I just saw this dress on a mannequin in a store on 7th Avenue. Well, it stopped me in my tracks.
First of all, why are the nipples so big? It looks like they stuffed the dress with ping pong balls. Secondly, why are there bandage strips on either side of the boobs? Is it to hold them in place? Either the goal of this dress is to accentuate that ever-so-flattering middle sliver of breast, or this is a post-implant dress, like those disks dogs wear around their neck after they’re neutered.
Secondly, what happened to the bottom? It’s like someone passed it through a paper shredder. And then taped on the bottom back on like wall party decoration.
I don’t understand. It’s like post-op Pocahontas goes to the moon.
I take selfies. I take them when I feel good about myself, when I want to show the world I feel happy and confident.
Never mind that many other times, I feel depressed or unattractive, like the past six months of winter when I barely changed out of pajamas, but when I post a picture of myself it’s my way of saying “hi, world- I’m here and happy and I’m doing okay today.” (And I’m not “mentally ill”, like that study.) So, if you want to tear people down for feeling beautiful once in a while, then have at it. But I just want to say this: if you think for one second you’re not posting your own subdued version of a selfie every time you upload a picture of your feet in the Bahamas, sync that 16-mile run today from your phone, update your job status to indicate that amazing promotion, or show off that fat rock of an engagement ring, you’re wrong. It’s vanity in just the same way- just perhaps harder to attack because it doesn’t involve something as vulnerable as your face.
So let’s move on.
We can all choose to be happy for each other. We just don’t. Because we’re human. And jealous by nature. But maybe we should realize that and try harder, and not let the insecurities overshadow the good.
Frankly, I think it’s great you ran 16 miles. I am thrilled you got a promotion. I hope you got the most out of that much needed vacation. And congratulations on your engagement- let me know if you need help picking out a dress.
If I think I look cute in my tie today, then be happy for me, too.
So, post selfies- I love them. I wish there were more, and I love to see my friends feeling good about themselves. Not gratuitously of course- I can do without duck faces. But to me, a selfie is more honest than those discreet attempts to upload a hot picture of yourself with someone else next to you whose face is melting. Or snapping a picture of the “new dresser” shirtless in the background.
Celebrate life and happiness. It’s short.
I have terrible reception here. But here is another story, not pertinent to anything, but in case you’re bored at work or at home in bed.
When Nicolai’s father died, he thought his life would never be the same. It was strange how everything to which he never paid much attention suddenly came to the forefront of his perceptive mind: the scent of his father’s cologne lingering in the mornings after he’d gone to work. His whistling when he walked through the front door at night, how he loved to listen to jazz music while he read the newspaper on Sunday mornings. He couldn’t believe how quickly cancer had taken his life.
But Nicolai wouldn’t let this nostalgia overshadow the fact that his father wasn’t nice to him, never approved of him. While a strong force, he was a stolid one, all the way until the end. It was a barrier in their relationship.
His father never quite accepted that Nicolai didn’t want to play football in the yard like the other boys in the family. His father never could grasp why Nicolai preferred to listen to pop music in his room than play catch outside. It was foreign concept to his father, who, as a first generation Greek immigrant, knew only a traditional upbringing of hard work. Nicolai never felt he could connect with his father, and now that he was gone, he felt like he’d, in some ways, lost his chance. This being his first birthday without him, he tried to simply to forget all of it.
After all, it was time for his favorite thing in the world anyway: ballet class.
From the first time Nicolai saw the girls’ ballet class through the window at the local park district, he knew he wanted to be a dancer. He had never been struck by such grace or beauty of the human body, and it was the first time in his life he’d ever really felt impassioned by something to such a degree.
“Ballet is for girls, Nick.” His father would casually disprove. “Why don’t you play baseball like your brothers?”
And Nicolai would pretend to not be hurt by his father, since it wasn’t customary to show feelings in their household, and run to his bedroom to cry. It wasn’t simply a rejection of the ballet. It was a rejection of him.
As it was, his father wouldn’t pay for classes. Occasionally, his mother would drive him to free fundamentals courses when Nicolai found them on postings at school, and once she bought him a taped production of Swan Lake that she found in a bin at a flea market, but other than that, Nicolai practiced alone in his room in socks and sweatpants to an audio tape of The Nutcracker he stole from the library. “If he wants to do this bad enough, he can work to pay for classes himself.” His dad would say.
And so he did. Nicolai worked at one of the family’s diners four days a week after school, washing dishes, serving, whatever necessary, to save up extra money to pay for any classes he could afford at the recreation center in town.
The first day his mother picked him up from class, Nicolai ran through the glass doors of the recreation center, skipping all the way to the car.
“Oh, my, Nico!” His mother cried out when he plopped into the seat. “Did you have fun?” She asked.
“It’s my favorite thing in the world, mom.” He looked at her with a twinkle in his eye. “My favorite thing.”
And so for months, Nicolai worked extra hours at the restaurant, in between school and homework, to pay for periodic classes, aside from the ones he held for himself in his bedroom.
One day after class, Nicolai sat at home eating at the kitchen table when the phone rang. His mother answered.
