New York in Winter

New York in Winter

Sunday, November 24, 2013

New York Flaneur

NEW YORK FLANEUR
By Terence Hughes

I’m 70. I worked at boring jobs all my life, mostly at the Post Office (letter carrier). I’ve been retired a couple years. I got my taste for books when I was a kid – studying English lit at Queens College. Then, the usual sad story of Guineas my age: my old man died and I had to quit to help out my mother. No more college for me.
When I was on Facebook all the time, interacting at a safe distance with a strange crew of other lonely people, I said I was looking for a new job – anyway, a new avocation. Yes, a calling, not a mere hobby. I mentioned that I had just read, for the third time, a captivating book by Edmund White, The Flaneur. I quote the key passage:
“And no wonder Paris, land of novelty and distraction, is the great city of the flaneur – that aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination and goes wherever caprice or curiosity directs his or her steps. In New York the stroller can amble along from the Wall Street area up through SoHo, the East and West Village, but then he must hop a cab up to Amsterdam and Columbus on the Upper West Side; rest of the city is a desert.” (pp. 16-17) – published in 2001 – little has changed.
I had come upon Edmund White’s books years before at some gay bookstore in the West Village. No, I’m not gay, but I did like the books they had there. I bought three or four of his and I got hooked.
Anyway, I quoted the passage on my Facebook and got the usual asshole advice. I didn’t want advice, I wanted to share my budding philosophy, my true calling, with them. I told them all to fuck off; I was going to go “flaner” on my own, without their dull-witted ideas. I figured I’d have plenty of my own to overcome.
I learned fast that, unlike in France, for example, in America you need an excuse to do nothing. Here you have to present yourself as doing something, a something that may be offbeat but legit. Like you’re in the throes of creation – writing a book about heroic dogs or composing an anti-government screed. Or you’re waiting for a friend or a woman; they never come and then you have to present a brave but hurt face to the people serving you. If brave and hurt enough, maybe they’ll console you with a free cup of coffee. Or a beer. Or, best of all, a cocktail. In America it’s about how much you can bilk out of somebody.
All that acting is antithetical to being a flaneur. In Paris, Edmund White implies, you can walk around with a totally blank face and not feel as though you’re playing a part. Act as you will, look as you feel. Be yourself.

I live near but not in trendy, soggy Red Hook, but in an ugly area right by the Gowanus Expressway. It’s the kind of area where it’s best to be a Mexican after dark. There’s not enough places around me to be a flaneur in. One week and that’d be it, even if you threw in Park Slope.
It’s something of a schlep to get into Manhattan. You take a slow, dirty train into the Capital of the World. The thing is not to look Outer Borough. In Manhattan they can smell it on you like dogshit.
To be a flaneur in New York City, subterfuge is needed.

