Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Daily Grace

The dining room of the Subway sandwich shop is crowded. The regular lunch hour din is constantly pierced by the synthetic bell of the opening and closing door. Ring! Squeak, footsteps. A warm fall draft follows behind every patron.

He sits, crammed amidst a mess of tables and chairs with his head bowed in prayer gracefully like a swan. He is perfectly still. His sandwich is unopened in front of him. He sits like this for several minutes. Vulnerable, unaware of the disorder around him, spilling his guts in the lunchroom.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Warning for You

You are slowly going crazy as you read this.

You can almost smell the neurotic in here. And its drifting toward you.

Breathe it in, go crazy. Hold your breath, you die.

Just like your mom. Just like your aunt. Just like that lady next door whose doorway always smells like frank and beans. When encountered on the elevator she never fails to mention she was laid off from her administrative job. She worked there for 23 years, you know.

Yeah, those are slippers she's wearing. She was wearing slippers while she shopped for groceries. Its 20 degrees outside.

You don't own a pair of slippers, but you one day will. And you don't really need to own a pair to wear them. Get my drift?

You're practically wearing slippers now, you crazy bitch.

Monday, November 28, 2005


He has no time for people. People get on his nerves. He'd rather sort the mail in peace. He doesn't like the silly girls who always come into the mail room to rifle through the undeliverable mail bins for free celebrity gossip magazines. He doesn't like their shrill voices. Voices like theirs grate on his nerves. He wishes they'd stay out of his way and keep the bins stacked up and out of the aisles. Someone could get hurt if the bins are left in the aisles.

He works all day, bent over his work space, sorting mail, making boxes with the paper tape machine, lifting bins. He doesn't mind the work when he's left alone. He likes starting the day with a big mess all over the place and ending it with several perfect stacks of mail. For the most part, he's never left alone. People are always asking him questions. It gives him a headache to hear a question being asked. He takes a lot of aspirin. It irritates his stomach. He doesn't know which is worse, a stomach ache or a headache.

He wishes he were one of the crystal figurines in the jewelry store in the concourse of his building. He walks by the figurines every day at 6 o'clock and always stops to look at them. He always spends a few minutes looking at a different one. He especially likes the squirrel and the penguin. He also really likes the dolphin. Its very hard for him to choose a favorite. It wouldn't be fair, really. They are all very pretty. He likes that they are there to be admired. He likes the colored lights that reflect off their tiny bodies. The figurines are so precise and perfect. They never have any fingerprints on them. He likes that they never have any fingerprints on them. He likes that people leave them alone.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

I am smart.

We are on a very crowded bus. I am sitting, because I got on first and was lucky enough to get one of the last remaining seats. She is standing over me, holding onto the bar, because she got on the last stop and was not as lucky as I. Poor thing.

I am doing a crossword puzzle. She is standing over me watching me do the crossword puzzle. I can tell she's watching me, but she doesn't know that I know this. But I have keen senses.

I have an advantage in that I actually started the crossword puzzle last night. But she does not know this. All she sees is that I am sharp. And swift. To her, I am a very smart person who can do a crossword puzzle in one bus ride.

56 Down: The emperor before Trajen.

I had an ex-boyfriend who loved the Classics and said he wanted to name his kid Trajen, but call him Tray. He was intellectually smart, but emotionally dumb as bricks. Very immature. I like to judge him as such. Lucky for me, I am both intellectually and emotionally smart and I am very mature. I can deduce, without really knowing, that the answer is Negra. Well, its either Negra or Netra. But I've never heard of Netra, so I'll go with Negra. I put my finger over this answer in case I am wrong. I don't think she notices. I'm pretty sure she's still pretty impressed with me because I've nearly completed this crossword puzzle in one bus ride. One short bus ride, at that.

She looks very smart. She looks much smarter than I look and she knows it. She's probably a lawyer. Or a professor. She's wearing jeans because its really her day off, but she's going into the office to do important things because she's very smart and they need her in order to stay afloat. But all of that doesn't matter because I'm prettier than she is and I'm also very smart.

40 Across: Speaker's Stand.

Lectern. Or is it Lecturn? I think its Lectern. I'm not a very good speller. Honestly, being a good speller doesn't make you smart. It just makes you good at memorization. Kids are very good at memorizing, and I'm a lot smarter than a kid.

It’s a Thursday puzzle. Hard, but not as hard as a Saturday or a Sunday puzzle. Lucky for me, it’s going really smoothly. Thursday puzzles are almost too easy for me, really. She can see this, because she's watching me, very impressed that I've done so well.