“Hello?” She asked, tucking the phone into the cradle of her neck and her shoulder and wiping her hands on a dishtowel hanging on the oven handle.
“Yes, this is she.” She replied and turned to look at Nicolai, who voraciously forked noodles into his mouth. He looked up from his plate, curiously.
“Yes-” She nodded. “Oh- well, thank you”, she clutched the strand of pearls that loosely hung around her neck. “Okay. Mmhmm.. “ She paused a moment, nodding. “Saturday mornings. Oh my. All right. Well, thank you, Ms. Tompkins. I’ll talk to him, and we will reach you back, is that all right?” She paused. “Okay- thank you. Goodbye.”
And she hung up and stood for a moment, in awe. “Nicolai,” she said, “that was your teacher from the rec studio.” She placed a hand on one hip, still holding the phone in the other. “She just called me to tell me she thinks you’re a real talent and that she thinks you have a bright future in ballet, and she would like to work with you more closely in a one-on-one environment.”
The food stopped churning in Nicolai’s mouth, and it dropped open in surprised delight.
“Yes.” she nodded, smiling, moving closer to him. “She said that she would like to see you more frequently, but she won’t charge for the classes, and she said something about continuing to use the slippers from the exercise room, but we need to get you a leotard because the sweatpants are getting in the way of your dancing.”
Nicolai remembered his first class and how he stood on the mat ready for practice in his white tube socks and sweat pants.
“Well, this won’t do.” His teacher, Ms. Tompkins, remarked, disappearing through a curtain in the back of the ballet room.
She returned with two black dusty pointe shoes with holes in the toes. “Here, you can use these until the soles fall out,” she said, “which, looks like you have about a week.” She chortled. Nicolai slipped them on. They were a size too big, and he had to stuff them with tissue before practice until they fit, but it was better than nothing. The sweatpants caused him to fall.
“She would like to start seeing you Saturday mornings at 9 AM.” His mother announced.
Nicolai jumped out of the chair and started dancing and screaming. His mother guffawed in joy. “I am so proud of you, Nico!” She remarked, kissing him on the cheek. But from the next room over, his father cried out, “Unless we won the goddamn lottery, keep it down! I’m trying to get some work done in here.”
Nicolai’s smile faded.
That was nearly three years ago.
Since then, he worked his way to achieving 1st place in his sector, which earned him a spot in the statewide ballet competition just a month away. But today, on his birthday, sitting in the passenger side of his mother’s compact car on the way to practice, none of that mattered. He could only think about how his father could care less, and how he’d never live up to his expectations. That he’d always be a failure. “Perhaps it’s better this way.” He thought to himself. “I can’t disappoint him anymore”, and he turned up the radio because it helped to drown out the noise inside his head.
His mother was oddly quiet. She rolled down the car window to let the warm summer breeze alleviate some of the heaviness within the car.
“You’re getting to be such a big boy.” She looked down at him and patted his knee, her eyes momentarily welling with tears before forcing them down with a smile.
“Oh, mom, c’mon-“ Nicolai laughed. “No crying! You’re cramping my style.” He pulled the front of his shirt out with both his thumb and index finger on both hands.
She laughed the lump in her throat down as she pulled into the parking lot of the recreation center. “You excited to eat cake and blow out candles when we get home?” She asked as they slowed in sidewalk leading to the glass front doors.
“Can’t wait!” Nicolai exclaimed. “But I can’t eat too much- Coach Tompkins told me I have to be extra good about what I eat until the competition is over.”
“Well Coach Tompkins should eat a little more cake herself. She looks like she’s starved half to death.” Nicolai’s mom replied with a smirk. And as she put the car in ‘Park’, Nicolai snapped off his seatbelt and grabbed for the door handle.
“Wait-“ Nicolai’s mother’s smile faded from her face a moment.
“What?” Nicolai responded, sudden concern in his voice.
“God, I wasn’t sure when..” She trailed off. “I just- it’s your birthday, and..”
“Mom, what?” Nicolai repeated.
And with upturned eyebrows, Nicolai’s mother reached below her seat and pulled out a box and an envelope.
She tried to speak but it was as if someone clenched her vocal cords.
“I- He gave me this shortly before.. “ She looked at him with a face that he understood. “He asked.. that I give this to you.” She paused. “On your birthday.” She tried to smile, but this time the tears won and her eyes filled with water as she placed the items in his lap.
Nicolai looked down at the envelope and box on his lap, like foreign objects. He was nearly afraid to touch them.
He looked at his mother and then back down at his lap, at the envelope with the name “Nicolai” scrolled across it in his father’s handwriting. Though his father had passed nearly nine months ago, it was as if he was now suddenly alive again, present there in the car. Nicolai felt heavy from the weight of his own heart.
Gingerly, he picked up the light blue envelope and turned it over, slowly separating the tongue from the rest of the envelope, so as to not damage the stationery itself, like a fragile artifact.
Inside, a card sat inside the pouch. With two fingers, Nicolai pulled it out. He looked back at his mother a moment, who silently gave him approval, and he began reading.
My fourth child and youngest son. Happy birthday. I’ll never forget the day you were born. Your mother and I were out to dinner and a violinist came over to serenade her at the appetizer, but instead it broke her water. Some hours later, out you came. You’ve always been one for music.
