Archive for July, 2020

Overhearing the Neighbors

Jethroe – aka: Satan

My corona-routine has been a bright spot in an otherwise stressful and depressing situation. I spend the morning writing and reading, making notes and plans, setting goals and then wondering how I can obfuscate them while still feeling like I accomplished something. I work in the living room which faces another building and a courtyard of sorts. It faces directly away from the sun and the street, so it’s cool and quiet. When I’ve organized, I put on my writing kufi, now needed to keep my long corona-locks out of my eyes, and start actively procrastinating.  

It has, however, allowed me to unwittingly listen in on the lives of my neighbors. At 6 am there is only a little life rousing back there. People converse with the dogs they’re walking in the yard.  Converse, not give orders. When I hear the whispers of conversation I peep out to see who it is and what their dog looks like. There’s an older woman who has a full conversation with her Corgi about the day ahead, or, a hopeful longshot depending on my understanding of her Czech phraseology, in which she outlines her plans to kill and eat her downstairs neighbor. A child in the building has a habit of whooping like a fire engine for very long periods of time. I’m guessing his parents drink. There’s a baby-toddler in one of the flats who throws a tantrum each morning of proportions that can only be described as epic, hellish, and otherworldly. I haven’t seen the parents in person yet (I look for eyes of extreme exhaustion above a mask), but when I do I will hug them and whisper words of comfort. And then send them alcohol.

I often wonder what the neighbors think of us here. We are mostly quiet and stick to ourselves. We watch TV late sometimes and argue sometimes, but overall they probably think of us as those weird people who talk to their cat and watch carpool karaoke sometimes late at night. Not too bad, I figure. I smile at people outside, say hello, hold the door for neighbors, am always polite at the shop. They should mostly get the idea that I am a reasonable adult human male.        

After my morning work, I go for a 4 or 5 mile walk or I work out. On walk days I go to my local park and listen to a podcast and/or just walk and make notes about the story I’m currently working on. I pack a messenger bag with a bottle of water, a book, earphones, and a notebook. As a long dedicated notebooker, this last one is a no-brainer. I walk through the park and occasionally stop in the woods or on the path and jot some notes. It’s a fine system.

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Unmitigated Optimism

Pictured: Johnny 5 is REALLY alive!

I saw Short Circuit in the movie theater when I was 12. For a week afterwards my sister and I screaming “number 5 is alive!” and embroiled ourselves in an excitement that culminated in the “construction” of a robot by painting a face on an easy bake oven and placing it on top of the washing machine. Of all the people unimpressed by our technological creation, my mother tops the list as she wasn’t able to get to a load of whites.

Two years later Short Circuit 2 came out and our enthusiasm was not what it once had been. Perhaps the sea of troubles that presented itself in the 8th grade and 6th grade respectively had led us to seek solace in Faith no More lyrics and M*A*S*H reruns. Nevertheless, it was this movie that Burke chose to follow up Three Men and a Baby in our Saturday night double feature.

Mine has been a decidedly 80s household in the last three weeks. We have been watching 80s movies and TV shows. Murder She Wrote and Magnum PI (and their gloriously enjoyable crossover episodes). We don’t really breach the 90s; we sort of stand on the edge and look warily across the way like Moonlight Graham on a magic field in Iowa. We have decided that 80s shows that “look like the 90s” are not as fun to watch. And Saturday we have a double feature of happy 80s movies.

There are bad guys in these movies, to be sure. Who could forget the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern drug dealers in Three Men and a Baby? Or the wannabe bank robbers in Short Circuit 2? Sure, they’re bad guys, but they’re not terrible guys. The drug dealers are taken down by Steve Guttenberg’s video recorder and Ted Danson in drag playing with elevator switches. The bank robbers are jostled around by Home Alone-like booby traps but set by a robot who likes to read. The big bad guy is captured and dropped into the East River. Everything is redeemable.

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Jessica Fletcher on the Case

Photograph: CBS Photograph Archive via Getty Images

“So who was the killer?”

It’s the first question I get when I arrive at the beer garden on late Sunday afternoon. Burke left before the denouement. She wants to know how it went down.

“The brother-in-law.”

“The little guy with the nice smile?”

“No, the big one with the flannel shirt.”

“Oh. How?”

“Poisoned the guy’s bourbon.”


“Said he was screwing up the family business with his drug problem.”

“How did Jessica figure it out?”

“The drinking glass. It wasn’t a rocks glass, just a water glass. He put some drugs in the clam chowder so they would all be drugged, not just him.”

“Ah clever.”

“Clever enough to throw Jess off the scent for a bit, but she got him in the end.”


Murder She Wrote has become one of two constants in my household and Jessica Fletcher a third member of our household. She is endearing, maintains perfect social etiquette, balancing a brilliant forthrightness with tact. How she always ends up being around when there’s a murder is another story. We decide that Cabot Cove, Maine is a dangerous place. As are, evidently, London, Woolford Vermont, Portland, Oregon, the archaeological dig in New Mexico, the rodeo in Saskatchewan, the convent.

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X Marks the Spot

There are not too many people in the park today. A few runners, a distressing number of pregnant people (counting back, November was a hell of a month for some of you). And of course that guy sunbathing on the grass in the starfish position and a wanna-see-my-circumcision-scar swimsuit.  

It’s perfect.

After three months of not moving at all, I am finding that a simple walk can elicit a variety of utter and ecstatic joys. First and foremost, there’s the joy of moving my legs and propelling myself forward on a path and not towards my couch. This joy is in a tight race with not being near people. Then there’s a bunch of other crap about fresh air and exercise.

The away time and casual exercise is incredibly fortifying. By “away” I mean that I am not tempted to check my email or answer the phone if it rings. Sometimes I leave the phone at home and just walk in absolutely glorious quiet (unless I’m verbalizing an argument). If I do this, I can feel a sense of disassociation with assholes, who are, by the way, in abundance in the places I tend to visit online and usually wear red hats.

If I do have my phone I listen to a podcast. My perennial favorites remain Lore, Ologies, and Marc Maron, but The Darkest Timeline, The Sporkful, and The Allusionist have made their way into the rotation.

Perhaps the best part about a walk is that there’s no goal. I don’t have to get to a metro or a class. I am not meeting anyone. At the most, I can stop at the pub directly across the street from the park’s gate. But even that is up to me. I can walk for 90 minutes or 3 hours. Goal-based thinking makes up such a large part of my day. I have a daily word count with writing (1500 words), a daily page count for editing/proofreading (5), minimum number of pages read per day (20), and a minimum number of workouts per week (4). So for this sort of an obsessive nit, a walk with no goal is bliss.

Yesterday I was on my way through the woods when I came across something I had seen twice before, but failed to really pay attention to – an X. On the ground was a man-sculpted stone and on that stone was a noticeable yet not large X. Hm, I thought, and as I meandered through the woods I made several jokes to myself. None of them are funny enough to put here. But I won’t lie – the X was in my head.

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