Saturday, December 29, 2018

I had terrible heartburn in bed last night and as it has before it scrambled up my mind. The pain came in waves, as usual, but even when it receded I couldn’t think a decent, calming thought. At times I perceived a crazy zigzaggy pattern of meaningless activity in my brain, a web of colored lines like laser beams. I thought I was the character in those old folk songs where you lay down your head but you can’t get your rest. Maybe they had heartburn too.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Streak - 101

You look to the driver side of the cab and you just can’t believe. Sure as fuck it’s Bill. Driving this rig like you read about. He sits easy in his seat, holding the wheel with one hand mostly, squinting a little in the glare of the headlights on the other side. He wears jeans and you realize you’ve never seen him in jeans. He wears a short-sleeved button-down kind of like a bowling shirt and you realize you’ve never seen him in that either. You imagine Big Old Bill bowling and it makes you want to laugh. A man of such importance. In fact you’ve never seen Bill out of a pristine three-piece suit, and you’re not sure you’ve ever seen him off a barstool. Then you realize what Bill was in a previous life: a truck driver. Of course.

“Is this your truck?” you ask. You hear yourself asking. What a dumb question. The question a little boy asks a little boy in a sandbox.

Bill’s shoulders heave a little, like he’s showing a laugh but doesn’t really want to bother.

“Uh, no, Evan, this ain’t my truck,” he declares.

A few seconds pass.

“Is that the only question you have for me, kid?” he asks, looking over at you now, a little twinkle in his eye.

“Whose truck is it?” you find yourself saying. A question stupider than the first.

Bill barks out a little laugh this time.

“Whose truck is it. Whose truck is it. Jesus motherfuckin’ Christ. I rescue you from madmen in the middle of the desert and that’s what you want to know.”

You feel stupid and ashamed, the way Big Bill always had this way to make you feel, but a little worse. On the other hand, did he steal this truck?

“Evan, Evan, Evan. How long have we known each other?”

You want to say years but how many? Two, five? Thirty?

“You know I can obtain a truck,” he continues with a sigh. “When I need a truck, I get a truck. I have friends with trucks. Box trucks. Reefers. Flatbeds. Trucks. Whatever the fuck I want. I can get a truck. If my guy don’t have the truck I want, I go to my next guy.”

Bill stops talking then, letting the silence fall back into place between you. He doesn’t seem to want or expect you to say anything more. What about all those other questions? What could they possibly be? You feel your palms sweating, your heart race. Without a doubt there exists the expectation you should open up your mouth and speak. You fast-forward ten seconds into the future and there you are, turning to Bill in the dark, asking him a question. He factors each word in his mysterious way, tacking it onto the last and judging whether it all makes a goddamned bit of sense or is even worth replying to.

“Bill, I’m scared. What are you doing here? How did you find me? How come I’m not at the All-Star Game? And who are Joe and Matt? I’m pretty sure Joe killed Matt. Or maybe Matt killed Joe. How come I can’t smell nothin’? Is Kyle OK? And why did I get kidnapped? And why did I get kidnapped too?”

“You reminded me,” says Bill, and now he’s fumbling with the radio. There’s a burst of static and then the immediately recognizable sound of a play-by-play man’s voice, slightly officious, slightly folksy, vaguely regional but you don’t know from where.

“... in this remarkable contest. Every available pitcher for both teams has been on the mound and many position players, too. As we enter the top of the twenty-first…”

Bill snaps the radio back off and makes his usual chuckle.

“I’ll be goddamned. It’s still going on.”

You sit in the dark awhile and evaluate what happened. Did Bill hear a word you said? Did you in fact say a word? Maybe it was all in your head. But no, you said something about the All-Star Game and he turned on the radio. So he heard you. But he didn’t listen. Maybe you’re a ghost, your words only count for half. A hollow man. Still is it too much to ask for a question to be answered? A simple human plea to be addressed? It seems to violate the very rules of physics.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

I made myself a martini and when I felt the buzz come on I said out loud, “Now this is a familiar feeling.” And right away I opened the freezer instead of the fridge.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Election Night 1981

We arrived at our hotel by cab, in the middle of the day. There was a light rain falling and everywhere people clutched roses and embraced each other. Laughing, crying.

After we checked in we went back out and met a family friend for dinner. The daughter of my parents’ friend. The grown-up daughter.

We took a walk toward the river where a crowd had gathered. The bridge was closed and a band played courtesy of the communist party. Drunk dancers whipped each other ‘round, chanting “Mit-ter-and! Mit-ter-and!”

The family friend stood next to me and I stood next to her. She asked me to dance.

I placed my arms around her timidly, tremblingly. We circulated for a little while in the mayhem. Celebrating victory.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

I had a flash sitting at work in the middle of the day, I don’t know why. I saw the intersection of two country roads we used to pass a lot when I was a kid. It was a bit far from home, deep in the beautiful, monotonous landscape of Connecticut farmland that stretched all around us. It was about halfway to somewhere we used to go—a bookstore, a restaurant, friends of my parents, I don’t know. I measured our trip there by the two pieces before and after it for some reason. An ordinary, winding little road branching off a bigger, straighter one, in the hazy golden light of an autumn afternoon. There was nothing remarkable about it or the way it made me feel but I remember it like it was a dream.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

There’s a part of the block by the hospital where suddenly there’s a sickly-sweet smell, like cough syrup mixed with bleach. It feels like you might get high just walking by, or die a little sooner. I wonder whether it’s the smell of medicine or cleaning supplies or embalming fluid or maybe it’s what they use to flavor the dessert.

