Friday, July 30, 2010

Waiting for a ride

My aunt wears pearls on Easter.
She doesn't leave the kitchen, except for when Easter dinner is ready and we all gather to pray and eat. All day she tends to the lamb, the salads, and prepares a rum cake for after the meal.
The kids run around outside in pale yellows and pinks, fighting over chocolate in plastic eggs. By dinnertime, they are tired and sweaty. My aunt wiped at the corners of their mouths and straightens the boys in their hair and the laces on their shoes.
I wonder if she wears the pearls in respect for the holiday or in remembrance of the cream eggs she used to gather years ago.

Waiting for my parents to visit

"That's why I hate cellphones," this guy said to his girlfriend. "You can't use them on the train."
"That's why I hate trains," his girlfriend said back.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Waiting for a reasonable time to go to sleep

Walking home down Church, she glanced to her left and expected to see her reflection. Owlish eyes, pale skin, lank hair. Instead, there was no window—only a crosshatch of iron bars fronting a damp, closed yard and a stunted palm tree.

Missing her face gave her pause. The palm tree waved its withered fronds her way. Whoever had planted it must have known it would die before it ever hit the ceiling. It would not break free. It would thirst. It would die, and no amount of looking on with pity would save it.

She swallowed, tasted vinegar, and tongued a sour shred of lettuce from her teeth. The limpness of it brought a scowl to her face, and when a man opened the exit door behind the palm tree to leave for work, he thought she was looking at him. Blushing—for what, he didn’t know— he self-consciously combed his fingers through his hair. She turned abruptly to leave. A lost, dried-up frond wobbled in the wind at the base of the gate, like an amputated arm waving goodbye to home.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Waiting for the shower

I can't sing, I tell you.
I can't hold a note,
balance it on my tongue or
even keep it safe in my hand.

It slips out, flat on the ground
I would trip
over it, I tell you.

At night, when the wind
performs, and my skin
applauds the clamor,
I miss you between my legs,
my one note, tuning fork legs,
humming with the wind's
silent blue tune.

Waiting for the beer store attendant

I have some friends. One of my friends sometimes drinks too much and mistreats women. It's not an endearing quality. When I drink too much I get loopy and jump out of trees. When he drinks too much he forcibly takes women to the forest, clamps their wrists in his large hands, and gets accused of rape. He forgets his actions and he forgets what it means to be a man. But that's only sometimes and when he drinks. Other than that he's a pretty OK guy.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Waiting for the laundry to finish


At the East River Bar tonight, everyone just graduated from Princeton, and also everyone is wasted. Jack, the brother of my friend Ani, is celebrating 25 with his girlfriend Nelly. They were born two days apart. So here I am waiting in line with everyone else who didn’t buy either of them a real present, to get Jack the drink that’s going to really put him over the edge.

By the time I get there, Ani’s four drinks in, and tugs me ecstatically outside, squaring me off by the shoulders to any and all of Jack’s nearby friends. Some of them shake my hand twice or three times while Ani looks blithely on. Nelly’s sitting at a beer-sticky picnic table, brown hair hanging, with a permanent fading smile, like she’s just on the verge of forgetting what cracked her up a second ago. When I sit down she escapes her own trance.

“How in the fuck is DvF,” she says, reaching across the table, gripping me by my forearms. She’s talking about Diane von Furstenburg, where I’ve spent my summer as an intern.

“Nuts,” I say. This is sort of true. There are moments. Mostly though, it’s just a nine-to-five job. Like hers, probably. I tell her my best stories: Diane von Furstenburg passing by my desk, cocking an eyebrow at my canvass shoes; Diane von Furstenburg screaming at an ad-man about green dax shorts in her glassy office; Diane von Furstenburg announcing the Fall line in a room I wasn’t in, but heard about, the next day. Deco prints were involved.

I’m making money and living here and that’s what matters. I don’t know about Deco prints, but I’m learning. A guy sitting next to Nelly in fat-rimmed glasses and a red beard says, “Are you in school?”

“She gets to talk to Vera Wang,” Ani calls to him across the table. “Not to mention Marc Jacobs, and — who was it again?”

“I don’t know,” I say, even though I know she’s talking about Christan LaCroix.

