Tuesday, September 27, 2011

confession (again)

I bought a pack of cigarettes last Friday.  In the midst of a torrential downpour, I found myself wading through ankle-deep water across College Walk just to go to the news stand where I've always bought my cigarettes, or almost always. Rose looked surprised when I asked for a pack of Camel lights, looked a little sad as she broke my twenty and gave me back a mere eight dollars. Usually when I stop by her stand these days, I am just picking up the daily papers for the library.

I've written about my on again off again love affair with smoking before, or mentioned it in passing in ways that make me remember all over again how integrated it was into certain periods of my life. Its role in keeping a single freshman year after my roommate moved out. The fact that nearly everyone in BG smoked. (A lot.)

It's been awhile since I last bought a pack of cigarettes (one year, one month, two weeks, six days, if the little quitting-smoking thing Evan set up on my computer last year is to be believed, which I believe it is), and even that was a one-off in the midst of another year of not smoking (or at least not buying) cigarettes.  I've never given it up entirely (with two good friends who still smoke, and with whom I go out for drinks after work on a semi-regular basis, it's been hard to give it up entirely), but it's been a couple years since I thought of myself as a smoker.

Today I am trying to remember that feeling: the feeling of not feeling like I want a cigarette. Oh how I enjoyed my weekend of smoking, despite the noxious smell, the slight ache in the lungs, the constant hand-washing, the sore throat. But it will come back (that feeling, I mean), and in the meantime I fear I am eating instead. Pizza for lunch. A mid-afternoon chocolate break. Something delicious for dinner from the boy tonight. And there is some sort of Ben & Jerry's ice cream in the freezer, I'm almost certain. S'mores, I think.  S'mores are way better than cigarettes, right?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

mystery woman

I was looking through an old journal the other day and found this passage, written sometime in the spring of 2007.  It's odd, because I have absolutely no idea about whom I was writing:

"There's this woman I know, a woman with a particular talent. She has a knack, should you run in to her on the street, for keeping you tied up in her conversation while somehow giving the impression that you're keeping her there."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

it's funny

It's funny how sometimes a person can reappear unexpectedly in your life, take center stage all over again for a little while, and make you realize both how much and how little things change.

Today I find myself at home, a surprise day off from work because of having to work this Sunday, and so far it's been a productive day.  Laundry washed, dishes done, floors swept, red shawl washed and blocking in the bedroom, turquoise shawl worked on for a bit. But somehow in between these things, in those quiet moments between one breath and the next, something catches.

It feels, strangely, a little bit like grief.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

'there is no stillness, only change...'

"There is no stillness, only change.  Yesterday's here is not today's here. Yesterday's here is somewhere in Russia, in a wilderness in Canada, a deep blue nowhere out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It's behind the sun, it's deep in space, hundreds of thousands, millions of miles left behind. We can never wake up in the same place we went to sleep in. Our place in the universe, the universe itself, it all changes faster and faster by the second. Every one of us is standing on this planet, we're all moving forwards and we're never ever coming back. The truth is, stillness is an idea, a dream. It's the thought of friendly, welcoming lights still shining in all the places we've been forced to abandon."
(Steven Hall, The Raw Shark Texts)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

oysters & new yorkers

What you definitely don't want to be? The guy throwing up on the subway platform at the end of the night. Alas I was that guy last night, after what was otherwise a lovely evening of raw oysters and expensive drinks in some fancy schmancy oyster & absinthe bar in Williamsburg. But New Yorkers are nice! Several good folk stopped to ask if I needed help, one woman patted me on the back and asked if my apartment was close by, one little old lady offered to call 911 (please, God, as if this weren't humiliating enough already) and the most practical: a man came running back down the stairs with a handful of paper towels. (Where he got paper towels in the subway station I have no idea -- perhaps the toll booth workers keep cleaning supplies on hand?)

Anyway, I made my way home and took a long hot shower and went to sleep and today am feeling much refreshed. (If also ready to go to bed despite its being only half past eight, and slightly squeamish at the thought of oysters, and also expensive drinks).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

bridge, 9.11.11

I've been trying to ignore as much of the media coverage as possible of this tenth anniversary of 9/11, but late last night found me caught up in reading the New York Times' collection of readers' memories of the day.  And later still I watched this haunting video put together by the Columbia Center for Oral History.

One of the memories that jumped out at me was this: I most remember the quiet and stillness that fell over NYC in the days that followed. It was the saddest quiet.

I remember that quiet too, in the days and weeks following that Tuesday morning.  I lived half a block away from the George Washington Bridge back then, and late at night when I couldn't sleep I would sometimes go stand on the corner and just look at it. At the traffic, and how at first there was so little of it, but within days it was back to normal; at the lights and the noise and the dirtiness of it, all of which felt eerily comforting, somehow.

But the strange truth of it is that I was just beginning to fall in love the day that we were attacked, and the days and weeks following that Tuesday morning were amongst the happiest days and weeks of my life. There was that sad, sad quiet, but the quiet also seemed, to me, to be suffused with golden light, with a collective breath of love, and those months of autumn that year glowed.

This discrepancy is an odd feeling to harbor, especially today in the midst of this national orgy of public grief.  A decade on and that particular love is long gone, but I am grateful to it for making those heartbreaking and terrifying days for so many seem, to me, to be so strangely beautiful and true.

The city is still here, and the bridge is still here, and we are still here.  The other comment that jumped out at me last night was this, from someone also living here in Manhattan:  I was where I always was - and hope to stay.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

september rain, take two

It rained a lot last night (the splatter and crash of it making for hours of restless sleep), and it was raining this morning when I left my apartment, and as I stood waiting for the bus, and as I got my coffee and walked across campus and squeaked through IAB in wet sneakers across wet floors all the way down to the library.

