red bricks

The first thing Jean—aka Pinkroadster—was concerned with when I met her for coffee in White Plains was how she appeared to me; that is, did I mind that she was much plainer in person than she had been in the picture she had put up of herself online. That is, until she had changed her photo for another the night before. That is, did I mind that she had done that? That is, could I like her this way?

Before that, she was absolutely, drop dead stunning. In person, she was attractive enough, but no head-turner. Still, it’s embarrassing when no sooner than two people from Match do meet, they start analyzing Match itself. It means it’s dead in the water: if that, Match itself is the only thing two people can muster up to talk about together, if the only common denominator between two people is the online dating service they used to bring them together, and to discuss their past experiences, all of which ipso facto must not have worked out, then there is equally as little promise they will either.

Still, I remained intellectually curious to hear Jean, a well-paid accountant, break down in percentages the men she found eligible candidates. Just by showing up, by my not cancelling at the last minute, or wishing to change the date, I realized, by her reckoning, I was already in the top 10%.

From there, though, the odds seemed to decrease exponentially. There, in that last 2 1/2%, by keeping to schedule and my word, is where Jean let me know I happened to be. Somewhere there she was being saved, by her own calculations, it seemed, for some lucky sonovabitch who’d give her the whole farm and a promissory note for collateral.

She told me a tale of being taken out to an expensive steak dinner by a Wall Street executive. When he asked her, she related, “Do you like sex?” she stopped at appetizers, claiming to the gentleman that she was no longer hungry. Her point, I suppose, was to show me she had morals, and that she would not take a man for one single steak if she found his values repellent or unattractive.

“What,” she asked me, “do you think about a question like that?” Naturally, hoping not to just as abruptly end our date at the cafeteria-style coffeehouse we were seated at, not at some fancy joint where the big boys pumped up their cholesterol and balls over a thick slab of Angus, I concurred with Jean’s assessment; without, at the same time, wholly condemning my own semi-salacious and libidinous tendency, so as not to possibly, however slim the chance, find myself in a contradictory bind of logic I could not surmount should the evening pan out in such a way that I was questioned again by Jean over wherefore my fingertips were prowling at the top of her underpants.

But this, I doubted, would ever happen: for by her bringing up the past steakhouse episode and the serious affront to her character it had caused her then, now being displayed as a lesson to me through symbolic narration meant clearly that her response, had she responded to the gentleman in question over her liking of sex, would have have to have been “No”; and if not “No” itself, then something punitive for sex with her, something like offering to her the stars and moon and one’s firstborn’s toenail clippings drowned in Aramaic vinegar and then sealed forever in amber in order to get her pants off, would be required.

She took me entirely wrong when I suggested we go somewhere else to continue our talk. She felt interrupted, dislodged, and altogether, I suppose, minimized. My forehead was hot from all the intellectual fervor. I just needed a change of location, I tried to explain to her, along with an unnecessary apology, as she now stood on the curb of the sidewalk and pointed to the direction she was crossing to, and pointed to the direction perpendicular from hers, where she told me I was to go.

More stories, letters, dates . . .

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Nelson Jablonski

bubble blowing

I wouldn’t have given her my left but I would have given my right. I never use my right, not unless it’s flipping patties on the barbecue, not unless I’m bowling. So pretty much that side’s useless. So my wife, she could have taken it or left it. It didn’t matter to me anyway. Aruba. St. Croix. We’ve been to all those places with the white sand from all the finely ground up coral. Beaches. It’s nice like that. Snorkeling together underwater in the Bahamas. But I’ve got to say this for myself: it wasn’t like the time when I was in a glass-bottomed boat. I was this kid there and there was a glass square of glass right in the bottom of the boat we were riding in, tourists. I was a kid then, Barbados I think it was. The guide told us all to look. And the feeling of seeing all those colored fish and me being above water in air breathing air while they were breathing in the water I think was the best part of it. I always wanted since then to breathe like a fish. My wife, she thinks I married her on account that I was a maniac, you know, a sex maniac, like you read about, and I can agree part way with her. That’s how these things all begin. If you like them, then that’s how it starts. The juices they are all flowing and everything, and both parties like that. But did I ever tell her about the clownfish I saw, the kind you can see at the National Aquarium in Washington, or any one that’s halfway decent? I’ve got to level with myself there, or God, or whoever, I didn’t communicate with her ever really how much I loved watching the little striped bastards darting in and out of the waving tentacles of the anemones poisonous to everything except these fish picking out all the leftovers in the swaying arms there for their food. I never believed in reincarnation or any of that Buddhist kind of voodoo. If I did, I’d as sure as the tail on Davy Crockett’s coonskin cap, come back as that, just by myself, as close to forever as I could.

