Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Not Saying Nothing


matthue roth
hey! you keep coming up in conversation. you aren't headed this way anytime soon, are you?

Rob Auten
I should be in NYC most of Feb!

matthue roth
!!!!
we should hang out early in the month, then. because when later in the month comes, i will be, ahem, indisposed.

Rob Auten
What does that mean?

matthue roth
there will be a lot of family stuff and sleepless nights
how are you??

Rob Auten
Are you having another kid?

matthue roth
sorry for being obtuse. i'm being extra sensitive to evil-eye stuff because i am weird.

Rob Auten
You should practice being even MORE obtuse then; I had it figured out when you said you were, "ahem, indisposed."

matthue roth
i was being way more obtuse for 8 months!!! i'm glad you kept pushing though. it's good to be back on our game.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Six simple things about today I wouldn't have noticed

1.
I love this book. Love it unconditionally. It's sloppy, and the basic premise is something I would have taken to heart ten years ago and now I look at it through the eyes of someone who tells stories for a living and think, that's not a story, but I remember the person I was when I would have loved it. And that makes me kind of believe in things again like a story about losing your soul and then trying to find it.


2.
Also, when you're reading it and walking down the street, it kind of makes you think things you wouldn't otherwise think.

3.
I got off the train early, returned some library books. One of them was The Pale King, the last novel David Foster Wallace wrote before he died. It's huge, and I barely made a dent in it. Too much stuff going on in my life, I thought, and too many other books to read instead. As I slipped it in the return slot, I wondered what my past three weeks would have been like if I'd been reading The Pale King. How radically it would have changed, my conversations, my experiences, what I chose to do on my lunch breaks and at night, after the kids are in bed, the parts of my life that are still my own. If my life would have changed at all.

4.
I walked fast across the park and down the street to my office. There was this girl walking beside me, also fast. Fast walkers are kind of united in our brusqueness and our no-nonsense attitude, our force of will to get things done, and we all kind of hate each other. This girl and I were walking at exactly the same pace, and right next to each other. We didn't make eye contact at all. She probably didn't even realize I was there. It was me with the book, her with these intense military knee boots and a killer stomp. Sexy boots and a sort of messed-up face, the kind that isn't symmetrical but you can't put your finger on why. We pass a nanny and her kids and we both swerve in opposite directions, then we're right back in line. We hit the corner of my work, she turned right, I kept going.

5.
The subways were psycho today. There was fog, mad fog, and at my outdoor subway station, you couldn't see more than five feet in front of you. People kept staring down the tracks, looking for that ghostly light. It took forever. Ten minutes, fifteen, and then in the fog, a faint yellow pair of eyes, that subway, creeping ever forward. It was packed. We had to force our way on, and then more people forcing their way on. I was one of the last people to actually fit. Or maybe everyone thinks that. At the next stop, this fat kid with a good smile apologized to everyone as he squeezed on, "Sorry, I got to get to work." The stop after that, a fat woman stepped on and literally swished smaller people into each other. I don't mean to call out fat people, I'm sorry it sounds bad, but this morning it seemed like nobody but fat people were even attempting to get on the train. A disembodied woman's voice yelled in our car at each station, "There is no more fucking room!" We all agreed with her. But she sounded more violent each time, and we were afraid to agree. The last stop before we dipped underground, the train stalled for ten minutes. A man's and woman's voices yelled at each other from outside. All the people on the platform, the people who couldn't get in, watched the offscreen drama. Someone said somebody should call 911. I wondered why that person didn't. I wasn't sure if it was really going to get bad, if it was just two people who didn't know each other yelling at each other, or what. I thought about the potential of calling 911 just to say that people weren't getting along, and there were bad vibes everywhere, and could they help out with that. I couldn't call 911. I couldn't reach my phone. My arms were pinned by too many people on every side.

6.
The lobby at my work was, for once, empty. An elevator was right there. A woman slipped into the building just as I was getting on and I held it for her. She hit 6, and then 5. "Sorry," she said. "I didn't realize." "That's okay," I said, "it'll be an adventure." She smiled at me as though having an adventure was the last thing in this world she could conceive of. She smiled at me like she needed an adventure. She got off at 5. The elevator stopped again at 6 and I got ready, instinctively, to step out. Then I realized it wasn't my floor and froze in the doorway. The elevator door held open. The elevator was still. I could have stepped out. Anything could have happened, then, anything in the world.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

On slumlords, and slums, and not wanting anyone dead

I completely agree that this morning's New York Post cover is sketchy, and racist, and is basically anti-Semite-baiting creepiness.

jewish racism

But can we talk for one moment about how many Orthodox Jews are running slums and shitty housing operations, and how none of us is saying enough about it?

I'm not going to share the whole story right now. (I'm not.) (My kids are out for an hour, and I'm in the middle of a short story, and although this is burning me up right now, I have to act like writing is my profession and not just listening to whatever the voices in my head are telling me to write about.) But when I was trying to become more observant, and living in Crown Heights, and the only place I could find was a big old tenement on Empire Blvd. -- I was the only Orthodox Jew in the building, and my roommate and I were the only Jews/white people whatsoever -- conditions were atrocious. The halls and stairways smelled like pee. A toilet backup would last weeks before somebody came. You had to wait in line for an hour to hand in your rent check every month, in a dirty office through a glass window. (I wrote this short story about it, although I exaggerated things.) There were roaches the size of hot dogs. One morning I was on a wheezy elevator with a 6-year-old kid, and I stepped on one of those giant roaches, and a mountain of pus oozed out, but he was relieved. (I think he was relieved.)

It stayed there for almost a month, that body and that hardening pus. No other residents would touch it. I kept thinking maybe I should scrape it off, since I was the murderer in question, but I was squeamish, and besides, I kept thinking, I did the good deed in the first place. But, come on. How ridiculous, how devoid of humanity, is it that the landlords and all the people who work for them spent an entire month not going on an elevator in their own building, not even looking inside, and letting all sorts of terrible things happen -- most of which are way more traumatic than a dead squashed cockroach.

I'm not saying that the deceased, may he be remembered in blessing, was one of those people. I'm not saying he didn't do amazing things for other people. But maybe we can do one more act of kindness in his memory, and look at the money we're making from people, and ask just how we've earned every dollar, and if we're truly helping every single person we can.

(Edit: Changed the first line from the questionable "possibly echoes the Holocaust in a really scary and journalistically questionable way" because Yitz and David said it sounded weird and was drawing away from my main point. Thanks for the edits {you can still read about it in the comments below}.)

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