Saturday, December 31, 2005

this is an audio post - click to play

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Einstein wondered

Two Women Eating Lunch
One is studying Photos of the other while the other talks:

"So, how come you think no one ever says 'Merry Christmas' in French."
"Three people today said "Feliz Navidad" to me."
"Hnnn hmm."
" I mean it's not like there is no French around here. This French Onion soup, and there's French fries."
"Yeah um , this one's nice."
"And French -what is it -mustard and French dressing for salad. French kissing and what do they say when they say curses?"
"Pardon my French."
"Why is that?"
"They really don't say that as much as people used to."
"But they do say it. They say it to me."
"But not Merry Christmas."
"No, they say 'Feliz Navidad'."
"Honey, look at these. You don't look French, you look Puerto Rican."

Two men meet, they know each other but haven't seen each other for awhile.
"Same old. Same witchyu?"
"Yeah, well, have a merry."
" Yeah, 'k', youse too.
I have a Seinfeld moment.
I am listening to NPR this morning and the news is that someone has written software to discover the secret of Mona Lisa's smile. Like is it a forced smile or was she really happy when she smiled it. One could use the software to examine all the holiday photos of the past fifty years to discover who was actually having a good time and who was thinking that would rather be in bed.

I think two things: 1) How does someone get a job doing such things?
and 2) why does asking such a question make me think I sound like George Castanza?

There's a man standing alone just outside the grocery store.
He has this conversation:

"Einstein wondered what would it be like to see the world while riding on a beam of light."
"You're not going to start again are you?"
"Start what?"
"You know...the Einstein thing."
"It's not a thing, it's a thought."
"Well, here's a thought. Stop it."
That's not a thought, it's not.
I'm just saying...
It's not.
Okay. Okay. Take a breath.
"We are all riding on a beam of light anyway."
He approaches the automatic door, it opens and he takes a huge bag of cans to be counted.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Santa Claus' mother and the Nick of Time

I’ve met Santa Claus’ mother twice, once for real. Really. The first Santa Claus’ mother was my own mom. She loved to have a little fun with children who happened to answer the phone by asking, “Who is this?” Children did that back then, in the early sixties, way before ring tones and caller ID. “This is Santa Claus’s mother.” She’d reply. There would be a long pause as the kid thought out the implications, trying to get a hold on who they were speaking to, the implications being huge, if they laughed at the idea, if they doubted and turned out to be wrong…. “??Who?!?” they'd ask just to make sure. “Santa Claus’s mother.” She’d say evenly, “ I need to speak to your mother.” They’d put the phone down and run to go call their own mom, all excited even if it was mid-July. The moms would then have a good chuckle over the sweet beliefs of children.

The second time was the second Christmas after my wife left. It was also the second time she had left so I pretty much knew she was gone for good. The boys were little, T was just past three and the baby was sixteen months, both too little to ask many questions which was good because I had few answers. But this was 1973, the end of the sixties, and a single man with two children seemed to fit the revolutionary spirit floating about. We sailed through that first Christmas surrounded by my friends from school. They threw us a party at our apartment a couple of nights before Christmas. People brought food and toys for the boys. There was a tree given to us by a woman whose work gave out vouchers for Christmas trees instead of bonuses, not much of a bonus for a Jewish girl she said, and there were little gifts from classmates and two of the secretaries in the Dean of Journalism’s office. I had spent a lot of time in the Dean of Journalism’s office trying to work out additional scholarship money or grant money or loans. My family was twelve hundred miles away in Connecticut and I laughed when my mom suggested that I come home for the holidays. I didn’t want to tell her that I probably couldn’t afford the gas to get there and back. I had no money except my monthly GI Bill check, which covered the rent, bought gas and groceries and not much else. By the time the daycare lady was paid we were on loose change till the next check.

We were a happy bunch though, I have to tell you. I got out of class most days by three and had the boys picked up and brought home by four. We played on the living room floor while dinner cooked. We built some very serious wooden block towers and zoomed trucks back and forth. The baby, B, went from just barely walking to holy-cow-where’d-he-go? We sang a lot of songs. We sang a lot of the same songs over. The same with books, I could, until a few years ago, recite ‘Hop on Pop’ verbatim.

The days swam by. That next August she tried to hire a lawyer but no one would take her case, a lawyer friend on mine handled the divorce paperwork and, against his advice, I had the words ‘incompetent mother’ removed from the decree. I don’t believe I thought such a thing existed, an example of the sweet beliefs of grownups. Meanwhile, the boys were turning into little people. By the time October appeared on the kitchen wall calendar they had become an inseparable pair of madcap comics, laughing and finding joy in the littlest of things. Was that an empty box and a laundry basket? No, two boats on the ocean. No no, two trucks full of dirt. Flapping the sides of a book made it into the back of a giant bird, taking you anywhere you wanted to go and we had graduated to animal books and dinosaur books with even the baby being able to tell daddy he was being silly when he said the brontosaurus was a T-rex.

