1 Train between 66th Street and 72nd Street

Two immaculate white guys, both late twenties, in crisp, early-spring outerwear.  They stand very close together, holding the bar.

Pea Coat: Seriously I have to take two naps a day these days because there’s so much going on.

Scarf: Uh-hunh.

Pea Coat: I don’t take two naps a day.

Scarf: I do.

Pea Coat: I don’t but I would if I could.

Scarf: I took a little nap in the opera back there.

Pea Coat: Hello(little pause)  True, I’m a passionate person?  Which is sometimes read as dramatic?  But I don’t have a choice, it’s my truth.

Scarf: It is your truth.

Pea Coat: I have to live.  If I feel something I have to live it.  If I like someone and I find out they’re sleeping with someone else I’m going to say something about it which can come across as dramatic but I’m sorry, it’s who I am.  You’re the same way.  You’re the same way.

Scarf: I’m dramatic.  When I do something or say something and someone says “You’re being dramatic” I’m like, Okay, we are no longer dating.

Pea Coat: Exactly.

Scarf: If someone says “You’re being dramatic” I’m like first of all I’m offended, that’s my profession, and second of all?

Pea Coat: Exactly.

Scarf: Right?  I’m like second of all I make money off of this.  Or I could.  I don’t but I could.

Published in: on March 23, 2014 at 8:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Astor Place and Broadway

Diner, dinner rush.  Diner Guy–meaty, thick black hair–and Dancer–willowy, peroxide blonde, his regular customer.  He: light Greek accent.  She: light Russian accent.  He sits down opposite her in her booth, mid-hamburger deluxe.

Diner Guy:  So how old are you?  34?

Dancer: (raised eyebrow) 32?

Diner Guy: Right, spot on.  You’re still a young girl.  Not me.  I used to be able to wash four cars in a row, now I wash one car I’m like whew.

A waiter shouts an order into the kitchen through the nearby pass-through.

Dancer: I heard someone say matzo ball soup, that’s my soup.

Diner Guy: You had the split pea?

Dancer: No.

Diner Guy: You never had the split pea?

Dancer: No.

Diner Guy: Okay, you want–.  You want me to knock you off your feet?

Dancer: No.

Diner Guy: You want me to knock you off your feet?

Dancer: It would be difficult because I have feet like an ox.

Diner Guy: Okay but you want me to knock you off your feet?  I can do it.  You wanna bet I can do it?

Dancer: Not really.

Diner Guy: Come on.  It’d feel good to take your money.  It always feels good to take money from a good-looking girl.  When they’re ugly, eh.  But when they’re pretty.  Watch this.

He goes.  He’s gone for almost two minutes.  She eats calmly. 

He comes back, puts down a bowl of soup in front of her.

Diner Guy: All right.  Now before we start things off, before you have this soup, you have to sign a waiver.  You have to sign and say we assume no responsibility for your addiction to this split pea soup.  You can never hate Pete for making it but always love him for introducing you to the best thing since dancing.  Are you ready for your life to change?

Dancer: As soon as I finish my burger.

Diner Guy: Believe me you’re gonna dip that burger in this soup when you taste it.  Now this?  Is all vegetables.  No ham in there.  It’s rich in olive oil, imported from Greece.  Not Italy, Greece.  Try it, let’s see.  Maybe you might not like it.  But be careful because it’s hot.  Play with it.

She picks up the spoon and dunks it in the soup.

Diner Guy: Careful!  You’re becoming a collateral!  I gotta call my insurance company and tell them I got a girl here doesn’t know how to eat soup!

She tastes it.

Dancer: (mild) It’s all right.

Diner Guy: (he shakes his head)  Sucker.  Can’t even lie right.  Look at your eyes, why they getting all soft and–

Dancer: (cutting him off) It reminds me of the soup my grandmother used to make.

Waiter: If your grandmother could make soup like that she’d be working for me!  You love that soup.  If you come in here tomorrow and order that soup I’m gonna laugh so hard in your face.

She pushes the soup away.

Dancer: Okay, I’m full.  I’m performing later.  I have to be careful.  I’m getting stuffed.

Diner Guy:  How stuffed?  How full you getting, all the way up here?  (He cuts himself off mid-chest.)  That’s where females’ cutoff point is, underneath the boobs?  (to the passing waiter) Look at her, look at her, she came in here forty pounds, she’s walking out fifty!