I spent a long time trying to decide the right thing to take with me on these first expeditions. Backpack? Practical but they’re for students or tourists. Briefcase? No for a lot of reasons, plus you want to keep your hands free in case of trouble. I ended up getting a second-hand Manhattan Portage messenger bag. Decent shape, Craigslist. Shoulder strap so you don’t have to hold it all the time. Looks urban and “cool,” which for my age might not be ideal but to hell with it. A flaneur needs to be himself.
I also wore a jacket that I hoped wouldn’t peg me as Outer Borough or out of it. Craigslist again: a worn but comfortable Barbour jacket, quilted, not the waxy sweaty kind. It got it for only $25.
Footwear is always the hardest thing. People really peg you there. I had some new Rocksports, and I couldn’t shop on Craigslist for them. They’d have to take me, Rocksports and all. At least I knew enough not to wear ’em with white socks.
It took me an hour and a half to get to the Upper West Side. I took that part of town as a challenge, as I’d never spent a lot of time there. Edmund White says it’s a good place to be a flaneur, so I took his word for it.
As you walk up and down Amsterdam Avenue you see a lot of outdoor seating – mandatory for a flaneur – but not a lot of people sitting out there and watching the passing parade. It was a warm, sunny day in early April. Most of the little eateries were open. But it was an eye-opener. The people who were sitting around as potential flaneurs were engrossed in their smartphones. They never looked up. It could have been a “passing parade” of ghosts.
They were dressed all wrong for flaneurship, if you don’t mind me saying so. I don’t presume to know how the high and mighty of the Upper West Side dress, but sweat pants and baggy sweatshirts and gigantic sneakers made me think of a mall in Jersey. I thought of my idol, Mr. White, as he strolled hither and yon through Paris. I know he didn’t wear a slobbish outfit. I bet he got dressed to the nines. I bet he wore a boutonniere. I did.
It was almost noon when I chose a place and sat down. I liked its nondescript character and the fact that they served wine by the glass. The sullen waiter (just like Paris!) served me a shitty Cabernet, and I was ready to flaner away.
At first I was merely a little annoyed. The passing parade seemed to consist of frail old ladies with walkers, and their black female home health aides. Then came a few old men – old enough to make me look like a strapping youth – in their wheelchairs, assisted by black male home health aids. They pretty much filled up the place, making a lot of fuss over being cold, their diaper being full, etc. It wasn’t conducive to being a flaneur.
I finally caught the waiter’s eye and said, with a gesture at the ancients around us, “What the hell is this? They here for the early bird special?”
“Social Security day. They go out once a month and this is it.”
I made a face. He said, “They tip like it’s 1950.”
I was going to leave, but a flaneur has to be flexible. I called for a caffe’ corretto and tried to explain what it was, but they gave me a regular coffee and a huge snifter of brandy. On my first day of flaneuring, I thought this was a promising start. I toasted myself. “To my new profession: flaneur!”
A pretty but very old lady with white hair raised her glass of wine and toasted me back. “L’chaim! And good luck on whatever you said.” She knocked off a whole glass of red wine and gestured to the aide. She needed help standing and getting squarely behind her wheeled walker. It took her a long time to approach me, but when she did, she said, “I think it’s so nice to do something you love every day. It keeps you young!” She baby-stepped away huffing.
I sipped my almost-caffe’ corretto basking in the blessing of a 90-year-old babe.

The next day I took two trains to the East Village. I knew I could enjoy myself a bit. My Social Security check had come. I thought hard about what made a good place for flaneuring. Someplace with (of course) sidewalk seating – and big big windows for inside seating when the weather’s bad – where the pace of service is slow and open all day.
The problem in New York is that they’re always trying to roust you out and turn the table, even when there’s no one waiting for it. It’s in the DNA of the place. “We sincerely thank you for your business, now please get lost.” The worst places were the ones that pretended to have cachet, where well-educated young people were slumming their way through food-service jobs in order to live in Bushwick and get photographed by geniuses in poorly composed pictures. Oddly, their Brooklyn doesn’t suffer from the stigma of outer-boroughness.
You’d think that densely restauranted strip of lower Second Avenue would be a good place to exercise one’s flaneurship. There are dozens of places that have outdoor seating, there are wide sidewalks, there are people stopping to do one thing and another at all hours.
You’d be wrong. I went to one charming restaurant and sat outside. I was the only one. The waitress took her time appearing. She didn’t bring a menu. She said, “Can I help you?” In that frosty tone you use for siding salesmen and old ladies with one-wheeled shopping carts.
“To start I’d like a coffee and a small bottle of San Pellegrino.”
“That’s it?” She looked so vexed I was expecting the rings to fly out of her nose.
I told her it was and that I’d order lunch later. Twenty minutes later she showed up with the coffee and a bottle of still water. The coffee tasted burnt yet it was almost cold to the lip. I was keenly aware that Edmund White had never suffered such petty indignities in the City of Light. I departed without paying.