We had less time together by then. I had taken an internship with a local politician, which meant I had to work until after four most days and I had landed a job with a television station working weekends. B had gotten pneumonia the previous February and I was trying to pay off the four hospital days of care by making $1.75 an hour. I would park the boys in the film room with a reel of Popeye cartoons and a box of toys while I did hourly station IDs and monitored the on-air audio of the Saturday Afternoon Movie or ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

I had no days off. There were no parties. Not being at school meant that I had lost touch with my classmates and teachers, the internship was mostly writing reply letters to constituents and suddenly, it was mid-December. I bought a little tree and strung the lights on it. I went to Sears on my lunch hour and bought three toys and a new shirt and pants for each of the boys on the credit card and volunteered to work Christmas Day to earn the double time pay.

I don’t remember what day it was that T asked when we were going to go see Santa Claus, but it was really close to the 25th, maybe the 22nd. These things sneak up on you, not the days, the changes in your children. Where did all this come from? Here was T, now fully four, very informed about the whole Santa Claus thing. His daycare mates apparently swapped hugely detailed descriptions of their own visits to the jolly old man and it had become very important that he and B go too. B was up for it, oh yeah. We had never gone to see a Santa. I didn’t have a clue where to take them. Was there one at Sears? I hadn’t seen one. How about Target? I was a little panicked. The next day at the Congressman’s office I asked around if anyone knew of where I could take the boys to see Santa. The staff seemed shocked that I hadn’t already done so and I felt the panic grow, that I had really screwed up. One woman said she knew and wrote down the address of The Santa House. “It’s a Designer Society fund-raiser. Every year they find an old house, different designers decorate rooms and they have a Santa talk to the kids, but I don’t know if it’s still open this close to Christmas.”

It wasn’t. Of course, I didn’t know that when I told the boys where we were going. They were ecstatic. We sang “Jingle Bells” in the car on the way over and T was reciting all the things he was going to ask for and B was saying he wanted all the same stuff as T and we were actually laughing all the way, ha ha ha. Until we pulled up to the address and saw the mostly dark house with only one car parked out front. I had a bad feeling. There were some lights on and there was a Santa’s House sign on the porch, but we were the only people walking up the long sidewalk. T wondered out loud if Santa was home and I said we should see, B held my hand. It was the perfect Santa House by the way, it was a dark green color and had a peaky, narrow, odd look about it. The porch and stair rails were wrapped in pine garland and the door had a giant wreath with a huge red bow. There were candlelights in every window, even in the little ones way up at the top. Hanging from the porch ceiling were big tree ornament balls, blue ones and translucent crystal snowflakes. We knocked on the door. There was no answer.

My boys had learned a few things about waiting in their young lives. They waited for me to come pick them up at daycare, they waited for the potatoes to bake or the rice and beans and ham to cook, they waited until it was time to go home from the station and they waited in the car while I ran into the Git-and-Go to get the bread, bananas and peanut butter. They were experienced at waiting. They waited at the door of the Santa House. I said I think you were right, T, I don’t think he’s home. He said we should wait. We waited. The door opened a little. The boys said "Hello, is Santa here?" and I said "Sorry, are you closed?" And T gave me a look like I would if I was telling him to hush so I hushed. The door opened more. There was a woman standing there, mid-fifties I would guess now, graying, but not gray, hair fluffed up in the kind of hairdo Jackie Kennedy used to wear. She had on a long blue skirt that had plaid bows tied on it in wavy lines from the hemline to her waist and a red and white blouse with a ruffled front and she was carrying her overcoat. She was just leaving she said. Sorry, the Santa House was closed and today was the last day it was to be open. So sorry she said and she started to put on her overcoat, getting ready to leave.

There are times when your soul speaks instead of your brain, my head was spinning and was of very little use, but from somewhere came the words “Aren’t you Santa Claus’s mother?” She looked at me a little sharply, I’m sure she had had a long day and just wanted to be on her way home. She looked at the boys. I don’t know if mothers can see when children don’t have mothers but this one might have been able to do that. “Yes,” she said, “he’s all grown up now, but Santa Claus was once a little boy just like you boys are. Just like you.” The boys were frozen, fixated. Santa Claus was one thing, this, this was something else, something bigger. She buttoned her coat. She would see Santa tonight before he headed for the North Pole to get everything ready, was there anything she could tell him for them? They were silent, thinking out the implications, trying to get a hold on who they were speaking to, the implications being huge, if they laughed at the idea, if they doubted … .

