on by a brain tumor, though we have our doubts how well it's working.

I sit down next to her and pet her, and she gives a complaining mowr that stabs me right in the heart, but I get up and head out the door anyway. I lock the door behind me against her low yowl of protest, and go down the stairs, worried and sad and trying not to show it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Too Honest

Okay, I think to myself, give him another shot: “How you doing?” I ask the annoying know-it-all bartender.

“Alive,” he replies with all the cynicism a twenty-something can muster. “If I was dead I wouldn’t be complaining.”

“That would certainly be a change,” I say without thinking. 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Watching You Watching Them

The German Shepherd teenage puppy (all gangly long legs and awkwardness) bites at the bag, then the hand holding the bag, then at his leash, then the hand holding the leash. His expressionless owner watches all this, finally moving his hand when the dog gnaws at the leash. 

A woman watches them, her expression perfectly readable, even with her mask on. I watch her eyes shine with absolute love and adoration as she watches the dog, and the dog watches the bag that presumably has food in it.

Friday, August 20, 2021

The Expert

"Was Ted Kaczynski a serial killer?" I ask my resident expert, who at this moment is working in her studio on her sculptures. I'm not asking if he killed a number of people, because of course he did, but whether or not he meets the strict definition of "serial killer," and nobody I know cares as much or has as much knowledge about shit like this as my wife.

"Yeah," she says after pausing her current podcast and putting down her tools. 

"I mean, I guess he did kill more than a few people, and he planned it out, so it's not a spree killing or anything...," I muse while she nods solemnly.

Sky Trees

The walk home from the train hasn’t changed, even with a pandemic. Sure, some of the businesses have closed but the sky still looks the same, the streets still quiet and lined with brownstones. 

I look up at one of the three churches I pass on the way, and I see, nestled in the crook of the steeple that the airplane knocked the cross off of back in the 60s, a single tree, incongruous and defiant. It is so far above the ground, and I have no idea how it grows or what keeps it up there.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

August In New York

I roll out of the apartment to hit the post office, humming a little tune. Some clouds that look like they might do something are gathering off in the east, but the sun is shining bright on Brooklyn.

A shirtless bald man with a Santa Claus beard and a Key West tan is crossing the street with his colorless sweatpants pulled down a full three inches below the crack of an ass as flat as the asphalt.

"So that's what we're doing today," I remark as I pass him, and he ignores me and continues on his way.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Empty Hands

I feel a small surge of annoyance and resentment when the guy sits next to me on the bench outside the vet's office and takes off his mask, even if he is downwind, and I instinctively pull the pet carrier in my lap a little closer. My cat, disturbed by the movement, yowls her disapproval despite her lethargy, attracting the attention of the man's dog, who shoves his nose into my crotch underneath the carrier before being dragged off by the maskless man.

A few minutes later, the nurse comes to the door and, after a few questions about why we're here, takes the carrier from me. She quickly disappears into the dimness of the vet's office, and I am left, standing on the sidewalk outside, my hands empty.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Processing Information

"I was thinking I could either wear the black flowery dress with the heels," she says to her boyfriend while I perch on the stool surrounded by paper spilling out of shoe boxes, "or I could wear the skirt with these white sneakers, but really the skirt would look better with the... are you listening?"

"I'm listening," he says, not shifting his gaze from the middle distance.

Later, towards the end of the transaction, I say, "When you were talking to him, it was kinda spooky, because when you asked if he was listening, I could have sworn I heard my wife."

When she explains that she does that when she's talking and he's not looking at her, he and I say at the same time "He's/I'm processing."

Resurrection

I'm in the stockroom when I hear the familiar click and static of the airphone (the p.a. system that allows people on the floor to broadcast through the stockroom). 

"Saige, did you die?" my manager Patrick's voice booms amongst the shoes. "Saige, did you die?"

I turn to see Saige hurrying past carrying an armload of shoeboxes to the front.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

The Antidote

"Did you get food on it?" Katie asks sweetly of the shirt that I have announced I'm wearing to work tomorrow.

