I saw a man on a bike this morning. He was an elderly gentleman who looked to be in his sixties. He was tall and thin with a healthy complexion. He sat upright and wasn’t wearing a helmet or a jacket in the brisk cool air, just a navy blue cable knit sweater with orange khakis and suede oxfords. He had a gray beard that blended into his neatly parted hair that was flowing in small gentle waves in the breeze. He was riding with such joy and freedom, I envied him.
Eddie was desperate to find any job that would pay the rent. His mom couldn’t help him out anymore ever since his stepdad found out about the hundreds of dollars missing from their bank account. In fact, he was absolutely livid when the repo guy came to collect their car. Eddie didn’t even have the nerve to show up to their anniversary dinner after that. He then had to take every and any job he could find. He has been a dishwasher, a line cook, a courier, a subject of numerous drug studies, a nighttime security guard, a dog walker, and his least favorite, a rat catcher. He really loved the dog walking gig, but when one of the fourteen dogs he was walking at the same time escaped from his grip and attacked a toddler in the park, the owner had him blacklisted.
Tuesday, he got a text from Bernie, his old boss from that catering gig. “Hey, how do you feel about looking after a kid? Know you don’t do dogs anymore lol!”
He quickly replied back, “NO KIDS!!” He could see the three dots pulsating back and forth on his phone, then, “You sure? There’s lots of $$ with this.” Eddie thought, You kidding? I can’t even take care of a dog.
He got home to find one of his roommates watching South Park.
“Rent’s due,” Rick said, without turning away from the TV.
“Yeah, I know,” Eddie murmured. He looked at his last text. He then typed, “Ok. When?”
Bernie quickly typed back, “tmrw at 3. you’ll pick him up from school.”
Wednesday was a cold and dreary day. Eddie forgot his hat and knew he was going to pay the price for it. Great, Eddie thought, I’m gonna come down with pneumonia cuz of this gig. He didn’t have the money to buy one off of a street vendor, so he kept pacing back and forth with his hands cupped to his ears while he was waiting for Willie on the street corner. The double doors flung open to a steady stream of kids spilling out onto the sidewalk from the nondescript brick building. There was a rumble of chatter and laughter among the prepubescent mob. Some were huddled around in a circle whispering into each other’s ears while pointing and looking at the group next to them. Others were hollering and elbowing each other as they walked off to catch the bus.
Eddie swung around to find a scrawny blonde who was about almost as tall as he was. He was chomping on a snack-size bag of Cheetos with half of the neon orange crumbs falling out of his mouth.
“Hey yourself. Eddie.”
“Well, Willie, where are you off to?”
“You mean you don’t know who you’re supposed to hand me off to?” he asked incredulously. He was clearly annoyed at being treated like somebody else’s problem all the time.
“Eh, I have this address…” he was fishing for the address in his pockets, “Oh, yeah, here it is. 347 Park. C’mon.”
“I want some ice cream first.”
“But it’s freezing out.”
“I want mint chocolate chip,” Willie said, as he gave up on the unfinished bag of Cheetos and threw it away.
“Because ice cream in itself isn’t cold enough, you pick a flavor that’ll make you feel even cooler?”
“It’s my favorite.”
Eddie took one look at the kid’s face. This kid is unbelievable, he thought, Eh, well, he needs some fattening up anyway. Besides, I can warm up somewhere indoors. “Well, we’re not in any rush, are we?”
Willie shrugged. He was too young to understand the concept of time. Eddie took him to the deli across the street. All the windows and doors were taped over with faded advertisements for cigarettes and shampoo. A little bell rang when they entered. There was a small, wrinkled old lady behind the counter. She reminded Eddie of a raisin. She took one look at him and started screaming at him, “You get outta here! I’ll call the cops again, jackass!”
“What the fuck are you talking about lady? I’ve never been in here!” Eddie’s face turned crimson, “I don’t care if you’re, like, eighty years old! I’ll knock you out if I have to!”
“Get out!” She started grabbing for something underneath her stool. Eddie quickly grabbed Willie by his coat and bolted out the door with him. They kept running until Eddie ran out of breath. They only got to the street corner.
“Ok, kid,” Eddie said between breaths, “No ice cream. Let’s go. I’m gonna drop you off, then I’m gonna forget that today ever happened.”
