Welcome to 100 stories: a story a day for 100 days, written quickly and without too much thinking.
Update 9/18/17: While the stories here are mostly up to date, a few travel pieces are still in the process of being posted.
Welcome to 100 stories: a story a day for 100 days, written quickly and without too much thinking.
Update 9/18/17: While the stories here are mostly up to date, a few travel pieces are still in the process of being posted.
It’s raining out. Not heavy enough to make a sound, but easily visible in the beam of the street lamps along the park. I am going to miss this view. There are more boxes I could be packing, but instead I will sit on the couch with a long needle and thick blue thread and mend two pairs of jeans where my bike seat’s worn them through.
After all that, there they were: two little silver keys that opened the door to the space that was empty, and ready, and all theirs.
A spreadsheet for comparing bids.
A spreadsheet for sharing meals.
A spreadsheet for choosing the best train route.
A spreadsheet for predicting cash flow.
A spreadsheet for mapping air quality.
A spreadsheet for tracking lists.
A spreadsheet for listing spreadsheets.
The sun rose but the world was still mostly invisible, especially at a distance — just the faint hints of buildings that usually showed up sharp and straight against the sky. The mountains were not in view across the water to the north or east and so the city became an island that faded away at the edges and vanished into white pink air.
It was hot inside. All windows were closed against the smell of smoke and the sun was the clean red circle of sunset though it was only afternoon. Parked car windshields slowly collected ash. Everyone was waiting for the winds to change.
He didn’t look happy about being in group 8. She was in group 6. It was okay. They both watched group 4 get on first. Then group 5, which seemed extra small for some reason. Then it was her turn. And then, though she was not there to see it, it was his turn too.
If it’s not too much trouble, can you bring my hardcover green rhyming dictionary home with you tonight? It should be above my desk on the shelf, to the left of the records. I may not need it, but it’s better to be safe.
They careened down the sidewalk and I quickly stepped out of their way. The first boy was hunched over the handlebars of a tiny green tricycle with an intense focus on pedaling as fast as he possibly could. The second boy sat atop a pink plastic cart being towed by the tricycle with a few yards of red twine, and he caught my eye while whooping and laughing and barely maintaining his seat on the thing as it tipped up onto two wheels, took the corner too fast, and disappeared down the block.
We listened to the same podcast while running up the hill. Not on purpose. Over coffee and tea we compared notes. There was one part that was our favorite. It was the part where the main guy said to the other guy that the other guy’s beliefs, when you looked back, every time, they ended up being on the wrong side of history. And the main guy said he found it amazing that here the other guy was, and he was saying those same wrong things again and not only that but he was absolutely confident that he was right, but looking back, it was never right, and didn’t he see that? And then the other guy looked at him and said you know, you’re right, and then they never talked about politics ever again.
I have many theoretical projects right now and if they ever cease to be theoretical and begin to be actual then I will actually be very busy and theoretically that would be great.
Hard things are hard things so you work at them one little piece at a time until the hard part here is a little bit loose and the hard part there is a little bit soft but then probably you return to that first part which used to be loose but is how hard again so you work at it some more and some more and if you are very lucky and when it has been a very long time (going one piece at a time) there will come a moment when you look up and step back and see it (magically it seems) turned into something that is no longer what it was when you began.
No not that word. Really. Really. The other is better and really (really) I think it says what you mean to say and I would strongly (really really) suggest you use it.
“How long have we been ignoring you guys over here?” We tried to downplay it. He didn’t buy it. “No, really. How long?” We said maybe ten minutes. “I’m gonna help you out, allright? And more than just bringing you a beer.” We told him it was fine. He brought us a bonus pint anyway.
When the check came, it was for four dollars. In Berkeley. In 2017.
We shared the third pint, left him a $20, and slipped out the door before he could give it back.
Would you want to meet my friends?
If if if. What about my brother?
If if if. Shall we plan a winter trip? If if if?
Yes! Please. If if if. How are you with parents?
I’m really good with parents. Are you?
I hope so. I think so. If if if.
