Since our apartment looks out on a bunch of other people’s windows, I often get this weird feeling that I’m being watched. SOMETIMES IT IS TRUE.
What on earth is going on? I googled “squirrels looking through windows” and after about the fifth image like this:
I started to get freaked out. It could just be from having rewatched Twin Peaks recently, but it felt sinister. Like maybe they’re all reporting back to someone. But then I found this, which put me at ease:
Since our apartment looks out on a bunch of other people’s windows, I often get this weird feeling that I’m being watched. SOMETIMES IT IS TRUE.
After work I met a friend at a bar and we caught up until, in the middle of a story, this guy came over and asked if he could buy us drinks and talk to us while he waited to go meet his cousin.
I’m not sure why we said yes, but for me at least, I was curious. He had said the whole thing in such a funny way, staring off into the middle distance, talking in this flat tone. Like he was reporting for duty.
He got us drinks and then started showing us pictures on his iPhone. He was from Australia, he said, but had been in Atlanta recording some hip hop tracks at Stankonia Studios (sure, we thought). He’d come up to New York for his cousin’s book party. And he was in “business,” by which he meant drugs. “Molly,” he’d pointed out after I told him my name. “Like MDMA.” Which was the first time someone has pointed that out since about 1997.
The first few pictures were of people milling around at the book party but then, abruptly, came a long string of photos of topless women. His cousin’s book, it turned out, was a 3D book about breasts, meaning that it came with 3D glasses so that “that girl’s humongous tittles actually look like they’re sticking out into the room!” I focused on nodding and not looking at my friend, because otherwise I would have laughed too hard, the whole situation so ridiculous. Who pulls out their phone at a bar and shows girls pictures of other girls’ breasts, pointing them out like they’re family pets? And besides, “titties”?
Then, even more abruptly, there was a bunch of pictures of him and a man screwing around in a recording studio. Wait, my friend said, is that Big Boi? It was. He even played us the track he said he’d put down at Stankonia, which was hard to hear over the U2 blasting in the bar, but we tried.
Was it possible that this guy was not entirely full of shit? That he actually had just gotten out of drug dealing because he knew if he stayed in he would have ended up with broken legs? Numerous people’s legs had been broken because of him, he said, but he never did the breaking himself, and also he never had the Colombians who did his leg breaking cut people. “I always get my money,” he said. “And I always say, no cutting, just break their legs.” Now he had a supply company, a legit one, transporting goods from China—he slid his new business card across the table.
I didn’t really believe him. If it was true, wouldn’t he keep it to himself? But when I asked about this he just leaned back and looked at us with this blank stare. “You’re never going to see me again,” he said, “cause I’m not from around here.” And then he coolly reached for the card he’d left sitting on the table and slipped it back in his pocket.
For some reason, maybe it was his still coldness, or that he really did have photos of Big Boi on his phone, or just the time of night, but all of a sudden I believed all of it. That he kept his extra money in gold and diamonds buried in his backyard. That after his sister had committed suicide he’d melted down the ring she’d been wearing into the one he had on his finger. That he’d gotten into a terrible car wreck and slid across the highway on his face. That the worst thing he’d ever done (I asked) was burn a guy’s feet. “They made me do it,” he said, “when I was 14. And after that I didn’t have to do stuff like that anymore.”
We did not go back to the room he was renting to “sex him down,” as he suggested. But I did Google the shit out of him. Sure enough, I found videos of him online rapping with Big Boi. I found the book of the 3D breasts. I even found his twitter account. As he was walking out he had turned back to us. “I really appreciated talking to you guys,” he said. “Just, you know, getting all that shit off my chest.”
It says something negative about my state of mind, I think, that today I mistook the humongous shiny Christmas tree ornaments decorating the lobby of the building where I work for gigantic, larger-than-life grenades.