Published in: on November 25, 2013 at 12:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Gym Locker Room, 14th Street and 4th Avenue

Two twentysomething girls with ponytails suiting up to work out.

Racerback Sports Bra: It’s just sad because in the beginning it was so romantic, he really like courted me, he like wooed me.  And now he like, hates me.  He hates me.

T-strap Sports Bra: (very sweet and sympathetic and encouraging) That really sucks.  But maybe all it is is that he like, never actually cared about you, and now he’s finally being honest about that.

Racerback Sports Bra: Yeah, I don’t think that’s what’s happening.


Racerback Sports Bra: (sour) That’s not what’s happening at all.

Published in: on September 30, 2013 at 9:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Train between Fulton and 14th Street

Sixtysomething guy with flyaway white wisps around his mostly bald head and sixtysomething lady with short silver ringlets sit down extremely close to me on a nearly empty subway car, the lady’s lumpy Strand totebag full of groceries resting half on my lap.  They speak nearly simultaneously, overlapping each other with every other word.

Ringlets: What happened to your nose, you did something to your nose?

Wisps: I just scratched it a little there.

Ringlets: You need to put some of that what is it.

Wisps: BHP

Ringlets: No no no, V

Wisps: VHP.

Ringlets: No

Wisps: VHA

Ringlets: Yeah.

Wisps: VHA oil.  He says that’s the best oil for topical.

Ringlets: It’s also for the brain.

Wisps: And he says aspirin.

Ringlets: No no no no no no no we don’t take aspirin.  I saw that show.

Wisps: And what does he call it, roof

Ringlets: Rough

Wisps: Rough–roughage!

They burst out laughing.

Wisps: He says that and aspirin.  He had a show on thyroid, too.

Ringlets: And liver.

Wisps: He cured my thyroid, watching that show.

Ringlets: I saw that show.  I saw that show.

Wisps: I like listening to him.  It’s undepressing.  I know it’s nonsense but it gives you hope.  I couldn’t get out of the house this morning and

Ringlets: Oh sweetie sweetie

Wisps: But now I feel like I

Ringlets: Maybe we should buy you a VCR so you can

Wisps: No no no no I don’t want a VCR.

Ringlets: You can’t watch TV in the mornings, you have to tape it, you can’t watch TV in the mornings!

Wisps: All right all right I’ll turn it off!

Ringlets: Suzanne Somers should have a show.  She’d have a good show.

Wisps: After Oz comes on Inside Edition–

Ringlets: (horrified) You watch Inside Edition?

Wisps: No no no it comes on after, and after that is Anderson–

Ringlets: (even more horrified) Who’s Anderson??

Wisps: Anderson Cooper!

Ringlets: Oh.

Wisps: And who do you think his cohost was today? (hushed) Deborah Norville.

Ringlets: No wonder you couldn’t get out of the house.  You love Deborah Norville.

Wisps: I feel like Rain Man.  You remember Rain Man, he knew all the shows?  I’m Rain Man now.

Ringlets: You think you’re Rain Man.  You want to be Rain Man, but you have a job.  You have a J-O-B.  You’re not Rain Man.  You can’t be Rain Man.

Wisps: I wish I had watched that Inside Edition.  They were gonna have Kate Middleton.  I would have liked to have seen those shots.

They burst out laughing.

Published in: on September 22, 2012 at 8:37 pm  Comments (3)  

F Train to Bergen Street

The doors open and two twentyish girls get on–both zaftig and mousy in different ways: one blonde and femmy–blue sundress, sneakers, oversized bird necklace–the other brunette and butch–shoulder-length non-haircut, awkward polo shirt, uncomfortable-looking jeans, low voice.  As soon as they sit down:

Sundress: Okay.  Top five careers for a man that you would never date.

Polo Shirt: (immediately) Race car driver.

Sundress: Why not a race car driver?

Polo Shirt: I just don’t like race car drivers.

Long pause.

Sundress: Comedian would be one of mine.

Polo Shirt: But if he’s good, and like–

Sundress: My thing is I hate when someone’s trying to be funny all the time.  Clown is definitely one of mine.

