Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The backs and asses of Midtown drones like me, filing out the various turnstiles, some through the emergency exit door (alarm will sound!), and up the wide stairs of the 50th Street station, the one with the Alice mosaic. In the sunken plaza into which we all emerge, there's always someone sort of frozen in the stream. Almost like they just had second thoughts about it all. As I recall, this morning she was Japanese.

The Jamaican food truck with the flat screen TV on its side, playing Bob Marley videos incessantly. Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights. As the working men and women stride by, heads down. And a homeless man meanders, head up, hardly on the radar.

Le Bernardin is to the left, with its gauzy window shades revealing the faintest impression of a dream realm beyond the reach of the living. Whatever happens there happens in reduced gravity, on the surface of the moon; in anechoic splendor, in the palace of Hades.

And then there is the Heartland Brewery and some industrial ventilator spewing exhaust from the kitchen at all hours - a deeply acrid odor that's tinged with tired fry fat, that's viscous, nearly tangible, but also syrup-sweet. It's disgusting enough to make you pick up your pace to your burying ground.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

It's interesting to have a bandage on your face. I bounded out of the men's room today and a man who was reaching toward that steel rectangle to barge on in was caught surprised. He exclaimed and stepped back a foot or so to give me ample passage, stammering two or three incoherent syllables. I told him: "Yup!"

If I could only begin to comprehend the the energy around my office, near Rockefeller Center. There's a thousand and one triumphs and tragedies taking place every minute on the asphalt stage between the theaters. A bike messenger whistling a warning and careening past. Christians from somewhere else: white-socked Mom and Dad, with arms spread a little in a futile posture of protection behind their bony pubescent girl, dolled up sexy-naif in tight jeans and a hat, and their petulant yet loving son with his glam-rock belt, gelled hair and Goth-rock shirt. But more and more it feels like the walk from my subway stop to my office door is like the walk from my bedside to the bathroom.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Longest Runway

Sitting on the tarmac at JFK, on the way to LA, I became entranced by the languid dance of the signalman. At a certain point he walked beside the plane and fell behind a bit, and then he disappeared, a solitary man loosing the behemoth. Just as we began to taxi along the mysterious crisscrossed pathways that lead to the runways, the captain got on. He told us we were headed to the longest runway at the airport, three miles long, and it was the only runway they had open 'cause of the fog. And there were, it looked like, maybe forty planes ahead of us. And it was going to take a long, long time, and frankly he couldn't even tell how long.

I don't know why he said it was the longest runway. I mean - I'm sure it was.

The ebullient man in the aisle seat reached over the lady in the middle and touched my arm just as I was most lost in thought.

"What's it like out there?"

"It seems foggy," I said.

People evidently grew restless as we inched our way toward the runway. There were exasperated messages from both the captain and a stewardess telling people no, they absolutely could not go to the toilet. Faint groans of dismay. An indistinct stir in the canned air. The awakening, perhaps, of some nearly atrophied instinct in all civilized men towards mutiny. Before long the captain came back on and said OK, OK, he'd pull over so that people who absolutely have to can get up and go, but they better make it quick.

Illustration by Louise Asherson

Sunday, April 20, 2008

When I awoke yesterday morning a waft of city dust had blown through the living room window. It was the odor of old plaster and concrete, possibly from a demolition or restoration project nearby, and it had a gray, mineral character, and it reminded me of Paris somehow, the way that construction dust, or destruction dust, would hang in the cool and dewy morning.

The stitches in my forehead are beginning to itch and it's a bit like there's something in my head that wants to come out through the breach. I must be patient and not let it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I was climbing to the upstairs at Citarella, that sneaky second floor that is exactly like a thousand delis in the city with the word "gourmet" in their name: the low lighting, vaguely both romantic and creepy, like you're in the dining room of Dracula's castle; the inviting, florid glow of pricey smoothies on refrigerated shelves, the dusty stacks of non-economy sized cereals and muesli; the rows upon rows of nuts, wasabi peas, apricots, yogurt-covered raisins and plasticky Japanese snacks in clear plastic tubs; the European chocolate cookies.

Halfway up I passed a woman on her phone.

"Babka. Yes. I'm getting a babka."

Chuckle. Pause.

"Are you getting me a babka too?"

