Noticing New York

Some people notice the buildings. They look up, the backs of their necks wrinkling like old men’s foreheads, and they strain their eyes and get dizzy with vertigo. They notice the heads carved above the windowsills on lower Broadway. They notice the snazzy designs on the Flatiron and the dials on the elevators going from the lower tracks to the main concourse of Grand Central.

Some people notice other people. They notice the variations in skin color and, for the first time, stare at their arms encased in black coats and gloves and their chest wrapped in scarves and realize that on the crowded bus where the windows are all blocked they cannot see any reflections of themselves. They notice the possibility of their skin being any color at all; they could blend with any of the races siting around them or be a mix of any or all of them. They could be green or blue or polka-dotted and it wouldn’t matter in this moment.

Some people notice the reactions, the connections, the bizarre randomness of people finding one another in lines for coat checks, on street corners, inside corner delis, before entering a taxi, upon exiting an elevator.

Noticing everything in New York City is impossible. Noticing as much as possible is the constant, ultimate goal. It is a city evolving and living up to and through every stereotype it has ever had while building new and unique traditions for itself at the same time. Things are old and new, familiar and strange at the same time. There is a sense of having been everywhere before and seen everything, even as the unfamiliar shadows of taller buildings than those ever encountered before fill the streets and avenues. New York is a city of unnoticing lives being noticed by noticers.

How to Avoid Awkward Airport Encounters

1. Walk around too fast. People at airports tend to dawdle, to meander, to amble. Avoid this at all costs. Walking slowly allows you to be caught by people you might know. Walking very fast and appearing to be late, frazzled, nervous or just weird will help to keep people from looking at you with too much concentration. Your face will also be blurrier.

2. Keep your gaze at far above or far below eye-contact level. Look for your flight on the screens repeatedly. Read your book while walking if you’re me.

3. Loiter in bathrooms. Peeing is healthy for you.

4. If you do encounter someone you know, have excuses at the ready. Make sure to have booked a seat in advance so that you don’t have to chummily sit together on the airplane. Drink lots of water so you can duck out and go pee during the conversation. Postpone any duty-free shopping until last possible minute for same reason.

5. In order to avoid steps 1-4, stop being a big baby and deal with the option of awkwardness. Remember that you are able to converse like an adult, that you are good at asking questions, and that you actually aren’t as anti-social as you sometimes think you are. Remember that you are ridiculous, suck it up, and take a deep breath. Things will be fine.

6. If step 5 doesn’t work, repeat 1-4 until step 5 becomes necessary once again.

Realism… Magically?

The knitting store on the corner of Main and Copper streets had a long tradition of being the gossip hangout of the small town. Small towns are all the same, in some way or another, and they all have small shops and restaurants where the older residents would congregate and discuss the week. This town had this shop. The Yarn Depot. It was opened during the days when the word “depot” still seemed modern and inspired. If a new knitting store were to open now, the youngsters would probably call it Ye Olde Yarn Shoppe, trying to be twee and adorable. The kitting circle at the Yarn Depot all agreed that it was a good thing that none of the young people were interested in knitting.
Magdalene, Barbara, Lorna and Jack were the main members of the Monday night knitting circle. Jack and Lorna were the married couple who’d opened the Yarn Depot some fifty years ago, when Jack’s grandmother had died and left him a lot of money to “do something productive with,” as she’d written in the letter addressed to him that was found with her will. Jack’s parents were both scatterbrained, and his grandmother didn’t trust them not to spend the money on a trip to Africa. She didn’t approve of travel because she thought that there was nothing in the world that could compare to the good, old United States of America.
Some people thought Jack was throwing his money away and not doing anything useful with it at all. But Lorna, who had a better head for business than he did, assured him that while they may not make a lot of money, they would always make a small profit, enough to build up a college fund for their children over the years. She’d been right, and while the Yarn Depot had had its rough years, as all businesses did, it also had a steady clientele of regulars.
Monday nights weren’t open to the general public. Monday nights were just theirs. Theirs and their friends’. Maggie and Barb were their oldest friends. They’d all gone to high school together in the small town, and they all knew each others’ smallest quirks, likes, dislikes, pet peeves, oddball habits and deadly allergies. Every Monday night the circular table in the back room of the shop was always set up the same – there was a bottle of red wine for Barb, a bottle of apple cider for Maggie who was a recovering alcoholic, a box of sugarless cookies for Jack, who’d been diabetic for the last few years, and a bowl of potato chips for Lorna, who despised sweets.
The talk on the particular Monday night where everything started happening was directed at the usual things.
“I can’t believe I’m knitting baby booties. Again,” Maggie said. She pushed her big glasses up her nose.
“Have you gotten the ultrasound photos yet?” Jack asked.
“No, and thank goodness. I don’t think I can coo over another blob and pretend that I see anything in it.”
“Oh, you’re such a liar, dear,” Barb said, patting Maggie on the knee. “She cries every time.”
“I don’t approve of having so many children. Two is quite enough. A fourth is really getting out of hand. And what if it’s another girl? They’re not going to check the sex, you know. They want to have it be another surprise.”
“Do you think they’ll try for a fifth if they don’t get a boy this time?” Lorna asked, casting yarn onto knitting needles the reached her knees. Her specialty was blankets.
“If that man has his way. All he wants is a boy to play ball with. I keep telling him and telling him-”
“She does, you know, she’s not just saying it-” Barb muttered confidentially to Jack.
“-that a girl can play baseball just as well as a boy can.” Maggie frowned at Barb but didn’t say anything. It was one of those long-time-couple things. She knew Maggie spoke over people and she’d given up on trying to change that a long time ago.
A lull in the conversation led Jack to exclaim over the cookies. Barb and Maggie baked them, using sweetener instead of sugar, and although Jack had a bad after-taste in his mouth from the artificial flavor, he told them that the cookies were “luscious, simply decadent,” so as not to hurt their feelings.
It could have shaped up into a pretty normal evening if it wasn’t for the fact that a knight, a fairy and a talking tom-cat rushed in through the front door, begging to be hidden from the maddened wolf-sorcerer who was following them.

