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Spotted just before dawn at 47th and 6th: Man operating one of those coffee carts, fresh from the depot, brimming with sticky pastries, plump muffins, doughnuts with inch-thick icing. The man takes one of the boxes in which his pastries were packed and flattens it out. He is black-haired, with a strong profile and a dark, close- cropped beard. He places the cardboard on the sidewalk next to the cart and kneels upon it. I watch from a respectful distance behind him, out of view, as he bows in prayer toward the growing glow in the sky above the Diamond District.
A huge glass filled with pens sat on his nightstand, thirty ballpoints, markers, and fountain pens, tips still untested. A diary came with him everywhere, as yet empty. On a back-closet shelf, twelve blank books, unblemished by ink, all different in paper thickness, rules, cover art, and binding, patiently awaited their chance to serve. Two screenwriting programs inhabited his laptop. Neither had assisted in the crafting of a script, the selection of a sequence of scenes. All of these had been bought in the optimism that they would be the utensil or medium that would liberate the words. None did.
Sarge told me to give the rifle a girl's name. Won't give it no girl's name. Never knew a girl who didn't ditch me, or lie to me, or set me up for some foolishness. Take that prom. Girl said she wanted to go. I thought she was full of it, me lookin' like I do, but I cleaned up and went. Turns out they just wanted to point and laugh. That's all they're good for. No, won't be giving you no girl name. John. Saint John the Revelator. Only thing Charlie's gonna hear from the Revelator is the Truth.
This path is so muddy. We have had rain for two days straight, and now this stretch of the path is a shifting mire. The whole forest smells fresh, as though just planted. Moisture is steaming from the ground and evaporating off the trees and ferns. My lungs aren't big enough to hold the gulps of pure, wet air I inhale with each couple of steps. I don't want to finish today's walk. Not that I could speed it up, with all the mud around. Glorious, aromatic, squishy mud. Oh, there's nothing for it. I'm going in my bare feet.
She waits at the stoplight in the gleaming new Thunderbird. Mirrorshades reflect orange afternoon light. Red fuzzy dice sway in the cool wind. She checks the rearview. Cool. Blank. A smirk crosses her features. New car smell fills her nostrils. Her hometown sprawls behind her, as she sits on the road to LA, and the sea-green convertible is full of gas, water, and snacks. A whisper of evidence at her job, if examined, might show tiny drips of cash, via offshore scrubbing, pooling gradually in her hands. Quiet. Not greedy. Five years. Hundreds of thousands. Light green, she eases out.
The scariest interview I ever endured: Editing financial newsletters for clients of a midsized investment bank. Interviewer a size-22-neck monster in a suit costing more than my first three cars. No clue about newsletter writing, just needed it done. On his desk: a solid steel skull, life-size, gleaming under the fluorescents. I split time listening to him talk about how many babes he had bagged, and looking at my distorted reflection in the polished surface of the skull. "It's my skull," he said. "I had a CAT scan done, then gave it to a sculptor. Nailed her, too. Nice ass."
His hands worked out the knots creasing her back. She purred, flexed her shoulder blades, and exhaled a week's worth of frustration into her pillow. He felt the edges of her bones beneath her overtaxed muscles, rubbed more oil into them. Her breath became slow, rhythmic, stress melting. He kneaded the hillocks and coves of her flesh with the penetrative instinct of a cartographer mapping a new coastline. He wanted every detail of this woman's body to soak into his mind, to retain them after he showed her the draft notice under his pile of mail, after he sailed away.
Online social networking, blogs, and dating websites. Are these the three heads of the new millennium's Internet Cerebus? It is now possible for someone to place their profile and stats in the center of one of these networks, cross-pollinate three distinct groups--readers of the weblog, people they know only through acquaintances, and those casting about for love--and somehow form a metaphysical, ethereal band apart. I'm not the boldest person around, but this increasing Gollumization of the computer generation seems to bode ill. Folks with no computers, Internet, or cash--you can bet they know who their neighbors are.
"This soup is ruined," he whines.
"It's fine, it tastes great. My parents will love it," she says.
"We got the wrong pepper. I told you, Tellicherry is better."
"Look, my parents are gonna love it, I swear."
"I can still get out to the store. They're still open. I can get--"
"No! They're gonna be here in a half hour, and I want you to meet them."
"I'm not letting them eat this until it's perfect!"
"Neither they nor I give a shit!"
And when the truth falls from her lips like a forgotten ingredient, their relationship ends.
Product idea #22812: Shut-Ups. Stuck in back of a shrill, whiny kid in the theater? Trapped on a flight to Australia with a screaming brat? Trying to pleasure a john but your kids keep barging in? You need Shut-Ups. Looks like a container of diaper wipes, but each is impregnated with chloroform. Simply clap a Shut-Up over the darling's face for a few seconds, and it drifts softly off to sleep for an hour or so. You can get on back to that film, enjoy that flight, or work that thang in peace. Shut-Ups: For One Moment of Fucking Peace.
