the local tinker shouted across the street at us last night as we walked home to go to bed, “does either of youse have a horse and carriage I can borrow?”, his hair wild and hands jammed down the garbage can on the corner. He reappeared, later, out of the bedroom window, at maybe one or two in the morning, when I saw his big winter coat flapping and his neon-green reflective snow-pants twinkling under the light of the street lamps as he swung off his bike, and dragged the grocery cart with his findings through a nice little gate with a sweet little yard into the house.
A middle-aged scrapper bounced onto the train, and seeing the large and attractive new iMac computer box on the subway floor, sauntered over and laid a bold hand on it, rocking the box back and forth a bit. “Did I scare you?” she said, then came forth a real new york “Har har,” and I said “no– the contents are not nearly as exciting as they ought to be-” and she said,”well the computer on the box looks pretty shiny,” picking the box up by the handle and then, unsure if was about to get to get robbed over the reality of a for-parts computer from 2007, said “the computer inside is as tough and terrible as I am,” and the woman let forth a barking bray, and leaning over to look in close under my hood, said with some pity, “-Ain’t nobody scared of you and that little angelface , sweetheart,” and made a grab for the box, but then I stood up and quietly took the box from her.
” this is my stop,” said Angelface, from a foot above her, and glided off into the night, lugging my new enormous and broken desktop towards home
I am at the airport, waiting to go home and find myself incapable of writing, either because I cannot focus or because it is so terrible here in the pre-Christmas pack-in that everyone’s existence imposes relentlessly. Two acquaintances who are not friends, on the left , sit and politely chat at each other about first avocados, and then decorating a Christmas tree. these topics sear through the earholes and laser out the other side. A Midwestern mother circles and circles round and round the island of my seat, desperate and wanton in her need to locate the Lego piece her three year old son dropped. She has already crawled under legs and makes it a point on her rounds to ask everyone in the vicinity if ” they heard the plastic drop ” and has now sentenced her chubby baby son to at least the next fifteen minutes slithering on the floor under the ancient plastic seats, as he says quietly,” Sorry, Mommy– Sorry,” .
Madame likes to keep busy, in any event. Before they piece of the toy was lost, she had paced, made her way in through the sea of strangers, pushing the stroller with a giant baby in it, and staring expectantly at everyone as she wound her way round bench after bench. With the advent of the Loosing, however, her mission has become clearer, and we are all subjected to the lesson that inevitably accompanies the cessation of her frenzy, as she settles into the chair with resignation, and crosses one short plump leg over the other. Her sons are named Matthew and Connor and her husband, Nate, is long-suffering, exhausted and 350 pounds. He picks up the baby and shuffles off down the terminal as she launches into a public recap of events as she knows them to be true:
She begins the articulation of the crime to the jury, our entire surrounding area, which includes one gang of maybe JV footballers and some 13 year olds playing Jim Rummy on a nearby bench.
This missing Lego is proclaimed as ” one of a kind” and I wonder if she ever knew youth, or a time when she might not set aside the fatigue of motherhood in order to regain even three minutes of her former liberty. ” it’s from an advent calendar that Lego does,” she says out loud, maybe to no-one. The under-formed football players are too nice to let fully-grown women talk to themselves, so the handsomest one ventures that ” she could probably buy a replacement,” and she shakes her head no and clasps her hands in front of her with finality. “he had a little train from the calendar and he dropped it and lost the smoke piece. That’s pretty irreplaceable, I think— right, CONNOR?” and Connor looks up from the flat section of floor he is currently inhabiting and says, again , ” Dorry , mommy, Thorry,” before heading back under the same bank of seats for another fruitless sweep of the same linoleum.
On she goes, and on he crawls, until the footballers cannot support this anymore, and one by one drop to their knees and suddenly the whole area is on the floor and she is sitting straighter in her seat, crowing now in triumph as the world finally retreats to under her thumb. “It’s white, and about half-an-inch long,” she says, and the football team move together, and lift the bench clear off the floor. Connor is put to work again, wriggling on the floor as two almost-edifices hold the bench above their heads. Nothing ensues from this, other than Connor earning himself a reprimand for having the black dirt of the floor matted onto the front of his orange shirt. The smoke remains in the wind, and so we set about mourning its loss once again as a community, for that is what we are now: the footballers who have sacrificed so much while waiting for their delayed flight, and Connor and the children playing Jim Rummy, and me, in the corner.
