Life is Short

It was a warm, muggy August day, last summer. As I walked home from the train station, taking the simplest route down the straight avenue that led from town to my house, I saw a couple in the distance. At first I thought it was a father and a daughter. They were walking in my direction, I was walking in theirs. They slowly came into clearer focus.

They weren’t a father and daughter. They were two men, walking with their arms interlocked. Their posture was similar to a father walking his daughter down a wedding aisle. They walked slow-paced, each step careful and considered. The taller, older gentleman on the left stood firm, head high, shoulders back. The shorter, younger man hunched. He was leaning into the older one appearing to take comfort in their closeness, until I realized that the older man was having difficulty walking. The younger man was supporting the older man. The younger man was wearing a robe, the older man was wearing a loose fitting t-shirt and loose-fitting jeans. They both wore sandals.

When they were within half a block of where I was walking it became clear the younger man was a buddhist monk, wearing an orange and rust colored robe. His head shaven. The older man had the undefinable look of age. He could be 70, he could be 80.

When we were within ten feet of each other I could see the older man’s eyes. They twinkled with a wetness that could be confused for tears, but were probably a sensitivity to the bright light of the day. The younger man looks at me, sizing me up. I could have stood aside to let them pass, but instead I said, “Hello, I live just down the block, who are you?” which might have sounded rude, but I did my best to make it sound welcoming.

The older man stopped though the monk seemed to tug at him to keep moving. The monk looked up at the older man’s face to check for a signal. The corner of the older man’s lips twisted up in a modest smile. The monk then looked at me and said, “This is Rinpoche, he’s a world renowned scholar, a friend to the Dalai Lama, a friend to heads of state. He’s a former monk, he was a monk like I am. He is my mentor.”

“He was a monk?” I ask.

“Yes, he decided to retire from being a monk on his 94th birthday. He had joined the monastery when he was a child.” Rinpoche then stands even straighter, pushing his shoulders farther back and begins to wiggle his arm away from the grip of the monk.

“Wow,” I say, “that’s a dedicated life.” Neither of them reply. Rinpoche continues to look in my direction though his eyes appear to be focused on the distance behind me. The monk looks directly into my eyes, then looks past me, as if waiting for my permission for him to continue with his walk. I think about 90 years in a monastery. 90 years doing anything consistently. I think on my life and the stops and starts, the zig zag path, the mindless commutes, and the daily routines.

I ask one more question, “Rinpoche, after being a monk for so many years, since you were a child, why did you decide to stop being a monk?”

His lips straighten the smile away and his face tenses up. He has a difficult time speaking. He takes a breath and his eyes shift to mine. As he answers the monk begins to take a step past me, pulling at the arm of Rinpoche.

As he too takes a step, putting him directly at my side, he whispers near my ear…

“Because life is short.”

New Jersey Postcard: Five Guys/Sex Pistols

I was at Five Guys burger joint this weekend, here where I live now, in New Jersey, in a strip mall. As I sat down and began to unwrap my sandwich and pile of french fries the Sex Pistols begin to play Anarchy for the UK over the speakers. In The queue at the counter is a woman and her biker boyfriend. She turns to him, poking a finger in his chest and says, “Hey, it’s the Sex Pistols.” He shrugs. I turn to Sheila, and she smiles back at me and we sing along, nodding our heads, sodas in hand. Our daughter asks who’s playing and I say out loud, “the Sex Pistols,” and she blushes. “Really, that’s their name?” I say, here, let me show you some pictures and I do a search on my phone. Then I get a little sad. Realizing I’m at a Five Guys in a strip mall and not being very punk rock. I think back to when I thought I was punk rock and all I can think is that the earth has spun so many times into the future that punk rock has caught up with burger joints. That the swirling of eras has blended into layers on layers of context and meaning and I’m getting all existential about meaningfulness and reality. I begin to wonder what if, what if. At that moment my daughter flips my phone around to show me a picture of Sid Vicious. She says, “Who’s that? He’s super cute.”

Brooklyn Postcard: The day John Turturro was at the cafe

“How could you not invite me?” says the one young-woman with her back to me. She is speaking very blankly, strongly, in a near monotone, to her “friend.” I can’t tell if she’s being natural or practicing a line in a play. Her voice has a plain low note as if she’s impersonating someone. “I’m so upset with you,” she states with a silent pause between each word.