I may not have been the most encouraging father. I may not have been easy on you. But in this moment when I have nothing left but my words to express myself one last time, I want you to know you are brave. Braver than I ever gave you credit for.
I know I may have pushed you to do things you didn’t want to do. I know I may have tried to make you be someone you’re not. But know that’s because I was just being a dad and trying to protect you, in the only way I knew how. The world can be a cruel place, Nicolai, and I never want to ever see a tear on your face. I want you always smiling.
But I know you are brave because you never submitted. You have always committed to the things you’ve loved, fought for them, and never have done something just to make people happy. I see myself in you, son. And you helped keep me alive inside for as long as I was able.
Now, on your birthday, and forever more, I want you to continue being brave. I want you to keep fighting. Here is something I know may help you to do so.
P.S. Be nice to your mother.
Nicolai looked up from the card with a tear-stained face and took a deep breath. His mother sobbed in the seat next to him, took her hand and caressed the back of his head. “Well?” She tried to smile through the tears streaming down her face. “Aren’t you going to open it?”
“Oh-“ Nicolai chucked, lost in a world of unbridled emotion. “Sure.“
He looked at the white unwrapped box and pulled it towards him. He placed both hands on the sides and took a deep breath before pulling off the top. He looked inside.
A pair of professional men’s ballet slippers stared back at him from the inside the box.
Nicolai began sobbing and collapsed into his mother’s arms.
“Shhh,” she coaxed. “It’s okay, Nico.” And rocked him back and forth a moment before he came back out of her arms. “Remember? No crying.” She smiled.
He buried his head into her arms a few moments longer before coming out of her embrace.
“I can stop wearing the ones from the studio that don’t fit me.” He tried to smile.
“They’ll be perfect for the competition.” She soothed, and placing a hand on his arm, she said, “Happy birthday, honey.”
Nicolai kissed her and carried the shoes into practice. He wore them for the first time that day. He also wore them when he won the state competition. But after that moment, Nicolai no longer simply danced for himself, but now for his father, who he knew believed in him and supported him. And every time he performed, he danced with all her heart, because he knew was watching.
So, I am here in Palm Springs, California for work, which just happened to align with the famous music festival, Coachella. People fly in from all over the country for this, and I am the only one in this city not here for the party. Whenever I get breakfast, everyone around me is dressed in swim trunks and t-shirts cracking their first beer, and I’m in a full suit eating an omelet at the table next to them.
Anyway, so last night I finished work and had nothing to do. I was feeling really sorry for myself because it was Saturday night, and I was on a crash course to order in room service and marathon Jeopardy. So, I texted my friend, Tom. He told me to come over to a bash at his friend’s house- he had an extra wrist band, and he said it was going to be fun.
So, with renewed vigor, I jumped in the shower, got dressed to mingle, tried to pound a drink at the hotel bar (except it was closed so I had to drink a Rockstar energy drink out of the hotel lobby refrigerator instead, like I was in high school), and ordered a cab to the hotel.
Once he picked me up, I gave him the address, and chatted with him a little as we drove.
“So how’s the party?” He asked.
“I am actually not here for the Coachella.” I replied. “I think I’m on the only one.”
He let out an “Oooh..”, like I told him I was here for cancer treatments.
“So, what are you here for?” He asked.
“Work.” I responded. “But I’m meeting a friend tonight, so I’m excited to go out. I don’t know what to expect.”
“Well it’s been pretty wild,” he said, “so I’m sure you’re in store for some fun parties. Lots of fun outdoors stuff.”
He flipped on the radio, and I got lost in the scenery as we drove; I didn’t know where we were going anyway, so I just relaxed in the back seat, until we took a sharp left into a driveway of a gated hotel and were immediately flanked by police.
“Oh my God!” I cried out, my mouth dropping open. The cab driver looked puzzled as well. A man with a lighted traffic rod directed us roll down the window.
“You can’t stop here!” He yelled. “Pull around!”
The cab driver followed his orders and we drove to a more concealed parking structure off the road.
The man appeared again and told the driver to roll down the window again.
"You on ‘the list’?" He asked me through the driver’s side window, as I sat in the back seat holding a Rockstar energy drink with terrified eyes.
“No- I..” I stammered. “I’m just meeting my friend. Well, he said has a wrist band for me.”
“And that’s the only way you’re getting in.” The man said. “Stay in the cab until he comes to retrieve you.”
"Retrieve me?" I thought. "What kind of party is this?"
A frantically texted my friend, and a few moments later he came out and I jumped out of the cab to hug him. I was starting to think of how they’d dispose of my body if he didn’t come out.
“What is this party, Tom?!” I asked. “The security is out of control. I thought we’d be by a fire pit. In the mud or something.”
“I didn’t tell you?” He replied. “Oops. Yea, it’s Puff Daddy’s party.”
I almost fell over.
“He’s coming later.” He added.
A spinning light projection shone on the front of the house from across the brick driveway, and strobe lights flashed from behind the front door. My heart started thumping.