Nate, the tired and overweight rock of the family, returns with his enormous son in arms. Events are recounted to him, and he nods appropriately. He smiles at the young footballers and settles into place, putting his baby down on the seat divider next to him with a steady hand. He frowns.
“hold on– there’s something small here in the seat edge, ” he says, and Madame whips herself forward, and yanks her baby off the seat, shouldering him onto one side and darting a quick hand into the tight space of the seat joint. The baby is asleep but hanging diagonal from her shoulder, meaty little hands and head swinging loose five feet above the ground. ” CONNOR,” she crows, “—Daddy’s found the smoke!” and then with a wide sweep of the room, she enfolds us all into the moment. ” The smoke!” she says to the footballers, now hunched over and digging with frenzy into the seat. They cheer and high-five each other, the idiots.
“Maybe one of you could try and get it out,” she says, frowning, after a while, and the footballers trudge forward, but at age 16, their hands are already too gnarled and worn from the demands of Life, and after five minutes of them forcing their cudgels into the dark space, Madame remembers.
“CONNOR,” she bellows, and he pops up from the corner he has been standing in quietly as his mother moved heaven and earth. ” Yeth, Mommy?” he says.
He’s a cheerful little man, ruddy and enormously dirty from having been on the floor.
” They’ve found your smoke. Git your hand in there and try and fish it out.”
He waddles forward, and clambers up on the seat, his cheek pressed firmly into the seat, staring intently into the seat joint as his hand inches into the dark space. “Ife got it!” he crows, in a manner most familiar now, and the little hand comes out, and a flash of white is seen as she snatches it from his little hand, and hands her baby to Nate. “I’m goin’ to keep this now, Connor,” she says, and gets the Lego train out of her handbag, fitting the smoke stack back into the steam funnel with both hands, and holds the train up to the light.
“It’s complete now,” she says, and her eyes are bright.
The footballers crowd around Connor and kneel down on their knees to high-five the little man, and Connor blushes in acknowledgement, but his mother throws herself back in.
“Say thank you to these boys, Connor. They’ve had to spend their time making up for your mistake. You almost lost the smoke from the Lego Train.”
Connor opens his mouth, obedient till the last, but then the loudspeaker cuts through: ” Southwest Flight 1045 to Houston, now Boarding,” and the footballers push themselves off their knees and shoulder their bags with record speed. ” Later, Connor,” the second-most handsome says over his shoulder, as they move off into the terminal. The mother settles herself back into her seat, and puts the train inside her handbag, her motions small and slow. She looks up one more time: ” How crazy was it that they found it?” she says to Nate, and he says ” Pretty crazy, baby,” and she stares at him intently for a second.
“Give me Matthew,” she demands, and reaches her hands out. “–He needs to be walked around before the plane takes off.” Matthew is handed over, and he wakes up, upset, and is put into his bassinette for the final tour, in squalls, as she moves off into the terminal, her eyes bright, seeking.
Yesterday, I went to the Embassy to pick up my check and policemen waved me over to their bulletproof observation tower, and they said ” we haff herd you are translating a buch into Enklish from TscGerman” and I said yes, and then I spent two hours locked up in the observation tower translating my Swedish mystery novel with two German diplomatic military commanders, and our dialogue on soviet-era Swedish submarine strategy as set down by Henning Mankell, author of the kurt wallander detective series, was only interrupted by the occasional need to buzz potential threats in and out of the containment field they have in the embassy, just in case of any accidental or deliberate explosions.
Thought you’d all better know about this one too, because it was the happiest two hours of my entire life
The tidal wave of acceptance from my Austrian co-workers breaks rather gently on the shore
” Hey, Scotland! SCOTLAND, was ist daß?”
There are two trays in each of my hands and I am worming my way through the kitchen that the chefs have rigged together inside the Armory, a monstrous edifice on Park Avenue in the East Side that sits on a full block of territory and was used to house the armaments needed to defend Manhattan. The ” kitchen” we have set up for ” the restaurant” in one of the high-ceilinged, wood-inlaid prize rooms has no running water and no kitchen equipment.
