Monday, December 24, 2012

In the breakfast room all the men looked fat and tired, prematurely old; the women upright and sober; their daughters bright eyed and alert, and sons mildly retarded. A middle aged couple sat at the table next to ours. She spoke in soft, woeful tones, sometimes breaking into sobs, as he reached across the table to hold her hand.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

I'm at this hotel in Pennsylvania I don't even know the name of. Country something. Inn whatever.

That hallway on the ground floor between the back parking lot and the front desk. There's the pool behind a row of windows, the sheen of its warm surface unperturbed. The adjacent hot tub is empty and ringed with yellow keep-out tape.

The ice machine makes an awful clatter. Who stays in the room next door?

It was cold when we pulled in. The side road it's on extends to nowhere: a dim and windswept landscape that rises in the distance. There's a stack of bright red, horizontal bars halfway up, like a house made out of light.

Friday, December 21, 2012

TROOPS

"Why did God do that?"

Friday, December 14, 2012

Geminids

The sky was alive. Every so often you’d perceive it moving—something in it moving very fast, out at the edge of vision. And you knew there might be something moving where you couldn’t see.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Windfall

Sometimes a dirty old sack full of money just falls into your lap. You open it up and whoa, there’s twenties in there. Fives, a whole lotta ones. Some quarters too, even pennies. You don’t know where it came from. There’s nowhere to return it. You’re just sitting there with it pressing gently on your groin, half concealed below the lip of your desk. You’re kinda worried someone might see it—there’s no denying it’s there. But you gotta take it. You gotta open it up, remove the contents. Let the light shine in so you know you got it all. Organize the bills a little, put them in your wallet. Take the coins, let them hang heavy and stupid in your pocket. Then you crumple up the sack and throw it in the trash. You can feel guilty about this if you want. Or not. It’s yours.

Let 'em Off!

The Times Square platform where the 7 starts and ends was unusually crowded, with no train on either side to board. Finally one pulled in and everyone clustered around its doors.

“Let ‘em off! Let ‘em off! Let ‘em off! Let ‘em off! Let ‘em off! Let ‘em off!” the conductor shouted over the PA.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Happened at Work So Far Today

Our morning meeting takes place in the reception area because all the conference rooms are booked. There’s a couch, a big ottoman, two tables, some chairs. People walk through the middle, heading in or out the door or along the hallway from one side of the office to the other. Some hurry their pace a little, as though crossing the sight of a tourist’s camera. Some give a little smile that says: There you are in your meeting, and here I am walking through it.

This morning most of the seats were taken. I sat at the high table by the wall, in the corner behind the electric Menorah. I beheld the four fake, flickering flames as account executives discussed this and that. I studied the bearings of the people who walked through. Their various gaits. The meeting broke up and I knocked out the plug while stepping off the stool. The Menorah went dark. I furtively restored it and looked around. No one seemed to notice.

In the men’s room, someone in a stall was engaged in a conference call on speakerphone.

In the middle of the afternoon a colleague suggested we go to the Christmas event that was taking place in the lobby downstairs. The Nutcracker emanated from some unseen string trio and mingled with the din of the assembly. White-clothed tables, festooned with tinsel, ringed the famous globe and lined the marble walls. They bore trays of gingerbread cookies, cake lollipops with red and green frosting, urns of cider and hot chocolate, pitchers of eggnog. A black-clad attendant stood at each, offering to shake nutmeg, to apply aerated cream, to spoon mini-marshmallows with a little plastic spoon. Their faces strained with the discomfort of doing for people what they should do for themselves.

TROOPS

He had been afraid

Friday, December 07, 2012

TROOPS

his life wasn't horribly ordinary

Thursday, December 06, 2012

In my memory La Ciotat, the town on the French Riviera where we spent summers in the early ‘70s, is small and compact, like the town in a children’s book: a road leads down from our house and suddenly you’re on the beach; take a right and you pass some caf├ęs and hotels, a marina, a rocky cove where you can fish or dive or even tie a boat. A little farther off there’s a shipyard, set apart in a maze of docks, where one enormous oil tanker sits on stilts, its hull in patches, as unseen workers pound it with their hammers to break it down for scrap. Clang! Clang! Clang!