I followed as Tom grabbed the handle and pushed the front door ajar. It opened onto a marble hallway, lined with red spot lights, which illuminated a large spiral staircase featuring a spinning DJ on the landing. A wet bar adorned with floating candles and vases with white roses billowing out of them faced us from the left. As we walked down the hallway, I noticed custom-themed light fixtures on the walls that looked onto a full wet bar cluttered with colored bottles, sitting opposite four mirrored tables parked up against long, white leather upholstered couches- all aglow by candlelight. Servers whizzed by with boxes of alcohol or napkins laying final touches and photographers stood by adjusting their cameras waiting for the guests to arrive.
“Just wait-” Tom glanced over his shoulder at me as we walked out the back door onto the terrace, next to a lake that shimmered under the moonlight. As I looked out at the water, I caught the white logo-plastered step-and-repeat out of the corner of my eye. I could not believe there was a step-and-repeat like this was the Golden Globes.
"What’s that in the corner?" I asked Tom, gesturing the white-clothed table nearby.
“The tequila bar.” He responded. “There’s also a cigar bar somewhere.”
“This is insane, Tom,” was all I could muster.
“We’re not even to the pool yet.”
Small hooded cabanas dotted the lawn as did a red-lighted white fabric tent pitched in the lawn, which swayed gently in the evening breeze.
“That’s obviously where people have sex.” I chimed in, just as we passed the candy bar.
White lollipops stuck out of a wooden presentation mount, next to a plate of white-frosted cupcakes and heaps of matching candy in clear glass jars, like snow.
As we wound around the corner of the house, the lucid turquoise of the pool reflected brightly from underneath the army of beach balls floating on top. Another lighted wall projection. Several hired model-types lazily draped themselves over the furniture in preparation for the guests.
“Unbelievable, Tom.” I said. “This is just unreal.” And, as we waited for the guests to arrive, we treated ourselves to the passed hors d’oeuvres and a drink.
No one came.
The first hour went by. The waitress just started coming directly to me because I kept eating the chicken skewers on her tray, and she had no one else to serve. “They said Pdiddy is going on later now.” Someone said. “Might be more of an after party.”
I sat on the couch and drank a vodka. The desperate photographers tried to angle their camera to any group of two or more to make it look like the party wasn’t empty behind them. The second hour went by. Not a soul.
The ping pong table sat with the paddles still nicely arranged in a glass vase. The tequila bar was abandoned, and the wind was starting to rip holes in the step-and-repeat, like an old ghost town saloon.
Now when I’m bored at a party, which is frequent because I never know what to do at parties, I overcompensate by going to the bathroom. It’s a way of getting 2-minutes of ‘me time’ in between the anxiety of having to socialize with people I don’t know.
So every fifteen minutes I got up to go to the bathroom- the far one- because it was outside and I wanted fresh air. I looked at my phone. It was nearly midnight. “One more hour, then you can go home. That’s respectable. One more hour. That’s like 4 AM New York time. You got this.”
I went back into the dead party and chatted with my friend. “I can’t believe no one is here.” I said.
“Let’s get drugs.” He responded.
That was the last thing I wanted to do, much less at a party with 9 people there.
“Hmm.. Okay.” I replied, my anxiety levels rising, already contemplating how to best throw a pill over my shoulder to make it look like I actually took it orally.
"I have to go to the bathroom. Again."
I declared, and I ran back outside and impulsively called a cab.
"It will be 15 to 20 minutes." She said. I knew I didn’t have much time.
By the time I got back into the party, they were already devising what car to take. “We have a driver, but he’s not picking up.” Tom’s friend on the party committee said. “We can just take the car ourselves.”
"So, let’s go!" Tom said.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to go, but I was one of five guests not associated with the planning committee, and I felt bad for leaving, much less just after midnight. And now I had a cab en route.
We walked out to the highly supervised entrance where the police escorted us back across the street to a large black SUV with tinted windows in the parking structure facing the highway. I climbed into the passenger side.
"Where is this place?" Tom’s friend asked, sliding the key into the ignition.
"Lemme check." Tom said, typing into his phone. I stared silently out the windshield contemplating my fate.
I was about to put myself in a terrible situation. Driving to an undisclosed location in a town with which I am not familiar, to alter my mind and body with drugs. Who knows if I’d make it back safely? But I didn’t really have a choice now. The SUV was backing out of the parking spot.
"You’re going to go down highway 111 and take a left toward Indian Wells." Tom said, reading the directions off of the GPS. Just then I saw a yellow van cab pull into the turning lane and turn into the driveway.
My heart started beating fast. It was now or never.
“Wait!” I shouted. Tom’s friend slammed on the breaks. “I- I- have to go to the bathroom.. Again.” I said, pulling on the door handle and elbowing open the door, realizing this was the third time in one hour. “I’m sorry, I.. have a urinary tract infection.” I ran out of the car and slammed the door.
AI ran away and hopped into the cab and ducked my head, like I’d be shot on sight. It wasn’t until we’d cleared the parking structure and turned onto the highway that I realized I’d just lied to my friends and told them I had a urinary tract infection so I wouldn’t have to do drugs.