They needed to see her social security card. She expected it would take her the better part of the day to find it (why was something so important so small and thin and flimsy?) and was pleasantly surprised to see it neatly tucked away in the first place she thought to look. She used the extra time to sit on the floor by the filing cabinet and remove ten years of bank statements she could not imagine needing ever again.
A lightbulb burned out in the bedroom, and the remaining one was flickering, dim, inadequate. If the dimmer wasn’t set just right or if you accidentally bumped it, its non-dimmable LEDs grew confused and became a strobe light. Out of replacements and unable to make it to the store before it closed, they put laundry away in a half-dark room, turned off the single bulb and went to bed.
Department of Feelings
Internal Regulation Service
Section references are to the Internal Regulation Code unless otherwise noted.
1a. Name of applicant. Address, City, State, Zip.
1b. Applicant’s telephone number.
1.c. Emotional Identification Number (EIN)
2. Type of Applicant:
◊ Hopeless Romantic
◊ Confirmed Bachelor/Bachelorette
3a. Name of Object. (required) Address, City, Zip (if known)
3b. Object’s telephone number (if known)
3c. Objects’s EIN (if known)
4. Quick-onset feeling characteristics (mark all that apply)
◊ Giddy or Excited ◊ Hopeful
◊ Curious ◊ Confused
◊ Bemused ◊ Nervous
◊ Other _______________________________
5. Interaction types completed or planned (mark all that apply)
◊ Phone call
◊ Text message
◊ Brief in person meeting
◊ Sustained in person meeting
◊ Extended in person meeting
◊ Social Media or other messaging app
◊ Other _______________________________
6. Level of minute-to-minute distraction
Drawing by Yael Kisel
Dear Sir or Madam,
In response to your query (#504BG RE: Classification Change of Employee Designations), I would like to refer you to IRS form 88S (2011 Revision) for determination of current, past, and future designation assignments. To receive a timely designation assignment and avoid substantial audit fees, back taxes, and/or fines, please wet sign and return form 88S no less than 60 days before anticipated classification change, or no more than 24 hours after actualized change, excluding bank and national holidays. If such changes have already taken place and there is written evidence and verifiable proof of no malicious intent, the incident may qualify for exempt classification under the Ignorance Clause (Section C, Chapter 138, Declaration F19). To file a petition under IC, please wet sign and return forms 74G and H along with 88S, leaving all questions pertaining to the 2011 Revisions to the leading form blank.
My All-time Three Favorite Types of Showers — An Unordered List:
“You see that bulletin board?”
“My whole family’s up there.”
She shows us.
“That’s my aunt. That’s my other aunt. And there’s my Mom, my Dad, my Grandma,”
Your mom looks older that your dad here.
“They’re the same age. They’ve known each other since they were in 3rd grade.”
“And here’s the list of Senior awards since the beginning of the theater department. Aunt. Aunt. Dad,”
They all went here?
So no pressure then.
“Ha! Yeah right.”
This evening when I left work ten minutes later than I’d planned to to try and catch a movie across town, it was raining so hard that, having left the apartment this morning completely unprepared for rain, I was forced to modify a planned one mile walk/one-bus trip into a one block walk/three-bus trip, and given the fact that it was maybe still rush hour, and given the fact that it was pouring (with thunder and lightning), and also given the fact that one transfer was pushing my luck and two transfers was madness, it was no small miracle when I arrived at the theater three buses later and five minutes early and entirely dry.
Reasons for not writing (circle all that apply):
You may find there are some differences between camping on your own and camping with friends who have kids. When your friends who have kids have kids under the age of five, your camping trip will be a highly active and entertaining weekend that will include:
When I go to the library, I want more books.
When I go to the bookstore, I want more books.
When I am reading or I am about to read I or have just finished reading, I want more books.
When it is time to move, I am very glad I do not have more books.
She called her friend because nobody else was home and she wasn’t ready to stop talking about it just yet. So they talked about it. And then they talked about other things: their rate of sick leave accrual at work, the weather in Florida, the precise size and weight of healthy and unhealthy egos, and how cool it would be if they could put mini versions of each other in their pocket and walk around with a best friend they could pull out whenever they felt like and say “Hey! Let’s go get some food.”
