Little Thoughts for Regular Days

The park was wet and empty.  The people had gone away again, though at least not on account of snow.  Drops filled dips in pavement one by one until they had created something meaningful, something of substance.  Plastic bags, torn and shredded, clung to the budding boughs of trees, now lined with the suggestion of a color.  Purple.  Vermillion.  Crimson red.  A pot full of yellow daffodils sat on top of a strip of unnaturally green Astroturf, immune to the benefits of rain.

Below ground, the world was still gray, living in perpetual monochrome.  Filthy, soot-soaked tiles lined the coved ceilings.  Someone sang a song at the end of the platform, their voice carrying the length of the space.  I looked up and down the platform at the bodies in motion, people positioning themselves for a place on an arriving train.  How much of each other we didn’t know, would never know.  The people, like countries, with their own histories and wars, their boundaries and rules of governance.  Millions of little countries.  The pieces of people.

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Life on a Bike

I bought my bike off of a boy named Peter who lived on a park filled with flowering trees.  It was a red Motobacane.  Made in France.  He brought bikes back from Connecticut and fixed them up in his apartment.  It had curved handlebars that made me think I was going to fly forward and knock my front teeth out on uneven pavement.  My boots clung shakily to the old silver pedals made out of dulled aluminum.  It felt strange riding again; I hadn’t been on a bike since a year previous, when I was still living in West Hollywood and would only ever ride the half a mile to see movies at The Grove.

Not wanting to take advantage of Peter’s time, I rode the bike down the sidewalk just twenty feet before turning around.  It wasn’t comfortable.  My legs bent too close to my body and my back hunched forward like a cat.  It took Peter offering two times to raise the seat for me to accept.  I did stupid things like this often – not changing things that would be the obvious solutions to my problems.  “It’s okay,” I would say, shaking off someone’s invitation to help me, even if it meant I did things like not buy a bike that was perfectly fine for me and wasting an afternoon walking thirty minutes from North Brooklyn to South Brooklyn and then thirty minutes back, empty handed and frustrated.

He took my purse and told me to ride around the park, get a feel for the bike.  Changing the seat had made all the difference; my legs rotated in circular motions, the left knee rising as the right knee fell, over and over again.  I rode through the park’s center, little kids skateboarding and riding scooters, unwatched, their parents likely enjoying some time to themselves.

It was cloudy and the air felt damp against my skin.  It had been so long since I had thought about nothing.  My normal thought process – frantic and planning and searching and panicked – had slowed down to a tolerable roar.  Left.  Right.  Left.  Right.  Steady.  Left.  Right.  Steady.  I thought only of not falling over.  Bliss.

I came back to where he was, standing at his place against an over-painted wrought iron gate.  “I’ll take it,” I told him, and then I handed him a bunch of twenty-dollar bills that I counted out between my right and left hand, the sound of paper against paper indicating our transaction.

“One two three four five.  One two three four five.  One two three four five.”

I thanked him and rode down Driggs on my very own bike.  It felt strange to be in New York and own an item that was a further extension of myself.  Vainly, I wondered what I looked like riding it down the street.  “There’s that girl on the red bike,” someone might say, and they might see my blonde hair and my focused stare and think that the bike said something about my personality, which it didn’t.  There was something liberating I knowing that I had purchased something not wholly because I thought it looked cool or was in my taste, but that it would get me from A to B, that it was light, and that its 57 cm measurements accommodated my long legs.

Later, I met my friends on Grand Avenue.  We were riding over the bridge to watch the friend of a friend play in some beer-soaked bar on Houston.  I was indescribably nervous.  The bike and I were still new to each other and for whatever reason I didn’t trust it.  I kept thinking – even though I had learned how to ride a bike over twenty years ago – that a tire would come loose and I would pitch forward.  I imagined myself falling over on pavement.  I thought about what bones would likely break first – if it would be my arm or my collarbone or possibly a hip.  “Get a helmet,” my mom told me.  I thought about that, too.

I watched my friends barrel down the sloped portion of the bridge, gladly picking up speed.  I was jealous of their freedom.  I pumped the brakes and kept my pace measured.  Somewhere towards the end of the bridge, I began to realize I had trust issues in general.  With people.  With things.  It would take me awhile to get used to this again.

At the bar, my friends drank shots of tequila and drank bottles of beer.  A jazz band played horrifically in the corner, obliterating my ability to hear and think clearly.  Outside, the sun went down and the clouds moved in, threatening to bring in another day of rain.  And in an hour, we left, going back up and over the bridge.  A giant, yellowed full moon hung low above the bridge.  Lightning snapped in the distance, beyond Manhattan, beyond Brooklyn.  We rode next to moving subways filled with blue seats and stationary passengers.  Cuh-clack!  Cuh-clack!  Cuh-clack!

In Brooklyn, white flowers bloomed on the branches of trees overhead.  Dogwoods, I think.  The neon lights from bars and Laundromats reflected off of their petals, changing them blue and purple and red in parts.  We dropped Jo off at her apartment.  Justin came next.  We rode together along the water, Manhattan to our left, shining and sturdy and glowing brightly.

