Sunday, December 26, 2021

Week in Seven Words #566

This covers the week of 11/22/20 - 11/28/20.

A letter from him is like a fingernail picking at a scab.

Vivid things will exist in my mind; if nowhere else, they will at least have come alive in my thoughts.

Politicians take the "quarantine for thee but not for me" approach to the holiday season. "Everybody stay home," they say, while traveling to see their own families and organizing dinners with cronies. "We're all in this together," they add.

We use our imagination to wish life into hollow spaces – the gap between the desk and the wall, an empty store with a "for rent" sign on it, an elevator that's out of order. We like to pretend the hollowness isn't real. The inhabitants (however fantastical) are there, and we may glimpse them from a certain angle or at a certain hour.

We talk on the phone while simultaneously playing a text-based, browser-based fantasy game. Our conversation switches between serious topics (work, pandemic) to thoughts about the vampire in the forest and the dwarf who has a garage and a farmhouse.

Recurrent conversation 1: "Remember when we used to [insert pleasant memory about things we used to do during the holiday season]." Recurrent conversation 2: "When do you think we'll be able to enjoy [normal activity that we used to take for granted]?"

"Remember how kids used to think of ways to cut class or skip school?" she says. Now, what you have to do is pretend your microphone isn't working. And look, your camera also isn't working, how awful.

Week in Seven Words #565

This covers the week of 11/15/20 - 11/21/20.

Leaves sink into mirror-like water.

When he serves us drinks in his home, he talks about his life in a torrent. The words have been pent up by too much time spent alone. Now, his mask muffles them as they pour out.

She's been overlooked for so long. That's the main reason she's looking for an effortless win.

She's been in a low mood all day. The only things that keep our conversation going are the conventional greetings and the well-wishes we've said many times. Hopefully, these good wishes have some power.

As I wait in line at the library to return a book, the lady behind me gasps and tells me she has that same book on reserve. It will be going from me to her. I don't tell her that I lost interest in it after 20 pages, because she's happy to see it, and maybe she'll like it more than I did.

Some find comfort in their routines. Others start to question the point of their routines.

"What's the special ingredient?" he asks, lingering over the dish, and she's tempted to hint at the raging pest problem in the city, the rats creeping into homes in higher numbers. Might as well put them to good use, right? But she figures he won't appreciate the joke.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Week in Seven Words #564

This covers the week of 11/8/20 - 11/14/20.

He's under the impression that his boredom makes him unique. He believes it's a sign of superior intelligence.

Quarantined at home, she wears an evening gown to her microwaved dinner.

Was it always going to happen this way? Could there have been another way? Another reminder to shift from what-ifs to what I have to do now.

There's enchantment in his voice when he points out the leaves whirling, settling on the sidewalk in a cascade of gold.

We Skype again, our voices subdued. I don't even think it's something we enjoy doing anymore, seeing each other's faces through a screen. There's something tiring and unreal about it.

As the sun sets, we stroll among dog sculptures made of plastic bags. They're cleverly done, colorful, a contrast to the loose bags and other bits of garbage along the street. Afterwards, we sit on a bench and talk for a while, until it gets too cold and dark.

The day is made better by changing leaves and weather that's cool, not cold.

Week in Seven Words #563

This covers the week of 11/1/20 - 11/7/20.

Some stores are getting boarded up again in the event that election results don't turn out as preferred. At least the bookstore is still open.

Today what engages her mind are the fissures in the rocks. She wonders about the creatures that live in them, real and fantastic.

Can't get much work done when there's a map of the U.S. to stare at.

"It's easier to forgive others than forgive yourself," she says. I wonder: Do I forgive others more easily because I know them less well, or is it because I see them more clearly than I see myself? 

The cramps are so painful that when I hear the kettle shrieking, I think the sound is coming from inside my own head.

Self-loathing can feel like a scratchy but familiar sweater. At some point, she forgot that she had the option to remove it. Now she tries to, but can't pull her arms out of the sleeves.

I hear a lot about "a return to normalcy" and "putting the adults back in charge." For many people, this means wanting to know less and think less about the effects of policies and the behavior of politicians. It means less bother and more apathy.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Week in Seven Words #562

This covers the week of 10/25/20 - 10/31/20.