“Legos.” said T, “ I was going to ask for legos and my brother wants a dumper truck.” “Yes,” said B,” a dumper truck”. The woman pulled out of her pocket one of those little address books everyone used to carry before Palm Pilots were thought of and carefully wrote in it for a moment. “I’ll be sure to tell him”, she touched both boys on their faces. “Y’all have a Merry Christmas, boys, a Merry Christmas” and she stepped back inside the door. “Thank you, I said,” Thank you Mrs. Claus, Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas, Santa Claus’ mother!”

We walked back to the car. No, we didn’t. We danced back to the car. We hopped. We jigged. We jiggled and jingled belled all the way. We went to the Pizza Hut on Fifteenth Street for a major celebration that night and, sure enough, on Christmas morning Santa Claus was smart enough to have a big box of Legos and a Tyco Dump Truck all wrapped up and waiting in the film room at the station.

Years later, the boys were long grown up, I was wandering through the various neighborhoods looking for a good route for a Tuesday night bicycle club beginner ride when I spotted the odd little green house and it’s long sidewalk. All those days came sweeping back to me in a single moment, when, just when I needed her most, a mother had arrived in the nick of time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A tale of St. Nicholas ,,, Avenue

Al knew things had gone too far right after he set the Christmas tree on fire and threw it off the roof. It had been a long day for the young man. He had hoped to show the bosses he was ready for bigger things and now, well now things were not promising. He sat with his back to the roof door; the police were using some kind of battering ram on it, yet he could still hear someone's stereo playing "Silver Bells" a floor or two below. He got up and walked slowly over to where he had barricaded the front fire escape with the wooden deck chairs and looked out over the glittering city. "Ah," he sighed. "Last night, whoa, it seems like such a long time ago now."

That night was a night like this one, clear and as cold as a frozen Stoli's. He had been sipping his second one when Dom called. Tomorrow first thing Alberto was to go to Mr. D's and pick up some cards to mail from Mrs. D. Al's name wasn't Alberto, it was Alvin, but he hated the name Alvin so much that he didn't mind that everyone thought it was Alberto. Anyway, he went to sleep.

He woke up about 10:30am to the sound of his phone ringing. It was Dom's boss, a very important fellow named Chessie who inquired of Alvin as to his whereabouts, but not using such wincey words. It was more a description of what body parts Chessie was going to pull off of Alvin before stuffing them back into places they didn't belong. Alvin decided to go drive right over to Mr. D's.

He did. He doubled-parked in front, but he shut the engine off hoping that he would get invited in. Mrs. D.- he knew he shouldn't think such things- was a hottie, but today there would be no long lingering lookee, Chessie answered the door. A box was shoved into his arms. It was full of the D's family Christmas cards, handwritten and addressed family Christmas Cards that were very important, did he understand - important-, to be taken to the Main Post Office on 34th Street, stamped and mailed. Mrs. D. called out from inside that Alberto should get the little Santa stamps, the cute ones. Alvin tried to say something like 'Sure thing, Mrs. D.' to Mrs. D. but Chessie had already slammed the door.

This is where things started to go wrong for our young man. He had a thought. It's not a good thing to have in these circumstances, but he had one. He thought that rather than go the Main Post Office, where there was never any parking, he would go uptown to the Post Office on 180th which as it happens not only has more parking nearby but is also nearby to the building of residence of one Nannetta Jackson, a lady with whom he had made acquaintances.

He parked, left the box in the car and proceeded to go up to the seventh floor and make acquaintances with Ms. Jackson. Twice. Then they both fell asleep. Ms. Jackson reported later that Alvin woke up startled, leaped out of bed and dressed quickly while shouting questions at her about what time is it was and what time did the Post Office close and what time is was now when she had just told him. Four-twenty, five o'clock and four-twenty. She said he seemed upset.

Alvin grabbed the box and headed for the Post Office at a fast clip. He crossed Broadway and was making good time, when, in one of those ironic twists Nature throws us, at the corner of 180th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, he stubbed his toe on some frozen black slush and the box flew out of his hands with most of the cards pinwheeling their way onto the street and gutter. Alvin made several loud comments overheard by passersby. No one helped him retrieve the cards, many of which had become a little damaged, that is to say soaked in semi-frozen oily filth.

He banged through the Post Office doorway cutting around one postal worker who was trying to shoo people away, telling them to come back tomorrow that the place was closed. Alvin apparently gave the guy a look and he backed off. He cut over to the mail slot and pushed the cards in, one handful after another, until the box was empty. His job finished, he headed for the door and probably wouldn't have gotten in all the other trouble if he had just forgotten, but he remembered. He remembered that he had forgotten about the Santa stamps.