She is thinking to herself: "She doesn't look very smart. She's too fashionable and pretty to be as smart as she is. I guess I was wrong. I guess one can be pretty and smart. I wish I was also pretty. But I am just smart."

I almost feel guilty that I'm making her feel so badly.

1 Down: Composer Franz

Oooo. Toughie. I'm really bad with this sort of clue. I don't know music and I can never remember names. The top left corner is giving me trouble. Isn't that supposed to be the easiest section? Someone once told me that the bottom right corner is the easiest, but that was the area that included the Negra clue. Hardly anyone knows that Roman stuff. I mean, I did, but I'm hardly Anyone.

She can see that I'm faltering. Shit, the gig is up. Oh wait! She's getting off. Phew. Image saved.

She left the bus feeling defeated and wishing she were me.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

All those moments...

As soon as I walked in the warm, sticky diner from the snowy outside, my glasses fogged, obscuring my sight. With a few blinks of the eye, I was able to distinguish the blurry shapes of a bar and the man sitting at it. I couldn’t make out a face, although I knew the man had turned around upon my entry and was staring at me. Not knowing if he was someone I knew, I smiled and said hi. His fuzzy outline nodded at me and the man held his stare for long enough that I was able to wipe off my glasses with my scarf and return them to my face to see the face that was smiling back.

In an instant, my smile froze and I purposefully glanced away. I shrunk into my City Self. One thing in the world was quite certain--I was not going to let this man ask me for money.

"Hey." I said to Jessica, the waitress. Looking over at the man as he resumed slurping at his coffee, "I'm just going to get something to go."

As she handed me a menu the man pushed away his plate.

"I can't finish the fries. But it was real good,” he quietly told the waitress.

"Yeah? You ate a lot though. You're probably going to float away," Jessica laughed, whisking his plate away and replacing his coffee with another steaming cup.

I skimmed the diner-fare menu, even though I already knew what I was going to order - a grilled cheese on rye and a side salad with vinaigrette. I had been spending too much money on eating out, so I decided on it because was one of the more inexpensive items on the menu yet it was still fairly sensible.

I put in my order and stepped toward the cash register to take care of my bill. As I was paying, I saw the man look down at the duffle bag that was sitting on the stool beside him. Its seams were bulging with what looked like the contents of his everyday life. He kicked his bag further under the seat

"My wife isn't home to cook me dinner, so I ate here," he said loudly, looking up, but to no one in particular. He scanned the room to see if anyone was listening. I darted my eyes down to the floor and fixed my sight on my snow boots, damp with melting snow.

It was the most touching lie I had ever heard. In that moment, the enormous ice fortress that I had constructed around me over my five years in the city instantly melted, leaving me in a hot puddle of guilt. Why did I earlier withdraw my smile?

I trust my instincts, those tiny warning signals that seem to pop up out of nowhere. I don't even care to reduce those moments to “vibes”. I’ll leave that word to the hippies. I think there's something else there that is more concrete. A true fact, wafting in the air. A tiny trace of fact. A distinct signal, clouded by emotion and experience, telling us something very specific is amiss.

But in this case, my instinct wasn't to protect myself from being fleeced. Strangely enough, my instinct was to fleece myself. Once I cleared the fog from my glasses, I saw that the man in front of me was dressed in a hodgepodge of flannel and denim. He had long hair with a long graying beard and a semi-toothless smile. I didn't see details, but I was sure he had dirt under his nails and holes in his shoes. And the duffle bag beside him was graying and dirty, as if he had been dragging it behind him in the alleyway on the way to abandoned house where he sleeps.

I really didn't want to uncover some clue that might tell me from where he scrounged up his clothes or how he lost his tooth. I didn't want to be able to see the dirt under his nails or the holes in his shoes. And even though I knew at the bottom of my being that this man was homeless, I didn't want to consider how cold he might be or where he might sleep or what variety of mental disease he might have. I didn't want to think of all the single moments of bum luck or bad choices that amounted to, in that exact moment, a belly full of a $4.00 plate of ham sandwich and French fries, some warmth and comfort on that padded stool, and the company of a waitress who had enough heart to treat him like a human being on a bitterly cold Thursday, the final day of the worst snow storm Chicago had seen in years.

As a distorted offertory response, I was compelled to stay and wait for my sandwich, rather than come back for it like I'd earlier planned. I wanted to sit down by the man and buy him coffee and talk with him. I wanted to take back my fake smile from earlier. I wanted to tell the man I was sorry.

But instead, I tipped the waitress $2 and left the diner.