“Was it Armani?” she says too loudly.

“No,” I say.

“Who was it?”

“Christian LaCroix.”

“Christian LaCroix,” she cries. “This motherfucker gets to talk to Christian LaCroix.” Nelly’s eyes widen. She’s beautiful. “About what?” she says in a way that is more cross-examining than questioning, more starving than curious.

“Clothes,” I say. I accept the beer she pours from a pale pitcher and she tells me that my job is impressive. My job has made an impression.

Some thunder cracks and we all cover our heads with ineffectual hands while the storm clouds piss down on us. Once frantically inside, we blink away the rain and Ani spots about twenty more people she knows. One of them is Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth, who I recognize immediately. She’s still pretty in an older sort of way. “That’s Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth,” Ani says to me, pointing.

Beyond Kim Gordon is Ani’s cousin, Sadie, who I have never met but have heard a lot about from Ani. The two of them share a brownstone in the Lower East Side and Ani was expecting to hate living with her because they “run in different circles,” but actually they get along great, she keeps telling me.

One drink in, I start to feel good about what I’m doing. I realize I have a good job that people want to hear about. It is an impressive job. Ani throws me at Sadie and says, “I always thought you two would like each other.” Then she threads her way through damp and dry bodies to the bar, brings me a vodka tonic, and pulls the three of us into a group hug before teetering off again.

In what feels like backwards order, Sadie and I say hi to each other and I ask if she lives here even though I know she lives here. She tells me she shares a brownstone on the Lower East Side with Ani and that it is great, that they’re getting along so well. I ask her what she does and she says she works for the Department of Defense. Now I remember that I knew this already. I ask her how she managed to stay in Manhattan and work for the Defense. She gives me a long answer that I can’t remember, but it leads to a ticking off of her credentials: Princeton, then a year off, then LSATs and Yale Law in the fall. I can’t think of how I’ll bring up Diane von Furstenberg but it’s becoming more urgent. Sadie’s wearing Chelsea Boots.

“Are those Chelsea boots?” I ask. She says they are, and kicks her toe into the checkered floor. I finish my drink.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’ve really been noticing boots lately.”

“Are you looking for a pair?” she says, scanning the crowd behind me.

“Well I guess you could say that.”


“I work for Diane von Furstenburg,” I say, looking off, “so I’m weirdly always on the lookout.”

“Oh, cool, I know her.”

“You know her?” How could she know her? I hate when they know her.

“I mean, I know of her.”

Much better.

In fact a lot of people know of Diane von Furstenburg (or “Diane,” as I refer to her tonight, even though I have never, do never, and would never), and as I move through more drinks and more minutes, all are impressed with my assistant-to-the-designer status. Some are asking me what she’s like, and they’re pushing up their big glasses, adjusting their high skirts and re-cuffing their cigarette pants while they listen and people-watch behind my shoulder. They ask where Bates College is in relation to Princeton. As is the case for the rest of the little trying schools, we know Princeton but Princeton doesn’t know us.

I get a few peoples’ cards. I complain about parts of my job that aren’t actually bad. I don’t want to boast, but I want to boast. I wish I had my own cards to give out, but at the same time, it might be cooler to them that I don’t.

At the bar I order two more pissy beers and talk to two more people, both recent graduates from Princeton’s engineering program. They stumble through gritty job descriptions and I fall into a euphoric sense of pride. I didn’t go to Princeton. I don’t know of their bosses, and they know of mine. I like being from a school they’ve never heard about.

One is telling me about how he does engineering work for the Marines, about how they’re actually engineering real invisibility cloaks out of some skin ointment that deflects some range in the color spectrum, and how the Marines are about to become invisible, when Ani falls from an unknown direction into our conversation. She looks at the engineers, whose names are Joseph and Erica, or else Eric and Josie, and says too loudly, “I don’t know these people.”

“Oh,” I say. They look blindly on to the bar.

“Blow-blow in five,” she says at normal speaking volume into my ear, indicating with a scrunching little finger a table of people in the corner. One of them is the bartender. They’ve got their credit cards and dollar bills out. Some of them have their shirts off and they all have the same hairy, concave chests. I say I can’t but I do a line to humor her and catch a better glimpse of Kim Gordon – she looks the same close up as she does far away – and ebb my way to the door.

