Category: Design

another kind of life

Just a clot, nothing serious.  

I am already on the train when I get the call.  Jesse tells me vague things. 

It didn’t happen to me.  

The guy next to me talks on his cell phone the entire time.  

Outside the sky changes from pale green to dull gray.  The rain is forever coming down. The train moves slowly from one station to the next.  Each small black sign heralds a new town, then shrinks from view. 

Finally the towns run out.  The train stops, and then begins moving backward, returning to the place it came from.  Inside the hollow and empty train cars, the bare seats are dark and forlorn. 

I stand in the rain and look at a train schedule.  Columns of numbers meaning nothing. The pages of a novel, partially thrust into a jacket pocket, slowly becoming wet.

Eventually a new train comes and takes me the rest of the way.

At the station most of the other passengers seem to evaporate into thin air, or vanish into a handful of cars in the parking lot.  In front of the station, a narrow bench sits beside a locked door. Salt has been dumped on the ground in a haphazard manner.  

The soles of my sneakers dig into the salt and pierce the silence of the empty parking lot.  

In the distance, where the cracked surface of an asphalt sea ends, a few black lines cross overhead.  Beyond them, the remains of a hotel seem to stand defiantly against the onslaught of weeds, neglect, and the slow march of time itself.  

To the left of the parking lot, a line of dead trees halfheartedly obscures a large wooden sign advertising topsoil.  To the right, a highway meets the train tracks, where an occasional car comes to rest only for a moment, the crossing gate providing a slight hiccup in the grand scheme of things.  

And the rain is forever coming down.

I mix rye with Coca Cola and throw in two maraschino cherries.  

When we drive, empty and dead fields zip by the windows, forming an endless brown canvas.  

In places long since put out of mind, I seem to be tracing old steps.  

I don’t see much of anyone this time.  Just my nieces and my little brother, his wife, and my mother.  

Just the same, and all too soon, that out-of-place feeling comes sweeping in.  I panic and wonder how quickly I can escape the feeling of not belonging, sinking back into my familiar under-a-rock routine.  In New York, where a man can be mercifully swallowed up and forgotten, I can slip back into the featureless waves and eddies of lost souls and soulless people.  

I read incessantly and sneak some M&Ms to my oldest niece who laughs when I whistle.  

“I am very glad you’re here,” she says in almost a whisper.  

In the morning I pour milk into sippy cups for her and her sister.  Then we go into the playroom and color.  

“I’ve noticed you haven’t been smoking,” my sister-in-law says.  

Hearing those words, I immediately want to feel my lungs tighten beneath tobacco smoke.  

“To be fair, man, it’s not like you even smoke a lot…you know, one after another…” Tom reassures me.  

But to me it’s a familiar weight.  Something I miss bearing down on me.  Something I long to have eating away at me.   

I get hugs and kisses from my nieces, and pound my little brother on the back.

The last glow of sunlight is disappearing into low, dark curves of horizon.  Soon a train will come and take me back to another kind of place, another kind of life.  

Finishing a short story by Haruki Murakami, I sink back into my seat, to mull things over and collect my thoughts.  

In the window, the reflection of someone old and tired, someone pulled this way and that. Stretched too thin.  And the feeling that there’s always some part of you, torn away and left behind. And that it will always be that way, until there’s nothing left to feel the loss.

a sharper picture

There are things I like, and things I can’t get enough of.  And there are things I love, too.  

There are things I don’t like, and things I hate.  There are things I abhor with every fiber of my being.  

And then there’s being factually incorrect about something.  And that burrows under my skin and drives me insane.

I don’t like to admit it.  I like it less when I’m hanging out with someone and they challenge me and I find out later that I was right.  

I always find out later.  I always let it go in the moment.  

 

I run into Clive one night outside of the New Yorker.  A big smile. A strong handshake. Speaking in Patois. 

Vicky and CJ gone away, to ——.  

“Of all da places, mahn,” Clive drawls in his deep, subterranean voice.  

He tells me he’s heading to work.  I tell him I’m heading home. We smile and part ways.  I tell myself I need to call Vicky, but I keep putting it off.  

I need to call a lot of people.  

I keep putting things off.  

On my work table, on top of my film scanner, there’s a lego set and two stuffed animals for my nieces.  I look at them throughout the week and smile to myself.  

Sometimes I get lost thinking about my own childhood.  And the things you remember.

On Saturday afternoon I get a tooth pulled, though it’s not so much a tooth as the broken remains of a tooth. 

“Well, it’s out.” Doctor Singh tells me.  “Thank God,” I say, almost reflexively, unthinkingly.  

Doctor Singh chuckles.  On the tray beside the chair, there’s a tooth covered almost entirely in blood.  Next to the cold steel tools, it’s almost beautiful. I lament not having a camera.  I almost think to ask him, to plead with him, or bribe him…if he could only take a photo and email it to me.  

Why didn’t I bring my camera?  In my pocket is my flip phone. In another pocket a copy of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot.  I look at the tooth and think it’s beautiful. After a while he comes back and hands me painkillers and antibiotics, then I pay and leave.  

