Friday, July 23, 2021

Week in Seven Words #547

This covers the week of 7/12/20 - 7/18/20.

The barber works outdoors on a path by the lake. At his station: a chair, a radio, a case of supplies, and scraps of hair softening the ground.

The air above the water is glittering with dragonflies. They swoop around in taut ellipses. They also bring to mind a faint memory, one that remains unrealized: that the word "dragonfly" once stood as a code for something, when I was a kid.

Humidity settles in like a rude, sweaty man arriving late to a concert, filling the seat next to you with body heat and sticky elbows and the moistness of the breath he expels through his mouth. 

People pose before the words Black Lives Matter, which have been painted in large yellow letters on the street. When they're done taking selfies and group photos, they walk past a bus stop where two black homeless men are curled up on the ground (#noeyecontact #nocomment #quicksteps).

A shuttered museum, the garden behind the gates still beautifully tended.

Small businesses are evaporating, though some restaurants stay afloat with outdoor seating. For pedestrians, there remains a narrow path between tables arranged on sidewalks. Near one cafe, a homeless man sleeps on a discarded sofa, about a dozen feet from diners who can finally say they're eating out.

The funniest joke I hear this week is the one about the cost of different streaming services. The most expensive one is Harvard, at roughly $50,000 a year.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Week in Seven Words #546

This covers the week of 7/5/20 - 7/11/20.

A 12-year-old Samoyed dog is getting groomed in the park by his owner, who has brought along music that keeps the dog happy. ("Opera is his favorite!") As bits of his puffy white coat drift to the grass, the dog grins, even when an aria is anguished.

The water is dimpled by a toy sailboat. It's an optimistic sight. A bit of normal fun in the park, during a summer when so much is out of the ordinary and out of joint.

An egret stalks across the shallow end of a pond. Sometimes, it seems to trip forward, its beak plunging into the water. Maybe it's gobbling up tiny fish.

At the bookstore, a cashier bounces between the front register and the cafe counter. The cafe has no chairs and tables, and only one customer peeks into it. The front register sees little traffic too. As I explore the shelves, two other employees approach to ask if I need assistance. They need sales, desperately. 

Our infrequent meetings are a diversion. An hour of strolling, an hour of conversation on a bench with hopeful birds at our feet. The time we share is pleasant. It always is.

Dead fish bob on the river. Clumps of them befoul the marina. The wind sweeps away most of the sickening fish odor, but some of the stench clings.

A caterpillar that looks like creamy fluff crawls out from the grass and risks its life on the sunny path. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Week in Seven Words #545

This covers the week of 6/28/20 - 7/4/20.

These days, I'm playing more Scrabble than I have in years. In one game, my opponent creates four seven-letter words. In another game, a different opponent creates two. I'm playing against people who treat Scrabble as a serious pursuit. More than a mere game, it is, at times, a primal conflict.

I'm trying to find my way through a beautifully wooded part of the park. There aren't many paths, and I'm sure I know where I'm going, but each time I try to end the walk at a pond, I end up on the edges of a baseball field. The woods keep delivering me to baseball, and I don't even like the sport.

Dead-eyed people in dusty, faintly pretty parks. A small fountain protests the heat.

Throughout the day, there's little evidence of celebration. No flags in windows, and people aren't dressed in red, white, and blue. The one exception is a jogger in shorts that stretch the American flag across his posterior. The first time the day feels celebratory is at night, during a TV broadcast of fireworks – shimmering bursts of liquid color.

Our walk has earned us front-row seats to massive algae growth. 

For the first time in months, I set foot in a bookstore. The store is mostly empty, and I don't buy anything, but I like being able to walk around and touch the covers, read the jackets and blurbs. 

"You always think you're going to do something wrong," she tells me, and my reaction is torn between "Not always" and "Yeah, you have a point."

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Week in Seven Words #544

This covers the week of 6/21/20 - 6/27/20.

Now a regular part of our vocabulary.

The geese are fat brown pillows softening a rocky slope. 

Picnic tables, mulch paths, and rail fences. The scent of pine trees, heavy and delicious.

The dog is slow to warm up to the stranger but then reluctant to leave. He begins to welcome the goodness of those pats and scritches just as his owner starts tugging him away.

Among the many colors in the garden, the loveliest is the cerulean of the hydrangeas.

With only a slice of bread, a young boy brings a frothing mass of turtles to the side of the pond.

The sunset shifts colors. At one point, a bar of bright blue appears among duskier blues and oranges. The underside of the clouds are blushing.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Week in Seven Words #543

This covers the week of 6/14/20 - 6/20/20.

The ducklings snap at dragonflies.