I texted them later and told them I got a cab home. They were okay with it. Not that they really had a choice.
This morning I went for a run and went to get a late breakfast.
As I drank a cup or coffee, the girl at the table next to me recounted to her friends, “I woke up at 6 AM. I don’t know how I got home, but the garbage can next to my bed was full of throw up, and the shower was running.”
She also ordered a hamburger and apple pie for breakfast.
I was glad it was she and not I.
Maybe I missed out. Assuredly my friend thinks I’m a total weirdo. But you know what? I’m okay with it. Sometimes when you don’t escape yourself, you realize that maybe you’re not so bad after all. And I prefer a tan over a hangover any day.
A story I wrote on the airplane. This has nothing to do with New York, or me, but perhaps with life in general. Enjoy.
John was a pretty sorry sort of a kid. In fact he never really thought much of himself. He wore baggy khakis- the kind with the pleats on them- because that was all his mother bought him, and he rarely showered much- he felt the whole process was far too laborious for the reward. He generally wore one of two polo shirts because they were a size too big and navy, and he liked the color blue.
John wasn’t much for talking. He never really felt like he had much to contribute to conversations. He sometimes watched the news and admired men with white combed-over hairstyles with red ties tucked into pinstripe suits speaking astutely at a podium, and he wondered how they got to be that way, because he never would. For him, it was like some sort of transformation had taken place, like a view into a parallel universe, of which he did not feel a part. He rarely participated in adult dinner discussions.
John felt like human camouflage. People often spoke over him because his voice was just never loud enough, and when recounting memories, his presence was nearly always forgotten. He wasn’t particularly tall or athletic for his age, and when it came to academic endeavors, he fell firmly in the middle. In gym class, he always tried to pick positions that required the least amount of skill because he feared he might otherwise be publically scrutinized for performance, if of course, he wasn’t picked last to begin with.
“He’s waiting to sprout.” His mother would say encouragingly. “He just needs to find what he loves.” But in point of fact, John didn’t know what he loved. As far as he knew, he didn’t love anything. He just wanted to listen to music, play with his cat, Gizmo, who never objected to camping out on his lap, and he periodically walked around the house through the trees in the back yard and examine the foliage to see if he could find something out of the ordinary. Sometimes he put the rocks in the front of the house back into their rock bed; his mother hated when they defected into the lawn.
John’s house was pretty uneventful. He rarely saw his father because he always seemed to work or be asleep, and mother seemed to be interested in doing other things, chores or grocery shopping, which she seemed to enjoy more than spending time with him. She deemed the television a sufficient form of entertainment. “It’s like hiring a babysitter,” he heard her on the phone once, “except it costs about a tenth as much.” She laughed.
The one thing that mesmerized John was nature. On his walks around the house to pick up rocks, he liked to study them- to extol one’s striated beauty or to gaze deeply another’s miniature pores, like they were hiding something from him he might be able to see if he peered closely enough. Sometimes he’d pick up twig and study its skin, its inimitably textured surface, resilient yet remarkably delicate, just like his own. And leaves. Leaves mesmerized him. John would peer into their emerald maze of cells and wonder how it all came together into one perfect arrangement. He was bewildered by the idea of how something so sublimely special could become so mundane to the world, even to him when he let it.
But nature was all he had. It was the only thing that made him feel like he was part of something. In a shallow world comprised of self-serving friendships and insecurities, John didn’t have any constants. Not a stay-at-home father, nor a warm mother. Nature was his only constant- it was the only thing that didn’t have expectations he could let down. It never asked him to be something he wasn’t. To him, it was a symbiotic relationship born by a mutually acknowledged appreciation from afar – an approbation without meddling. In a sense, nature provided a vague sense of kinship for him, which he felt was uniquely reciprocated, by something similarly misunderstood.
As it was, John usually kept to himself in school. He spent the day imagining places coming to life in history books and what they would have been like if he’d been able to time travel. He routinely fell asleep in English class, and spent the first fifteen minutes of science every day inhaling the aroma from his teacher’s pot of coffee and ruminating about what it tasted like.
One afternoon in history class, John sat down at his desk with his books, and as he gazed out of the window at the top of the neighbor’s roof, old and started to sprout moss, his reverie was cut in half.
“You gonna change your clothes one of these days, John?” The boy at the desk next to him snickered, looking at the classmate on John’s other side. It was as if they didn’t see him- like they were looking through him.
“Yea,” the other boy chimed in. “You get those pants outta your dad’s closet?”
“A garage sale!” The first one added, and the two of them laughed.
John sat, paralyzed, incapable of responding, numbed from the stinging pain that seemed to electrify his entire being at once.
“Why don’t you go play in the forest, you fairy,” the first boy chimed in.
“What a loser.” The other taunted.
John stared forward in silence, not ignoring them, but rather succumbing to the searing lashes unleashed upon his insides. His heart melted in his chest, and it dripped like candlewax to the bottom of his feet. His ability to see beyond the inadequacies of his own uncontrollable self flanked him like cement walls against the rest of the room around him, locking him into a chamber of his own relentlessly cruel mind.