I hear the chef yell out behind me, but don’t have time to stop. If these things do not find their way to the correct people, all hell will break loose. I sprint from the kitchen and throw down my charges just in the nick of time. On my way back to the kitchen, I tug down at the plaid vest they have belted round my rib cage like a corset. Its supposed to lie flat and drape over the torso, like a bit of flair, an afterthought, but on this body, wears like a piece of horrible nationalist underwear. And so, having assumed the look of a misguided mid-Lothain prostitute in the new uniform, they are back to calling me “Scotland” again.
Back in the kitchen, I find the chef, and pronounce his name. He puts down his knife and wipes his hands on his apron.
” Ah, Scotland. There you are.” He picks up an apple from a nearby bowl, slow and with deliberation. ” What is this?” he asks, and holds it out.
The kitchen races wild in the background and curses fly even as food does, and I am unclear on what he is asking me.
” Is something wrong with the apple? I’m afraid I didn’t have anything to do with bringing them in, let me see what I can do to find some mor–”
” Ha! no, no, NO, Scotland,” he says in that unblinking way of his. ” Vat is it, in German?”
I tug down on my corset-vest again, uncomfortable. This is a rather unexpected turn events, factoring in his famous answer to my one-time question of naming a grapefruit lying around. He turned away from me then, and said, ” I don’t know– Ach, I am not an intellectual, don’t ask me!” and hustled off.
But now, I stared at the piece of fruit he was thrusting towards me.
“Vat do you call this in German?” He says again, laughing now.
” –Das Apple,” I say.”Das Apfel!”
“Das Abfel, das Ab-FEL” he corrects, thrilled.
“Nein, das Apfel.”
I throw a grape at him with this final permutation. ” I know how to say ‘Apple’ in German, don’t make me doubt myself!” Christ, these Austrian Devils. You can’t make them speak the Queen’s English or Hannover’s German. I back out of the kitchen, and race back to the bar, but when I drop a wine bottle ( which doesnt break) and also get fired (unrelated incidents), he says, ” It’s all okay, Scotland. You’re okay,” and I could ask him the name of any fruit I could think of and he would at the very least, answer.
In which the socio-linguistic issues of Teutonic syntax are briefly confronted on a Tuesday
I am in language class, and we are going around the room, conjugating reflexive verbs for the first time.
” I wash myself,” says the 45-year-old southern woman. Slightly intimate to announce out-loud, but not unforgivable.
” I wash you,” continues the Chinese 20-year-old named Dong in the corner. Well, Dong.
” TO WASH” is the verb in bold at the top of the page, chosen by almost all German textbooks to demonstrate reflexive aspects of language. Apparently, no verb could be more standard or present a better model for future forays into reflexive implications in German.
” they wash each other,”reads my least favorite classmate, a thirty-year old Israeli, in a slow lilting halt. He is a deeply unsettling individual. The same small unhinging that made the current BBC iteration of Sherlock’s greatest nemesis, Moriarty, so unconventionally terrifying lives in the eyes of the strange man across from me. His smile is wide and perpetual, and he circles his wet eyeballs unblinkingly in terrifying swoops before landing on his target, and then, slowly, a blink, followed by a pronounced showing of the teeth. He hisses when he speaks, and so when I hear ” dey WASCSSH each udder,” emerge from his corner, I blame once again what ever Teutonic brain wave decided the topic of washing was suitable for classroom discussion. Their frankness makes a man’s skin crawl.
This evening demonstrates yet again unrelenting shame that bolsters the essential understanding behind the German language, that they would endorse a room of strangers to discussing bathing together, or write dialogues with men named ” Herr Koch,” knowing their audience to be what they always are in German classes: freak shows.
I am not the first to remark on this. The on-going freakshow that takes place in the German classroom is a well-established stereotype, and tonight’s demonstrations take their place among the linguistic circus always found around a Deutsches enterprise. To write a German textbook, you must also appreciate your intended audience and how the material you put down will be received by them, and I have been in German classes with kids who wore helmets for the whole class and inexplicably played French horn for an uncomfortable five minutes, and they receive German grammar instruction for the sole purpose of discussing zombies and boarding-school porn in the past tense.
