She stopped at every corner,
snapping photos of the street signs,
individual cobblestones beneath our soles,
bricks in each building,
making history of address labels on wall street skyscrapers,
capturing her traveling soul in photo,
The conundrum of the phone call situation is that I do actually have the mathematical time to return them. But, considering what it takes to return a phone call: the geography, the headspace, the time commitment, the concentration to conversationally catch up, the mathematical time isn’t a great quantifying measure. Returning phone calls is up there with serious commitments like getting married. So when I say I don’t have time or that I’m too busy, I don’t mean in minutes; I don’t mean that I’m flying around with my jet pack strapped to my shoulders on the run all day. What I mean is that I can’t sacrifice all that it takes to commit to a phone call. Or, to be real and raw, I won’t. I value the now too much; phone calls don’t feel like right now to me.
It’s part of the reason I tried so hard and for so many years to brand myself as a letter-writer. Everyone knows. Everyone who knows even a little knows this about me. And they don’t write, no one does (Yes, Strongs, except for you). So I feel, even self-righteously (I’ll admit), totally justified in my ignored voicemails, when my mailbox is empty of your letter.
With a letter, I can choose my geography and a comfortable headspace. I can start the letter on the train, where the cell phone towers can’t reach, and stop when I arrive at work with minutes to spare. I can finish when I get home, listening to Cold War Kids in my stereo speakers and eating an apple at the desk. I can take a walk while I deliver your letter, I can make an appointment, or call my mom (my mom does get calls back; don’t fuss, it’s different). I enjoy writing in a way I do not enjoy the labor of calls, especially calls back, when I’m on the guilty end of the exchange, so stuck and jailed by my phone call obligations. If these nuances could just be public about the weaving and knitting inside of me, I would never have personal, only professional, voicemails. In the meanwhile, I make no sincere apology about this thing I do not do.
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.
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.
I felt the hit, lowered my shoulder. With my face like flint, pads lowered into the force, I waited for the pushback. For the equal and opposite push that him hitting me and me hitting him would return, smashing us both into the corner boards.
Instead, I felt a falling sensation. Not the equal and opposite that I expected from a solid shoulder check. My vestibular sense had betrayed me. I’d misjudged his angle. I felt his shoulders graze and bump me on the wrong side as I writhed and twisted to see where I’d gone wrong.
Black. Ice. Nothing.
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 is 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 down 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.
I cannot win you over or back by affixing the self-adhesive stamp.
I will not turn time to hallways and hand-written notes, wide rule notebook paper
With bi-fold cards, sentiment on scrapbook paper, newspaper cutouts, gift cards
If we cannot have a cup of coffee,
Sit hours in uncomfortable chairs to tell stories,
I cannot know that you like the foam extra dry, that you don’t even like coffee
Peppermint tea with soy milk and honey
If I cannot be in the folding stadium seat beside you
On the ice, behind the boards or in the balcony, beer in a plastic cup
Swimming in the sleeves of my right wing who was on the Maple Leafs—
Now the Flyers
I cannot send myself to you
I cannot cross state lines
I am liquid and perishable
I am hazardous and otherwise fragile
I have crossed state lines, I have sent myself to you
I have bore this bridge
Unbroken this chasm, if only now, by mail.
There is the possibility that this cannot be maintained by mail.
Dear Six-and-a-half Readers,
The writing exercises that have been showing up a few times a week on this here blog (Fun little games like this and this) will take a temporary vacation while the writer of such simple exercises tries to live her life uninterrupted. Her responsibilities have increased, her desires have changed, her priorities are shifting and thus, these prompts are being pushed to the ever popular back-burner.
Many things, when pushed to said burner, never return to the grill, don’t reach the desired warm pink center, and are never enjoyed with sautéed mushrooms and onions as they should be. This particular blogger, however, desires (ultimately) to be a writer so I reckon she will surely return to these prompts or others like them.
The journey may take her to another state, it may strip the digits from her bank account (has it not yet?), it may take her through school of another kind (yes, again), it may surprise the folks who love her most and have known her longest. But, they’ll return, however they return.
As I used to say, pretending I was cultured, Konnichiwa. Except that I also pretended it to mean Peace or See ya later, which it–in fact–does not.
Date: Thursday, February 24
Consider the last time you waited. Waited for the train, waited in line, waited on a call, waited for the end. If the last time you waited was boring, rewind the tape a bit.
Was there value in the waiting? What did you consider, contemplate or observe while you waited? Of all those details, consider which ones are worth hanging on and give them more time in your lyrics or paragraphs. Build scene or story around these images.