As K and I strolled through Prospect Park, she pointed out three famous people, none of whom I recognized or had ever heard of. Notably all three were shorter than K had imagined. Does fame make one smaller? Does one slowly shrink from the attention? It wouldn’t surprise me if the desire to avoid being gawked at might result, after sufficient repetition, in a measurable reduction in physical size.
Admittedly this isn’t a scientific sampling, but I recall seeing Curt Gowdy (a legendary sportscaster, for those who don’t know) in Rockefeller Center, and he was tiny. This was around 1979, at the height of Gowdy’s fame. He was walking down the street eating a pretzel, and the pretzel looked bigger than his head; that’s how small he was – or had become.
Also I once had a conversation with David Byrne on the downtown A platform at 59th Street. This was in 1983, just after the Talking Heads released Little Creatures. Byrne was carrying an enormous black book. I told him how much I loved his music, and then added, out of nervousness, that I hadn’t imagined he took the subway. Byrne smiled and said that the subway was the fastest way to get around.
It wasn’t until later, on the train home, as I replayed what had happened, that I realized how small he was. He couldn’t have been taller than a ten-year-old child. And of course this explained why the book seemed so big: it was huge in proportion to his itty-bitty hands.
Sometimes I watch my fingers as I type. They seem to move on their own. It happens faster than I can will it. For some time now, they’ve been still. It’s as though they’re thinking. They think and act, think and act. I sit and watch and wait. Then, suddenly, a burst of activity. They have things to do, places to be, such busyness. This is followed by stillness. A long stillness this time. A still more considered stillness. Drawn out. It’s a kind of brooding. I lift my fingers from the keys. For a sentence they move without me.
It’s a beautiful Saturday morning in Brooklyn and I’m sitting on the bench outside Guerrilla Coffee, drinking tea. Across the street a mailbox is on fire.
For the last five minutes I’ve been looking at the clouds. I can never remember the names of clouds, but these are the high, wispy kind, the kind that resemble vapors. Yesterday B stood at my window and said that the clouds (the big fluffy kind) looked like the clouds on the Simpsons. I’ve been sitting here considering B’s remark. It seemed very telling when she said it, but now I don’t think so. Nature is a mirror for our minds, the same as everything else, and B’s mind is immersed in popular culture. It would be silly to expect her to look at the clouds and see buffalos, or whatever people saw in the clouds ten thousand years ago.
Also I was wrong to say that the mailbox is on fire. What’s on fire, rather, are its contents. I know this because smoke is spewing out of the mail slot. Just now a woman came out of the beauty parlor and poured a small jar of water through the slot. This didn’t appear to have any effect, most likely because the act of opening and closing the mail slot fanned the flames inside. Now she’s run back into the beauty parlor, presumably to get more water.
Ah, and now a small crowd has gathered around the smoking mailbox. They’re talking intently and shaking their heads. One man just pointed down 5th Avenue. At the culprit? Did he see who did this? I’m tempted to go over and ask, but I’d rather not give up my seat on the bench, which is comfortable and sunny.
Several times a woman has come out of Guerrilla Coffee to remark on what’s happening across the street. She’s terribly affected and keeps saying that this is a violation of our social contract. It’s true enough but it doesn’t become more true through repetition. I sense she needs an audience for her anguish. She stands in the middle of the sidewalk and looks at the sky (is she addressing the clouds?), saying what a sin this is and how only a psychopath could, etc. Then she retreats into the coffee shop.
Meanwhile, as I sit here drinking my tea, I keeping picturing all the mail at the bottom of that mailbox, all those rent checks and love letters, burning.
I’ve been sitting here for several hours, doing nothing. By “nothing” I mean that I ate a pear, went downstairs to check the mail (there was none), and ignored three emails and a phone call. Mostly I thought. The most interesting thought I had was about a desert island.
I tried to imagine what I would do if I was stuck alone on a desert island with no media of any kind – no computer, phone, television, books, music, magazines… nothing; not even pencil and paper. I figured I would probably masturbate a fair amount, but otherwise what? Wander around the island? Catch fish? Repair my hunt? I decided that I would run each day and do regular stretches and calisthenics, because those things help clear my head. I even decided which exercises I would do.