Shoulders

The devil was perched gracefully on one shoulder. The angel that had been resting on the other had slipped off a moment before and was jumping up and down in frustration, trying to get its minuscule little wings to carry it back up to an ear. Its high-pitched voice was much too small to be heard from ground level. Why did people have to be so very big?

The angel sighed and gave up. It would have to find someone else. The devil had clearly won this particular person. The horned head peered down from its station and crossed its eyes and stuck its tongue out at the angel. The angel lifted its nose in the air and didn’t deign to take offense. But in truth, it was a little bit hurt. It never said anything bad about the devil, but devil insisted on just being plain mean. There was no call to be like that, as far as the angel was concerned.

Trudging to a mouse hole in the wall, the angel pulled a list from its pocket and began to peruse it, trying to figure out where it could go next. There were so many people who needed guidance, but the problem was that getting onto people’s shoulders was a lot harder than it looked, particular for a finger-angel like this particular one was. There were all sorts, of course – some were as big as people and didn’t have wings or halos or anything. But there were countless finger-angels that were expected to whisper into ears, but their wings were almost useless. They could only fly very short distances, so they had to find a series of steps up to people’s shoulders. The devils of similar stature had sharp claws that helped them climb their way up people’s clothes, which was a much quicker way to get up there.

A squeak sounded, tearing the angel’s attention away from its list. It smiled beatifically and raised its hand in a blessing. The mouse blinked and wiggled its nose, which the angel took to be a sign of thanks. With fresh enthusiasm, it began to walk through the wall to find the next person it needed to help.

How to Be an Adult: An Education

As a twenty-one-year old college student, I’m well aware that I’m still living in a bubble of parental care and structured life, even though I’m encouraged to act independently and take on responsibilities of my own. Still, once I graduate (in two and a half years) I will need to deal with a monster scarier than in any horror story you can imagine: the infamous Real World. I sometimes wonder if I’ll be able to handle it. I’ve decided that there should be a specific school that teaches how to be an adult. Here are the courses I imagine:

-How to Manage Your Money 101 (a required course for the following electives: How to Be Frugal Without Being Stingy; The Bare Essentials: What Are They?; How to Take a Vacation Without Regretting it Forever; and the ever-popular How to Pay Off Your Student Loans.)

-Being Single (a required course for the following electives: How to Know When It’s Time to Break Up; How to Dump Your Partner with Kindness, Courtesy, and Minimal Ego-Damage; How to Survive Rejection; Bars, Beaches and Bowling Alleys: Meeting People; The Online Dating Scene: Going Digital)

-Tax Returns and Living Alone: Life Skills (a required course for the following electives: Leaving Home: Tragedy or Jubilation?; A Corner of One’s Own: Living with Roommates; How to Pay Taxes Without Tears; I Rented an Apartment: Now What?; Health Insurance: Step by Step; Robbers and Rapists and Muggers, Oh My – Getting Past First-Time-Out-of-the-Nest-Paranoia)

Stuff in List Format

1) I’m tired.

2) A band of metal seems to have been inserted under the skin of my forehead – that’s the only description I can come up with at the moment for the headache that has been plaguing me all day.

3) I just got back from seeing the second Sherlock Holmes movie. It was exactly what I expected it to be – extremely fun, full of very yummy visuals of Robert Downy Jr. with his shirt off and/or tight pants on, equally full of romantic moments between Holmes and Watson and, finally, including the lovely voice and presence of Mr. Stephen Fry as the Other Holmes, also known as Mycroft.

4) Chocolate chip cookies are yummie.

5) They’re also sadly caloric.

6) It’s time for me to go to bed now before I get too into writing this list of absolutely purposeless information.

