Saturday, October 24, 2020

A LeFrak City Story

Located on the northern side of the Long Island Expressway in Elmhurst, Queens, is LeFrak City. 

LeFrak City—better known as just "LeFrak"—is a sprawling housing development, which was built in the '60s and '70s for working-class people and for those who couldn't afford to live in Manhattan. 

When I was very young, my mom would sometimes drive me to Lefrak because my pediatrician had his practice there. My mom didn't like going to LeFrak—hated it, in fact—but this pediatrician, Dr. Resmovits, was apparently very good. 

My mom and I lived in Forest Hills. Forest Hills is located on the southern side of the Long Island Expressway—across from LeFrak—and under no circumstances was I allowed to travel to LeFrak alone.

Actually, the only place I was officially allowed to be without adult supervision at that time in my life was the schoolyard across the street from my apartment building. Anything outside the schoolyard's fences was strictly verboten. And, again, forget about LeFrak. Not only was it about two miles away, but it was also said to be dangerous.  

Well…

One day, as I was playing in the schoolyard with my good friend Everett, a kid named Bret came along. Bret was one year older than Everett and me, and Bret . . . he had something of a reputation. 

Bret was known to be a tough kid, a kid who hung out with older kids, who didn't have much fear, someone you wanted on your side and definitely not against you. Bret had a charisma about him, and, honestly, he seemed like some doorway to another world, one that was mysterious and dangerous.  

Anyway, on this particular day that we ran into Bret, he told us that he was about to go to LeFrak to meet up with some of his "boys," or friends. He asked us if we wanted to come along. 

I was torn. On the one hand, I wanted to go. After all, here was an opportunity to spend time with Bret, to get him to like me, to build goodwill and an alliance with him. On the other hand, I was not allowed to go to LeFrak City. I wasn't even allowed to leave the schoolyard!

Being a kid, I told Bret I would go. I remember my decision seemed to please him, and it wasn't before long that he, Everett, and I set out for LeFrak on foot. 

But my mom had done a good job, apparently, because on the way there, I began to have a crisis of conscience. Not only that, I kept wondering to myself who exactly were we going to meet. Growing up in Forest Hills, we had often been told that LeFrak was not a nice place, home to gangs and crime. I imagined something terrible happening to me, and my fear was increasing with every block closer to the highway. 

In fact, my fear became such that a few hundred yards before the pedestrian overpass leading to LeFrak, I stopped in my tracks. 

"I can't go," I announced to the group. 

"Why the hell not?" Bret said. 

Though we were hanging out with Bret—which would make you think that he liked us—he was volatile; this was already known.

"I just can't go," I said. "I have to be home." I looked at Everett for help. He said he thought I should just go home, then. But Bret was less forgiving.

"Nah, he ain't going anywhere," he said. 

"But I have to," I said. 

"Nah, you ain't pussy’n out; you're coming," Bret said. All three of us were standing at the street corner, again with that pedestrian overpass just in sight.   

"I would if I could, but I can't," I told Bret. 

Apparently, those were the wrong words, and I've never forgotton his reply:

"You would if you could but you are."  

And then I started crying. 

I didn't cry waterfalls, but I did start to cry. I told Everett and Bret that I actually wanted to go because I had a really bad stomach ache. But we all knew that I was lying. I guess it was my luck day because Bret ultimately released me from my obligation. 

The next day at school, I was very curious to know from Everett what had happened in LeFrak. Did he see gangs? Was it dangerous? 

Everett said that it wasn't at all. He said that he and Bret had just looked for Bret's friends. When they couldn't find them, they went home.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Another Brick in the Wall

It's like I'm trying to talk to him, and he's a brick wall. And sometimes, it seems as though I can get through to him: sometimes, it seems as though there is a space where one of the bricks usually is. But the moment I try to get through in that space—boom—the brick gets shoved back in. So what do I do, well, obviously, I look for other openings. And I find them. But, again, the moment I try to get through—boom—the brick comes rushing back.

Take Your Time, People

The bus had just stopped in front of the hospital, and people were clamoring to get on. 

From the curb, a man was trying to help his infirm wife, who was in a motorized wheelchair, board through the bus' side door. 

"Please leave some room in the corner," the man shouted to the people already on the bus.

"My God!" said a woman who was standing next to me, holding onto a straphanger. 

After the man helped his wife on the bus and boarded himself, he said to the woman who was holding onto the straphanger, "Well, I did say please." 

"No, no, it's OK," the woman replied.

