Time for

Things I thought as I followed Google’s directions instead of Hertz’s:

“I’m not going to take a left here.”

“No, I’m not going over the George Washington Bridge.”

“The Holland Tunnel is right there — why are you telling me to turn around?”

“Please, Hertz, allow me to turn this thing off. I know what I’m doing.”

“NPR should be louder.”

“I should turn up the volume.”

“I know where I’m going now! I put you in the ‘off’ position! Shut the fuck up, please!”

And so on.

The other problem with Hertz’s GPS system is that you can’t hide the GPS unit itself — throw it in the glovebox or what have you. It’s screwed into some holster with fucking wires and shit and weird dodecigonical (if that’s even a word, which it isn’t) screws that you can’t undo for the life of you, and so, when you arrive home well over an hour and a half after Hertz has closed, you have to figure out how to mask the fact that your vehicle, in a sorta sketchy neighborhood, has an object ripe for the stealing plainly visible to anyone who walks by.

Which, let’s face it, this is New York.

After much deliberation — during which time, you “hide” the immovable GPS unit by draping it with your sports coat from the week — you opt to explore the nearby 24-hour deli, figuring, “If I park here, the 24-hour deli acts as a disincentive to stealing the GPS unit.” You also exchange the jacket for a ratty old hoody, figuring, “If they’re gonna steal the GPS, they’ll steal the jacket, too. Plus! The hood on the hoody can more believably mimic the SHAPE of an immovable GPS unit to a prowler.” This whole time you’ve been obsessed with making the cover on the immovable GPS as convincing as possible. A sweatshirt is both 1) more convincing for the sloppiness of the placement, and 2) better suited to the job of covering up odd shapes — ESPECIALLY WITH THE ADDITION OF THE ARM THROWN OVER THE TOP OF THE HOOD COVERING THE GPS UNIT! IT JUST HAPPENED THAT WAY, OKAY?!?

*

Not only is the spot I had eyes for open, I’ve been given room to get as close as possible to my 24-hour deli. My guard dog.

*

I put the hood of the hoody over the immovable GPS unit. Crossed an empty arm over it. The rest is on the dash, as if I just finished a run and nonchalantly threw it off when I parked. And did I mention that it’s directly across from a deli that never closes? Or did I mention the cameras?

Those are there, too.

Point of the story — if I’d just let the thing get jacked, I’d be able to 1) spend most of the workday tomorrow on the phone with bosses and insurance people, etc., 2) I am a responsible and considerate employee, 3) I am paranoid, 4) That whole parking it in front of the 24-hour deli was pretty good, right?

*

I saw a friend of mine yesterday. We hadn’t seen one another in years. He’s doing his PhD at an Ivy, and we had a drink or two, and he told me to go to a waterfall, and so I went. This morning — an hour diversion, but I’d worked from 7 AM to 8 AM, so I didn’t feel bad when I left at 8:30.

I took photos of the waterfall and thought about Heraclitus. Then I spent most of the day driving, thinking about rivers, occasionally hitting my wipers, radio, cigarettes, Snapple, Powerade, coffee. No beef jerky, though. A major oversight.

Nor sunflower seeds.

Next time though.

One Last Cup of Coffee

In nine days, he will be dead.

Today, of course, He is dead. But he is not yet dead. That will come in another nine days. Until then, understand that a cigar might be confused with a hot dog. As in, from the hospital bed in my parents’ living room, “Tommy, can you get me a hot dog?”

“Sure, Dad.” Hands dying father a cigar. Lights it for him. Sticks around to ensure he doesn’t start a house fire.

I think that I’ve inherited his obsession, if you want to call it that, with the concept of the wallet. As we left the house on Pickett Street that last day, him barely coherent, the rest of us knowing that the ambulance ride he was about to take would be his last, he asked me, fervently — if somewhat incoherently, a la hot dogs v. cigars — if I had his wallet. I assured him that I did. I stand now on the subway home from work, the 4/5, the most crowded line in America, occasionally bending my right knee, to press my ass cheek to my thigh, just to make sure that my wallet is still there.