It was a sunny autumn day. The sun dappled its way through the shapes between the leaves, which were just turning from green to orange.  I was sitting outside, in a prime seat in front of a local favorite café near where I lived in Brooklyn. Patrons pull and drag the outdoor seats around to create seating clusters. You really can’t get that far from anyone.

“I thought you were going to be out of town, it didn’t occur to me to invite you,” says the “friend.” She is facing towards me and has the look of a sad poodle. Her wild and long corkscrew curly brown hair covers her face down to her nose. She sweeps her hair away to reveal the soft tears that well in her eyes as she answers these seemingly prepared questions.

I close my eyes, listening to the much-too-obvious back and forth of their conversation and envision their banter as a one-act play, way off-Broadway in a poorly constructed stage set with cardboard props.  The two actors would sit on unmatched second-hand chairs.  The upholstery is threadbare with visible springs and stuffing and stains. The one other person in the small theater, who must be an off-Broadway maven with the interest to sit through this dialogue, would lean over deliberately and whisper to me, “See, the set is meant to echo their relationship.”

“Well, I’m not sure what you can say to make me feel better, “the monotinist continues, “See if you can make me feel better. You are not making me feel better and I demand to feel better.”

I began to wonder if this wasn’t a one-act play, but was some form of domination routine, a public humiliation that would be converted into something more corrupt later. The off-Broadway maven wags his finger at me and whispers, “No, it’s the underlying unrequited theme of our era pulsing through these two characters.”

“I’m not sure I can say anything more than I have already said, I’m sorry, you’re a really good friend, it was an oversight I guess,” the sad one replies.

“An oversight? I thought I was your best friend?”

“You’re very important to me, our friendship is important, please accept my apology”

“You’re not making me feel better.”

I open my eyes. The sun is glorious. To my right a beige-clad couple plops a short stack of faded paperbacks on the narrow table we share. She holds one open on her lap, the cover folded over and wrapped behind the main body of the book. I give the couple names. She is Rebecca, he is Duncan. They settle on a crossword to solve.

Rebecca provides Duncan with each hint, aloud, tilting her head towards him, squinting her eyes and I can see the spider web wrinkles above her cheekbones. Duncan looks up to the sky while mildly patting a shorthaired lapdog. I name the lapdog Cardigan. Cardigan’s attitude fluctuates between exhilarated tail wagging and face-hiding embarrassment.

Each time Rebecca asks Duncan a question, Duncan twists up his mouth, pauses in reflection for about five seconds, and then dramatically turn his gaze to Rebecca with a wide smile and says, “You know, I don’t know that answer, what do you think love.” He lingers on the word love, it sounds like, “laauuhove.” His teeth glitter. Reenergized from his passing the question back to her, Rebecca rolls her right shoulder from back to front, pulling up the sleeve of her bulky pressed wool beige jacket, giving herself enough flexibility in her arm to plot out the all caps in the available boxes.

“SERPENTINE!” she exclaims, “It fits!”

But her joy is short lived, she’s on to the next hint, reading it to herself her lips tremble slightly. She slouches a bit, with some worry over SERPENTINE as it relates to the next set of overlapping squares.

“What’s a four letter word for an all night party?” Rebecca asks Duncan. Cardigan wags his tail. Duncan raises his face to the sky and Cardigan hides his nose in Duncan’s coat.

“Bender?” Duncan asks the sky.  Cardigan looks at Rebecca.

“Bash?” Rebecca replies. Cardigan wags his tail. Rebecca looks down at the folded paperback, “But it seems to begin with an R. That’s strange.”

I shift my head, slightly, to see if I can view the four-letter frame.

“What’s a four-letter word, beginning with an R, for an all-night party? Maybe it’s a typo?” Cardigan is energetically wagging his whole body.  Cardigan looks at me, bright eyes, tongue slightly ajar. I sip my double cappuccino.

All of the outdoor seats at the café are taken. We co-customers crowd onto the short benches and loose-legged seats, each with our coffees, some with small plates of half eaten pastries. I notice, that they, like me, briefly shift their gaze towards the couple with sly bemused glances. Their heads do not move, their eyes do.

“How do they not know that word?” I say to myself, and Cardigan the dog seems to be reading my mind. I wonder if I too am moving my lips. He is marching his short legs up and down, aiming towards my chair. Duncan grips him by the narrow back half of his body, keeping him in place. Cardigan looks at me confused as to why he is not advancing.

