Friday, June 21, 2024

Fine, Then. Leave It There.

I find a seat on the train and sit down with a sigh. The guy across from me is a middle-aged latino fellow with a gym bag and sweats on, headphones in, and right next to him on the bench is a single folded dollar bill.


I do the raised chin thing with eye contact, try to get his attention to tell him about the money, but he narrows his eyes to almost slits, like he’s squinting at something outside the train, and refuses to meet my eye. 


I raise my chin again and he, still not meeting my eye, shakes his head, so I shrug and go back to writing.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Be Prepared

The processor sets up her station at the DMV while I wait - counting money, setting her keyboard and chair exactly where she wants it, getting the printer and scanner up and running - and then pulls out a clear vinyl bag with a zipper at the top, about the size of a medium clutch bag. This bag is full almost to bursting with pens: highlighters in various day-glow shades; ball point pens - capped and clickable, in blue, black and red; markers in a variety of widths; plus some hand sanitizers, a couple pencils, paperclips, and other sundries.

When I mention how much I like the bag, she says matter-of-factly, “Oh, yeah, I take that thing everywhere.”

She extracts, after some consideration, a red pen, a yellow highlighter, a black clicky ballpoint, and a Sharpie from the bag, and, placing them equidistant from each other in a tight rectangle, adds, “You never know when you’re gonna need a pen."

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This Is Why

I see a former employee of mine on the subway platform at Union Square as I’m on my way to a physical therapy appointment, and I walk past without him seeing me, make my way further down the platform, and stand waiting for the train.

It’s mostly because I don’t want to have to explain my cane, what I’ve been up to, the whole thing that has been this past year, but this guy was a pretty neat guy when I knew him, and we had a good rapport, so I turn back up the platform and walk until he sees me, whereupon he gives me a surprised, friendly wave.

“Wait,” he says after we greet, indicating the cane, “last time I saw you you were this big strong guy!”

“Hey, I’m still plenty strong,” I say, eyes narrowing, smile still firmly in place.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Sometimes, You Need To Move

As we’re finishing lunch with our friend for her birthday, in the middle of the conversation, her husband who hasn’t been feeling well stands up with a silent grimace and abruptly walks outside.

“Well, goodbye,” she says to his back with a mild exasperation, but I’m not offended. I know that expression, the sudden stab of pain that short circuits thought, making any position sitting still a torture, when you can either walk or writhe.

“No big deal,” I say, and we continue as if nothing happened.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Lucky Me

The receptionist at the hospital is doing her best, since the automatic check-in machines that dot the airy, two-story, white stone lobby seem not to be working, and while the line is pretty long, it’s moving at a good clip.

When I finally get to the front at her enormous desk, she, all professional, asks the usual, name, date of birth, phone, but after a moment, her bored countenance shifts and she looks up at me apologetically.

“Your appointment is for... July seventeenth,” she says, hesitantly, as if expecting me to blow up at her.

A beat, then I give her a smile and say, “Ah, well I guess you just freed up my morning, didn’t you?"

Dogs Just Know

The old man walks a little way past the dog tied up outside the grocery store, then backs up a couple steps, and starts talking in a low, gentle voice. It’s clear that he is not the dog’s owner - he could be, I suppose, but somehow you can tell this is just a random encounter - but the dog is wagging, not in the frantic, attention starved way of some high-strung dogs, and not in a submissive, frightened way, but in the slow, calm, friendly way that dogs have when they’re relaxed and happy.

The man is kneeling now, directly in front of the dog, his wrinkled face inches from the dog’s, and the dog is gazing into this man’s eyes with understanding and boundless love, as if he’s been waiting for this conversation all day. 

When I come out of the store later, a young man, tall, good-looking, with impeccable hair and tastefully expensive-looking clothes is standing holding the dog’s leash, with a statuesque woman, equally outfitted, flanking him on the other side of the dog, and the dog’s eyes are staring off into nothing, the three of them out of some kind of central casting version of an ideal couple and their beautiful accessory dog.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

I Wouldn’t Have Done Much Better

We’ve set up our blanket on the soft grass on the hill above the baseball diamond, where the game is just wrapping up.

As the left-fielder bobbles a high fly ball, allowing the opposing team to bring in two more runs and win the game, I remember the miserable spring I spent, an uncoordinated twelve-year-old, half-heartedly playing on the junior high baseball C-team (as opposed to ‘A-‘ or even ‘B-‘)  to please my parents while I waited for swim season to start, barely able to throw a ball with any accuracy, let alone hit.

Some kids playing catch behind us miss, and the ball they’re using sails just over my head to land right in the middle of our blanket with a resounding thud.

