Wednesday, January 23, 2013


"You didn't hear. My father died."
As I ran this morning by the park I noticed a familiar object on the sidewalk, nearly lost in the pebbled concrete: a Scrabble C. About twenty feet later, there was a D. Then a K. A Q. Two upside-down tiles now. (Or were they blanks?) Then nothing.

I considered the likelihood of seeing another letter. As there had been a few, wasn’t it likely there’d be more? I scanned the pavement beneath my lumbering feet. Nothing.

Suddenly, there they were in one big, vomity splatter. All the letters, B and X and E and everything. I swerved around them. A few steps further, I saw a single letter tray, resting upside down.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Don't you speak to me in that tone

Monday, January 14, 2013

We're people. You're supposed to treat us good.

I had just returned from giving our Christmas tree to the wood chippers. As I put my key in the door, I heard someone on the sidewalk behind me shouting in a bitterly angry tone:

“This isn’t FUN. We’ve been here for an HOUR.”

I turned around to find a woman facing the driver-side window of a car parked in front of our building. I could see another woman in the driver’s seat. She sat still the whole time, staring out the windshield. There was someone in the passenger seat too, but I could only see their legs.

The woman on the sidewalk began again.

“Listen, Frankie. We’re PEOPLE. You’re supposed to treat us good!”

After a few moments she opened the back door and got in. They both sat there now, just looking straight ahead. I waited to see if anything more would happen. Shouting, maybe. Gesturing. Tears. But nothing happened. They sat there, saying nothing.

I let the door close and went upstairs.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

There was a fire on the sidewalk. Something ablaze beside the park. I thought about those self-immolating monks. The guy under McNamara’s window. A cop car had pulled up to the conflagration, shining its lights on it, and a hook and ladder stood in the middle of the street. Soon a jet of water arced over the parked cars and onto the flames. The smoke grew thicker as the fire died. Finally it began to dissipate. The fire truck left. I thought the cops would back up into the driveway behind them and get back on the street. Instead they drove right past the smoldering remains and down the sidewalk. The following morning I passed it on my run. It was a tree branch, made thin and smooth, completely black.

Friday, January 04, 2013

During the General Assembly of the United Nations last fall, 42nd Street around my work was lousy with diplomats in tinted-window cars. Many stayed at the Helmsley Hotel next door. Often, as I walked out to lunch, I found motorcades double parked on the street, waiting to ferry their charges the two blocks to UN Plaza. One day there was a particularly large one, composed of black Mercedes and SUVs. Bodyguards and handlers lined the path between the hotel entrance and the open door of a car. They turned their heads toward the hotel, and I did too. The sliding glass doors opened. A man in a burgundy suit and tie, South Asian, heavyset, with straight, dark hair and gold-rimmed glasses, proceeded out at a funereal pace. He held his chin up a little and appeared not to fix his gaze on anything whatsoever, not the ground before him, not his destination. His bearing was impeccably formal but otherworldly, too, as though he were accustomed to never touching anything. Never addressing anyone. He looked like he’d been dressed and groomed by a machine. The secret service guys signaled us to stop and wait for him to cross. He continued at the same deliberate pace, not turning his head, not looking, not seeing, until finally his driver eased him into the back seat by the elbow.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

My dad was driving a white Peogeot 202 on a hilly road in France, through the fields, between the trees, on a hot day in July. My brother sat in the passenger seat and I sat in the back. I was five.

I stared at the speedometer needle, urging it higher with my mind. It said one hundred nineteen kilometers per hour. One hundred twenty-three. One hundred twenty-seven. This was the highest I had ever seen it go.

We found a spot on top of a dusty little hill of beaten dirt and gravel. Behind us was a trove of trees. A little way down men stood along a wire fence, clutching the mesh with their fingers and peering through the diamond gaps. I stood between them and saw what they saw—an unpopulated expanse of patchy grass, rolling up from the left and back down over the horizon to the right. It was bisected by a ribbon of gray asphalt, edged in white. Two low barriers of corrugated steel traced it, from a remove, on either side.

I looked left, where the asphalt bent away beyond a hill. A candy-striped lip of concrete sloped up from the inside of the curve and extended a few feet in the grass. In the distance the track rose again and disappeared around a corner to the left. I looked right. A man in a white jumpsuit, backlit by the sun, stood on my side of the metal barrier, facing away, his left fist resting on his hip. Beside him was a bright red fire extinguisher.

I heard a sound I’d never heard before. A low, mechanical moan, reverberating in the hills and growing louder. I looked to the left, from where it came. Suddenly: a swarm of shiny, sleek machines appeared, in rough procession, some alone, some side-by-side. They settled into single file and snaked up the little hill to where I stood. The one in front was red. The sound rose and rose and peaked as the cars passed me: the red one had a 12 on it and then there was a black one with gold letters and a black number 1 on a golden square and then there was a white one, a blue one, a red-and-white one and another black one, and I was surrounded by noise and I could feel my stomach quaking, and with each car the sound changed; it faded quickly, and lowered; it became the sound of disappointment, or pity; a sound made again and again and again.

In a little while the cars came back around the bend, and again, and many more times after that; sometimes in a different order, sometimes the same; one at a time or in groups of two or three, and finally there was no interruption in the din. Some of their wheels were silver; some were painted. I liked the painted ones. The prettiest ones were painted green.

I got lost in the cars. I turned around and I was lost in the crowd, the forest of grownup legs. I saw rocks and dirt below me, some grass. No faces. No Daddy, no brother.

The cars were very, very beautiful and very scary. I wondered: Could one of them hurt me? They were so beautiful and scary. Beautiful things hurt you the most.

Cops Out by the Park

For a while in December—maybe a couple of weeks—a cop car would sit out by the park, half a block away from us. It would arrive around sundown and stay for three or four hours, reds and blues flashing the whole time. Occasionally we’d peer out the kitchen or study window.

“It’s still there.”

“Cops still there?”

“Cops are still there.”

One night it didn’t come. We haven’t seen it since.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Colorful Things on the Ground Today

Beyond the turnstile at Seventh Avenue this morning the floor was strewn with gummy bears: red, orange, yellow.

When we emerged on Eighth Avenue and Sixteenth Street on the other end of our trip, there was a splatter of pointillistic, multicolored vomit, like regurgitated confetti, where the sidewalk met the wall.