This Graceful Suspension Of The World

keys and lock

He had a secret wife once whose marriage to they nobody told. Even when her family all journeyed on a five-day ocean cruise together to celebrate her maternal grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary, the husband in name, he stayed at home. That’s how secret she was. Once, another time, she had returned from taking exams upstate. And the exam she took was computerized (not on paper), and while she took it, it learned her learning rate. It gave her very quickly, she told him afterwards, more and more difficult problems to solve, and each ‘one more’ difficult problem submitted on the screen to her, she got right. The testing program recalculated itself, and, with the secret wife’s having rapidly solved correctly such difficult problems as which the program could ever propose, it released her from the testing grounds in twenty minutes with an “800”—a perfect score. Almost ninety minutes had been shaved off her testing time, her sitting time, her being there. That’s how time and testing and the algorithms had worked.

The spatial reasoning his brilliant secret wife could perform with ease at astronomical rates of speed is not the way, in general, anything else works in life. The massive hero Ajax, for instance, that great, lumbering Greek warrior, battles and battles everyday, fighting off the Trojans. And before he rejoins the battle, Achilles sulks in his tent for months, unable to convince Agamemnon to give him back Briseis, his war booty, in all that time. And who can really tell how long, how many decades and years of accident and misfortune, how much lasting grief it will take and all the many dead there will be when spacecraft really do fly and land to colonize the desiccated, lifeless planet Mars.

Today an argument could verily be made that the man who’d had that secret wife long ago, far away, is one day close to his death. His wits are down. His love forsakes him. His cat is gone. His cupboard in nearly bare. His pile of winter wood is wet. For him, all the world’s diseases and sicknesses and misfortunes have fled buzzing like flies into the air. The only saving grace the world has ever known, however, is not “hope”—that miscreant’s negative creed of dissatisfaction, of being against the way reality actually is—but “anticipation”—which, though syllabically awkward, is the better translation of the Greek word “elpis,” of what actually remained in Pandora’s opened picnic basket. It means to simply wait for, and to be able to wait for, the next thing to come. And that, the love-broken man knew, trembling in fear asleep and living in a perfect equation of anxiety awake, by the multitudes of stars which over the span of all eternity shall have opened their eyes at night and closed them during the day, was all there ever was.

Broken Love Vessel Detective

soviet building

It was queer when he had doubled back that her front door was ajar. And it was just as queer that her back door was open. He’d noticed earlier in the day, when he was moving out his last belongings, that the back door’s screen he’d put in had been swapped out for the glass. And he had thought to himself that it must have taken a man, or at least a man’s strength, to have done that. But, after all, she wasn’t weak, and really, she was quite capable. Anyway, he had thought that this might be the last moment ever to make up—to make what had gone down the tubes work out.

He had had a thought some months prior that the two of them ought to quit all this nonsense, she with her very lovely and very expensive diamond engagement ring, and he with his unvoiced uncertainty over the whole marriage thing. After all, he knew he loved her, and she loved him. And the error, the mistake was to keep putting it off, their marriage, somewhere beyond the offing even, into the unforeseeable future.

This putting off and putting off until the putting off that wasn’t even talked about, wasn’t even mentioned, created tiny little cracks in their vessel, the one that had contained all their love. And one day, any vessel, no matter how large and no matter how strong, once it has too many ripples in it, once it has too many cracks, it will crack into pieces. And if that should ever occur, all the love that two people have been pouring in—even though some of it was always trickling away—will be completely lost.