When I object to her characterization, she adds, "Look, you eat at a 135 degree angle, so that isn't on me. At least you married someone who's good at getting out stains."

"They say you marry your opposite," I muse, "but really it should be, 'You marry your antidote.'"

Don't Get Excited

I squat on my left leg on the miniature staircase in the physical therapy suite, and try to slowly lower my right leg to the ground. My leg trembles with the effort after only three repetitions, but I keep going.

A stabbing pain rips through my knee, and I inhale sharply. "Okay, I think that's all for the day," my therapist says in an overly casual tone.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Exit, Pursued By A Hawk

I round the corner from the subway heading home down my usual route, with the usual people crossing my path, the usual cars rushing through the intersection toward their usual places, everything in place, when, above me, something catches my eye.

A pigeon sails erratically across the sky pursued by a hawk. It zigs and zags, wheeling overhead as the hawk unhurriedly banks to follow. They pass over the T-Mobile store, over the traffic on Flatbush, out toward Crown Heights and beyond, and I watch, entranced, until they pass out of sight, and I come to myself, shake my head to bring me back to the mundane world, and continue on my way home.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Treats Driven

"So, now that you know which of these shoes is more dressy, and which is more everyday, you need to ask yourself: how important is being dressy?" I tell her.

"Not very," she admits.

"Then get the brown ones," I say authoritatively, and she nods, like of course.

When we're at the checkout, she hands me a Kind Bar (the one that's all chocolate and nuts), and says, "Because you made it easy, and you were kind." 

Friday, August 6, 2021

Pre-Dinner Clean

My deodorant gave out midway through my physical therapy session before I even went to work this morning, so I have felt absolutely filthy all day.

After I arrive home, the stink of myself in my nostrils, tired of rebreathing my own air beneath a mask all day, and just generally disappointed in the world, Katie greets me with a weary smile.

"Are you gross enough," she says with a mischievous grin, "for a pre-dinner shower?"

I aver that I am, in fact, more than gross enough, and we start stripping in the hall as we run for the showers.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Pass It On

My co-worker comes into the stockroom with a spring in her step, singing a little tune, and she dances a couple steps down the aisle. 

"You're so happy, I love it!" I say, enthusiastically.

"I just had a really nice customer, and it made my day," she replies with a big smile.

"Makes me think that maybe I could effect somebody else's day positively, too, right?" I say.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Checked Out

"Here it is, 672," I say, pointing at what I think is the house we're going to.

"It's 627," she says. "Man, are you checked out today!"

When I protest she calmly explains, "If I'm saying that, it's the culmination of a lot of things, not just the one thing."

Monday, August 2, 2021

Not Pertinent

A shoe was a little dirty so I ask a co-worker if I should take it out of circulation. She tells me to put it back on the shelf and then asks about the customer who pointed out the (very small) dirt spot, “What was she?”


I give her a look and she adds, “It's okay, I’m not trying to pull the race card!”


“Nah," I say, shaking my head, "don’t ask a white man questions like that - we’re in enough trouble as it is!”

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Low Battery

End of a frantic workday, my knee sends out periodic distress signals without any hope or expectation of relief, and I limp down the stairs to the subway, letting my heart rate gradually fall from manic taps to a steady pulse.

At the edge of the platform, waiting on a train, I'm listening to a slow, sad song until my headphones announce they're out of juice and die without further comment.

My electronic book reader, too, opens to a mostly empty screen with a graphic of a battery and an exclamation point to report its inability to perform its only function.

I sigh and slap the cover closed, slip it back into my bag, pull out a notebook, and commence writing it all down, like so.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Yam Cult

"You read the thing about the yam cult?" I ask Katie as we walk through the Pacific Islander room at the American Museum of Natural History. 

"I will now!" Katie says, making a fast u-turn back to the display case full of woven masks and pictures of surprisingly curvaceous yams decorated with feathers and reeds.