Drawing by Yael Kisel
(followed by a poor night’s sleep)
My dad gives good advice. Here are some examples:
During a long city walk today the strangest thing we saw was a blue sculpture made of wax. It might not have been wax though, it could have been plastic. It could also have been made of something really unexpected, like jello, though it had been so hot out and the blue wasn’t really a jello blue (although it’s not a food that has much of a limit on coloring options) so it didn’t seem likely. We tried to get a closer look but it was tucked up on the porch of a very big and very fancy house with steep enough front steps that we couldn’t see much.
But from where we stood fifteen feet below it looked like a toy plastic soldier, feathered plastic edges and all, six feet tall and bright blue.
I am wearing the tank top I bought for an east coast August. It is September, and I am in San Francisco. Biking home, I count four long lines. It is a good day to be in the ice cream business.
The picnic dinner was almost a good idea, sourdough and cheeses and smoked salmon and hummus, except for the fact that they had to eat on their laps with no plates or tables and so dropped parts of it in the dirt by accident, partly due to having no plates or tables and partly due to the rushed nature of eating an entire picnic dinner in 15 minutes or less. He had been right want burritos instead.
It arrived three years ago without invitation or warning and wore such an ingenious disguise that the first doctor called it stress and sent her home and the second doctor ordered tests and sent her home and the third doctor poked and poked and poked and concluded it did not exist and sent her home to live with those hands and arms full of that it which would not leave.
He asks me to make the ragú. I ask him how. “You make ragú,” he says. So I walk home and look it up. I put oil in a pan and cook onions and garlic and tomato. I add salt and pepper. In a stroke of inspiration, I add dried porcini. I let it simmer. He comes home and smells it. Looks at it. Tastes it. He adds parsley and dill and tahini and salt and pepper and tomato and thyme and prunes and olives and za’atar and butter and paprika and red wine and parmesan. I boil water for pasta (he adds more salt and oil). It is very good ragú.
Dream: I am falling asleep when I suddenly remember that I need to call home tomorrow, but it strikes me that because of tomorrow’s scheduled death (an execution?) I should call early in the day and it then also strikes me that if I forget to call early in the day it may mean that I will not have a chance to talk to my parents again before I die and so I work very hard to not forget about calling in the morning as I fall (sill dreaming) asleep.
My friend went to Mars and when she came back she said it was awesome. She made two new best friends and stayed up till 4am every night talking and she wishes it had been longer because it was so much fun. She loved it all: the habitat, the experiments, the EVAs, and the freeze-dried food. She said she was pretty skilled now at peeing in a beaker since she had to do it every day for her urinary volume report to the mission doctors. She thought it was particularly fun when they all ignored mission control’s advice and did what made practical sense based on what they saw instead. They were the ones on Mars, after all! It hardly mattered that it was only Ersatz Mars (as she called it) — a hyper-realistic make-believe trip to an isolated shipping container in Poland on planet Earth. Mars was ersatz, but her enjoyment of it was completely genuine.
They called every year on her birthday to sing to her in two-part harmony. Sometimes she missed their call and so they sang to the answering machine instead. When the tape got full she stood and listened to all of the old messages, looking for something to erase, and heard her parents, three times in a row, singing her happy birthday.
I never seem to get much done in a day compared to the list of what I had planned to do. Today, for an example, after whittling that list down to six seemingly completable things I left work having completed exactly one half of one of those things. This is a regular occurrence, and I can so far infer three things in regard to this problem:
You said that if it had happened to you, you’d be way more stressed out right now. I wasn’t too worried, but the more we talked about what might have gone wrong (and why) and what might have been corrupted and what might have been lost, I wondered how much of my calmness in the face of calamity didn’t just come down to a grievous misunderstanding of the scope of the problem.
Either way, I really hope that backup your hard drive is making right now works.
You can’t see the ocean on a dark night even when you stand right at the edge of it and stare. All you see are the white lines of waves once they start breaking — invisible swells that fall into whitewater and rush towards your feet. Out at the horizon is a ship. Its lights are the only thing showing you how much ocean you can’t see.
