Friday, July 26, 2019

 I got a magical bit of time after my crazy dentist screwed my implant in again and before I had to go play with the guys at the Navy Yard so I went to our old haunt Nancy Whiskey, unchanged from the early 21st century, tin ceiling, Irish flag, full of people who don’t belong in TriBeCa but are there anyway: old black guys, young black women, construction workers playing shuffle board and shouting curses. And me. “Gone Daddy Gone” by the Violent Femmes is playing and maybe that’s the only song everybody can agree on.

One of the construction workers spies a local crossing the square outside, a pretty young thing with a halter top, and proclaims, “Number 10 with a bullet right there!” A guy at the bar says, “But they never come in do they?” I guess you can see why.

Actually no one gives a fuck about the music most of the time. Except when something suspect for its softness and obscurity plays. You can be soft and universal, like “Maybe I’m Amazed.” But otherwise someone’s gonna shout a profane complaint.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

U

I accidentally named this document “U.” It’s the letter my finger found when it was looking for none. U, like what? Fuck u comes to mind of course. Or Nothing Compares 2 U. Or both.

I left work and walked up Carmine waiting for something to happen. For something to remember and to read about. I peered at the faces of passersby. A little desperately. They looked the way they always looked. Wan. Preoccupied.

I turned the corner and approached the West 4th Street entrance. There was a minor commotion—two cops had been to see a homeless guy, or crazy, or something, sitting on the stoop in front of the Korean pastry shop. They turned away, apparently satisfied, and stepped into a yellow cab that was idling, unattended, at a diagonal to the curb. One got in the driver side, one got in the passenger side, and they drove away.

U.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

There’s a turnstile at Houston Street where the readout is gobbledygook, just an unbroken string of near-alphabetical symbols like from some Nordic language. I’m often behind someone who balks at the sight of it, their MetroCard prone above the slot, then zags into the correctly functioning one at left. I go straight through and use it anyway. Nothing happens. Nothing doesn’t happen.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

I awoke to the strains of “Love and Marriage,” such a strange song, great music, weird lyrics—“you can’t have one, you can’t have none”—that it plunged me into a new reverie. We all know who Frank was, banging broads left and right, manufacturing his myth. But I wondered about the members of the Nelson Riddle orchestra, or whoever, it doesn’t matter; they are anonymous by design. Showing up for work at a studio in Los Angeles, having whatever inside their heads— a fight with their wife, or their kid, a new car, an afternoon at Santa Anita losing whatever they made on the last date betting on that sure thing. And here they are, in the string section. Second violin. Playing that curlicue lick that no one’ll ever forget. And going home to the only people who know who they are.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Call

The man stands at the intersection, waiting for the light to change. His phone vibrates in his pocket. He withdraws it and answers.

“Is this Bradley Allen?” says the voice.

“Yes. Brad. Brad Allen.”

“And you are survived by your wife Carolyn Ladd Allen, your son Jeremy and your daughter Cynthia.”

“Survived by?”

“They are your next of kin.”

“What do you mean? I mean, yes. But what do you mean?”

“Do you feel that you are receiving this telephone call in error?”

“Why am I receiving this telephone call?”

“Standard call, sir. Standard procedure.”

“Procedure for what?”

“For the recently deceased.”

“Did I die?”

“Sir, our records clearly indicate.”

“How can I be dead?”


“No one expects what’s next, sir.”

“You mean all of a sudden I’m dead, and now I’m talking to you?”

“There’s no accounting for one’s experience of the passage.”

“Everybody gets a phone call when they’re dead?”

“Well that’s not all they get. And not everybody.”

“So why me?”

“You’re in the database for a call, sir. That’s all I’m at liberty to say.”

“Then what happens?”

“That’s entirely up to you. I just need a moment of your time.”

“I don’t have any time. I’m dead.”

“It’s just an expression, sir.”

“Well get on with it.”

“That will be all.”

