i set at least three alarms to remind me that i had to make a phone call at eight tonight. i was especially nervous about it because the first time i booked the phone call i hadn't realized that i had extant plans when it was supposed to take place, so i spent a couple of days playing email ping pong with various creative directors and friends-of-friends to find someone who could be the person to dial in that first time. this phone call, though, this evening, this was the one for me. it was an experimental theatre project (if i have written to you to encourage you to participate in said project, stop reading now and come back when you've had your call) via the public, and by the by, i recently learned that joe papp kicked up the public's shakespeare in the park with julius caesar at the outdoor venue across the street where i had one of my very last cigarettes at like dawn this past fall. (ex-smokers who tell you they don't miss smoking are dirty liars.)

so i called this number at exactly eight this evening and listened to a bit of hold music while i waited to be connected with another participant, and to join them in following prompts made by a voice-bot that would helm our interaction with one another. we would not be having a conversation, we were told. it would sound like a conversation and yet it would be something else, a thing in which we gradually received portraits of one another. when my fellow participant finally picked up we were told to decide which of us would be A and which would be B. i asked her—per her voice, i assumed she was a her—if she would like to be A, and she said yes.

the bot asked her when she was born; 1972, she said. the bot then asked me if i was alive then, but i didn't quite hear it (the bot explained at the beginning of the call that it might be difficult to hear sometimes but would not repeat itself), so she repeated the question. no, i wasn't. it asked her if she had any siblings, and she said yes, one. it asked her how many siblings she has now, and she said none.

it asked her if she had any particular talents; writing, she said. it asked me awhile later if i had one, and i said writing; she cheered a little in the background, one of the few times either of us broke from the specific responses the bot requested of us. it led us through a scenario involving a blue car's breakdown on a desert highway, then asked us if one of us would build a fire after night fell as we walked to find assistance. i'd build a fire, i said. it asked us to count stars, alternating with each other, and it asked her to "hum that song you love so much." "i can't sing at all," she said, "just imagine me humming 'sister christian.'" she hummed a little of "sister christian" for me anyway. it asked me to think of something i knew by heart and to share it, and so i said "let us go then, you and i, when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table." it asked her to describe someone who had taught her something important, and to describe what that person was doing and wearing now. she described her mother, it was clear, and it was also clear that her mother was no longer alive. what is she doing now? "smiling." what is she wearing? "probably something checkered." what is a thing someone might not notice about her? "her little lower teeth, crowded so sweetly in her mouth." later in the call we were both asked what we would remember about one another. "dusty," she said, referring to a boy i knew in elementary school that i had described as calm and kind. "her teeth crowding so sweetly together," i said, even though the real answer was when she said that she had no siblings. i was asked to describe where she would be if she were in the room with me, and i said she would be sitting on the edge of my bed. she was asked what i would be holding if she could see me; a candle, she said. i think that maybe she is in new jersey or at least grew up in new jersey, for she talked about her childhood schoohouse in trenton and how important trenton was to her. she has blue eyes and blonde hair, and her beloved husband's name is dean. she knows i have blue hair and green eyes and that my husband's name is joe; she knows that i was born in los angeles, but i don't know where she was born. we were asked to sit still and count our heartbeats out to one another, and mine was faster than hers and i wondered how she felt about that. i was asked to describe something fragile in my room and i told her and the bot all about my crystal badger. at the end of the call we were instructed to say goodbye to one another, and i thought maybe she didn't realize she was supposed to go first. actually she was just taking her time.


i attempted some radical-for-me decluttering when sleepless this morning and decided it was time to say goodbye to the watermelon-sized styrofoam skull that's been displayed prominently in the apartment for the last...three years? five years? joe has been very patient. so i had it under my arm in the elevator as i rode down to drop off our recycling and go for an evening walk today. a neighbor got on a few floors below me: "you're not getting rid of that, are you?" yeah, we've had a lovely run, but i think it's time for us to move on; i hope he finds a good home. she held out her hand: "he has." goddamn i love new york! she was en route to visit her son, in the building next to ours. "he can put it on his balcony." we had him on OUR balcony! naturally i was wearing my evolution tank as we chatted.


my friend lesley is a cherry-blossom junkie who haunts the brooklyn botanic garden each spring, and i met her out there early yesterday afternoon to stroll around the cotton-candy lawns and dodge people taking photos of their children and instagram spouses. she rode her bike out to east river park to walk with me a few months ago, and that was one of like four times i've seen a friend in person since last spring; no one was vaccinated then, so we strolled a responsible distance from one another and talked about how neither of us wanted to fuck around with writing a book. this time we could have played twister if we'd felt like it, and i'd imagined what it would be like to hug her—i haven't hugged anyone other than joe in so long, and i was pretty bad at it pre-pandemic—but i also knew it wouldn't come up if i didn't bring it up. she's not a hugger, though she would certainly have indulged me if i'd asked her (when i met my friend abbe's boyfriend at her birthday picnic i actually said "may i embrace you?" like a total creeper), but i...didn't. it was enough to take our sunglasses on and off and squint against the gusts of grit and blossoms kicking up across the grass and lend her a book about cremation. i wanted the normal things, not hugging for the sake of hugging.

i ran into my ancient neighbor jerry, a long-retired cop whose wife died early in the pandemic, when i was walking across the bridge to east river park a couple of days ago. he looked down at my arm: "how many TA-ttoos you got?" i told him i have eight, but most of them are on my back, and he lit up and gave me a massive high-five. then he apologized, said he'd gotten his two shots and had been swabbed with the thing, but it was fine, fine, i haven't spontaneously high-fived anyone since long before we started haven't-sincing.

after lesley and i parted i wandered around the brooklyn museum gift shop. took the train back up to the union square greenmarket, bought all the ramps the chefs aren't using. wandered downtown to my bookstore, currently a pop-up wedding boutique, and tried on a bunch of tiaras. walked home.