These classes are cheap, I remind myself, and besides,for two hours every Tuesday, your stability is no longer in question. The teacher turns to me and asks me to describe my day, and I launch into a discussion of who I washed today and wonder about the day when we cover the vocabulary for describing existential states of being, and the crazy things I can announce outloud then
The city upsets the human animal, backs him into a corner, and menaces him, as the animal inches the length of his insufficient body up the cold junction of two solid walls, and hopes for spontaneous combustion or better, wings. How else does one become that milky white middle-aged woman there, wearing a hat too beautiful and walking a rather implied little dog? She is astoundingly colorless, and loves to wander around the upper west side, at times when employment obliges others inside. Fleshless lips around even yellow teeth and then eyelashes, yellow from start to finish, rise up to compliment her bleached brow. She is colorless, but not transparent, and middle-aged, viscous like cream, and inhabits a spectrum beyond color’s ripeness.
She loves her uniform: a black dress with mid-length arms, and the whole thing squeezes her flesh, with the exception of her bare shoulders, the flesh of which rises upwards to meet her neck, and she wears a variation of this dress everyday. and a hat, always a hat, that one could reasonably argue matches the black. They are fascinators, always elegantly sculpted headdresses, and essential parts of the now dead’s trousseau. She has made the lifestyle mistake of a uniform, believing it both freedom and the tools towards building a better future. I do not know what name she posses, and think it demented to try and guess.
The dog is not white.He has brown patches and looks unbrushed and wild. She, on the other hand, has creamy hair styled into submission under the retro hats and a well-oiled look, and so if we imagine the dog is her only companion, then this contrast implies a certain narcissism about her, to care for herself so apparently in her own fashion, and leave her friend to his own devices. He is not an accessory: if he were, he would also have that thick yellow coloring, but he seems to live in parallel space to his owner’s particularity. He does not trot at her side: he meanders behind her, with disinterest, while she beams blankly with her moist oculars in an upwards sort of direction.
All conjecture, really, because our interactions are limited to passing in the street, on the rare days when I go back and forth from my favorite cafe on W. 69th to the Upper East Side. She is not always glassy and interplanetary: sometimes the horrible round eyes make contact and she smiles without showing any teeth, and that is when I question how lucid I am myself. Sometimes it feels like the only certain knowledge in the year since college is the method behind most efficient way to lap Nutella from a spoon, so that it melts at a rate of constant delineation. The cheapest vegetables comes from a bodega in Chinatown, round the mysterious Mulberry bend. Men with keys loaded with cocaine up their nose are more likely to have employment opportunities than not. The things needed for the better life will cost you a week’s meals. Debt has many forms and you should try to leave this city beholden to no one single megalomanic. Ambition has a uniform that you cannot just buy.
And when you are not the youngest person in the room anymore? How soon before your imprint begins to wander along a spectrum of eccentricity, and your universe is only your own? Is she perhaps free because her problems have no echo in this world but in her own head?
My own head itches then, and I sneak a hand up under the brim of my new black hat for a quick appeasement, and then settle the brim back into place. The greatest mistake to make in this city is to have too much time to yourself, I decide, and smooth the bell of it closer to my skull. I move past the annoying thought that an identical angle of appreciation enabled both her and I to sigh with satisfaction as we settled our hats on our heads this morning, as mine is clearly more in line with both the times and also the season. Her hat includes a number of features, including a fur tail and long white feathers, and mine only makes me bear a passing resemblance to the orthodox diamond dealers in my office building. Yes, I carry on, the fun and responsibility of New York City cannot offset the inlaid beat of distress, knocking loudly today, and found in all men, and perhaps the only way to quiet it is to love others more than yourself, and that love will transform all disappointing ends into a matter of destiny, maybe.
Upper East Side, 1 pm, Wednesday
The two shoes lie belly-up on the counter, the pointed toes of each peeling up and away. in the center of each shoe, a tunnel worn to the inside. “if there is something you can do about this- I know it is dire.” The bell over the door behind us rings as an elderly woman first draawws back the door, and works her way around her own forearm, finally pushing herself into the store, a forty-second endeavor. Then she must turn around to face the flight of stairs leading up to the counter.
The cobbler pushes the feathers of his eyebrows into position, and leans back, tapping a red pencil against his teeth.
” Repair of this shoe is futile. I would have to replace the whole sole.
“You rock off back of foot, along this ridge and twist down heavily, here, in the center of your upper foot.” He looks up. ” it is like–you dance down the street.”