Monday, November 12, 2018

I flip to the DVR and there’s a new Anthony Bourdain episode, like he’s still alive, or like he’s haunting us. It’s like there’s somewhere new to go, new experiences to be had, especially if you’re dead.

I like when the project manager reviews the key dates and they’re deep into the future, dates like February 9, or April 27, far away but specific, with benchmarks and deliverables associated. It feels like we have lots of time, but that’s not really it. We’re connected to a point in the future. A time when god knows what will be going on in the world, but there we are, gathered safe and sound again on the MS Project timeline. What it really means is that we believe we’re going to survive.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

TROOPS

“You’re dead and don’t know it,” he said with a grin that couldn’t help but be evil.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

TROOPS

What Newman and her fellow candidates were challenging were the structural realities of patriarchal power in its purest form

Monday, October 15, 2018

Drag

When I awoke I had a fleeting feeling that I wasn’t me. Or I wished I wasn’t me. Then it came back to me in a rush. The shame. The pleasure. The bemused expression on the bouncer’s face. Finally Dan and Terry, each taking me by an arm. The violence of it.

And I knew this: I would do it again.

My phone was all lit up with texts and calls. I knew what they’d be asking. I turned off the screen but put it in my pocket anyway. By reflex.

At the coffee shop later. Same thing. Felt the chair against my back, the wood. Not comfortable but did not care. Not care. My ass on the seat. That’s more comfortable. That little concave part. That nod to the human body.

I crossed my legs sometimes. Uncrossed them after a while. The hours passed.

“Sir, it’s closing time.”

I heard these words.

“Sir? Sir?”

I heard the man speak.

“Sir.” He was leaning over me now, peering into my face with some concern. “Are you OK? You have to leave. I’m leaving. I’m closing up.”

Then he figured I was deaf. He said it all again a little louder, in front of me this time so maybe I could read his lips or gestures.

“I’m not going anywhere,” I said finally. I made the words sound flat and dull, so they could be heard any way you wanted. Defiant. Resigned. Reassuring.

A tense quiet ensued. Then he disappeared out back.

Through the picture window I watched the sidewalk and the street, people passing by. A woman in a long dark coat. A woman wearing a flowered backpack. Running for some reason. Ordinary life in its perfect unpredictability. Two police officers walked past, one black, one white. Now they were inside the café. And they were walking toward me. The black one leaned down into my face while the white one consulted with the employee.

“Sir, it’s time to go. Time to leave,” he declared, thumbing in the direction of the door.

I watched him blankly. Crossed my arms. His tag said Harrison. The other one said Wirth.

“What the fuck did I just say, huh? You have to go,” Harrison continued.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

The employee produced a worried sigh. I stared at them all. Finally the cops glanced at each other. Wirth gave a little nod.

“Sure you aren’t,” said Harrison as he took me by an arm and Wirth took me by the other. They heaved me up and the chair fell backwards with a clatter. I hung limply, heavily between them now. As they dragged me toward the door I felt that sweet, hot pain in my shoulders again. Daydreamed that my arms would pull out of their sockets and let my body pour onto the floor.

Outside they tried to get me on my feet but I refused.

“You fucked up? Huh? Huh?” Wirth yelled in my face.

They conferred with each other as though I wasn’t there suspended in the space between them.

“He don’t actually seem fucked up to me,” Wirth told his partner.

“Nope. Can’t smell nothin’ on his breath.”

“He don’t seem high.”

They put me on the sidewalk, propped against the wall.

“What’s your name? You’re not gonna tell us your name?” asked Wirth.

I stared at the sign above a laundromat across the street. Lucky Laundry the letters read. The letters were red. The red letters read.

“My name is Lucky,” I declared.

Wirth made a dark little chuckle.

“Where do you live, asshole?”

And so I found myself again staring down, my dragging feet bent out of view below my knees. Shoes getting scuffed and scraped. I did not care. Ankles banging on curbs. I did not care. My body pulling down, down, down from my arms, each in the grip of a cop on either side of me muttering curses and jerking me up now and again in spite and frustration at his absurd burden.

Harrison rang the super’s bell. He emerged from his ground floor apartment and stared at me, stupefied. At Wirth’s direction he found my keys in my pocket and went on ahead up to the second floor. The cops carried me upstairs head to tail like a corpse.

I awoke on the kitchen floor.

The wall clock proceeded through the minutes and the hours, sometimes quick and sometimes slow.

Light reflected off the cars below and shone on the ceiling by the windows. Little shapeless entities drifting by to nowhere.

Shouts from the street. A jackhammer. A woman laughing.

My phone buzzed in my pocket now and then. Texts, calls. From concerned friends and family and automated scam operations. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

Day turned into night. Headlights now shone from the street, amid the ambient glow of lamps and signs.

I was hungry. I did not care.

Deep in that second night the street grew still and quiet. That’s when I began my incantation.

You’re gonna die if you can’t stop being a drag.

I startled myself when I first said it. What a dumb, weird thing to pierce this holy silence with. And yet I said it again. And again. And again. And again. And again.

You’re gonna die if you can’t stop being a drag.
You’re gonna die if you can’t stop being a drag.
You’re gonna die if you can’t stop being a drag.

I think the sun was rising. Maybe that’s what woke me up. I wasn’t even sure I’d been asleep. My body ached everywhere, inside and out.

I rolled over on my side and wondered if my free arm was strong enough to steady me. I remained there a few minutes. Then I bent my other arm at the elbow and braced against the floor, lifting myself up so my upper body was finally off the ground. I felt a wave of dizziness and was just about to collapse back down. But I didn’t. I held steady for a while and then sat up, leaning forward with my hands flat on the floor. I was stunned at how difficult this was. But finally I got up on my knees, and then on one foot and, steadying myself on a dining chair, on the other. I stood all the way up now, still leaning my head down so my blood wouldn’t rush away.