It would be so much easier to know where to go from here if only I had a map. I’ve asked around but nobody seems to remember where they’ve put theirs. My guess is that they’re liars and there are no maps. But they won’t look me in the eye and say so because they don’t want me to know how little they know about where they’re going either.
You possess a magical ability to lie down and be instantly asleep. I do not. And while this often leaves me waiting next to you for long stretches alone in the dark, it does give me a chance to compose the story I forgot to write today and commit it to memory before finally drifting off myself.
They bought their toilet paper at Costco, where cases of jumbo-sized three-ply extra-soft rolls were cheap. Their bathroom, built (along with the rest of the house) in the 1930’s, was full of arches — one over the doorway, one over the green porcelain tub, and one mini arch carved into the wall by the toilet, where a concave piece of lath and plaster was perfectly formed for rolls of toilet paper to sit tucked into the wall so that the toilet paper’s profile just broke the vertical plane. But it had all been built before Costco, before jumbo-sized three-ply extra-soft rolls, and though a jumbo-sized three-ply extra-soft roll could be crammed to fit its custom niche in the bathroom wall, it always took a few days before it was small enough to start spinning smoothly.
He didn’t mean to use the kid as an excuse, but it couldn’t be helped. It was too necessary for him to take a break from the conversation, and too easy for it to be a reason to leave, if only for a few minutes.
So he offered to take him so that his sister could finally eat dinner and she handed him right over. He held the crying baby against his shoulder, and walked him out the front door and down the street into the warm, dark night until none of his cries could reach the dining room, and no sound from inside could reach them. “Shhh. Shhh. It’s all right now,” he whispered, then turned his head up to look for stars.
The dryer’s door was closed, the power was on, and a pile of damp clothes sat inside.
“Should we set it for a timed dry, or sensor dry?”
“Sensor dry. Maybe at delicates?” He turned the knob. Blue light on delicates. “But put the temperature on low. Extra low will take forever.” He pushed a button. Nothing.
“It won’t let you.”
“Push it again.”
“It won’t let you, see?” He pushed it again. Again. Again. The blue light stayed on extra low.
“Let me try.” She tried. Nothing. “Maybe delicates is a pre-set. Try permanent press.” He turned the knob to permanent press. The blue lights shifted.
“We don’t want extra high heat though, right?”
“No, probably not.” He pushed a button. Nothing. She pushed a button. Nothing.
“What the fuck?”
“Just set it to do a timed dry.”
“I don’t know. Thirty minutes?”
“I’ll do forty. These aren’t as fast as at the ones at the laundromat.” He moved a knob, pushed one more button. The blue lights shifted. A song played. The door locked, and the dryer began to turn.
Past midnight on a rainy summer Monday, and the subway car was three-quarters full. His voice, bright and insistent, carried well.
“College is a scam to steal yah money!”
“College! Is a Scam! To! Steal! Yah! Money!”
One woman tried to act cool as she covertly filmed it from a corner seat. The Jamaican in front of her couldn’t stop laughing (I love New York, man. Man, do I love New York!) His friend tried to shut him up. Everyone else pretended to ignore it. Not that you could. His voice, insistently bright, carried well.
One giant fountain (built for playing in)
Two small kids (built for playing)
Three parental warnings (to please not get totally soaked)
And a 0.000000000001% chance of that happening.
We were making small talk at the Catskill Bagel Company on Cortelyou. As you filled me in on the growing unreliability of the New York subway this summer, she put down her paper and stared.
“Excuse me,” she said. A quick twist of the wrist moved three silver bracelets into place. “I couldn’t help hearing your conversation, and I have to correct you. The subway is a jewel. A national treasure.” The glasses she examined us through matched her bracelets. “If you’d seen it in the 70’s – do you have any idea what it was like? The stations are spotless now in comparison.” She waits for us to contradict her. We can’t. We weren’t alive in the 70’s. “Do you know how many people depend on the subway every day? Do you know how many trains are on time? To the second? Do you know what goes into pulling that off 24 hours a day, every single day? New York is the greatest city in the world because of that system. I’m tired of nobody giving it its due respect.”