This is where things got a little confused. Witnesses say Al explained his problem to the postal worker in the doorway, but received what could be described as an unsympathetic response. That Al then began to shout about his connections and how his family could cause real trouble etc. The postal worker, a man we now know was Franco Depolito, a man who, unfortunately for Al, has been written up recently in a book entitled “Made. The Encyclopedia of the New York Mob, and someone who is not afraid of being threatened, did according to some accounts make derogatory remarks to Al regarding Al’s parentage and what he could do with his problem, where upon Al removed a .38 caliber handgun from his rear waistband and shot him in the stomach. Surprisingly, especially to Al, Mr. Depolito did not fall over but instead produced a handgun of his own, a .22 silver beauty of a thing and proceeded to shower shots in the direction of Al’s head, one shot taking off most of his right ear, another passing through the brim of his NY Yankees baseball cap but, sadly, missing his brain,

It was about this point that other postal workers arrived and while coming to Mr. Depolito’s aid informed Al of 1) who he had just shot, 2) what a dumbass he was, 3) what a dead dumbass he was going to be. Al fled the scene.

He had hidden on the roof of Nanetta’s building for a couple of hours and was almost sure that the crisis had passed when his cell phone rang. It was Dom. Dom wanted to know was he okay, that he had heard from certain parties about the unfortunate happenings at the Post Office and he wanted Al to know that Franco was in the hospital but was going to be okay after a surgery or two and that he, Franco, had developed an odd affliction, an inability to speak if any police officer was in the room asking smart questions about Al. Al was relieved and told Dom the whole thing, including the parts about dropping the box and Nannetta and the no Santa stamps. There was a long pause and then Dom told Al to stay right where he was and to do nothing.

So, of course, Al did something. He thought that if he could keep from getting arrested that somehow Dom or Chessie would pull him out of this mess. So he made the barricade in front of the door bigger by stacking big pieces of the roof deck-garden against it and he stacked the chairs onto the fire escape landing to block it. Some cop spotted him doing that and that was what brought them and their battering ram into Al’s life. First they tried to climb the blocked fire escape and that was when Al set the big festive tree on fire and tossed it at them, then the battering started.

Everything seemed to be holding okay. The deck chairs had caught fire and were fully involved and the door wasn’t budging when suddenly the banging stopped. There was a silence across the world. Something was about to happen. Al looked out at the city and wondered if he just shouldn’t just jump off the roof before they got him. He worried that seven floors might not be enough to kill him.

Someone called his name from inside. Then someone else. It sounded like Nannetta. It sounded like her. Oh and Dom was with her too. Open the door. The cops are gone. Open the door, everything’s fine. What a relief. Al pulled the decking away from the door and turned the handle.

It was a blur. The cops were gone and in their place was Dom and Chessie and, surprise surprise, Mrs. D. in a long black coat and knee high boots. She was yelling something about Santa stamps, and handwriting addresses. Al needn’t have worried about the seven floors being enough; Mrs. D. put three slugs in his lungs before they tossed his dying body over the flames to the alley below.

Monday, December 12, 2005

It was clear and cold

Clear and 33 degrees F. Four thousand winter runners showed up for the 10K yesterday. There was little wind. The park dressed in ice and white, I wore my old biking underwear which smelled a little like our storage unit, a couple of shirts and my windbreaker. I hadn't been running outside for about a week and hadn't done anything like the distance in over a month, but I had been treadmilling on the Hills setting for two and fours miles so I was pretty confident of making it around the Park without collasping.

The Park, of course, was glorious and different this time as it is every time I come. I was surprised by several things I had never seen before. A giant statue loomed by the Lower Traverse, I swear I had never noticed it. When I saw it I thought we were still up by the resivour, so I was relieved to see that we were much further on. There were wooden railings besides the roadway on the East Side, those seemed new and weren't and the construction on the South end is either finished or has been cleared for the winter.

I am the most hydrated person in the world. If I take a sip of water five minutes later I have to pee a sip. I hit the porta-potties first thing when I arrived. (Way too early 8:50) So I walked around and sipped on a cup of water thinking that just being emptied I'd be okay. Wrong. Ten minutes before the start, I need to pee. There is no way I can get back to the P/Ps and get back to the start. Then I see a guy leaning against a tree, his head on the tree in a meditative, almost reverential pose. Is he praying? No.

I pick a different tree down a side path.

As I am making the roadway again, a park police van, with lights on, heads down to the spot where I was 'praying' just seconds before. I do a little jog/slog up the 12 minute miles starters, worm my way deep into the mass of jerseys and tights and wait for the start.

This odd thing happens as I run. Various portions of my body check in with complaints. First, my right knee wanted to know if I felt this little jab, I said I did and to please stop and at about the two mile point it did. Where upon my lungs decided that they ached from the cold air, so I did a lot of breathing out and they settled down.

It was a beautiful day. I played the music on the Muvo and ran a little faster than the twelve minute miles I been training at. I could still hear people talking to each other as they ran:

I was so happy when I was unemployed because then I could bum around Europe.

This is so different, isn't it, from running on a treadmill.
Easier or more difficult?
I don't know it just feels different

At the two mile mark:
Hey, we're half way there!
This is a six mile race.
My head doesn't know that.