When they got to the address, the security guard looked Eddie up and down hard and said, “The fuck you want?”
“Just dropping him off, sir.” Eddie shrugged off the guard’s attitude. He wasn’t in the mood to pick a fight, especially with someone who might be armed.
“You know where to go,” he grunted. He pointed to the bank of elevators with his chin. Eddie was just glad he let them through. It was a good thing there was only one button labeled “PH” so he didn’t have to guess which floor. Even while they were still in the elevator, Eddie could smell a weird stench and hear music blaring. The thunderous bass made the walls and floor vibrate. It went straight through to his chest and it felt as if it were retiming his heartbeat to become in sync to the rhythm of the song. When the elevator doors split open, it was completely dark except for the corner by the window where a spotlight shined down on a man that was hovering over a desk attempting to assemble a glass object together.
“Hello?” Eddie tried to bellow over the music.
The man looked up. He looked like he hadn’t showered or shaved in weeks.
“Oh, thanks, man. I’m Dave,” the man said as he walked over to the two. He looked a lot younger close up.
“Uh, sure, no problem.” Eddie was totally confused. Is this where I’m supposed to be dropping off a kid? He couldn’t think clearly enough with the drum beats pulsating through his temples. The funky smell was stinging his nostrils at this point.
Dave picked out a money clip from his fanny pack which seemed to only hold one hundred dollar bills. “Here you go.” Dave handed over a thick wad, the biggest wad that Eddie had ever seen in his life.
“Uh, great, thanks. Let me know if you’ll ever need me again.”
Dave pressed the button for the elevator. Eddie quickly got in just in case Dave changed his mind and took his money back, or attacked him, or both. He didn’t know what to make of what was going on, but he was smart enough to know that he shouldn’t stick around to find out.
When he sprinted down the street as far as he could, he hunched over with his hands on his knees, heaving dry heaves. What is Bernie caught up in? He was bewildered. Even though he wasn’t known for having the strongest conscience- maybe sometimes a little better than Stalin- he still couldn’t help thinking about Willie. How could he just leave him there? For a second, he thought of running back, but his phone lit up. It was Gabby. “WHERE ARE YOU?!?”
Oh, shit. I totally forgot. “I’ll be right over.” He ended the text with a smiley face.
By the time he got to Gabby’s place, he couldn’t find any way to calm her down. “She’s at it again! I know it’s her. You’re gonna have to go and talk to her.”
“Babe, so what if she makes a little noise? She’s old as hell. She’s probably deaf.”
“Aw, naw. Whenever I bang against the wall, she turns the TV up even louder.” Gabby was shaking, like she was on something.
“She’s probably turning it up because she can’t hear over all your banging.” Eddie didn’t have the energy to get into it with another elderly lady in one night.
“Go. And. Talk. To. Her,” Gabby snarled.
“Maybe it’s Carol, your downstairs neighbor.” Eddie was good at diverting her attention. She got distracted as easily as a two year-old.
Gabby thought for a moment. “You know, you may be right. It’s not like that old hag would ever watch ‘The Walking Dead.’” She then turned to Eddie. “Go downstairs and talk to her.”
Eddie threw his hands up with a loud sigh and an eye roll. There was no way he was going to get out of confronting somebody for her. He gave up and went downstairs. He tapped on Carol’s door gently, then stood back and waited a few seconds. When there was no answer, he knocked a little louder.
The door from across the hall opened slowly, with a creek. “You looking for Carol?” A portly man in his sixties with a stained beige sweatshirt and smudged reading glasses asked in a benign voice.
“Is she in?”
“Two months ago-”
“Ok, thanks!” Eddie cut him off. He heard enough. The man seemed to be leering at him.
“Good luck if she owes you money. Her mom’s not going to give anyone back a single cent. I’ve tried.”
“Thanks again,” Eddie said, waving at him as he scurried back upstairs.
“Well?” Gabby asked. She was waiting for him by the door.
“She’s dead. Died a couple months ago.”
Gabby paused, then her eyes lit up. “So it’s definitely her!” Gabby screamed as she pointed next door.
“Honestly, Babe, I don’t have the energy to talk to her. Get some earmuffs or something. I’m beat. I’m going home. I’ll call ya tomorrow.” He gave a quick peck on her flushed cheek and left for home.