The perpetual cheeping of two chicks, one of them cupped in the careful hands of a preschooler.

I share one of my fears with them. Spoken aloud, it sounds ridiculous, overblown. There's a small chance of it becoming real, but I've taken those small odds and distorted them in my mental house of mirrors.

Fewer shops are boarded up, but Times Square is still barricaded. We stop to drink water near a couple of stone lions. They're guarding a library that admits no visitors now.

A distraught older woman tries to squeeze past a police barricade. Her doctor's office is on this street, and she has an appointment. The police don't let her pass. They give her convoluted directions for getting into the building from another street.

He looks like a poster for California tourism. Wearing swim shorts, a Hawaiian t-shirt, and reflective shades, he's sprawled out on a pool float shaped like an ice cream cone.

We've walked past this part of the park multiple times, and it's only now that we spot a small memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto. The heart of the memorial is a plaque flat on the ground.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Week in Seven Words #542

This covers the week of 6/7/20 - 6/13/20.

As protestors stream past and chant about defunding the police, two cops talk about their plans for the year. Thanksgiving comes up, and they wonder whether travel will be easier by then and whether restaurants will open up for indoor dining.

Two young women, both bony thin, compare notes on how they're hardly eating. They sound triumphant.

As we head deeper into the park, the chants from the protest fade and become a faint disturbance for the bike riders and people picnicking. 

A guy in a motorized chair travels on the twisting paths and wishes peace to everyone. Oldies play from a portable radio tucked by his shoulder.

The churn of turtles and fish in a dark pond. 

I'm in the grip of some chaotic feelings. They flood me.

On the way to a doctor's appointment. The subway still looks depleted. Streets usually churning with shoppers, tourists, and workers are mostly stripped of people. I spot a handful of pedestrians and a few security guards planted in front of buildings.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Week in Seven Words #541

This covers the week of 5/31/20 - 6/6/20.

Many stores are getting boarded up, including a book store. The displays of books disappear behind the extra layer of defense against looters. (I don't know if looters would go for a book store when it's surrounded by more likely targets, the ones full of clothes, jewelry, and electronics.) Some restaurants and bars are boarded up too; some may already be out of business. 

There's a curfew on the city, reminding residents that it's easy for authorities to curtail and control.

Reasons for dishonesty are varied. Sometimes, it's all about shame. Shame and self-protection. Not about trying to hurt anyone or take anything away from other people.

Two girls are playing in an artificial stream cut into concrete. They carry pails and pretend they're at a beach fringed by a forest, where ocean water mingles with fresh water among the tree roots.

They've settled in a field in the park, but even an open field is off-limits. A guy in a motorized cart enjoys the sound of his own voice, amplified with a megaphone, as he orders everyone to leave.

The cloudy day feels like a 24-hour twilight. In the part of the park that we're cutting through, the buildings are unseen, the paths unmarked.

An egret gliding like a white, unfolded napkin taken up by the wind.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Week in Seven Words #540

This covers the week of 5/24/20 - 5/30/20.

Trees heavy with leaves cast silky shadows.

There's a story behind each name on the monument, and sometimes you stand next to someone who knows one or two of those names and stories.

A man is making giant bubbles with two big sticks and a cord. The wind conditions aren't favorable, and the bubbles don't float for long. Beside him, another man is meditating in a standing pose with two dogs curled at his feet.

A metal plank rises from the river and rests against the boardwalk. A mother duck and her ducklings are scrambling up it, headed for land. Only one duckling remains in the water, swimming back and forth beneath the slope of the plank. It hears its family above, but doesn't know how to get to them.

We meet up for the first time in months and sit several feet apart on benches in the park. After the expected conversation about the pandemic, we try to switch to another topic. At that moment, a golf cart covered with roses passes us, a speaker mounted on its roof playing a looped message about how important it is to wash your hands. 

The Scrabble board has seen rough use. Many of its colors are rubbed out, and some of the letter tiles have almost turned into blanks. And you can't have more than two blanks.

It's perverse the way people cheer on or excuse the looting from the safety of their comfortable homes. Their own livelihood and years of labor aren't threatened. To them, the looting is a spectacle, a show they're enjoying before they get bored and switch channels.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Week in Seven Words #539

This covers the week of 5/17/20 - 5/23/20.

I hear about them secondhand, and I'm happy they're doing well. I don't feel an urge to see them. Social distancing has clarified a few things about relationships – the friends I'm closer to, and the acquaintances I'm fine with sending pleasant wishes to from a distance.

Bike riders and pedestrians shouldn't be sharing a narrow path.

Rats extend their shadowy empire to heavy shrubs, parked cars, defenseless basements. 

