Thursday, December 10, 2020

After I’ve emptied the little Tupperware dish of fresh litter into the box, I bring it outside and let it sail over the seven or eight steps into the open bin on the half landing. It’s so light it almost flutters, and it seems like it might veer off-course, but it always lands right there on the gravelly gray pile. Pufff. This is a moment of pure bliss, just a second and a half or so, every two days maybe.


Saturday, December 05, 2020

The Cat From Iran

When I was a kid we drove across France in the summer of 1979 in that Renault 4, the heat merciless on the rainbow-striped synthetic seats. An odor of glorious vomitude. Hollow metal poles formed the frames upon which the fabric stretched, ready to tear, ready to pop in a fender-bender, a serrated end ready to plunge into the firm neckflesh of a ten-year-old: me.


Dad had the radio on and the French people do love their news. Music, news, news, news. Weather. News. Traffic—vacation traffic. Live reports on the jam you’re in right now. Music. News, news, news, news, news. They kept talking about this cat. A cat was fleeing to France. To live out the rest of his days. This cat was on the run. From some kind of danger. Who was this cat? This cat from Iran?


Thursday, December 03, 2020

The Autobiography of Someone Else - 18

Harry and I began to hang out with Jim. Just another loser with a mother who knew our mothers. Is that not how lifelong bonds are formed?

I sensed that Jim was interested in more than television and Atari and Star Wars and sports. Well, he did like guns and swords and tanks. That was normal but he liked them more than me, more than most. In the library I’d look for race car books. There was one with black and white pictures of North American sports car races in the ‘60s, a book that was already old and nobody cared. Triumphs and Corvettes with roll bars winding through the fields and up and down the hills. This is all I wanted to see.


Jim came over to my house one day to build model airplanes and we had a strangely ceremonial lunch, as though my parents had to check him out to be my girlfriend. The hamburgers were underdone, almost raw. I gamely swallowed clumps of cool, mealy meat, dressed in pickle relish and Heinz Tomato Ketchup, as Jim excitedly explained why he’d prefer a knife to a machine gun in hand-to-hand combat.


“A machine gun might jam,” he said. “With a knife, you can stick it in the other guy’s body.”


I gulped my iced tea and the lemon wedge knocked my nose. My parents examined Jim with some concern.


“Unless you have a bayonet on the gun. A bayonet is the best,” Jim exclaimed. “It’s like a knife!”


Wednesday, December 02, 2020

It occurred to me that I didn’t know how to operate the fire extinguisher in the corner cabinet under the sink. It had stood there behind the U pipe, next to the leftover tiles, ever since we bought the place ten years ago. In the back of my mind it was always, there’s a fire extinguisher there if there’s a fire.

But today I imagined a short circuit over by the TV, maybe something the cats did, sparks shooting, smoke, flames, the cabinet alight, the album collection smoldering, vinyl dripping like molasses on the floor. I’d go get it of course. But then I’d hold it up idiotically, fumbling with it, not knowing what to pull or push or squeeze.


I knelt down and opened the door. The thing was farther away than I remembered; I had to press my face against the stove to reach it. In the bright kitchen light I examined the cartoon instructions on the side. Pull the pin. (Like a grenade.) Squeeze the thing and aim for the base of the fire. Sweep back and forth.


I brushed off the dust that had accumulated on the canister’s shoulder. I gave the pin a little tug, just to have the ghost of the muscle memory I’d need. It seemed flimsy, ready to be ripped away. I fingered the lever gingerly. And then I knelt back down and put the thing back for another decade. But closer to my reach this time.


Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Something like a gun or firecrackers went off outside but when I looked out the window everybody was doing normal shit, jogging, crossing the street. Still I heard it: pop-pop-pop.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

It’s always a shock to wake from lunatic dreams to find the world as it was: clothes where you left them, dishes done, cars and trees and the white sky outside.


Saturday, October 10, 2020

It was a beautiful day on the island, as though the world weren’t about to end. Masked people milling about as their tacos and pulled-pork sandwiches were being prepared. We played soccer with the kids on a big field with sprinklers spraying, in the hope—the expectation—that there will be another season.

