The barber on the block

I try not to be actively rude to people. I try to give people a chance, not judge a book by its cover, etc. (This is not due to some innate goodness, but is more selfish, like paying into a karma-based bank that probably doesn’t exist but is psychologically comforting. Anyways.) There is a barber shop on the block where I work that has the old-timey striped pole outside, one old-timey chair inside, and you can get a lathery shave and all that.

The barber himself is probably mid-60s and stands outside a lot to smoke cigarettes, so every time I walk by he stares at me. Like in a creepy up-and-down way. I accidentally smiled at him once because he smiled at me and I smiled back reflexively. And so then I had to actively look away and not smile when he tried to initiate a repeat of the smile exchange. At one point, he was so aggressively stare-y and conversational that I started crossing the street or going the other way around the block to avoid him.

This has been going on for 2+ years, ever since I started this job. And then last month, a sign appeared taped to the inside of the glass door, “Closed due to Medical Emergency — will re-open ASAP”. This stayed for three weeks. Then someone folded over the bottom part of the sign so that it just said “Closed due to Medical Emergency”.  (A co-worker said: It’s probably his dog. He was always talking about his dog.)

Now today, in blue ballpoint scrawled above the type on the sign it says: “Not re-opening”.

So maybe he died. Probably from smoking cigarettes with only a dog for a friend.

So much for my karma.

Notes from the flight: High altitude + laptop + lightweight

On a plane now, to San Francisco. I have this little laptop and my mind is soothed by the light and the color. I can dream things. No one is here to bother me.

There is a snappish woman on this plane who befriended a hipstery 20-something and told him all about how she wasn’t trying to cut in line, really she wasn’t she promised…

The man in the seat in front of me has the Tasmanian devil embroidered so it looks like it is leaping from his shirt pocket. He has gray roots so it looks like someone took a bottle of white-out to his part. The rest is brown.

The woman next to me is sleeping, with her shoes off. She is pretty, maybe Indian, asleep doubled over onto her coat.

I want to do a podcast. I like this idea. We could do it via telephone, just call into to somewhere that will record.

I am going to attempt to get some sort of cocktail on this flight. I don’t know if it will work. I’ve never done it. The thought is staggering. Alcohol? On a plane? What a nutty idea.

Where do people get their drink coupons? I don’t have any. Where did they get them. SAD.

Above row one.

You must remain at your seat.

You must.

Remain at your seat.

Jack and ginger. Super cheap. 4 dollars!

Ok I’m totally buzzed. This is amazing. I’ve never been buzzed in a plane. It is so GREAT. It’s like you’re already all fuzzy and floaty and then You Can FLY.

Holy crap I can’t believe I’ve never done this before. Next time I’m bringing lots of 3 oz bottles in my carryon and getting tanked. I could get a cheap ticket to somewhere close and just turn around and go back again.

WHAT A MODERN MARVEL. Listen up, world. I totally recommend this.

Also this computer is the perfect little size for the meal tray on a plane. It can fit right next to your drink.

Ok i might be drunk. I can’t tell. I’m too tipsy to discern.

Remember those books with the white pen that revealed stuff, that you could use on car trips? THOSE WERE GREAT.

Time Travels

Lately I’ve been remembering the obvious: that there are multiple dimensions, here in this universe, and time is one of them. That we are not just moving in space but also in time. I am not just on this Southwest flight from Chicago-Midway to San Francisco, sitting next to a large man who has taken over my left armrest while I rest my head against the cool plastic of the wall near the window and wait for my Jack Daniels with ginger ale to arrive. But time is moving too, forward every second.

I went to San Francisco last weekend and stayed with my friend Alex. I met her in Guatemala at the writing workshop I took in February. She’s a British-Jamaican woman (maybe 60?) who speaks such breathless and British-accented enthusiasm that everything sounds like an adventure. Everything is fantastic. Fantastic!  Her house overlooks the bay, so I woke up to sparkling water and hazy hills. My friend Becky — also from the writing workshop — showed up that afternoon, and we worked through Alex’s book of personality tests and gossiped and sipped milky sweet tea. That night I met up with Justin, a friend from my first-ever out-of-college job, when I worked at a nonprofit in Washington DC. We played tabletop shuffleboard at Sausalito’s only “working class bar” and drank through two pitchers, and pretty soon I was positive I was born to play shuffleboard, if for no other reason than the magic of watching heavy metal disks hover on crystals of salt.