I looked at the satellite photo of it today in Google Maps. The coastline conformed plausibly to my image of it but the town itself was vastly more complex and sprawling. Roads in all directions. Schools, museums, parking lots. Major avenues leading into roundabouts and squares. I tried in vain to find the road we lived on. It could be this one, or that one. None seemed the least bit familiar. They all were too urban: heavily populated and girded with infrastructure.

Did the town develop that much over time? Or did my imagination tear it down?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Early this morning, as I stood in the kitchen, I saw a bright white, flashing beacon through the trees.
What happened today?

Felt out of sorts and alienated at work. Sara said she had a bad day too.

Someone got pushed out on the tracks apparently, and died. Survivors were treated for trauma. It was on the Q line. I don't think I've ever taken it.

In many ways it was a nothing day, a treading water day. A day for killing time before you die. A-Rod wil get hip surgery (like an old woman), miss the start of the season. The princess is pregnant.

Jackie fussed and cried, "No, no, no, no, no, no!"

I made a stupendously bland meal and we watched football, Sara drifting off to sleep as her team lost by a point.

Friday, November 30, 2012

There are two bad musicians in the Bryant Park station—one or the other can usually be found in the passage from the 7 to the F. Sometimes both. One is a slight, dreadlocked guitar player. He stands with a Stratocaster weighing heavily against his hip and plays nothing but mumbly-bumbly open chords that dribble out of his little amplifier into a murky puddle on the floor. Not even chords to any song. Not reggae style, not nothing.

The other is a keyboard player who seems beset with mental problems. He plays clumsily, naively, sometimes looking up at the rush-hour crowd as though he were expecting a round of applause. He pounds out each note and chord with the same force, a hamfisted touch. But it must be said: he plays recognizable tunes. Today it was "Killing Me Softly With His Song."
There was some news this morning about the Concorde that crashed—some criminal suit was settled, or dismissed. I remembered the eerie video footage, taken by a trucker on the highway that borders Charles de Gaulle. In my mind I can see the trucker’s shadowy silhouette, alternating his gaze between the road ahead and the object of his camera lens. But of course you couldn’t see him. That’s in my imagination. You could see the stricken SST, head held up in desperation, drifting slowly over the roofs of hotels and factories, its engine a ball of flame.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Phone Conversation With a Woman Who Has a Funny Verbal Tic

“Good afternoon, sir. How may I help you?”

“I received a notification that we still owe something. I thought we’d paid in full.”

She asked me for my personal details. I provided them.

“Thank you, sir. Let me check on that for you, sir. Would you mind holding for a moment, sir?”

“No, that’s fine.”

“Sir, you pretty much still have an outstanding balance—hold on a minute, sir. Please. Just another minute.”

“OK.”

“All right, sir. I’m seeing that you pretty much owe eight dollars and eighty-three cents.”

“Really? Why is that? We paid in full the amount in the last notice.”

“Interest, sir. You pretty much still have to pay the interest. It continues to, um, accrue, pretty much.”

“We were told we had an extension until late November to pay the full amount!” I declared. I heard myself put on, with some effort, a suitable tone of mild indignation. “We paid that full amount. In full!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” she replied, just as perfunctorily. “I’m sorry about what you may or may not have been told.”

I fabricated a sigh. “The interest continues to—”

“That’s correct sir. The interest pretty much continues to accrue.”

“So you’re telling me that if I pay eight dollars and eighty-three cents right now, we won’t owe anything further?”

“That’s pretty much what I’m seeing right now, sir.”

I considered calling her out on it. I decided no. Still I pressed on pointlessly, asking dumb, repetitive questions, like a jilted lover.