Spring knows its time is coming. Winter's reign cannot endure. Snow melts. Clouds diminish. Ice fractures. The Sun mounts ever higher and longer. Spring sends out scouts to test Winter's will: currents of warmth, crocus buds peeking through layers of tundra. But always patiently, to avoid a blinding backlash of frozen stems and solid ponds. No sense risking open war. Soon, snowflakes will die before reaching the ground. Jackets will remain open, or at home. Buds will begin winking conspiratorially at one another. Clandestine collaboration will ignite across the fields in a green explosion of defiance. Spring's victory is assured.
Back on the bus, heading into NYC. Commuters sleep around me, riffle newspapers, adjust MP3 players, slurp coffee. Dawn is creeping over the Union City cliffs. A heavy mist is rising from the Meadowlands, thick exhalation obscuring the dry grass from last year's growing season. The bus clears the tolls, slogs along 495, and slithers into the tunnel. Stained yellow tile streaks by. The bus climbs the ramps into the station, dispenses its full load of passengers. I hop an escalator down, but continue past street level. Work is put on hold for one day. I am for downtown tourism.
The first item Leon looked at when he returned to his old room was his bed. Far too small for an adult now, it was stripped of sheets, only a slightly sagging mattress and a boxspring with a twist of wire poking through the blue fabric near the headboard. Leon used to hide under the bed when his parents fought, and later, when his mother would cry, alone. drunk, into the night. Kneeling, he looked beneath the boxspring. He could still see the blue pen script, "Leon's Clubhouse," written along the dusty wood frame. He felt pulled to slide underneath.
Days passed when the radio was her best and only friend. Her parents' threat to take it away was more damaging than any slap or curse. She locked herself away with it, listening to the music of a rosy decade, electrodance and candygum Britpop telling her it was okay to be different, to write for hours in her diary about solitude, to look at empty houses and imagine their happiness, to stalk like a hunter the blue traceries of veins running up and down her arms. The radio whispered comfort and sang her to sleep, so like death, quiet, annihilating.
I watched her hands, as she, in the broadcast booth, responded to email between mike breaks. She typed two- fingered, sometimes venturing a careful thumb, but with accustomed speed. At pauses, she fluttered the digits of her left hand, counting quickly thumb to fingertips. Sometimes she waved the hand, as if coaxing the words forth. I became absorbed in watching her hands type, not even looking at her face, as she thought through each sentence with hands full of expression. A more cogent student of kinesics even might have descried the emotional content of her writing from her hands' fretful flourishes.
During any given move, there is a time when you live nowhere. Your stuff is taped into boxes, layered with newspaper, racked in milk crates, disassembled, and cushioned. It has been loaded into a truck and distributed between a bunch of your friends' cars. Once you sweep the old apartment clean, and before you reach the new one to begin risking chiropractic work loading your possessions in, your address is your own self--the being beneath your skin. Let lightning annihilate your objects, all of your things, and you are suddenly without physical connection, just a wandering bubble of thought.
A guy I knew in college always dressed in black on St. Patrick's Day. Amid a Boston-based campus revving with revelry, he stalked the quad like a missionary from the river Styx. When asked regarding his garb, he cited the occasion as his day of mourning for the Druids, expelled as the "snakes" of the St. Patrick myth. This guy was like this a lot. Eventually he became one of these high-maintenance friends who you constantly have to be bailing out of fights. I used a mutual romantic interest as an excuse to cut things off. Didn't need the drama.
You would think it might be impossible to lose something in a three-room apartment, but somehow I manage. Credit cards slide out of my wallet and burrow beneath my couch. Sunglasses are grabbed by a passing plant, forcing me to tussle with a rebellious dracaena in order to maintain my level of UV protection and sheer cool. Car keys play truant endlessly, hitching more rides than Jack Kerouac in their circumnavigation of the joint. The few pairs of shoes I own shuffle themselves under couches, beds, and endtables. This apartment doesn't need a maid, but rather a metal-detector-equipped forest ranger.
Spring has been sold off, bought out by a conspiracy of plow manufacturers, shovel salesman, and saltmongers. Remember those paranoid folks in the 1970s who believed that the Northern Hemisphere was going to be engulfed in a huge icecap? It has begun. Slowly, we shall fall into a frozen matrix of ice, reverting to a Pleistocene existence. Hunting parties will drift across the Canadian Ice Shelf. Elephants will regrow their wool. Teepees will dot the snow deserts of Miami. The concept of a waterslide, a beach, or a heatwave will have all the reality of Asgard or Olympus. Dress warm.
Phototropism. The phenomenon by which plants grow in the direction of a light source. A survival process, to fuel photosynthesis. We all grow, but not always in useful directions, and in this, plants stand above us. Plants don't habitually settle into the couch each night to absorb four hours of mental desolation from the tube. Plants don't craft intricate vines of excuses to defend their addictions. Plants don't bend toward pop stars, politicians, popular kids, or attractive members of the opposite sex out of some emptiness in their roots. Unified in purpose, pure in execution, plants shame us in dedication.