It was weird, because the day after I wrote about my silent cab ride home, I took a cab to LaGuardia, and about one minute into the ride, my cab driver told me that his favorite part of his job was talking to customers. And from there, without much prompting, he started in on a discussion of how it could be hard to tell if customers were rich are not—for example, one time this guy in a long overcoat and regular sneakers ended up owning a Netflix-like company, maybe even Netflix, and after getting dropped off at the Plaza he left Tenzin (the cabbie) a $300 tip. Whereas Joe Jonas (here Tenzin passed me his phone to show me a picture of the two of them together) was only a regular tipper. There was also the time he picked up Susan Sarandon, who asked him a lot of questions about his home country, Tibet, but I’m not sure how she tipped.
By then we were out of the Delancey Street gridlock and halfway up the FDR drive, which was a serpentine way to get to LaGuardia, but let us avoid the traffic. And Tenzin was turning out to be a fabulous conversationalist, able to keep things going with only occasional affirmative noises on my part. Among the things I learned: that he loved his job, even though he still dreamed of opening his own bar, that his mother was upset that he was not a practicing Buddhist, that people frequently had sex in the back of cabs (“it’s cheaper than a hotel”), and that he had been a runner up to appear in Taxicab Confessions, cut in the last round because, the producers told him, he looked so young that no one would believe he was old enough to be driving a cab (“I used to be really skinny,” he said, by way of explanation, “now, not so much”).
At this point hadn’t even yet alighted on what would turn out to be his most recurrent subject—the numerous attractive female riders who had attempted to seduce him. There was the flirtatious woman who cheated him out of a fare by calling three big men to meet her at her destination, and the Penthouse stripper whom he’d pick up after work, three mornings in a row, like it was meant to be (or like he knew what time she got off). There was also the 40-something woman who got in his cab and started crying. She had just found out her husband, who was some sort of finance type, was sleeping with an intern in his office. “Is there something wrong with me?” she asked, “I work out every day.” Suddenly I felt so overwhelmingly sad for this woman, all the things she thought would protect her no longer working the way she thought they would. “She had a six-pack,” Tenzin told me. “She pulled up her shirt to show me.” She had no destination, just wanted him to drive around, but after a while she asked him to take her somewhere secluded, somewhere she could think. He took her to the park under the Brooklyn Bridge. She thought for a little while. Then she climbed into the front seat. (“You will think I’m a bad person,” Tenzin told me.) “Have you ever thought of being with an older woman?” she asked. And that was that.
I paid him double the fare, because about a zillion cabs had refused to pick me up before he stopped, and because I promised I’d make it worth his while. And also because I was left filled with the details of his life, having been asked, for a good thirty minutes, to offer none of my own, and at that exact moment, at the end of three very exhausting days, this was a huge relief.
I finally left the office at 1am, my scarf wet and smelling musty still from when I’d gotten stuck in the rain a few hours earlier—the first time I’d made it outside all day. My brain felt like it had been shaken up, turned upside down and emptied out onto the sidewalk. Which is a strange way to feel after you’ve spent over 14 hours cramming your head with information.
On the taxi ride home I started listening to the messages on my phone and then, abruptly stopped. We flew across the Manhattan Bridge, the wheels making the rushing noise cars make on wet cement, and my cab driver draped his incredibly long, slender fingers around the top of the passenger side seat, stretching out his arm. A friend told me recently he had a long conversation with his cab driver on the way to the airport and the man had appreciated being engaged. “No one ever talks to us,” he said. If I could have thought of one thing to say to the person driving me home I would have said it, but I had nothing. And besides maybe he, like me, appreciates it when strangers do him the favor of ignoring him.
At home, I did not pack for my trip to Georgia, and I did not do the dishes, and I did not even turn out the light in the kitchen. I just sat at the table and did more of what I’d already done for 14 hours at work—stared at my computer screen and read various things on the Internet. Which says something, I think, about the magnetism of the things you’re accustomed to, even if they bring you little to no satisfaction.
After going over some of my older clips a few days ago (they covered, among other things, the closing of a porn theater, an ex-con MMA fighter, a day in the life of a bunch of gutter punks, and a pervy doll repairman on the Upper East Side) I think I finally came up with a satisfactory answer for people who ask me what my beat is.