“You mean if today, I write a check for eight dollars and eighty-three cents. I put it in the mail. Then what happens to interest?”

“All I can pretty much tell you is what you owe, sir.”

“With no more interest accruing?”

She paused, disconcertingly. But then: “That’s what you owe, sir. That’s pretty much all I can tell you.”

“We want to put this matter behind us. Never have to worry about it again. Interest, penalties.”

“I understand, sir. Of course.”

“You’re telling me that will be the case? I pay what we owe, we’re done?”

“Pretty much.”

“I think I’ll do that then. Thank you for your help.”

“You’re welcome, sir! Thank you for calling the Internal Revenue Service. Have a great day now.”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

TROOPS

because the marquise was too busy

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The breakdown of history into arbitrary, discrete segments called decades or centuries seems silly and misleading. The Sixties didn’t start on January 1st, 1960 and end on December 31st, 1969, after all. Everyone knows they started when Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles on February 9th, 1964 and ended when the Hells Angels sacrificed a young, black man at the Rolling Stones’ free concert in Altamont on December 6th, 1969. Though some argue they started when Sputnik flew on October 4th, 1957 and ended when man last walked the moon on December 14th, 1972. Each of these delineations may be ridiculous. Yet we know what we’re talking about when we talk about the Sixties. Or the Eighties, or the Thirties. Each of us has a clear mental picture, informed by a lifetime of schooling and media consumption, of what each era signifies.

But maybe it’s not so arbitrary. Maybe we don’t, in hindsight, read a pattern in a few signal events that happen to have occurred in the same decade, or century, and interpret that pattern to “mean” something, and attribute that meaning to the entire period. Something else is at play. We are conscious of these periods as we live them, and to some degree we behave—think, believe, act—in accordance to what we believe to be the prevailing spirit of the time. In other words, people did things in the Sixties—drop acid, listen to rock music, protest against the war—not just because that’s where the currents of history had carried them but because they were conscious that they were living in the Sixties and that doing those things, and feeling the way they felt, is what was expected of them as “citizens” of the decade. And when it became the Seventies—on January 1st, 1970, or at least within a few weeks of then—people started to do the sorts of things we now identify with the Seventies—snort coke, listen to disco, swap spouses—because they knew it was the Seventies.

President Obama will be remembered for having dragged the United States—much of it kicking and screaming—into the 21st century.

Friday, November 16, 2012

After the loss I went to the merry-go-round with the wife and kid. The one by the water, under the bridge. During the hurricane, pictures of it had appeared on social media: the ocean churned against the glass box that enclosed it, waves climbing ever higher, while inside the lights were on, illuminating the empty painted horses in suspended animation.

There was little sign that anything had been wrong. The air outside was briny—everywhere we walked had days ago been underwater. But everything was clean. Normal. Three trash cans sat in a neat row along the paved path: garbage, paper, glass.

As we rode, we observed attendants dismantling a child’s birthday party at the corner of the space. A stack of empty pizza boxes. A cross-sected cake. Favors abandoned on chairs and the tissue-papered table. Sara asked me how much I thought it cost.

“Six hundred dollars?” I said after a moment.

In another corner a photo shoot appeared to be taking place, featuring a handsome, rich, young couple. They clasped hands and faced each other as the photographer contorted himself on the ground before them, straining to frame their heads and the cresting of the carousel.

Jackie’s heart didn’t really seem to be in it so we left after a couple more rides. But she insisted on walking.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The platform was crowded with the evening rush, commuters clustered at the optimal spots for their eventual exit or trying to get there before their train arrived, some winding prudently through the crowd, others braving the studded yellow surface at the margins.

There was a commotion on the Queens side. A few men leaned over the edge all in a row, waving their arms as a train emerged from the far tunnel and proceeded unusually slowly into the station. I walked over to the tracks. I knew what I was about to see. But I looked anyway.