The floor before me was dark and blurry. I did not quite know where my foot would land. Or if it ever would. But still I took a step.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

TROOPS

Some might even look more seriously at solar and wind power

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Where Are They Now?

Ken was a cool kid, a jock. He had a nonchalant bearing that I envied, that I knew I could never replicate. It’s as if he was incapable of ever appearing awkward, and yet was utterly unconcerned with not appearing awkward. These paradoxical characteristics were not in tension. They potentiated each other.

To this day when I’m in the kitchen late at night, all alone, trying to wrestle the recycling bag full of old newspapers out of the plastic can, and failing miserably, instead lifting both the stuck bag and the can by the drawstrings of the bag, I think to myself: Ken would never look like this.

One day in science class we were all sitting cross-legged on our tables to view a demonstration Mr. Pinkston was giving of a dissected frog. Except for Ken. He was lying flat on his back.

Mr. Pinkston had been a military man and liked to bark like a drill sergeant.

“Ken!” he shouted.

Ken lifted his head drowsily and rested on his elbows, a little sheepish. Somehow this flash of self-consciousness did not appear self-conscious. It appeared calculated—and it appeared not calculated at all.

Mr. Pinkston asked Ken what part of the frog’s anatomy we were presently discussing and by some miracle, or obviously, Ken provided the correct response.

“It seems to me, Ken,” Mr. Pinkston declared, “that you do some of your best thinking in the reclining position.”

We all laughed. Ken laughed. I laughed. All I could think was: Did Mr. Pinkston just make a joke about Ken getting laid? We were twelve years old, maybe thirteen. But if anyone was getting laid it was Ken.

Some time later Mr. Pinkston was fired for groping a student.

Ken spent the rest of his life skiing in a rich and secluded Rocky Mountain resort town.

Or so I heard.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Enterprise - 57

It took me hundreds of elevator trips to realize. I’d share a ride up with a dad and his twelve-year-old son, wide-eyed, beside himself with anticipation. The door would open on the third floor and the boy would race into what appeared to be a harshly lit, rundown showroom. I’d glimpse paunchy men in their fifties chatting up customers over display cases that ran along the perimeter. I perceived the scene as less than ordinary. I was on my way to the floor above.

Finally I heard the word. Don’t you know what that is down there? No. That place downstairs? It’s a magic shop.

Turns out people came from all over the world to see the place. It was one of those old-timey New York things that you can’t believe is still around, like the watch repair guys above Grand Central, the bric-a-brac dealers on Canal, the peking duck places with the white tablecloths. And yet there it was the whole time, unchanged since 1937 or 1951 or whenever the fuck. Same old magic guys shooting the shit with each other, blowing kids’ minds with the same old tricks.

We went down there one time to have a look around, me and Steve and a couple others. It was exactly what you’d expect it to be. A place where you could buy a pop-out snake or a top hat with a false bottom. It was utterly unmysterious.

I had a feeling it would be there long after we were gone.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Enterprise - 56

In my dream Bill was still in charge of the office out west, all these years later. The place was dilapidated now, the chairs ratty, computer parts and cables disordered everywhere.

But he was still running the Product. And some of the French guys were still around, tweaking the algorithms. Their determination was poignant—heroic, even. Still there was no plan. No viable path to profitability. But there was hope.

And I wanted to help. I wished I could help.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The requisite guys in windbreakers doing reports from the hurricane, the sea at night behind them, waves coming in ominously fast.

Breaking news.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

There was a young man seated on the bench in the middle of the Seventh Avenue platform, perfectly still, gazing in my direction. There was something on his forehead, a kind of starburst pattern radiating down. I thought it had to be makeup, a tattoo, something deliberate. As I approached I saw that it was blood—dark, drying, oozed from an unseen wound.

He made no sounds, not of pain nor anguish, nor anger, nor despair. An MTA employee stood guard beside him, also still, unconcerned, maybe just waiting for someone else to come. I glanced around for telltale objects—a weapon, debris, a skateboard. There was nothing.

What happened? I wondered as I walked away.

Monday, September 10, 2018

A man steps out of the post office into the rain and brusquely opens his umbrella.

The crossing guard stands in the middle of the avenue in his garish yellow rainsuit, doing nothing. Until the light’s about to change and he wanders to the corner yet again.

Friday, August 17, 2018

On my way to dropping off Jackie at camp I thought of something to write about—nothing great, but something. An event in my everyday life, possibly a recurring event. It occurred to me: of course that’s something to write about. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s exactly the sort of thing to write about: mundane yet amusing, emblematic of city life, or modern life. And I can’t remember it at all.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Enterprise - 55

Alan was among those spectral figures who are spoken of in deferential, even fearful tones, who see you as a box in the org chart with a salary below your name though you don’t see them at all, unless you did that one day they left the elevator and you were going in, you’ll never know, but they’re always hovering, watching, paying the bill for the candy, paying the bill for the heat: the VC guys.

For years I’d heard of him like a rumor. Now he was here.

Like a conquering king, he gathered us round the back of the office to declare himself the new CEO. He paced a little back and forth and spoke with a lisp that made him spit a little. In people like me such an impediment would make us tremble with shame and self-loathing; in him it seemed a mark of authority. He introduced himself, saying some of you know me, some of you don’t. He was from the VC firm, he said—SkyClimber.

“You’ve all been pretty patient and I think you’ve put up with a lot, really, honestly I do,” he said. “I think you deserve for some changes to be made.”

