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Susan K. Coleman
There is a remarkable olfactory phenomenon, which, I believe, is unique to Greenpoint Brooklyn NYC and occurs nowhere else. A Domino Sugar factory lies to the south, just this side of the Williamsburg Bridge. Perhaps equidistant to the north in Long Island City Queens lies a sewage treatment plant. You can imagine, when the wind comes up from the south, we are treated to a pleasant smell not unlike that of a cake or cookies baking. Wind coming down from the north brings something far less pleasing. And, on the occasion that these two contrasting odors mingle, Greenpoint smells “shit-cake”.
My local Polish café is a wonderful place to stuff yourself silly on great food for about $5. I enjoy sitting at the counter on the old timey chrome stools to have a nice leisurely breakfast on weekends. Recently, when waiting for my bacon, eggs, toast and coffee, an older woman with a rather thick wig sat down next to me and proceeded to rummage through the remains of the previous patron’s food. She neatly wrapped a piece of toast from the basket in a napkin, snatched the two grape jelly packets and shoved the swag into her oversized handbag.
I’m going to make a concerted effort to be happy. But, in doing so, am I ruining an ideal opportunity to squeeze some really worthwhile writing out of myself? Will the passing of this frail, scattered and morose state of mind result in my reverting back to a fulfilling existence, which doesn’t require constant reflection and written regurgitation of the emotions I’m experiencing? Or will it mean that I’m finally able to focus and produce some really meaningful work? I can’t seem to shake the feeling that “you must suffer for your art” is an accurate assessment of literary reality.
New Yorkers have become accustomed to living in masses. At some point, their survival instincts kick in and they develop means of shutting out their surroundings, just to snatch a moment of peace here and there. Some do it on the subway by reading or listening to music. Others seem simply to barrel into you on the street, because, oddly enough, they don’t even see you. Amidst the noise and crowds they have successfully created their own world, in which only they exist. It’s sad, really. There’s a lot of beauty just to the right and left of the blinders.
A quiet little cough to signal someone's in the stall. Damn this place for not installing proper locks on the ladies' toilets. Just as well I got here early. Who'd have thought that the train would be running that smoothly tonight. So, finish having a leak, fix makeup and order a nice glass of Merlot to sip until he arrives…hopefully he won't have train troubles. Don't want to be one drink up on him. Always makes me feel at a disadvantage. OK, one last look at the photo he emailed me and I'm ready perch at the bar and wait.
Attempting to climb up out of the mire, to pile brick upon brick, returning my self-worth back to the height it once was. Sly propositions from ex-boyfriend, comments of “hey beautiful” from random men on the street do wonders. Sadly. Had I a truer conviction that I am whole and good and worthy of life’s positive energies, then these gestures would simply come as a reinforcement of what I already know instead of providing the sole support. Convincing myself that I am useful for more than my current lot has proven much more difficult than I ever would have anticipated.
Grateful for yesterday’s sun. Pleased to be inside today, where it’s warm and dry. A late winter snowstorm is raging just on the other side of my office window. Thick sheets of the stuff are falling wet and heavy. Though spring was promised us weeks ago and teasing days of light jackets and hatless heads convinced us it was near, we’re once again dodging the plows as they scurry to spread their sand before the snow can build up on city streets, hampering the evening commute. Yesterday I thought the season’s first trip to Coney Island was close at hand.
They’re upstairs now. She thinks she can get out before they can get downstairs and grab her. She wants to throw another obstacle in their way, just to buy some extra time. Turning off all the light switches in the house, she dashes for the front door, which she finds locked, both on the knob and the deadbolt. The outer door is the same. Her familiarity with the rooms helps her get out ahead of them as they stumble in the dark. But she hears them coming quickly. Once out on the street, she tries to stick to the shadows.
If there is something good to come out of this war, I dearly hope that it is a vast improvement in the quality of life for the average Iraqi citizen. I do not agree with war at all. It turns otherwise gentle people into murderers. It causes dissention and hatred between factions both in support and opposition to any such operation. Was it really necessary in this case? Who can say for certain? We have an opportunity here for our actions to make an indelible impression on the rest of the world. I’m hopeful, yet wary of what’s to come.
I hear music in almost every aspect of my daily life. This morning, when heading through the subway tunnel and passing the tall, iron maiden-like turnstiles, I heard a creaking as people pushed their way through the gates to exit the station. To me, it sounded like a mournful violin. Just one or two tones, a very simple sound. But, it immediately became music in my mind. I added some piano and it became a song. With more instruments chiming in, it became a symphony. If only I had the talent and training to realize these moments of musical epiphany.