A young black man lay on the near rail, about twenty feet to my left. A little crowd had gathered above him, appealing to him, reaching out their hands. He was not bleeding as far as I could tell but he moved very slowly, feebly, as though he were suspended in another world, or just now emerging from a month of slumber. He lifted his head and gazed nowhere. Then he lay back down on the rail. I noted that his limbs were moving—they didn’t seem broken, he wasn’t paralyzed.

The incoming train came to a stop fifty feet or so away. Inside I saw the conductor on a radio handset, making the requisite call. People still peered down at the man, imploring him, mostly without words. He did not stir. But he was alive.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

I often think about how much there is that’s from the past. Deep in the past. Let’s say, fifty years. Sixty, seventy, eighty, more. There’s a lot: Most of the buildings on my block. The park across the way. The street itself—though I guess it’s been repaved. But someone a long time ago invented this street—thought it’d be a good idea. They made it straight—just as straight as it is today. They made it begin somewhere, end somewhere else. They connected it to other streets. They gave it a name—the name we still pronounce in 2012. That dead person—OK, a few people, a few dead people—created our reality, created what we experience as now.

We think we live in a hypermodern world, full of brand-new bells and whistles, the new ever supplanting the old. Yet we’re beholden to the past. Wasn’t it unsophisticated, relatively? Wasn’t it naive? In the past, blacks were slaves. Women couldn’t vote. But men were making blueprints for the world in which we live today.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Had a thought while reading the latest scary article about the presidential race in the Times. Apparently, a third of voters believe Romney has become more moderate since becoming the Republican nominee. If so many voters believe that this 65-year-old, experienced politician has significantly changed his political views in the last six months, why are the polls so close—basically even? “Flip-flopper” has long been a damning label in presidential politics. But the difference between Romney and, say, John Kerry is that Romney is an avowed flip-flopper. I think the American public, by and large, see him as a gleeful opportunist, happy to change his tune to suit his audience, from the liberal voters in Massachusetts to the hyper-conservative ones in the Republican primaries to the moderate undecideds who are the prize target now. It’s OK because he’s doing it callously, connivingly. Like a man. Like a good old, Machiavellian leader. Kerry, of course, got the label hung around his neck in spite of his meek protestations. Like a pussy. Americans will respect—maybe even adore—all sorts of equivocation as long as it’s carried off brazenly. With balls.

Fortunately, the Obama strategy has been to take him at his word for saying he was “severely conservative.” As opposed to any politician who might win, that’s a specific politician who can’t win.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Enterprise - 46

One December night, Melissa and I sat in the Indian restaurant around the corner from her place. She told me she had been depressed.

“For how long?”

“For a while. For quite a while.”

She’d started seeing a shrink, she said. I asked her if she’d talk to me about her sessions. No.

She’d been prescribed an antidepressant whose side effects included reduced libido.

“Are you on them now?”

“Yes.”

Still, it was over. I knew it. Had been over for months. It was over more than ever. Going to end soon, soon, soon. Still, I was relieved. Maybe the malaise in our relationship hadn’t been my fault. And I allowed myself to be flattered by her confession. Didn’t it mean she wanted me to stay? To play the role of the supportive boyfriend? Could it be that all I had to do from here on out was be there for her?

I told her I’d do whatever she wanted. We’d do whatever she wanted. And that I understood. Hell, I’d felt that way too. Together, we’d get thr—

It was late at night on Valentine’s Day when she told me it was over. I lay in bed beside her, formulating my reply. Staring at that old, familiar ceiling in a whole new way. I wasn’t the least bit surprised. I was devastated. I was elated. I was hungry.

“I feel like I haven’t been myself around you,” I ventured meekly.

“What do you mean?”

“I haven’t been acting like me. The person you just broke up with isn’t me.”

I could tell she was annoyed by the way that she was quiet. Like a fool, I persisted.

“Let me show you who I am. Please.”

She took a drag off her cigarette. Women are so cool and cinematic when they’re breaking up with you.

“If you aren’t you, then who the fuck have I been with all this time?”

