Things I Do: Watch TV

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The last time I watched a television series, I was in high school. I watched The X-Files alone every Sunday night because none of my friends were remotely interested in the Fox drama. Clearly–I was so brilliant to understand the paranormal investigations and subtle humor, and they were so remedial to find the expertly designed one-hour drama uninteresting–clearly.

And so, with pride, I asked my secretary (Mom) to hold my phone calls, and make no plans (my schedule was pretty open at 9pm on a school night) during the airing of The X-Files. I watched for maybe four seasons, keeping track of the character development, noticing the ways Mulder was always, unbelievably, right, yet Scully’s skeptical and logical opinions were necessary and balancing for Mulder and for the show. I was definitely obsessed

I’ve never been, not now, not since, much of a television junkie. I don’t often get caught in front of the TV for hours, or mesmerized with a channel, watching show after show. No Oscar watch-parties for me, no DVR recordings, and a lot of HBO-based conversations that I’ve faked my way through.  I just can’t think of a time since The X-Files when I planned any part of my life around a television show.

On the plane ride home from our honeymoon, my husband and I had pretty much exhausted our onboard resources. We’d finished our books, read the in-flight magazines, finished a crossword puzzle, nibbled on the snacks I’d packed and listened to our ipods. The television was showing 30Rock, which my husband thinks is very funny so we plugged our headphones into the armrests. Afterwards, a new-ish show came on with Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, and Mya Rudolph; lots of names we knew, and a catchy roll of opening credits which kept us plugged in until the landing powered us down. I laughed aloud on the plane, embarrassingly, watching this young couple try to be cool parents.

And, simply, this is the way it goes now. Up All Night is our show. We don’t have need for a cable package because we can watch Up All Night on the internet (for now) without any illegal activity (thankfully). Wouldja loogit that…we have a TV show.

(a) Eyw, we have “a show” or (b) Yay, we have “a show!”  (not sure which to choose)

My adult self has never had a show, but I think I’m happy to have this one. It’s about a couple roughly our age, in roughly our stage of life, having hilarious arguments not unlike some that we’ve had, feeling things I know I’ve felt and laughing about it in the end, because they are oh-so-in-love, also, like us. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Embarrassingly, we also have The X-Files, because my sweet thinking-about-me husband purchased the first season on DVD and has been enduring it with me. It’s so nineteen-nineties, of course, but I still like the plots and the Mulder-is-always-rightness of it, just like I did a decade and a half ago.

We have two shows. (Woot?!) I value them. I will make time for TV. Wow—the things you thought you’d never say.

Our Lottery Fame

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We’ve won the lottery!, I said.

I had never won the lottery before, and neither had my husband. Right before, silver shavings falling in my lap, I could feel that it was coming as the moments of knowing for sure grew closer and closer. The inside of me bubbled over, refused to calm and stay contained. I knew we would win. I scratched the silver away and needed an “A”.  The corner was blank, and then I saw the apex…an “A”!  We reached the precious moment together and he showed calm, but insisted on collecting the prize himself. His way of naming and claiming the fortune, I reckon. It’s for sure–we had won the lottery.

It happened while we sat in our pajamas, still in bed in the afternoon, having to answer to no company while the sun breaks through the curtains, having scheduled no appointments or deliveries before lunch. We can sleep comfortably on our pending wealth.  Right before we won the lottery, we were reading torn paperbacks, each our chosen own.

I suppose, though, the winning actually happened, when we bought the ticket at the corner store. When the person before us and before them and before and before purchased each of those tickets in order to give us our perforated winning edges. No matter. Once we turned in our scratch-off crossword puzzle and collected our fifty dollars, we were epic lottery winners and nothing can ever change that kind of fame.

Things I Do: Cook Dinner

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Someone should tell me that myspace isn’t a trendy social network anymore (see below).