Class disappeared. The world disappeared. He simply sat, motionless, like a freshly torn off scab, raw to the world, with no defense for what he did wrong, except that he never had an ability to change himself.
As John walked home from school, he stared down at his feet, one falling one in front of the other, kicking small pebbles covered in tar from the asphalt. He looked at the dust rise from the ground, like a plume of smoke from a witch’s cauldron, he imagined. It was sunny. The blue sky was an unbounded playground for the birds, and the tree leaves glistened like sparklers as they danced against the summer breeze.
John continued shuffling down the street back to his house, where he might drop his backpack, plant himself on the couch and watch some television with Gizmo; he would eat dinner like every other night, perhaps do some homework, and go to sleep.
And then he saw it.
As he kicked the rocks in the tawny gravel of the street, a tinge of pink caught his sight. His eyes fell upon a small wildflower jutting out of the stones. He stopped. He curiously observed its spindly stem with two and-a-half blunted, jagged leaves. It was nearly impossible to him that such a thing could grow in a setting like this. As he bent down to examine its small, but rich pink petals, he noted one was missing, or perhaps it was just lopsided. But it was distinctly beautiful.
The rich colorful hue soothed his dry burning eyes, and he let it. He looked at the delicate veins run across the leaves like tiny river deltas, and he admired the perfect ovular shape of its petals. And just as he marveled at the tiny yellow stamen that seemed to reach up in praise of the nurturing sun, a warm summer breeze swept through and tenderly kissed his aching skin, breaking the tear-filled sac of his heart.
He began sobbing and fell to his knees. The droplets ran down his cheek in streams like rain beads down a window. It blurred his vision. And as he stared down at such a magnificent flower in the midst of such dreadfulness, he wondered why.
Why did it have to grow here? Why was it relegated to this cruel life amongst the unforgiving rocks? Why couldn’t its seed have landed just feet away in the green grass, allowed it to flourish? In some ways, it was just like he was- created the way it was and it wasn’t its fault. And, as he gazed down at the small pink flower peeking up from the gravel, a teardrop fell from his cheek and landed atop one of the pink petals of the flower below him.
He recoiled and gasped in fright. He didn’t mean to cry on the flower- why, that was the last thing he wanted to do. He watched the droplet for a moment float atop the petal and waited for it to drip down the side and fall onto the gravel. But it remained there a moment, perched atop the pink petal of the flower, unmoving. He continued to watch it, silently, surprised. But instead of falling off, the teardrop fell inwards, collecting in the middle with the stamen. The boy watched as the yellow and black of the flower’s center began to shimmer and undulate, as if in conversation with one another. His eyes widened in astonishment as the pink petals began to blush with resplendent color and spin. He nearly fell backward. And before his very eyes, the stem of the flower suddenly thickened and shot out of the ground, and the petals inflated like giant pink balloons before him. The stamen swelled and twinkled in the air as the flower rapidly unfurled from the ground and majestically looked down upon him.
“Oh, dear John.” It spoke to him, radiantly shining in the summer sun. It seemed to consider him for once, not look through him, like the way he wished his mother would- sympathetic, and understanding.
John’s mouth fell ajar in shock.
“Where we land on this earth is up to the brave wind.” It said. “It’s where the seed falls. Some come to rest in the wildflower fields. Some in the lush forest. Some, like me, along the side of the road. Most simply walk by, step on me, or even want to pluck me and throw me away.”
John was speechless. The radiant petals blinded him, and he was awestruck by everything transpiring in this moment.
“In this sense, I know how you feel.” The flower spoke to him. “But understand something.”
“I wouldn’t want to have grown in the grass.” It declared. “If I had grown there, I’d never have known what it was like to wish for better. To feel different from other flowers. And to know pain.” It spoke to him.
“By suffering, I can understand what it is to appreciate simplicity- the warm sun, the blue sky, and even the rain. Even if my life is short, I feel these emotions because I am here, rather than going through life never knowing what it’s like to truly be alive.”
John nodded in bewildered comprehension.
“And because I’ve felt that pain, I’ve been able to see that pain in others. And it has made me kinder. More understanding. Patient.”
John looked up at the flower, stymied.
“If I’d been anywhere else, I’d be ordinary.” The flower spoke. “I wouldn’t stand out. And you may have never noticed me. And now look.”
“B- But, what if I’m nothing more than a fairy?” John asked, his cheeks still wet with tears.
“Then you have wings, my dear,” the flower bent down to him, “and you can sprinkle your love upon as many people as possible. And that’s something, which any flower certainly would be jealous.”
John sniffled and looked up at the flower. “Thank you.” He said. “I’m sorry I cried on you.”
The flower giggled. “Tears are life’s diamonds. It’s your heart releasing a piece of itself to the world- each drop is the quintessence of your richest emotions. There’s nothing more valuable. After all, that’s what brought me to life. Never be afraid to cry.”
And the flower leaned down and brushed one of its lush soft petals against the boy’s cheek. When the boy opened his eyes, the flower had turned back to where it was before, sticking out of the gravel, it’s flimsy stem swaying in the wind.
John smiled, wiped his eyes and continued home. When he got to the front door, he burst through and ran and hugged his mother.