So he had doubled back. He meant to repair their love, the cracks in the vessel that were large now and from her side of it, at any rate, all the love there was gushing out already. He had wanted to tell her that where he had been short on strength before, even though he was quite mighty, he could himself be a bigger and a stronger container, and that, even though he had wounded her by turning away, he had come back, stronger and more capable than ever. And he had wanted to tell her that he could contain their love forever, and that the vessel they held would last them their whole lives. And before she had sealed away all hope for this, while her voice was still soft when she spoke to him, he wanted to tell her, and plan on their being married together when they had returned to the rocky coast of Maine next summer for their fifth time, and by this she would know for sure with all certainty that he would love her forever and never leave her. This is what he had learned about his truest feelings when, woefully, he had turned away two months before from her to think and feel it all, all alone by himself.

Before she had come downstairs, while he had rapped on the glass door, and opened it just enough to call her name, he heard her voice upstairs, which seemed to have a comfortable and easygoing song to it, a voice he had known. But when she descended she screamed and screamed a bloody kind of murder, “No! No! No! Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!” She ran from her house and ran into her car, screaming and screaming so loud the entire block and all the families living on it must have certainly heard. (Though through the shingles of her home the neighbors must have heard her raging sobbing suicidal cries for years already, however muffled they had been by plaster and brick.) But he paid the embarrassment of neighbors no mind. He begged her on his knees, repeatedly, “Please! Please! Please!” until another man directly behind him told him he had called the police.

This silly ploy meant nothing to the man, for her fiancé, or her ex-fiancé, by a handful of weeks, hadn’t done a thing worth police notice. That “the police were on their way” was like a line that someone who learns how to live by TV would say to someone about life. But lo, she ran into a parked BMW parked along the street side in front of her house. No, the man behind him, he wasn’t a concerned neighbor. A short, bald-headed, tight-shirted man with good upper body muscle declined to identify himself, and he ventured to give the ex-fiancé some calm enough mano a mano advice, though the ex-fiancé was thinking that he’d heard this same type once before in xXx or, as they say, “Triple X,” as it were, but surely this was no Zander Cage and no Vin Diesel. And the woman and her latest noble and protective hero, the grand part that he himself had once played, they drove off together in $85,000 of fine German automobile.

It blew to pieces their lost engagement. And all the flowers he had sent her that afternoon, she’d thrown three dozen roses into the trash. That is very sad. All that beauty gone to waste. Even the flowers he’d picked for her from his garden, too. Even sadder. They were all there. It was all very sad. Finally, he had understood her. “I want to die! I want to die! I want to die!”—he had heard this screaming, crying voice from her for years, a cry so shrill and harsh and loud the words themselves would scratch their way through ten silent pages of paper. And he had wished to save her from herself. But nobody ever does, so heads up, hermano, ‘cause I was there for years with that feeling, bro. And you, you know that, silly boy! Yes, all her strange messages she had sent him of late, why, none of these had sounded like her at all: “I understand your intent,” or “Leave it alone,” or “I cannot go back there.” These strange new flattened locutions that had never once before over their years together come out of her mouth, or were ever delivered from the tapping of her fingertips, they all meant the same exact thing.

It would appear that for some time now, she had been deceiving him (just, as he had remembered, she’d likewise deceived him over a man in her madness when they had first met), or was double-crossing him, or’d dropped him like a hot potato without a clue, or was palming him off with all sorts of obfuscatory lines about how very badly he had “hurt her” and how she “didn’t trust” him anymore as soon as he himself had said—mirroring her own fraught line which she had threatened him with again and again for a good eight months since New Year’s (against which he protested and pleaded she did not do)—“Let’s take a break.” And that was why, he understood, feeling sunken beneath his own broken shadow, that for her there was nothing to “work out” with him, as he begged her on the floor in her garage on his knees. She was off to six o’clock dinner with some shaved-headed toughie with a flashy car and the wrong sort of accent for a rich person who’d threatened to have him arrested over a spat between two cracked lovers that was about as much his business as saving a little piece of yellowed wax falling out of a stranger’s ear.