Exactly halfway between the East River Bar and my Grand Street apartment, there’s a fire hydrant cracked open, flooding cars in a few impressive inches of water. Behind the hydrant, there’s a guy directing the flow at anyone who dares to cross the street. Some people are really angry and try to come up to him and give him a piece of their minds, but he just hoses them down and laughs. He keeps saying “It’s motherfucking August!” I think it’s kind of funny too, but I also know I’m about to be one of them. One of the Drenched People. I don’t know whose side to take, but either way, bee-lining down the cross-walk, I don’t go unnoticed, and for the second half of my walk, my clothes are stuck to my skin with icy water. I feel like I need a shower but it doesn’t really make sense when I think about it.

My building stinks with weed and when I get to the fifth floor, I find the source: a boy, standing square on the fifth-floor landing, and a girl sitting in the stairs going up, fingering a long, skinny blunt. She moves to hide it behind her back and watches me ascend, watches the last of the hydrant water trickle from my skirt to the concrete stairwell.

“Fire hydrant,” I say. I’m looking at her, x-raying her chest to get a glimpse of the blunt. She’s wearing an oversized Disney shirt and black PJ bottoms.

“Do you sell?” I say. I had run out of weed quick here. She looks from my dripping body to the guy standing at the foot of the stair section. They look like family. Short, thick Latinos.

“What do you need,” he says, beaming. I can tell he has a lisp and he hasn’t even used an “S.”

“A gram.”

“Of what?”

“Whatever this is,” I say, throwing my chin at nothing.

“I have dime bags.”

“OK,” I say. “How much.”

“It’s a dime bag,” he says.

“OK,” I say, and I hand him a twenty. I don’t know how much a dime bag is. He’s smiley, missing some teeth, but young, maybe my age, and he disappears through his apartment door while I collapse in a heap next to the girl. She moves to the step above. I ask and she says her name is Natalie and asks if I want to share her blunt. I say yes. I can’t believe she could do the whole thing herself.

By the time her friend or brother or cousin comes back with the dime bag and ten dollars change, I’m high as Mars. The blunt is only half-smoked. He hands me the bag and tells me his name is Markus and that he hasn’t seen me before. The bag has a lot of stems in it.

“You should share this with us,” I say, nodding at the steaming blunt, and then I realize it’s not really my place to offer. Natalie looks unphased.

“Can’t,” Markus says. “I have a job. It’s been two months. Dyin’.”

I ask him what it is.

“I help the elderly,” he says.

“Oh I love old people,” I say. “They’re great.” Natalie gives me a look that's either mean or amused, I can't tell.

“It pays good,” Markus says. He tells me again that he hasn’t seen me before. Then he says, “I have E and coke. I sell to this whole building.”

“I just moved,” I say. “To the seventh floor.” I tell him I can get him shrooms even though I don’t know anyone with shrooms. He tells me he doesn’t want me to fake on him, that he really wants to try shrooms, and I promise him. I don’t know why.

“Where’d you move from.”

“Philly,” I lie.

“Philly?” he says. “My friend grew up in Philly. His dad works there now.”



We nod at each other, or to ourselves, for a little while. I say, “What about you.”

“Apartment 16,” he says, pointing next door.

“No shit,” I say.

“Twenty-three years.”

“Are you serious?”

“Why, how old did you think I was?” he says, beaming still. His teeth are tiny. In fact Markus looks exactly twenty-three. He doesn’t know my surprise isn’t about his age. Something makes me think I should keep it that way. “Twenty-two,” I say.

“No,” he says, “I’m twenty-three.”

Natalie’s handing me the joint. She hasn’t said anything for a while. I say, “You too?”


“By yourself?” I say.

“With my grandma. But my who family is always over here.”


“Not really.”

“It’s a nice building, I say. “I like the roof.” From the roof you can see as far as mid-town and all the way to Bergen Beach.

“I can’t complain,” she says, not in a complaining sort of way.

She’s stuck on the blunt approximately three times longer than I am each time we pass. She holds it in longer, too. I get the impression she has no interest in talking. She’s trying to burn through the joint as slow and as fast as possible.

“Know what I’m saying,” Markus says, even though he hasn’t said anything. “I’m gonna be a marine.”

