Archive for the 'weird little things' Category


Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Tonight, I encountered a young homeless man in the tunnels of the Metro. He was sitting cross-legged on the ground, a newspaper in front of him on top of which sat what I immediately recognized as a small velvet tefillin bag and a Hebrew holy book. To his left, I noticed a small hand-drawn Israeli flag.

Having a religious background, I was curious as to why he placed these sacred items on the floor, as in Jewish tradition, this is considered a sign of disrespect. I made the usual pleasantries and tried to ask him, in my broken French.

“Excusez moi, monsieur, mais pourquoi est-ce que vous mettez ces choses la a la terre?”

“Vous êtes Israélienne? Vous êtes juive?”
(“Are you Israeli? Are you Jewish?”)


“Il n’y a pas des tefillin ici, juste les boîtes.”
(“There are no scrolls in there, just the boxes.”) ”

“Mais cette livre, c’est le Tanya. Moi, je ne suis pas traditionnelle, mais dans la tradition si on mette ces choses sur la terre, c’est pas une marque du respect.”
(“But this book is the Tanya [a book of hassidic philosophy]. I am not traditional, but according to tradition, placing such things on the ground is not a sign of respect.”)

“Parce qu’il y a le nom de Hashem?”
(“Because it contains the name of Hashem [God]?”)


“Moi, je suis homeless. J’habite ici. J’ai pas un maison. Vous comprenez?”
(“I am homeless. I live here. I don’t have a house. Do you understand?”)


“Je suis fier d’être juif, et je suis fâché. I am angry. Pas de personnes a m’aider! Ils prennent les photo avec le mobile! En Paris, si vous n’avez pas un maison, c’est comme ‘ptui!’ Et c’est dangereux d’être un juif ici.”
(“I am proud to be a Jew, and I am angry. No one has helped me! They take photos of me with their mobile! In Paris, if you have no home, it’s like you are ‘ptooi’ [he cocked his head to the left and made a spitting noise]. And it is dangerous to be a Jew here.”)

He drew his finger across his neck in a sign of mock decapitation.

“I think I am very brave,” he said, eyes blazing with fierce indignation and pride.

“I think you are too.”

“Je refuse de mourir anonyme au rue. Donc je mettes ces choses la. J’ai pas un maison, pas de SDF, j’ai pas du tout, et c’est pas juste!”
(“I refuse to die anonymous in the street. That’s why I place these things here. I have no home, no SDF [government assistance?] and it isn’t right!”)

“I think you are correct,” I answered quietly. “Vous avez de la raison. Je suis désolé pour vous.”
(What I meant to say is “I am so sorry.”)

He looked down and his fierce eyes teared up. I fumbled in my pocket to try and find a Euro coin or two. Naturally, I had spent my last couple of Euro coins on a bottle of water, and was left with a few 20, 10 and 5 cent coins. I reached into my bag and found a ten Euro bill and handed it to him.

“S’il vous plaît,” I said. “Please.”

He glanced down and shook his head.

He was crying now.

“S’il vous plaît, vous êtes juif, je suis juive, nous sommes des personnes. Comment dit-on en français? Si je peux vous aider, ça serait un honneur pour moi.”
(“Please. You’re a Jew, I’m a Jew, we’re both people [I meant to say ‘human beings’.] How does one say this in French? If I can help you, it will be an honor for me.”)

I crouched down and held out the ten Euro note to him. He shook his head.

He looked at me unabashed and said “Juste un Euro, si vous avez.”
(“Only one Euro if you have it.”)

I reached into my pocket, pulled out all the change I had and held it out to him. He began to pick out the smallest coins. I shook my head and turned the contents of my palm into his hand.

“Merci beaucoup,” he said.

“Je m’appelle Shelly,” I said, and held out my hand to shake his.

“Je suis Yonah,” he answered, and shook my hand.

“Un nom spécial,” I said, remembering the existential angst of the biblical character.

“Yonah, ani me’akhelet lekha rak tov, I wish you only well, juste le meilleur.”

“Merci,” he said. “Shavua tov. A good week.”

As I walked towards my train line, I heard Yonah begin to sing “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (“Jerusalem of Gold“) in his broken Hebrew. I climbed down the stairs towards ligne 4, and his voice carried over into the tunnel.