“Tempus Fugit” (29 BCE)

christ under construction

It had been millennia, some said, since there was a blessing worth a shaker of salt. So much had gone by already, what news of yesterday were it not to have been repeated again today in some other, newer vessel. Having watched by the while upon the outposts of the swamp, I kept my steadfast sights on a future that I knew. Where St. Petersburg would once be built. Where the Uffizi would one day be. Where phalanxes of soldiers would march. Where Cato proclaimed again and again his injunction against poor Carthage. I had heard it every time. Where Dresden would be bombed, around 135,000 dead or so (and a half a page in moldered history books). Where Little Boy and Fat Man were and had been. What were Nevada and what were The Housatonic. I watched John Rolfe take his sacred vows and once Pocahontas she, too, was then dispatched, he was soon taken up with a third wife. All this and more, the villainies of Cabeza de Vaca, and many more just like him, all this I have watched go by like fallen sands blown upon the desert. Ave Maria. Urbi et Orbi. Requiescat in Pace. Shantih. Shantih. Shantih.

Lost Sanctuary

eagle sanctuary

They had been driving to the Eagle Sanctuary for the umpteenth time together. “Look at this!” she said, pulling out from under her legs a very long hair, much longer than her hair was. Driving, looking ahead, glancing over her way he said to her, “It’s gray.” That settled it. Had it been black. Or had it been red. Or had it been, like hers, yellow even. It was the length that got him. “It must belong to one of your gray-haired girlfriends,” she replied. Keeping it just as nonchalant as a driver behind a wheel must, with an aplomb of inflectionless indifference he answered, “I don’t date gray-haired women.” And that really settled it. It was over. But he was surprised later on at how slow he had been. What if that hair had actually been yellow? His wife had cut her hair to half its current length only six months prior. It was completely conceivable that clinging to the underside of the car’s front passenger seat where she almost always sat it had been hers, awaiting her pulling it out someday. What if it hadn’t actually been gray? Why hadn’t he just said, “It’s probably an old one of yours”? And ended it there. He hadn’t in fact been snooping or sleeping around, nor, for that matter had she.

But there come times in some relationships when the obscene, the irrelevant, and the inconclusive surface and take their demonic places in the forefront of our too, too human drama. These forces become like ancient characters, like actors who play them (instead of us) who once wore giant wooden masks over their heads bellowing out their lines on stage to an audience who knew exactly what was going to happen next, at each step of the ensuing tragedy already known, already unfolding before them. And the worst thing about such tragedy, even when it is exalted by the hero’s own self-knowledge at the end amidst the total ruin of everything else once loved and dear to him, is that the entire terrible story is completely known beforehand, before anybody sits down in their seats or the benches, and there’s nothing you can do about a terrible storyline that is already written. And little in human life is worse when, like these very actors on stage, we perform just like them in the arena of our own domestic lives the same, a performance now which, too, must also end, and yet it ends with the real destruction of everything about us that was once precious, dear itself, and cherished.

She, for her part, had wanted to spice things up between them. She had pulled out from one of her drawers, that had always been her drawers and not his drawers, and for years now he had not ever once gone into a single one of them, a little black book which she had long kept there. Once, some years prior, she had pulled it out of there before one evening. And he had commented to her, over her abridged edition of it, “I threw out a beautiful copy of the entire Kama Sutra one time,” and with that, her little popular Barnes & Noble edition had been put to the side. But here it was again. He flipped through the pages, saying nothing, as she, too, having placed it on their bedside table had not said anything about it to him. It was just there. He did not say to her, “Look at this!” over the shiny stains of oils or some lotion that had very long ago made the top corner of the black matte cover remain to this day glossy. But he knew also that just as he had not at first conceived that the blond hair under her car seat three months ago had been hers when they were driving out to see the eagles soaring as was their custom on Saturday, he knew in his mind like Hippolytus, but could not feel it in his heart, that her bringing back out again this little black book on lovemaking and intimacy was done so only out of her sincere effort to connect with him. He could not feel or imagine that, any more than she could have witnessed the long blond hair in their car when they were driving out to the sanctuary together as her own.