It was a strong question. Diamond-tipped. All the best questions have no answers. Or answers so obvious no one dares to speak them. This one hounded me into my pants and out the door.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Enterprise - 45

You could be among the dead. There’d never be shame in that. You could be among the lucky ones, standing one moment at the copy machine, thinking about lunch or sex or how you have to drive all the way to Rhode Island to see your in-laws this weekend—WHAM!, you’re pulverized out of existence. Now you’re a beloved memory. You’re perfect. You’re a face in a Pulitzer Prize–winning series of memorials in the paper, a sainted name projected onto the walls and rafters of Madison Square Garden during a performance by U2.

You could be among the survivors. Not among we survivors, who’d watched the towers fall on television. But those who’d scrambled out of the ash and debris, ties flailing over their shoulders, personal effects abandoned, heels snapping off. Those who’d gone down 82 floors in the smoke and the darkness just before the floors had gone down, too. They’d been suddenly conscripted in a one-day war. We were the folks back home.

You could also be a rescuer. Official or not. Anyone could walk past the barriers at 14th Street and volunteer for service. You got a shovel. A facemask, maybe. You could dig through the rubble all day, come back and do it all over again the next. The point was to find someone alive. No one did. But as long as there you were digging, you were alright. Many who did proclaimed that they had no choice, that the disaster site exerted a stronger pull than their families or their jobs. Such duty was obviously hazardous, possibly suicidal. (The maw at Ground Zero was smoldering with bones and hair, with glass, paper, rubber, steel, plaster and asbestos; with nylon, vinyl and formaldehyde; with polypropylene, polystyrene and a thousand more of man’s creations; the disintegrated elements of city. The smell of death and poison, sickly-sweet and acrid, hung over the entire island for weeks.) Who did this kind of work? Not us. Not me. We weren’t among the dead or wounded, the survivors, nor the saviors.

There were a few things that people like us could do. We could give blood, everybody said. My sister and I dutifully presented ourselves at the nearest donation center. A line of likeminded souls stretched out the door and around the corner of 67th Street and Second. Inside, perplexed staff members scrambled to manage the influx. We were turned away. Plus: no one needed any blood.

Here we were, some coworkers and I, traipsing through Chelsea on a sunny weekday. Kevin towed a Radio Flyer filled with provisions we’d earnestly assembled and purchased at a Duane Reade. Boxes of PowerBars, a case of Gatorade, Bounty paper towels, Advil, Slim Jims, M&Ms and Visine. We were told they needed Visine most of all.

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Enterprise - 44

It felt strange to return to work. But what was the alternative? Some reappeared on Thursday, others on Friday. Still others waited. The solemnity of their empty chairs and darkened screens had the effect of a reproach. What are you doing here? The world is burning. Think of the dead.

Conversation arose fitfully, all of it concerning the Event, its aftermath, and corollary concerns. The well-being of friends, of former coworkers. Of acquaintances. Everyone knew a victim—or a missing person, anyway—or knew someone who knew one, or knew someone who knew someone who knew one. The closer you were to such a person, the louder and more animated you had license to be as you told their story. The prouder you could be. This was understood to be a rule.

It occurred to me that I knew no one. I told myself that was a good thing.

I tried to do some work. Tinker with code, scrutinize error logs. To get the least bit done seemed to require enormous concentration. What was work? It now seemed absurd. Had civilization itself not just been uninvented?

We all thought they were coming for the rest of us. Wouldn’t they? We also thought we could never tell the same old jokes again. On both counts we were wrong.

We reprogrammed certain aspects of the Product’s algorithm in order to reflect the new reality. We made it—him, it really was a him now—in equal measures mournful, dignified, outraged and steadfast. All the proud, new American qualities.

In the news, authorities had yanked a Sikh off a commuter train, citing precaution. His turban, it appeared, had rattled the nerves of fellow passengers.