Alan delivered a kind of cynic’s motivational speech—one that took into account the absurdity of our industry, the fruitlessness of our efforts to date, the uncertainty of success. Promises remained vague and threats unspoken. But somehow at the end of it we didn’t feel too bad. Maybe even better.

In the days and weeks thereafter things did change. Gradually, without fanfare. I overheard Dennis and Peter chatting at Peter’s desk as I walked by. Dennis seemed shorter to me than usual.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s just, it’s time, you know,” said Dennis.

“Ah, OK,” Peter replied awkwardly.

“Things are just getting. Yeah.”

“OK.”

“You know, too…”

“Yeah, too…”

“Too… too. Too too!” Dennis concluded with a wan smile.

And that was the end of Dennis.

One evening at about six or seven, the office half empty, I sat working on code when shouting erupted from the conference room. Alan and Sam. It was about priorities, the future of the company, big-picture stuff. But they insulted each other venomously. One would assert and the other would protest NO! NO! NO! As though something deeply, personally offensive had been proposed. They went around in circles like this, stepping over each other with ever louder, angrier interjections.

It was still going on when I left. And that was the end of Sam.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

On the Roof

The planes flew overhead as usual, maybe a little low on account of the clouds. In the distance the city trembled ever so slightly from all the noise you couldn’t hear.

A few houses down a family was having a barbecue. Dad at the grill. Mom and the little ones up some steps, sitting on a fancy outdoor couch. Look at them, eating at a proper time. With the nice grill and the good outdoor furniture. How much richer they must be than us, I thought. How much better. And then I thought, how could you think a thing like that?

As I drove a nail diagonally through the table, hoping finally to fix that part that’s always breaking off, I became aware of a din across the street. It was a woman screaming. I paused to try to make out what she said.

“You tell her! You tell her! You tell her!” she howled, on the edge of articulation.

Then: “You’re killing me! You’re killing me!”

No one seemed to reply. Or if they did, they did so quietly.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

In Birthday Room #3 there was pizza and soda for the kids, pizza and water for the parents.

As their photos played on the screen on the wall they all shouted “Me!” when it wasn’t them and “Not me!” when it was. Like they’d all just discovered irony. Like the apes at the beginning of 2001, using a bone for a weapon. Evolving.

You look on the internet a minute and you find that the guy in the ape suit from that movie was a friend of John and Yoko’s and he wrote a book about his years hanging out with them except now he’s battling with Yoko about can he ever put it out, and anyway now is 2008, so who knows anything, really? For the love of God.

I yelled at a car again, someone driving at me in that tricky intersection of 7th Ave and West 4th. But see, I had the light—the walk signal. All the cars think it’s like an off ramp from a highway ‘cause it’s at an angle but it’s just like any other city intersection where you have to constantly remind yourself not to kill people—they have the right of way.

I held my hand up at him, the universal signal for stop right there. He was still coming and I was walking slow. He slowed and steered behind me, reluctantly, obviously enraged, flipping me off and shouting whatever from his hermetic, upholstered realm.

“It’s a red light, asshole!” I screamed, loud enough for him to hear, which felt good, but it wasn’t exactly true, which felt weird—he did have a green light, but he had to stop for me—but all in all it felt good all the same.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Unlikely memories keep coming back to me. Like when I was on a plane out of Vegas, maybe ten years ago, maybe twenty. That sad flight when you’ve probably lost more money than you should, and there’s a part of you that wishes you could stay longer and lose some more. In that state of mind I was struck by a conversation in the row behind me. Two young men were talking—friends or maybe cousins who’d been in Vegas together for a family reunion or bachelor party or something. One was cheerily talking about his dad, how they’d left him at the bar sipping Johnny Walker Blue, and that he knew he’d be perfectly happy there while everyone younger went gambling and clubbing. He sounded proud of his dad—proud that he was there, proud of what he drank, proud of what he did and didn’t do. The happy family scene he depicted, of the patriarch indulging his brood, maybe living vicariously through them, was annoying and poignant in equal measure, somehow.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

TROOPS

Sam has been in love with Sally all along.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

TROOPS

It’s true. It’s undeniable. He was wonderful at it and so was she.

Friday, June 29, 2018

TROOPS

At this point, however, Causubon retreated from inferential arguments and resorted to one that would have satisfied Montagu.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Was it 1975?

It was summertime in the south of France, or was it Switzerland? A jazz-rock fusion band was playing down in a sandy valley below steep, rocky slopes where we sat with the rest of the crowd. We had a picnic—ham sandwiches, peaches, Evian water in the corrugated liter bottles, everything the same unappetizing temperature and smelling of the plastic of the insulated cooler bag that was in the trunk of the car for the past three hours.

I was worried we might fall off this jagged boulder and tumble down, gashing our heads and breaking limbs.

The men in the band looked like dolls down there in flared pants, silk shirts, bandannas. Strange, angular sounds bleated from their speakers and I wished somebody would sing.

Friday, June 15, 2018

TROOPS

I walked to the car, pausing shyly before opening the door and getting in.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

I like the stripes on the water pipes in the stairwell at work. And the fire hoses that say Made in Canada. Sometimes these are the only things I notice in an eight-hour day.

Happy BIrthday

There was a fucked-up trans woman on the corner of Grove Street and West 4th with a big pink chalk in her hand and a cigarette bouncing between her lips. Around her workers built a scaffold, twisting bolts, dropping pipes from the platform up above with a monstrous crash. She crept among them and their edifice crouched over, like a hunter in the woods. Looking for the place and time to strike.