I went home and ate a baloney sandwich but returned to the Village the next day. I was determined to give this flaneur thing a real go. I decided to go to an Italian place I read about somewhere. The interesting thing is that it was right next door to another place, practically identical, where there had been some falling out between the owners. I didn’t know the whole story – didn’t care – but was interested to see where cool young TV and film stars and foreigners got together. After all, the possibilities for flaneuring!
Da Silvano was the bigger of the two, and I discovered it was very snooty. They kissed the ass of every piece of Eurotrash that happened by, but me they set in some uncomfortable corner of their outdoor space (where all the cranks and things were for the awnings). They let me sit for an hour with a cup of espresso and a glass of sparkling water. Just as I was settling into delicious flaneur mode, as the passing parade grew more interesting when a gay tour group from Texas came yahooing by, the waiter started “checking” on me every three minutes, asking if there was anything I’d like to order. After a half hour, I gave up and left him glaring at me, since I left a 3% tip.
Bar Pitti was less busy and a little less kissy-face, but it too was an impatient enterprise. I ordered my third espresso of the afternoon, to enjoy the warm spring sun and watch the passing parade. It was glorious, and I felt that here was a flaneuring haven for me. But then a mob of merry Italians, part of another damned vacation tour, poured into the place, and management asked if I would go inside. It was cramped and dark in there, depressing on such a fine day.
I had a spirited discussion with the maitre d’, and in plain English told him where to stick it. No pretense of a tip. I stormed out, angry and humiliated. I doubt if Edmund White had ever been treated so shabbily in the City of Light. To tell the truth, I was glad to get out before I got too hungry. $20 for a plate of pasta!
Now, various friends who have read my tale have complained, “But, Joe, you don’t show us any actual flaneuring. What about the colorful characters you’ve met? What about the amusing encounters with all kinds of different people?” Well, I hate to disappoint you, but I got rousted out of places so fast, or I was treated so badly, that I either didn’t meet anybody colorful or I wasn’t in the mood for it because I was so pissed off. Didn’t I say New York was an impatient place? I wasn’t just shitting around.
Anyway. I walked up Sixth Avenue. I took out my baloney sandwich. I ate it on a public bench. No Edmund Whitish flair. I felt like I was eating crow.

After a few days of flaneuring that I thought weren’t up to the Edmund White standard, I thought the problem was maybe I was aiming too low. I decided to hit tonier places, where they would, with their sophistication, completely understand my goals and methods. It would be implicit, not a question. I had to really save up my money, and so it wasn’t till I was fortified with the next Social Security check that I dared go forth. This foray wasn’t going to cost me just a few coffees and shitty pastries at Starbucks.
I had a secret thrill as I rode the train under the East River, imagining the clean, rich, gleaming world up ahead. I was going to flaner at the St. Regis Hotel. For me it was like stepping into a museum. It seemed so perfect and eternal. But not like the Met – smaller and less pompous.
I settled myself at the bar and introduced myself to the bartender. He was an affable young guy with Brooklyn in his voice. “So what can I get you, old timer?”
Two words to deflate me. Thanks, shit head. There’s two words for you.
I told him a G&T with two wedges of lime and Bombay Sapphire gin.
“Nice choice for today,” he piped. “Warm spring so far.”
Given the cost of the thing, I knew I’d have to nurse it for about two hours. I grunted. When I got the drink, I tried to hide my discomfiture sipping it so delicately it dribbled down my chin.
“Look,” I said, wiping it discreetly, “I’m trying to be a flaneur but it’s damn hard in this town.”
The bartender, who said his name was Declan, smiled and sighed, “Ah, Edmund White.”
“You know his work too!”
“Oh, sure. I get so many people in here who’ve read The Flaneur. Why is that?” I summarized for him my misadventures in lower places. He shook his head. “Sounds as good a reason as any other.”
We discussed the subtle messages of Mr. White’s book, and Declan rhapsodized about Paris. “I haven’t got there yet,” he said, “but guys like Edmund White make you feel like you know it ahead of time. No one does that about New York.” I told him that was because New York was his home, and there was no way he romanticize it. “You’re romanticizing it,” he told me.
“Trying,” I replied. “Not much success so far.”
Declan comped me, with a wink, to a second drink. “You know, Joe, I think your problem in acting out your flaneur dream is your age.”
“There you go again.”
He said he was serious. He contrasted the reception and attention a 70-year old man gets versus one in his mid 40s. “You come in with a decent suit or blue blazer and a good quality briefcase, and they’ll accommodate you in every way. You can sit around all afternoon and order, I don’t know, some sparkling water and a few coffees.
“You come in at 70, they’ll think you’ll take up residence and leave behind an old-man smell. They want you out. That’s the truth, man.”
As usual, the recommendation is to spend a lot of money getting props together for effective flaneuring. That’s New York to a T. Accessorize yourself into the poorhouse but look good getting there. I took what he said somewhat to heart. I needed time to absorb it all.
“Mind if I sit at one of these tables?”
“Sure. A lotta old guys can’t take sitting on these stools for a long time. Bad for the back or something.”
I went to a seat where I could survey the entire room. It was very quiet; maybe the rich people had already left for the Hamptons. A tipsy old lady dressed like Jackie Kennedy in one corner; getting ready to pay and go up to her room. In another a man, unconscious, sprawled over a table at a banquette. There was a clutter of glasses and bottles around him.
“How long’s he been there?”
“Dunno. He was there when I come in today. I called someone to come get him, but nobody wants to.”
“What if I drank like that? Would you let me stay?”
“Shit, no. But you’re not Kiefer Sutherland.”

