February 29, 2008

How Was Yoga?

It was a dark restaurant called Galaxy. Naomi sat at the bar, waiting, her back turned away. Her hair was down. This would be our second date. Even as I approached, I thought she looked more formal, a little more elegant than the last time. I liked it.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hi!” She looked excited to see me.

We kissed on the cheeks. Her hand went to my face and she held it there for a moment. She had a light touch. I was surprised at the intimacy. I liked that, too. Still, something was strange. The girl I had met only once before had a slacker dimension that was missing tonight. A sliver of doubt crept in.

“So how was yoga?” I asked.

She looked at me strangely.

“Didn’t you just come from yoga?”

No comprende.

“What?”

“I don’t understand.”

By now I had begun to to sweat. I felt droplets on my neck.

“You’re not Naomi, are you?”

“No.”

She may not have been Naomi, but she was definitely a Jew. Or an Italian. I can’t tell the difference between the two.

“Christ, I’m sorry. You look just like her. I only met her once. We’re having a second date tonight.”

She started laughing.

“Oh, my God. I thought you were somebody I knew from maybe where I once worked.”

I laughed, too. But it wasn’t as free and easy as hers. I wished she were Naomi. I found her deeply attractive.

“I can’t believe,” I said, “that I just kissed a stranger.”

“Well, my name’s Sally. What’s yours?”

“David.”

For some reason I turned and there was Naomi coming out of the ladies’ room.

“And there she is,” I said.

Naomi approached with a big smile on her face. It was the real Naomi this time. We kissed in a rushed way. She completely ignored the other woman. I turned to Sally. Sally leaned forward.

“Good luck,” she whispered.

February 25, 2008

The Coat

I hadn’t worn the coat in years. I had given up wearing it, because I think I wanted to look a little more respectable, a little more my age. It’s an old officer’s deck coat I bought at an Army Navy surplus store. Two columns of gold buttons run down its front. Raised anchors decorate the buttons. I still vividly remember the man who sold it to me.

“It’s rare, these buttons. You don’t often find a coat with all the original buttons anymore.”

“Really?” I said. I might have sounded skeptical.

“Sure,” he said, “extremely rare.”

But that night I was seeing a woman for dinner: a beautiful, high-strung poet with a deep soul. And the night was already charged because this was Valentine’s Day and it was only our second date. Many emails discussing the appropriateness of seeing each other on this night had been exchanged. But she was about to leave town and so Valentine’s Day was all we had. If we waited too long before the second date, our thing could fizzle out like that. We both knew this. We were both pros. We had been doing this for a long time. She was worth the extra effort. And I really liked her poetry. And her lips. And for some reason, I thought she would like that coat. It has an old, majestic feel. I look good in it. Those gold buttons help a lot.

Down on the subway platform, though, under the greasy lights, I saw the cost of leaving a coat in the closet for four years. A pelt of orange cat hair covered every inch of it. There was so much hair that I took the coat off and slung it over my arm. The thought of even strangers seeing me in that coat made me grow hot. The train took forever, naturally. Each second waiting was occupied by trying to figure out how I’d fix the problem once I got into Brooklyn. I remembered from once living in the neighborhood that a deli stood just across the street from the Carroll Street station. Maybe they stocked tape. I already imagined the spectacle I would make.

The place had changed owners since I had last been in there. First, it had been run by Italians, then Chinese, and now a couple of East Asians seemed to be in charge. The deli was still called Frank’s, though.

“Do you have tape?”

“Tape?”

“Like packing tape or Scotch tape, or something?”

He pointed to the rear of the store.

“To the left. We have duct tape and packing tape.”

“Thank you,” I said, heading to the back, “I’m covered in cat hair.”

I found a roll and returned to the register.

“How much?”

“A dollar forty-two.”

I paid and shook my head when he began to put the roll of tape in the bag.

“Ok, look. I’m meeting someone in five minutes and my coat is covered in cat hair. See?”

“Oh, Yes.”

“Do you have a scissors?”

“Yes, ok”

He produced a pair of scissors from somewhere under the counter. Meanwhile, I started pulling off a length of tape.

“I used to work in television and we had this little trick.”

The deli man had been watching us from behind his cold cuts counter. Now, he leaned forward to get a closer look at the unfolding drama.

A long strip hung from the roll, which I held up, gesturing toward the man at the register. He understood instantly what I wanted. He took his scissors and sheared off the piece.

I wrapped the tape around my hand, sticky side out, and then used it on my coat like one of those lint rollers, except without the rolling.

The deli man laughed.

“I mean I just can’t meet her looking like this,” I said. “Let’s do it again.”

I unwound another strip and the man at the register, standing at the ready with his scissors, snipped. There was a measure of satisfaction in his face.

The coat was starting to come together. We did it one more time. We had perfected our coöperation. We executed our roles with precision.

“Ok, how does it look?” I asked.

“It looks good. It looks normal.” He took a leap of faith. “She’ll like it.”

Before I left, I turned over the roll of tape. He ran a store. He could probably use an extra roll of tape.

I put on the coat and went to the restaurant. She wasn’t there yet and so she didn’t get to see me wearing the coat. I ruefully hung it on the chair.

When she arrived, we ordered drinks, we ordered dinner, at some point I made her cry, and then I paid the bill, and we left.

On the way out the door, she turned to me.

“Hey, nice coat.”

“My cat loves it,” I said.

