Thursday, July 31, 2003

We leaned over the railing and looked down at the parking lot, Grand Avenue and the desolate, graffitied brick across the way. I told her of my fear of heights, not so much a fear anymore as an unease. When I looked down at the pavement five stories below I felt gravity itself grow unstable, as though I might be loosed from the roof and float over the railing like an inflatable doll. Yet my drink felt heavy in my hand, as though some malicious spirit within it wanted to shoot it down and shatter it magnificently on the tarmac.

One night in my dorm room at UConn I needed to throw out a two-gallon 7-Up bottle full of flat keg beer left over from a party. The open dumpster was directly below the window, four floors down, and Mark and I had been in the habit of throwing garbage into it as though it were our very own enormous trash bin. Food wrappers, empty cans.

I leaned out, aimed as carefully as I could, and heaved the bottle toward the dumpster's maw. It spun a couple of times in the air, gracefully, like an object cast adrift in outer space.

I missed.

The far lip of the dumpster perfectly bisected the turgid bottle, compressed it in a moment as brief as the beat before the big bang and shot it through the first-floor windowpane with stupefying, elastic power. I could only imagine the broken-glass, beer-spewing havoc my missile had wreaked in the study room downstairs.

I walked down the hall to a friend's room and hid out awhile, shaky from adrenaline and guilt like some hit-and-run drunk. No one ever said a word about it, no one was hurt, and there was a new pane of glass in place the following day.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Went to Fort Greene to see Deena last Friday, halfheartedly, lusting just enough to lift my feet in her distant, complicated direction: the myriad trains, the walk down Washington to Myrtle. We sat on her roof and drank vodka with lemonade and stared west at the bereft skyline. She talked and talked, her ex-boyfriend in Denmark, her dad and the Mob, this guy she's seeing. My spirits wilted in the heat of her relentlessness digressions. There were times when I imagined this was some sort of strange test, that I had to be up to it, to pay attention. That if I could summon the will to talk about myself in exactly the same way then suddenly faults unknown in the world would be righted.

I had to amuse myself somehow.

But when she finally paused I surprised myself, hearing myself animated and candid, talking about family, I don't know what. It was such a relief that she was quiet.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Grandmother died yesterday. Or perhaps it was the day before, I can't be too sure.

My brother sent me the message in a brief e-mail and noted that this was "no doubt a blessing" as she was "certainly getting worse and worse."

The things you say when people die.

Then he said he was "a little concerned about our Mom, because she has such strong emotions about her mother." I was intrigued by his use of "our," as though "Mom" by itself weren't descriptive enough. Otherwise he's right, though who doesn't have strong emotions about their mother? Well not everyone smashes every dish in her mother's kitchen, crying and screaming, as her children sit shuddering in horror in the living room. I remember Grandma drifted in and sat beside us on the couch, eerily calm amid the din, and said banal things like I don't know what's wrong with your mother, she seems upset.

Grandma saw a shrink, Doctor Peterson, every week or maybe twice a week for untold years.

Where was Dad when the plates were smashed? Can't remember, though I imagine he was in the kitchen trying to reason. He loathed his mother-in-law but has one thing in common with her: obliviousness.

I experienced a faint pang of sorrow at the news. But frankly, no distress.

This morning on the way to the kitchen I fixed a loose picture in a frame and thought of Tom Waits singing, "Ever since I put your picture in a frame," and I remembered with regret Aimee's framed pictures she gave me, one for the bedside and one for the dresser. Then I saw the shadow of a bird on the wall outside shrugging and twitching its wings.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Deena called tonight as I approached Eighth Avenue with Geoff. She sounded distant and congested, as though she'd been crying.

"I'm in bed reading," she said.

"I wish I were in bed reading. I'm out on the street."

We talked about getting together sometime. She said she'd been way busy with class.

"And thing is, I'm sort of seeing someone now," she said.

"Oh OK."

"I'm not sure how it's working out. He has a six-year-old girl."


She told me this and that, she was ambivalent, he was always spending time with his kid. And plus she had drawing class all summer and it was a bitch.

"We can still get together and just talk about whatever, you know. Hang out and talk."

"That would be cool. I want the opinion of a third party," she said. She sniffled.

"Are you OK?"

"Yeah, just you know, a heavy day."

"Nothing really bad heavy?"

"No no. Not at all. Just my drawing class is so hard. And it occurred to me: I'm going to have to be dealing with this all my life."

I said yeah I know, though it occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea what she meant. What was this?

We said goodbye.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

When I saw Mom at one point we talked about Henry, how my childhood friend had found himself adrift, wandering Europe unhappily with his green card-seeking bride. Years of expensive art school had left him a stubborn mediocrity, handing out nondescript paintings like calling cards and saying things like, "To be an artist nowadays you have to have a concept."

I remembered one day in the sixth grade, in English class, it was slate-gray and stormy out and suddenly a tremendous flash of orange burst in the window. The transformer out on the lawn had just exploded.

Henry had been positioned in the classroom in such a way that he was sort of facing the window, perhaps staring out distractedly as we learned the word of the week. He had seen the burst directly, and in the tumult and excitement afterward, kids racing to the sill, he sat limply in his seat. A minute later he complained of nausea and was led down the hall to the nurse. I was struck by how this electrical event had seemed to extinguish something in him and now I wondered if perhaps it had been the source of all his troubles.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Hurray, the morning. Hurray, the stairs, the gray sky's glare. Paper trash underfoot, soddened into pulp. Misty rain invisible in the air.

The lady at the laundromat smiled.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

There were no downtown trains on the 1 and 9 from Grand Central so I took the C and when I got to Canal Street there was a crowd around the 1-9 station: cops, firemen, fire trucks, all manner of medics with wireless devices, an empty stretcher on the sidewalk; we had to walk a wide arc into the street to get around the police-taped scene. Some people stood and stared, most walked by blankly. Inexplicably, water gushed from an open spout on the street side of the hook and ladder, gurgling and splattering on Canal. I mostly averted my eyes but when I didn't I noticed all carnage was conspicuously absent. It's like they held an accident but the victims didn't show up.

Later Amanda instant messaged me and asked me if I was on the train with the poison scare. She sent me a link to an article about the incident. Someone had reported a white substance under a subway seat that resembled "wet sugar."