We read about how sexual activity is considered to be bad for the yam crop while I pretend to rub suggestively against her, and she shoves me away. "Don't piss off the yams!" she scolds.

Slack MF

"Yeah, I'm pretty much done," he says after I ask him how the straightening up of the displays is going.

I already checked, of course, and he's nowhere near done, but rather than say that, I just say, "Cool! Let's go meet by the far wall and go through it together."

And he doesn't say, "Oh, wait, let me check that," or "Was I supposed to do that too?" (which I would have accepted as self-preservation, even though it's still a little sneaky), but just meets me where I said, where I proceed to show him all of the things that still need doing, to which he responds with slow, sullen indifference.


 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Non-Euclidean Rain

The umbrella is far too small for this level of precipitation, so my boots, my bag, my arms, my ankles, my shoulders, are all getting soaked.

It's like it's raining in three dimensions says my brain, which, of course it is, but I sort of half grasp the point my addled, slightly soggy brain is making. Like, it's not just raining down, but it's also raining up, and forward, and backward, and left to right.

All directions at once is like it's a non-dimensional point, adds my brain, and I shake my head in irritation and walk faster. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Meaning

Headphones in on the train home - pretty familiar scenario - listening to music that sounds like my teenage years (synthesizers, guitars, drum machines, ethereal vocals singing about vampires and flying and passion and graveyards) even though it was made this century; but somehow it doesn't take me back.

The world doesn't mean anything: it's our job, as humans, to make things meaningful. I used to drown in significance - everything meant so much, and I expected it to - but now it doesn't.

But I get home, and my wife and cat are there, and that's all the meaning I seem to need.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Butt Dial

The gentle burble of my phone informs me that my mom would like to add me to a FaceTime call. We've been in pretty close touch in the past few weeks since my dad died, and there's been quite a bit of back-and-forth with the mortuary today, so I figure it has something to do with that and pick up.

But instead of my mom's smiling face, I see, through the mesh netting of the basket on the front of her walker, the walk up to the front door of her house.

"Mom, pick up!" I yell at the phone.

The Conversationalist

"Scott was just in Maui," my co-worker tells the new bartender, who just moved here from Oahu.

"Oh, they must have hated you," he says, completely serious. 

I know that he's referring to the recent water shortages in Maui because of a glut of tourists, but I still give him a look.

"That's an interesting way to start off a conversation with a stranger, but okay," I say, smiling.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Countdown

I sit down at the table in the break room with a heavy sigh, take off my mask, and rub my face with both hands.

No one is looking at me, but I'm suddenly self-conscious - I don't want anyone to think I'm acting tired. 

I am tired, of course - exhausted, run down, burnt - but I don't want people to think it's some kind of performance or something.

I stir my pasta with veggies, open up my phone to Twitter, take a deep breath, and start counting the moments until I go back on the selling floor.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Firing The Customer

"No, I don't like that one," she says with a dismissive shake of her head to the fifth or sixth choice I show her. "It's too expensive," she says, leaving aside that the others I showed her she called "cheap."

Without glancing at my watch, I know it's about five minutes from the end of my shift, and I fix my smile. "Well, I'm sorry we couldn't find you what you needed today," I say brightly.

Friday, July 23, 2021

You Know Better

"My mom said, 'We can't buy a shoe after the store closes!' But I work in retail too, and I said I'm pretty sure they're not going to kick us out," she says, sliding her card back in to her wallet.

I hold my tongue from saying, "So you know better," and instead just say, "Hmmm. Well, thank you, and good night."

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Give Or Take

"I don't know how much a slice costs," Katie says about the nice pizza joint down the street that frequently gives us free stuff. "It can be four slices, or nine slices, but all I know is it costs us about fifteen bucks."

But when we get there to grab some slices, we don't know anybody behind the counter or at the oven. We get four slices (arrabbiata, a white slice with spinach, an upside-down slice (cheese on the bottom, sauce on top), and a regular slice with pepperoni), and it costs us... about fifteen bucks.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Uncoordinated Discipline

We sat on a cheerful red bench outside of the taco place while they prepared our order. It was the perfect time to watch Park Slope walk its dogs, and the specimens we witnessed were particularly good.