In line for beer a woman play-punched her man, a fake karate punch to the side of the head, and I thought it was so charming.

Friday, October 09, 2020

I lay in bed in the middle of the night with my eyes open and my knees up, the way you do when you know you’re not possibly going to sleep. I thought about how I get this way sometimes at night and I know it’s bad but I can’t help it. I could get dressed and take a walk around the block. I could turn on the little reading light and read. I could curl into a fetal position on the kitchen floor. All seemed like equally bad options. And a few hours later I woke up.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

I forgot my phone upstairs, a bit drunkenly, and of course I immediately saw beautiful pictures to take: a view up the blocked-off street, children playing under a silvery dusky sky; grownups on the sidewalk drinking; pink-purple chalk hopscotch and Black Lives Matter. But of course if I could have taken the pictures I wouldn’t have written the words.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

I gazed from the bar’s gravel backyard at the meat row of three windows on the top floor of a building across the way, wondering if I’d see anything, waiting for something to happen.


Friday, September 11, 2020

Part of being on vacation, if you’re not on a cruise ship or an all-inclusive I guess, is the pleasure and relief of trading one set of problems for another. The things you find irritating and uncomfortable at home are gone—or at least transformed, mostly because they’re temporary—and instead you have a new set: bad lavender hand soap, dust and grime under the bed, baffling television technology. These inconveniences are in fact worse than those you’re accustomed to. They’d be intolerable if you were working, getting your kid ready for remote learning, straining for the end of another day. But because they’re here—next to a lake, next to a little town with an ice cream stand, nothing special even, just somewhere else—they’re perfectly OK.


This is why we go on vacation, really. To temporarily trade our cares for other ones. Also for the pleasure of going home.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

On our second or third day at the lake shots rang out somewhere on the far shore. They weren’t pops or cracks like from a handgun, more like booms, maybe a rifle or shotgun, but who knows what the water does to sound. Every five or ten seconds for a long time, so it wasn’t hunting. Target shooting I guess. It didn’t happen again but every day out on the water I imagined some malevolent presence over there. Would I hear the evil whistle of a bullet over my head, or skimming through the gentle waves, or piercing my donut floatie to lodge into my hip? Some bored teenager, thinks he can take a few shots at strangers, no one the wiser. I’d tell the kids turn around, head back to shore. Fast! Single file to make a smaller target. And when they were close enough to stand: run!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

I heard a roar in the kitchen of the vacation home, unfamiliar, insistent. Then I saw it was the electric kettle someone had put on and at once the sound became comforting, reassuring, almost like something remembered from childhood. But I don’t drink tea.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

We get spam calls, nothing but spam calls, on our landline that came with our triple-action cable deal that we decided instead of not using, why not buy a vintage Princess phone off eBay and hook it up, wouldn’t that be fun?


So the calls arrive, twice a day sometimes, once a week. Unnervingly erratic. Ring ring ring ring. And of course we don’t answer them but it gives me grim, dumb satisfaction to block the numbers later on my Cable Company App.


Sometimes they leave voicemails. Listen to them before I delete them, out of curiosity but also maybe some old-fashioned sense of obligation. Someone leaves you a message, you listen. Then you delete. You destruct this message within thirty seconds. I get a chill before I listen to them—they come from such a dark place, the realm of international technology abuse. These are people who’d be happy to see you dead in exchange for a tiny fraction of Bitcoin. When I press play I brace myself like I’m about to hear the Monty Python joke that’s so funny it kills anyone who hears it. Then what is it? A screed in Chinese. Some asshole telling me it’s my last chance to respond to charges. The gleeful offer of an effortless job.


Then I click delete.


Monday, August 03, 2020

The roofers traipsed up the stairs. The last one was the boss and he gave a dazed little nod, like Jesus fucking Christ, another job. I pointed up the open hatch and said through my mask, it’s all set, let me know if you need anything, just because I thought I was supposed to say something. And he said OK with a look that made me think I shouldn’t have said anything at all.