It’s not even that I’m oh-so-totally-obsessed with taking pictures of myself. I have no emo photos with sultry eyes at the camera, thick gray eyeliner drawn to my ears, bangs in my face, bathroom mirror in the back, bra strap curling off my shoulder. Eyw, gross. It’s just that there’s only two of us and I want life to be frozen and framed like only photographs can.

I hate “welcome back” posts in the blogosphere. I just realized that I actually hate the word blogosphere, too. Eyw. We shall focus on the positive. I do, apparently, enjoy the blog more than I recognized. Catharsis, practice, brainstorm—something about it just works.

I like to do a lot of things. Herein begins a list of things I do, which is really just acting as a footbridge to cross to the more important list of Things I Don’t Do. A Shauna Neitquist book that I’m reading piecemeal, leisurely, has me talking all this inside out list-making nonsense.


And thus, I cook. We cook. We eat dinner (obviously…like you). Fish and chicken, beef stew, tofu. We let the crockpot simmer all day, we cook dessert before dinner, we eat while we heat, do dishes and play, grind vegetables and fruits to a glass full of of juice (and do dishes again).

The night we made garlic chicken and sweet potatoes from an internet recipe, I bought a whole chicken because I’m usually pretty great at following directions. The recipe never said anything about a head. It said whole, but it didn’t say head.

After defrosting the chicken, the visible breasts, thighs, drumstick legs, and wings, I lifted it from the sink and the head flopped down from it’s neat little place tucked under the chicky. The chicken hit the sink with a splat when I let it loose from my hands. I ran from it (in case?) like a tiny little girl.

I guess I’m not great in high pressure situations. When the smoke alarm went off a few weeks ago, I ran around the apartment, flapping a towel furiously overhead and shrieking “What do we do?” in what was once a whisper. You can imagine how helpful that was for clearing the smoke. Much like opening a window would have been.

Chicken heads and smoke alarms included, we shall continue to cook. Beware. (…or come over?)

9. Janice

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Janice, with her ponytail over her shoulder.
Janice, with her apple blossom cheeks, flushed when they smiled sweet.
Janice, arms draped around and around, limbs askew on him, on you.
Janice, with her long lashes touching, droopy-eyed, lost too long in her high.

Janice, always in a Mister’s lap.
Janice, wearing your baseball cap.
Janice’s arms lazy and limp around your neck.
Janice, climbing in that car, minutes before you left.

No nights, no days, no sleep to differentiate.
No tears for you, no coffin in the ground.
Just a daze, eyes all a glaze.
Years before you would awake.

8.Row 10

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At counter eleven, next to mine, folks were sent back to their seats for stepping out of line, coming before called, speaking on cell phones against the sign.

A man failed the eye test at eleven after hours of waiting in line. He failed when asked to read row 10. Gave Q’s instead of O’s. V’s instead of U’s. And two R’s instead of the letter H, even though with a good eye, they don’t look at all alike. In the end, after cleaning lenses and a thousand Iranian I’m sorry’s, he left with a temporary license, just like mine.

1984: Before I Was Born

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Truman Capote died before I was born.

I’m sure I knew he had, because I had looked it up to tell my students last year. Today, for the first time, I typed his name into the Wikipedia website. I never type things I care about into the Wikipedia website. It feels like I’m cheating on the things I love. A literary adulterer taking the shortcuts to learning.

My husband asked me this week what year my favorite writer died. I said I didn’t know. I said maybe he hasn’t. He could be 87. I felt shame where knowledge lacked. Only hope spoke. Wouldn’t it be neat if he hadn’t died? If I had just sat on the steps of what was once his home and he still was? Truman Capote, alive! Arguably the most prolific writer of our time—alive! The man who changed the nonfiction novel with one controversial work, still wearing top-button-unbuttoned shirts under suitcoats and telling buzzed stories at the most party of all parties somewhere in this city. And we could be sharing air. Ahh…

I knew we weren’t. I just hadn’t learned him exhaustively yet. Or that his life had been exhausted.