“A marine?”

“Yeah, a marine.”

“I hear being a Marine is the most intense. Like worse than the army.”

“First ones called for duty.”

“Yeah,” I say. I didn’t know that. I don’t know anything about the marines besides that my friend Brianna’s boyfriend had smoked too many cigarettes to make it through boot camp.

“I’m just saving up because I’m gonna move to L.A,” Markus says.


“Yeah, Los Angeles. I’m the kind of guy who likes to move around a lot,” he says with his back against the door to his apartment, grinning. “Know what I’m saying? I can’t stay in one place too long.” He looks at the burning roach the way a freshly-recruited vegetarian looks at a piece of bacon.

The first white guy I’ve seen in the building is pulling his bike up the stairway, panting through the stale haze. Natalie’s peering down at him from her perch on the stairs, hiding the blunt behind her back, and the smoke’s spilling over her shoulder. The white guy’s actually getting fuzzier as he gets closer. I stick my new weed in my back pocket just in case, like he’s going to mistake the sour smoke for fog.

“My man,” Markus says, nodding at the biker.

“Sup, Mark,” he says. He goes inside his apartment. Natalie’s eyes, two red slits, linger on his door.

“I deal to everyone in this building,” Markus says, beaming. I know this isn’t true because my roommate is an Austrian woman, forty years old, who hates the smell. But that’s just one person. Sometimes you exaggerate.

“I think I need to shower,” I say. “But it doesn’t really make sense when I think about it.” I think I catch Natalie smiling but it fades so fast I don't even know for sure. All I’m thinking is, I hope to God they don’t ask me why I’m here for the summer, flitting in and out of their permanent home like some brazen hummingbird.

“How long you staying,” Natalie asks.

“Through the fall,” I say, even though it’s only through the summer. It makes it sound less like a summer vacation.

“How come,” Natalie says. She hasn’t looked at me once.

“I’m working,” I say.

“Where at,” she says.

“In Manhattan.”


I tell her I can’t help her out any more with the blunt, that I think we might be inhabiting two different universes right now. She takes in the rest of the joint in one inhale and says, “Damn right.”

Waiting for the K train to become the J

“Creatures of Habit”

Laura rides the L train to Taraval every weekday. I know her name because her keychain says “Laura.” The “a” curls tenuously around the “u” in a wistful, evasive way.

There are three keys on her keychain; one silver, two gold, one tarnished. Today I am sitting next to her, in a red two-seater braced against the windows. Her thumb and forefinger knead her purse strap.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see into her bag. She carries it high on her shoulder, like a boxcar runaway— the barefoot ones with all their possessions trapped in a handkerchief at the end of a stick.

On a second key ring hang a bottle opener for a rape crisis center and a miniature pen with a broken nub. The pen still works. I have seen her use it to write in a leather notepad. But sometimes the pen bleeds. Whenever she sees the blue mottling the lining of her bag, she curses as if she’d forgotten it was wounded.

To my memory, the pen has only bled four times in the three months since I started seeing her. Seeing her, as in, viewing her. Like the way shoppers see cubed steak through a butcher’s glass. Not seeing her with bouquets of gerbera daisies or horse carriage rides in Golden Gate Park.

Many times I close my eyes and play pretend. The MUNI breaks down, the electricity expires, and in the dark tunnel, just for a moment, I rest my palm on her thigh. No sensations of skin-on-skin, none needed.

She would never know that the tentative weight on her thigh was not her bag. And I would finally feel guiltless, justified in being so close to anyone since Marion’s death. Since I left Marion before she died eight years ago, more like.

Memory draws my mouth into a grimace. Everyone sits stoically or stands with knees bent to catch the waves of the subway car. Some clickety-clack their fingers on their laptops. Others bounce their heads to music that only they can hear.

A few chairs behind us, a homeless man rants to no one in particular. “Fucking police wake a man up at four o’clock in the fucking morning. Four o’clock, can you fucking believe that? Motherfuckers got the balls to drag a man out of his motherfucking sleep. Ain’t no decency anymore.”

I can feel Laura’s ears turning red, and I want to shield her. Once, a greasy young Chicano stood in front of her seat, shook his crotch in her face and licked his lips. She turned away, pretended he wasn’t there. She does that often.