I also figured I would sleep a lot. But then, how much can you actually sleep? Ten hours a day? Twelve? Twelve hours a day still leaves twelve hours to fill with masturbating, wandering around, catching fish, exercising, and repairing ones hunt. It doesn’t add up.
I decided I wouldn’t kill myself, although I would probably think about it often.
Otherwise I believe the experience would be like certain days in which I end up doing nothing of consequence and feel mildly lousy, until I finally go to sleep and wake up and it’s a new day. Except in the case of the desert island, the new day would never arrive.
People say it’s different when the child is yours. But if what this isn’t true in my case? Certainly that must happen. Lisa was convinced I would love having a cellphone, and then I finally got one, in no small part because of Lisa’s conviction, and immediately hated the thing, and hate it still. What if I react like this to my child? Most times I leave my cellphone at home because I don’t want to put up with answering it. You cannot do this with a child. A child cannot be left at home, cannot be set to vibrate, cannot be upgraded to a model with improved reception and a built-in camera.
People say everything changes in a way you can’t imagine, so I try to imagine what that must be like, but of course I can’t because you can’t imagine what you can’t imagine. You have to take the thing on faith. You have to trust that when you look into the eyes of your child, everything will change and you will change and nothing will ever be the same.
But what if that doesn’t happen? What if I look and all I see are my child’s eyes looking back at me, and nothing changes except that here is my child and here I am and nothing is changing?
For several months now I’ve been carrying around a little pocket-size notebook. I keep it in my jacket. It’s there in case I think of something to write.
The notebook is made by a company called Roaring Spring and it’s the plainest one I could find. The cover is black with a gray swooshy logo at the bottom. And while it’s a nice enough logo, simple and unobtrusive, I would still prefer that it wasn’t there.
I keep the notebook in the right-front pocket of my jacket, along with my favorite kind of pen, a black uni-ball extra fine point, which I clip to the notebook’s front cover to prevent it from falling out of my pocket. So far this has worked well.
At my gym I carry the notebook everywhere I go, along with a little towel and water bottle. Whenever I ride the recumbent exercise bike, I slip the notebook into a slot at the back of the bike. When I started doing this, I was concerned about forgetting the notebook. Twice I’ve done this with keys. But so far I’ve always remembered.
I thought of writing my name and phone number on the inside front cover, just in case I lost the notebook, but unfortunately the cover is made of plastic and can’t be written on. If I wanted to, I could write my name and phone number on a piece of paper and tape it to the inside cover, only that seems too much.
The notebook came with forty-six sheets. I remember standing in the aisle of the stationery store thinking that forty-six was a strange number. Why not fifty? This almost prevented me from buying the notebook, but then I told myself I was being ridiculous.
I’m glad I listened to myself that day; it really is a nice notebook – small but not too small, and nearly as plain as possible. Unfortunately I’ve yet to write anything in it.
Last night K and I came up with a story about a parallel apartment to our own. In the story I’m the one who discovers the parallel apartment, stumbling on it through a hidden panel in our bathroom. The parallel apartment is identical to ours except for one detail: K. She’s there but she’s different. What she is, is perfect, a version of K without any of the things that drive me crazy about her. Notably it was K who thought of the second K.
The way we first conceived it, time spent in one apartment is time absent from the other. So whenever I’m cavorting in the parallel apartment with the perfect K (let’s call her K2), I’m absent from the real-world apartment and the life of K1. It’s a form of cheating, particularly since I’m obliged to conceal the truth – not just from K1 but from K2. I’m betraying both women at once.
Once I realized this, I changed the story to include two Michaels, one in each apartment. Now whenever I leave one apartment for the other, another Michael remains behind, which means that neither K is ever exactly betrayed.
I wondered what I would do in such a circumstance. Would I try life with K2? Would I switch to K2 permanently? Is K2 who I really want? My answer, in the end, surprised me. I wouldn’t try it, not even once.
In explaining this to K, I said that the operation would kill the patient – or really, it would obliterate the patient, replacing her a stranger. I liked this line of thought, for it made me see K’s faults in a new light: K is not K without them.
Curious, I asked K what she would do in the same circumstance. She didn’t hesitate. “Oh, I’d switch,” she said.
I roared with laughter. We both did.
Later I asked K if she would preserve any of my faults. At first she said no, but then she reconsidered.
“Something small and harmless,” she said. “As a memento.”