“That will be all what?”

“That will be all, sir. Thank you for your time.”

“What did you need my time for?”

“As I mentioned sir, you were in our database to receive a call.”

“For what? To do what?”

“There’s no action item attached. None that I can see.”

“So what did you do that you needed my time to do?”

“Well, I made a notation. Of course.”

“A notation for what?”

“For my records. For our records.”

“What does the notation say?”

The briefest silence.

“Oh, I beg your pardon sir. I understand. It’s not really a notation so much as—well, I guess we do call it a notation! I don’t want to get into semantics. I don’t want to take any more of your time. What I did was, I placed a tick mark by your name.”

“A what?”

“A tick, a check. Actually it’s more a radio button than a box. They’ve updated our interface.”

“A check mark for what.”

“To indicate a call was made.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s my job.”

“What for?”

“I’m not at liber—actually, I’m not aware. I can tell you that I’m not entirely aware.”

“Aware of what?”

“Of why we need to indicate that a call has been placed to you.”

“But what happens? What happens now?”

“Well, the database is updated and other parties are notified.”

“Other parties?”

“My colleagues. The database is in a workflow.”

“What do they do?”

“Oh I have absolutely no idea, sir.”

“Am I going to get another call?”

“Possibly. Possibly not. I’m not at liberty to say. Again, I’m actually quite unable to say.”

“But I’m dead?”

“According to what I’m seeing on my dashboard. Well, I can only surmise. You are in the database. The dashboard doesn’t really tell us much.”

“What does it tell you?”

“Your name. Your telephone number. Your next of kin.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s what’s visible to me.”

“Something else might be visible to someone else?”

“There are hidden fields. Which is to say, they’re hidden from me. But I have no idea whether those fields are populated. Or visible to someone else.”

“What literally happens when I hang up this call?”

“On my end sir? I submit your record for further review.”

“What about on mine?”

“That’s entirely your affair sir.”

“You don’t know what happens to people when they die?”

“All I know is that under certain circumstances they receive a telephone call from myself or one of my colleagues.”

“What circumstances?”

“That I’m unable to say. That’s not visible to me, sir. It’s not apparent.”

“So what do I do now?”

“There is nothing further required of you from my end.”

“I see.”

“Actually sir, that’s not entirely correct.”

“Yes?”

“Before you hang up, you will have the opportunity to take a survey regarding your level of satisfaction with this call.”

“Satisfaction?”

“My degree of professionalism. Of courtesy. My willingness to answer your questions to the best of my ability. That type of thing.”

“Right.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with today, sir?”

A long pause.

“Sir? Sir? Sir?”

Monday, July 01, 2019

Two construction workers held another between them as they walked, his arms around their shoulders. Right around King Street in the beautiful, sunlit end of day. Was he drunk or had he fallen off a scaffold? It was impossible to tell.

Friday, June 28, 2019

I crushed a bug today, automatically, heedlessly, in a folded square of toilet paper. I felt that tiny crack of exoskeleton collapsing, that little pop. And within it, who knows? Something soft, intangible even. Where all life exists. Where all life ceases to exist.

Then nothing. Then I flushed it down the hole.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I awoke suddenly this morning to the jazz radio station alarm, as though unexpectedly. But everybody does.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

I keep waiting for the update that’s going to solve it all. The OS with the security patch and the usability tweaks. Something that’s going to finally give me what I want. That’s gonna deliver me. That’s gonna lay my burden down.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Is This Thing On?

Check one-two, one-two. Hello, hello, hello. Hello. Check, check, check, check.

Is this thing on?

Check, check, check, check. Check it out.

Hello, one-two, one-two. One-two-three-four.

Check.

Motherfucker, motherfucker. Check. Hello.

One-two, one-two, fuck me. Fuck you.

Check this shit out. Fuckin-A. Fuckin-A right. Check. Hello.

One, two, three, four. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Check.

