06.01.20

we had two rounds of banging pots and pans and rattling cow bells at the neighbors and the street tonight, the one between 7:00 and 7:03 and another for either two or 20 minutes just after nine, who can say? joe went to the window when he first heard voices on cherry street come around to the service road in front of our building, and the march began (that was part of the march, right? i mean, they were?) with guys on bikes going north on the southbound lanes of the FDR. by the time i was on the balcony the street was full, no signs, just marchers. no one cheered, cheering is for 7:00 to 7:03.

we took our daily walk up the east river promenade just after when we figured joe's office business was probably done for the day (my office business is always and never done for the day) and headed west into the city around stuyvesant cove, then down first avenue and back east on st. mark's. how stupid am i for actually thinking the same bars that were selling cocktails to go on friday would be on the sidewalk this afternoon? we didn't walk that way because i wanted to buy anything—i don't really know what i wanted, to be honest, i just wanted people—but oh, how stupid. by the time we turned south again every storefront on both sides of every street was boarded up or in the process of being boarded up. there are thick bolts of shame all through the grief i've felt this spring, and they're wider and more tensile now, how dare i mourn the little threads of normalcy we were just starting to follow in this city when so many people who are also in this city experience grief as normalcy.

i'm writing a print piece on insomnia that was originally going to be due a month from today; a month or so ago my editor told me it was bumped to a 2021 issue at the earliest and she would understand if i wanted to pitch it somewhere else in the interim. she asked me last week if i could write it for this year's september issue and send that draft over a week from today, and then this morning she bumped it back to the beginning of july, and a week sooner than that an hour later. i am tempted to draft this feature about stephen king's insomnia and the robin williams / al pacino alaska thriller of the same name as a secret art project for myself, but my editor is a lovely person and who among us couldn't use a few expert takes on insomnia right about now, half a dozen, actually, i am supposed to do six interviews.

05.10.20

the dirty dozen: admonitions from the management

01 As a precaution, anyone who is quarantined in their apartment, please do not go out into the hallway for any reason. Please place your garbage outside your door from 10AM - 12 noon and 1:00PM - 2:30PM and we will dispose of your household trash and recycle items only. No bulk items, please.

02 We know there are people who are contagious within our buildings and we know a small number have tested positive for the coronavirus. We expect all those who have tested positive to remain in their apartments and adhere to the rules set forth by the CDC, NYC & NYS. As a precaution, anyone who is quarantined in their apartment, please do not go out into the hallway for any reason.

03 As with any emergency situation, everyone is involved to some extent and we cannot be in all places at all times. If anyone knows of an elderly shareholder who needs checking, please let us know. If you believe, as a neighbor you can be helpful to someone, while maintaining social distance and appropriate precautions, please try to help. Help can be as simple as, "a question" - "Do you need anything?" If we can help, let us know.

04 People using the laundry room must be there when the wash and dry cycle ends. No one should have to wait because of your lack of time management or caring and no one should have to choose between removing your laundry or returning to their apartment. As a safety measure, cooperators should try to refrain from using the room when half the machines are in use and NEVER use a laundry cart for their dirty laundry.

05 It is difficult enough to keep the recommended six or more feet of distance from others on sidewalks and in stores. In an elevator it is impossible. If you call for an elevator and there are people already in it, please consider letting the car go without you and wait for the next one. A minute of two of time can save a person from being exposed.

06 Respect must be shown to our maintenance staff as they are working under incredible stress. Remember, they also have families and one of our men was spat on by a cooperator who wasn't happy with a situation. This despicable behavior will not be tolerated.

07 We are having issues with dogs barking in apartments. Obviously, dogs will bark. Shareholders, please find a way to quiet your animal when it barks incessantly. Anyone leaving a barking dog unattended in their apartment will receive a quality of life fine. It is not fair for people to have a dog and then not be present at a time when no one should be going anywhere.

08 The laundry rooms are at capacity. Please be courteous, do not take-up additional machines, return to the rooms promptly and do not leave your laundry in the washers or dryers for others to deal with. Never use a laundry cart for anything other than clean laundry.

09 Noise complaints continue in all forms including loud music, ball playing in hallways and apartments and slamming doors. The doors could be because of the high winds we have had lately. The other reasons are more within your purview.

10 The hallway is not an extension of your apartment. Open doors with children playing from single families or different families represent a risk to everyone. We are continuing to clean and sanitize all hallways and this level of activity defeats our purpose. As hard as it is to keep children occupied and indoors, do so for the well-being of all.