It was at this moment that the punk rocker with face tattoos makes himself known. He was sitting on the stoop of the building to the left of the café. His face tattoos are subtle. He has two sliver faded green moons, like thin smiles, drawn just above his cheekbones yet set directly below each eye. There were some fragments of a tattoo that leaked out from under his green army-issue cap. It was hard to tell what it was.

He was laughing at erratic intervals. At first I thought maybe he was listening to a podcast, but then I notice he is half hiding a small bottle of local “Brooklyn” brand whiskey between his heather grey wool gloves, and it was halfway finished. He turns sharply to meet my gaze, he holds up the bottle for me to see, and raising his eyebrows, which lifted his cap, he says, “Want to embellish your beverage bro? It’s a fine whiskey.” I smile back, and shake my head. Sharing a swig would be an entrance to a much different afternoon than I had planned.

The local ladies from my old neighborhood would sit on vintage folding chairs in front of their stoops to take in the summer sun. They’d flag you down as you walked by as they always had something important to share with you. This one lady who regularly wore a bright yellow and white flower printed dress with thin yellow halter straps across her tanned shoulders exclaimed to me while holding both hands up, palms towards me, “Young man, don’t forget, in New York it’s easy to make friends, but you can never get rid of them!”

I notice the punk rocker is also intrigued by the passive-aggressive conversation of the monotonist and her friend. He tries to softly whisper a question to me, so they couldn’t hear it, even though he’s about ten feet away from me.

“Do you believe what they’re saying?” I turn my head towards them and they both look at me. One with piercing eyes, the other with a smirk. I then turn my head back towards the punk rocker.

“No,” I silently mouth back.

“Wha?” He replies aloud, holding his arms wide, pushing his head down into his neck like a turtle.

“No.” I mouth silently while shaking my head, but everybody sees me now.

Duncan and Cardigan both give me a quick questionable glance. Duncan drops the look from his face once he realizes I am chatting with a drunk punk rocker. Cardigan again tries to march towards me. I have the inclination to pet him, but I don’t.

At that moment, the punk rocker jumps up from his spot on the stoop as a well-bundled novel reader vacates the seat next to the two young-women. The punk rocker drops his green denim satchel on the crooked slate tiles of the patio, and engages the two, “Hey, I’m going to get a coffee, do either of you ladies want something?”

“No thanks,” they said in unison, about two octaves higher than the voices they had been using for their conversation.  The co-customers take notice to their new tone by shifting their eyes onto the faces of the two young-women to gage their sincerity. Then all eyes shift back.

“Ok, then,” he said, “can you watch my bag?” without waiting for an answer, and as he makes his way towards the door of the café the temperature of the air shifts, it grows warmer as if a late-summer breeze from 7th avenue had wafted its way down this side street to warm up this autumn afternoon, bringing odors of food, leather shoes and truck exhaust.

The punk rocker freezes in his spot, turns his head 90 degrees to look up the street and says, “Oh man, this neighborhood is hysterical.”

We all follow his sightline up the hill, turning our heads, but not our bodies, towards 7th avenue. Sauntering down the street towards Café Regular was the locally homegrown actor John Turturro.

As John Turturro reaches the area just in front of the cafe, I aim my eyes to meet his eyes and provide a head nod. He obliges, and in that slow moment of locking eyes all time and space froze. I could see each strand of curly hair on his head, where the grey mixed with the black. I could see the pores on his face. I could see the low tint of his teeth in the thin space between his lips, the lint on his overcoat, the wrinkles of his hands. I entered that moment with all of my belief that he would become my best friend and then he spoke to us.

“Hi,” he snorts, not looking at anyone in particular, and lifts his right arm slightly to half-wave.  His head slightly lowered on a tilt as if expecting someone might throw something at him.

Then, the punk rocker jumps up to engage John, either because he is drunk or because he is a punk rocker.

“I’m a film producer!” he exclaims, and the air shuts tight into a sudden quietness, the birds stop chirping, all the traffic stops.  The punk rocker continues… “I am a film producer and John, can you help me get my film made?”

We all hold our breaths. The gasp is audible. The dozen or so of us outside, and the dozen of so of us inside are all waiting for John’s answer. It could go either way. Is this the moment of discovery we’ve all dreamed about, where the big time homegrown celebrity gives back some of his hard won glory to his community?

I close my eyes. Feeling the warmth of the sun on this autumn day. I channel my inner enthusiasm for this moment back into my soul, meditating on this specific bend in the universe. Sinatra’s voice echoes across the Yankee stadium in my mind, “If you can make it here…you can make it…” In my meditation I envision my co-customer’s faces. They all alight with joy, a reinforced belief in the human spirit.