"Take your time, people—let's not get stressed out," said a young woman who was waiting for the man to get settled so she could walk deeper into the bus. This young woman was wearing eyeglasses and one of the lenses was fogged up. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Venice

When I was 18 years old, I went on a trip with my mother to Italy. We took the trip in winter, during my semester break from college. We visited Rome, Florence and Venice. 

On the morning of our last day of the trip, we took a ferry from Venice to somewhere, I'm not sure where. All I remember is being on that boat in the early morning with the sun not even up yet and cursing myself.  

For whatever reason, at that moment, on that ferry, I was the horniest I had ever been in my life. I was cursing myself because about six months prior, I had had the opportunity to lose my virginity and didn't. 

I had been making out with a girl when she asked me if I had a condom. I did. However, I said that I didn't because I didn't want to lose my virginity to her. I was under the impression that it should be special when one loses one's virginity, and this girl wasn't special. I figured I'd just hold out for college. 

However, during my first semester at college, I had failed to lose my virginity. 

And now there I was, 18 years old and the horniest I had ever been in my whole life, sitting on a boat, gazing out into a dark Venice just beginning to wake up. 

I could've kicked myself. 

Fly on the Wall, Five Times Over

—Exactly, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Today, for example, my girlfriend—she’s German—she was talking about a second lockdown. But the thing is, she says the word, lockdown. She puts the emphasis on the word “down.” It’s actually lockdown. Right, we put the emphasis on the “lock” part. 

—Mm-hmm

***

—OK, Chad, so we have to talk. 

—What do you mean? 

—This is absurd. Our relationship over the last year has been . . . I mean, I can’t go on like that. Surely, you have to feel it. 

—Yeah, yeah, I feel it. 

—So what do you want to do? 

—What do you mean? 

—Are things going to be the same, because I really can’t . . . I mean, it was just absurd. 

—Yes, OK, things will be better. 

—OK, good. 

***

—I don’t know why they make such a big deal with all this bullshit. 

—Yeah . . . 

—Fucking with all this and that, and they say all this shit and that shit. Come on. If you ask me, when you’re dead, you're dead. 

***

—Dude, what are you doing? 

—What do you mean, what am I doing? 

—Dude, you’re single now, right? 

—Yeah.

—So what the fuck are you doing, man? You’re a good looking guy. If I were you, I’d get a place in the city. 

—Yeah . . . 

—Fucking go live in the city, man; go live in Brooklyn. That’s where it’s all happening. 

—Yeah, I mean, I’m going to—

—That’s what I would do if I were in your position. Fucking get out. 

***

—Were you out with Filou? 

—Yeah. 

—Really, for how long? 

—I don’t know, 25 minutes. 

—And where did you go? 

—To the doggy park. 

—OK. 

—Hey, I’m going to run out again. 

—OK. 

—Is it cold outside? 

—If you were really out with Filou, you should know if it was cold outside. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Coffee

Today at lunch I thought to myself that I was eating too much bread. Martina had toasted four pieces of bread, and they tasted so good with the food. I not only ate three of the toasted slices, but I got up to grab another two pieces, too. 

After the meal, as I was brewing coffee, I thought that I would try and compensate for all the bread I had eaten by not putting any milk into my coffee. When the coffee was ready, I poured it into two cups, one for me and one for Martina. In Martina’s cup, I poured a little oat milk. I didn’t put any oat milk in my coffee. Instead, I turned on the faucet and put a little water into my cup to cool the coffee down.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

A Near Loss

“Margaret Silva, Silva: gold.” 

That was the slogan that my 3rd-grade opponent for student treasurer used. 

I beat her. 

My slogan was “Vote for Chad, he’s so rad, if you don’t, that’s too bad.” 

I don’t think my slogan was the reason I beat Margaret. I think I was just more popular than she was. After all, she had entered our school in the third grade, and I had been there since kindergarten. 

Still, after all was said and done, an older student, a fifth-grader, told me that I almost lost her and her friends’ vote when I said that, as student treasurer, I would try to create a student stamp-collecting club. This older student said that the fourth and fifth graders found my stamp-collecting idea so dorky, they almost voted for Margaret. 

I was embarrassed. The stamp club hadn’t even been my idea; it was my mom’s. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Dream, Dream, Dream...

Last night I had some strange dreams. At first I was in some sort of room, and I was trying to convince my mother that a type of evil was present. To be more specific, I was telling her that there were two bottles, one that contained evil and one that didn’t. I said that it was important that the evil that was in the one bottle stay there. I tried to stress how important it was to see to it that that bottle never be uncorked. Another man who was in the room with my mom and me had the bottle in his possession and was able to control it from opening up, but for everyone's safety, my mom needed to believe that the evil existed. 