11 The laundry rooms should not be places where people congregate. Yes, there are televisions there, but so are they in your apartments. Please be courteous to new arrivals in the laundry rooms - do your business and return upstairs.

12 We do not have the staff to issue memos under every door at this time.

05.08.20

the clerk at the post office gives H and F's letter back to me; there's no point in stamping it with the meter, since there's no postal service from america to israel. i carry the letter back to their apartment, where a little purple bag hangs on the front door's knob: it's a bottle of DKNY perfume, a gift. they have asked me to knock instead of dematerializing when i drop off their groceries so that they can give me 'the little something' in person, and i thank them profusely. they ask if i'm going home to work, what do i do, and i tell them i'm a writer. "do you write for the times?" just once. "you must live in my father's apartment!" F's family was among the original tenants when our apartments were built in the late '50s; the woman who purchased his father's place from him loved their immigration story so much that she was going to pitch it, per H. not me, i live in the building right across the street, but it is a wonderful story. i congratulated them on their six children, 30 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

the cashiers at trader joe's are always fascinated by what the neighbors request, as am i. H and F have (mostly) pumped the brakes on chocolate-covered macaroons and are now enamored with raw fermented sauerkraut (five large jars in the last two weeks). they also wanted six large onions; "they're really up to something," the cashier noted. "and so are you! what are you making?" minestrone. "what is minestrone?" it's— "is it italian peasant soup?" yeah, pretty much.

05.03.20

i thought for a week or so that i was accumulating soot as i ran errands and walked up to the rubber track ten blocks north of houston, but i appear to be developing...a tan? the speckled filth on my forehead and cheeks is definitely freckles, and joe says the back of my neck has lost its customary translucence. i was decent about getting out of the house in the before times — though i worked out indoors, i made it into the neighborhood at least once a day, and i walked to soho for my weekly bookstore shifts and to and from chinatown to catch the subway up to the bird hospital — but i guess, surprise surprise, taking a daily late-afternoon walk with joe and, now, spending an hour a day up at the track is, despite the mostly-grey-and-rainy weather we've been having, the sort of thing that toasts a gal. i wish i could report that this stirred something in me, but it's just a thing, like the acne i've been getting from my masks and the welts i get under my breasts when i run several days in a row.

i run all the days in a row, now; it's about a mile up to the track, which is just enough time to make respectable progress on my pokémon situation (david bowie, my gyarados, is such a powerful boy) before lurching through a minimum of 13 jogged laps and a lot of strolling. the track surface mimics the spring of my beloved treadmills, i have the lanes more or less to myself when it's windy and/or raining, and the strip of grass between me and the east river promenade teems with fledgling robins and juvenile squirrels (who have yet to learn, a month in, that there's no angle in dashing across the track to forage for food on the astroturf at its center). when i'm facing north i can see the power station that blew during hurricane sandy and denied us electricity for a week; when i loop around south the williamsburg bridge eats the horizon. i couldn't tell you why ferry traffic has been up for the past two months, but i swear that it has, and racing the boats up- and downriver is delightful, even though i always, always lose. on the best days they carry salt air up from the harbor. i am wearing a neon fanny pack without irony. send help.

04.23.20

was the neighborhood guy who masked his mini-pinscher prescient? i hear that two cats have contracted coronavirus, though the news, thank goodness, seems to be that they will recover and that they won't pass their setbacks to their humans.

we persist. i've been seized with a wild urge to chain-smoke, à la every fictional world-wearied beat cop confronted with the eleventh-hour, extra-grisly case that will end up defining her or his career, and have spit on that impulse by reactivating my long-dormant pokémon go account (abandoned in the summer of '16 when i realized that i'd gone three weeks without talking to my mother).* i sure hope that pokémon go isn't a villainous, terrible app; it pings my interests in animal husbandry, hoarding, quantified physical activity, vexing the neighbors' kids, and so much more.**

that's self-care in these parts, then: weekly grocery runs for the neighbors, daily walks with joe, near-constant local-tween-owning. i've been quilting and watching my brilliant friend. getting into fistfights with bus stops is totally normal.