I try to come in to work early on rainy mornings, especially rainy mornings following rainy nights.  I come in early and I stand in the quiet of the lobby -- in that particular wonderful stillness of a vast and empty space -- and I listen for water.

Today there were already two bins catching water when I got in.  I scrounged up three more and placed them as strategically as possible, and then there was more standing still, and then minute adjustments, and eventually the hushed noises of water hitting carpet and the staccato noises of water hitting floor tile were gone entirely.

I stood there a bit longer, head cocked, listening to the rhythm of water hitting my five bins, some more full with run-off than others, and found myself thinking about water glasses lined up across a table and the little-kid magic of playing them with spoons.

Today the rain made me smile.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

september rain

It's been wet the last few days, and fall-like, and sad. Or maybe that's just my usual autumn moodiness settling in for a little visit: it's hard sometimes to be sure of these things, or to read the differences between them.

Yesterday it was pouring when I left work at five but for some reason I decided to walk up to 125th Street to catch the train anyway, and of course got drenched. My slightly embarrassing Columbia umbrella (because who really wants to advertise where one works, but still, it was free -- a practical thank you for ten years of service to balance out the inanity of a crown-shaped lapel pin) is coming unmoored from its wires and was no match for the wind and rain. I had been so pleased in the morning that the air was cool enough for my new corduroy pants (soft and black and already comfortable despite not yet being broken in), and that I finally matched the season, but there's nothing nice about walking around in soaked cords. When I got home I had to peel them off and dry myself and curl up with a cup of tea before I could do anything else.

Eventually I made some dinner and pulled out one of my knitting projects and watched Let Me In, and then dreamt all night about frozen branches and glass cracking and eyes.

This morning it's still raining but a different kind of rain.  The kind of misting rain that seems almost to not be there, at least as long as you are perfectly still. The kind that collects on the surfaces of things -- clothes, hair, eyebrows, skin -- and takes so long to sink in that you don't quite realize how cold and damp and miserable you are until much later.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

'and if you hate me, then hate me so good that you can let me out...'

(Damien Rice, Rootless Tree)
It feels like fall today, and I've had this running through my head this evening.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

tell me a story (about when i was little)

The happiest kid I think I've ever seen was in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens yesterday afternoon. We first saw him ahead of us on the path, grinning and waving at us over his father's shoulder -- first wildly with one hand and then, presumably when that hand got tired, with the other.

We couldn't help but grin and wave back.

Later, as we sprawled in the grass under a tree, we watched him toddle down another path only to get caught up by his father, who swung him high in the air and on to his shoulders. Even from across the lawn we could hear him cackling with glee.

We wondered what it might be like to be parent to such a happy child, to have strangers be drawn in to your world the way we'd been drawn in, and whether the child's joy was a reflection of his parents or something all his own. I speculated that any kid of mine, if the former, would probably just be cranky. Hers, in that scenario, quietly pensive.

I mentioned that I'd been happy like that too, at the ripe old age of four or so. She was surprised that I could remember that far back, though I insisted that I could.

But later, while daydreaming contentedly on the train ride home after my afternoon in the sun, I realized that I don't really have any idea what I remember from so long ago. What I know for sure is that every night when one or the other or both of my parents tucked me in, I would demand a story "about when I was little." So at two I heard stories about my mom biking around Oakland with me strapped in the baby seat on her bicycle, and when I was three I heard stories about our apartment in Ippendorf where I was befriended by two horses and my "Oma" gave me too much Kinder Shokolade and I got sick. When I was six and we moved to Westchester I heard stories about my friends in California and our European travels the summer after kindergarten in the Bronx.

These stories continued through elementary school and were told so many times that they couldn't possibly have remained the same over the years, and yet still somehow remain true.

I got a birthday card in the mail earlier this week from my aunt Ellen.  Not a birthday card for me, but rather a birthday card that my parents had sent her back in 1993, and which she has kept safe all these years, and which she's now bequeathed to me.  In it my father jokes about what a piss-ant Ellen was as a kid, and how unsympathetic and unsupportive his wife must be to doubt for a second that he was anything but the perfect, supportive brother.  He also writes about how he and I had recently begun our lifeguard training class, and that though we were not the best in the group we were doing fine, and that I was particularly pleased because this meant I would earn a lot of money at the lake that summer for not much work.

I don't always know the difference between what I actually remember and what I learned later and merely absorbed through those nightly bedtime stories, but sometimes I'm not sure it really makes much of a difference.

The first night that we were back in Riverdale after our months-long jaunt through Europe the summer that I was six, it was August and sticky with heat and we were jetlagged and cranky and couldn't sleep.  I remember walking in the wee hours of that morning (two o'clock? four?), just us kids and Dad, up and over the highway to the park by the school, where we played on the swings and basked in the cooler night air, and then went home before dawn, contentedly sleepy and finally ready for a few hours in bed.

This memory, at least, I am almost positive is real, and is all mine.

The excitement about the lifeguarding job I'm not so sure of, despite being older then and theoretically capable of remembering.  I don't remember being all that excited about it ($7/hour was a lot of money back then, no doubt, but what sixteen year old wants to work seven days a week all summer?), but I think he was excited about us taking this class together, and I can give him that at least. And so, once I can stop reading it every night and stop running my fingers over what I can only imagine are tears smearing the ink, I will slip Ellen's birthday card into the dad-box, still tucked safely away in my closet after all these years.