“I fucking love New York!” I yelled.  “I fucking love New York!”

And then I rode alone, just me and the moon, my love of the place having come back, just like riding a bike.

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Payoff

Ten degrees has made all the difference.  I lock my house with a silver key, not wearing gloves and not needing to.  I walk down my street with its barren trees, listening to the provincial sound of my boots against the concrete.  In a few months they will sit abandoned in the back of my closet, banished in favor of less sturdy things, strapier and feminine.

Spring is a smell: wet pavement and trees about to fulfill promises.  It’s the sound of skateboards traveling over buckled concrete, attached to boys in baggy jeans, shirts rippling away from their backs.  Bicycles carry pretty girls with their long hair and heavy coats; their giggles come and go like a fire siren, loud and blaring and then immediately gone.  Cars pass with their windows down.  Rap music.  Pop music.  The man in the burgundy Subaru is back, screaming show tunes out his window while he makes circles around Bedford Avenue.

I check the branches overhead, looking for telltale green buds to confirm my hope that we have reached a clearing in the weather.  Just two hours ago I was planning my escape to Nicaragua or Mexico – any place that only required a duffle bag filled with shorts and sunblock.  But I can’t leave the city now, not after putting up with two months of garbage.  This is the pay off, today and on.

The park is covered with developing grass, remarkable amounts of green poking through intensely saturated dirt.  Prickly brown pods litter the ground beneath trees I don’t know the names of.  Oak, maybe.  The pods sit on the dirt and wait to be swallowed whole or decomposed.  We used to crush these underfoot as children, making them explode into a fibrous mess.  “Itching powder,” we called it, and would jam it down the backs of our enemies in fits of nasty laughter.

Provoked birds fly overhead in an intense flapping of wings, the sound of rustling taffeta or falling stacks of paper, traveling together on an unseen path, riding currents I cannot feel.

Old Polish men congregate around green benches, talking in their voices that sound like tapes being played in reverse, warbled and hugging to consonants.  Baseball bats connect with white leather balls with that dense aluminum ping.  Sickly pale faces crane their necks towards the sun, praying for their greenish translucence to be alleviated.  Lovers walk down sidewalks holding hands, coming up for air.

 

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The Brooklyn Workout

I walk into the ancient stone building and hand my guest pass for the gym to a woman sitting behind a wooden cubicle of a sour yellow color.  The place reminds me of any public school in America and I am overcome with the strange sensation that I am checking into the nurse’s office at my old elementary school.  I hated being sick at school; there was little light in the recovery room and the mattresses were lined in a thick sticky plastic that made you want to throw up if you didn’t already.  I scribble my signature on a waiver that basically states that if I accidentally saw my arm off with their vintage Nordic Tracks, I will be responsible for my own medical bills.

“Thank you,” she says, not looking up at me.

The place stinks.  Not just one particular smell, but a variety of offenses that change depending on the room in which you are in.  There is no relief once you enter the doors of the YMCA.  The smell is part of the reason I have been avoiding working out, in addition, of course, to general laziness and below-freezing temperatures.

I walk into the “Cardio Room” – a less than remarkable affair hosting a series of out-of-date treadmills, two elliptical machines, and a rower.  It smells like burning rubber and chemical disinfectant.  I tuck my belongings into a locker and say a quick prayer that my jacket doesn’t come home with bedbugs.

True to my boring workout that I have been subjecting myself to for the last eight years, I hop on the elliptical machine situated behind a row of treadmills.  There are no televisions.  There is no Top 40 music pumping sweetly through ceiling speakers.  Air hardly circulates.  Occasionally, I will feel the passing puff of a fan, though I cannot locate its precise whereabouts.

Back in Los Angeles I worked out in the center of Hollywood, in a glass box off of Sunset Boulevard, just above an overpriced – though admittedly superior – movie theater.  I preferred to go in the mornings, around 9 a.m., after the people with real jobs had already crammed in their “Me Time” before chuffing off to kill themselves in an office.  The gym, however, was never empty; at any hour of the day you would be surrounded by people, and when I say “people” I mean “out of work actors.”

The men in Los Angeles were a vain and beefy variety that held little appeal for me.  I watched them mouth dialogue from their highlighted sides, pumping their tan arms back and forth, sweat dripping down their chiseled jaw lines.  Some read off of simple, stapled stacks probably from acting class, but others – the lucky few – had the more prized items – full scripts with CAA stamped on the cover like a top secret document for the not-so-secret asshole.

Taking to these man/boys was always a tortured experience and I avoided it at all cost.  Even if my iPod had unceremoniously run out of battery before I arrived, I would keep the ear buds in so as to avoid any inadvertent chitchat.  Once, I made the mistake of wearing my NYU gym shorts, which initiated a conversation starting with, “Hey!  I’ve been to New York.”  Fucking idiots.