*on my first post-pokémon walk i stumbled upon A LIVE EEL IN THE STREET sine-waving on land like a regular old black snake that couldn't breathe; i did my damndest to catch and return it to its grand street live-seafood tupperware tub and have a new appreciation for that whole slippery-as-an-eel thing. i saw said eel en route to my local bank branch, where i was to explain that someone had accidentally deposited a random $18,000 into my checking account (true story, i was mixed up with another, fancier contractor); when i arrived my hands were eel-slimy and bowery-grimy, so i wiped them on the carpet before i approached the teller. "oh hi," [spreads mysterious goop on the floor] "i have a lot of money that isn't mine."

**on this afternoon's walk, pokémon go taught me that charlie parker lived on avenue b; while tech will unquestionably be one of the deaths of us, i will take that factoid with me to hell.

04.18.20

CONSUMED: A PARTIAL LIST.

black leopard, red wolf (book). the last four fantasy novels i've read have all begun with some variation on "those who appear in this account" lists of dramatis personae. that could seem cute or superfluous, as the maps that frequently accompany them often are (the maps in this book, speaking of, are pretty unnecessary), but without a robust character list black leopard, red wolf would be confusing as hell. in fact, it is confusing as hell even when you can flip back to the beginning to remind yourself that the ipundulu is a vampire lightning bird and that sasabonsam (who drinks blood, except when he doesn't) is the winged brother of asanbosam (who eats flesh), and so on. it is also exhausting, as the very stories-within-stories structure and super-intricate world-building that have inspired comparisons to tolkien's middle earth, george r.r. martin's lands of ice and fire, and, like, hieronymus bosch make it extremely slow going. the comparison to george r.r. martin is an important one, for marlon james is equally fixated on sexual violence; it's been a long time since i've read something even more rape-y than a game of thrones, &c. james uses it to make important points about everything from power and exploitation to trauma and identity, and i can appreciate that, but it's rough going. that said, james blends african mythological and storytelling traditions with magical realism and surrealism to create something both ancient and new. i have absolutely no idea if it would appeal to the majority of fantasy readers, but i know i'm going to head back and read james's a brief history of seven killings, and i'll read the sequel to black leopard, red wolf when he writes it. i'm budgeting a month for it, though.

the invisible man (film). if you're the sort of person who worries that seeing too many trailers for thrillers will ruin them for you, i have bad news and good news about the invisible man. bad: as a reboot of one of universal's classic monster movies (along with dracula, frankenstein, the mummy, and so on, although most of the reboots were scrapped after the mummy tanked), its premise and basic structure aren't much of a secret even if you didn't see a bunch of previews for it on cable television this month (though this version centers the victim, elisabeth moss, rather than her tormentor*). good: even if you have been marinating in those previews, at least two of the scenes in them—including one so striking that it's featured as a still in the majority of the movie reviews i've seen—aren't in the movie at all! put that in your juul and smoke it! the invisible man was written and directed by leigh whannell (who also wrote saw**), a detail that could have squelched my interest in the movie if i'd known it ahead of time. i did not know it ahead of time, however, and i am glad that i carried on with our friday-night plan of overpaying for a home-premiering new movie and watching it from our sofas as though we were at our beloved nitehawk cinema in williamsburg. we had to make our own snacks, which was unfortunate, but we could get up to pee whenever we wanted without missing anything (the invisible man is, oddly, more than two hours long), which was pretty great. anyway, it was entertaining, especially if you get a kick out of bad things happening to tech zillionaires.

*fun fact: a tormentor is also "a fixed curtain or flat on each side of a theater stage that prevents the audience from seeing into the wings." related: teasers. quarantrivia!

**i couldn't sleep the other night and a twitter thread about cary elwes sent me down an internet rabbit hole that involved reading plot summaries of all of the saw movies. it was a dark time.

04.14.20

the dirty dozen {twelve pandemic encounters}

01 a masked guy holding a mini-pinscher wearing its own shot-glass-sized little feed-bag mask
02 a dude scalping hand soap and toilet paper directly in front of our grocery store, which might have stocked both of those things at that point ("hey lady, a dollar a roll!")
03 four four-packs of breakstone's salted butter speared on a wrought-iron fence
04 an angry and barefaced guy who leaned in to cough on and scream at us
05 a canada goose standing one-legged and asleep on the sand just north of south street seaport
06 a crowd of hasidic teens on electric skateboards, skeptical
07 a pile of one-free-per-customer egg-shaped soap trios at trader joe's
08 our neighbor J, god has granted him a good life and he is prepared to let the chips fall where they may
09 innumerable shitstains on citibikes
10 jumpy, poorly-laminated drugstore staffers
11 ATVs popping wheelies on the FDR
12 The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.