When I was younger I had everything figured out.  

I don’t think it was ever a bad plan, really.  I just think I lost focus as I got older, and stopped sticking to my guns.  I started listening to other people, and thinking maybe they were onto something.  

But now I feel like even if they are, or were, it’s not for me.  A really simple, basic, elementary goal. A really personal kind of code.  A very idealistic and maybe unrealistic outlook. But if the shoe fits.  

Late at night, I lay on my back, and twist my head into my pillow and look out the window behind my bed.  And I think, I could just pay someone to be the kind of person I want to meet, and tell myself it’s the real thing.  

I keep telling people I’m going to call them back.  

I’m not.  

I keep telling people I haven’t met the right girl yet.  

And that I quit smoking and drinking.  

I tell myself I’m getting better every day.  But that’s bullshit. I’m just hurting myself less.  That’s not really making me better.  

When I find out I’m wrong about something, I pull my head down my collar and into my chest.  

When I find out I’m mistaken about something, I might spend five minutes or an hour berating myself in my head.  It’s important to really rake yourself over the coals here. You have to do it so that it almost actually hurts.  

When you’re feeling worthless in your ignorance, you know you’ve done a good job.  Then you tell yourself that this will never happen again. And you say it over and over.  And you dig down deep and pull that horrible, black, hopeless feeling back out of your soul and hold it in front of your eyes.  

“No one’s perfect,” someone tells me.  

“Yeah, not with that attitude,” I shoot back.  

The key is to be the pain you don’t want.  Because it takes strength to make you smarter.  

I keep thinking about addiction.  The way Natasha Filipovna rejected the Prince for fear of ruining him.

And every time I hear that Alkaline Trio song, I just want to smoke a whole pack of unfiltered Camels.  Leaning against a brick wall in Manhattan, and watching the lights of cars and buildings blurring away.  

People always turn to alcohol or heavier drugs.  They get really fuzzy so they can lose focus and forget some pain.  

I want a sharper picture.  I want to feel every little bit of sorrow and despair.  I want to go over it like it’s a topographical map. Every little line and detail.  I want to burn it into my brain.  

I want to know why and how it is that I’m so fucked up from other peoples’ perspective.

Sometimes I think the only way to make myself whole is to carve out a little more.

It’s the thought that there’s an unknowable timer on all of this, on every person you meet or face you see, in a glance on a packed train or crowded street.  And kids grow up into people and raise their own little people in turn. And no one is doing shit. No one is doing anything.  And you smile and laugh and you feel like you could give away everything and go live in a cave, for what it’s all worth.  For what it all means. 

And why am I singled out?  Why am I set apart, left out, on the other side of a divide?  Time is running out and I can’t fix what I am. 

Sometimes I can feel it clawing at my heart.  And I grow panicked and want to yell, I want to grab people by the shoulders and shake them awake.  

But they are awake.  I’m just crazy.  

And there are people I ought to call back, but probably won’t.  

There’s shit I should admit to, and be truthful about.

Strings left loose, promises unkept, and confessions silently sealed away. 

 But like most of the things I’ve probably felt at one point or another in life, it was all probably one-sided, and there’s no use in telling anyone anything.  

Vacation

I keep thinking of extricating myself.  From a realm of thorns. Claustrophobic.  

I keep thinking of going out, by alleyways and streets, into roads that run on into highways.  Out into the country and far to the south, where not so many people live.  

And I think about finding the water at night, lapping at the shore and the inky blackness.  And no voices, no people talking. Just the quiet, and the waves’ gentle caress.  

I keep thinking that something is wrong.  As though a clock knew it wasn’t telling the correct time, or that someone had forgotten to wind it.  

And instead of moving itself to tell the correct time, going out into the country and staring into water, far from the sound of other clocks.  

I wonder how a photographer could take himself out of a picture.  It’s not so much myself there as it is traces of what I am.  

Less than a picture of a broken clock, it’s the footprint of a broken clock.  And the shadow it casts. That gloomy pall, jutting into and overcoming the frame.  

I want to say I never liked being photographed.  But as a kid I could handle it sometimes. The older I got, the less happy I became with the way I looked.  

And I always felt like it was something that someone would use against me.  Just a picture, but there’s this weight to it. 

Draped over your shoulders like a yoke, or around your neck like a penance.  Bowing your head like a source of guilt, or shame.  

I was never that person who really cared about his looks.  Or at least, not when I was younger.  

If I see them – people I could get to know, on the subway or in the street -they will pass by.  Like ghosts. Locked into paths their footsteps follow.  

If I’m programmed too, surely I wouldn’t know as much.  My footfalls are as much a mystery to me as them.  

Unless I’m the ghost.  Something lingering on.  A bit of dew clinging at a thread.

Utterly insignificant.  Breathe and I might turn to vapor.

I keep thinking about time.  And how I won’t own a watch or a clock.  

And time moves by like a leaden river, slow, powerful, and all-consuming.  

Wherever it goes, whatever happens.  

Broken and telling no time. 

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