I was disappointed when she did not then reveal herself as MTA’s President or Director or the next city Mayor, but instead nodded to us both, and went back to reading her paper.
“The lettuce is frozen.” It is unmistakably the same voice we heard berating our conductor last night while the train stopped for a midnight boarding in Indianapolis. “And this cucumber. Look. Look at this. I can’t eat this. What am I supposed to do?”
“You can pick something else. We’ve got the chicken, the penne, the sandwiches.”
“What kind of sandwiches?”
“The reuben, the black forest ham, the turkey.”
Silence. “I’ll try the reuben.”
“Okay.” He dumps her salad in the trash. “She’ll try the reuben.” He opens a refrigerator, tears open a bag.
“Does it have any vegetables!”
“You don’t want the reuben?”
“I need my vegetables. Now what am I supposed to do?”
On and on, on and on with perfectly smooth tops.
I had imagined endless cornfields as monotony, not as this american pastoral beauty that goes on and on, on and on outside my train’s window.
The last time I saw you, it was an accidental meeting along Precita Park. You carried a bag of oranges. “Erin!” you said. “The next round of commissions is coming up. You should apply.” I asked you when. “Later this summer, early fall,” you said.
I am sure we both fully expected that I would apply, and that you would be the point person when I did. Sometimes our assumed assumptions are taking too much for granted.
I hope the oranges were delicious. And thank you for the reminder. I will apply, though you are not there to read it.
“Yes. We move here in, November? Early in the month. First, Trump wins to be the President. Then, the Cubs win The World Series. It was a very eventful way to start!
I think Bibi has a much better chance for his being re-elected than Trump. So at least here there is reason for hope. In Israel? I think we have not much to look forward to.”
When sitting in the train at the Minot, North Dakota station, you can see two different scenes: one out the left side of the train, and one out the right.
On the left, dozens of dragonflies zip in and out of a rail-side grove of trees I can’t name. Tons of dragonflies, and tons of trees.
Out the right-side window is the station itself. A garage door’s thrown open, and I can see in to an inside that’s sparsely furnished and looks hot. Concrete floor. A wooden desk. An old computer, and two railroad guys with their feet up, one in an old swivel chair and the other in a broken-in La-Z-Boy.
The conductor of our train is outside refilling the water we’ll use for the next 20 hours. I watch him. I watch the dragonflies. I watch the man in the La-Z-Boy resting his feet.
He said he’d been doing the run between Pasco and Portland for thirty-two years. He took a summer job with the railroad and got hooked. “They own us. But we’re well taken care of. We’ll make $1,000 on this two-day run. I’ve got a hotel tonight, and a per diem. We make good money.”
As the Columbia River turned the same deep red as the smoke-tinged sky above us, we passed nothing he didn’t know. There was the orchard where they tried a new apple hybrid only to find out years later, when the first harvest finally came, that the apples had no juice. So they ripped it all out and planted hay.
He pointed out a spot near the locks where pelicans had started showing up, just in the last two years. “California pelicans. Your pelicans.”
We passed a marijuana farm with a tall barbed wire fence. And those trains across the river? “That’s Union Pacific. The enemy!” He was a Burlington Northern Santa Fe man, thirty-two years and counting. “Look at this. Here’s where they bring all the trash down from Seattle and Tacoma. Cars and cars of it, it stinks. Guys drive it all one truckload at a time up and over that hill behind us. They’ve got a valley it’s going to take 100 years to fill up.”
He hit a bear cub once. “When you’re up to speed with one of these things, it’s gonna take you half a mile to stop. So.”
And then there was the story about when his train derailed and shut down the highway for two weeks. They had to bring in barges with giant vacuums to suck up all the spilled grain. “I didn’t even know I’d derailed. Saw the air go, and couldn’t get it back up so I stopped to take a look. The back thirty cars were off and all over the road. It was a mess.”
New lights came into view, a slowly blinking field of red he said was a wind farm that went on for miles and miles and always made him think of Christmas. The river opened up and turned into a perfectly smooth mirrored surface. “This is where the wildlife preserve starts, and goes on for a while. Usually around this time is when you’ll see a lot of deer. They come down to drink, we’ll probably see some.” He’s quiet for a moment, searching. “Ah! Yeah. There’s one. See?”