04.10.20

it's been an angry week, or an angry second half of the week. i tell myself that i've been unflappable for most of the past couple of months, but the truth is that i'm usually unflappable until i'm abruptly and notably flapped, and it's shitty. i have been fixating on friends and acquaintances who have left new york city to hole up in other places; while i joke about sanctimony as if it's something i don't return to all the time, i am so very sanctimonious. how dare they cart their germs out of town and risk overburdening underequipped regional care centers because staying in new york makes them itchy? i'm the hypocrite out here rocking a month-old n95 (and cotton masks) and making additional trips to the grocery store and pharmacy for compromised neighbors who could in theory be coached through trying to join the order-in sweepstakes with delivery services that appear to pay their employees fairly (stereotypical senior-senior-citizen computer literacy issues aside), but.

i called my mom this afternoon, as it's her birthday, and she told me that her hairdresser, R, had come over to cut my stepdad's hair; he's going to be coming back to cut her hair soon. i told her they and R were being reckless; i noted that if R truly had good protective gear, then it was his responsibility to donate it to his local hospital; i gave fair warning that i was going to narc on her to my sisters and make them call and pressure her, too. then i texted mom and stepdad after the call to say, with love, that if they went through with mom's appointment i would name and shame R online and make sure that he went out of business.

joe said that that was way too much; he noted that i have been in a freaky mental place of late. i suspect that i should limit myself to, like, making cheesy jokes about design for work projects until someone has a plausible idea of what's happening next and my interior landscape is closer to the great plains, would you just look at that unwrinkled grosgrain road.

i wake up half a dozen times a night mumbling apologies for things i did in my dreams. i pinch an earlobe, cross my eyes, and consider the idea that if you aren't yourself in a catastrophe then you didn't really survive, did you.

04.09.20

i woke up at seven this morning and saw that L had just liked one of my instagram posts. i met her when her husband, a guy i've known since we were twelve, was on one of my trail relay teams a few years ago, and i will never forget how tenderly she smoothed sunblock across his scalp and cheeks every few hours (his little brother died of skin cancer in his teens). L had a baby girl a few weeks ago, and i don't know if her doctors allowed anyone into the room for her birth. L works for amazon.

E texted a few days ago to say that while we'd planned another video call for this weekend and she very much wants to be in touch, stress is even worse for her after that kind of contact because she associates it with crisis. she doesn't think she'll always feel like this, maybe in a few months—

our E abroad is vague about his training, but he seems to be a reservist. he was surprised when we said that we wouldn't necessarily fly across the country to our parents if we found out the virus had hospitalized one of them; i explained that there was a strong likelihood that we wouldn't be permitted to see them. E was asked to volunteer for early service and declined; he would want to take care of his parents if they fell ill. later he said he'd read that COVID-19 deaths felt like drowning. he is waiting.

04.05.20

CONSUMED: A PARTIAL LIST.

bored to death (series). it's entirely possible that i would have been immune to bored to death's charms if i'd seen it when it first aired on hbo a decade ago; it's very wes-anderson-meets-michael-chabon brooklyn-precious, and with the exception of kristen wiig, its female cast doesn't get much in the way of open road. because we're seeing it after i saw ted danson through four seasons of the good place—i really loved the good place—and while the good, the bad, and the brooklyn of this city is largely off-limits to us, i find myself getting misty over, like, scenes at veselka and old town.* creator/writer/nude-cameo jonathan ames distills something very specific about book and magazine publishing at the beginning of this decade, and while i didn't actually live in greenpoint or park slope in those years, i spent rather a lot of time there; i'd say he's gotten them right, too. also, why haven't we been to brighton beach? why haven't we gone to spa castle? mistakes were made in The Time Before. also also, i think i might be putting together some sort of ted danson retrospective over here. anyway, bored to death: the stoner-noir rejoinder to sex and the city i didn't know i needed, even though that ubiquitous pop-fictional-character personality quiz told me i was an 80% match with carrie motherfucking bradshaw.

game night (film). i see movies at weird film festivals, on international flights, and at, like, dine-in theaters in brooklyn, so i was ignorant of game night's existence until my cousin dan recommended it in our neverending twitter direct-message thread; he said it was one of the best comedies of the decade and as he is a comedian, i decided to listen to him. readers, it is an extremely enjoyable movie! from where i'm sitting it's superior to knives out (another quirky-mysterious semi-thriller i considered pretty cheesy, as daniel craig did not work at all for me; please don't tell the dine-in theaters that or they might not let us come back), in fact. casting directors, please hire rachel mcadams and jesse plemons (especially jesse plemons) for all the comic things.