Is this thing on?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

While floating in the calm, salty water at Villefranche-sur-Mer, not quite warm enough to put you to sleep, I had a memory as I gazed up at the rocky hills, dotted with stucco villas and trees. It was about cutting someone off in a way, in a car, or maybe not—I saw a diagram of it in my mind. Something involving some Italians. It was combative,  contentious. But it never happened—did it? What could it mean? Or did it happen in a dream?

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Adventures in Smoking, pt. 3

When we got sick of playing guitar Jeff and I would walk out to the dike between the airport and the reservoir. Watch the planes come in. Little ones—Cessnas—turning in big, wobbly arcs around the water and over our heads to land. Some higher, some lower, some so low you could almost touch. I remember one swooped down below us, pulled up just in time to buzz our heads, trying to scare us, and it did. And we smoked.

We drank if we had anything to drink, and we smoked pot when we had it, but we smoked all the time.

Back at his house we smoked between tunes. I would light one up and stick it between the strings and the headstock, then play, letting ashes fall wherever. Jeff had a burn mark there on his. We’d take a break and sit cross-legged around the ashtray and listen to his hissy tape of Starlight Theatre, Kansas City, Missouri, August 3rd, 1982. Franklin’s Tower. To Lay Me Down.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Adventures in Smoking pt. 2

A cigarette machine was magic because maybe you could sneak away from Mom and Dad just long enough to plonk in three quarters, pull that plastic puller and hear the whoosh of the cellophaned pack shooting down the chute to land right there for the taking by your illegal, little hands. You’d grab it furtively, looking over your shoulder, and tuck it in the waist of your pants, above your cock, so your shirt would drop down to hide the bulge.

Now you’re home and the thing is more or less safely in your possession, in your bedroom, right there on your bed. You didn’t have much time to think when you bought ‘em but here’s what you chose: Camels, unfiltered. Camels because there’s something about them, the pyramid on the front, the letters. Not like Winstons or Kents. Unfiltered because why would you to let anything come between you and this experience?

When to smoke was another problem. You couldn’t light up in your room, blow it out your window. For sure they’d know. You know someday you’ll take them to a friend’s house and share them in the woods, something like that. But you want one now. It’s snowing outside, piling up.

You offer to shovel the back porch and the stairs down to the yard. Mom’s a bit surprised, but pleased. And in the glow of her gratitude, almost as though she gave her blessing, you bring out a pack of matches and a cigarette. You hold them in the bottom of the pocket of your coat, not afraid they’ll fly away really but just wanting to hold them. To feel the pulse of their illicit power in your hand.

Outside you shovel, shovel, shovel, long enough to establish that you’re really shoveling and then you stop. Down a step or three on the stairs, mostly out of view. You pull one out and put it between your lips and take out the matches, tremblingly, and make two false starts before a spark flies and the thing is lit, and you protect the nascent flame, you bring it to the tip, and draw in the fire then the smoke. Glorious, sweet, poisonous smoke. You discard the match and it hisses in the snow.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Adventures in Smoking pt. 1

Across the pub the green sloped down gently and there were benches where you could bring your pint, and possibly a little pond. My sister and brother-in-law sat there with theirs as I approached with my shandy. He wore his biker leather jacket and lit a cigarette.

“Here. You want to try it?” he said. Like a father offering his baby a new food.

I took it between my fingers, by the filter, like I knew I was to do. I drew in the smoke, cautious but determined. I was proud to see the ember glow, and then to see it dim, all by my doing; to exhale the smoke that had been in my body back out into the air.