It looked vacant. The windows were boarded up, and torn cardboard covered the inside of a derelict glass door. A water-stained sign written in fading black sharpie read: THIS IS NOT A JAPANESE RESTAURANT. SLAP THE PERSON WHO TOLD YOU IT WAS, AND GO EAT SOMEWHERE ELSE.
She checked her phone. One new message. “We’re inside.”
The door opened into a small dark room with four tables. Their friends were at the first one, and they sat down to join them.
Two guys walked over. “Here’s how it works,” said the big one. “Pick your price point, the chef cooks what he wants, you eat it.”
“No substitutions, no exceptions,” said the little one.
“We don’t even know what he’s making until we bring it out,” said the big one. “Sound good?”
She picked up a menu and realized it was a set of detailed instructions. “Is there an option for vegetarians?”
“There’s a lot of meat and fish.” She assumed that meant no.
“How about shrimp?”
The last time she’d taken a bite of a shrimp burrito, she hadn’t been able to swallow well for 6 hours. She wasn’t sure if that would happen again, but it probably wasn’t worth testing it.
“Need a minute to talk it over?” They nodded. The guys left.
“Are you allergic to shrimp?”
“I didn’t know that. Shit.”
“I’m not that hungry. You all eat, I’m sure it’s good. I’ll get a drink and eat after.”
“Yeah, it’s fine.”
The guys came back. They asked for three meals at the lowest price point.
“That’s not allowed.” The big one spoke as the little one shook his head. “Nobody sits out. You’re paying for a seat here, so four people at a table means four meals. Take it or leave it.”
They left it.
I didn’t see it happen, but I know the details. She narrated it all to her friend in a voice that carried remarkably well. Her dog nearly barfed on her feet. She was wearing sandals. She was so worried she was leaving right now and driving straight to the vet who was still open (thank god) and she hoped it would be quick as she was way too busy this afternoon to sit around and wait.
“It’s dark. And empty.”
“Doesn’t that make you nervous?”
“This isn’t New York. Deserted doesn’t mean anything.”
He was probably right. “Okay.”
There’s something immensely satisfying in watching an all-girl rock band with kick-ass vocals perform live to a packed hall. Even better if it’s a warm summer night in Portland.
So what if a few of the songs are only so-so? The good ones are great. And every time you stop to think how impossible this night would have been 80 years ago, the performance gets more fun to watch.
The only time I appreciate the contribution my pinkie toe makes to my own pedestrian locomotion is when the smallest of blisters appears on its distal phalanx and reminds me with remarkable force of its existence.
Putting it all in the suitcase and zipping the thing up takes two minutes (maybe less), but before you can do that there’s sweeping (and mopping) the apartment, and cleaning out the fridge, and buying a new notebook with enough blank pages to last three weeks, and that’s all before finding new clothes (your jeans and sweatshirt routine won’t work in an east coast August), and tracking down the single pair of sandals you’re pretty sure you still own, and regardless of whether or not you ever find them still left on your list is choosing the right book to bring, and taking out the trash, and writing an early rent check, and watering the plants, and asking yourself one more time and then one more time again: What else am I forgetting?
No wonder it takes all day.
He takes a sip of beer. She eats a french fry.
“It’s the early adopter attitude that pisses me off.”
“Don’t you think there’s a time and a place for it?”
“Yeah, and that place is here. That’s the problem.”
She laughs, and takes a sip of beer.
He eats a french fry.
Seven things I know about my paternal grandmother:
Are you kidding?
Wow. That looks so cool.
I have to-
My phone won’t unlock.
Stupid phone. Not even-
Ah! Got it. Finally.
Oh come on.
Do it again.
Do it again?
When your team’s just about the worst team in baseball, suddenly a city that went crazy for watching their every move isn’t so interested anymore, and you realize that the 10th row first-base-line seats that cost a fortune back when your team was the best team in baseball are twenty bucks each and you could buy them right now (which you do), and so just like that you’re sitting so close you can see how tall the players really all, and laughing at how hard they’re working to look cool as hell, and marveling at how perfectly coordinated their full-field dance is of shifting from relaxed to ready to tense to relaxed in exactly the same rhythm.