My meditation continues, I envision what will happen next, believing that I can impact this moment by thinking deep positive thoughts…

“Yes!” shouts John Turturro, “Yes, I will help you. Join me inside for a café au lait!”

We, the customers outside of the cafe wouldn’t be able to believe it, but would half-expect it, because John is from Brooklyn and we live in Brooklyn and Brooklyn is currently the most magical place on Earth.

We would all jump-up with joy cheering for John Turturro, half spilling our coffees and plates of pastries.  A montage of his life spreads across the wide screen. Here he is as a young man, here he is in his first movie, here he is running for Senate, here he is winning, here he is at the UN solving world peace, and then here he is, greyed and wise, sitting with us, telling us his most favorite and precious story about what it’s like to work with the Cohen brothers…what it’s really like, and we cant get enough of his story.

In my meditation I envision that my co-customers react to his generosity with their own requests.

“Can you help me too, I’m a writer.”

“Can you help me, I’m a musician.”

“I’m an actor…” The missives continue.

As John would reach the top of the short flight of steps of the cafe, breathing in the intoxicating aroma of coffee, steamed milk, and cinnamon. All of the customers who were sitting outside would now be on their feet in a gathering crowd, all in an effort to follow him in.

But then reality would set in for John, he is just a person, even if from Brooklyn.

He’d drop his head sullenly and then raise his head with fortitude and would say in a voice reminiscent of one of his characters, most like Barton Fink, but I’m not sure which one…

“Dear friends from my beloved Brooklyn neighborhood, the neighborhood that gave me life, I cannot assist so many of you. This drunk punk rocker approached me and I chose to invite him for a café au lait. I apologize drunk punk rocker, but I truly can’t assist, I got carried away, as I often do, as you can see in the characters I portray on film and on the stage are often getting carried away. Please accept my sincerest apology, and my heartfelt gratitude for your continued support of my work.”

Feeling my meditation has turned away from the positive outcome I was hoping for, I open my eyes and to my left John Turturro briskly enters Café Regular, without having responded to the drunk punk rocker’s question. John’s coattail whisks past my ear.

When I had closed my eyes to bask in the short serendipity of this Brooklyn mojo, I hoped that some of my co-customers, besides the drunk punk rocker, would raise their voices, or at least raise their eyes.

Not so. They went on with their semi-private afternoon plans of coffee, conversations and crossword puzzles as if John Turturro, the homegrown local talent, was just like everyone else. Just like us, the modest lot of us sipping our coffees outside on a fall afternoon.  My meditation didn’t manifest into a public celebration. Disappointed I take a slow sip of my nearly finished, now cold double cappuccino.

I look for the drunk punk rocker. He’s slumped down into a worn rattan chair. He has his eyes and attention on the monotonist and her friend.

“I worked with Brad Pitt once,” he says to them and they turn their heads towards him, but not their bodies, “He was cool. He trusted me because I asked him, like, honest questions. He didn’t trust anyone else, like, just me.” His whiskey bottle was near empty. My double cappuccino was too.

I re-enter the café. John Turturro was now snug-fit onto a stool along the far wall, his back to the entering customers. His gangling limbs bent tightly to fit the cozy space of the narrow counter. He hunched over his tablet reading something that had a bright glow.

I order a double espresso, telling the barista I could use the same cup as before. I hand him my paper cup, soiled with a caved and sunken meniscus of milk foam and cinnamon along the bottom.

I turned to look back outside. The punk rocker bounds up the stairs, having built up his muster to approach John Turturro again. He stomps over to John and whispers in his ear. John shakes his slumped head, each of three times stating a strong but somewhat exhausted, “No.” Dejected the punk rocker returns to his seat outside. He glances at me as he walks out, “Hysterical man, this neighborhood is freaking hysterical.”

I retrieve my coffee in its dirty cup from the kind and confident barista and head back to my spot outside. I notice my co-customers are all again glancing sideways at Rebecca and Duncan and their lapdog Cardigan, now with a more intense focus than before. They are stretching their bodies to move their faces closer to the couple, as if they are preparing to pounce.

“What is a four letter word for all-night party?” Rebecca again asks Duncan, her head tilted towards him as if he’s the sunshine that makes all of the plants grow. Again Duncan raises his head to the sky and Cardigan hides his face.