Finally she wrote something on the curb in big, curly capitals. “HAPPY,” it said. “HAPPY BIRTH—” and then I was too far away, and I felt foolish for wanting to turn around and read over her shoulder. Later when I came back the other way, I wanted to know who it was she celebrated. There had to be a name. The target of her message. But that’s all it said.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

I emerged from the Houston Street station to find a row of people facing across Varick, examining something with great concern. Before I reached the sidewalk I realized it had to be awful.

In fact the intersection was jammed with emergency vehicles—cops, an ambulance, a fire truck. I could have turned away at that moment and went on to the entrance to my work, twenty feet away. But I turned again to look at what everyone was looking at. A woman was prone on a stretcher, unconscious. Medium build, black. I did not see any blood. But you could just imagine what had happened.

Friday, June 01, 2018

The Hole Where My Shit Goes

The toilet was on the fritz, water seeping out from around the base when you flushed. Mike the Plumber said it probably needed a new seal. He came quick the following day.

He called me in when it had been removed. Not sure why, but I guess it’s something you’re supposed to see. The toilet itself was at an angle off to the side. Mike’s assistant was bailing it out with a Solo cup, pouring the tainted water into the sink a few ounces at a time. In its footprint was a sinewy mass of yellow wax surrounding the mouth of a cold, silver pipe, five or six inches wide. It was black as hell in there. Mike said a few words and I said a few words back, hoping they were the right ones, but all I could think about was that awful hole, finally laid bare. The truth that lies below reality. The hole where my shit goes.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

There’s a godawful electronic squawk outside sometimes, like from the radio in a cop car, but loud. At night. When the weather gets warm. Like a kind of mechanical bird that’s back to life, looking for a mate and a place to build its nest.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Here I am meekly waiting for the software update that will solve it all. The update that reaches into my soul to save it.

When I run past the Pavilion Theatre in the morning I glance at the green plywood covering the entrance, wondering if any progress has been made. Sometimes the makeshift door is open and you can see straight through to the box office on the left. A worker might stroll in or out. There’s a chair in there too for some reason. Other times it’s closed and days and days go by and nothing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

TROOPS

This was more or less the situation when I returned to the neighborhood for the Easter vacation.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

TROOPS


Every inch of the garden, the house, and the surrounding grounds was ransacked, yet no trace of the missing lama was found.

There was a discarded flyer on some steps that led to a workroom at the end of the platform at Chambers Street. It read: Win Anywhere. Win Anytime.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

TROOPS

“We’re wasting precious time. We

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Man on the phone, walking across the street by Grand Army Plaza:

“When I bought this thing I was like, wow.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Autobiography of Someone Else - 17

Dad loved to buy records. There was a store in town on the second level of a dreary little strip mall, near a laundromat, near a drugstore, near a printers. He’d go there two, three times a week, bargain hunting in the cutout bins. For Promotional Use Only – Not for Resale. The Nice Price.

I’d go with him and sometimes he’d let me buy something but never something good. All the real music cost money. Presence. Animals. Let It Bleed. Beautiful covers with beautiful words in tight, unscarred plastic. Tantalizing me with that beautiful, impossible sticker: $7.98. I could get something for a couple of bucks, maybe four if it was a double album and Dad felt generous. Bands I’d never heard of. Compilations in garish hues.

My dad would buy anything as long as it was cheap. Kenny Rogers, Carpenters, Lovin’ Spoonful, Rascals, Average White Band. Didn’t really seem to matter. He liked to exit the premises with at least four or five in that square, yellow bag, not spend more than twenty dollars.

Sometimes I wondered whether he liked music at all.

One Tuesday night after dinner he got the itch to go. A school night. A work night. Everyone was about to settle in for Happy Days.

“C’mon,” he said. “You wanna go?”

I wore my Aquaman pajamas and my Spider-Man robe. But I wanted to go.

“Honey,” Mom said to him, exasperated.

“He can go!”

“In his pajamas? Paul.”

“Who cares? It’s warm out.”

There was a moment when nothing happened. Then something remarkable did. My mother gave a faint little shrug and returned to her newspaper, looking back down through her reading glasses—a series of gestures that meant: OK, fuck it, I don’t care.

So there I was wandering the aisles of Record City in my nightclothes. Did anyone stare? The other customers were all heads down, thumbing through stacks like you’re supposed to do. But had they looked away the moment before I saw them? Jerry, the paunchy, gregarious owner, had greeted us in his usual jolly way. Not appearing to give a fuck, either. Was it a conspiracy? Would they all howl with laughter as soon as we were gone?

For a while I laid low in the nether regions of the place. Along the far wall was a swivelling rack of aluminum-framed display cases with posters front and back—images waiting to be worshiped on adolescent walls. I paged through them glumly. Kiss Destroyer. The four men in their body suits and makeup; giant, snake-fanged shoes stomping on a silhouetted pile of rubble. Jimmy Page sweating profusely in his dragon-covered suit, his disheveled hair magenta from the spotlight. Queen sitting on the stone steps of some monument somewhere, looking bored. Jimi Hendrix in a military coat and purple velour pants. Some kid at school said his bandana was always soaked with LSD. Two men in business suits shaking hands in a desolate industrial complex, one of them ablaze.

I found a copy of Tommy at a surprising discount. Dad okayed the purchase and handed me a fiver. Stunned by my good fortune, I walked to the front and handed it to the young woman behind the counter. She examined it with a frown, and turned to me with a look of concern. But not for my clothes.

“You know what this is, right?”

“It’s Tommy.”

“It’s the Tommy Soundtrack. It’s not really Tommy.”

She handed it back to me so I could see. I turned it over and I felt a shock of shame. Elton John, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner. A parade of names that weren’t the Who. Ann-Margret.