All his works, I knew. The quirks of his life piqued my interest. I knew he was a lonely boy, that his friend, our literary hero, Harper had probably modeled her To Kill a Mockingbird character after him. The secret labyrinthical details of In Cold Blood, I had memorized. Dick’s deranged childhood, I’d researched. His special relationship with Perry; I’d asked all the questions there were to ask. The murdered Kansas family and those killers, that was the work that drew me to him.

I just didn’t know that there was no more know to know. Not since 1984, the year before I was born.

On Literature

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With my last wish, I’d turn the clock back just four hours today and wait outside Union Square’s Barnes and Noble with hipsters and literary buffs. I’d wait for Umberto Eco, who I wouldn’t recognize if I had a lunch date with him. Still, I’d wait.

I’m something of a literary buff, you see. Or I at least, I play one in real life. But Eco is one Irish author whose name I turn my head to out of nostalgia, not knowledge.

When we first started talking about books, it could have been dead end conversation. It should have, maybe, been dry analysis over red-marked high school essays. She was, after all, nearly five years my junior. I had almost finished college. She hadn’t started.

But she loved Umberto Eco. We used to drink coffee as if we liked it—I think maybe she did—and browse bookstores, where I still love to get lost. Eco was sometimes stacked in hardback beneath a dark-stain ladder. Name of the Rose or On Literature, a cover I liked for its book spine after book spine, all in browns.

I went to a café and independent bookstore in Soho this evening, trying to made good on a deal to myself to get out and see the literary spots in the city. There was a nonfiction reading nearby which I walked to but couldn’t find. Lots of work this week makes my body scream for rest anyway; came home without too much disappointment. And some writing lodged up to boot. Browsing my internet bookmarks, I saw that the Eco event had transpired in Union Square. He had discussed his new bestseller, The Prague Cemetery. I’d walked up to Union Square on my way home from the café. While Eco was happening. We were so close.

I’ve still never read an Eco book. Almost bought the one with the book spine cover once, but I was feeling cheap and put it back on the wrong shelf. But I had this friend once who would have gone to this discussion had she known. Had she been here. She wouldn’t mind about the lines and the crowds and the fandom that tries to drink away the energy from literary nerds of all ages and stages. Or maybe she would, but all of that fades away for the one unique note of brilliance she might be able to hear Eco utter above the buzz.

I think I’ll buy On Literature.

Our Hydrangeas

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Here we stand.                                               

We disagree

talking about potted plants                

splitting trees

balconies strain my eyes,

stretching as far as I can see

you still don’t see, I’m still me.

We disagree.

 

The hydrangeas grow

too tall for your front yard

Don’t survive

thrive on city windowsills

But still

you offer gardens of color

For us—the excommunicated

Lovers.

O on the R Train [full]

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He and a thin, middle-aged Asian man in a polo shirt were looking to sit at the same time. Both would rest in seats near me when the choosing was done. I could see the decisions being made in the subtle shifting of their eyes. I, myself, had only chosen to sit on account of—earlier—choosing the wrong shoes. To wear, yes. But also to buy and to keep. They hurt my feet; I could feel the blister near my big toe, where I’ll grow a bunion in my old age, like my grandmother did.

The Asian man sat first, two seats from me, leaving the only space on the bench the one next to me. This seat, the other man took, the one whose name I learned shortly after his sitting and also immediately forgot, whether for it’s tribal-slash-ethnic complexities through which it forced my tongue, or my desired separation with the absurd experience that ensued—which, I’m unsure.

It started with an “O” sound.

O asked for the time. No reason not to oblige. He asked if the R train stopped at 9th Avenue. I didn’t know where the train stopped, but was excited about the newly acquired map I carried, so we looked. The R train didn’t stop there. Stopped at 4th Avenue and 9th Street deep in Brooklyn. O seemed fine with that and so, seeing that we were done here, I returned my posture to neutral. I folded my arms over my purse. Sipped my water bottle to chase away the subway stifle. I ended the conversation as I assumed was natural. Politely, of course. Following, of course, all unwritten rules of social interaction. And apart from the deafening drone of the city, enjoyed, of course, the silence between us. Until—

He came again with I’m sorry’s and By the way’s. First about my tattoo—what does it say? Do I know what verse refers to the phrase? And, by the way, am I a Christian? Will I listen to what he has to say—over email, by phone, can he have my number—some day?