It’s now been about 24 hours since I joined a gym, and I haven’t gone in yet. The weight gain, smoking and inevitable redistribution of what I already had clinging to my bones has left me with a shape I simply can not condone. Thick around the middle, wobbly about the arms, cheese on the thighs, a sometimes more sometimes less pronounced double chin and a shortness of breath whenever I climb the stairs out of the subway. This membership is not exactly cheap, so I’m hoping that I’ll make use of it sometime this weekend and fairly often thereafter.
Last night I went to see a show put on by a wonderful British punk band. After the 2nd opening band the club emptied, I'm assuming so everyone could go outside to smoke (thank you, Mayor Bloomberg…wait, was that sarcasm or not?). Standing towards the front of the stage, I had to move back to let someone pass in front of me. This fuck behind me started in: "I only have one inch between me and the guy behind me, don't move back, I don't have any room!" I hope he got his testicles smashed in the ensuing mosh pit.
At long last! Sunshine comes beating down on the city of New York. Bleary-eyed inhabitants emerge from their drafty apartments and breathe in the fresh, clean breezes of early spring. Everyone's step is a bit livelier, smiles come to our faces a bit easier. I can hardly contain myself for the joy I feel at the breaking of the winter deep-freeze. Can I last another couple of months before slipping into my sundress and floppy hat and boarding the train out to the beach? Maybe I'll buy some sunscreen. Maybe I'll soon be able to show my neatly pedicured toenails.
I really miss having a gay best friend. That brutally honest, yet ever-so caring critique of my wardrobe, my handling of relationships and my, at times, rather heroic intake of alcohol can neither be matched by my female nor my straight male friends. One of my best buddies in college used to hang out the passenger window of my Toyota Corolla and whistle at the frat boys. It was absolutely infuriating. The fact that those meatheads would turn and look in our direction and assume that I was the one letting loose with the catcalls pained me to no end.
This morning, when listening to Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah”, I could swear for a moment that I completely forgot where I was. Sitting at my desk at work, preparing binders for our board meeting reports, I hummed along with the song, which, in its beauty and melodic simplicity, kills me every time I hear it, and I literally had to squint and readjust my vision to take my surroundings in. I had become completely lost in that song. Tears were forming just behind my eyes and I found myself clearing my throat to choke them back.
First, there’s an inkling of a tickle. Not a proper tickle but the faint foreshadowing of one. Then it hits and the whole inside of my nose begins to tingle. I try to sniffle, rub my nose, look up at the lights, hold my breath, but these tactics never work. The inevitable sharp intake of breath, goofy squinty eyes, scrunched up face, wide mouth and BOOM! The heart skips a beat, the throat constricts and I feel as if my ears are going to fly off my head. Spring has finally sprung and allergy season is here with a vengeance.
What we’d like to say:
You have no idea what’s going on inside of me. You don’t make any effort to try to get to know me and, even though we’ve been together for more than a year, I’ll bet you don’t have any idea what my favorite color is. When I talk to you, I can see that you’re not listening. You’re just planning the next clever thing you’re going to say. You’re a selfish, self-centered, arrogant asshole.
What we say:
Gosh, I thought I told you last week that we were invited to my parents’ house for dinner.
What we’d like to say:
OK, so now I’m supposed to be a freakin’ mind reader as well? How the hell was I supposed to know that you wanted me to be home Saturday evening when your sister and her kid were here? When I asked if you wanted me to stay home, you said, “No that’s fine, go ahead and go to the basketball game with your buddies.” Was it the inflection in your voice that was supposed to tip me off that there was deeper, contradictory meaning there?
What we say:
Next time I’ll be here, I promise.
How can you say you love me
When you chastise
And punish me like a pouting child?
If your esteem for me runs
That you’ll humiliate me publicly
How can you stand to climb
With me every night?
Am I really that awful to you?
Will you leave me for
Someone who is more your
Would you be happier perhaps
With someone who doesn’t allow
Act out in such ways
But rather stands up for
And snaps her fingers in your face?
Would that make you care for me?
Though her fingers are sore and the skin on her hands is raw and chapped, she heaves the last lump of dough out of the bowl and drops it onto her floured board to knead and roll out. The family will be expecting homemade pierogies for Easter dinner, and she doesn’t want to disappoint. She thinks that Mrs. T’s brand tastes just as good (and is a hell of a lot less work), but the grandkids would be able to tell the difference. They’d tease, “Gram, you’re cheating! We saw those in your freezer! They’re not as good as yours!”