The entire available community of co-customers, dog-walking passer-bys, families with strollers, kids on scooters, passengers in the cars waiting for the light to change, renters and owners of the apartments and brownstones that ring the café from down the block as well as across the street…all lean even further into this simple, humble, weekend conversation of a couple who might have planned this specific autumn afternoon of joyful serenity during a text message exchange as Friday faded from the week.

Rebecca asks the question again, “What’s a four letter word for…”

And before she can continue, the entire block, including the now very visibly angry punk rocker and the emotionally charged monotonist and her friend at the table to my left, even the locally home grown actor John Turtutto, erupt louder than midnight sirens, louder than the subway screeching to a halt…

“RAVE! The fucking word is RAVE!”

Moving day. Brooklyn. 6/28/14

The dispatcher at the moving company (we’ve used this company twice before) recommended I grab either of the parking spots that bookend the hydrant across the street from our apartment. The tone of her voice made me sentimental for rotary phones.

The truck will fit if you can hold one of those spots. Watch your street. When a spot opens up, move your car there. It will be much easier for you.

Each of the past five days I would check a few times a day. Parting the antique shutters. They click and chatter when I open and close them. Then, the day before moving day the spot opens up. I’m outside, packing my car for the first trip to our new house. The buds drop from the tulip trees, light green snow. They get stuck in your hair. I run across the street and stand in the vacancy. Buds escape my feet.

What to do now? My car is packed, the roof rack is packed, ready for a trip. I can’t park it. I look around for trash cans. I ask my neighbor whose daughter is our main babysitter, she’s sitting on her steps, sunning herself while gazing deeply at her computer.

What do you think? I ask.

I’m not sure, she replies, shielding the sun from her face with her left hand.

I notice one of the old school locals, Eli, is painting the stoop steps a few doors down. He’s on his knees, halfway up the steps, running a paint roller from side to side.

Hey, can I ask you something? I ask in a respectful tone.

Eli has been quietly witnessing the situation and has already figured out the answer. Barely meeting my gaze he extends his arm. In his hand is a key ring with a million keys. One small copper key protrudes from his pinched thumb and pinkey.

Here’s my keys to my gate. Go get the cones. Nobody will move the cones.

Thanks man. I say. Trying to keep my cool.

Don’t mention it, he says.

I look up and across the street and more of our neighbors are outside. Each surmising what to do.

Eli’s letting me use his cones. I express to the small set of watchers, trying to mute my glee. Everyone nods.

Eli, how will I find you later? I ask.

What for? He asks, startled, not wanting any part of any part of anything he’s not part of.

To give you back the cones. I reply.

Nah. Just throw them over the gate. He chuckles, letting me know I’m the rookie, I’m not from here as much as he is from here. He’s right. I’m from here, but I brought the rents up. Making the rents go up is the new Brooklyn. Making a Brooklyn for everyone is the old Brooklyn.

I put the cones in place. My neighbors nod in acceptance and I drive the first batch of my stuff to New Jersey. Everyone waves.

I return to Brooklyn later that night with an empty car ready for a second load. I drive up to the hydrant, expecting to see the cones, and there’s a black Volvo there. Parked with it’s back wheel on the curb. Dents all over. Dirty.

I pull up in front. Exit my vehicle and review the black automobile. From across the street a neighbor recounts my experience loud enough for me to hear.

You get Eli’s cones. You place them to hold the space. When you’re out, someone moves them and takes the spot. You come back, no place to park. No place for the truck. Must be a jerk.

I raise my arms up. Yup, I say. I stare at the car. I find the cones wedged near the curb.

Did he leave a number on his car? My neighbor is now standing beside me, shaking his head. Can you tell whose it is?


I’m going to post this to the block list serve, he says. Let’s see if anyone knows whose car this is. He reads aloud as he types, one black Volvo, license plate…parked in front of…please move…ok, posted.

Thanks. I say. I’m going to go back to packing.

You’re welcome, he says, we’re sad to see you go.

The next morning. Which is today, the day I am writing this, the movers arrive early. They call my cell phone. I think it’s my alarm. I click it off. They call again. I click it off. They call again. I answer.

Jason, this is your driver. We’re here.

You’re early.

As planned.

They double park the truck. This causes some caustic jeers from passing cars and delivery trucks. Slowly nearly all cars blocked in between the truck and the sidewalk depart. All except one.

If this dude moves this one car our lives become a whole lot easier, the moving team lead says. I nod in agreement.