A suited man with a mole on his nose sidles close to his female partner. “Listen, I’m telling you, there’s no way Mitch will go ahead with that merger. It’s just bad business sense—no sense at all, really…” Even the blonde hairs on his partner’s neck tense.

Laura has only spoken to me once: to say, “Please excuse me, miss,” when she stepped on my toe on her way out. I have never spoken to her; not to correct her for calling me “miss” when I am middle-aged, pockmarked, and unlovable, not even to tell her she was excused. I am not a person people see.

The train stops and a fat old woman with her leg in a cast and a stain on her breast boards. “Would you get up?” she demands of a teenager. “I need to put my leg on the seat.” The girl pulls her earphones out of her head and gets up, but the woman repeats herself twice. “Don’t you get it?” she asks.

“Free entertainment,” quips a thin, tattooed boy with a lonely grin to his girlfriend. “Most days, I couldn’t ask for more.”

The crippled woman crashes into the chair in front of Laura. Laura remains unfazed, sipping her coffee and staring out the black window. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, she reads a novel. Every other day, she bites her lip and stares. Coffee is a daily mercy; today, I think I smell vanilla.

Laura does not look kind. She has harsh cheekbones that arch like sickles. Her skin is pale, her cheeks almost consumptive. She has eager eyes that scan her purse for chapstick when the stale underground air has sheared her lips pink.

And she always sits in the conductor’s car, towards the back left corner, even though this route is busy. I know it is cruel to crawl so shamelessly after the young. The gold on Laura’s eyelids makes her green irises glow. It contradicts everything she wears in a way that moves my blood to the tips of my toes.

“Your attention, please,” announces the conductor over the intercom. “This L train is about to become a J train to Church. It is in need of repair and will be stopping at the nearest garage momentarily. Please exit at the next stop if you must continue to Taraval; a two-car L train will follow. Thank you.”

“No fucking place to sleep.” The homeless man has begun to growl. “No fucking place in this whole fucking city, as if the ground I was on was fucking good enough for somebody else.” He scuffs the heel of his hand repetitively against his right temple, an itch that won’t give.

The announcement has shaken Laura. Her lips thin and her long fingers lock around her coffee cup. Normally I prefer sitting behind her so that I can see her better. I have to work hard to get this close without touching.

My eyes are closed, carefully counting the seconds of my fantasy, when the train actually does begin to throttle. Our car shrieks on the rails. The last thing I see before the power blows is the tattooed boy arching his eyebrows at the fragile light above.

“Nobody ever dies when the train derails, but…” He trails off to his girlfriend.

Laura inhales as the train halts in the dark. The inertia bounces us from our seats, and her hand thumps on my knuckles. But instead of yanking it back, she clenches them so tightly I wince. It takes a few seconds for me to realize what the pressure is, to be surprised that her hands are very cold.

“Are you there? You?” There is panic in her gravelly voice. “I recognize you, I think. You seem safe. I’m sorry, but I’m terrified of closed spaces, especially in the dark. Caves, tunnels, that sort of thing. I might have an attack if I can’t hold onto something. My mother used to hold my hand. Would you mind it if I hold yours?”

She is saying strange things, and I don’t know what to say. Off in the corner, I can hear the homeless man pounding his fist three times against the retractable door. “NO FUCKING SLEEP.” The rest of the room is only a buzz to me.

Embarrassed, Laura jerks her hand, but I hold it still. “No, dear, it’s fine. It won’t be long.”

She squeezes my palm. “What is your name?” She asks, and I tell her.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Waiting for the Bathroom to Be Free so I Can Shower

In my living room, there is an empty bag of tortilla chips (yellow corn, triangular). The bag was opened five days ago. People who ate from it:

-My wife, Cynthia
-My father, Kennith
-My dog, Paula (against my decision)
-My lover, Ella
-My wife's mother, Penelope

I didn't get to have any.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Waiting for my father to return the car

At night I lie face down into my pillow. The lights, long turned off, have stopped buzzing. The cat, thinking everyone in the house is asleep, has decided to rest as well. A night wind creeps across my sheets, making them lap the small of my back. Outside of the window, past three houses and on the other side of the road the train runs. It runs north, away from the city. It carries large steel beams, yellow stained boxes of wood, and wired cages filled with styrofoam blocks. The material is headed north, away from the city. It will arrive early in the morning, when it is still dark. A man dressed in worn denim, whose face resembles the same, will unload the material into a dark, hollow warehouse. He will be the last person to touch the wood, steel, and caged styrofoam for a long time.