What’s that long German word that says you’re sad about someone’s bad luck and happy about it at the same time? I think it’s schattenfrude, my memory isn’t what it is. Anyway, I felt sort of bad for the former star of “24” but I didn’t exactly toss and turn over it. And he was bad for flaneuring. I left pretty fast, depressed and out over $20 for a weak gin and tonic.
The next Sunday I shook myself off and decided to go to what the chic people were calling NoHo (these silly real estate names! Like they’re a ruse to keep you from realizing just how ripped off you will be!).
The weather was very warm and the streets were packed with late-risers and family groups questing for a decent meal at the least over-inflated price. I went inside Lupa, the ever-popular Mario Batali outpost in the village. I complained before about $20 pasta – what a fool I was. But this stuff was good.
I was starved when I got there. I was ready to splurge on pricey pasta. I was ready for some decent house wine (it was pretty good and not all that expensive). I was going to be a flaneur for the entire afternoon. I heard celebrities came to Lupa for a good, unpretentious meal and hung out for a long time. The vibe was good. And there in the middle of the room was Ray Romano and his entourage, who sort of embodied it all.
I was sitting rather close to the great man and so I heard every pearl that dropped from his lips. I ate and drank as slow as possible so I could hear every word. It was very entertaining and had a lot of heart. Sad tales of some of the older cast members, the practical jokes of the galoot who played his big brother, script changes brought on by pressure groups. I even ordered dessert so that I could hang on longer.
Eventually, the restaurant manager brought me by bill. “I’ll take your credit card now.” Slight stress on now. Was this how they treated customers in Bataliland? I muttered, under my breath, “A humble, solitary flaneur can’t find a place to rest his walking stick but Ray Romano can hold forth to a bunch of toadies for hours about his ancient TV show.”
A few minutes later the manager came back with someone who must have been the ubermanager. “Sir, there wasn’t sufficient credit to process your check.” Not in a whispered voice. An edgy, mean voice. “They asked me to cut up your credit card.”
I offered all the usual defenses. Surely there must be – No, I don’t have another card – Did you get the number – How much over – So terribly sorry!
Romano waved the ubermanager over. They conferred.
“Mr. Romano asks you to accept the payment of your check in gratitude for listening so well and appreciatively to his every word.” Romano raised a glass. I stumbled out in an agony of shame.
Who the hell did that Lord Ray think he was?