A giant fluffy dog that looked a little like a dude in a dog suit walked by dragging behind him a distracted young man gazing hypnotized into the depths of his phone. The dog, following his nose, found something delicious under a curbside table, with his checked-out owner only noticing when the dog started chewing, which caused the owner to yank back on the leach hard, which succeeded only in banging the dog's head on the underside of the table, bothering the dog not at all, and so they continued on their way, the dog still chewing contentedly on whatever it was.

Hold Music

I added up the amount of time I spent on the phone with the IRS today, and it worked out to a little over three-and-a-half hours. While I was on hold, I thought about all the things I could be doing: reading a book, making a song, writing something (I keep thinking about writing the response to obituary I wrote for my father, something that more clearly shows the relationship we had, but I haven't written it yet) - but I was glad to just stay on hold, listening to the banal hold music which only exists to obscure the passage of time with its repetition. Something about a task where my only obligation was to stay with it, to not hang up, was comforting. I didn't have to do anything, I only had to not give up, to stay on the line, to be ready to say, "Hi!" when the person on the other end decided to interrupt the musical purgatory I was in and actually do some work.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Clumsy

It's the day after I arrive home from helping my family after my dad died. I'm undressing to get in the shower, lifting my shirt over my head, when my hand knocks the glass globe covering the bathroom light off of its mounting.

I almost catch it before it bounces on the toilet and into the already occupied shower, where it shatters into thousand little pieces with a crash. I stand there, dumbstruck, trying to figure out what to address first: the razor shards of glass threatening my beloved's feet, or the blood welling from the cuts on my hands from where I tried to catch the damn thing.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Dandy

The fluffy white dog with whom I made a love connection at a distance on the shoe floor, lo and behold, is now up here on the fifth floor of my store.

Never one to miss an opportunity, I ask, politely, "Can I say hi to your dog?"

The dog, however, is already on his way to me, tail wagging and ears back. 

"He just got groomed," his owner says, with only the faintest hint of impatience, as if she knows that she is only an accessory to this beautiful creature, and not the other way around, and indeed, Dandy (for that is his name, she informs me) has been groomed, because he is the softest thing on this earth, and when he curls up at my feet, I know that I am truly blessed.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Storm's Coming

pooppooppooppoop

The delivery guy, like us, has figured out that the sky is about to totally open up, and he's struggling to drag his bike into the restaurant while talking in rapid, clipped Chinese into his phone. 

I grab the door to help him out and he flashes me a grateful thumbs up, without stopping, or indeed even slowing, his conversation. 

"Looks like it's starting to rain," I announce in a big midwestern voice to the woman packing up our food behind the counter, and she grabs a plastic bag in which to put the paper bag full of vegetarian hunan chicken and spareribs.

"Stay dry," Katie calls over her shoulder as we dash into the increasingly swift descending rain.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Beating Stick

Katie informs me that our roommate won't be home tonight, "So anyone who comes in to the apartment, beat them with your beating stick!"

I realize I haven't seen my beating stick in a while, so I look around the room from my prone position on the bed, only to find it leaning against the wall, within arms reach, behind my bedside table.

It's a thick, old tree branch, sawed off at an angle on each end, about two-and-a-half inches in diameter and a little longer than a yard long - lightweight, easy to swing, and perfect for cracking skulls.

I lift it up, feeling its balance and heft in my hand with satisfaction, then put it carefully back in its place.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

What's Your Hurry?

Did my box get dropped off at the PO today?

Going now!

I throw on my "THIS BODY WILL BE A CORPSE" t-shirt and rush down the stairs, cursing myself for having forgotten, then speed walk down 7th Avenue towards the post office with the box under my arm, only to be accosted by a gauntlet of earnest young people in t-shirts reading "Child International."

He reads my shirt, then gives me a grin, saying, "Well not too soon, am I right?" as I rush past, ignoring him. 