Ferryboat Rides


She would not tell her husband about her other man. He said, “Honey, come to the front here, by the bow.” That sort of thing, that sort of lexical insertion—defining words while using them—was one of the things that could annoy her about him. Not to mention calling her ‘Honey’. Dear, Babe, Sugar Plum, when did these ever become okay to use instead of a woman’s name? As if she did not have one, was not “Linda,” and could be called by any of these terms of generic endearment. “I’m down here,” she shouted back, up the stairwell, to the deck. She wasn’t going. “Okay!” he said. Had she been with the other man, she would have gone. She knew that. He was the sort of guy who had taken her to the Island, lit a match behind the cup of his hand when the ship was chugging along, spread his fingers, and when it was blown out whispered in her ear, “I am not the fire but I am the smoke.” Then let the burnt out match fall. But most men, she knew, will go on telling one story their whole lives. And this story they will apply (and they will repeat) to any woman in it. All of them. Rachel also knew, as the ferry was leaving the mainland, that the fate of women was to accommodate themselves over and over to the different men in their lives. To be the same to them. They kept figuring out and adopting themselves to a man’s script. Different demands. Different beds. Different meals. Same plug-in for the men. Different app for the woman. And these became, like ancient memories, though typically silenced, the stories women kept to themselves, sometimes dozens of them. They could keep a whole boatload of them. If necessary. She braced herself for the short, forty-five minute ferry ride, a ride she missed taking now with her other man, and the things he had said to her.

Diamond Engagement Ring

diamond ring

When her friends had asked her when she was getting married she told them she wasn’t. Then of course they asked her why she wore an engagement ring if not. The answer to that was a bit more complicated. Her fiancé had not exactly given her the ring. It was very expensive and she wanted the nicest diamond possible. Since the time that he was quitting his job and her wanting this beautiful ring coincided, she had had her to-be fiancé give the ring jeweler 14K in cash. 3K of that was his own money. The rest had been hers. This then put the ring in his possession.

When he gave the diamond engagement ring to her on their vacation, as they had planned, he had just left it on the windowsill beside their bed for her to discover in the early morning sunlight. That was his idea of a romantic idea. But all morning she had overlooked it even though, glistening there, it was obvious it was there. Even when he put his big toe right next to it she wouldn’t acknowledge it or pick it up. She told him eventually that she couldn’t just take it herself off the windowsill; he had to actually give it to her. This made him make his proposal.

Time On Our Side

collapsing barn

He and his wife had been on their way to hear Bob Dylan. He was playing in a baseball field. He’d heard Lou Reed, B.B. King, and even David Byrne, too, before her. And if there was one thing in the world he had wanted, it was to hear Bob Dylan play, if only once in his life. Along the way, along the rolling grassy green backroad hills to get there, there were small strawberry stands or local honey booths, and posted metal traffic signs along the narrow paved roadside warning motorists to look out for slowly moving Amish wagons. Before getting to Cooperstown, which is known for its Baseball Hall of Fame, there was a gigantic, wooden farm or farmhouse, a country building of some kind, that had been caught in the middle of falling down. There are of course castles in England where from the multitudes of missing stones enough of the walls survive so that the mind recreates them instantly. The imagination’s masonry does it practically without thinking, building up together all the ‘negative’ spaces with the ‘positive’ ones—the sunlit gaps of light with the impenetrable rock solids—to remake these great, regal citadels of yore. They are truly magnificent, and I have dreamt of standing before them one day myself.

But America is a land of barns and fallen wooden things, and wooden things fall apart in different ways than stone ones. Time pulls them down little by little. They don’t get knocked, not by elves exactly. And along the way, they take on new shapes of completely new structures which only remind us of the old and original ones, but don’t quite harken exactly back to them the way true castles do in the moors. Back in 2006, when Bob Dylan was in the hey-day of his Never Ending Tour, it was already over forty years after upsetting the world at Newport by plugging in his electric guitar in ‘65. After almost a decade after that concert in Doubleday Field, after that couple’s marriage had been long shot, the message for them once traveling together still remains the same: things they are always a-changin’, the only thing permanent is impermanence, and for all things that come into being there is decay. As for the show . . . the one put on by music’s august and craggy elder statesman that night in a black cowboy hat had been rockin’ great.