Back home and over the following week, I looked coldly at the factors that had led to my humiliation at the hands of a well-meaning, rich has-been. It occurred to me that I simply couldn’t afford to flaner in nice restaurants and high-end bars, no matter what their attractions might be. Anyway, it occurred to me that if collecting celebrities was my real goal, then I wasn’t a flaneur worthy of Edmund White. I was some sort of moron, and I didn’t think a flaneur was a moron. I had to re-center myself and not expect anything more than charming, chance encounters.
I waited a few weeks before I took the train back into Manhattan. It was late in May – a perfect spring day. The trees were in leaf. Green things blossomed. I walked around the West Village, savoring the beauty of the crooked little streets and the old brick houses that lined them. I passed by many wee restaurants and cafes. They were bursting with customers, and the sidewalks were filled with their happy chatter. Beautiful young people sauntered by like princes and princesses in shorts and flip-flops. I was feeling carefree, almost.
After a few hours I got hungry and decided to stop at a tiny place that had a lot of its seating outside. Tartine. They served decent wine and good coffee. Simple food. No pressure to give up your table. Flaneur heaven in Manhattan. At last.
I had finished all but the last of my wine. I was rereading The Flaneur for perhaps the 80th time. A dumpy old man stopped short when he saw the cover (I always keep dust jackets on, it’s a low-class habit, but I like the color). He said, “Excuse me.”
“Yes?”
“Do you like that book?”
“It’s a bible to me. I’m a flaneur manqué!”
“I wrote that,” he said, somewhat shyly.
I looked at him again. I remembered old pictures of him on other dust jackets. “What happened to you?”
“Oh you -- You’ll never be a flaneur!” Crestfallen and angry, he went on down the street.
I watched him hobble away. I filled my lungs deeply with spring. Gorgeous young people were passing by, chatting and laughing, in no hurry. A long afternoon stretched ahead. I felt luxurious, even happy.
Fuck you, Edmund White – I was a New York flaneur.




YOU ARE A HOPPER PAINTING

Men, fear the future.
This story came to me in part from experience, but largely from observation. Unusually, the narration is in the present tense and the second person.