The assignment drags into the night. At one point I picture myself shutting the laptop, sliding into bed, and forgetting about deadlines. A peaceful thought, but not a realistic possibility.

On vacant private land, a homeless man is assembling a home. It won't be long before it's torn down. In the meantime, he's brought in materials from other neighborhoods and set up an unsteady shack with tarp. Several feet from it are a barrel and a bucket, some canvas bags and a shopping cart.

During two weeks of staying shut up in her apartment, her most exciting moment, she reports, was arming herself with bug spray and a Marble notebook to hunt down a large roach.

The leaves on the thornless honey locust trees are a vivid yellow. One fountaining yellow tree after another, the pavement spattered in bright leaves.

"For Halloween," he tells me over Skype, "I'm pretending to be an alcoholic." He has a mostly finished bottle of whiskey on his desk, in full view of the camera.

The idea of buying a house appeals to him much more than the reality of living in one, maintaining it, and cleaning it. So he goes on Redfin and stares longingly at a ranch house in Lancaster, PA that he'll never buy. Because the floor plan is online, he pictures what he would put in each room and wonders whether two recliner chairs would fit in the tiny screened porch.

I spot a kid dressed up as COVID-19, what the virus looks like under a microscope. It's a costume both funny and depressing.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Week in Seven Words #561

This covers the week of 10/18/20 - 10/24/20.

The guitarist in the park has talent, but he seems to be only 13 or 14. The lyrics he sings would sound more convincing from someone who's at least a decade older.

The views at the new park are grand, but much of the space is wasted on concrete. The plants seem like an afterthought.

The pier is glowing, the ducks are dotting the water, and someone is using a bike horn that quacks.

The first time I show up to get my flu shot, no one is at the pharmacy, but the dude behind the counter glares at me and tells me they're booked solid. I don't believe him, but I decide to come back another time, because if he's the one administering the shot, my arm will probably be extra sore. I come back a few days later, no fuss; the shot's given by a quiet, efficient lady. 

We check if certain statues have been removed for their offensiveness. There's currently a mania for statue removal, as bigger problems rage on.

One of the stories from his youth features punched cards used for computer programming. These days, he keeps a smartphone at his belt.

I've come to know them by voice – the one with the mournful whimper, the one with a Caribbean accent, the one that craters his sentences with huge pauses.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Week in Seven Words #560

This covers the week of 10/11/20 - 10/17/20.

I like how these three female figures from history are posed – around a table in a discussion that one can almost overhear.

Petulant people with paper-thin identities and a simplistic way of viewing the world try to dictate what others should read, write, and think about. 

I admire the green-gold pattern of leaves in the autumn light. The light glowing gold on the grass.

Have I tried enough, or have I wilted too quickly at rejection?

Some of my favorite work assignments are the ones that teach me completely new things. Could be a topic in medicine, technology, or the environment. Could be a travel or tourism assignment, though those are scarcer in a pandemic year. Lately, many assignments have been about psychological problems, such as addiction, anxiety, and various effects of isolation.

The class is disjointed and confusing. I catch at passing facts like pebbles tumbling on a stream bed, but I'm missing some of the bigger picture.

It's been a while since we've spoken, and I'm touched by his kind words.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Week in Seven Words #559

This covers the week of 10/4/20 - 10/10/20.

A couple of lively restaurants, and around them blight. Farther south, an eerie funhouse feeling to the streets, as Disney characters shamble around and breakdancers try to work up enthusiasm in disjointed knots of people. A cowboy in underwear poses with his fans.

Borne out of sleep on a wave of anxiety. 

The teacher's voice is strained, because she can't see us. She can't know for sure if we're looking confused or distracted. She does ask questions and hopes that she won't be met by the ominous silence of ignorance.

Two violinists with scruffy gray beards play Vivaldi at one of the entrances to the park. The music is like spun gold. It threads through traffic and past shouts and laughter.

It's a pleasure to sit at a tiny table that looks like its legs are made of toothpicks and just enjoy a drink, a conversation.

