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.