It’s impossible for me to comprehend her life. Leaving school in the 6th grade to take care of yet another baby her mother probably neither wanted nor could afford. Her dad would come home regularly from the coal mines, stinking drunk, looking for her mom. The children would surround her and try to hide her from their father, because they knew if he got to her, there’d be another baby within the year. Thirteen brothers and sisters, not all of whom lived past childhood or infancy, and a 6th grade education. Maybe as an invalid now, she can finally rest.
With a heavy heart I must inform you that I hereby terminate this relationship. Recently, I have found you to be too demanding of my time, too insensitive to my needs and generally lacking in the consideration I come to expect from someone called “friend”. Although these many years of camaraderie and companionship have certainly had their positive aspects, what we share has degenerated into a selfish, one-sided assault on my sanity.
Please do not blame yourself for our friendship’s demise. I too accept responsibility in that I did not put you out of your misery personally.
Inevitably, at this time of year, my patience and energy gets sapped by those around me. Producing reams and reams of (in my mind) frivolous and unnecessary financial documents to be sent overseas to people who often lose them before heading over to our shores for the semi-annual board meetings. We run around like chickens with our heads cut off and then toss everything we’ve just created into the shredder once the folks from abroad make their way homeward. Does this seem sensible? Not to me. But then again, this is what happens when middle-aged white guys are in charge.
I’d like to see a return to the barter system. There are far too many ways for people to make money off enterprises, which are of absolutely no practical use to anyone. I see it as a difference between monetary value and/or practical value. The trader, who buys and sells intangibles on a market, for the sole purpose of making wads of cash, is of no practical value. The folks, who run the alpaca farm and make wool from the animal’s coats to sell to other folks, who use this wool to create clothing, are doing something of real value.
Sometimes, my job requires me to do things I really hate. These things usually bring me into contact with people who are either rude, condescending, snippy or otherwise unpleasant. Hey, I’m just doing my job, which is to get in touch with you to set up a meeting, or get some information out of you or give you some information. There’s no freakin’ reason for you to treat me like some lowly little piece of trash, just because I’m obviously someone’s assistant, who hasn’t been filled in on everything she should have been in order to do this stupid job!
Though somewhat out of focus, sometimes not centered very well, those old photos of family and distant relations caught in private moments enjoying their leisure time lend interesting insights. They often show sides of people that they never showed to me, maybe because they felt such behavior was unseemly for someone in an advanced stage of life. Maybe they just didn’t have the energy anymore by the time I got to know them. It’s so easy to slot them into their “grandfather” or “great aunt” niches and not realize that they were once “drinking buddy” and “fiancée” to someone else.
The calm in the coffee shop erupts as the service at the church across the street lets out and the faithful make their way in for an early lunch. It was empty when she arrived, so she slid into the booth, rather than taking a place at the counter. Unlike most, it doesn’t bother her at all to sit alone at a table meant for a group of two or more. But, now that a crowd is gathering at the door, she feels the impatient looks leveled at her back. She sips the last of her coffee slowly and unapologetically.
With all deference to my esteemed coworker, I refuse to fix your mistakes, tape up those papers you shredded by accident, relinquish my private workspace to public viewing, so you can have the satisfaction of rifling through the documents lying on my desk, regardless of whether they pertain to you or not. I will not answer calls from your wife 10 or more times a day (plus all those times she calls and hangs up in my ear out of embarrassment), and I will not sit attentively by as you ramble on and on about the joys of tax law.
I keep having these dreams, where I’m either in the process of moving or am faced with making a choice of staying put or relocating to a new home. This is not surprising, as I generally move around, whether it’s just to a new apartment down the road or to a completely different country, about every year to year and a half. I can’t remember the last time that I lived, without interruption, in one place for more than 18 months. It only figures that I would now be getting antsy after living in my current home for a year.
Right now, before this all becomes familiar and practiced, the simplest, most innocent physical contact between us is enough to elicit a tingle, a rapid pulse and a rush of warmth throughout. I put my hand lightly against your chest and feel your breath quicken slightly. Your arm around my back holds me close as you place your cheek softly against mine. We stand together like this a while. Neither of us wants to pull away or tighten our grip. The sensation is at the same time thrilling and comfortable. In a few short days, it will be gone forever.
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