So then he says, you know who I'm talking about right?
Not really.
It doesn't matter, he says to me...

Gasping runner:
Okay, when I say stop, we are going to walk.
Non-gasping partner
You haven't got enough breath to say 'stop'.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Tuning up

Leon hates Christmas. No, that's not right. Leon hates Christmas music. No, that's not right either. What Leon hates is trying to remember Christmas music once a year.

"I mean you what, play it once a year, right? You never get anyone asking for O Christmas Tree at a wedding, right? So you gotta go back once a year and put it all back in your head. Yeah, and anyone can remember the first six bars... Dah dAh da da, dad dAH da da, da da da DAH dah dah dah-- repeat, then what?

''Da dah da=ah dah dah dah dah, right."

''Except the notes on 'not only green when summer's here' aren't right or don't feel right. There's a kind of slide there and your head can't keep it for a year without thinking about it. So, that's what going on here. Tuning up and thinking about it."

He turns his back to the crowds walking by and starts honking the melody line. He is not going to make anybody listen to something that's off. He plays it through once, and once again. And once again only faster. He had forgotten about this song until he was walking past the Graybar Building and heard it on the little radio the tree vendor had, hadn't really listened to it, just caught a few notes out of the air, but thought it might be the kind of thing you could play and people would drop a few coins in his case.

It seemed short. That was what was bothering him. It seemed short. The whole thing was like eight lines long. The first two and the last lines were the same and there wasn't much middle. Was there a chorus he was missing? He played it through again. It was starting to feel okay It was starting to feel like he was tuned up and ready to light it up. He played it one more time from the top, honking and toodling just a little to put a little tinsel on it. Right.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Re Cognition

Red-faced, running through Grand Central, Joe turned up his Ipod to try and drown out the incessant holiday muses blaring out across the Christmas Eve hubbub. He double-timed it down the stairs, through the turnstile and headed for the Times Square shuttle. He looked down the long corridor trying to see the Next Train sign. He didn't see the man with the magazine until it was too late to avoid brushing into him. "Oh, sorry." Joe said, "'cuse me." and he hurried on towards the platforms. A train was just arriving, it would be the next to leave. The doors opened and there was a mad rush of people out of the cars and towards Grand Central where they would grab a Metro North Train for Yonkers or beyond. He waited for the mob to subside then joined a dozen other people picking seats for the short trip over to Times Square. He looked at his cellphone to see what time it was. You couldn't make a call from underground but the thing could always tell you how late you were. Everyone in New York, whether they were in motion or not, was late for some where else. He had told them he'd be there by five. It was ten 'til.

Out on the street, traffic was a mess. Blowing snow had been falling most of the day, the forecast had been for mostly cloudy, but what are you going to do? It was just another in the series of things that had gotten in the way lately. The world seemed out of synch somehow, here he was rushing somewhere to really go nowhere. Shuttling but not moving. One more meeting led to three more meetings led to much excitement over one more meeting. The whole thing, this whole life, seemed circular and enclosed.

"Uh um, hey, excuse me. Hey"

It was the modern condition he told himself, there were factors that... .


His head snapped up at the sound. It was the man with the magazine. The lights made it hard to see his face clearly. No one had called him Joebo for years, not since the Sixties or the part of the Seventies that everyone thought were part of the Sixties. There was a sound in his head like a teakettle's whistle and he shook his head a bit to try and stop it.

"It's me, uh, Paulo." The man grinned at him. "I thought that was you back there. How are things with you?"

How are things with me, thought Joe, I was just wondering that myself. How are things with me? There were things about the man with the magazine that he thought he remembered, there was a sagging in the eyes and the face was rounder and balder but it did seem like someone he knew.

"No one calls me Paulo these days. Just Paul. Hey, Paul. heh, heh."

The whistling grew louder, lower in tone but louder. Joe's lips moved but nothing came out.

"I haven't got much time, uh, well, that's not true, but I know you don't, so I just want to say thanks to you. I never got the chance to give the recognition. You know. So. Thanks."

Joe reached for his Ipod to see if it was on or off. It was off. His brain seemed off as well, he kept sending messages asking who the heck this guy in front of me is and his brain kept sending up scenes of coffee house singers and protest marches and granny-dressed hootnanny girls clapping hands and smoke and posters with fists and serious faced people around tables covered with burlap.

"I still sing that song of yours, you know, the Pond song." He leaned in over Joe's head. "Do you? You know, ever think about it.. 'Throw a penny in the pond', hey?"

There was a cloud of dust inside his head. His brain had found the files. At one of those tables in one of those coffee house backrooms, Paulo was sitting, bent over, convulsed in tears. Additional information not available...... something about the universe and you, making reality as you want it to be, hippie dippie stuff.

"Yeah, that's it." Paulo leaned in closer. "Throw a penny in the pond, and watch the ripples go, the Universe responds, the answer's never no."