I lie face down, my eyes, my nose, my mouth all concealed. Aside from the rhythm of my sheets, all my exposed ears can hear is the sorrowful journey of the material up north, away from the city. The large steel beams stack cold and silent on top one another. They nod against the yellow stained boxes of wood, shuffling along the rattling cages. The stagnant air in the boxcar hums a low G chord. Sounds of unrest are drowned by the train's night whistle.

I fall asleep to the march. My head turns on to its side. My lips part in silent breathes. I will be the last person to hear the wood, steel, and caged styrofoam for a long time.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Waiting for it to be 10 o'clock

"The Twins"

The show was scheduled for eight o’clock, but hardly anyone showed up until ten, and then too many of them came at once, fresh off the green line, dragging their big rubber soles across the gnawed-up Fourteenth Street sidewalk. Some charged right down the middle of the street in little packs, cars and other real life bending out of their way. They looked just how I thought they would; weird, but calculatedly so; self-conscious, tense, blinking too much. The boys wore V-necks that dipped to their navels, all serious, grasping the bony hands of wide-eyed girls with their faces painted, wearing shreds so tangled I couldn’t distinguish tops from bottoms or fabric from skin. There were no fat girls.

I had changed my outfit nine or ten times before leaving the house in ass-hugging black spandex and spike heels and a man’s shirt buttoned down — my brother Neil’s. But compared to the rest of them lined up at the door blowing grey rings and smacking their bubblegum, I looked positively mundane.

The fact was, though, we were all obsessed, competitively obsessed, eying each other above smeared eyeliner, brandishing our tattoos, our cigarettes, our devotion. This was the music that gave us air to breathe, and here we all were, inhaling it and watching each other do it, waiting on our toes for The Twins.

Inside the big black room, everyone knew everything. “I was there in ’97 when they collaborated with Prince” and “I was there when they first performed Big Boys,” and “I was there that time they didn’t even show.” Seemed like everyone knew more about The Twins than I did. The notion hit me with a pang of regret and sadness. But now we were all together, waiting for them together, waiting, waiting for them to come onto the stage.

And they did.

I don’t know how, since I had planned it all along, to be up front by the speaker, but I was not up front, I was ebbed out of the way by the sweating, moiling crowd. The air was thick and dark and I was in the middle.

The Twins jerked around like fast dreams, their faces and bodies in fragments through the big, tall heads ahead of me. Cuba was baby-faced, tube-top and jeans, his hands in his pockets, hitting his forehead against the microphone. “Yes, yes!” we called out. The thumping shook my scull, just like his, and I watched the vibrations of our bodies blur us together, his oblong nose into mine, upturned, his white hair and bluish lips translucent on top of mine. Nina clicked into her microphone and held her arms up and there was sweat down the seam of her jersey. She said, “Thank you for coming, it’s nice.” Boys screamed, and some people dropped to their knees, reaching for her. Others passed out.

“I love you!” someone cried after a song finished. “No I love you!” yelled someone else, and, “No, me, me, me, it’s me who loves you the most!”

“That’s nice,” said Nina, blinking slowly. “That’s nice of you.” It wasn’t nice, I knew, to say something like I Love You, when everyone felt it. It wasn’t fair. I loved them too, but my voice was too quiet to say it. It wasn’t fair. I loved them too.

Waiting for this lady to call me back at work

The first thing we did was buy a dog. A dog means security, because neither of us will want to leave the dog, so we won’t leave each other either.

Waiting for a phone call

Haikus are like tiny salted peanuts. I would think they'd be a good thing to write if I had, say, 10 minutes to wait. But if I take one salted peanut and eat it, all I am thinking about is another salted peanut. A haiku opens up like ripples on a pond. Something is evoked and before I know it there are thirty peanut shells scattered across the kitchen table and the phone hasn't rung yet and my mouth still craves five more syllables.