“Veshel nekhoshet veshel ohr,” and of copper and light, he sang in a loud, desperate cry. I boarded the train looking down at the ground. A lump formed in my throat.

the doppelgänger

Monday, April 18th, 2011

There’s a theory which states that everyone has a double, an identical twin living somewhere. That’s not entirely true. Actually, it’s not at all true. The genetic possibilities for human DNA are endless, and the universe tends toward entropy, not order. There’s no rational reason for two unrelated people to look exactly alike, and certainly no way that three billion humans could inexplicably resemble three billion more. The idea is absurd, and yet, sometimes, it can happen. How odd it would be to wake up one morning, go outside to get the paper and stare yourself directly in the face.

It had been a year since my father’s death. I saw him only in my dreams. Sometimes he was a disembodied, smiling presence. Other times he was there, right there, eating, talking, joking, but always just out of reach. There was always something keeping him away. I would awake each morning with the strange sensation of having misplaced something—when you know that something is missing but you can’t remember what or where you put it (“And I can’t forget, but I don’t remember what”). And then there it is. Your stomach falls to your knees with the weight of so much leaden grief and you know, again, that he’s gone. Every morning, the same routine: forgetful slumber, gossamer dreams and the yawning, gaping chasm of loss. Then off to face the day, the black precipice just behind, the rest of existence just ahead. Where others saw dappled golden sunshine I saw only the bleached out whiteness of the harsh mid-day sun. If beauty’s in the details—the shadows and lines that comprise form itself—grief is being blinded by the sun, it’s the burning white nothing you see when the light is just too much.

My sense of taste was gone, too. Food tasted like cotton balls in my mouth. Chewing was a chore, a physical requirement for existence, like using the toilet. Drudgery. Life goes on. What the hell did that mean? I had been looking for a job when he died, and had re-scheduled an interview due to the funeral. I went to the interview a week later, in a feeble attempt to crawl back into the real world. The cheerful blond woman who interviewed me smiled her condolences and said “Life goes on, right?” They just wrapped my father’s wizened remains in a tallis and buried him in the ground, you nitwit. I couldn’t manage a smile, but I tried my best to remain cordial, despite my obviously somber demeanor. I didn’t get the job.

A year later, “life goes on” meant as little as it had from the grinning lips of that middle-aged ninny. If life was an endless series of meaningless tasks, I suppose it did go on. And on. And on. Obladi, obla-fucking-da.

I had found work tutoring English, and had just stepped off the bus that took me back to campus. The sun was beating down with its fierce Middle Eastern mid-day heat and its relentless white brightness. I raised my hand to my face to shield my eyes, and glanced across the road before crossing. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black beret, the kind usually accompanied by a turtleneck and a baguette. I blinked and turned my head. I saw a grey-bearded man in a black beret wearing a grey sport jacket with suede at the elbows and dark trousers, the same exact uniform my father wore to work every day. Daddy. Oh my god, it was Daddy. I had never been more certain of anything in my life. I wanted to call out to him. And then I remembered. The man turned his head, and his features weren’t quite right. I remembered.


I remembered.

The man in the black beret disappeared into a crowd of students like a specter. The world went white and formless.

I remembered.


Thursday, March 31st, 2011

A corpse in a copse decomposing
Stares blankly at canopied sky.
A corpse in a copse decomposing
Has worms crawling into its thigh.

A corpse in a copse decomposing
Has no need for cunning or fear.
A corpse in a copse decomposing
Wonders “God, why the hell am I here?”

lyrics to a song unwritten

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

death metal song

Imperfect. Flawed.
Shoot me in the head.
Demented. Slack-jawed.
Shoot me in the head.
Lopsided. Deranged.
Shoot me in the head.

All wrong. Sub-par.
Shoot me in the head.
Seen better by far.
Shoot me in the head.
Redo it. Start clean.
Shoot me in the head.

Rank garbage. Vile shit.
Shoot me in the head.
Get packing, fuckwit.
Shoot me in the head.

Shoot me in the head.
Shoot me in the head.
Shoot you in the head.
Shoot you in the head.

Shoot you
Shoot you
Shoot you
Shoot you all in the head.

bacon is my spiritual path

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Dear Pork, who art in heaven,
Briny be thy Ham.
Thy porchetta come.
Thy chops be done
On grills with a side of pappardelle.
Give us this day our daily prosciutto,
And forgive us our tofu,
As we forgive those who don’t dig on swine,
And feed us not overcooked, tasteless flesh,
But deliver us from factory farm agribusiness.


misanthropy: a short short story

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Sometimes the smallest interaction seems a chore. The very thought of making a phone call is exhausting. Pick up the phone, listen to the monotony of the dial tone, think of all the things I need to say to the person on the other side. The words drone on in my head, like the dial tone. The train of imaginary conversation makes me vaguely ill.