YOU ARE A HOPPER PAINTING

by Terence Hughes


Will this be your bright day?
You ask yourself this as you step onto the platform and mill with the herd up the broken escalator to Penn Station. Take inventory: Hartmann briefcase with consultant business cards, resumes (two versions, you still working, you in new direction), Mont Blanc pen, pad of paper, Samsung tablet, Macy’s tie, low-fat tuna sandwich and apple for lunch. Enough cash for two coffee stops with goodie. Late-model iPhone in right pocket of blazer, wallet in left chest pocket. Hardcopy address and appointment book right chest pocket.
You see yourself in a mirror in the station: 56, shortish brown hair not too much gray, neither tall nor short, trim, polished tassel loafers, gray trousers and blazer from Jos. A. Bank. Will they pass as Brooks? Presentable, though. In the running.
You stride eastward from the station, out into the sunny May morning, happy to be in the bustle of the city. Check phone. 8:02. You pick up the pace, tearing through the crowds to get to Fifth and 40th by 8:15. A quick networking meet with Walt Josephson, then quality time with Mitch Thomas. A good day.
You’ve been doing this for one year, three months and two weeks. Into the city four days of five, online and on the phone the rest of the time. Buttoned up, organized. It’s the only way to find a job similar to the level you had before and – isn’t it ever true – the best way to find that job is to treat looking for a job like your primary job. Being prompt and professional is always required. Be respectful of your contact’s time, and he will gratefully return the favor. But it’s funny how few offices ask if you want coffee.
Still, that employment guru, he said one true thing, that every single person is a contact. Trick’s in knowing how to approach each one to yield results. You still haven’t figured all of that out, but then you’re not an employment guru.
Right on the button you’re at Walt Josephson’s office. Points for promptness. It’s too early for the receptionist. Walt himself walks by with coffee and says, Shit! He forgot you were coming in and do you want a cup?
You settle in a small conference room, sipping weak joe. Walt makes small talk about family and sports, you interrupt and ask if he could give you some new numbers to call. Unemployment’s run out and.
Walt nods. Hard at our age.
You feel a little indignant. He’s 60 at least.
Walt chats a little more and looks at his watch. Wow. Getting on. Two names, he says. He writes them down and passes the paper to you.
You pump his hand gratefully. Paper into blazer pocket.
Walt escorts you to the reception area, where a sultry Dominican is checking her makeup. Walt tells you to call him if can do anything more: meaning he’s done enough. A salute. Gone.
You nod at the receptionist. She gives you a freezing onceover. You take the elevator to the street without changing your face.
You lean against the building, feeling as though you somehow had been slapped, and pull out the address book. Nine o’clock at the old Time-Life Building. You work up a sweat walking there.
The guards give you trouble. Who exactly are you here to see? Do you have an appointment? There are four of them. Four. Employed, to do this. They check your driver’s license. They search the visitors’ log. Nothing.
You give them the contact’s name and title again, adding the floor this time. They confer and make phone calls. They come back and tell you Mr. Thomas was let go on Friday. The head man turns his attention to a form and its proper completion. No, he says, eyes on the form, we don’t know where he went. Maybe you shoulda gotten his personal email and phone number.
You thank him and go outside to Sixth Avenue. Shell-shocked. Mitch Thomas. One of your primary contacts. Always ready to lend a hand. A prince of a guy. And just 48 years old with two kids in college.
This day’s evaporated. Your schedule was built around Mitch’s contacts. Who promised at least four. Contacts who’d be waiting for your call today.
You walk dazedly toward the park, checking the time on the cell phone (9:18). Suddenly you turn and walk at a faster pace down to 42nd and Fifth. You march up the stairs and into the Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library. You take out your tablet and begin the daily scan of the main employment sites men your age use. You spend two hours scouring them and make note of a possible fit in Philadelphia. Send them the I’m-still-working version of the resume. You hate Philly, but any port. Could drive there from Chatham … only about 2 hours each way.
It’s 11:36 now, and you smile. This is just one day of a long campaign. Bound to have ups and downs.
To pass some time and keep on the lookout for old colleagues, you stroll up Lex and go into the crowded Starbucks at the base of the old GE building. It’s become very warm, so as you stand in line to place the order, you remove the tie and stuff it in your jacket. You see a man watching you, a man your age, wearing khakis and a rumpled pink polo shirt with the tails out. The man doesn’t look away but looks angrily at you. His face has that decomposed look heavy drinkers get.
With your coffee and scone to delay lunch, you sit at the counter next to him. You keep your head turned away. The man clears his throat. -- I see you’ve gotten rid of the necktie. Pretty soon you'll be all Dockers and no blazer. Before you know it, you won't leave Ridgewood or Tarrytown, or wherever you live. You’ll spend every day in sweat pants.
You say nothing. What can you say?
--I sit in these places and see dozens, hundreds guys like you, he says. Being all professional and so on. Pretending you’re still corporate. Hey, get a tin cup and set up shop against the building here. You’re done.
He’s agitated now. Abruptly stands, sticks his battered laptop in his canvas briefcase and heads toward Third Avenue. He crosses Lex against the light and nearly gets clipped by a car-service limo.