When was that? And who was that? Joe watched the movie in his head. There he was on stage, slightly out of focus from the grass, lifting the crowd over his head. They flew around and around and held their arms out and embraced each other and swooped and soared with the bass line. "Toss a poem to the wind, fly to where it may, Providence takes notes, and sweetly moves your way." There was a cascading bridge of thunderous chords followed by a thin, almost silent, tickling of E's and D's to the end. There was Paulo, sometimes called Apollo, and uhStevarino, Billbo from whom came Joe Nation's JoeBo, along with LouieLouie and the girls, Mary, Annie, Kathie and Patrice or more properly MaryLou, AnnieLou, KathieLou and PattieLou. It was crazy and wonderful and wild. The JoeBo Nation, and nothing was going to stop them from changing the world. Not the uptights, not the normals, not the frigging war. No matter what, they joined hands over the burlap, looked right into the centers of their essence and knew this that they had was eternal.

"Say yes to the universal vibe, you said. I've been doing it ever since."

"Good for you." said Joe.

"What?" replied the man with the magazine. Joe's eyes cleared. It wasn't Paulo. The man looked away, shaking his head and moved down the car a little way. Couldn't be Paulo.

"Times Square." the P/A announced, "First, last, and only stop on the train. All out for Times Square, the Center of the Universe, Happy Holidays everybody. Grand Central next" The passengers grinned a little as they exited the cars. Joe walked about twenty steps before turning to look back. The man with the magazine was sitting on an end seat. He shook the magazine's pages and settled back waiting for the doors to close.

Joe looked at him. No. Couldn't be Paulo. He headed back to the train just as the doors shut. As the cars eased away he flipped open his cellphone, it was still ten 'til.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

What Grows in Stressful Moments

Joe jumped down from the back of the truck and knocked the needles from his jeans. The evergreen smell was thick in the air and there was a hint of eucalyptus and a bit of crushed rosemary from the wreaths. He walked around to the front of the tables straightening the rows of poinsettias as he went. Everything looked good this morning. The early crowd had bought a lot of trees and garland and they had sold out of Everlasting. Alex was putting a Ground Ivy wreath with a violet bow into a bag for a customer. Joe waited until she turned away then told him would be back to the stand in about an hour.

"You're going to go meet with her?"
"Yeh. Got to. My lawyer says."
"What do think it is?"
"Something about a box she got by messenger from my old office."
"And she won't send it up to you?"
"She claims she may have a vested interest in what's in it."
"I think I should go with you."
"And who then would sell all these magnificent growing things?"
"Oh yeah. That why I'm the farmer and you're the smart guy."
"It'll be alright. I'm a big boy. If there's a problem we'll get the lawyers involved." He reached across the table and picked up sprig of mistletoe. "Maybe I should bring this?
"Only if you can get her to eat it."
Joe laughed and headed for Park Avenue South.

The diner they were meeting at, neutral terrority as it were, was only a couple of blocks up the street. He already knew what was in the box. Kind of. There had been a mix-up in the office after the divestiture. That was an understatement. Over a year later and things were still popping up and falling out of unknown places. After his lawyer had called him saying that his ex had received a box of documents, Joe had called Rachel, one of the few people he knew still at the office and, as it happens, his old secretary.
"Christ. Is it a white box?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen it."
"Because if it's a white box.. ."
"I thought I had signed everything a year ago."
"You did. You did. This is my screw-up. I thought I cancelled them."
"Your Christmas cards. If it's a white box, it's your Christmas cards."
"My Christmas cards. The ones that say 'Season's Greetings from JoHanna and Joe, Choo-Choo and Jo-jo?' "
"Oh my God, I'm sorry. The order for the next year always comes when they deliver, it's one of those we-keep-sending-unless-you-cancel things. I'm sorry, things were so crazy, you remember."

Joe remembered Stanley meeting with Bernard and the two of them deciding on the bonuses for the year. It had been a particularly good year for both the firm and Joe. His two hedge funds had gained 106 and 122 percent in a year that the 500 had merely staggered along at about even. He remembered Johanna and the dogs were staying another month in South Beach. She was supposed to be checking on the house on Sanibel, but she seemed to be not making much effort. He remembered the meeting. Bernard was speaking. He went on about Stanley's retirement and the larger decision and it's meaning and how this was going to be best for everyone, that they would be fine, then handing out the envelopes to everyone.

The phone had been ringing when he got back to his office so he answered it with his right hand while holding the envelope with his left. It was JoHanna's lawyer, Arlene. She didn't want to have him served with the divorce papers there at the office. How nice. Could he come by? No, it's alright, he remembered saying, serve me here. He hung up. Why were the surprises in his life not surprises? He had guessed, he was a very good guesser, that Stanley was going to get out and sell everything when he left and he had guessed that Johanna wasn't going to re-arrive at their upper eastside address anytime soon, if ever. And he had guessed that he was due some pretty good money in bonuses that year. Not all his guesses were right.