“You’re gonna have to get better at catch if you wanna do that,” I tell the kid who comes to fetch it, and he apologizes, grabs the ball, and runs off to do it again a few minutes later.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Monsoon-ish

The sky quickly transitions from unsettled, to glowering, to livid, to apocalyptic, followed by hammering, angry rain, the kind of downpour that wants to tear a sinkhole in your front yard and pull down a hillside on your house, but who cares? The pizza was ordered two hurricane stages ago, and it doesn’t look like letting up, so I slip on the grey Hunter rain booties and the teal and pink reversible rain poncho over my t-shirt and shorts, and step out into the gale.

Two blocks later, when I push past the delivery drivers huddled under the awning to squelch into the pizza place, it is still bucketing, and an older woman sheltering from the deluge looks my bedraggled ass up and down and asks with a sardonic grin, “Did that cape help?”

I do a little Marilyn Monroe wiggle while grabbing the poncho, and tell her, “It blew right up my skirt,” and she gives me a cackle. 

Check, Please

I put my card in the little tray they give you with the receipt in it and space out looking around this cute Chinese restaurant. The neon characters in the window are rainbow hued, but individually, like one’s blue, one’s red, one’s orange - you get it.

A guy comes up with one of those hand held devices to run my card, and as he picks up my card I see that he has two thumbs on his one hand, one on top of the other, next to four normal fingers, and each of his thumbs has a perfect, immaculately manicured nail. 

I am a man of the world, so I don’t stare or react in any way whatsoever, because that would be rude, and unkind, but I will admit to you, dear reader, that I did take a moment, internally, and confirm to myself that I was not in fact hallucinating, because for just a second that seemed, not just possible, but likely.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

I’m Not Picky

The house manager of the Broadway show we’re attending has taken a shine to us, and after the show ends finds us to say goodbye. 

We joke about the wood-fire pizza places in Brooklyn Katie recommended, and then he gives us each a hug before we leave. 

Seeing the cane I’ve been walking with, after hugging me he fixes me with an intense look, and grabbing my shoulder with his bony hand, says, “Be whole and healed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I take a beat to process this, then, with a smile, say, “Hey, I’ll take whatever help I can get!"

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Tuppence A Bag

On the weekends, Grand Army Plaza at the north end of Prospect Park fills with white tents for the greenmarket, like mushrooms that appear after a storm. They make a miniature city, with little streets that fill up with shoppers and their dogs, their bikes, their strollers, all milling about, buying apples and cheese and bread and cabbages, arms full of flowers and potted plants.

Today, though, walking through the plaza on my way to the library, the plaza is empty, a vast expanse up the sky, criss-crossed by bicyclists streaking through the void, with a lone woman down by Eastern Parkway feeding a mob of pigeons.

The pigeons revolve around her, like worshipers around a shrine, or groupies around a pop star, circling as a single organism, parts of them breaking off and rousing up in a flurry of wings to settle on her shoulders and outstretched arms before diving back to the ground where she scatters sheets of seed for them to eat, and as I walk past I avert my eyes, somehow embarrassed by this naked display of adoration, the birds for the food, the woman for the birds. 

Monday, June 10, 2024

Matthew 5:41

“You have to seek out the thing that makes you tired,” my mother tells me over the phone, “and just keep doing it.”

“Yes, I get it.”

“If you have one set of stairs to go up, you go up them twice. That’s how I’ve managed to live so long."

Sunday, June 9, 2024

If Music Be The Food...

 “Oooh, who’s this?” Katie asks as the music curls from the kitchen speakers like the scent of onions and garlic cooking in the pan, drums popping, horns all spicy. The fried rice she’s making sizzles like high-hat cymbals, umami like bass.

I do a half-assed quick-stepping dance across the tiles, then perch on the stool, phone in hand. “Buena Vista Social Club,” I say proudly, checking the playlist. 

Saturday, June 8, 2024

A Different Kind of Joy

You take the bag, that’s what it essentially is - a big, impermeable bag - and you run with it, holding it open to the wind you’re creating by running, until it fills up, and then you kind of twist it closed with this buckle thing, and you end up with what looks like an enormous split top hot dog bun, only you are the hot dog, and the bun is a remarkably comfortable couch/hammock kind of thing. 

Katie bought one of these magical treasures today and brought it to the park, and after she tried it out, she let me have a go, and let me tell you, it was worth looking like a big ol’ dork running with this bag-thing  to lie down on a literal pillow made of air and textile science.