I heard their movements up there over the course of the afternoon. Finally he called while I was working and left a message. “We found the source of the problem. You should be all set now.” And I didn’t see them again and I didn’t even hear them leave.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Sitting in my easy chair I remembered that not an hour ago I’d had an idea for a song and now it was gone. What was it? Something to a country tune. It’s always easy to think of a country tune when you get an idea for a lyric, or to think of an idea for a lyric when you think of a country tune. I don’t know. The one follows the other eagerly, easily. Not that it has to stay that way, or should. The lyric can change. The music can change. Or both. Now I had neither. You can’t abandon something you forgot. Was it about forgetting? I wish I could forget… my name? No. It was about doing something, getting through it, something rote. But it was poignant, maybe all the more so for being mundane. Definitely started with the word I. Like so many country songs do.


I stood in line for vegetables at the corner farmer’s market. It wound and stretched around the stand, off the pavement onto the grass, over a path, almost into the woods. But six feet apart, it wasn’t that long after all. Everyone peering down over their masks at their phones. I thought about the beginning of this in March and how life was the same of course but different in weird, small ways: we favored an Italian restaurant for delivery back then but we haven’t ordered since and I can’t remember why or if there was a reason why. Our hallway was cluttered with different things. We had no cats. It’s as though years had been condensed into months. It was forever ago. You could just about trace the time in the lines of your face.


Thursday, July 09, 2020

Thanks

I accidentally titled this post Thanks so there it is. Thanks and praises.


I saw a bridge in ruins in a Japanese anime and it reminded me of the rope bridge over those river falls in Jamaica. It was just scary enough to be a little rite of passage for all the tourists, at the beginning of the climb, something to make us feel brave. It was exposed on either side between the lines you held onto and the base of bundled bamboo canes a couple feet wide. It wobbled a little—just enough. Really you couldn’t fall unless you wanted to.


Sunday, July 05, 2020

I was watching a classic French movie late at night, drunk, after the fireworks and after the guests had gone home, actually the fireworks were still going on and they still go on now. I’d watch a scene and descend into a psychedelic interpretation of the events—is that what really happened? Did he think she said he said she thought? I fumbled for the slender Apple TV remote and swiped back 20 seconds, whatever the device is set to do. And 20 seconds more. Turns out nothing of the sort took place.


Saturday, July 04, 2020


The fireworks begin at dusk and go on late into the night, sometimes in quick bursts, sometimes every few minutes, no rhyme or reason. Of course they’re in honor of nothing this year. Each concussion is an anti-celebration, an assertion of how fucked we all are and everything is. Boom, boom, boom, boom, bang.

Friday, July 03, 2020

A bead of water trickled down Jackie’s electric toothbrush after it had been replaced on its stand, probably to gum up the electronics once it reached the charging base, causing a short circuit, starting a fire. I envisioned us naked on the street as annoyed firefighters clambered up the four flights.


No matter what technology you have, smart devices, app controls, computers in the car, nothing works like a toilet.


Jackie had a fortune cookie in her lunch. I unfurled the little wisp of paper, spotted with sauce. Ready for another fortune? it said, and I thought: good fortune. Smart. Did not expect that. Then I realized of course the fortune was on the other side:


Declare peace every day.


Lately when I read a book that’s supposed to be good, I think: this book has been read ten million times. It’s been read to death. I start to worry there’s nothing there for me. I try to reassure myself that every act of reading is unique. It must create its own universe from the reader and the text. I believe that, but still I worry. Hasn’t everything been thought already about these words? Maybe it doesn’t matter anyway. I thought this reading “The Sound and the Fury” and now I think it reading “Ragtime.” But then a word or phrase comes round to penetrate my brain. Tonight it was this: The freaks were delighted.



Thursday, July 02, 2020

Sara said look at the moon, see the moon? Jackie said it’s almost full. It seems like a couple days ago I was showing her the sliver of new moon out her bedroom window before she went to sleep.