Messages arrived from out west, expressing bewildered sorrow and sympathy. Yet among them was the following note from Judy to the creative team, cc’ing Neil and Sam:

All,

As I’m sure you’re aware, there remain several outstanding action items from our conference call on Thursday the 6th. I think we all need to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

Judy

Upon reading it, Bob smacked the metal surface of his desk five times, hard, in quick succession. Soon a small group had gathered behind him to read the offending e-mail over his shoulder. There were howls of disgust and disbelief, of derisive laughter. The message was forwarded around the office, annotated in turn by each recipient with a suitably scathing remark. But once we all had seen it, a silence fell upon the room. We began the Enterprise anew.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

TROOPS

The factor critical to managing reservoir pressures

Sunday, September 23, 2012

On a beautiful day we walked a long way through Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo, down streets that looked like other cities, to Brooklyn Bridge Park to ride the famous carousel. As Jackie and Sara rode I leaned on the glass barrier and took note of the surroundings. The merry-go-round was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company of Germantown, Philadelphia PA. When the sign rotated away you saw two drums behind it, on either side; bass and snare. Little mallets beat a skittish, mechanized tattoo as the organ played its roll of funhouse music. Around the inner column mirrors were interspersed with odd bucolic scenes: A little girl dangling a rag doll into a bucket. A maiden standing on a rock beside a waterfall, holding aloft her bicycle. Outside, the Brooklyn Bridge loomed over a patch of lawn and the walkway by the river. Everyone. Everyone seemed very happy.

The glass upon which I leaned bore a stenciled message: PLEASE DO NOT LEAN ON THE GLASS.

A wedding party took a turn: the couple in question, the best man, the maid of honor, the ushers and the bridesmaids. The bride held her bouquet like a sword and thrust it forward as the ride began. She didn’t yell “charge.”

Friday, September 21, 2012

Medical Equipment I Have Seen

The Philips SureSigns VS3.

Medical Equipment I Have Seen

The OxiMax N-600X.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

All Those Times I Bought You Fireworks

(A one-act play.)

CHARACTERS

The Man: A man in his late twenties. He wears a Yarmulke and speaks with a strong Brooklyn accent.
Julie: A woman in her late twenties.

TIME

The present. Early Friday evening.

SCENE

The emergency room of a Manhattan hospital, ringed by long banquettes and end tables piled with magazines. A few framed posters for Impressionist art exhibits hang on the walls. The receptionist's head is just visible above a tall counter at the far wall. A large clock hangs on the wall behind her, reading 6:17 when the curtain rises. A closed door, leading to the examining rooms, is to the right of the reception counter. The Man is sitting a bit hunched over, speaking on his phone. His girlfriend, Julie, sits beside him. They are angled toward each other so that their knees touch. She occasionally fondly caresses his knees and thighs. Around them other patients sit and wait silently, doing the things people do in waiting rooms: leafing through magazines, checking their phones, urging restless children to keep quiet and behave.

The Man: I’m still in the city.

No, I’m still in the city. I need to ask you a favor. Big favor. You going by a liquor store?

A liquor store.

A LI-QUOR STORE.

I need a bottle of wine.

[A few seconds pass.]

What about your uncle?

He’s not home? Where is he?

[A few more seconds pass.]

You think he’ll pass by a liquor store on his way home?

Why? I need him to buy me a bottle of wine is why. Like I told you so.

[A few more seconds pass.]

Alright.

[The Man hangs up and dials another number.]

Jonah! Where are you?

You’re not home? You heading home?

Are you by any chance driving by a liquor store?

LIQUOR. Liquor, liquor, liquor. Wine.

Not now. On your way. On your way home, Jonah. Do you think you will be driving by a liquor store on your way home? If it’s on the way.

Why? I would like a bottle of wine.

What do you think I’m going to do with it? I’m going to drink it, that’s what I’m going to do. I like to have a nice bottle of wine for shabbas.

The Carmel. I like the Carmel.

Well are you going to pass one?