The streets were free from pedestrians, and aside from the occasional car going by, Eddie felt like he was alone enough that he could finally relax, outside on the sidewalk where no one knew him, where he could blend in with the other objects: garbage cans, mail boxes, parking meters, fire hydrants, the bus stop signs. It was when he stepped inside of someplace where all the hostile energy rushed at him. He felt that there was a price to pay when he found himself on the rare instances in his life when he was happy. It always seemed to come right before a catastrophe was about to happen. Yes, it’s dangerous to be happy. You’re just asking to get shit on. Eddie strolled back and took his time getting home.
He was surprised to see Rick still up at this hour. He was usually crashed out on the sofa by midnight. He was making himself a sandwich and was in the middle of licking off the extra peanut butter from his fingers when he got in.
“Here’s the rent!” Eddie proclaimed as he slammed the cash down on the kitchen table. He never paid the rent on time.
“What’d ya do? Rob a bank?” Rick asked as he stared at the hundred dollar bills. “Oh, yeah, someone was looking for you.”
“Dunno. He didn’t leave no business card. He woke me up, though, with the door pounding. When he saw that you weren’t here, he left.”
“Well, what did he look like?”
He looked over at him, still sucking on his fingers, “Well, he kinda looked like you.”
A chill ran through Eddie’s spine. “What’d ya mean he looked like me?”
“Like, same face, hair. Like dat,” Rick said as he waved his hand up and down at Eddie.
Eddie was then thinking about that incident at the deli, and with the security guard. Did they think I was someone else? He then dialed Bernie’s number.
“Hey, so I dropped that kid off. What was that all about?”
“Yeah, so the dad’s some drummer in a rock band. I met him at this catering gig I did downtown for them a couple weeks ago. He got banned or somethin’ from picking up his kid from school, but the kid’s mom is in Texas somewheres so they needed somebody to pick ‘im up.”
“Who was the guy at the address?”
“The mom’s boyfriend. That’s her studio. I think she’s some sort of art collector. The dad doesn’t like the boyfriend too much. Boy, the shit he was sayin’ about him at the party-”
“Ok, so it was just a one-time thing? Dropping off the kid?”
“You mean Dave didn’t say anything about tomorrow?”
“No…” Eddie’s voice started to trail off as he was trying to put the pieces together, “But some guy was over here looking for me.”
“Sam? Sam was there looking for you?” Now Bernie started to sound uneasy. “Lemme call you back.”
Just then, Eddie’s phone dinged with a new text from Gabby, “GET THE FUCK OVER HERE. NOW!”
Gabby was still hysterical and wailing about some nut job that nearly attacked her when she answered the door a few minutes before Eddie got there. “He looked exactly like you! That’s why I opened the door. I thought something happened to you- that’s why you were acting so crazy!”
“What was he yelling about?”
“Some kid! You don’t have kids, do you?” Gabby asked, looking at him sideways.
“Naw, I did this job today, and-”
The phone rang. It was Bernie. “Hey, Ed, so, the kid’s gone missing with Dave or something. Sam’s frantic. He can’t go over to her studio because security won’t let ‘im.”
“Well, I don’t got him!” Eddie was getting agitated now, “You don’t think Dave kidnapped him or something?”
“Sam’s calling Lilly right now. Dave’s not the brightest guy but he’s not a kook.”
Gabby started hitting Eddie. “What the hell’s going on?”
“Sorry, Babe, I’ll explain later. Just- don’t answer the door the rest of the night. I don’t got no kids, I’m not upset at you, but I gotta go!”
He then ran back to Lilly’s studio. He braced himself for the barrage of insults that may be coming his way from the security guard, but he would know how to react, how to explain to him that he’s not Sam, the bad-ass drummer. But it wasn’t the same security guard that was manning the door. It was a gray-haired man that looked tired and worn. He may have been falling asleep when Eddie thrusted the door open.
“Hi, have you seen Dave?”
“Uh, you mean Casper? Mr. Casper?”
“He had a kid with him.”
“Yeah, they just got in ’bout… twenty minutes ago?” the guard said, while looking down at his watch.
“You sure? Can I go up and see ’em?”
“Sure, go on up.” The guard acted like he couldn’t be bothered to ring him, especially so late at night.