Polo Shirt: Party clown, yeah.  Party clowns have to be on all the time, it’s like, must be enthusiastic, must be easygoing.  I just read a job description for one.

They both yawn hugely, one right after the other.

Sundress: And Disney character, that’s out.  I hate those, all of those Easter bunnies and mascots.  I had a really bad experience when I was little.

Polo Shirt: Oh not me, I loved those.  I was all about Pooh.  There’s a picture of me hugging Tigger like (demonstrates a happy bear hug)!

Sundress: I hated them, I was really afraid of them.  There’s pictures of me at Disney with like, Sarah with her hands on my head like making me stand there while all these animals surrounded me.

Polo Shirt: Oh there’s pictures of me all like (demonstrates a happy bear hug), I was all about Tigger and Pooh.

Sundress: Yeah and who’s that other one, Eeyore?  Balloo?  I feel like it’s my parents’ fault.  I was entirely traumatized and that’s when I fully developed my hatred of salad.  We were there and they all gathered around me because I was the littlest one, thinking naturally that I would be the one who would be excited when in fact I was petrified and incredibly annoyed, because I was trying to eat this salad and they kept touching me, they kept touching my shoulders and I was trying to eat this salad and they kept touching me and touching me, and I was like leave me alone!

Polo Shirt: Oh.

Sundress: And there could be anyone in that suit, it could be an 85-year-old man in there!  I tried to get my mom to get them to leave me alone, I was like Mom!  And she was like, (demonstrates not paying attention).  I was traumatized.  I was traumatized.  And I still can’t eat salad.  Ask my parents, they remember me hating it.  Or probably not, I probably never said anything and I just spent years hating Disney and hating salad and they were like, Why do you hate salad? and then one day they were like, Let’s go back to Disneyworld, and I like burst into tears.  Probably it was more like that.  If I was one of those guys I would never put my hand on anybody.  No clowns.

Published in: on August 17, 2012 at 3:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Train between West 4th Street and High Street

Three twentysomething girls–variations on the theme of leggings, bubble tops and ballet flats–all wearing ID tags in plastic cases on lanyards around their necks, arranged maypole-style around a handrail by the subway door.

Pink Plastic Glasses Girl: She’s nice, though.

Ponytail Girl: She’s nice, but if you entertain it, if you entertain it, she will do it all day.  Britney and me entertained it one day and we were hearing it all, day, long.  The whole story of her amazing life.  She has a driver.

Pink Plastic Glasses Girl: But she’s a nice girl.

Totebag Girl: She is nice.

Ponytail Girl: Yeah, it’s not like the kind of thing where you’re like, I hate her.  It’s just, do we have to be having this conversation again?  Do we have to hear about your whole amazing life again?

Pink Plastic Glasses Girl: But she’s nice.

Ponytail Girl: She’s nice.  She’s really full of herself.  She’s always showing pictures of herself in her bikini.  She was like, Do you guys want to go and work out sometime?  Me and Britney were like, we are not going near that girl with dumbbells.  And her ring, she kept showing it around after she got it.  It’s amazing.  That girl reeks of money.

Totebag Girl: What does he do?

Ponytail Girl: Financial.  But her family has money.

Pink Plastic Glasses Girl: Did you see Kayla’s ring the other day when she–

Ponytail Girl: (vehement) Did you see it?  Did you see it?  It literally did not exist.  She had an engagement ring and a band and she was waving it around and it was nonexistent.  Nonexistent.

Totebag Girl: Some people don’t have–

Ponytail Girl: But she’s always pretending she’s loaded.

Totebag Girl: I know how she is, and it seems weird, but it makes more sense to me now that I know more people, and I know lots of little things about people.  The way you’re gonna say things to people.  How people are.


Pink Plastic Glasses Girl: I have a ring but I don’t wear it to school.

Ponytail Girl: Because you have a brain.

Pink Plastic Glasses Girl: First of all I don’t wear it on the subway ever.  If we get dressed up I sometimes wear it.  Weddings and funerals, whenever Dave would wear a suit I sometimes wear it.  It’s, also it’s embarrassing, people think you have money and we don’t.

Totebag Girl: If you have it, there’s nothing wrong with it.

Ponytail Girl: True and everybody would like to have it.

Pink Plastic Glasses Girl: She’s really pretty nice.  She’s low key about everything.