Into the mix go all manner of healthy nutrients: wheat germ, whey protein, a banana, blueberries, live-culture yogurt, and a cup of OJ. I scoop, slice, spoon, and decant each of these ingredients into the blender's pitcher. I should be exhausted; it's six-twenty, and even the sun is still rubbing sleep out of its eyes. But forty minutes on the treadmill, and another hour moving reluctant iron from one place to the next has energized me, booted me out of the velvet temple of sleep and into the day. I whiz the shake into a purplish froth. Liquid rejuvenation beckons.
I have stumbled across a website that promotes health through colonic irrigation. Not being acquainted with severe GI distress, I have never had to resort to such tactics to, shall we say, keep traffic flowing. These folks use fasting, dietary accelerants such as papaya and psyllium, and enemas comprising garlic and coffee. The most intriguing is the section in which folks testify about their, um, releases. In some cases, they include pictures. These portaits of colons gone wild would cause Howard Stern to renounce bathroom humor. I go in, I let go, I go out. I don't need Spock's analysis.
I just want to go to work. It took me an hour and a half to get my papers cleared before I could leave Palestine. Hamas bombed a news agent in Tel Aviv two weeks ago, and we still can't get to work on time because everyone is being searched and their papers questioned. The traffic is backed up for miles. I wish Hamas and all of Arafat's fanatics would just let well enough alone so I can get to work on time for once. All they think about is their afterlife and the movement. It only helps the dead.
It's a shame golf courses are wasted on golf. I could use a long walk across a green expanse of carefully tailored, dew-licked grass. Catch a field or greensward at just the right moment in the morning, and you can watch it exhale a thick mist, mysterious fog for getting lost or finding the unexpected. A long morning walk across damp fescue, feet shining with moisture. Lie down for a while with someone special, wrapped in wetness and embracing an enchanting woman, grass clinging to us, we clinging to each other. Fog cloaking our romance, coddling our afterglow, bidding slumber.
Dripping water echoed across filthy white subway tile. She hugged her notebooks closer, darting glances down the darkened tube. Distant echoes conveyed false promises of her train's arrival. Graffiti-tagged ads peeled along the walls behind her. Her watch confirmed midnight's approach. Three hours in an art class, plus a brisk walk to catch the subway, had loosened her up, and she needed a bathroom visit as soon as possible. Work on top of classes was beginning to wear her down. She felt herself nodding off, straightened suddenly, spilled xeroxes across the concrete. She stooped to collect them, cursing her teacher.
The only time this apartment ever smells nice is when I water my plants. Each potted specimen gets a fine ration of water. And from the soil rises a scent of earth, growth, life itself. Working in the city, dodging gases unknown from buses and sewers, this odor of wet loam never reaches most folks' nostrils, save for those in a park. For me, the only thing better than releasing this olfactory genie is to mix soil for potting, glistening and moist, rich with nutrients, ready for hungry roots to dig in. Centuries bridged in a handful of fragrant topsoil.
The personals on the site were the same faces--for the ones with photos, at least--every week. Each time she put in her search parameters, the same 28 guys, all "good with kids," all fans of "quiet evenings at home," all "sports fans but not fanatics," bobbed to the surface of the wading pool. She was reminded of nothing so much as the cakes and pies at her favorite diner. Every time she visited, the rogues' gallery of dessert was still intact, rotating beneath the fluorescent lights. She began to see the online men this way: unpalatable, unchanging confections.
"That will be ten fifty-four, please."
"Ten fifty-four? The Crab Nebula appeared that year!"
"In China, Europe--the light of an exploding star reached Earth in 1054, A.D."
"I see." The pretty clerk averted her eyes as she made change on the twenty.
He wondered why he thought she would care. He found it interesting, anyway. And why not try to educate someone? Then they can pass the fact along to someone that they know. Folks should want to share knowledge. Why die alone with it? These thoughts accompanied him and his single grocery bag to the car.
Dancing on the snotty razor's edge of a cold. Part of the day, feeling fine, springy of step, clear of sinuses. The other half, with a throat on fire and a forehead glistening with sweat, waiting for the viruses to storm the walls and break through. Colds are inevitable. But being stuck in a half-sick limbo in which normal tasks take twice the effort, and my usually cheery disposition is not on display, is no way to transact the daily ticks on the chart of life. Kick me into bed. Send my temperature roaring. Or bug the hell off. Decide.
Gonna set that alarm clock forward. Can't sleep but don't wanna wake up. I am woke up. Don't wanna go out in the rain. Don't wanna get cold and wet and have the grey sky frown on me all day. Gonna get up and set the clock ten minutes forward when it rings. Can't see it from here without my glasses, but it feels like about six minutes. Bed's warm. Rain's loud on the window. Wind chimes ringing in the stiff wind. No sense getting in the way of the weather while it's trying to do its work. Won't go.
Looking like just another faceless West Hollywood bungalow, this one was host to one of the more gruesome murders of the 1980s. Lina Orlova was a Siberian silent star who switched from acting to screenwriting when her voice proved too screechingly harsh for the talkies. She wrote surrealistic scripts eventually lensed by Fritz Lang and Jacques Tourneur. A devoted fan, Piotr Yefremov, maintained her fan club into the 1970s, but she eventually fired him for writing perverted responses to her female correspondents. Yefremov struck back in 1983. Police arrested the bloodstained man in his apartment, but never found Orlova's head.
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