TROOPS

We moved on. A lark or finch called as I planted my tired feet into the dust.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

In the apartment where we lived after they sold the house my mom and dad slept on a mattress on a box spring in the living room. There was a fifth of Jack Daniels and two glasses upside-down on the bedside table—actually an old door on cinder blocks that held books, the stereo, the 12-inch, black-and-white family TV. Every night they’d have a nightcap like this was a motel and they’d bought the bottle from a liquor store on the other side of the highway on-ramp. But it was home.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

A woman down at the end of the subway car was ranting and raving. She was enormous and wore voluminous, loose-fitting cotton clothes, thin fabrics that looked like they’d tear or fall away like something molting off a beast. In fact her arms were inside her pants legs, stretching the gauzy material like she wanted to explode. I wondered if she was going to spill her giant breasts out of her top as an affront, a provocation. And then what?

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

TROOPS

He could see I was in a vulnerable position.

Monday, April 22, 2019

We collect coins and bills, worth next to nothing, from the places we’ve been and they haunt us  we die and force our descendants to throw them away. We keep them not because we’ll use them again but because we never will.

Friday, April 19, 2019

At the appetizing store in the big long line two girls began to sing in harmony. Their voices chimed against the din of numbers called, orders recited, delivery guys coming through. A third girl, younger, sang along a little but then stopped, self-conscious. The song picked up and stopped from time to time. A little while later, and suddenly, the third girl began to cry. I watched her face, wet with tears. “Nothing’s gonna ever make me feel better,” she wailed at her mom.  I imagined what kind of heartbreak, what deep despair might cause someone to feel this way. Her mother knew, and said so: she was hungry.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

When we see words on a page, we believe the words are there, but we can’t quite be sure.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

As I waited in line at the food truck I turned to watch the passersby. Workers, nondescript. I tried to read their faces for anything of note. All wore the same slightly grim expression. The street mask. Even someone talking to his companion. The same look of mild concern. What’s on our minds?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

I awoke with a groan from the dreadful dreams I’d had, not nightmares, but dreams about work—a colleague staying at our apartment for some reason. Urgent work that needed to get done, that wasn’t getting done, that couldn’t get done. That I had to do.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

When the wind really blows in the city it’s a wonder things aren’t falling, tumbling, spinning everywhere, furniture off roofs, construction supplies, haphazardly fastened signs. We should all be battered by debris, impaled even. But no.

It’s spring training, the meaningless games playing lazily on the diner TV.

Friday, March 22, 2019

TROOPS

When intelligent people read, they ask themselves a simple question

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

When I emerged from the Seventh Avenue stop the winter chill had returned, with that flat, white sky that makes you think it’s about to snow. An older couple walked by me on the crosswalk. She seemed exhausted as she towed him by the arm, his mouth idiotically agape.

Friday, March 01, 2019

I awoke in the middle of the night with a hangovery headache and asked myself: did I really drink a lot? And I remembered the big drink and the next one while I waited and the big glass of wine and thought, maybe yes. Then I fell back asleep and felt almost fine when the jazz station rang at 6:15.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

We caught a Lyft to JFK. The driver said he was from Uzbekistan.

“How old is Nighted States?” he said in his nearly impenetrable accent.

I gave an answer, dumbly, lazily neglecting to really do the math. “Two-hundred, uh. Two-hundred fifty,” I said. “Two-hundred forty-five. Or something.”

It’s like when someone asks you for the time and you’re afraid to be precise. Three-thirty, you say. Maybe three thirty-five. But you feel like an asshole saying three thirty-two. Even if it’s the truth. But everyone knows what time it is. Everyone knows 1776.

He didn’t seem to hear me anyway. He gave me the age of Uzbekistan in a statement that seemed prepared. Two-thousand something, except it wasn’t something of course, it was as precise as mine was vague: two-thousand six-hundred eighty-two. Or something.

“That’s old,” I said. Of course.

We were just now getting on the Belt Parkway, five o’clock in the morning. Maybe four fifty-nine.

Friday, January 25, 2019

TROOPS

these instruments will serve your children and your grandchildren in the future.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

TROOPS

and he was in such pain that he was unable to swallow or take any food.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

TROOPS

I was doing research in Colorado when I heard the news.