Later on you’ll lean back to try and track the height of a fly ball until it’s completely lost in the lights, and you’ll be impressed by how many seagulls appear the moment it’s over, and you’ll bike home thinking how damn fun it was, even if they did lose.
She stands in the kitchen, the picture of an upper-middle class (maybe just upper class) put-together adult. Hair perfectly straight. Un-scuffed boots. Clothes that really match. Purse over one shoulder. Sunglasses pulled back on top of her head.
We stand in front of the bedroom window looking out at the redwood tree in old jeans and sweaty shirts. My shoes are still covered in trail dust.
The apartment’s not big. We can hear everything she says from in here.
“So the washer dryer is downstairs?”
“Yes, it’s shared with one other unit.”
“Has anyone in the building tried bringing them into their apartments? Set up the plumbing and ventilation and all that?”
“No, not that I know of. I’m sure it’s possible, but- .”
“I’m so spoiled now, I have to have one in the unit. Laundry is such a pain, I don’t think I could handle having it all the way downstairs. This is the top floor?”
“Oh good. I lived in a first floor place once, it was awful. I’m definitely looking for a top floor unit.”
While she’s busy opening and closing cabinet drawers, we pass behind her, down the back steps, and out into the street through the tradesman’s door.
I hate the way you wear your socks. Pulling them on without caring if the heel is on the heel, or sitting awkwardly over the outside of your foot cupping your ankle bone instead. How do you stuff your feet into shoes without smoothing the sock’s bottom for wrinkles first? And the holes! It seems like every time you pull your shoes off, your heel’s rubbed raw, a red hump sticking out through the back of something that’s more rag than sock. And if by some luck your heel is intact, then it’s your big toe that’s fully naked.
Do you ever stop in front of those sock displays at grocery stores and pharmacies and realize that all of that new-sock soft thickness could be yours? Don’t you dream about sitting down and peeling the old ones off, and pulling a new one on, adjusting it just so to mold to the contours of your foot before slipping it into your tennis shoe? Or is that just me?
Did you know that when you start looking for stories, they begin to appear all around you?
It’s true. They do.
First there’s the corner with the bench in the park in front of the public pool, where two latino men in their 60’s sit in front of a mural, scrolling through things you can’t see on their iphones. Certainly there’s a story in that. There are stories about the young man who walks half a block behind you, yelling to himself about only wanting to have fun for once in his life, why doesn’t anyone ever just let him have fun. That one is probably a tragedy. Another one is possibly there, but maybe not, when the woman who waits on the corner sees a car stop and gets in. There might even be one in that exchange you notice between the grocery store checkout clerk and the customer who wave at each other as he leaves.
Choosing between them becomes the problem. Do you watch the driver trying to park at midnight, not willing to give up on a spot that’s three inches smaller than his car? Or do you focus on the two-year-old fascinated by a piece of dyed silk, ten feet long and two feet above her head.
Her high school art teacher believed in aliens so completely that when they were all heads-down working on their final 20-hour portraits of faces they’d torn out of magazines, she would play VHS tapes about crop circles and inexplicable cow mutilations. It was hard to remember the details.
She made the best drawings she’d ever made in that class. Her final 20-hour portrait of a face that looked like a long-lost Irish relation of her dad’s (her dad being Jewish and not at all Irish, he would have to have been very long-lost) still hung up in the hallway at her parent’s house. Every time she passed it now, 15 years later, she looked at it and was impressed that she’d made the thing herself.
The same year she was in that class, her mom saved the art teacher’s life using the Heimlich Maneuver to dislodge a tootsie roll that found its way down the art teacher’s windpipe. They had been talking about something now forgotten at the District Office when it happened. The teacher sent a thank you note the following week. It would have been an embarrassing way to go.
It was almost always late at night but sometimes it was a weekend afternoon when they felt it: an almost imperceptible shaking of the walls and floor, just enough movement to cause the whiskey glass and the menorah in the hutch on the eastern wall to rattle.
