Friday, May 13, 2011

City Montage

I run across a street under a blinking orange indicator and catch myself at the curb, looking up in time to see a legless man in a wheelchair at the corner, grinning maniacally as he turns a gleaming six-inch combat knife in his hand for his friend - "this is what I got, eh!" Round-lensed sunglasses perched on his nose under a grey headband, he makes eye-contact with me and uses his other hand to halfway hold out his change-cup, giving it a shake.  I hastily jog across to a farther curb, eyes wide.

* * *

On one of my first days, I slowed to glance through a window into a bank after noticing that traffic would prevent me from crossing the next street. A man stepped into view to fill the whole window. He was staring intently at something; I followed his gaze down to a woman's generous behind, and shot a look back at him with raised eyebrows and an involuntary chuckle. He noticed me notice him, and for a moment, we only looked at each other. Then, he nodded at the woman's back, looked back at me, and shrugged. His mouth was hanging slightly open in a bashful smile. I smirked and shrugged back, not knowing what else to do. He gazed off vaguely, bouncing his shoulders and straightening his posture before clasping his hands behind him. A security badge tilted over his right lapel. I passed his window, feeling as though I had been let in on a secret, or had observed a private, cherished habit. 

* * *

I run down to meet a friend in the park for lunch, literally, because I have no idea how much lunch time is permissible at this job, and whether I will get fired for being outside. She chuckles at how flustered I am when I arrive and pleasantly hands me the sandwich she received for free at her work. We talk for some time; I only think of angry managerial decisions and how unhappy joblessness was. She smiles, we part ways, and I sprint back, cutting between cabs in hopes of returning quickly. It is balmy out and my shirt sticks to my back and chest. I clop by a wall of windows, and a man in a suit watches me blankly. An unfamiliar street is ahead; I hesitate, realize my mistake, swing around, and run back. I peer in the wall of windows again, realize that behind it stand a dozen spectators from not ten seconds before, and I seize my legs, forcing them into a businesslike walking pace. Mall of America style, I strain forward with swinging arms, heading in a roundabout way for my desk. I risk another look into the windows that are now on my right; the suited man behind them turns to hide a grin. 

* * *

On the walk back to the train after a productive day, a beautiful girl approaches on the street. I act preoccupied while furtively directing glances at her. Her gaze runs over nearby buildings and cars, but we can only avoid eye contact for so long. With her dark curly hair and thin tan jacket, with her easy walk and glow, she is grace personified; she lights up my brain. I imagine her voice: mellifluous but firm, the expressive tool of a person who knows herself and what she does not enjoy. We step closer. I cross a street, feigning nonchalance through an active suppression of anxiety as a cab recklessly swings behind me, a narrow miss. The woman nears. 

I rally my nerves around this plan: to make definitive eye contact with her the moment we pass one another, to send a clear signal that I also am self-possessed and a viable object of affection and even admiration! The moment is upon us; I deliberately look away, building potential energy at the apex of my head's pendulum swing, and at that point, the smell pushes into my nose. A thick waft of city stink catches my open nostrils on an upswing, probably the pressurized release of some sewer, and my face contorts in ways I cannot control. The problem is this: that I am committed. Therefore I swing my face around, and to my horror, she has anticipated my move and is looking at me, interested in seeing what kind of visage adorns that attractively lanky body. 

My left eyebrow is probably raised, my lips pursed, my jaw offset, my whole face is likely scrunched. It is an unintentional expression of disgust over the presence of a gas in my sinus cavity derived from some form of methane, the gurgling byproduct of troubled digestion. She quickly looks away, and I understand why; Chicago's skyscrapers are architecturally fascinating after all, for instance, there is one that was designed to look like a champagne bottle, rising into the ethereal heights of Plato's heaven, far above the crazy-eyed people who haphazardly navigate fetid city streets. What did she think, I wonder? And what did the next person think, who saw my shoulders drop as I looked down glumly at my shoes, one of which was untied? 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Excerpt from _The Writing Life_

It's deservedly famous. I think of this passage now whenever I watch Jersey Shore with my roommate.

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading—that is a good life. A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur's life a good one, or Thomas Mann's? 
 —Annie Dillard

I am challenged with the question, "is it really so hard for you to be satisfied?" The answer ought to be, without hesitation, "no." But I know myself well enough, and I hesitate. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I promise