I’m looking at it now, its giant aura shrouded above and below by black clouds.


I’ve always been obsessed with my computer doing things, updating itself, fixing itself, restoring something or other. I thought it was because I want things to work and then I thought maybe it’s because I want them not to work. Just so I can worry. Just so I can care. So I can wake up and see: Is it done yet? Is it fixed? But really I’d just like my computer to count from 1 to infinity. I’d check its progress now and then. Sometimes often, every ten or fifteen minutes—when I’d be working and in need of distraction. Sometimes once a day. I’d see: how far up is it now?


Wednesday, July 01, 2020

After the beans were already cooked I found a raw one on the counter, pristine, more beautiful than all the rest. Smooth, unblemished sea-green flesh. I threw it away.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Sideways rain gave way to hail, rattling angrily off the windows and air conditioners. They were marble-sized or less—not like the ones upstate someone had posted pictures of, which were the size of a man’s balls and dented the roofs of cars. Still I beheld them with awe. They had come from so far away to land on our planting terrace. I imagined they were fragments of meteorites, or a warning from God. Frogs and locusts next.


Then the sun shone again and I tried to remember what it felt like, two or three minutes before, to be in the storm, and I barely could, the way you sometimes remember a dream.


Monday, June 29, 2020

Someone in the park said hey look, the sun is coming out again and minutes later the wind picked up like crazy. A mylar birthday balloon blew out of the woods onto the sidewalk and hit Jackie, shit that’s not supposed to happen—balloons and plastic bags are like pigeons, they always get out of the way. By the time we got upstairs ropes of rain were pounding down and the sun shone straight through the west side of our apartment and out the east. And of course there was a rainbow. 


Sunday, June 28, 2020

It took me all day to remember what I’d watched drunkenly before bed last night, a documentary about Sam Cooke. Smokey Robinson appeared to me, his fine features and processed hair, and I realized he’d been on it had to be about music, but what? R&B, Motown? Sam Cooke. 


Thursday, May 14, 2020

9:23. It’s always 9:23.

At seven o’clock from our roof there was the usual commotion down below, claps and honks and sirens, but almost no one else up on top. A neighbor to the right clapped gamely but inaudibly with garden-gloved hands before lying down to fuck around with the vines curling up around his deck. New Jersey glimmered far away. What would the guys from WBGO in Newark say tomorrow morning when my clock radio goes off at 7:30? It’s going to be a hot one.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

I flipped through the channels and landed on a tennis match. Was it a replay from years back? It didn’t seem to be. Anonymous players and no crowd. Not even empty stands. No stands. A plywood barrier where they would start. Mask-clad figures hovered just off court, watching vaguely, attending to some thing or other. So it was current, I thought. But then I looked again and wondered whether it was a video game. There was a vague stiffness in the movements, of the players but especially of the others, and of the leaves on the nearby trees and everything else. There was a suspicious emptiness in the grassy area adjacent to the court. No people or cars parked or infrastructure—why bother coding it? The gleam of the sun on the players’ shirts seemed too real—so unreal, really. The match proceeded a while and a more frightening thing became clear: it was real.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Everything Is a Virus

I contemplated the furniture ad banner at the top of the news site I visit again and again and again day after day. A mindless, unhuman mechanism—an algorithm—had placed it there in response to my browsing history. My behavior. My interactions.

There’s been some complaining about the glib use of “viral” in technology and marketing. How dare we? Viruses kill people. But we don’t use the term enough. It describes a kind of near-life, desirous to grow, expand, consume. It’s water running down a mountain or data surging through cables. It’s populations of people, of trees, of birds. It’s everything.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The ticket window was on the side wall of a head shop in an old Victorian in the sad little town between us and the city. My mom dropped me off there to wait in the freezing cold for spring tour tickets. Sweet coffee in a dented thermos. Camel unfiltereds snuck in my coat pocket. Just putting my hand in there would make it reek of that dark, sweet perfume, Turkish and domestic blend. But my mom didn’t know. Or she did.