February 18, 2008

I Wish I Were You

It was nighttime on my way home from something. Cold, but not bitter — an urban winter night. On the main avenue of my neighborhood I saw the woman. This was reflexive; she was pretty. That’s my whole life in a nutshell; it’s spent looking.

She was talking to a homeless man. He had set up in front of a bank, making a nest out of cardboard; he held a change cup. The woman had just given him money and he had just said thank you. Usually, people move on at that point, but she stayed longer and asked him how he was doing. He thanked her for her interest. He said something corny about how her beauty kept him going. She laughed and as she began to walk away, she said, “Be strong.”

He called after her.

“I will,” he said.

February 14, 2008

Krazy Tuesday

In its continuing zeal to torment me, the universe surfaced another wench from the bowels of JDate. I had seen her before in a thumbnail jumble of prospective dates: an Asian or some kind of mix. A Jew hunter. This week she contacted me.

“I’d love to meet you. I can send you my bikini picture so you can see what I look like. Jdate cut my pic off from neck down. If you like the picture, then let me know. Are you free tonight?”

It was a laughable message. Slightly more clever than the trolling 24-year old Czech prostitutes who seem only interested in meeting men between the ages of 40 and 60. This one claimed in her profile not to be interested in looks. Thanks a lot.

In the spirit of the Valentine’s Day that was fast approaching, I wrote back and told her to go ahead and send the bikini picture. And she did. Quickly. And demanded my telephone number.

I thought of posting the photo here. But I might marry dear, sweet Izumi.

And what are the chances that this happened on the same day I almost got into a fistfight with an old coot at a bagel shop? He turned on me angrily after the counterman asked me first what kind of schmeer I wanted on my bagel. And he began to sputter with fury after I said, “No more coffee for you!”

And by what loss of all reason could this also have happened on the day that, as I was stomping up the stairs from the subway platform heading into a snowstorm, a man standing below looked up and repeatedly flicked his tongue at me through a set of yellowing teeth? He had that gaunt, whiskery face of an inbred hillbilly, the kind in the movies who make that face at someone just before they truss them up for a later spree of sodomy.

And how could this have possibly happened on the very same day that another jdate wench, for whom I had done an enormous favor, decided that she just didn’t want to meet me, after all?

And people call me a misanthrope.

February 4, 2008

Finally, Some Excitement

It was a Saturday night. I’m home. Alone, naturally, and playing online poker. My cat had curled himself on my lap. In short, it was a typical weekend evening. I flicked between poker and porn sites. It was 1am.

My neighborhood is unpleasant on the weekends. And my neighbors aren’t much better. Lots of foot traffic clomping up and down the stairs. Loud talking, laughter in the hallways, and general rudeness, self-absorption and inconsiderate behavior. My neighborhood is a destination spot for twenty-somethings to carouse. Pranksterism on the streets, blaring horns from impatient cars. My apartment feels under siege between Friday night and Sunday morning.

So I wasn’t taken by surprise when the banging started in the courtyard over which the windows of my apartment look. I wasn’t even too concerned by the scraping of what sounded like metal and the few shouts that accompanied it. But as it continued, it seemed to get closer and, finally, I just had to take a look. So I went to the window.

A man in the neighboring courtyard had hopped onto a derelict stove that he had pushed against the 8‑foot fence separating the courtyards. He was trying to scramble over it. I grabbed the phone and punched 911, possibly the only number — besides my mom’s — that I don’t need to look up.

“911. How can I help you?”

“I need to report an intruder coming into our courtyard. I see him from my window. He’s trying to climb over the fence.”

“You see him now?”

The man had rolled over the top of the fence and dropped onto our side. The fall had injured him; he hobbled around, trying to get a sense of where he was.

“He’s gotten into our courtyard.”

“What is he,” the operator asked, “Caucasian, African-American?”

I opened my window to get a better look at him.

“Asian.”

He limped around the courtyard. There was something sticking out of his mouth. I was figuring him as seriously drunk and on the run from a terrible crime he had committed. He found a corner and curled up, a bit like a mammal looking for a quiet place to die.

“Asian,” said the operator. “Can you tell me what he’s wearing?”

“Jeans,” I said, “and a light sweater.”

“What color is the sweater?”

Our courtyard utilizes those awful lights that spill a disturbing orange glow, deadening everything it touches, washing out color.

“I can’t tell, actually.”

The intruder must have heard me, because he looked up and when he saw me, he waved his arm like a little boy. Now I could see what was in his mouth.

“He’s sucking on a lollipop,” I said.

“A lollipop?”

He waved again. Then he slunk away from his spot, looking for a way out of the courtyard.

“He’s escaping.”

He disappeared into the darkness of the narrow egress that leads to the street.

“Sir, the police are on their way. Five minutes.”

Visitors!, I thought. There was not much time. I tidied up. I closed out the poker and the porn screens. I put away my bowl. I put on my pants and some socks. I straightened the magazines on the coffee table.

But the police never came. Disappointed, I went back to poker. About 45 minutes later, I heard talking from outside. Back at the window, I saw a cop in the other courtyard, swinging around a flashlight.

I called to him: “Hey!”

“Hey,” he said back.

“There was a guy. He climbed over to this side. I called it in.”

“Yeah, we got him. Thanks.”

“Really? That’s great. Asian guy.”

The cop looked at me curiously.

“Uh, yeah.”

A strange moment passed. We nodded at each other. He disappeared from view and I moved away from the window. I pushed out of my mind a creeping unease.

I could still hear the cop’s voice, barely, talking to a colleague.

“He said it was an Asian guy.”