“It’s like, some of it has other musicians on it,” she added helpfully. “Other people singing.”

I now became aware of my little penis and balls naked, hairless, against the polyester of my pajamas. I was a fraud. Not a man—not even a real boy—before this woman, this judge. But I felt called upon to respond. To defend myself. To survive.

“Is it… good?” I stammered.

She shrugged. “It’s not bad. It’s OK. Some of it’s good,” she said. “But it’s not Tommy.”

“How much does Tommy cost?”

“Fourteen ninety-eight.”

I was about to return this disgraceful, odious object to the stacks, as a demonstration of some kind of principle, or maybe just pride, when my father approached, oblivious to my predicament of course.

“What are you doing, Pete? Buy it. Just buy it already,” he declared.

So I handed her the five dollar bill, wadded and wet from my sweating hand. She rang up $4.99 plus tax and gave me back a little handful of change with a little smile. I took my faux Tommy under my arm and we left.

Or was it just a dream?

Thursday, April 05, 2018

TROOPS

I even drove down with Karen to visit him in Wildwood (she had a license, I didn’t).

Monday, April 02, 2018

Sitting on the train to work I felt a sudden jolt of pure dread, inexplicable. It went away in a moment, leaving me with an unpleasant buzz.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

I'm Sorry

I saw the van turning but I had the right of way. I kept walking. It kept turning. For a moment I thought: I’m not going to run away. I’m right. He’s wrong. I’m going to keep on walking. But he was turning, turning, speeding up. So I ran. I ran to the other side of the street.

He’d stopped now—after he saw me running. I stepped up to the window.

“Hey! What the fuck are you doing!?” I screamed.

I saw a flash of defiance on his face. Like he was going defy me. New York City, not fuck me, fuck you. But then he mouthed the words “I’m sorry.” Chinese guy. Delivering for some Chinatown business, a pawn shop, a restaurant.

“Be careful!!” I screamed again, my voice rasping and breaking.

Again he said “I’m sorry.” Gave a little smile. I’m sorry.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The young man thrust his hand between the closing doors of the subway car. Now his forearm was gripped tight by the black rubber gaskets. He made no effort to withdraw. His fingers clenched and curled as though they might summon the rest of his body through somehow. Then his hand wilted and dangled in midair. It was in the car and he was out. What would happen next? No one cared or even seemed to notice. But something was bound to happen. The doors opened again.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

A couple fighting on Seventh Avenue. He’s approaching the door to their car as she follows a few steps behind. He says:

“You can go back in time and fix it!”

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

When I lifted the cutting board away from the faucet the wet wood emitted a striking odor—musty, winy—that immediately took me back to my childhood. But I didn’t know what it was it reminded me of. I was eight or nine, in our house in Storrs. What was it that smelled like that? Probably our wet cutting board.

On TV the race cars were under full-course caution because a cheap canopy and poles had blown onto the track. They type that always shade a table with credit card applications. There it lay crumpled on the edge of a corner as cars steered clear and a marshall waved his red and yellow flag.

On the first day of spring it’s been snowing all day and it’ll snow most of the night too. I like to be surprised by the weather but I decided to look. Here’s what the hourly forecast says for tomorrow: Mostly Cloudy, Mostly Cloudy, Mostly Cloudy, Cloudy, Cloudy, Mostly Cloudy, Cloudy, Mostly Cloudy, Cloudy, Cloudy, Cloudy, Cloudy, Cloudy, Cloudy, Cloudy, Cloudy, Mostly Cloudy, Partly Cloudy.

In the end there’s no way to really avoid surprises.

TROOPS

“You and the kids want a come stay with me?”
The beginning of a sports season is a celebration of renewal, of anything possible, of life. I always think this and make a mental note to mark it in writing, at the beginning of September for football for example. I want to recognize it and savor it. Then suddenly it’s Week 7, Week 8. I’ve been helpless against the current of time. But in a few days Formula One starts again, and here we are.

Monday, March 19, 2018

On the way in today the train slowed to a crawl. Through my earbuds I half-heard the usual catchall explanations: train traffic ahead, signal malfunction. Then through the window there was an MTA worker in his hardhat and safety orange vest. He was perched in the dark realm beside the track, on some kind of ledge above the trash and debris, braced against whatever he could find so he wouldn’t fall. Then there was another, then another. Just workers in the tunnel on a Monday morning, getting out the way of the train.

There’s a number 4 scratched in the gray-painted wall at the fourth-floor landing of the stairwell at my work. Someone must have done it with a key.

A crazy woman sat near me on the train home. She was angry, agitated. At someone, I thought, but then it appeared it as at no one at all. I tried to understand her. But there was no sense to what she was saying, just patterns. She looped the same words and phrases over and over again, in slightly different ways: white people, garbage, smell, cemetery, white children, get out, disgusting, white soul, white face.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

That’s the title of that Paul McCartney album. I wonder if that’s why. From the early ‘70s. An old TV with the interference. The horizontal hold. A beach somewhere. The sea. From an airplane. So you can see the waves but you can’t see them move.

Is this making me a better person? Then what do I do?

The beach, the sea, baseball. You think of baseball when there’s nothing else to think of.

The mind excretes thoughts. But the word is there. The word is back. Word, word, word, word, word. The psychedelic light show behind the eyelids. And the word.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

I stood on the beach and waved to my wife and daughter as they waded into the sunset. Just then a ganja man appeared. Just as they always do, just about all the time. This time I decided to buy.

“How much for a spliff?” I asked.