The elevator doors split open and there the two of them were. Sitting at the table by the window eating ice cream. Willie was beaming.
“I just wanted some mint chocolate chip.”
I spent Christmas Day with Annie. She is moving to Chicago on Thursday, so she won’t even be around for New Year’s. I didn’t know it then, but I know now that I won’t ever see her again. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.
Annie texted me the news of her moving last week. I asked her when she decided on this, and she replied back, “two weeks ago.“ I think if we were closer friends I would have been more emotional about it, but I only see her a couple times a year, and sometimes several years go by when I don’t see her at all. Annie wasn’t that emotional about it either when she told me. It wasn’t even like she told it in a snooty vengeful kind of way either, like the way some of my friends do when they tell me they’re moving away. Those use it as a way of saying, I’m done with this town and I’m moving on.
Annie’s always been expressionless and uninterested about everything except when it comes to dating and relationships. That’s when she starts to giggle and loosen up. I just play along when she starts to talk about boys. It’s the only way our conversations become fun. When I try talking about other topics with her such as music, movies, or politics I run into a dead end. I see her eyes glaze over, so I figure it’s easier to pretend to be interested in things she’s interested in.
We went to Chinatown for lunch after we braved the crowds at Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree and to watch the ice skaters skate on the tiny ice skating rink in front of the enormous tree. We had to dodge all the tourists taking selfies with their selfie sticks. I don’t do selfies. Neither does Annie, thank God. Ok, that’s another thing we have in common.
Annie was in the mood for Peking duck noodle soup. I’ve never even heard of this dish before, and the reason I’ve never heard of this dish before is because it doesn’t exist. We kept checking the menus that were taped to the windows of each restaurant and we couldn’t find it. After the fourth restaurant, I suggested to Annie to just go in and ask- maybe it was an off-the-menu specialty item?
“No, try the one down the street,” they said. Which one down the street? There were tons of restaurants down the street! We settled for the only “A” Department of Health rating one on the street. They didn’t serve Annie’s particular craving-of-the-moment either, so she had to settle for a Sichuan pork dish. The poor thing looked so dejected.
To help cheer her up, I took her to the ice cream shop next door. Even though it wasn’t even forty degrees outside, we sat in the park where the traditional Chinese street singers were singing loudly into their mics as we ate our ice cream with our chattering teeth.
“Do you think you’ll like Chicago?” I asked over the really loud singing.
I was wondering why the sudden move to Chicago. “Did you find someone there?”
“Not yet,” Annie deadpanned.
“You know, Chicago isn’t like New York, right?”
“Well, I really needed a new job, and it was the only one I could find, so I took it.”
At that moment, I envied her, I wish I had that sense of spontaneity that she had, to just get up and leave, and that is the great thing about being unattached. Annie doesn’t know anyone in Chicago, but she is not close enough to anyone here to make her stay. Being single is a double-edged sword. You have all the freedom you want but at the cost of not having anyone important to share your life with. Still, I’m not brave enough to just pick up and move to a different city, as unattached as I am.
“You could always come back, you know.”
Annie doesn’t reply back. I’m thinking maybe Annie doesn’t want to come back, or maybe she doesn’t know enough what’s ahead of her to think that she can come back.
“Hey, what do you think of this guy?” Annie hands me her phone to take a look.
“Scott. He’s cute,” I say for encouragement.
“He’s from Chicago.”
“But it says he lives in New Jersey.”
Annie doesn’t respond.
“You know that you’re moving away from here, right?”
“Yeah, but why can’t he move to Chicago? Why don’t they ever offer anything for me?”
I let out a heavy sigh. The toil of online dating has clearly gotten to Annie.
“You could always send him a picture of me and tell him that I’m going to be your substitute?” It was my feeble attempt at making her laugh.
Only there was no laughter at all. Annie looks at me without saying a word. She looks at her phone for a minute and shuts it off. She then turns away and starts walking towards the subway.