He’s given up, you haven’t.
The scone has no taste and the coffee turns cold as you watch the lunchtime crowd stream by. You see well-known people, many of them very old yet in work, off to a lunch meeting at, say, the Four Seasons, or the Waldorf across the street. Big-time money men. Media celebrities. A cabinet secretary in intense discussion with a pretty young woman.
1:30. It’s safe to hit up some contacts. You call a few and stop in at several former colleagues’ offices. You leave messages and funny little written notes with deadpan receptionists.
Then you’re leaving the Empire State Building and see Stu Braun. Stu, your old protégé. You gave him guidance when he was right out of Dartmouth, you promoted his career, what a great guy. You push past the tourists and position yourself five yards behind him. You call out to him.
Stu Braun and his colleagues stop and turn. You go up to them, holding your hand out to Stu, swearing that you thought he moved to Boston. Stu shakes hands and gives you a half-smile. He asks how you’re doing and that you should get together the next time he’s in New York.
Stu, you say, taking him a little to the side, I hate to impose but it’s been over a year and, oh man, I need—
I’d love to help, but my contacts in New York are, have fallen by the wayside in large numbers. The endless recession, well, it --
Something in Boston then? Hell, I’d go to Hartford. I have something cooking in Philly, but Philly! You try jocularity but Stu looks hard at you and says he really doesn’t think there’s a fit. To hear this old dodge from him
Look, you shout at Stu, I’m not asking for special favors or breaks, just a chance to – I’m the same man who was good enough to --
Look, I have to go, he tells you. I have to catch a flight back to Boston. Thank you for everything, you know, and. Good. Luck. And he covers one hand with another as he shakes yours.
One of Stu’s younger companions laughs in response to what you can’t hear. They disappear into the crowd.
You check the calendar on the phone and double-check the appointment book in your briefcase. Nothing. 2:19. Can’t get home too early. You’d be told you’re not trying hard enough. And you’re not. You must do better tomorrow.
You resolve to go to a quiet place and write down all the contacts you haven’t contacted in the past month, and you will draw up a schedule to communicate with them, drawing up columns to check for TELEPHONE -- EMAIL -- IN-PERSON.
Then there are the thank-yous for today. Can’t be rude. Who knows, it could hit the right note, maybe someone will keep you in mind for a new opportunity.
Eat sandwich in Bryant Park. Seeking shade because it’s very hot now, very sunny. You find a chair alone in the shade, overlooking the lawn and sidepaths.
You notice them around you, like the man in Starbucks described. Men of a certain age, gray hair, balding, dye jobs … wearing blazers and tan or gray trousers … wearing almost-good shoes from an outlet mall … a cheap watch because the good’s gone for bills … each with a sandwich and apple, bottled water from Costco … scanning the job listings with the free wifi offered in the park. Sitting on a little chair by a little table. Abstracted. Carefully composed faces, stolid as they scroll through the messages and contacts on their phones.
You get up shaking, and not only because of the lithium.
You walk along 42nd Street at a fast pace, getting those clones behind you. You’ll be a  sweaty mess but so what? No more appointments today. None until next Monday, no Wednesday. Appointments with yourself. That’s what you’ve got now.
You walk on and find yourself heading south on Lex. A stretch that’s like the Manhattan from the 1950s or 60s. Lots of sunlight because the neighboring buildings are shorter. Rundown coffee joints and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Quieter. Only locals come here.
You compile a list of the contacts you haven’t touched in a month. There are three you can reach out to. No more. You consult your recent appointment list and notes. You recheck everything. Four, then, if you count Stu Braun.
Knowledge dawns. You take out the paper that Walt gave you. Contacts you’ve already called. Who were cold and insulting. Crumple. Toss it.
Jesus, you whisper, Jesus. What will happen to me?
You stare at the little oblong table. The sun is very hot, very bright. The plate-glass window unveils a staring, empty street. The light blinds you, your head swims. You see the shadows etched knife-sharp, feel the hot and cool parts of your skin. You feel like a man in cross-section, sliced by sunlight and shadow.
Then you feel a strange sort of fizzing in your brain. You’re light-headed, insubstantial. You see yourself vanishing inch by inch in the deserted coffee shop, oblong tables arrayed around, precise as dominoes. The light pours in on all things here, but only you are evaporating. The tables don’t move. Nothing moves, not even motes of dust. Only you move, and you move by disappearing into the light.

Pomes, Pennyeach

That's what James Joyce called his collection of poems in the period he was creating the short stories that went on to make up Dubliners. I dredge up century-old references not to compare myself to Joyce, obviously, but to give a nod to the writer who formed us all. Without Joyce, and especially Dubliners, there would be no Hemingway, no nothing.

I will be putting out some of my stories on this site, and sometimes they will be in medias res, so to speak. I love it when people write things like in medias res. It's even better when they try to say it.

By the way, The Meme Graveyard comes from a story idea that isn't a story idea. I do like the sound of it. It makes me seem avant and shit.

I don't know what the eventual name of the collection of stories will be. Maybe some wit from the Peanut Gallery will supply me with something suitably ironic yet spiritually meaningful.

Ciao for now.

Terence "Strappo" Hughes, known to associate with Grief & Joy