The R train came then. No, I said in response, followed by audible ellipses. I’m not from here, I told him.

These cruxes, for me, are difficult crossroads in stranger-conversation. Telling nice people “no”. Folks who seem well-meaning and engaging, who aren’t trying to sell me something, it seems cruel. I feel cruel doing it.

O presses me for contact information and steps in after me onto the traincar.

I survey the car, it’s not full; I’ll be able to slide into a seat. There’s even room for me to walk the length of the car and sit away from O without too much trouble. This is the train that will take me to Wall Street to see my fiancée behind the bar at his fancy restaurant. The track can’t disappear under steel wheels fast enough. All my syllables take ten minutes. I grab a pole and look back at O.

Ma-a-a-aybe—not, I tell him. About the e-mail, I mean. I give not reason. Just let the words be all. He apologizes. Twice. It’s alright, I say. It was nice talking to you.

While I sit facing away from O, after walking the length of the car to find a solitary seat, I sip the last drops in my water bottle and wait for Rector. Not a minute passes—

Excuse me, miss, do I mind if he sits? He’s no good at clues or social conduct, but his mistakes are harmless to me. I acquiesce to more by-the-ways.

Lots of questions, no time for answers. He wants to ask, struggles to listen. Or doesn’t really want to hear. I can’t tell which.

I tell him about the community at Mozart and about teaching high school English. About singing tenor in the choir to Brooklyn Tabernacle arrangements. He likes that. About Tim Keller’s church here in New York and their songwriter’s union. He shares with me what he calls a song, some scratch on a journal page.

And then I ask on innocent ground if he lives around here. Maybe I’ll know the borough. I can look on my map and he can point a finger in the right direction. For this, I was unprepared. He gave no standard signs. Wore a hoodie from a group—maybe a concert or a club. Light blue. Every kind of unthreatening. His greatest crime was annoyance. No smells. No shopping bags. Not until the train creaked and ground to slower speeds at Rector Street, where I would leave, did I notice that he put his notebook into a plastic grocery bag. There were a bunch of books in there. A Bible, I saw, another journal, maybe. The bag was full. It was the only sign.

He’s from Brooklyn, he says first. He was from there some time ago, he then says, something of a correction from the first. He lives on the subways now, at which point the exclamation points take over all creases and crevices of my brain, making any form of logical thought totally impossible. I cannot respond; I’m reasonably sure I was not even in control of my facial responses at this time. He meant to tell me that I was, in fact, sitting in his home at this present time? Huh. I guess I couldn’t blame him for trailing me when I was trying to escape him, then.

I didn’t think of it then, about how complex the system, about how intricate the tunnels, how one swipe gains you access to a seemingly endless labyrinth of corners, crannies, paths, all layers and layers beneath a city of millions of scurrying feet. How, in winter, it’s quite brilliant in ways. There are trains that never stop running. Heating your home for free.

But, in response, in the moment, I was useless to engage, to respond. My stop was here. The doors were opening, I was standing up. I was reviewing our interaction, fooled into thinking he was—what?—like me? There must have been tiny signs to hint at the abnormality of our conversation. Why am I calling it a conversation when I tried to quit talking with him time after time? We weren’t conversing, he was bothering me. Regardless of my efforts at escapism, nothing had made me categorize him as homeless, until he said it without effort. A fluid confession and my reaction, on which everything may have rested. Maybe that’s just it. I should never have categorized him like I do, like we all do, too quickly, quarantining him to a sect I refuse to speak to or sit near. Maybe being bothered by O wasn’t my greatest problem.