Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Rubber Hits the Road

Yesterday, when I was in a bookstore, I had wanted to order a book, so I walked over to a counter in the shop called "Bestellungen,” or “ordered books.” I understood, of course, that this was the counter where customers picked up books that hadn’t been in stock but had been ordered. I thought maybe, just maybe, one could also order a book at the “ordered books” counter. When I asked the clerk if this were possible, she looked at me, very coldly, in my opinion, and tersely said, “No. You order books at the ‘Information’ counter.” Not one hint of feeling was in her face.

Then, later in the day I was playing basketball. I play basketball every Monday with a group of guys. One of my favorite guys from this group is Christian. Christian is a happy-go-lucky person who loves doing sports, likes American culture and likes to kid around with me. He is also a very fair basketball player. In fact, one thing that I like about going head-to-head with Christian is that he hardly ever fouls, and if he does foul, he often calls it on himself.

When we began to play yesterday, everything started out as normal. We were all playing at a light to medium intensity level and my energy level seemed good. At one point, Christian, who was on the opposing team from me, was under the basket. He had just missed a shot, gotten his own rebound and was trying the shot again. Some other players on my team and I were circling him with our arms in the air, making the shot very difficult. I guess Christian felt as though I was fouling him because he gave me a hard shove before he shot the ball again.

After the play was over, I addressed the situation.

“I’m not fouling you,” I said.

“Yeah sure,” he said, sarcastically.

Sensing a bit of tension, another player cut in: “OK, OK.,” he said.  “Let’s just keep playing."

And we did. But I was a little mad. After all, Christian had just shoved me and accused me of fouling him when I hadn’t, or at least I thought I hadn’t.

At the other end of the floor I got the ball near the basket. Tensions were high. Christian was guarding me, but had misjudged the action I planned to take and I was able to spin off him and drive closer to the basket. As I was taking the layup, I felt the ball being stuffed from behind as well as part of Christian’s weight coming down on my back. The ball block was legal but coming down on my back wasn’t -- that was a foul. Christian had played over aggressively in his effort to stop me. After the play, all the players were silent for a moment. I felt anger rise up in me, anger that I wanted to take out on Christian and the players on his team. But I was able to calm myself down. Here’s where the rubber hits the road, Chad, I thought. These are the situations you should really save you patience for; here is the test. Which way are you going to go?

I continued to play in an unaggressive way and on the successive plays Christian did too.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Buzzard and Bussard and Bussard

One time when I was in a wooded preserve with Maya and the dog, we saw a large bird, one that looked like a bird of prey. We weren’t sure what kind of bird it was, but a little later on we met a woman in the preserve, who was also walking her dog, and after falling into conversation with her, she said that the bird we had seen was probably a buzzard.

Maya was very excited about having just seen a buzzard, which made me a little confused. “A buzzard?” I thought. For one, the bird we had seen sitting high in the treetops did not look like a buzzard; and two, even if it was a buzzard, why would you get excited about seeing it?

Eventually, I did some research and found out that the woman wasn’t referring to a turkey vulture, but rather a small hawk found widely in Europe, a “bussard.” She had just been pronouncing the “s’s” like “z’s.”

Then, yesterday, I was in the car with Martina, driving through the German state of Brandenburg. The state Brandenburg is very rural. In Brandenburg you see farmland and potato fields and wind turbines. As we were passing one house along the road, I saw that a big-horned buck and several doe were kept in a pen on the property.

At one point, I looked up and saw a bussard perched on the branch of a big pine tree that towered over the road.

“Holy shit,” I said. “That’s a bussard.” Martina was at the wheel and my observation didn’t even faze her.

“I know,” she said. “I told you it was country-like here.” 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Sunshine on My Shoulder

“Now I remember my dream,” Martina said. We were standing in a field playing fetch with the dog and a flock of geese had just passed overhead in a “V” formation.

“I dreamed that a bird in heaven shitted on me,” she said. “Here, on my shoulder.” She pointed to her shoulder.

"Really?" I said. Inside I was laughing a little. I loved how her sentence had started out with “I dreamed that a bird in heaven” and ended with “shit on my shoulder.”

“Yeah,” Martina said, "that was the dream . . . a bird shitted on my shoulder, and then when I woke up, I smelled the dog’s fart. Oh, that was so horrible!”

“Yeah," I said, "usually it’s the opposite way. Usually you have a bad dream and then you wake up into reality and you are relieved. With you last night it went the other way. You woke up out of a bad dream into a worse reality!”

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Or a Seize-Up from Fear

The first time I saw her new mailbox, I was given a serious shock, something like a punch in the stomach or a seize-up from fear. There were two names on it. My mind raced. Who the hell is that? Is she living with a man? I wondered: had she left me with the excuse that she needed more space, that my apartment was too small, that familiarity was breeding contempt, only to go live with someone else?

After doing some research on my phone, I found out that the name on the mailbox belonged to a woman. That made me feel some relief, but the shock of initially seeing another name next to hers left me tired and made me realize the power she still had over me.