Laboratory

“Blaming me won’t work, you know. It’s not my fault.” I can feel the flush rising in my cheeks. I know that I’m right on this. It really isn’t my fault. But then why are my legs shaking? Why am I so nervous?

“You were supposed to be watching, you were supposed to be waiting, you were supposed to be doing your job!”

“I was! I was here the whole time! Listen, no disrespect or anything, but if whatever it is you were doing here didn’t work, it’s certainly not on account of my not being here.” I shut my mouth quickly. I’ve never spoken to him like this. I can’t believe I lost my temper. I back up, even though I want so badly to stand my ground, to be firm for once.

His eyes twinkle in the strange light of this place and I feel as if there’s something building inside him that’s going to explode. The liquids on the wall reflect and break the odd lighting into a hundred shades of color, but the magic and beauty of it has been lost for me in the fear that I feel whenever I’m here at the same time as he is.

He turns around and goes back to the workstation where the apparently unsuccessful results of his handiwork sit, bubbling eerily. I watch him, and wonder if I’m ever going to get out of here or if today is the day he locks me up and cooks me for dinner.

The Ogre in the Bar [Flash Fiction]

Brad knew he was drunk because the ogre across from him was buying another round.
“Listen,” said the ogre. “I’m telling you, man, Shrek was the worst thing that ever happened to us. I mean, sure, now everyone loves ogres, right? But the problem is now we got standards. Before that blasted movie it was pretty much do-what-you-want, you know? No ogre told another ogre how to set up his swamp. Now, though, now we all gotta look kind of humble and be bad-tempered but not too much, and a lot of us have even started buying donkeys and turning their places into tourist attractions, and that’s just selling out as far as I’m concerned.”
“Yeah,” said Brad. “Yeah, that’s right.” He took a long sip of his sixth – or maybe eighth – glass of beer. “Tell me, friend,” he slurred, peering shortsightedly over the tops of his glasses, trying not to see the ogre too clearly. “How you got money to buy me all these drinks? Do ogres have jobs?”
The ogre looked offended. “‘Course we do! What do you think, we just loaf around all day making bubbles in mud-baths? See, that’s another thing, Shrek’s this layabout bum who doesn’t do nothing, and now people think we’re all like that.”
“What do you do, then?”
“Construction, mostly. Got the natural muscles for it. Sometimes I get a shift or two as a bouncer. But some of us have gone to school, you know, gotten an education, used brains instead of brawn and all that.”
“That’s great,” Brad said. He clicked his fingers at the waitress, who shot him an angry glance. “I think I’ll get the tab, man. I’m pretty beat.”
“Sure, sure, whatever you want. If you’re around tomorrow come by to chat. I’m here almost every night after work.”
Brad nodded vaguely. When he got home and climbed into bed, he thought about the ogre’s offer to hang out again. He had a feeling, though, that he would never to go to any bar on that side of town ever again.

An Honest Cover Letter

Dear Publisher or Literary Agency,

I love reading. I love writing. I bet you hear this all the time, but I just want you to know that I mean it. When I begin to talk about books, I feel my stomach leaping and the tips of my toes curl in excitement. When I sit down to write every day, I feel as if this is something I will gladly be doing for the rest of my life, even if it doesn’t result in a lot of money. I’m fully willing to become a waitress to support my writing habit.

However, it’s probably harder getting published as an unknown waitress who writes during her hours off than as a literary agent or editor at a publishing house. Working with you will give me an “in.” Am I being too blunt? Forgive me, but that’s the point. I’ve spent the last two and a half hours drafting (or attempting to draft) clever, concise and comprehensive cover letters in which I subtly explain why I will get down on my knees and beg to work for you. My mind is fairly wrung out, and so in order to refresh and cleanse it, I’m telling you the truth.

The truth is that while my biggest goal isn’t to become a publisher or literary agent, these are jobs that I would do a lot to get if they would help me support my writing habit while also letting me deal with books all day. I’ve been working in a bookstore during the last month, and I’ve found that the mere presence of hundreds of books is enough to keep me motivated and happy. Only think how well I’ll work for you at a job that would involve not only seeing books but reading manuscripts and writing letters!

I fear that my formulaic cover letters will get swallowed in the mass of other likely, qualified candidates that will contact you. If I had the guts, I’d send you this letter instead – although, to be fair, I’d probably work at it a lot longer and make it wittier and more touching than it is.

The bottom line (or, rather, lines) is that I love books, I’m passionate about the written word, and I would love to work anywhere that helps in the process of getting a book from the writer’s personal hard-drive and into the bookstore where I happily purchase it. Even though you’re businesses and your goal is to profit, you also save my life along the way by continuing to publish the books without which I wouldn’t know how to survive the emotional and mental turmoil that every human being goes through.

Hire me, hire me, hire me,

Help me keep writing and books in my life forever by letting me leap into the publishing world during my sophomore year at college,

(I promise you won’t regret it,)

Sincerely,

SlightlyIgnorant