One assignment this week is a deep dive into the energy industry. Fascinating how much technology goes into producing fuel.

One lawyer has a special kind of smarminess. It fills his eyes like oil. The other lawyer is sedate and detached, as if half his mind is on other cases or personal concerns.

One jogger lets out huge stiff bursts of air, as if he's a machine pumping across the park.

Children peddle around furiously on bikes and tricycles. Their eyes are bright above their masks.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Week in Seven Words #538

This covers the week of 5/10/20 - 5/16/20.

A delightful amount of turtles in one pond. They cluster around a wooden dock. Another pond has no fish or turtles; it's ringed with azaleas. The liquid voice of a stream emerges from it.

A rich pomegranate wine.

Different kinds of music in the park: a troubadour, a jazz musician accompanied by honking geese, a student violinist struggling through Bach.

I've never explored this part of the park. It's a nature sanctuary enclosed with a fence. The gates aren't always open. Now they admit us to mulchy paths, frilled with undergrowth, and trees that soften traffic noise. One path takes us to a rock overlooking a large pond. Beyond the water, the buildings seem distant.

There are multiple fountains in these gardens, each with its own character. One is boastful and grand. Another is shy and invites you to quietly sit beside it in the shade. A third is playful, in perpetual frolic.

I don't know if I'm in the right frame of mind to help her, but I'd feel terribly guilty if I didn't.

I'm on a video conferencing call with a cluster of people, and I need to remind myself to keep my face visible. My inclination to slide off-screen is nearly overpowering.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Week in Seven Words #537

This covers the week of 5/3/20 - 5/9/20.

On our walk, we head to an art museum in the hopes of seeing into it from the outside. From what I remember, it has some large windows. We find them shuttered.

Multiple sources of stress converge into a tension headache.

Our walks are limited to a relatively small radius, so we're getting inventive about places to visit, new combinations of paths to take.

A rending wind pushes us down the street. It sends up a swirl of litter. The tulips are half bald, the cherry blossoms cast to the ground.

Clean air and the colors of tulips and azaleas. One path is pink with fallen cherry blossoms, a lush carpet that will soon get trampled into the mud.

The large turtle is very still, as if it's one with the rock formation on which it's sunning. The stillness of the moment breaks with the noise of an airplane. It's writing something across the crisp blue sky, but the letters are too blurry to read.

Police hand out citations to people who aren't wearing masks.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Week in Seven Words #536

This covers the week of 4/26/20 - 5/2/20.

Pulses of weariness and despair.

Two brisk walks in one day. Lots of screen time in between.

A puddle filled with pink blossoms and shivering birds.

New construction all looks the same to me: sleek rectangles with large windows and little artistry.

It's no use asking my brain why it's woken me up in the middle of the night. Maybe it wants me to admire the shadowy room, and the way the light creeps over the walls.

A flock of police officers on bikes. Black masks are stretched over their mouths and noses. They're on the lookout for legal violations, which these days include picnics and outdoor birthday parties.

She tells me that the schools aren't giving grades. Regardless of grades, are the students learning anything from their sessions of screen time? Debatable.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Week in Seven Words #535

This covers the week of 4/19/20 - 4/25/20.

The dog is brisk and friendly as always. Ready to take off on a walk, sniff the larger world, investigate fascinating stains on sidewalks.

In a more densely wooded part of the park, I keep an eye out for bird feeders. There were several in one spot the year before, creating the sense of a town square for birds, a plaza with restaurants. But it seems that no one has put up feeders this year. The joke is that even the birds need to socially distance.

A "we're all in this together" hope-inducing message displayed on an empty theater.

Tulips in fiery colors are breathtaking.

It's satisfying, the way the path curves along the lake, and you can't see too far ahead.

There's little sense of competency at the helm. I had been plugged into the news, but now I wonder if it's worth it. I don't think I'm learning much.

The streets are largely empty of traffic. Granted, it's easier to go on a walk this way. And the air is cleaner. But the emptiness is eerie, as if civilization has retreated slightly.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Three Movies Showing the Grubby, Treacherous Side of Human Nature

Title: 5 Fingers (1952)
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Language: English (with bits of other languages, like German)
Rating: Unrated

This movie is an excellent espionage thriller. The main character isn't a hero, and I wasn't rooting for him to succeed, but I still found the story gripping, with all the twists, the double-crossing and mistrust and bitterness and greed. Also, James Mason's performance is wonderful.

Mason's character, Ulysses Diello, works for the British ambassador in Turkey during WWII. I won't tell you what his job is, because finding out as you watch the movie will probably give you more enjoyment. It's a job that has taught him how to maintain a neutral expression, regardless of his personal feelings. And he'll need this quality to pull off his nefarious plan, which is to sell some confidential information to the Nazis and then flee with the cash to start a new life elsewhere.