He'd been right about the farm. Walking around the city that night after the envelopes were opened, he'd run into Alex as he was packing up the truck. Johanna hated Christmas trees and now that she wasn't coming home, Joe thought he'd buy one. Things hadn't been going too well for Alex and, as a joke, he'd made a little cardboard sign that said "For Sale -Everything." They talked. And, after a couple of trips upstate, and a number of hot meetings with his lawyer, Joe became the principle owner of Macintosh Garden and Farms. Trees, cheese and breezes he liked to say. He pumped a lot of money into the farm, they expanded the vegetable section, got a second and a third truck, hired more people. He doubled Alex's salary. In a year things were humming. And he was about as happy as he thought he ever could be.

JoHanna was sitting the booth by the door. The box, a little bigger than a shoebox and very white, was on the table.
"How's the farmer?"
"Why didn't you just send me this thing?"
"I'm fine, thanks for asking. Well, one, I know it's our Christmas cards from the box and two, I want you to know I don't want you sending them out with my name crossed out."
"Don't forget Choo-choo and Jo-jo."
"That's what I mean. I think you would send them out that way."
"Is this really all you wanted to talk about? Is this really all you have to worry about these days?"
"I don't want you embarrassing me with our old friends."
"You're in a dive of a diner, what if they see you here? Look, how about I just give them to you and you can cross my name out."
"I want you to throw them out, besides I don't have Choo-choo anymore. She got too big and I gave her away."
"Well, let's have a look at them." He took the knife from it's holder on his belt. Johanna's eyes got as big as piepans, Joe smiled and sliced through the tape. There were five hundred cards and envelopes. As soon as he saw them he remembered the rest.
Staggering through the party in the office, the drinks and the food.
Seeing the order blank on Rachel's desk.
Doodling something about what grows in stressful moments on it before, he thought he remembered, tossing it out.
Opening the envelope and seeing what had been sent to the off-shore account as his severance pay but beyond lawyers named Arlene and dog-owners named Johanna, ---twenty six point three million dollars.

"I had them changed. Rachel says she's sorry they got sent to you instead of my new place." "What do they say?"
The front was plain, except for the tasteful snow drift Johanna had picked out years before. Inside, proving he was still a good guesser of future events it just said this:
All is calm.
All is bright.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The third lap around the rink was about enough. He had worn his short jacket and a Red Sox baseball cap and he was freezing to death, but he was freezing to death for love. Love was just ahead of him on the ice in a long red coat worn over a tight white sweater and a short black skirt. God, she was dazzling. And she was having the time of her life or so it seemed.

"Hey Juliet" He said it the right way, jue-li-et, not jewel-yet. "Let's go get some hot chocolate." "We just got here, silly." She said that in the right way too. She wasn't whining, she was still having fun.
"I'm a idiot. I didn't wear enough clothes. I'm freezing."
"Well, why didn't you say so?" She whipped off the red coat and wrapped it around his shoulders and spun off in a tight circle. "You look like a guard at the Russian embassy." She skated backwards wiggling her fingers at him. C'mere, c'mere, c'mere.

He skated after her, not making much speed at first since his arms were busy holding onto the coat, but he kept trying. She laughed and danced and spun little spins just out of reach. He finally figured out that if he held his hands behind his back, he could hold on the the coat and skate like a racer. He got up to speed and zoomed past her then took off the coat and held it out, a matador in the middle of a sunburned ring. She charged and when she ducked to gore the coat he caught her up in his arms and planted a very good kiss on her.

That was the beginning of the next lap.


"Listen," she was saying as she sat down across from him in the booth. He was mid-forties unless he had let himself go, she maybe a day younger. His hair had a flattened, unwashed, look about it and it topped a face that had allowed a lot of butter to pass through it. He stared at the menu and said nothing. She, dark hair- severely pulled back, white white skin with black magic-marker drawn eyebrows, a pointy nose and a large mouth with what seemed to be a permanent frown, was speaking. The subject was Chanukah or more precisely, Chanukah at her apartment, who was coming, who was not coming, if they were coming why they were coming, if they were not coming, why they were not coming, if they were coming where they were coming from and who they would be spending the time with previous to their arrival at her apartment. If they were not coming where she surmised they might be spending the time, time lost as far as she was concerned. She was just about to start on what people would be bringing when the waiter re-arrived with their coffees.