Just then, across the street, Eli appears, looking at the black Volvo. He shakes his head. Then shrugs.

I run over and ask, do you know whose car this is?

Sure, says Eli.


It’s J, lives around the corner. Must have gotten home late. You know J, he’s got his hair to his shoulders?

J? Yes I know J. J is the guy who is always saying hi to Sheila. Smiling from across the street. Crossing the street to talk to her. When I encounter him on the sidewalk I swear he crosses the street, turns the corner, goes a different direction. We call him Iggy Pop as his face somewhat resembles his face. I can kinda see it.

Eli turns to look up the block, he raises his chin, squints. Gazing across his terrain.

Yup. He says. That’s J’s car.

He shrugs again and heads back down the block.

It takes all four movers to lift and carry our piano down the stoop. They struggle and bend and crouch and pull. It’s wrapped and strapped and contains a billion or more combinations of sounds, songs and soul.

We’re not piano movers one says out loud.

You are now, says another.

Texas (1993 v2)

Here, on this map, is Texas.
All tan and lonely.
Veiled by blue lines of highways and stop signs.

And here I am, this giant looking down on all that space
and I feel the breath of its desert on my face.

I’m on the roadside, and the weeds,
and the cactus, and the men in blue pick-up trucks
pass with their eyes below their hat lines.

Pulling my smile against my teeth so not to let the dust in.

I’m waiting for this bus. You’re already on it.
When it stops, you look out from behind the big round wheel
open the door and ask if we’ve met before.

As I climb the stairs I drop a stack of photographs.
They are shuffled down the highway by the highway wind.
Black and white and glittering like fires.

You dropped your pictures, you say.
I know, I say.
Don’t you want to get them, you say.
No, I say, and you look at me standing on the stairs to the bus
and it seems you are deciding whether or not to let me in.

It’s on that road in Texas that I see you, in a forever way
Christmas and the snow, parents and home.

I want to hold you, but all I have is this old map
and your smell in my old shirt.
You wore this one before you left.

Lexington Avenue Mary (1994 v2)

In her hands she held a baby bird
Tiny, wet, squawking.
She has a virgin mary smile
and her head bent, her eyes bent longingly
at a virgin mary angle
She seemed content
standing there on the corner
with all that traffic moving by her
She didn’t notice
She rocked back and forth, slightly
coddling her young
She hummed to herself.
She stood there rocking her bird.
It was October and I thought that
birds only had babies in the Spring
It began to get cold
the sun slipped behind the tall buildings
but she didn’t notice.
She was the Lexington Avenue virgin of the bird
rooted to her corner like some strange city tree
making a nest in her hands
She stood there, across the street from the hardware store
humming to herself, humming to her bird
Unaware of the people and the cars
and the buses
and the noise.

In her hands she held a baby bird
tiny, wet, squawking.

She has a virgin mary smile
and her head bent, her eyes bent longingly
at a virgin mary angle.

She seemed content
standing there on the corner
with all that traffic moving by her.

She didn’t notice.

She rocked back and forth, slightly
coddling her young
She hummed to herself.

She stood there rocking her bird.

It was October and I thought that
birds only had babies in the Spring.
It began to get cold
the sun slipped behind the tall buildings
but she didn’t notice.

She was the Lexington Avenue virgin of the bird
rooted to her corner like some strange city tree
making a nest in her hands.

She stood there, across the street from the hardware store
humming to herself, humming to her bird
Unaware of the people and the cars
and the buses
and the noise.

The 4 Uptown Express

The baby wasn’t crying so much as trying to get our attention. He blinked his solid brown eyes, clenching them into fresh wrinkles, as if to clear his lenses. He looked up at us, the mashed-together subway riders on the uptown 4.

He shifted his binkie, tethered to the handrail of his old-school steel-framed carriage. He looked left, then right, then up at me, seeming to read the back of my paperback book. I flipped it to the cover, as if to show him the title. His mother glanced at me. “Stand back,” her eyes said, “I don’t know you.” I telepathically sent her a message, hoping it would show on my face, “I have two children, I’m not bad.” Her glare increased. I turned away.

The 4 train is crowded no matter the stop. Compare this to the uptown D train, which is half empty by the time it hits mid-town. I can shave ten to fifteen minutes on my commute by taking the 4, but the 4…oh the 4.