Mirabelle, who came home from Massachusetts this week with a defiant blue streak in her hair, seems to have finally hit those awkward teenage years. I’d like to say we didn’t wash it out because we’re cool like that, and happy to let the animal who lives with us express herself however she pleases. But the truth is that we’ve just been busy with other things. Which makes me wonder, now that I’m much closer to being a parent than a child and regularly wonder about how on earth one manages to launch even just an only somewhat sane person into this world, if this is actually a pretty good explanation for why a lot of parents do(n’t do) a lot of different things.
My ride to work takes me across the Manhattan Bridge, and right at the beginning I can see straight into the Jehovah’s Witness headquarters, this tan collection of buildings that takes up about four square blocks. In general I don’t pay much attention to them other than to wonder vaguely what goes on there (and, occasionally, what ungodly sum of money that property must be worth at this point) but a few days ago I heard that there were potentially going to be sold, so I decided to try and remember to look in the windows.
In college the Jehovah’s Witnesses used to come by my apartment on Saturday mornings at about 9am, which is not such an ideal time to proselytize in a college town, though I never pointed this out to them. The first time they knocked on my door I stumbled out of my room, thinking there must be some emergency, only to discover three cheerful looking ladies glancing around in bright sunlight, extremely eager to hand me pamphlets filled with colorful illustrations of Satan, Jesus, and mulicultural groupings of children. At this point I hadn’t yet begun that seemingly inevitable (but which is not in fact inevitable and actually very important, I think, to resist) hardening of adulthood wherein the things you once recognized as opinion you take as fact, so I engaged them in conversation. Did I think god existed? I wasn’t sure. I thought something existed, some sort of presence that imbued everything, but beyond that, how could they know that their interpretation of things was the only right one? In any case, as anyone familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses might have been able to tell me, it was a full hour before they headed on to the next house.
All of this must have given them some hope for me, because the next Saturday and then the next, and even the one after that, they again stopped by my house at around 9am. By the end of it I was reduced to hiding behind the couch, hoping they couldn’t see me through the windows. I felt terrible about this, because they were very nice ladies, but talking to people with such firm beliefs means you just circle around the same ideas over and over again, which doesn’t make for very interesting conversation. And this, ultimately, was all I was after. My roommates and I kept their pamphlets around the house for the next few months, though, and occasionally discussed the strangeness of the fact that the people who dropped them off actually thought we were going to hell. I guess this is what kept them going on those Saturday mornings, though I suppose the preaching is probably also supposed to get them to heaven.
I was thinking about all this the next time I was riding past those Jehovah’s Witness buildings. And when I peered in through the windows I noticed something—the buildings were completely empty, with floors and floors of empty little cubes, each floor the same as the next. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in the airlifting-believers-to-heaven aspect of the Rapture. But still! All of a sudden it occurred to me that my life is so incredibly godless, and filled with so few churchgoers, that for all I know the Rapture could have already come and gone and I wouldn’t even know it. This was an odd thought, but also not all that disconcerting, because one of the many assumptions that I’ve come to take as fact in my adulthood is that the Rapture is never going to happen.
Here is how I know that I’m really not lying when I say the heat doesn’t bother me much: this weekend the only thing that stopped me from buying a fall-type sweater was that it was about $80 more than I wanted to spend (it was $80).
I’m not sure why, since I don’t much feel like a young bull or an old bull and certainly don’t have any interest in making a whole field of lady bulls my own, but this clip (from this 2005 New York Times article by Dan Barber about working for David Bouley) really spoke to me. I guess it could be that, a little bit in the way of Stockholm syndrome victims, sometimes I really do miss working at the kind of restaurant where the staff would do well to remember that the chefs are actually working with extremely sharp knives, and the pace is so frantic that, after working an 11-hour shift in which you walk at least 30 miles and deal with the needs and desires of around 60 people, each of whom is VERY VERY important (or at least they think so) and at least a quarter of which have some very complicated issues surrounding food, the only way to come down is to sit at the bar at 4 am with the few other people you could handle at that point in the morning (your equally exhausted and mostly somewhat crazy co-workers) while you count up your 4-inch wad of cash (you have a lot of singles, but you’re still making more money than you’ll make at any other job in the next 6 years—happily you don’t yet realize this) and drink copious amounts of (free) (and sometimes, when the bartender’s in a good mood, top-shelf) alcohol.