Then, a month or so later, she told me that that name that I had seen on her mailbox belonged to the previous tenant. She had just been too lazy to remove it after she moved in.

Then, some time after that, I’m not sure how much, I was again in her neighborhood. I knew that I should just stay away from her apartment. But something kindled in my imagination. Despite myself, I picked a few daisies, ones that were growing in an unkempt patch of grass in an always empty plaza near her apartment. I dropped the flowers into her mailbox. This time, only her name was on it.

Sunday, October 20, 2019


I was sitting on the toilet in the bathroom of a café, thinking. I was thinking about my mother. I realized that ever since I had gotten into a big fight with her in January, she has not said “I love you” to me at the end of our phone calls like she always had. I thought that and then I thought about how strange the thoughts we have in the bathroom are. I also thought that when I got out of the bathroom, I wanted to share this thought about my mom with Martina, who was sitting at a table in the café, waiting for me to return.

When I got back to the table, I noticed that in my absence Martina had ordered another latte macchiato with oat milk. Before going to the bathroom, I had said something to her like, “We should probably order another latte macchiato.” I had taken one too many sips of hers after finishing my espresso and I had thought it’d be a good thing to do. In response, she had said, “Yeah, it’s OK,” a sort of non-committal statement, I had thought, but now to my delight there was a brand-new latte macchiato on the table for both of us to enjoy.

“Wow, cool,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s OK, don’t worry.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“No, it’s no problem,” Martina said. “I just thought it would be nice if we had another ‘Hafer’--uh, oat milk latte.” She had corrected herself because “Hafer” means “oat” in German, and I had long ago taught her the English word “oat.”

“You know what’s crazy?” I said, just after taking a sip of the latte. “Remember how I told you how I got into a big fight with my mom last January, the one where I said, ‘What is it then? Are you in love with me, am I your boyfriend?’ and all that crazy Freudian stuff?”

“No,” Martina said. “I don’t remember that; you didn’t tell me that.”

“Yeah, Martina, I told you. I said all those crazy Freudian things to my mom.”

“Oh, yes, yes,” she said. And I saw by the look in her eyes that she really did remember, so I continued.

“Yeah, since that fight, my mom hasn’t said ‘I love you’ to me when we get off the phone.”

“Really? Aww . . . ”

“Crazy, right?”

“Yes, I think that’s hard.”

“Yeah,” I continued, “it’s like, wow. I mean, I know we got into a fight, but that was a year ago, or almost a year ago, and since then she hasn’t said ‘I love you’ to me. I don’t know whether she wants me to say it first or what, but . . . ”

There was a small pause. Martina looked like she was considering something. Then she said: “I think it’s hard for your mom. I think the whole situation is hard because you can’t see your mom. When you see people, you can see in their expression that they love you, or they can touch you or give you a hug, and you can know that they love you.”

“Yeah . . . ” I said. 

“But I think in the case of your mom, it’s hard for her sometimes. I think, from what you have told me, your mother is a person who is very hard on the outside, but very soft and very gentle on the inside. When was the last time you went home?”

“2015,” I said.

“2015? OK . . . Oh . . . 2015?”

I knew that after telling Martina the year I was last home it would take a moment to register. After all, it has been four years, and often after I tell people the year of my last visit home, they need a moment to compute how many years have elapsed since that last visit and then another moment to consider what the implications of such a gap are. With Martina, it was no different.

“Oh, wow,” she said. “That’s a long time.”

“Yeah, it is. . . ”

Wednesday, October 09, 2019


By this time, Caro had already moved her mattress to the floor. 

We had been living as a couple in my apartment for over a year. My mattress had been too hard, the one she had had too soft, but when we put them on top of each other, the bed was just right and we even called it our “happy little cloud.”

By this time, though, Caro had already moved her mattress to the floor.

I had noticed a change in Caro after I got back from a one-week vacation in Italy with my mom. Instead of coming home at normal times, Caro began coming home very late at night. She began talking of needing space and an apartment of her own. “Do you realize that I have never had an apartment of my own?” she had said.

One evening after work I came back to our apartment to find that she had taken her mattress off mine and had set it on the floor. She told me that this was where she would now sleep. She just needed more space of her own.

By this time, Caro had already moved her mattress to the floor. 

One morning, not too far from the end of our relationship, I was sitting in bed reading while Caro was just waking up. She often slept later than I did. There, lying on her mattress, she rubbed her eyes and looked at me. I decided to get up and join her on her “bed.” We talked lightly and easily; there was no rush; it was a Saturday morning. At one point, I began reciting William Butler Yeats’ "The Lake Isle of Innisfree." I know the poem by heart.

"I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade . . ."

When I was finished reciting the poem, Caro said, “That’s nice.” Upon hearing that, I began to recite another poem, but she immediately stopped me. “No, don’t ruin it,” she said. "Sometimes less is more." She had really liked the piece, I guess, and had wanted to let it, and only it, sink in.

By this time, though, Caro had already moved her mattress to the floor.