He looked over his shoulder and approached me furtively, like we were accomplices in a crime. Which we were I guess, but it’s a crime that occurs a thousand times a day on this beach. Maybe this was theater. Make the sunburned tourists feel a thrill.

“Here mon, here,” he said, and tried to press a handful of fat joints into my palm. “Forty.”

“I only want one, man,” I said, pulling my hand away.

“OK, OK, OK,” he said in a displeased, slightly disapproving tone. “Here you go mon.”

Now I had three in my hand. His eyes darted left and right.

“Twenty.”

“No, no, I don’t need three. How much for one?”

With great reluctance he took a spliff back from my hand, leaving two. I figured I wasn’t going to do any better than that.

“Fifteen.”

I told him I’d be right back, I had to get cash at our place.

“Yeah mon, come find me. Come find me,” he said, and extended his elbow for a bump. “Ree-spect.”

Back at the villa I got my wallet and took out the cash, thinking to myself what it’d be like to burn a Jamaican beach dealer. Would he glower at me in my shaded chaise every morning as he passed by on his rounds? “Where da cash mon?” he’d ask, and I’d shrug my shoulders and return to my paperback. Or maybe he’d kill me with a knife. Drag my carcass into a powered dinghy and dump me out at sea. Really I had no idea what would happen.

I returned to the beach and found him a few paces from where we’d met.

“Here you go,” I said, placing the money discreetly in his palm, and I did feel that little thrill after all.

“Yeah mon! You wan’ anyting else you lemme know!” he said, and I knew from his tone he meant cocaine.

“Thanks,” I said, and turned away, not knowing whether I’d been ripped off, figuring I had, not really caring, with one more joint than I needed in the damp mesh pocket of my swim trunks.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

5 Life Lessons by the Grateful Dead

1. Let a thing be what it is

It’s not perfect. Far from it. Maybe it’s ugly and cantankerous. But let it do its thing. It may surprise you. It will likely surprise you. Just let it.

2. Take control

If you wanna take control, take control. Do it. No one’s gonna stop you. Do it.

3. Don’t take control

Resist the urge to take control. Let go. Avoid making decisions. Do not assert yourself.

4. You’re a small part of a big thing

Believe me. Don’t you forget it.

5. Doubt yourself

Your instincts are probably wrong. The way you feel is inaccurate. If you think A, it’s probably B.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Crazy That Is Jennifer

Overheard conversation in the break room this morning, between two women:

“You’re here!”

“It’s not snowing!”

“I know—”

“I just didn’t, you know, I didn’t want to spend another day in my apartment.”

“I know.” She begins to back away and turn around. “So come over when you have something ready—”

“Yeah, I’ve got a call at ten. I’ll come over after and we can discuss—”

“Great.”

“You know. The crazy that is Jennifer.”

Monday, February 19, 2018

I made a mental note of something to write about, something about vacation itself, something slightly vexing, where you hit a sort of wall. Was it something that happens in the pool?

It’s that excruciating moment when you enter the cold water. You know you’ll be fine a second later. But the shock and the dread of it are real. You stand one step deep and stare at the limpid ripples on that cold water and you almost wish you were back home in bed.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Don’t even really want to hear about it. What is there to say about this guy? He loves guns and he hates people.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Why do I have the disco hit “Ring My Bell” playing incessantly in my head?

Maybe ‘cause it stopped raining today.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Mom didn’t follow sports but she loved sports. The folklore of it, the mythology, traditions. The idea that people could get so happy about nothing at all. Or get so sad.

For the Super Bowl in 1979 we were at our neighbors up the street, the kid I’d been friends with all my life, Henry. The parents were having proper pre-dinner cocktails in the living room while Henry and I watched the game at the kitchen table. That was what went down in a house in a little college town with four grownups who didn’t give a fuck about football.

At a certain point my mom walked in and asked us who was playing. She didn’t even know who was playing on the goddamned day of the game.

“Cowboys and Steelers,” I said, with some idiotic pride, like I was in the know.

Without the slightest hesitation she said: “GO STEELERS.”

She knew, instinctively or through some convoluted experience, that the Dallas Cowboys were despicable and the Pittsburgh Steelers were worthy of love and support.

Until that moment I had no real idea of my own. I’d grown up without TV because this is how my parents chose to express themselves. To take their stand against vulgar American commercialism and conformity, dragging their children up alongside them. So today I was happy enough to watch any kind of flickering pixels on a screen, be they white and silver or black and gold.

But the moment my mom said that I knew she was right. One team is obviously, always, fundamentally, morally superior to the other. Cowboys suck.

So I rooted for the Steelers and they won.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

This morning as I walked from the school to the train, I perceived in the corner of my eye a man prone on the street. A team of EMTs were huddled around him. One held a bandage against his brow. I wanted to look, so I turned away. I knew it wouldn’t be right somehow. I crossed the street and navigated a little crowd of people who’d stopped and turned around. I looked at them. Their expressions were unconcerned, unalarmed. Maybe the guy was alive, alert. Maybe he was going to be OK. Or maybe that’s just the way humans appear when they’re watching someone die.

I thought of that day in London with my dad. A cloudburst had come and the sidewalks and streets were suddenly slick. We approached a group of people who seemed to be standing still for no good reason. Then I saw between them a tall, dapper, dark-haired man who had fallen and cracked his skull. His dark crimson blood flowed over the slate-gray pavement and mingled with rivulets of rain. Someone was on a knee beside him, doing what he could, I guess, while help was on its way. My dad gripped my hand a little harder and we walked past.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

None of This Matters

I was temping at Heublein, the giant booze company, in Hartford in the early ‘90s. I was assigned to some senior marketing guy, a balding, paunchy man in his late forties. I sat at a desk right outside his office, punching numbers into spreadsheets, gathering printouts, dicking around with PowerPoint decks.