The expediter yells: there are 20 tickets on the board. I tense, trying to push free. Chef squeezes my neck with his biceps. Sweat is pouring from my face, and I find myself rubbing my wet temple into his crisply starched chef’s jacket. ”I’m going to tell you a story,” he says.
”I need some tables, people,” yells the expediter. ”I need tables.”
”No time for stories,” I mumble halfheartedly.
”Two bulls,” chef says, ignoring me, tightening the grip. We’re still standing side by side, chef’s arm tightly wound around my neck as the kitchen blazes before us. I wonder if I might faint.
”Two bulls standing on a small hill, an older and a younger bull, overlooking a field of beautiful lady cows,” he says to me.
”Oh, man,” yells the expediter. ”I need Table 6. I need that table.”
The chef’s lips are now only inches from my ear: ”The younger bull looks up to the older bull: ‘Hey, hey, you know what I’m going to do. I’m going to run as fast as I can right now, as fast as my legs will take me, as fast as I can run down this hill, and I’m going to get me one of those lady cows and make her my own.”’ He pauses now, as if to let me marinate in the wisdom. ”Do you know what the older bull said back to the younger bull?”
As I shook my head no, that I did not know what the older bull said to the younger bull, I lifted my eyes from his arm and peeked around. Cooks were yelling at busboys, who yelled at dishwashers, who yelled at one another. ”I don’t know, chef,” I muttered. He put his nose in my left ear and leaned heavily on me. I felt the heat of his breath as he held me there. ”Well, the older bull paused for a moment,” and here, too, the chef paused. ”’Son,’ said the older bull, ‘I’m going to slowly walk down this hill, and I’m going to make them all my own.’
Celebrity sightings, like all things, come in threes, and one thing I’ve noticed about things that come in threes is that there are usually two that are mostly the same and then one that is slightly different. This weekend, for example, I saw Erin Wasson and Alexander Wang, but then I also saw Alexis Bledel.
Alexander Wang and Erin Wasson are similar for lots of reasons, but most importantly, in this case at least, because each was doing exactly what I expect of them. If I was in charge of making an American Museum of Natural History-style diorama about Erin Wasson, for example, I could do worse than to put her sitting on the patio of that restaurant Gemma on the Bowery, looking gaunt and a bit self-consumed, gesticulating animatedly, probably with a cigarette, and wearing clothes that could, in a costume closet somewhere, double as either present-day high fashion or rags for a pauper type in a takeoff of Oliver Twist. Likewise, Alexander Wang was walking down the street in Tribeca talking to a scrawny guy with an angular haircut, looking friendly and excitable and also slightly dazed, wearing clothing in various shades of black, white, and gray.
Alexis Bledel, on the other hand, was at Trader Joe’s, shopping with some square shouldered guy who I think was wearing a flannel shirt. I actually have no real impression of what Alexis Bledel does when she’s not acting. Maybe she went to college at some point? But I have spent some time watching Gilmore Girls (when or how or why I’m not sure) and have a clear sense of what would going on with Rory by now, at which point I’d guess she’d be in her mid twenties—she would be living in Cobble Hill with a square-shouldered dude who wore flannel shirts, working at some nondescript office where she had to wear professional clothes, and shopping on Sundays at Trader Joe’s.
Usually when I see a celebrity I have the sense that they’re doing a brief cameo in my world, but in this case it was much weirder. I actually felt like I was in Alexis Bledel’s world, or in the Gilmore Girls’ world, at least, if it had just kept going and going after the cameras stopped—that random extra in gym clothes in the produce section trying to decide between organic and non-organic grapefruits (I went with non-organic, because won’t the skin protect the inside from the pesticides? I hope so) while Rory and her boyfriend decided between herb turkey or the regular kind. And while I thought about all this (and also once again confirmed to myself how it really is strange how things come in threes) I was actually sort of staring straight at them, which was probably a little weird (maybe they thought I was a huge Gilmore Girls fan?). But luckily I snapped out of this quickly and was able to do like every good New Yorker and ignore celebrities like they are even more invisible than the rest of us.