Ponytail Girl: Someone was like, Oh she’s always so casual, and I was like, I don’t have money so I can tell you, those are the track pants of someone with money.  And that girl’s ring is amazing.  Ring of joy, is what that is.  Britney was saying it cost like fifty thousand dollars.  (Pause.)  I guess if you have a driver that’s no big deal.

Published in: on August 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nevins and Schermerhorn

11:00 p.m., Brooklyn summer night.

On the streetcorner, a man–thinning hair, polo shirt, lanyard, long shorts–stands expectantly, hands clasped behind his back, next to a big telescope set up on a tripod.  The street is deserted except for the two of us.

Me: What are you looking at?

Man: Venus.  Do you want to see?  There’s no charge.

Me: Sure.

Man: Take your glasses off.

I bend down and look up at Venus, bright and scintillating, the only object visible in the New York night sky.

Man: In a magazine it says that they call it the gold planet.

Me: Really?

Man: I don’t know if that’s true.

Me:  Do you come out here with your telescope a lot?

Man: Oh yes.  Every clear night, unless I don’t feel well or I don’t feel like looking through a telescope.  I listen to 1010 WINS, and every time I hear them say “clear tonight” or “tonight clear” I know that tonight will be a telescope night.  I’m Robert.

Me:  I’m Madeleine.

Man: Thank you for looking at Venus, Madeleine.

Published in: on July 6, 2011 at 12:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Whole Foods, Bowery and Houston

In the design-your-own-salad line.  Two twentysomething girls–willowy, in belted tunics, ballet flats, big big sunglasses.

Girl 1: You have to look at Alyssa’s Facebook page.  Did you see that?  Ethnic Studies?  Mills College?  Gross.

Girl 2: Gross.

Girl 1: I saw her, I was like, Ethnic Studies?  Seriously?  She was like, Ellen, do you even know what Ethnic Studies is?  I was like, Go kill yourself.

Girl 2: She’s cute though.

Girl 1: She’s got blonde hair, she’s trying to do something.  Whatever.  I’d cheat on her.

Published in: on June 7, 2010 at 9:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Shattuck and Durant Avenues, Berkeley, California

Provencal breakfast place.  Urgent Thirtysomething Guy with longish dark hair, dark eyes, open-necked blue shirt, five o’clock shadow.  Light sheen of sweat on his face.  He leans in to the table as he talks to: Fortysomething Woman with bobbed curly hair, French sailor shirt, good posture, low voice.

Thirtysomething Guy: I’m trying to be alive to the idea that I can care about what I want.  Not that I don’t care about my partner, but that I can at least rise to the level of equal importance to her.  I was seeing this one woman who, she was trying to break up with me and her interest in me was rekindled when I got angry at her.  She was really turned on by it.  Maybe that was her psychosis, but who knew that women like a man who says, No, I disagree with that.  You can’t do that because this is what I want.  I’ve spent my whole life catering to what women want.

Fortysomething Woman: [inaudible]

Thirtysomething Guy: I know, I’m really looking forward to things being about me for a change.  It’s not even about dating and women and disclosure, it’s just about, I want to watch Smallville.  I don’t want to go to that gallery opening because I’m tired and I want to watch Smallville.  I can’t tell you how difficult that would have been for me six months ago.  It was immaterial to me, my own needs and desires and levels of fatigue.  Now I have all these tools to get over things like this.  I’m at an extreme edge, or I have been, and I don’t want to undo my personality, I’m a good fellow, but there’s got to be room for me to desire a little more out of the world.  It’s hard to live as a good guy all the time.  It’s exhausting.

Fortysomething Woman: [inaudible]

Thirtysomething Guy:  You know what I’ve discovered?  I’m not essential.  Well you are, you’re somebody’s wife and somebody’s mother.  But I’m not.  It’s nice to see you but if I didn’t see you for three months you’d be fine.  I’m tired of being the guest star in everybody’s lives.  It’s like you know what I realized, I really want to go to Europe this summer and travel with Mark.  There’s a lot of things I don’t know in the world, but I know that, so I should do it.

