[Castro quote located by Michael Deibert.]
I’ve long been a proponent of never ever ever going barefoot in Baltimore, easily the filthiest city I’ve ever seen (and no, I haven’t been to India, but yes, I have been to the Dominican Republic, Belize and New York City). This morning, on my way to work, I was provided a fresh reminder as to why barefooting in Baltimore is a bad idea: in addition to the usual generalized grime and galaxy of gum stains I see every day, I also walked past a puddle of fresh vomit next to the low brick wall outside the Waverly 7-11, where the Jehovah’s Witnesses sometimes sit. (Not an uncommon sight in this junkie-riddled town, by the way. Vomit, I mean, not Jehovah’s Witnesses. Although…)
So I was fascinated by the sight that greeted me in the ATM lobby of a bank on St. Paul Street in Charles Village. A barefoot woman in her middle 20s, otherwise dressed for work in white button-down shirt and tan pants, stood at one of the two ATMs. I thought she might have left a pair of painful high heels in her car while running in for some cash. As I inserted my card into the other machine, hers made a scolding beeping sound. She wrenched her card from the slot with obvious impatience and turned to go.
Behind us waited a young man in a dark shirt and suit, no tie, glamorous longish hair falling around his face. He and the woman seemed to know each other.
“Not enough?” he asked, with a smile.
She skidded to a stop and made a show of controlling a sharp remark by taking a deep breath.
“Good morning, Omar, how are you?” she asked. Her tone was frosty.
“OK,” he answered, slowly. “How are you?”
“I woke up without my shoes, I don’t know where I am, and I have to get to work.”
“Are you OK?”
“Yeah, great,” she said, as she shoved open the door and walked quickly away down the sidewalk.
By the time I emerged she was out of sight. While I waited for my bagel at Sam’s, I had much to think about. The woman’s lack of surprise at encountering this Omar fellow suggested that she was in her neighborhood, but, if so, wouldn’t she have had access to shoes? Or did she own only the one pair? Also, given the circumstances, why not call out sick? This might make a bad impression, sure, but a worse one than arriving without shoes? Perhaps she worked in a cubicle, I thought, and stood a chance of not being spotted after she’d made it to her desk.
Mulling all of this over, I realized that the woman had looked slightly disheveled. Although her clothes were clean, the strands of her hair that had escaped from her loose ponytail suggested that she’d been to bed at least once since the last washing and brushing. And her inappropriate tone and detached manner – not to mention her curt rejection of someone whom it might have made sense to instead latch onto as an ally – suggested that she was still under the influence of whatever chemicals had helped her get into this fix to begin with.
I spotted her again as I left Sam’s. She was just coming out of the small grocery store two doors up, carrying a white plastic bag, still barefoot. She crossed the street and took up a cab-hailing stance on the opposite curb. I watched her disappear into a downtown-bound Yellow Cab.
I have a feeling my day will go better than hers, but of course you can never be sure.
I wonder if I have to worry about Zuzu taking some sort of action against the laptop, which it’s pretty clear she resents when she finds it taking her accustomed place on my, well, lap.
Last night, while sitting on the couch watching The Office, I was working on a map of the neighborhood I’m going to give to prospective tenants. I used Photo Booth to snap this laptop-eye view of Zuzu glaring at her competition while standing tensely by my side.
It’s probably good that I keep it on a high, high shelf when I’m not using it.
Sorry if you have been visiting regularly and have been disappointed to find me lax in updating. I don’t have the rythym of this thing again (there’s always the damn problem of finding time I’m not spending on other projects), but I really do hope to start posting regularly soon (like, within mere weeks!). If I know you and told you about this, I’ll let you know when it gets going again. Thanks for your interest.
Updated update: The real show kicks off Sunday, April 29; there will no doubt be some incidental posting between now and then.
From a blog that is reprinting Kafka’s diaries:
Apart from my family situation, I couldn’t live from literature alone because of the slow development of my work and its particular character; in addition, my health and my character prevent me from devoting myself to a life that is uncertain at best. So I have become an office worker at a social insurance institute. Now these two professions could never tolerate one another and accept a shared fortune. The least good fortune in one is a great misfortune in the other. If I have written something good one evening, the next day in the office I am on fire and can’t get anything finished. This back-and-forth is getting steadily worse.
In the office I fulfill my duties outwardly, but not my inner duties, and each unsatisfied inner duty turns into an unhappiness which never stirs out of me.
That last graf would make a good addition to a resignation letter.
A. announced her safe arrival in College Town yesterday at 7:29 p.m. (ET) with a text message reading “Here! 2400 miles”. At the time, I learned when I called her, she was still driving around trying to locate the house of the woman whose job she is taking over and who is hosting A. in her house for the first month or so of the job. A. says the town is pretty, with “mountains everywhere” and lots of snow. I can’t wait to see it myself…
A. left Buffalo, Wyoming just now (it’s two hours earlier there, so I guess she is sticking to her 9 a.m. start time each day). She is within a day’s drive of College Town; hopefully no weather or road conditions will stop her from arriving tonight, as she starts work tomorrow.