When I was young, I felt my epiphanies in my gut, right below the solar plexus, with this sort of crazy, wild energy that would shoot through my stomach and down into my crotch, and it was half-way between lust and rage, and it would feel good but also kind of scary.

Today I lay in the Hot Dog Bun Of Perpetual Indulgence and I swear to you, as the tension left my body and I relaxed into the warm Brooklyn afternoon, I felt my heart open up with joy and something like love, and thought “Ah, I am no longer a young man."

Trash Day

My knee hurts, my hip hurts, and I’m tired, but the garbage needs to go out.

Walking down the stairs is just as hard as walking up, so I grip the handrail with each step, the recycling in my other hand. 

I look at the stairwell down to the front door, and I’m struck by the idea that I am alive, in this moment, and pain is part of this moment, and so too is the satisfaction of just moving through air, being in a building, the cool air outside, the satisfying thump of the door being pulled to, the trash bagged by the curb, the cop car with its flashing lights slowly following the ambulance down the street toward the hospital, in no hurry with whomever might be inside, and on and on and on, the entire world surrounding me and my tiny little body, every part touching every other part, all the way out into space.

I remind myself to take Advil when I get upstairs, and then forget again as soon as I go back inside.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Babies Don’t See Color

The sudden torrential downpour drove all the stroller-moms in from the streets, rapidly filling up the small cafe in which my friend and I chose to meet, and one of the babies has taken quite a shine to my friend, staring with intense, un-baby-like concentration.

“Ooooh, he must be an ‘old soul,’” my friend says, waggling his fingers at the fascinated child. I’m always embarrassed to make too much eye-contact with babies I haven’t been formally introduced to, but I smile gamely.

“Or,” he says, considering, “maybe he’s just never seen a black person before."

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Living On Top Of Each Other

 “We gotta just get the same amount of juice on each plate,” I tell the cats as I divide the can of rendered chicken between them for their dinner. “Don’t want either of you terrorists getting weird about it.”

I see some movement out the open window I’m standing next to, and look down to find our downstairs neighbor out on her deck, sweeping up the fallen flowers that have dusted it all in yellow, and she looks up at me.

“Hey there!” I say with a smile, knowing that she heard every word of the preceding. and she looks up with a smile of her own and waves.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Riding Home

There’s a part of my journey home from Katie’s studio, when I cross over the parkway and into my neighborhood-proper, when the character of things changes.

The trees have sheltered these streets for forty or fifty years, the houses have been here way longer than that. Or maybe it’s the fact that it’s sunset, and I’m going downhill, slipping through traffic while the cars sit fuming at stoplights, idling murderously. 

I find myself praying in that sort of inarticulate way that sometimes happens, wordlessly grateful for the road, the tires, the traffic, the trees, leaves like stained glass, for standing, for moving through the world, like everything around me is a church, a temple, a shrine. 

Monday, June 3, 2024

Do Not Engage

“You got any change?” he asks, hoisting a blue plastic IKEA bag up on one shoulder. 

I start to say “Sorry, I don’t have anything on me,” but he’s already groaning angrily before I begin. “’Sorry’ doesn’t cut it, man - I need money!”

I keep walking, saying, “What can you do?”

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Make A Wish

I lean out over the rail of the 19th floor rooftop deck and look down to feel the nauseated thrill of gravity. To my left, the tall buildings shoulder their way up the coast of Manhattan to vanish in the shallows of the Bronx, while directly below me, scatterings of people play in the park or relax on the lawn as twilight creeps in from the east, shadowing the sun across the water into New Jersey.

Like the stars we never see, the buildings begin their glitter seemingly all at once, but sprinkled across the skyline so you couldn’t know which one you saw first to wish on.

Katie comes up behind me, puts her hand on my back, I turn and see her smiling, and I put my hand out to stroke her hair, smiling too.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Spare

Everyone and their dog came to the park today, and this guy brought his corgi. He decides he’s gotta check on something, and the corgi is like, “Absolutely, my man, let’s go,” but the guy tells him to stay with the group, he’ll be right back, points him back to where the group is sitting in the shade, with the fat bees humming under the shady trees and all the food is there, and it’s great. 

The corgi considers this for a bit, his head cocked to one side, and decides, nah, I should definitely tag along, just in case things get weird or whatever, runs after him, and the guy stops, tries to send him back, corgi isn’t having it, and this goes on for a couple rounds, with him walking away repeatedly, pursued by a small, willful dog, until finally the guy shouts to his friend/partner, asks him to call the dog, who, called by another person who has some authority, goes back to the group, albeit reluctantly and with deep misgivings as to the wisdom of this course of action.

Wonder how that second guy feels, knowing he’s definitely the spare human?