“Oh, my!” She cried. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I just wanted to tell you that I love you, mom. And that I don’t like watching TV that much.”
“Oh?” She laughed. “Well, would you like to accompany me to the grocery store?” She asked. “We’re all out of cereal.”
“We need eggs, too,” she patted his back, trying to walk. “And you can help me pick out a plant for the sun room.”
“Wait..” He looked at her. “Can we just get soil and a pot?”
“Well, I guess- if that’s what you want.” She responded. “But, why?”
“I already know which one I want.”
— the end —
I am obsessed with this song. If you need a Thursday pick-me-up, download this and put it on repeat in your iPod. I’d put it on mine, but it’s on a train floor somewhere in between New York and Baltimore.
<3 More soon. :)
If you live in New York, you hate Times Square. It’s just how it is- a right of passage, if you will.
Times Square is an oxymoron of a destination. Though it’s located in the heart of New York City, it’s not actually occupied by any real New Yorkers. Moreover, it represents the antithesis of what New Yorkers are actually about: privacy, taste, and discreetness. Instead, it’s literally bursting at the seams with tourist-glazed commercialism and hosts a plethora of national chain restaurants, all with 50% menu upcharges. Which is what you should be paying if you come all the way to New York to order the Tour of Italy at Olive Garden.
Normally I refuse to go through Times Square, even by taxi. It’s a traffic-jammed, seizure-causing landfill of proselytization. But for those of you who have never seen it - in Kuala Lumpur or Italy (yes I thought of you), I braved it.
So, here it is. In all its Wednesday afternoon glory. 54 whole seconds. You might have to watch it twice in case you miss the naked cowboy or the Buddhist monk.
[Shortly after this was taken, one of those plush Mario Brothers mascots grabbed me, so we could take a picture together (I am by myself in a blazer, carrying a briefcase). And then a woman selling tour bus tickets offered to take the picture. And I ran for my life.
Last night, as I typed away, I was alerted to the sound of someone gagging upstairs (the walls are thin). Initially I went back to writing just thinking it was my neighbor giving another blow job, but as the sound intensified, I realized it was the real deal- he was about to throw up.
He had gotten too drunk. As a note, it was 10pm on a Tuesday.
“C’mon!” A voice coached in the background. “Get it outta there!” And then there a repeated percussive sound emanated from inside the apartment, which I imagined to be pats on the back, like a mother trying to burp a baby, except they were so loud it sounded like a skin-on-skin locker room slap.
Then my neighbor threw up.
Heave after heave, I could hear the vomit hitting the unreceptive porcelain walls of the toilet. It resounded through the ceiling so loudly, it was as if I was in the bathroom with him as he threw up, typing diligently on my computer as his friend cheered on, “There ya go! Woooo, that’s nasty!” and slapped his back like he was giddying up a horse.
I also began to gag.
The sounds. The my unrestrained imagination. At one point, I was convinced I could smell it. And the sounds- they kept coming. Louder and louder. Faster. “How could he be throwing up that much?!” I ruminated. “Do people even have that much liquid in their stomach?!” I placed my hand over my mouth. I tried to play music on my computer to drown out the sound, but it just sounded like someone was dry-heaving on the track.
And then it stopped. Silence. I turned off the music a moment to listen.
“Ughhhh..” I heard my neighbor utter in high-pitched exhaustion, I assume while hugging the toilet bowl, possibly collapsing onto the cool tile of the floor in capitulation.
Then the other person broke out into song.
It was like an operatic victory ballad, like he was marching through town with a burning torch carrying a fresh kill on his back, and he belted it throughout the walls of the building.
"This isn’t happening." I muttered aloud. "This can’t be real."
"Oh God-” I heard my neighbor cry out before gagging erupted again from the bathroom.
And then their buzzer sounded.
The ceiling beat in with the sound of the footsteps moving toward the front door, the front door unlocking with a loud “click!”. Staccato footsteps trotted up the stairs, past my apartment, and then up the flight above mine. The knocked on the front door echoed in the hallway.
The door opened.
"That will be $33.25."
Dry heaves reverberated throughout the apartment building in the background.
"Here’s $40.." The voice paused a moment, just as a loud gag shook the building at its foundation. "..You can keep the change."
The delivery man escaped down the stairs again and then out of the apartment.
"How is he ordering food right now?" I tried to reconcile to myself. “How?!” I could barely keep my chicken tikka masala down. And then I locked myself in my bedroom and tried to sleep away the nightmare.
You know, just a typical Tuesday night in New York.
Well, I popped a button off my sweater and off my pants today. The one on the sweater fell off before I even left the house, but the pant button was definitively hanging by a thread when I put them on- I thought I’d at least make it through the day before it gave way. It popped off shortly after I ate breakfast, some time around 10:30 AM when I was unbuttoning my pants to go to urinate in the office bathroom.
As I got to the top button, there was nothing there. I realized I wasn’t wearing a belt, so I just had to leave them drooping, like those men with who let their stomachs hang out over the top of their pants so they don’t have to get a bigger waist size.
Every time I went to the bathroom after that, I went to fasten the top of my pants, only to realize that there was nothing to go into the button hole and remembered that I would have to spend the rest of the day walking around with my pants drooping, like a rapper. A rapper wearing a voluminous paisley scarf.