You don’t know. [To Julie, mockingly, not making an effort to cover the receiver: He doesn’t know.] Where’s Morty? You think he’s at work still?

I’m still in the city.

His train is two stops shorter. He’ll get home before me. Maybe he can go pick me up a bottle of wine at the liquor store.

OK. Alright.

[The Man hangs up the phone. Julie gazes at him quizzically. She no longer caresses him but her hands still rest on his knees.]

The Man: Why you looking at me like that? The look.

Julie: I’m not! It’s just...

The Man: It’s just what? It’s what?

Julie: It’s just... Nothing.

The Man: It’s what? It’s what? It’s what?

Julie [loudly]: The wine!

The Man: The wine?

Julie: The wine! You and your bottle of wine.

The Man [defensively]: What, I like to have a nice bottle of wine. What’s wrong with that? For shabbas.

Julie: I know...

The Man: We’re stuck in this verkochte waiting room. I would like to have a bottle of wine when I get home.

Julie: It’s just...

The Man: What, it’s just?

Julie: It’s just that you’re being so weird about it.

The Man [shaking his head and rolling his eyes]: I gotta call Morty.

[The Man dials another number.]

The Man: Morty! Where are you?

I’m in the city still. I’m still in the city. Listen—

No, no. I know. What?

[A few seconds pass.]

Really? She what?

She said that to him directly?

She said that to him on the phone? She said those words to him on the telephone?

What’s he going to do?

Uh-huh?

Uh-huh...

Ruthie warned him about that! She warned him about exactly that! She warned him about that exact thing.

Uh-huh...

I cannot believe she said those words to him by telephone. Morty, you are pulling my leg. Listen!—

Uh-huh?

Uh-huh...

Well tell them shabbat shalom from me, OK?

[Julie nudges the Man on the knee and gives him a pointed look.]

Tell them from me and Julie. From Julie too. Hey! I’m forgetting what I called you for with your crazy story.

Hmm? I need to ask you a favor. A simple favor. Will you pass a liquor store on your way home?

For what? A bottle of wine. A bottle of red wine.

Get me the Carmel. I like the Carmel.

What do you mean, you don’t know? A man doesn’t know if he passes a liquor store on his way home from the train? Day after day after day? You don’t know.

Morty, you get home fifteen minutes before me. Even if I leave now.

In the city. I’m still in the city.

[Away from the receiver, to Julie]: Honey, find out if we’re next. Please. Find out if we’re next.

[Julie releases his knee brusquely, with a trace of contempt (but only a trace), and walks up to the counter to find out if they are next. She and the receptionist can be seen speaking to each other but their words are inaudible.]

[In the meantime]: Yeah, so, Morty. I need you to do me this favor.

Well go out of your way a little. Not too far. A little. As a favor to me. For all those times I, you know.

[Julie returns. The Man looks up and inquires with his eyes. She shakes her head and sits back down. The Man shakes his head slightly as he returns to his conversation.]

All those times, I don’t know. All those times I bought you fireworks.

[A few seconds pass.]

[Dejectedly]: Alright. Yeah. Alright, bye-bye.

[The Man hangs up with a sigh and notes the time.]

[To Julie]: What, are you saying we should get out of here?

[Julie gives him a funny-reproachful grimace.]

[About 10 seconds pass.]

The Man: Alright, let’s go.

Julie: You sure?

The Man: Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. Come on. Up.

Julie: But what about—

The Man [interrupting]: We have to go. The time.

Julie: OK.

The Man: We’re running out of time.

Julie: OK.

[They both get up but the Man does so with extreme difficulty. He can barely put any weight on his left leg. He winces and makes some half-suppressed exclamations of pain.]

Julie: You OK?

The Man: Yep.

Julie: Take it easy, honey. Easy.

The Man: Yep.

[They walk slowly, laboriously out of the office, Julie supporting the Man from under his shoulder, and helping to direct him until they are finally out the door.]

THE END