As the train doors opened somewhere near Wall Street, the too crowded passengers fell backwards, spilling out onto the platform, falling into each other’s bodies, tangled up. They clambered to their feet, made regretful and apologetic eye contact with each other, and stoically hurried to work. The mother and carriage shifting towards the center of the car, but there wasn’t any more room over there. New passengers pushed their way on to the car, pressing the mother into her carriage.

Three of the seated people immediately stood up offering her a safe place. She refused. She said aloud, to the empty space between the poles, “If these motherfuckers can’t see that I’m pushing a baby then they can all go to hell.”

The seated people cautiously sat back down, hoping the mother would change her mind. An elderly woman, hissed at her, not maliciously, but to get her attention. She was offering up her seat for the mother. The car drew quiet. Then, just as the doors were about to shut, which would allow the train to continue its lurch forward towards the next stop, one last person tried to push on. She held the doors open. The train conductor was firm on the speaker, “Please use all available doors, there is another train directly behind this one…”

The woman holding the doors yelled into the car, “Is there space over there? I see some space…” A current passenger, a matronly woman, now pressed against the handrail and the half-open doors tried to twist to look into her face. She replied, “Can’t you wait for the next train? There’s no room here.”

“I see it.”

“There’s NO room”

“Can’t everyone just step in a little more?”

‘What makes you so important?”

“I see there’s room…”

The conductors voice grew agitated, “…there is a train DIRECTLY behind this one…”

At that point the mother with the baby carriage had enough. Speaking again to the neutral space, the bit of empty location just above our heads and the roof of the train, where the air might be clearer of heat, dust, and body smells…

“I have a baby here! I’m moving back to the Bronx, people know how to live up there. You Brooklyn people are crazy!”

The Postal Convenience Station

The Postal Convenience Station

I was the third of four postal patrons on the makeshift line. We arched away from the tinted glass aluminum framed door, attempting to allow enough personal space for the next potential patron to enter. The auto-teller was wedged at the front corner, along the glass, away from the walk-in-closet-sized room of PO boxes. At the right was the one big package-size-accepting mailbox for all parcels needing to be mailed.

A mu-mu and sandal-clad elderly woman sat on the low, rough pine bench, resting her arms along her black-metal walker, “I’m taking a break,” she said, “there’s AC in here.” Her hands squeezed the brake levers tightly.

At the front of the line a young woman in standard-issue running gear (white trim navy shorts, t-shirt, white sneakers) was balancing a wide corrugated cardboard rectangular box with her arm, hand and shoulder while also pressing her cell phone to her ear. The box could hold five pairs of shoes, if they were placed side by side, but in transit, it seemed, all shifted to the right. She couldn’t manage. The box would slide, the phone would slide; she juggled these items while reading aloud, to the person on the phone, the entire directions on the auto-teller.

“First class? Priority? Do I weight it? (Pause) Yeah, uh huh (Pause), you said this would be easy…”

As she rubbed her right pointer finger along the deep-browed touch screen she thankfully put the box down on the scale.

“It’s 16 pounds (Pause) I don’t know (Pause) do we insure it?”

The person directly behind her on the line turns to me, “I just need to check to see if I have the right postage…” I turn to the elderly woman on the bench, the witness to this and probably other postal transactions, she sighs, fixes her lipstick with the back of her hand, and shuffles her feet.

“You said this would be easy (Pause) so what do I do now? (Pause) Ok, take this label and stick it on the box? But you already wrote the address…”

I look out of the glass door, more postal patron arrive and hurry towards the back. I hear the click-clank of postal boxes open and shut, papers rustle, tearing and tossing. The sun reflects in long strands off the roof of a black sedan as it backs-up into a no-parking space in front of the station. A man from the grocery store, wiping his hands with his green apron, walks up and points at the sign. The driver rolls his window down, squints, shrugs, and rolls it back up. The grocery-man looks in at us, with the hopeful gaze that we’d agree with him. He dramatically drops his arms to his sides, shakes his head at us, and walks back towards the market. He bumps into a customer, raises his arms as if to hug the man, but doesn’t.

The woman with the unbalanced-box continues, “Pay with debit or credit? (Pause) I don’t know. (Pause) This was your idea…”

Still looking outside through the glass, the walk sign becomes a flashing do-not walk sign. A woman grabs two children by their forearms and rushes them along the crosswalk stripes. Two men in suit-pants and ties ignore the cars and walk at a careful gait from this side to that. A taxi honks.