She ordered his lunch. He nodded a couple of times and made a little thumbs up sign as an answer to a question about wheat toast. He looked at her. She looked at him for a moment as the CD/ROM in her head spun around to the place she had stopped. There would be food. None of it would be homemade apparently. That was good because at least there was a chance that the food would be good, I mean, did he remember the latkes Aunt Rosalie brought out last year? But it's bad too, and too bad, that people just don't have the time to really cook, not that she had the time either. He looked at his water glass, the ice was melting. Rocking around the Christmas Tree burbled from the P/A and there was the usual clamor of dishes and silverware and conversation. She was going on about going downtown to Barney's Co-op with her sister on Sunday to pick out a dress. Her sister already had two dresses she could wear but she wanted to look and see if anything struck her.

The lunch arrived. She made moves like a chessmaster, placing and replacing everything swiftly, just where it ought to be. She picked up his water glass, did he want it? The ice had completely melted. He looked at it as if he had something to say about it, but she was already handing it to the busboy. Oh and the most awful thing had happened to her best friend's husband Ziggy. They had been upstate looking for something, she didn't know what, a house, a car, a something. Anyway, just outside of White Plains or maybe Yonkers, he gets this pain in his leg. It was like it was in a vise and he couldn't get it out. They had to stop the car on the highway and she, her friend, was calling 911 and 311 and he was leaning on the car and it was awful, but it turned out to be nothing. Just a cramp, but what a scare.

The waiter brought another glass of ice water. He took a grateful sip and set it down. "Listen," she was saying. He looked at her face, at her hands, the shape of her lips. She was saying how it might snow on Sunday. Yes, he thought, it might.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Right Spot

MaryJ was late, she was sure of it. The afternoon light was fading and the sidewalks were filling up with people getting off work. She tried to hurry but her legs ached from standing in the line. "Let's go." she scolded herself, but she couldn't go any faster. Her right foot had it's familiar throb, and both of her hands were shrieking at her to stop. She took a little gulping breath. She couldn't stop, of course, not until she got to the church. Actually she was the happiest she had been in a long time. The standing in line had been worth it, she had her reward in one of her bags, carefully folded, still in it's original wrapper.

Rounding the corner on Seventh she was nearly knocked over by one a man with a Christmas trees. "Ho, granny, hey there." he had said with a smile. Definitely from out of town, MaryJ thought, probably one of the ones down from Maine. For a half second she allowed herself to think about some place else, the little lake, the crooked tree on the... , she shook her head. "You're here, aren't you?" she spoke the word out loud, looking straight ahead, "Right here and now, that's what counts." She traded one bag from her right hand to her left and took one from the left side and slid it in between the two on the right. She turned onto her street saw the lights.

The rest of the block was in it's usual gloom, what time was it? The lights were something new, she was sure she hadn't seen them last night but maybe they didn't turn them on until late and how late was it now? She hoped she hadn't lost her spot by the gate. She really liked that spot. She really did. Only a half a block to go now and she peered down the street to see if anyone else was already there. One of the bags started to drag on the ground a little and her right foot was now drenched in pain. No one seemed to be there, maybe it was so late that they were all settled in, maybe there wouldn't be any room. She shuddered at the thought of having to walk back the other way, all the way over to 23rd and maybe they would be filled up to and then what would she do?

The gate was moving. Someone was shutting the gate, Edith maybe, or the tall woman whatshername. "Edith," she called out. The figure near the gate stopped and looked down the street towards her. "Hi, hi." definitely Edith, no one else said 'hi, hi.' "Locking up early?" MaryJ asked as she continued to shuffle towards her. "No, it's a couple minutes after six, I thought maybe you decided to go somewheres else." MaryJ shook her head, she didn't have a breath left in her. She looked around, there was no else there. Good. "Well, good night now." Edith turned and slapped the padlock into place. "Father Phil or I will be by about eight. See you then." She shrugged her overcoat up around her face and headed towards Union Square. Mary watched her go for a moment or two, she must be tired, Edith usually likes a little more conversation. There was something else new in one of the windows, one of those lighted snowmen. Frosty the snowman, with his corncob pipe and his button nose and two eyes made out of coal, the words came bubbling up into her brain as she swept out her spot around the corner from the gate with a piece of cardboard. She took her bags and one by one squeezed them through the bars of the church's security fence saving the one with her new possession for last. "My new possession." she tossed those words over as she unfolded the wool blanket and refolded it in thirds. She placed it carefully on top of the four pieces of cardboard she had stowed by the staircase, got her little sleeping bag out of her canvas bag and prepared to lay down.

Once she laid down that was pretty much it for the night, so she liked to think a little and have a look around for awhile. She hadn't been as late as she had thought, and it was a good thing that Edith had seen her, that way she might not be so late in the morning. In the morning there would be heat inside the church hall and coffee and some kind of hot cereal, she hoped. The others would be coming from the shelters or 23rd Street if they were trying to score a second breakfast.

She lay down wrapping her feet in her old blanket while feeling how nice and soft the new one was under her. She zipped her jacket and pulled the hood over her head. She wiggled a little to find the right spot. Sleep rushed in on her.