I ask him why the building's heat isn't on yet, and he tells me with a wry smile that some people are still using their A/C to keep cool. Are we all of the same species, I wonder.

At lunch, the sukkah is warm. It has basked in the sun, like the heavy garden next to it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Week in Seven Words #558

This covers the week of 9/27/20 - 10/3/20.

This afternoon's entertainment at the park: tap dancing, a Vegas lounge act, and a lone saxophone.

"Watch the debate!" and "What did you think about the debate?" It's pointless. What the candidates say means nothing. As if they're going to give truthful answers or even answer a question directly.

Pigeons blanket the lawn and peck away, as if they've hit a motherlode of crumbs.

If she speaks with a lilt and a toss of her curls, she feels more confident, even when she's hollowed out with fear.

We make the best of praying at home, choosing beautiful melodies and combing through the more communal sections of the prayer service for passages to sing.

How do you keep from making the same mistakes? Wisdom is easier discussed than acted on.

Velvety autumn flowers in colors of wine and sunset.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Week in Seven Words #557

This covers the week of 9/20/20 - 9/26/20.

A river to the right and bikes to the left, skimming close to my elbow.

We find a bench in the parking lot behind the synagogue. On the terrace, they should be blowing the shofar soon. Several minutes pass before we hear it, quiet but distinct, the notes sounding pure in the sunshine.

In a series of gray arches, the squirrel hops across the grass.

It's a "one foot in front of the other" situation. Just get through, day by day.

A street corner is another place to hear the shofar this year. The notes are firm and clear, and some have a bright kick at the end.

Comedy should undermine smugness. Instead, comedians are super smug, enamored of their own correct opinions. They've become less funny, less keen.

Even when they're at odds, they work together better than any other two people they know. She's a decade younger and more stubborn than he is, while he's more sardonic, more crabby and vulnerable. Their tastes are different, and their opinions often clash. But when they apply their minds to a problem, they usually find a way to solve it or at least successfully cope with it.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Week in Seven Words #556

This covers the week of 9/13/20 - 9/19/20.

We get into a deep conversation about writing, and I savor it, because we rarely speak to each other. Not because of animosity, but because we're uncommitted to regular phone calls. Maybe we should call each other more.

If someone had told him a year ago that he'd be trying to learn how to blow a shofar in the midst of a pandemic, he would have been skeptical, to say the least. As for the sounds he can produce – so far we've got crackling air and elephant squeaks. 

The new donut store has opened. Its electronic banner, streaming donuts 24/7, has become the liveliest feature in a withered neighborhood.

The park is brimming with people. With picnics, parties, sports. One quiet spot is tucked near the entrance to a garden. It has a semi-circular seat shaded by lush trees.

Sunlight sticks to the pine trees like honey.

Along every street there's construction noise, and the groaning of trucks and buses. At one corner, a man is raving, trying maybe to hear himself.

I'm aggrieved, and I need to deal with that emotion before I become deliciously aggrieved.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Week in Seven Words #555

This covers the week of 9/6/20 - 9/12/20.

Multiple huge escalators in a shopping plaza that used to serve crowds. Now we glide down in near silence.

Restaurants try to recreate indoor spaces outdoors, with booths that are mostly enclosed. Lively music and colorful decorations are attempted distractions from the stink of the streets and the roar of passing trucks.

A fuzzy gray dog shambles up to people for petting. He interrupts a girls' volleyball practice, as his owners tiredly call him back.

Among the trees, there's a semi-circle of toddlers, moms, and nannies. Dancing in front of them are three entertainers with masks and face shields. They look like aliens who can't quite breathe our Earth air. But these interplanetary visitors have done their research and know the words to such classics as "The Wheels on the Bus."

Mellow sun. We eat a snack by the river, while making conversation and looking out at the Statue of Liberty. By the time we return to the subway, my head is swimming with sun and sugar, and she looks like she's on the verge of a nap.

The fungus looks like custard, or like a brain. Something that isn't quite natural. The hollow of a tree has birthed it.

The park's website instructs us to reserve a time for our visit and show up with tickets. In the park itself, staff have marked the main path with fat circles to show everyone where to stand socially distanced. But very few people are present. The park also lacks its typical displays of art, and the plants look dull, as if they're understimulated from the shortage of visitors.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Week in Seven Words #554

This covers the week of 8/30/20 - 9/5/20.