The sign becomes a solid do-not walk sign, cars flash by, halt, and rumble off. The sign once again becomes a walk sign. The wind picks up for a moment and brushes the pedestrian’s clothes away from their bodies and towards the east river.

I hear the tin clicking of the auto-teller printing out a receipt, the unwieldy-box-shipping must be complete. I look up, the woman’s anxiety has increased, “Ok, so now where do I drop off the box?” She looks at me and the elderly lady. Was she talking to us? I wait to see if she’ll ask us again. Clamping the phone to her neck with her shoulder she shifts towards the back of the station.

As I step up to the auto-teller to gain the correct postage for my envelopes I hear the box-shipper gasp, “It’s stuck, the box is stuck in the drop-box, why did you tell me to put it here? You said this was going to be easy.”

A Slow, Sweet, Wet Seattle Waltz (v1)

A Slow, Sweet, Wet Seattle Waltz

The clouds twist corkscrew towards lightening mist, nearer to the saltwater sound. They faint away miles before the cleft-top peaks that fence all around. Under a taller grey dome of higher sky the lake and sound mirrors the silver. The draped majesty of the statued ranges hide their stark faces in the gauze.

I’m in traffic.

Regimens of windshields pattered with points of silt-fine rain. Wipers don’t swing that slow enough. My glasses fog skin, my hair thickens sponge, and by some magic I can still see sun-pale shadows of the trees along the hedges. Don’t tease me sun, I have a vitamin D deficiency.

“You know, it rains a lot here.”

Un-hatted runners smile along the lake. Bounding in dark tight coveralls on the soaked stones. It could be 70 degrees, but it’s 50. It could be partly cloudy, but it’s all cloudy. The runners run, in stoic abandon, under the force of their inner helix as the rain pelts them furiously, unattended.

The rain falls on all things. It makes this world green.

The lake gazes back at me, slundering its wake under the civil pressure of the low meandering Rainier valley gusts. The water wobbles, mound crests, and slides towards the inlets where beavers build dams so close to the cycles of people exercising, cardio-ing, gaming. From around the curve, a seaplane politely lands. Plump, skid, and mumble. It rolls horizontal behind the hundreds of guarding evergreens.

There are no bugs, except spiders, and bees, and spiders.

How do these dissilient flowers burst so vivid with their faces toughed in the rain? My eye lenses tell my brain, which tells my brain, it should be brighter, but its not. I can’t seem to get my body warmer than my childhood October. The shrubs, incredulous at my shivering, add heft, girth on a daily revival. By the time this week ends they’ll have overtaken the houses.

The fragrant vine that impedes my front door kisses my checks with its leaves. I kiss it back.

I’m told the famed Pacific North-West summer will arrive just as I dip into my departure plane door. I’ll be lifted up and over this land beyond the wintry passes and miss it all. Down there, outside my double-paned window, I’ll look below the wing to where snow is still creviced along the ridge. There are people making a fire, joyfully. While pressing their hands against the heat, which strikes bright lines across their seeing, an eagle studies them, and crests the air with a few crows right behind. They’ll giggle with the time sensitive passion of those things that are fleeting, and hold each other, and be still.

There is love in the Seattle rain. There is love in the Seattle light.

There is love in this Easterner’s heart as I too take flight.

On a friend moving back to my hometown, not his (v3)

For Zach


Hey, so sorry I missed your call
I got your email with your new address
Nice. Good for you.

You’ll be living near that park we like
the one with the corpses of civil war dead
buried shallow in a wide ditch grave underneath

Just below the bouncy plastic playground
where my kid used to stomp after pigeons
the pipes plumbed through the old bones

All those screeches, kids and squirrels
jumping thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump
down onto the dirt gray mats

I’d lay napping in my apartment, across the street
on a beautiful spring afternoon
I used to live there, I don’t anymore

You lived there too. Moved away. Now you do again
Good for you.
Good for you.

Me, I couldn’t wait to escape the useless noise
I have another million reasons written down
And another million better reasons I’m not going back

Now I’m out here, in the heartland
with cheap living, white bread, and ample cheese
I have absolutely no supermarket worries

So, go ahead and enjoy yourself
send me a postcard, whatever
I’ll see it all online anyway

You know, now that I’m thinking
My daughter was born there
She’s more Brooklyn than you’ll ever be

And when you walk through that beautiful park
and the cheerful neighbors chat happy things
with their wide open arms and deeper smiles

don’t forget

All those tragically dead soldiers are staring up at your feet