Fortysomething Woman: [inaudible]

Thirtysomething Guy: Where in Europe?  I’m gonna let him decide.  Wherever he wants to go.  He’s interested in Naples, I have no interest in Naples, but we can go to Naples.  He’s interested in Barcelona, I think it’ll be hot as hell there in July, but whatever he wants.  At first I thought to myself, Should I really be traveling the world with my single male friend?  Shouldn’t I be actively dating?  Shouldn’t I really be working on my card game?

Fortysomething Woman: Card game?

Thirtysomething Guy: I invented a card game.  There’s so much you don’t know.  Anyway it’s what I want to do, and if some delicious young creature wants to join me at some point–I hear they have girls in France.

Fortysomething Woman: [inaudible]

Thirtysomething Guy: No, that was the model from Seattle.  You know, I spent years with people telling me I’m the envy of all my friends: Look at you, you have such a beautiful life!  Sometimes when I talk to Tom Hanks it’s ridiculous.  He’s 56, I’m 39.  He’s got more money than God, universal adulation, back-to-back Oscars, a beautiful wife, and sometimes when he’s hearing about my hookups and my dating life he gets annoyed with me, he says Why don’t you appreciate that you’re single and unattached?  Sometimes I think he’s living vicariously through me.  So…I don’t have the answers, I’m just trying not to do myself in all the time which as I say is my hardest thing.

Fortysomething Woman: [inaudible]

Thirtysomething Guy: Part of it is there’s another human being in the mix.  But just this conversation we’re having is so unlike me, I had this whole gentlemen-don’t-kiss-and-tell thing.  It’s so difficult for me to share and be open about things I’m feeling.  But I’m not trying to manage to be with two women at once anymore.  I’m not trying to be in a committed relationship with one person.  I might meet someone tomorrow who makes me say, I want that with this person, but for now I just want to, you know, enjoy myself, see what’s out there.  I’m enjoying being here with you.  I’m not trying to be anyplace else or thinking Oh, oh, what else do I need right now?  Like I didn’t call the number that my cab driver’s wife gave me.  It’s been two weeks.  I’m not gonna get worked up about whether or not my cab driver’s wife feels bad about me not calling.  I’m only gonna call if I want to call, because it’s finally about me.

Published in: on June 4, 2010 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Train between 14th Street and Jay Street-Borough Hall

Vague, abstracted middle-aged couple, late 40s/early 50s.  He: zipped-up leather bomber jacket, pressed dark jeans, loafers; she: beige leather car coat, wool skirt, tights, knee-high boots, lots and lots of loose, limp hair.  Both brooding, utterly unsmiling.

They sit without speaking for some time, eyes fixed in different directions.  Then:

She: I have a new favorite store.  Banana Republic.  You know them?

He: (pause) No.

She: You know them.  That’s where I got these earrings, remember?

She strokes her long, dangly earrings.  He doesn’t look at her.

He: (pause) No.

She: Yeah you do.  At my mom’s mall.  While you were getting that massage?

He: (pause) Oh that thing.

She: I love them now.  I’m getting a denim skirt from them.  It’s really tight.  It’s a size four.  I didn’t know twenty-seven inches could be a size four, I thought that would make it a size six.  So that’s coming to me by mail.

Long pause.

He: We’re not going to smoke pot when we get there.

She: No we’re not.

He: I’ve got it right here.

He pats his breast pocket.

She: We’re not going to smoke it.  Your parents, and my parents…

He unzips his leather jacket partway, reaches into the inside pocket and produces a small white plastic flip-top container.  He flips it open–it’s full of marijuana.

He: It looks pretty good.

He leans down and sniffs it deeply.

She: You should get a pill box.

He: I like this.  My dad gave it to me.

She: Your dad gives you everything.  ‘Cause you’re the first born.

He: This belt.

He reaches down and pulls up his shirt to reveal the belt, exposing an expanse of pale, hairy belly.  They both contemplate the belt.

He: And then sometimes it’s different and he doesn’t give me anything.

He drops his shirt, closes the pot box, slips it back into his inside jacket pocket.

They sit for a long time, brooding, facing different directions.  He jiggles his knee, flicks his middle three fingers over and over again with the tip of his thumb.  Then:

She: Any ideas for what we should do with the girls?

He: We’ll just have to be limited to what’s in the building.  It’s the Sony building, so they have the Sony World of Wonder.  We’ll just have to be limited to the World of Wonder.

Published in: on May 13, 2010 at 3:00 pm  Leave a Comment