At first she would let a few minutes pass, and then Google current San Francisco earthquakes, but nothing ever showed up on the real-time quake maps, not even little tiny 2-point-somethings that were supposed to be too little to feel. But they kept coming, these phantom quakes. Sometimes bunched together, three or four in an evening.
She thought at one point that maybe it was all in her head, that maybe she should get her inner ear checked out in case she had some kind of undiagnosed vertigo that caused the room to move around her without ever actually moving.
But then it happened when they were both home together one night, watching an old Star Trek episode on the too-large television that had been a hand-me-down from her parents. He felt it too. The real-time quake map was blank.
They listened. Maybe this whole time it was just the downstairs neighbors having sex. But the shaking had stopped, and they couldn’t hear a thing.
When you walk out from under the trees there’s this one place in between the patches of fog where you can see the sky. Well it’s all sky, but I guess I mean there’s one place that isn’t fog and so you can see right out into the rest of the universe. The clear spot’s got the big dipper shining through, which is lucky because it’s the only constellation I know so any other part of the sky and I couldn’t have told you anything about what you can see up there.
Once upon a time there was a boy who liked to play with fire, and everyone always yelled at him to be careful because fire was hot and dangerous and could burn you, but that wasn’t what he saw — he saw golden tongues with blue roots, and glowing embers that smelled like the best and brightest thing in the world, and so while everyone else talked of danger, danger, danger, he saw only beauty, beauty, beauty, and he took such good care of this treasure and blew on it and poked at it so attentively that for all of the years of his very long life it never once hurt him in even the tiniest way.
What are you doing?
What about you?
Want to get dinner?
Once upon a time there was a girl who woke up to discover she had no parents. She had, she thought, had parents yesterday who had woken her up and had fed her and had dropped her off at school and had later brought her home from school and had fed her again and had put her to bed (too early, always too early) and then, she assumed, had stayed up late into the night doing the sort of very boring and top secret things adults did when their daughters were asleep.
But come morning, they were not there.
It wasn’t that they had left. It seemed more like they’d never been there to begin with. A house that used to be full was now empty. Rooms that used to belong to the grown ups were no longer anywhere to be found in the house. On opening her bedroom door, the girl found herself standing in a hallway that led to a bathroom, a kitchen sink, and a bowl of cereal. Nothing else.
She went to school on the day that she woke up with no parents. Other parents were there dropping off other children, so she knew that not all parents had disappeared like hers had overnight. She considered telling one of them, but didn’t feel like answering awkward questions she had no answers to. She considered telling her teacher, but when she stood in the hallway looking in through the classroom door, she saw him at his desk writing down important things very quickly, and knew better than to interrupt a grown up who was working. Even if they stopped to hear you they’d never remember what you said, so it was better not to bother. She considered telling her best friend from 3rd grade, but she was sitting near the bars with Rachel Shelly who she didn’t like at at all (the feeling was mutual), so she didn’t go over to their bench and she didn’t say anything.
She walked herself home at 3:15. Once there, she ate some cheerios. She told herself she wasn’t allowed to watch tv until her her homework was done, so she sat down and did her homework. She told herself to go to bed too early, and went to bed. She did not fall asleep.
Instead, she looked up at the ceiling in the dark and wondered why she was not sad.
If I had parents, didn’t I love them? And if I did and now they’re gone, shouldn’t I miss them? Is the fact of my non-sadness proof that they were never here? But even so, you could still be sad about things you’d never had and therefore never lost. Like not having a puppy. And not having been to the moon yet. And not having friends who really understood you like you hoped they might.
If she’d had parents, maybe they had looked like her. If she’d never had any, how was it possible she even existed? Didn’t you need parents to exist?
Maybe I do not exist, she thought. Maybe I am not really here. Maybe my hand is not really a hand and my teeth aren’t really teeth. Maybe my thoughts aren’t really in my head at all, I just think they are. If I start to think that maybe I don’t exist, do I stop existing?
She tested it.
I do not exist. I do not exist. It is quite possible that I do not actually exist.
And after a minute or two of thinking it, she was right.