I put down the phone and glance at my inbox. So many unanswered missives, so many people awaiting a response. I open one e-mail and read the friendly salutation, the banter, the questions, questions, questions, like so many hooks pulling and poking at my skin. I think of what I should say. “Yes, that sounds great.” “Certainly, that could work.” “Would you be amenable to… ?” It all sounds disjointed, false. One paragraph segways into another like a loping stitch that’s gone awry. The words melt away and I think of what I want to say. “No, fuck off.” “I suppose I could do that if I could drag myself out of doors.” “I’d much rather not have to deal with you or anyone else at the moment. Please go away.” My hands freeze above the keyboard. I can’t type a damn thing.

I’m hungry. I can’t be bothered to prepare anything, so I’ll need to buy something to eat. This means putting on clothes, brushing my hair, walking out the front door and going outside. I dread the myriad of meaningless interactions I am sure to have. The hallway is empty, but the elevator carries a passenger who smiles and says “Good morning!” The rules of etiquette require a response, so I raise my eyes briefly and gingerly pull the corners of my mouth upward. “Morning,” I respond. I hope he doesn’t notice that my hair needs a wash. I hope he doesn’t ask me how my morning’s been, or where I’m off to or any other pointless attempts at small talk. I stop holding my breath when the elevator hits the lobby. He nods and exits happily, a spring in his step and a doltish grin plastered on his face. My relief is short-lived, as now the office manager smiles her hello, and the maintenance man greets me with a genuine smile and an earnest “Good morning!” I half-smile and mumble “hi” and “‘morning” as I try not to flee to the front door.

The cold air hits my face with a sting and a slap, the sun so dazzling bright the world looks white. I squint and try to look down as I walk. The corner store seems miles away, a treacherous journey with people everywhere nodding, smiling, talking.

I reach the shop, pick a sandwich and get in line. Here comes the next charade, a puppet show in which I must perform, time and again.

She’ll say
“Hi! How’re you?”

I’ll say
“Fine, how’re you?”

She’ll respond
“Very well, thanks!” or “Good, thanks!” depending on her knowledge of grammar.

I’ll say
“So, um, just this,” and place my sandwich on the counter.

She’ll say
“Will that be all?” as if she cared what I buy or don’t buy (she doesn’t, I know she’s just following her manager’s script.)

“Yes, thanks,” I’ll say, and with some effort, turn up the corners of my mouth, as if to say “I’m a good customer, I know that’s a stupid question, but I know you have to ask it, and I know I’m not supposed to be annoyed by it, so here’s a smile to show you that I understand and empathize with your plight even though I wonder what sort of hell it must be like to have the same conversation with 300 customers every… single… fucking… day.”

She’ll say
“Great. That’ll be $4.95. Would you like a bag?”

I’ll hand her a credit card, decline the bag.
“No, thanks.” (Meaning: “I know you’re supposed to ask if I want a bag, but you’re really waiting for me to say I don’t, because I’m supposed to care about the environment, and it costs your boss money to give out bags willy-nilly, so if I actually take the bag you’ll look at me disapprovingly ever so subtly. You’ll glance at me, frown, and cast your eyes down furtively. Then the tone of your voice will sour just a little. And you’ll wonder what sort of asshole would want to clutter landfills and strangle seagulls with a plastic bag, and all for a fucking sandwich.”)

She’ll smile and say
“Great! Just sign here.”

I’ll dutifully sign.

She’ll ask
“Would you like your receipt?” (Meaning: “There’s a line and I really need to deal with the other customers. Just deal with the $4.95, will you? It’s not like we’ll accept returns on a sandwich.”)

I’ll say
“No thanks,” and raise the corners of my mouth again.

“Greaaaaat,” she’ll say, elongating the word as though it were one enormous melismatic syllable.

The show ends when she says “Have a nice day!” her pitch rising like a happy ending to a saccharine film.

I’ll dutifully respond “You too!” and match her tone almost exactly (though perhaps just an octave lower).

I’m next in line. Thinking of the upcoming performance, I sigh. Audibly. Glancing at the refrigerator case, a can of coconut juice tempts me.

I’m up. The juice isn’t worth disrupting the scene.

I must play my part and return to my cave.

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