The next day I took the bus to Glide, a non-denominational church that is also an entertainment supercomplex for the soul. (Very sort of San Francisco, Alex said.) It was Easter morning, and the line snaked around the block, the most diverse crowd I’d ever seen waiting for any anything. Black, white, hipster, homeless, pastel frocks and lacy hats, big sunglasses and bright sneakers, wisecracking with brunch friends, calming new babies. Justin and his girlfriend Katie joined me in line. Every few minutes I’d look around for Raluca, who was meeting me here too.

Raluca was my mentor teacher during the dusty, pained summer I spent in L.A., teaching ESL middle school, during Summer Institute (aka the insane bootcamp meant to prepare new corps members for Teach for America). Justin, Katie and I had found cramped seats in the muggy balcony by the time Raluca arrived.  Just as the jazz/gospel/funk/loud-crazy of the band and choir began, I saw Raluca pick her way down the crowded aisle to us, long white-blonde hair flowing behind her, she was already dancing.

After the service Raluca and I wandered through a sunny farmer’s market, snacking on sweet dates from a paper bag and catching up. And at the airport that night, a whirlwind trip gone by, I had time to think about all of this for a second, this time-place mashup that had just happened:  Alex and Becky from the blissed-out lake where I woke with the sun and wrote all day. Justin from the chaos of being 23 and at my first (disfunctional) job.  Raluca from the sleepless summer of teaching. The blue carpet (Presidential Blue) in my office in D.C., the pinkish choking dust of the school in L.A; the zillion stone steps through the lush garden to Becky’s little treehouse. How the choir hit that last high note, the crowd murmered and hushed, and we all crunched in closer on the wooden pews, to sit down.

Buffalo photos

GOOD magazine published a photo essay on Buffalo, New York. It reminded me that art is so much about perspective: the editors’ intro paragraph about a “dying” city contrasts with the captions from the photographer, where it’s much more about a “surviving” city.

In between the peace and the shaking

When I was in my early 20s, I used to go to church because I knew exactly what would happen. The rituals would be the same. We’d recite the same things. People would be nice to me. The only small risk was the peace-be-with-you moment, where you had to shake hands with people around you. Always, that first moment, And now let us share a sign of Christ’s peace, my stomach did a flip-flop, as everyone found their first peace partners, a musical chairs of handshakes. Ironic, yes? You could be the loneliest person in the world for that moment, with handshakes rippling through the crowd around — you turn left and then right, waiting, and the murmurs of the crowd morph and blend, peace, peace, peace. Then the powder-smelling woman to your right turns her head and extends her hand, her skin is the warmth of new-baked bread, she flashes you a lipsticked smile and your task is done. You have closed the loop, you are back in the known river and will be carried along with the others.

Over the weekend I went to a workshop called Time Management for Artists. There was a little goal-setting exercise, where you were supposed to plot how your short-term and medium-term goals would add up to your long-term goals. And I sat there, in this (admittedly, free) workshop, boggled by the idea. All around me people began scribbling, brainstorming their goals and filling in the boxes on the worksheet. And that familar feeling welled up; of slipping into that wild moment, the still point in a sea of choreographed motion, the burbling peace, peace, peace blending into the unintelligible rushing of water over rock.

Wiggle your big toe

A lot of writers say they work best in the early mornings. I’ve tucked away their endorsement of mornings, for inspiration, but most mornings I end up snuggling deeper into the blankety nest and waiting until I’ve maxed out all the snoozes.   I have the worst time waking up.

Is this a disease of some kind? Does everyone have a hard time waking up? I once told a therapist that waking up was the hardest thing I did all day, even after eight hours of sleep.  And she looked at me in total shock, like: Now this is serious. But…. five more minutes of warm-soft-dreamland? Who wouldn’t want that?

Sometimes I think about that scene in Kill Bill where Uma Thurman lays in the back of the truck and stares at her big toe after being paralyzed and just says: “Wiggle your big toe. Wiggle your big toe.”

Sometimes that works.