Friday, April 18, 2008

The sun was waiting for us and when we got outside it clutched us in its hot, dry grip. The brittle vegetation and pretty little lawns down Harvard Street were in shock too, not stirring but seeming to murmur a faint complaint of thirst. It seemed funny to be walking because walking is something that just isn't done there. It felt like you could go from one point to another but you'd never really get anywhere - the vista didn't change; there were no big boulevards and streetlights and rows of fast food joints, cheap hotels and lamp shops. Just the thorny brush, the scintillating street, the houses and the sky. We got to Jesse and Anna's friends' house and it was a beautiful, big house, they'd just had it redone; there was a veranda I guess you'd call it and a big, florid garden in the back. We ate at picnic table under a sparsely vined trellis. Wisteria. They were very nice - she was almost too nice, painfully nice, you felt like you should watch your mouth and even watch your mind around her - and at the end their son Ben woke up, who's disabled, and she cheerfully introduced him to the group then fed him potatoes and boiled chicken.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Back Waiting Room

The back waiting room is where they send you if you're already in but you have to wait some more for something. There seemed to be among those who drifted in and out of there a sense of bonhomie, of kinship borne of shared travails, or maybe it was just that one woman who was too chatty and everyone else had to be a little bit like her so they wouldn't hurt her feelings. I kept my own bandaged head down for the most part, reading the darkest corners of today's Metro Section. The chatty woman was a bitch. She'd made a big deal at the front desk about how she had patients of her own and by X time she had to be out of there. I have a patient I absolutely, absolutely must see.

Every ten minutes or so one of the assistants would come in and tell one of the patients that there was more skin to cut, it's not all out yet, or, it's all out, we're going to stitch you up. Some effort went into not making this sound too cheery or too dire, depending. Chatty lady must have left while I was on the table.

On the table there's a bright, bright light you have to close your eyes. Pinpricks of anaesthetic, vulcanizing my forehead into a strange mask of second skin. And the surgeon comes in and in a whiff of burnt skin she's done and she's out the door again. Five seconds, maybe, or ten. And the assistant says go back to the waiting room.

The back waiting room.

And we'd wait to be summoned again, or else to be excused.

But eventually, everyone was done.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I was waiting in line to take a piss at the Beacon Theater at the Ray Davies show tonight and a stupendously wrinkled, short, thin man emerged from the urinals and shuffled past me. He was a bit bowlegged and slouchy, and this combined with his fixed, utterly impassive countenance to make him seem like a something from a cartoon. A young, heavyset man with long blond hair and sideburns awaited him with a wry smile.

"Come on, man! Where you been, man?"

People began to recognize him now and their knowledge moved through the crowd of drunks like static.

"Hey Lou!"

"Hey Lou Reed!"

"Lou Reed, man!"

"Alright Lou!"

He continued at his deliberate pace, expressionless, out the door.

Illustration by Louise Asherson

Monday, April 07, 2008

I had a one-on-one with my manager's skip-level manager not too long ago. When the invitation came from his assistant I did not know what it might portend. It must, if nothing else, mean something. We all got an invitation, my manager too. He called me when the agreed upon day and time arrived.

"I want to hear from you. I want to hear your thoughts and concerns," he declared. There was the unmistakable sound of whining in the background, of one, maybe two unhappy brats.

"Good, I've got some questions -"

"Justin! Calm down!"

Fumbling noises. And are those wiper blades?

"I'm calling from the car. I'm taking the kids to school," he explained.

"Oh, OK."

"Go on, I'm listening."

"I'm a bit worried about our sales goals."

He gave a somewhat halting explanation of why things were gonna be alright. Then his vision of where the technology might go, interrupted for a few seconds as his children leapt out like paratroopers and he edged back into the stream of traffic. Some calm descended, as though he'd walked into the coatroom of a noisy restaurant, but he still gave the impression of being too busy to listen, too harried to care. We talked about some mumbo-jumbo. Then we thanked each other for our time and I hung up.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Felt strangely serene today. Unaccountably, really. After a fitful night punctuated by dreams of an evacuation from some complex of buildings on an island, a network of rivers, a jutting embankment thatched with bramble, like an enormous bird's nest, which someone referred to as Palm Springs.