He was in charge of product for all of South America, or maybe parts of South America. He had a trip coming up to Ecuador, Chile, some other places. Figuring out what the fuck they wanted to drink down there. Selling it to them. That was his task.

One of the company’s bargain brands had just rolled out a mint chocolate chip liqueur. A bottle sat on his desk, wrapped in its pale green label. I considered whether this was what he was currently pushing on the upwardly mobile people of Quito. For centuries they got drunk on cane liquor, maybe potions of it flavored with indigenous herbs and flowers. Now they were supposed to drink this goddamned sweet green shit.

One day I was struggling with an assignment, I don’t know what. Numbers weren’t adding up and a deadline loomed. I figured I had to make it right. Here I was on the 27th floor of a grand old building in downtown Hartford, Connecticut, wearing a belt and tie. Walking out the elevator every morning, past the water cooler and the mission statement framed and hung up on the wall. It was my role to get it right.

I must have sighed audibly in frustration and dismay. The guy shouted from his office: “Pat, come in here for a minute.”

I walked in apprehensively. He peered at me from behind his desk, from behind the mint chocolate schnapps. He seemed like a man perfectly in his place, confident, at ease. Every self-doubt I’d ever had he’d never had, or rooted out many years ago. In my nervousness I beheld him with a sort of wonder.

“Let me tell you something.”

“OK.”

“None of this matters. Do you understand? None of this—this, everything—” he made a little sweeping gesture with his hand—“matters at all. Not at all. Do you know what I mean?”

I nodded slowly.

“It doesn’t matter at all. Don’t worry about it. Take my word for it—I’m serious. Nothing, none of it, nothing here, nothing you’re doing, nothing I’m doing. None of it matters.”

“OK.”

“At all.”

“OK.”

“OK. OK?”

“Yeah.”

“OK. Don’t you forget it,” he said, and turned his head back down to the documents on his desk, signaling for me to turn around and leave.


As I hung my head in my morning reverie, sitting on the 2 Train, my nostrils filled with a familiar smell, airy and a little bit sharp. I realized the man sitting next to me had just put a menthol cough drop in his mouth.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

I had a very intense dream last night that I had driven a car into someone’s house—maybe backed it into their house. And the way they reacted, and the way I did, and everything that happened next—which was unclear—formed the basis of a great novel, beautiful and meaningful and profound.

When I awoke in the middle of the night I thought I should take notes about it for the morning, to make sure I didn’t forget. But I lazily tried to fix it in my mind instead. I still thought it would be something beautiful that I could carry into the world.

And now this is all I have. Or is it?

Monday, February 05, 2018

As I sat in my boss’s office I noticed that the windows in the building across the way reflected our windows, but bowed them like fun house mirrors so they all looked like giant eyeballs peering back at us.

I leaned against the train window as we went express from Jay Street to Seventh. Tired.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Outside the Coney Island haunted house the operator, a big guy about forty, leaned on a rail and spoke to a couple of ticket takers, high school guys on summer jobs.

The cars were mostly empty. Here and there a mother and daughter, a father and son, darted around the corner to be plunged into the black portal, grimacing with apprehension.

“Open a checking account and a savings account,” the man said.

The boys nodded.

“Start a credit card. Open a line of credit and buy some shit.”

A few moments passed and a few more empty cars rattled past the gates of the inferno.

“Don’t buy too much shit. You’re establishin’ credit.”

One of the boys murmured something I could not hear.

“One-fifty, one-fifty. One-fifty in checking an’ one-fifty in savings.”

The group fell silent. All the cars were gone now. The stretch of track that ran out front, past the turnstile, glinted in the August sun.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

We thought we were all so clever defying the man, doubting reality. Denying the existence of moral absolutes. Look atcha. Like a rolling stone.

This is what we get and I still don’t know what to do.

Friday, February 02, 2018

The cough is back. Dormant for hours sometimes, other times spasmodic to the point where I wonder what will happen if I don’t stop. I see myself pounding on our bedroom door, rousing Sara and wordlessly directing her to dial 911. But this has all happened before, and before, and before.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

There’s a new guy panhandling on the F train lately. You can tell he’s coming. It starts with a little commotion, a spasm in that gauzy atmosphere that unites and separates us all on our way home from work. Is it a fight? A lunatic? A few heads turn. Most don’t bother. But then he appears, marching down the car and shouting: “I’m HUNGRY. Can SOMEBODY HELP ME OUT? I’m HUNGRY. Can SOMEBODY HELP ME OUT?”

The choice of words. The emphatic, urgent declaration. Then the more delicate question—not “Can someone give me money?” Not “Can someone spare some change?” Can somebody help me out? Could mean anything, really. Up to you. The words lie there on the floor, inviting us to pick and poke at them.

I thought he’d walked by when I realized he’d stopped his litany and taken a seat across from me. Like any other rider I suppose. He was eating a slice of chocolate-frosted cake from a clear plastic single-serve container. The kind you see at the deli and never, ever buy. When he was done he cast the trash beneath the bench and pulled out a wad of cash. He tossed it in a heap on the empty seat beside him. A mound of bills, some balled up and some in clumpy piles. Then he gathered it all up again and began to count. Singles, some fives. There must have been, I don’t know. Thirty dollars, forty?

Friday, January 12, 2018

TROOPS

No way they’re paying admission, so they’re either tunneling in or coming in over the retaining wall.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

TROOPS

And he was like, “If you could take care of Chet. He’s in the stairwell. And he’ll be hungry.”