Heather was upset. It’s been seventeen years since she started working at the firm, and she deserved better than this. She was fed up with how Ruth and the others were treating her and how they always sucked up to Fred, who was terrible at his job, but because Fred had this banal way of talking to people, they would just give in to doing things his way instead of wasting another minute listening to him talk. Heather was ok at the beginning covering up for Fred, but after the Burton incident, she knew that Fred would throw her under the bus if he had to, so ever since then, she made it a point, with an exclamation point! to provide due diligence to all her clients. Fred eventually caught on to what Heather was up to and, in order to save face, he started spreading rumors about her. They were little ones at first, like how she has having a bad hair day or how she didn’t know what ganache was. Giggles and odd looks from the secretaries didn’t bother Heather at first, but when she found out that she was being left out of important meetings and that clients were diverted from her to Fred, her temples burned and her heart sank.
I am way smarter than this, she thought, on her way to meet Mia in TriBeCa, I know way more than the other associates. Sure it was okay at first to not get the recognition she deserved. Heather’s midwestern sensibilities kept her modest and stopped her from gloating. But it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and she was stupid enough to think that she can just sit around and expect the praises for all her good work for the firm come rolling in. Instead, she laid there like a lost sheep just waiting to get eaten alive by the all to eager wolves in her office.
And that’s exactly what happened. It’s been happening slowly, steadily, right in front of her very eyes. The CEO wouldn’t reply back to her emails directly, she didn’t even get invited to the office Christmas party. Not that I care, she thought, but it would have been nice.
When she saw Mia at their favorite cafe, Heather felt the pain in her heart leave. The furrow between her brows disappeared and her face was back to its old cheerful self.
“How’ve you been, girl?” asked Heather as she greeted Mia with a kiss on the cheek.
“Oh, can’t complain, you know same old stuff goin’ on. How’s everything with you?”
“I just can’t stand it anymore!” Heather blurted out. She just exploded right in front of Mia. She couldn’t share anything at all how she felt at work because there was no one to confide in. Heather felt better now that it was all out, but her atrocious work situation remained the same.
“Girl, you’re going to have to find another job.”
“I can’t. There is no way any of those monsters will give me a good reference. They’ve even turned my clients against me.”
“Can’t you just change careers?”
“Doing what?!?” Heather asked in complete exasperation.
that hole that i desperately tried to fill
is it full now?
or am i surrendering?
waving the white flag
there’s no energy left
i don’t hurt as easily
but i don’t hunger for anything either
Nora was so ecstatic when she got the apartment on Spring Street that she was in tears when she got the news. It was December of 1967, and she just broke up with her fiance Rod. She was going to have dinner with her girlfriend last week, but Dottie cancelled, so she decided to surprise Rod by stopping by his place to grab some pizza at their favorite joint down the street. She never imagined that she’d find him splayed out with Gwen, the downstairs neighbor, in his bedroom.
“Oh, and just before the holidays, too!” was all she could muster up to say before she ran out of Rod’s apartment and his life forever.
She couldn’t afford to stay at her current place on the Upper West Side, even though she had put some money set aside for her wedding dress. She picked up the classifieds and landed a place Downtown. The landlord was only asking for $49.16 a month. The one bedroom was dingy and smelled of cigar smoke, but Nora felt that it just needed some new curtains and a fresh coat of paint to make it habitable. Soon, however, the white lace curtains she picked up from Gimbels browned from the smokers that hung out on the stoop right below her kitchen window. The garbage trucks and police sirens that passed by her building at all hours of the night never let her get a good night’s sleep. She could hear the super while he was hacking up the morning of phlegm with his breakfast of unfiltered Camels as she headed off to work.
Her new living arrangements made it even harder to get over Rod, but she was never able to trust any one after that. She went on dates and to cocktail parties here and there, but there was no one that measured up to her Roddie. She let the rest of her twenties go by without being attached, and she then grew to like her rent-controlled apartment. She caulked up her windows to block out the smoke and the noise, and always had fresh flowers on her nightstand to brighten herself up first thing in the morning. Then, it happened.
His name was Bob, and he was charming and would take Nora out to dinner and to the theater. He was eight years her senior and had flecks of gray in his distinguished sideburns that reminded Nora of Peter Lawford, her favorite actor. He worked for an accounting firm on Madison Avenue and lived on the Upper East Side. He was recently divorced and had three kids in boarding school. Bob would take Nora up to his cottage in Maine for entire weekends together. Nora was in love, deeply in love.