A. just texted me a few minutes ago to let me know that she had reached Minnesota. This was her second such message of the day; the first advised that she had entered Wisconsin. (She departed her brother’s house in Naperville, a suburb of Chicago, this morning.) I asked what the weather is like. “Snowy,” she texted back. There’s only so much elaboration you want to ask of a driver via text message, so I let it rest at that.
Snowy. I can only imagine. I try to picture what she’s seeing, and all I can manage is a sort of generically wide horizon, a lot of white, and maybe some mountain-like lumps off in one direction or another, but I can’t actually summon up any views of Minnesota in my memory so it’s all guesswork. Besides, she’s not just seeing Minnesota, she’s seeing Minnesota on one leg of an almost-cross-country drive that is taking her away from everything familiar in her life and toward a dreamed-of future.
Must be quite a view.
This morning much of the country was supposed to be in the grip of what CNN.com was styling a “deadly blizzard”; the accompanying photograph showed a firefighter in turnout gear struggling against wind-driven snow in front of a fire engine. Most of the time it’s hard to take this kind of coverage seriously, but I had reason to pay attention: yesterday, A. packed her camping gear and her other baggage and a five-pound bag of Gummi bears into the Toyota and departed for Montana, and I knew that she would eventually be driving through some of the states mentioned right up at the top of the CNN article next to phrases like “blowing drifts” and “fourth horseman of the apocalypse.” In fact, the very reason I had turned on my computer while waiting for the coffee to brew was to look up the weather between Pittsburgh and Chicago, A.’s route for the day. I was pleased to learn, upon closer examination, that this particular part of the country wasn’t going to see the worst of it, and of course the actual storm will be over by the time she reaches states that will have borne more of its brunt, like South Dakota. I called her with this news and to say good morning and we talked for a few minutes while she maneuvered out of Pittsburgh. I looked up the weather forecast for Baltimore, saw mention of some “wintry precipitation” with no predicted accumulation, and promptly buried myself in figuring out some of the features of my new computer.
When I surfaced again, at around 2 p.m., the world outside my window wore a coat of white. In just a few hours, over two inches of fluffy-looking snow had fallen, smoothing over the leftover ice from last week’s storm; the sky and the snow shimmered with diamond-gray light. I took some pictures from the office window and the sun porch and then suited up for a walk. Two neighbors were already shoveling but there was no one else around and the snow looked fresh and mostly undisturbed. I walked north up Ellerslie and cut east on 36th, diverting up along the little hillock that stands just inside the old Memorial Stadium grounds. The grass on the little hillock is overgrown and clumpy. The uncertain footing, the icy needlelike snow on my face, and the dramatic wintry view all had me feeling for a moment like I was walking on some English moor.
I turned north into the gingerbread houses of Ednor Gardens, where lights already burned in tiny windows and snow slid from the steeply pitched roofs and dormers with a gentle whispering sound. Underfoot, the snow was crunchy and airy but wet enough to pack together into perfect, medium-weight snowballs. I threw one at a tree across the street from where I was walking and watched it miss, skidding to a stop in the snow on someone’s lawn. The street was still mostly white and I walked right down the middle. Spiky black tree branches arched toward the sky above my head. Itinerant professional snow-shovelers seemed to be the only other foot traffic, slouching past in great long t-shirts over waffle-knit long johns, flimsy-looking shovels over one shoulder.
I decided to check on the crows. I had first noticed the crows on a morning run sometime around Christmas, although it might have been closer to Thanksgiving. At first, I had thought that the large number of crows I had spotted in a half dozen trees near the t-intersection of an alley near Loch Raven Boulevard was the kind of gathering that precedes flying south. But A. told me that crows, and also ravens, don’t leave for the winter and instead tough it out in a group roost. On a snowy Sunday evening a few weeks ago, A. and I walked out to look at the crows, which she had so far only seen from the car. We found the first ones just east of 36th and Loch Raven and followed them for blocks. Crows filled tree after tree, inky spots against the grey sky. A man hanging around near Loch Raven and the Alameda noticed us craning our necks and looking around. “Can I help you folks find anything?” he asked. “We’re just looking at the crows,” I told him, pointing out the thousands of birds in the trees around us, stretching out of sight in all four directions. The focus in his face shifted a little and he staggered, as if with the weight of his new knowledge of the complicated natural web that surrounds us all, or maybe he was just drunk. Inspired, A. and I walked home and made ourselves some Bailey’s-laced hot chocolate.
But the crows were gone today, moved on to a new roost, and I turned back toward home. Trudging uphill along 36th again, but this time headed west, I came upon a fire engine stopped in front of a house. Two firemen stood on the sidewalk, one of them kicking his rubber boot idly into a small pile of snow next to where someone had cleared the sidewalk. I thought of the fire cadet who died in the training exercise recently. The strange thought occurred to me to express some kind of solidarity to the two firemen, but I had no idea what form this might take. I couldn’t even remember her name (it’s Racheal M. Wilson). I walked past in silence. On the front steps next door, a man stood talking into a cell phone.
“Accidents happen,” he said. “Accidents happen.”
One house further along, a man shoveled snow from the front walk, working steadily, the shovel scraping along the concrete again and again.