Some dogs are patient joy-bringers. This one, a senior golden retriever, swishes its tail as it stands before each person to get patted. Everyone enjoys a turn.

It's a strange way to participate in a wedding, but still delightful. We're thousands of miles away eating pizza and watching the ceremony and festivities on a laptop. We post blessings and good wishes online.

Peering at the river through shifting leaves. It's a glorious view.

Some chain restaurants are roach-like in their ability to survive an economic crisis.

Marriage would make me more acceptable to a number of people.

The shopping area by the park looks atrophied. There are fewer people around and more 'for rent' signs in display windows. But it's a crisp golden day, people pushing strollers and walking dogs, so the neighborhood doesn't seem too bleak.

The sparrows fly to the tree, which enfolds them.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Week in Seven Words #553

This covers the week of 8/23/20 - 8/29/20.

The man moves like a jumping electric wire. He's tormented to the roots of himself. Staggering up and down the street, he raves about how the industry used to want differences but now wants sameness. Homogeneity in opinions, looks, and creative ideas. I don't know which industry he's talking about. His description fits more than one. In his creased suit, and with his briefcase swinging and shuddering, he belongs to no workplace now.

I've walked down this street a bunch of times without knowing that its name alludes to three activists from the Civil Rights Movement who were killed while helping register black voters in the South.

I stay in bed later than usual, grateful for several hours of uninterrupted sleep.

An old man whispers to the young man working at the pharmacy, "You're at this job to land rich widows." When the young man splutters, the old one says, "No shame in that."

Sparrows in an ecstasy of puddles.

Rain nips at us at the end of our walk, a drizzle after all the breathless warnings about a major storm.

She chides me for eating too much chocolate. Then she offers me chocolate.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Week in Seven Words #552

This covers the week of 8/16/20 - 8/22/20.

Two young men are having a conversation on a stoop. "To be honest," one of them says, when an old man walking past them interrupts by shouting, "Don't be honest. Deny everything!" He shakes his cane and cackles.

The Scrabble game is like a scene from a French film full of existential dread. ("Mes mots sont horribles. Je veux une cigarette.")

We walk past shells of restaurants and "Coming Soon" signs that have failed in their promise. The city is showing its ribs. In Times Square, it's easy to keep a quick pace. There are no crowds to push through. We do see one sign of liveliness, though: The Naked Cowboy, in all his cowboy-hatted, tighty-whitie-wearing magnificence. As long as he's there, things can't be too bad. Like a canary in a coal mine – if he isn't singing, it may be an alarming sign of the city's decline.

On the green surface of the lake, small rapidly vanishing white circles show that it's raining. The rain steadily thickens, until I'm squishing around in my shoes.

It's pointed out to me that I'm judging someone with leniency, which is true. I don't have all the facts, and why assume the worst? 

In a dim, piney place, there are no children on the swing sets, only a couple of adults enjoying the gentle back-and-forth, the toes kicked up to the sky.

On a cool gray evening, beside a fountain crowned by the statue of an angel, a man sings "Lean on Me." Close by, a middle-aged couple dance slowly with goofy, self-conscious smiles. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Week in Seven Words #551

This covers the week of 8/9/20 - 8/15/20.

The moment has arrived: We're getting pizza from a restaurant. A milestone during a year like this. As we wait outside the pizza place for our order, we stare into a neighboring window display with a sign that advertises psychic readings. A woman comes up to us and warns us not to see the psychic. "They went to jail for stealing people's fortunes!" Her voice is harsh, her eyes hard and bright. I wonder if she's one of the psychic's victims. Or maybe the pandemic has pushed her into the borderlands between sanity and madness.

From our bench on a high point in the park, the view is only tree canopies, thick with summer growth. Layers of leaves, subtly shifting shades of green.

The less I'm exposed to the contents of their brains, the more faith I have in humanity. 

After a morning of heavy rain and thunder, the sun emerges like yolk from a cracked shell.