Does he achieve his hoped for ending, a life of luxury? Even if you're guessing that no, he doesn't, it's worth watching how it doesn't happen. 

Title: The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
Director: Peter Yates
Language: English
Rating: R

This movie ends with both a whimper and a bang. 

Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) supplies weapons to bank robbers. He's also in contact with the feds, who want information about the higher-level gangsters he works with, part of an organized crime network in Massachusetts. Eddie is low on the organized crime totem pole, and he's in danger of going to jail for the rest of his life.

One thing I like about this movie is that it shows the sordid nature of crime. In other movies, criminal life often gets depicted as slick and daring. Here, it's a grubby world where people play against each other in the dark and scurry around to survive.

The shabbiness of Eddie's world also comes across in the shabby 70s atmosphere of coffee and pie in grubby diners, and cheap suits, and a gun dealer's loud yellow car.

The bank robberies in the movie are ugly and suspenseful. There's a real horror in them (starting with the masks the robbers wear), while at the same time everything about them is so shoddy and disgusting. Again, I like how there's no glamor given to crime.

Title: Pitfall (1948)
Director: André De Toth
Language: English
Rating: Not rated

This is a merciless sort of movie. The lead character, John Forbes (Dick Powell), gets to drive away at the end with his loyal wife, but it isn't a "happy ending." The outcomes for some of the characters show a lack of justice.

Forbes has a steady job and a loving wife and son. The movie gives a wry intelligence to his wife that makes the early depiction of their home life a little more interesting, and not just saccharine. But Forbes is bored of his life and – in the course of his work in insurance – starts an affair with a model, Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott). 

Mona is initially unaware of the fact that Forbes is married. Had she known, she wouldn't have started up with him. A surprising thing about Mona is that she isn't a conniving femme fatale. She isn't really a bad person at all, especially compared to the men around her. She attracts the attention of multiple distasteful men, including the dishonest Forbes, and – much worse – J.B. MacDonald (Raymond Burr), a private detective.

MacDonald is a gross, creepy stalker who's willing to coerce a woman into a sexual relationship. In a scene that's deeply uncomfortable, he shows up at Mona's workplace where she models clothes and has her try on different dresses while watching. Basically marking her as his property.

At the end, after various scenes of blackmail and violence, Forbes gets to coast back into his outwardly picture-perfect life. How does he live with what he's done? The ending has a bitter taste, but it's probably the ending best suited for this bleak movie.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Week in Seven Words #534

This covers the week of 4/12/20 - 4/18/20.

It's a cold damp day. Blossoms are still thick on some of the trees.

One triumph: resisting a temptation.

In the middle of worrying, I do something that creates more worries. I'm fed up with myself.

Reading Sherlock Holmes stories is relaxing.

Running round my mind are all kinds of catastrophic possibilities. They're making a well-trodden path with loops.

Phone calls with long wait times. The music that plays in a loop while I'm on hold is the week's soundtrack.

Appreciating a quieter day – some delicious food, a few colorful notebooks, and good conversation.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Week in Seven Words #533

This covers the week of 4/5/20 - 4/11/20.

We set up a socially distanced movie night, each of us in our homes texting each other now and then. It's a mini-series adaptation of a book, and I think I would've normally liked it. Now I don't have patience for it.

People being ungenerous and snide while telling others to just be kind.

The seders are lovely. Each one an island of relative calm.

Last-minute cleaning. Most of it is actually cleaning; some of it involves stuffing unsorted papers into tote bags.

One volunteer gardener among the flowering plants that are almost as tall as she is.

Hit by a tsunami of anxiety, and I don't handle it well.

I know when it's 7 pm because that's when the cheering for healthcare workers starts up.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Week in Seven Words #532

This covers the week of 3/29/20 - 4/4/20.

The convenience store is a cube of white light on a dark street. A masked cashier listens to 80s rock while staring out the window.

In every building on the block, people are at their windows cheering on healthcare workers. They shout, clap, whoop, bang on pots, and blow on trumpets and recorders. Overall, it's a cheerful sound, but I can't help thinking of jail inmates banging their metal cups against the bars.

This feels like a lost springtime. There are blossoming trees and other kinds of loveliness, but it all seems out of reach, as if it's in a parallel world.

Streets emptier and sirens more prevalent.

A magnolia blossom cradled in the split trunk of a tree.

I don't know where I want to walk. I just walk.

He wears gloves every time he needs to open a door. With a gloved hand he also pulls down his mask and scratches his face.