temporary (book). i'm tempted to call temporary the best book i've read this year so far, but i've had the good fortune to read several boss books over the past few months; let's say it's top three for sure. the very last emily books title and hilary leichter's first novel (expanded from a short story published in n+1 in 2012), temporary follows an unnamed female narrator ostensibly in search of "the steadiness," or an end to the increasingly-absurd fill-in work she's been doing since she was a little girl (when she was hired to open and close each of the doors in an empty house at fixed intervals). she is a human barnacle, and a pirate, and a sort-of-host for the cremains of a captain of industry; she sounds a bit like a lewis carroll character, a kelly link character, a helen oyeyemi character (link and oyeyemi both praised the book, unsurprisingly). it's bone-dry, poignant, and very, very funny, and i think about it a lot as i run errands for my shut-in neighbors for free, shoulder to shoulder with the gig workers running errands for a different set of shut-ins, for lousy pay. C told me today that she drove up to tompkins square park and bought some pastries at the farmers' market "because it was outside;" she also told me that she sings a short song to daffodils blooming in the park across the street from our apartments each morning. i have mostly lost the ability to judge anyone for anything, though i remain dead certain that the adults biking recreationally on city sidewalks are domestic terrorists.

*neither of which is in brooklyn, ironically.

04.04.20

"survival is insufficient," a line i've always associated with emily st. john mandel's wonderful station eleven (and a line my first manager at ye olde charity bookshop had tattooed on his arm) first popped up in a star trek: voyager episode; thank you, seven of nine. in other news, does it surprise me that emily st. john mandel kinda looks like canadian, literary imperator furiosa these days? it does not.

i lost my sense of smell abruptly and kind of dramatically yesterday morning, and i did not keep my cool about it. steve puked on our floor, so i swooped in to comfort him, mop up his yodels, and disinfect our terrible parquet with the lemony, aggressively bleachy bottle of disinfectant i bought a couple of weeks ago. couldn't smell any of it, which made me cry a little. i told the neighbors i didn't think i could shop for them in the afternoon after all, but that mysterious anosmia seems to have blossomed into today's generic seasonal allergies. this evening i informed joe in the gentlest possible terms that i couldn't listen to any more lyle lovett, and when he switched the record out for let's dance and stevie ray vaughan's boss guitar galloped in with "modern love" matty dashed into the room, leapt on the coffee table, and farted directly into my san judas tadeo prayer candle. bowie is affecting! my senses registered all of that, for better or for worse, so i now feel much better about going to the grocery store and pharmacy.

03.31.20

in the hours in which i don't sleep i have started thinking about doctor omnibus, the octogenarian navy vet who was my psychiatrist for a decade or so. he was fond of saying that none of the things that mattered to me would feel important when i was eighty; he also said "tell me how you want to feel and we will make you feel that way" rather a lot, because he was a psychiatrist and not a psychologist or a psychotherapist. from where i sit, psychiatrists are master aeronauts: theirs is to stoke lanterns and fling ballast rather than to sit through gastrointestinal soliloquies about my social anxiety. we parted ways a year ago, but that is a story for another time.

he told me when i first met him that he had parented his daughter...eccentrically, and that they were no longer in touch. he told me a few sessions later that his only vacation spot is a dead forest on the oregon coast, and the fact that his happy place is an offshore stick garden of ghost trees has always been one of my favorite things about him.

so: doc om is estranged from his progeny and while it's silly to imagine that one knows anything about one's former caregivers' lives, i feel pretty sure that he's alone somewhere. does he have an apartment near his apartment-office on central park south? is he now on an air mattress next to the DSMs and pirated comics he warned me again and again that i was never to touch?

radical empathy's a helluva drug. i'm still worrying about my janky homemade mask's potential repercussions for the elderly folks receiving groceries from me across the street, but i'm also re-gnawing local calamity hangnails: who's checking on joan didion? this time, the first time: who's checking on doctor omnibus?

in the best of all possible worlds, he realized that he needed to get the fuck out of new york city a month ago. he made a terrible phone call and is now desperate to escape grandchildren he didn't know he had. he's ditched his old-man moccasins and the tide is pushing sand up under his yellow nails. i would check on you at your office number, doctor omnibus, and i know that you would think less of me if i reached you.