By far my biggest fan there was a blonde boy, probably nearing the thirty-year-mark, with square teeth and a sparse beard.  He always wore baseball caps and long shorts and he was never, ever deterred by how involved I was in my own workout; I could be running at 9.5 on a treadmill, sweat dripping down my reddened face, and he would just stand in front of me, waiting until I took my headphones off.  “Hey,” he’d say, and I would be forced to respond.  My hate for him soon developed into absolute abhorrence.

He was an odd boy, one who felt comfortable telling me about all of his problems.  He told me about being broke, getting kicked out of his apartment, driving cross country in a minivan.  He shared horrific breakup stories that were perhaps ways of mining my interest in him, which, needless to say, was zero.  These interactions were always the same, delivered at me from the base of my workout pulpit – me, standing on an elliptical machine while he spoke up at me from below.  It was possible he had a mild case of Asberger’s.

There are no such people like that here, here in my Brooklyn hell hole filled with second-hand equipment stolen from garage sales and mirrors reflecting rows upon rows of bodies you should only ever be subjected to one of.  The crowd is decidedly lumpy and vampirish in color.  Twilight: The Workout.  I try to keep my line of sight steady on my left elbow in the mirror, but keep finding myself staring at the square bottom of the woman in front of me, who has unfortunately decided to work out in a pair of leggings with elastic struggling to encompass her whole ass.

I inhale the strange smell of sweat and cigarettes, the detoxification from a life in Williamsburg bars and other generally unhealthy behavior.  My machine attacks my knees with each thrust forward because I am apparently too large for things built in the 1980s.  It screams at me with a pixilated heart to place my hands on the bars to get my heart rate, but no one here is required to use towels and I expect to get a staph infection by the month’s end.

 

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Dancin’ With Myself

It’s the evening of what was the likely the shittiest day on record.  Snow that had fallen the night before gave way to rain the next day.  What was once a dusty white winter wonderland had melted into a slurry of melting snow and deathly slicks of ice.  Rain came down in shards, sharp and gray, sleet moving in gales of wind.  “I’ll go to the market,” someone tells me, “When God stops throwing Slurpies at me.”

The clouds have become sparse and disorganized, leaving a less dense layer of frozen white puffs over the city.  I walk down Manhattan Avenue, water dripping off of awnings and into my eyes as I stare up at an airplane cutting through fog – a quick-moving series of lights and noise.  I think about being on a plane a week from today, taking another midnight trip to Paris to walk around a city filled with gray.

Brooklyn feels pink and hazy and I walk alongside an empty park with empty trees until I arrive to the front a church.  Taped to the outside is a piece of white computer paper, the number five and a dollar sign highlighted with enthusiastic lines.  “While the Class is Free,” it reads, “Our Equipment is Not.  Please Help Us Pay Our Billz.”  I hear music through the typically churchy double doors, which when pulled open, lead into complete darkness, apparently the hazard of arriving late to an event titled “No Lights/ No Lycra.”

I make my way down a set of stairs I have so fortuitously not fallen down, opening another set of doors, washing myself in music playing loudly over struggling speakers.  The room is dark save for a light in the corner projecting twitching spheres of green across the floor and the ceiling.  Another universe.

There are about ten bodies moving in the darkened room, a cleared and cavernous space with pillars supporting the roof.  Later, when the lights come on, the room is better exposed: a wall filled with the framed pictures of saints, stained glass windows covered in clear plastic to keep the draft out, a cross, a flag.

I place my jacket on something I’m pretty sure is a couch and take off my snow boots – bulky rubber things that can best be described as tires you can wear.  I can’t find my friend who invited me but I don’t think it’s that type of event anyway.  The people are still darkened shapes highlighted by green, twisting and throwing their arms up in the air to their heart’s content.

As my eyes adjust, the shapes become people, all dancing on their own and however they want.  The group consists of people who are all too comfortable with their fancy footwork and those who are more reserved, shuffling back and forth on their feet like fourth graders at a dance filled peers they have crushes on.  I dance in a corner next to stacks of metal folding chairs, feeling the dirt on the floor grind into my wool socks.

We dance to “Material Girl” and “Return of the Mack” and a Paula Abdul song from one of the first CDs I ever owned.  There are awkward pauses in between songs as the dancer-slash-DJ ques up the next song.  The people that were once moving now stand in silence; the room dead quiet save for the purr of a moving fan at the front of the room.  It is not an exact science.  This is where its charm lies.

The room begins to fill up with latecomers: bodies to distract from everyone’s own body.  People become more energetic and lively in between songs, clapping after ones that everyone collectively busted good moves to.  They play music that kids in Brooklyn wouldn’t be caught dead with on their iPod anymore but are all of the age that we hold some weird secret attachments to.  Mariah Carey, Blink 182.  High school.  Youth.  Simpler times.

I swing my arms and bend my legs and dance with the green dots on the floor and I am reminded of sleep away camp when I was a little girl.  We rode horses and kissed boys and drank sweetened juice out of clear yellow cups.  We had dances and I always wanted the boy named Sterling to be there.  Even now, nearly twenty years later, sometimes I will smell a person who reminds me of him – this boy with a freckle above his lip and a baseball cap on, dancing closely to Inner Circle’s “Sweat” with the innocence of not understanding any of the lyrics.

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