How To Cut Up A Pineapple

First, slice off the leafy green crown and the cute, round butt, releasing an even stronger aroma of pineapple than has been permeating the kitchen since we arrived back from vacation.

Next, slice off the hull - stripping the hard brown and green nubs to reveal the sunny yellow flesh.

(At this point you must resist the urge to pick the thing up in juicy wet hands and eat it like an enormous corn-on-the-cob)

Finally, slice it into quarters, and cut out the tough core, until there is nothing left but pure, sweet joy: touch your tongue to it, and let memories that are already a part of your bones well up inside you, and bring you peace.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Nakalele Means "The Leaning"

A few hours to kill before the airport, so we drive up the coast to a place called the Nakalele Blowhole along a road that twists and turns, like most of the roads on the north side of the island, through shaded green residential streets and magnificent vistas that look out over a windy blue sea. Not everyone is happy we're there, however: we see many upside down Hawaiian flags (a symbol of the Hawaiian separatist movement), and a sign at one prominent curve reads, "We are NOT Americans."

We hike down from parking to the blowhole, which is a natural fountain created by a lava tube that funnels the tides hammering the cliffs below up into a furious waterspout surrounded by a basin of black rock. It's slippery in a few spots, but we scramble to the cliffs to spend an hour watching the water shoot up dozens of feet in the air, where it disapates in a pillar of mist like a ghost spinning itself out of existence.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Hona

“Never turn your back on the ocean,” reads the signs leading down to the beach, but with the help of a mask and snorkel, my trepidation gives way to a meditative calm. Katie and I drift over the reef, watching the fish nibble on algae, all of us surging in and out with the surf.

On the way back in to shore, as the clear waters further offshore give way to sandy churn, out of the murk appears a wizened face, then a shell, and his eyes peer into mine as he swims by.

When I come up to tell Katie, another couple is already floating on the surface, and the woman says to the man, “I told you there was a turtle.”

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Banyan

At first it looks like it’s a regular park, filled with trees.

Upon closer examination, however, the weirdness starts to assert itself: thick, smooth, gray trunks are shoved into the ground like elephant legs, with long, heavy, seemingly impossible branches connecting each trunk sprawling everywhere across the park, until finally you realize that what you’re looking at isn’t a grove of trees in a park, at all.

It’s one single tree.

We sit on the bench beneath it, eating ice cream and listening to the park’s nighttime denizens blast their music and disagree about things we don’t entirely understand.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

First Night in Maui

Despite it being 2 AM in our heads, no matter what the clock says, we stumble down the dark path to the beach. The normally uncomplicated process of kicking off my shoes makes me fall down in the sand, and Katie and I laugh in exhaustion. 

The light from Venus setting in the west lays a faint silvery trail across the ocean, while above, the stars that New York City lights have hidden from us begin to peek out timidly, then more boldly, until they glitter all over the sky.


We stand patiently on the packed sand, counting the waves as they roll in from across the Pacific, until they sweep up over our feet, and the water is so much warmer than we thought it would be.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Electioneering

We're talking about who we voted for as we leave the polling place, and I stop. "Wait 'til we pass the gauntlet," I say, indicating the mob of electioneers standing just beyond the 100-foot limit accosting every passerby with slogans, pamphlets, signs, pins, and weary, excessively cheerful smiles.

Katie grins and pats my chest where I'm wearing an "I VOTED" sticker. "We're inoculated!" she assures me, and we walk through the mass, unmolested.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Take Their Money

"Yeah, the Saudi Royal family is downstairs spending, like, twenty-thousand dollars," the woman says as she pulls box after box of shoes from the shelves to show them.

"Oh, the same Saudis that ordered the murder of that journalist?" I mutter, half to myself, but she overhears and laughs this hard, bitter laugh.

"Yeah, I'm Arab, and let me tell you, I hear you," she says with a smile sharp enough to break glass. "I'm gonna make commission!" she adds, pulling yet another pair of shoes with a look of grim determination.

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."