They snipe at each other, sometimes viciously, but I think it's a strange comfort to them, to get tangled up together in long text threads.
On one side of the street, there's a stretch of restaurants with lively outdoor seating, people crammed around tables on the sidewalk as pedestrians and dogs ease past them. On the other side of the street, there's a stretch of shuttered businesses and homeless people asleep under construction scaffolding.

On its way to the lake, the stream tumbles over rocks. Dogs dip into the running water and shake the droplets away.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Week in Seven Words #550

This covers the week of 8/2/20 - 8/8/20.

I love looking at photos of her holding a frog. I wonder if, like me, she'll have a terrarium in her room at some point.

After a storm, the paths are crunchy and slick. The air is also cleaner. It's much less humid; it doesn't cling to your nostrils or stick to your throat. On a hill, in the soft evening light, two people are perched on boulders, their eyes closed as they breathe.

I draw a wonderful fork. A well-proportioned fork that's recognizably a fork. As for faces... I can draw the same face three times, and it will look like three different people (and not as some kind of intentional artistic statement). Some face variations are interesting and have more character than others.

The pier is dotted with ducks. They quack against a backdrop of creaking boats.

What stops us from crossing the path is a thick, unrelenting stream of bicyclists. They yield to no one, and they can barely manage the intense pressure, the high volume. One of them flies out of the stream when his bike hits a fallen branch. He lands hard on the grass and stands up, shaking, half a minute later.

For the first time in months, I set foot in a library. I half expect it to be a momentous visit. Maybe trumpets will sound from the speaker system. But it's anticlimactic. I grab a couple of books that have already been checked out for me. The librarians are located behind masks and a layer of plexiglass. A security guard, looking supremely bored, sits on a stool by the door.

One fountain spits and crackles. Another one drips. To the west, a stream makes thick, quiet noise. I realize I'm following it correctly when I don't emerge onto a baseball field, but instead spot a pool coated in algae.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Week in Seven Words #549

This covers the week of 7/26/20 - 8/1/20.

Before the fast begins, my stomach feels like a water balloon.

Social distancing is a handy excuse to avoid people whose company is undesirable under normal circumstances.

Feathery white flowers beside a riverside path. Five geese on a sward by the rocky bank.

The dancing skaters are back. I love watching their meetup in the park, where anyone with rhythm and a pair of skates can join in (I have one but not the other). Most of them wear masks, and one balances a bottle of water on his head as he flies around in figure eights. 

A walk transforms profound disquiet into new ideas, and I feel somewhat hopeful.

The little girl chases her dog across a sunny field. They end up under a tree, in the shade. After catching her breath, she orders the dog to chase her. She runs away from the tree and waves her arms. Her parents urge the dog to run after her. But he's a smart dog. He isn't trading the relief of the shade for the mercilessness of the sunshine.

Wearing the night guard makes me sound like a boxer (the athlete, not the dog).

Friday, July 30, 2021

Week in Seven Words #548

This covers the week of 7/19/20 - 7/25/20.

The side doors to a vacant hotel are barred with luggage carts.

I wish I were used to these feelings of foreboding by now, the way they stalk through my psyche and claw at my attention.

We notice a duck with blue, black, and white coloring on its wings. It reminds me of a flag. Estonia's flag, maybe? To check, we don't need to consult an atlas or a search engine. All he does is type Estonia into a text message on his phone. He receives a suggested flag emoji for Estonia, and yes, those are the same colors on the duck.

The documentary about the park is less about information and more about celebration. I'm fine with that, especially because the park has been a refuge when so many other places remain closed. Let's be happy that it exists.

Joggers glistening and puffing in the morning. Drops of sweat shivering on shirtless basketball players.

A visit to the dentist is much as it ever was, except for the air filters in every room, the mandatory masks, and the empty chairs between patients in the waiting room. This time, along with the x-rays and cleaning, I get fitted for a night guard, an attempt to protect my teeth from the unconscious grinding I subject them to when I sleep.

Three rows of stout old people working out with wooden swords. Their instructor, a senior himself, walks among them and corrects their form. I pretend that what I'm looking at isn't an exercise group but a training session for elderly assassins. (They're effective because most people don't consider them a threat... until it's too late.)

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.