” But,” he says, skewering the shoe on his pencil and holding it up in the air until it drops back in the counter, “-this is a cheap shoe. It is not even real leather. Why-”
” Listen,” I say, desperate. ” I wear these shoes everyday. They’re — essential– do you see?”
He frowns, ” Essential? What this mean– ‘essential!’ You go you buy new pair you throw these out.”
The old lady has just reached the counter and she pushes an orange claim ticket onto the counter around me. ” I already pay,” she quivers out in Yiddish , and he turns away from me to shift through his stock busily. The old lady has clouded eyes and a pink tweed coat too heavy for the classically bird-like Ashkenazi state of elderly she inhabits. He bags up her shoes, a gigantic set of black leather brogues, and after setting it in the crook of her arm, she begins the long rotation to face the door.
” Please, wouldn’t you mind setting a new heel on these,” I begin again, and widen my eyes because I have heard that works, from other shorter, more delicate people. I shake my hair for good effect, without shame and without skill. ” I walk to work in these everyday, and I will PAY YOU to fix them, just lay a new sole on them–”
Suddenly the old lady breaks in. She has only moved a foot since the renewing of the pleas, and she says something, quick and in another alien language, and turns her petrified neck to face the counter. I hadn’t noticed her eyes were so bright.
I am watching her, so I am taken by surprise when the shoes are slid out from under my hand and swept into his repair basket. ” You will owe me 15 dollars when you come and pick them up, okay? OKAY,” and he slams a claim ticket down on the counter. I snatch it up before he changes his mind, and then wait five minutes in the threshold to hold open the door for the now wordless savior, drifting like the melt of Arctic ice from place to place.
The hat heard round the world
It was a perfectly ordinary Friday night belonging to the vast and soon forgotten statistical abstractions of the modern world. The subway car sails down the east side, and the whole car stacks on top of each other to the right, because urine threatens the doors on the left as the car rocks first back, and then forth. The air burns sharp in the nose, but friday-night subway overpacking very rarely affords choice in these matters, and despite faint hints of an unparalleled Nordic edifice on my left, the book in front of me is very good, and so on I read, oblivious. A new black wool hat with a big brim sits on my head. Nothing but a knighthood might induce me to take it off.
The doors open, and someone wedges into the newly-open seat across, but does not settle in. Instead, this new and bronzed stranger thrusts forward, inches from the tallest point of my face and hisses: ” I NEVER SEEN TRUE GLAAASS BEFORE–” and winds his way back into his seat, full of a cheerful vitriol.
The rolling eyes widen, and he snaps the rows of admittedly pretty teeth together. This, however, is a person on drugs, who believes in the see-through potential of pale skin. He stares, hungry, and feels close.
Perhaps in another world I might have had worries about being made into a window. Instead of letting a possible skinning and stretching fester, however, a certain unidentifiable force encourages the eyebrows to raise, the book to close and one leg to cross over the other. “Are you talking to me or Winterscape here next to me?” I say, settling into this confrontation by knocking my hat back on my head with one knuckle and indicating next to me, at the blond hair swept with glacial permanence across the temples, and the large square eyes brilliant like stones. This guy, Winter Johansson, for his part, sits up a little straighter in his beautiful, ugly-colored suit.
The Mexican Standoff begins. Winter Johansson stares, awkward, having been chosen by a girl in a hat who was chosen by a man on drugs. There we are, the three of us, and the car watches us even as we watch each other.
The end is quick– the man on drugs makes as if to touch me and I meet his eye, and without breaking contact, settle the brim of my hat back into place, where it belongs. I cut my eyes back down to my book, which as I have said, is very good.
The man on drugs meanwhile starts convulsing, to answer my question, but it’s too late. The victory has already been assigned, and it is mine, and all the athletic dancing in the world cannot make victory his. I can never go back to the Midwest now, I know this. They will wonder what happened to victimization in the name of the greater good, and will wonder if the world is all wrong.
and Winter Johansson? seems worried about what has just happened.
I LOVE THIS HAT
A little mouse trembles quickly towards the open French doors of a restaurant and then with an equal infirmity of purpose, feints to the left, having had second thoughts about entering into a second-rate, open-air, French bistro in the dead of an Upper East Side night