When Bob proposed, it came as a complete shock, even to Nora, when she turned him down. She just couldn’t give up her apartment. Her rent had stayed the same while everyone else’s had tripled. How can she ever give up such a fantastic setup? She was offered a promotion to head the Chicago office, but it still wasn’t enough to make her leave her treasured home.
After breaking up with Bob, she avoided relationships altogether- of any kind. She didn’t want to risk getting her heart broken again, and she got rid of all her friends after they grew envious of how cheap her rent had become. She was content to be a mid-level editor at the publishing company she worked, and to deal with the increasing crime in her neighborhood, she got an extra deadbolt for her door and never went out after dark. Nora wanted to get new appliances for her kitchen, but that would have meant a rent increase, so she told her landlord that she would live with just the one functioning burner on her stovetop.
New construction began on her street, and Nora became nervous. Word spread that her new landlord was trying to kick out all the rent-controlled tenants. Nora never answered her door or left her apartment for too long since she was afraid that someone would come and change the locks on her. She became a recluse and a hoarder, but nothing meant more to Nora than to keep her dwelling for $49.16 a month.
I love animals, I really do, so that’s why I feel so badly for these poor creatures who are forced to live in such tiny cramped boxes, also known as New York City apartments. I wouldn’t call myself a card-carrying member of PETA or anything, but it seems inhumane to have them live in a place that goes against their natural instincts.
Dogs should always be jumping around and running free, rolling around in the grass with their tails wagging and their tongues hanging out. Dogs in New York, however, waddle along obediently on a leash and only have sidewalks and trash bags to sniff on. Their tails limp, their fur matted, their eyes clouded and crusty, they always look like they’re about to keel over.
It seems that dog owners get more out of the relationship than their pets do. In fact, according to a recently published article in the New York Times titled “New York Burial Plots Will Now Allow Four-Legged Companions,” domesticated animals are now allowed to be buried with their owners. They can now be united and decompose together forever in a cemetery plot. I’m sure that’s what the dog wanted all along.
I was sitting on a crowded subway the other night, when I noticed that the tan canvas tote bag that was right in front of my face had a furry nose sticking out of it. It belonged to a lady that had it slung over her shoulder, as if it were an ordinary purse. The nose belonged to a dachshund, and it was sitting in the bag very still, with its nose pulsating as if desperately trying to breathe. The owner may be considered an animal lover to some, but I felt so badly for this poor dog who was forced to sit in this lady’s bag, suspended in mid-air, constrained to be perfectly still on a crowded subway car. It was like a type of urban animal torture. I imagined slashing the straps of the tote bag to release it from its misery and screaming “You’re free, doggie! You’re free!”
Recently, my church held a service called “The Blessing of the Animals” as part of the celebration of the Feast of St. Francis. It was where everybody could bring their pets in to church to have them blessed by the rector. On a typical Sunday, it’s quiet and barely half full. On this particular Sunday, the service was completely packed. It was standing room only, and I had to stand at the back by the entrance next to a lady and her rabbit. I’ve never even seen these people before. It’s as if they sprouted out of nowhere. They were more concerned about the salvation of their pets than they were of themselves. Or maybe they were just taking advantage of the fact that they were allowed to bring their fury critters inside a building without being scolded for it.
You think New Yorkers are tough? Just observe them with their pooches, and their tough New York exterior just melts away. I’ve never seen so much PDA in church before- the hugging, the kissing, the abundant ardent phrases they whispered into their receivers’ floppy ears. They slung their poodles over their shoulders and patted their backs soothingly like a baby. They dressed up their terriers in pink satin with matching booties and pearls. They snapped selfies with their pets to post on Instagram. They could go deep into conversation with their pets than they can to another human being.
I wonder if these dogs ever have a chance to realize how different their lives would be if they had a different owner. How their fates were determined by whether a guy from Scranton picked them up from the litter box instead of the lady from the Upper West Side. Scranton: Spacious backyard with trees and your own little door to go in and out of the house as you please. Upper West Side: Where you have to hold it until your owner comes back to let you out, or if you’re really lucky, the dog walker to come pick you up, so you can go pee on a slab of concrete.
I’ve noticed that the dogs in New York always perk up their ears and wiggle their tail whenever a stranger passes them by on the street. It makes them look so optimistic and hopeful for something. They’re probably wishing that the stranger is from Scranton and will take them away from this godforsaken place.