Act II of my dream opened up on a snowy road. My mom was in the dream again, but the circumstances were different. This time, she and I were in Finland. I wasn’t thrilled about being in Finnland, but I eventually resigned myself to the fact I was in the country. Snow abounded, and my mother and I were in a taxi. We had been in the taxi for what had felt like hours, and I remember thinking that the fare was going to be a small fortune. I was taking pictures from the inside of the cab, and I can remember one picture I took. It was of a man standing on his balcony. I thought that the picture was cool because in it you could see the moon at the bottom of the frame and the sun at the top. I remember thinking, “This picture is so Finnland. Leave it to Finnland, of course, to have the sun and the moon in the same shot at the same time." Though the picture came out a little blurry, I uploaded it to Instagram and shared it with a friend of mine, Bettina, who loves Finland.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Picture This

PICTURE a little elk figurine. The figurine is about the size of your ring finger and fits easily into the palm of your hand. It was bought in a store like Hallmark and is made of relatively cheap ceramic. 

Picture this little elk standing atop a chest of drawers. Can you see it there, among the wireless landline phone, the decorative glass bottle and the eyeglass case? 

Now imagine me accidentally bumping into the chest of drawers and making the figurine fall. 

Imagine you saying, "Oh, no!" and me saying, "What? Did something fall? I'm sure everything's fine."

Imagine you searching the ground, only to discover that everything is not fine, that one of the elk's little antlers has broken off. 

Imagine me saying, "I'm sorry," and you saying, "It's OK." Imagine running your finger over the area where the antler broke off. This part of the elk now feels rough, right?  

Imagine me kissing you on your forehead because I broke your figurine. Imagine us discussing a better place to put the tchotchke. Imagine you again saying it's OK that I broke your figurine and me saying, "Poor little elk." Again, imagine that silly looking thing, now with one antler.

NOW imagine that I've died. Imagine two weeks have passed since you got the awful news. Perhaps my death has made you a little more introspective and a little more sensitive to the fragility of life, and you decide that you are going to write a letter to your estranged sister. Imagine it's a Sunday afternoon when you decide to write this letter, and you've sat down at your desk and the moment you put pencil to paper, the tip of the pencil breaks. You reach into your desk drawer for a sharpener and there isn't one there, so you get up and go to your chest of drawers to get one, and just as you approach the chest, you see it—the elk figurine with the broken antler. Can you imagine picking the object up? Can you imagine running your finger over the rough, chipped ceramic? Do you feel the weight of the figurine? It's not heavy. 

Friday, October 02, 2020

Back and Forth

God, what are you doing? You’re wasting your time watching this shit. How do you think you’re ever going to accomplish what you want to accomplish. It’s always "tomorrow." It’s always, “Yeah, but today I did this, so I can’t do that.” You’re fucking lazy. Oh, let me guess, you’re tired. Let me guess, it’s too late to do the thing you wanted to do because you’re tired. It’s not possible to do that thing. Let me guess, you’re going to get up early tomorrow and do it. Yes, yes, you’re going to get up early...that’s the ticket!

But come on, you do stuff, you have made good progress lately. 

Yeah, but other writers write. They write like crazy. You write, what, one to two hours a day at most, and then you are satisfied with yourself. That’s the worst part.

But you can’t deny that you have made some progress. 

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Two Unrelated Stories

One time, when I was sitting at a bank of computers in the journalism department at New York University,  a fellow student told me that the head of the NYU journalism department had given her an interesting piece of advice. She had been suffering from writer's block, she said, and Professor Serrin had told her that there was only one way to get out of writer's block—and that was to write. 

***

Across the street of my childhood apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, there was a schoolyard. The schoolyard was very big and consisted of three sections—a section for the basketball courts, a section for the handball courts, swings and monkey bars, and a section for the infants. 

The section for the infants had a fenced-off baby-swing area and a fountain. Around the fountain, there were many benches. 

My mother told me that when I was an infant, she would come to the section of the park that was reserved for the infants. She painted a picture for me. She said: "When you were a baby, I would come to that area of the park, and every time I would go there, there would be mothers there, and they would be there with their babies, and they would all be talking to each other and having a nice time, sitting on the benches, and I would be there all by myself, and they would see that I was by myself, and not one of those women ever came up to me to talk to me or ask if I would like to join them.