The line snaked back into the dirt parking lot behind the building, filled with beaters and VW buses. It became amorphous there, people playing hacky-sack or huddled in little circles to get high. I sat on the embankment by the wall and watched. Someone blared a live tape circa 1979, “He’s Gone.”

A Deadhead invited me into his car, a beat-up old boat, to warm up and smoke a joint. He put on Neil Young, “Down by the River.” I’d never heard it before and it took a hold of my brain, that da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da on the guitar and the refrain, which I didn’t understand at first but then I understood and then misunderstood again, in circles and circles, shudder day, shutter day, shotty day, shut her day, shot her dead, shut a day, shudder day.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

We looked for the prickly pear and I didn’t remember what tree I planted it by. Finally I found it, lying flat on the dirt and leaves. It was gray and withered but I stuck it back in as best I could, tamped down some dark soil around the bottom of it. Who knows.

I told Jackie and her friend to stay away, it has prickly bits that fly through the air.

“Really?” he said.

“No, not exactly. But be careful.”

Then they took off running down what they called abandoned paths.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

I titled this Usual by mistake. That is to say, that’s what Apple autocorrect decided to name it. So here goes: Usual.

The world is converging on us, collapsing, like a dying star. Everything we believe and everything we desire. Even when those are in opposition. Music and video streaming. Porn. We’ve been hypertargeted to the point that soon we’ll all be demographics of one. The ads, the content presented to us now almost seems to wink: There you are. I know you. And here I am. For you. And then it’s a solipsistic dance until your synapses are exhausted and you die. E pluribus unum.

We urgently need new algorithms. Some that say: People unlike you like this. And Here’s something you won’t like. Based on nothing you’ve listened to. Nothing you’ve seen. Really: Here’s something for people who aren’t you. Or: This is not for one. It’s for everyone.

Otherwise we’re fucked.

Friday, March 06, 2020

I sat at my desk at work as the world fell deeper into dread and paranoia, wondering: Am I getting sick? How does it feel to be getting sick? A vague, watery nausea on the tongue. An aching head. Fatigue.

Of course I felt that way.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Doing dishes with the TV just cutting through from time to time, when I didn’t run the water or clank the plates and silverware. Didn’t matter what was on because I wasn’t watching but I wanted it to be something I’d watch just the same, sports news, comedy, a movie I’d seen again and again. Wouldn’t want to be exposed to bad TV, it’s like X-rays, you can only take so much. Then I move the little angel so I can water the Christmas tree, wouldn’t want the angel to get wet. Then I turn off the lights, the Christmas lights the normal lights, the TV. The TV last just in case it has one last thing to show me.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Shipbuilding

There was always this model ship on the shelf in my parents’ closet, its keel cradled in the felted holders of an elegant stand. A glorious warship but mastless, stripped of rigging or sails.

No one thinks it was there since the beginning of time but it was always there.

I asked my mom about it. I didn’t ask my dad. His side didn’t have scale replicas in the house.

“It’s your grandpa’s,” she said.

“Can I have it?” I asked, wondering why it wasn’t mine already.

“Sure.”

I took it down and put it on the bookshelf in my room. The rest of it—masts, yardarms, the boom that sticks out from the bow—was wrapped up in old newspapers and I took that too. There were no sails. Still I would restore this thing of beauty that time forgot.

I set upon the ship with plastic glue and sewing thread. I put the masts back in their holes and hung the yards where I thought they should go. It was hard to tie a good knot at the end of the smooth sticks and it was hard to get them to hang right, perpendicular. I fixed the boom to the prow with a big dab of cement. The surfaces didn’t really join, but they stuck together fine. I strung a black thread from the tip to the top of the front mast, and then another from the other mast to the middle of the stern. That’s what a ship looked like in my head. There were dozens of cannons strewn about on deck, with little pins at the bottom to stick them in place. I put one in each of the cannon ports and there were almost enough to go around.

When I was done I thought about my grandfather, dead long before my birth. He was a revered man, the beloved patriarch of a family riven by insanity, resentment and drink. It’s possible he would have loved me but he would not have been proud.