I thought about pinning them, but since I’d also lost the bottom button of my cardigan, the waistline of my pants stuck out like a stage between the curtains of my sweater, and I didn’t want to fix the problem in the same way that a mother does when dressing a baby in a cloth diaper. So, instead I just walked around that way.
Today was just boring. So boring that I snuck out of the office to buy, write, and mail a thank you card: the whole three-step process. I went to the post office and everything. It took about an hour and a half; I didn’t bring my Blackberry or anything. The whole experience would have been impossibly freeing, except eight years in New York has turned me into a bag of anxiety on roller skates, so the entire time I just agonized over what emergency calls I was missing and how I would return to find my boss sitting in her office chair, having spontaneously decided not to take the day off, but rather to drive in from Philadelphia to take her seat at her desk the exact moment I descend the elevator shaft to take an hour-and-a-half vacation from work.
That didn’t happen.
In fact, I got back and I had only two new emails. I was gone for an hour and a half and only two new emails. No missed calls. No red light on my voicemail. And my co-worker was still searching vacation rentals in Costa Rica, which she was doing before I left. It was like a worm hole. Like time collapsed upon itself. I was so confused, but I didn’t complain.
Instead, I ate six malt balls from a clear plastic box that my mom bought for me from Macy’s in suburban Illinois. I didn’t want them. In fact, I said to her repeatedly, “Please don’t buy these for me.” But she did anyway; they were on clearance. I didn’t think I’d eat them, but after being so worked up, eating some chocolate malt balls helped put things in perspective.
After work, I went to the gym- not to work out, but to see if anyone had found the iPod I lost last week at some point. I don’t know where I lost it, but I have an Amtrak agents in New York, Washington DC, and Baltimore looking for it, and I scoured my apartment and my workspace like detectives do when they think someone is hiding drugs. I am a step away from cutting open the mattress. I’d black light my apartment if I wasn’t so afraid of what else I’d find.
The gym didn’t have my iPod. The manager was, in fact, not very empathetic- “Nope, no iPods here” (he’s probably listening to it right now), but he did give me a copy of the new April work-out class schedule in which I saw ‘Power Yoga’ scheduled for 7:45pm. I ran home, threw on shorts, and sprinted back.
As I walked, a sidled up to a cute-looking girl next to me dressed in tight yoga pants and those high-wedge sneaker shoes, which I abhor, unless you’re in a rap video (for which I was dressed this morning as well). As the traffic light turned into a little white silhouette of a man, we stepped out into the street, at which point a bicyclist blindsided us, whizzing by, just inches from our faces.
“Fucking prick!” She shouted. I was surprised she had that in her. I gently picked up my pace and widened the gap between our bodies, for fear of what might happen to me in arm’s length, and I sped to the gym to throw my belongings into a locker and head up to my yoga class.
When I looked up, she was standing next to me.
She was a few inches shorter because she’d decidedly exchanged the high heels she’d worn to the athletic facility for socks, and she’d removed her oversized sweater, which now hung off her arm, the inside of which sported a tag that said “Angry Minds”. I tried not to make eye contact.
As I stood silently against the wall, I watched another girl in front of me text on her phone in peach expensive-looking exercise pants. I couldn’t see her face, but her red hair was lazily stuck into the formation of a ponytail as she furiously typed to the person with pink painted nails.
"Your promotion is so close!" The text popped up on her phone.
”.. Yea if I can wait that long.” She responded, looking up a moment and then back down at the screen. “I really dread going in every day.”
"Well so what are you hoping to get out of the promotion?" Came the response.
"A fat raise." She typed back. "A small price to pay for misery every day of my life."
And it was at that point I realized, “Fuck. We’re really tightly wound in New York.”
And then 45 of us crammed into a yoga room for 20 people where we ran out of mats and downward-faced dogged into each others’ ass cracks.
But that’s just New York.
We love the grind. We swear at bicyclists, bitch about our miserable jobs, and cut ourselves from our tethers to feign the illusion of being free only to come back twice as anxious than before. It’s sadistic.
So why do we do it? What is it that keeps drawing us in day after day to an environment that sometimes just wrings our spirits dry like sponges? What is it that drives us to forfeit all of our paychecks to rent-mongering landlords and squandering our money on $400 dinners as opposed to a 401K?
As I sat in the airport in Chicago waiting for my flight home on Sunday, I watched two women talking in the chairs across from me.
"I mean, I’ll never move back here," The one woman started as she leaned over to woman next to her, "but Chicago will always be home."
“Yea?" The other one asked.
"Yea. Like, people hold doors here. And they use turn signals. I don’t know- it’s a nice change of pace.. But-“
Is it that we don’t like comfort? We don’t like ease? Stability? Or is it that we need to be plugged in all the time, running around like manic squirrels collecting acorns before the imminent coming of winter? possessed by productivity? I’ll never know. I’m just trying to keep it together in a city that constantly reminds me that I can’t keep up. I mean- look at me: I’m losing iPods. Buttons. Time. Just keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t lose possession of my mind.