Christ didn’t rise again, but Christ, I wish my father would.

Last days are difficult. Hell, last months are. I remember sleeping in the attic of my parents’ home, my father bellowing for me to come down and empty his dehydrated, orange piss cup. One of the nurses told us to give him ice chips at the end. To quench his thirst with a straw as he slowly lost his mind to all of the cancer inside.

My mother told me that my father said he was scared. Anyone on their deathbed has a right to say that, but he never told me. Stoic and dispassionate until he’d come undone completely. “Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

The irony of the Shakespeare there is that it’s supposed to have come from a charlatan, Jacques. Much like Polonius’s famous advice to Laertes is meant both as a knock on cliche and a ridicule of a fool, Shakespeare had a way of giving his most ridiculous characters some of his best lines. After all, “This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any other man,” is pretty fucking good advice.

I knew, when he couldn’t even finish a PBR, that he was done for. I was glad that we got time to smoke some cancer-joints together and chat. But he was no longer true to himself. He was oblivion.

My father was Irish-American, and in this regard he kept most of his advice to himself. My mother recently told me — angrily — that we, as a people, don’t air our dirty linen to the rest of the world, or some such Irish aphorism. So my father is not the kind of person who would ever have a blog. He was the kind of person who would read yours and then one night, at dinner, after a glass of wine or five, tell you that your travel writing was “better than most of the goddamn travel writing I’ve read.”

And maybe that would be the most sacred compliment you’d ever receive from him. Even if you were your father’s son.

We had a few conversations in those last days of coherence, before he started calling cigars “hot dogs,” that I’ll both never forget and never remember. I’ll never forget them because, aside from a few other instances in my adulthood, we’d never been so frank with one another, and I’ll never remember them because they’re mine as I decide to shape the memory of them. They are mine. I might tell you almost everything, but that’s because it’s almost and not everything.

One more thing, though. I didn’t want to become an adult. I didn’t ask for any of this. My father gave it to me. It’s a gift. It’s a gift I would give back in a heartbeat, but it’s a gift.

In three days He will be risen. In nine days, he will be dead.

Pray to God.

On Pittsburgh

I wanted to say, “Thank you for your vigilance” to the TSA woman who went through all of my dirty underwear in my roller bag with some bomb-detecting wand, or whatever, only to discover sunblock and eczema cream. She had me hold the eczema cream in front of her as she tested the vapors with what looked like a popsicle stick — “Don’t squeeze,” she said. Me: “I’m not” — but I think that my initial comment when she was just doing the outer pockets of the Questionable Bag —  “That’s a flash drive.” — is what annoyed her enough to subject me to a more extensive search than otherwise might have been planned. I also wanted to say, “By the way, you guys missed the moisturizer in my carry-on,” but why taunt a federal employee?

*

Bill gave me his card when he dropped me off at my hotel in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t the company card, it was personal. We had enjoyed the normal “Oh my God, I’m exhausted, please talk to me” banter that sometimes accompanies your millionth cab ride from an airport to a hotel. Bill said, “We don’t exactly have a lot of cabs around here.”

I kept the card.

On my last day in Pittsburgh I called Bill and he answered. Gave me a ride to the airport. I saved his number in my phone as “Pittsburgh Bill Cabbie,” because I try to reward good service, and he’s a hell of a cabbie. He gave me a Jehovah’s Witness flyer with my receipt when we got to the airport.

Who knew Jehovah’s Witnesses were such good cabbies? Bill did.

*

I sat at the bar at Hemingway’s and nursed a beer reading my RSS feed on my phone. MLK day. I vaguely listened to the conversation to my left, because it wasn’t interesting enough for me to really invest serious eavesdropping time into.

I ask the three black dudes who are in the bar talking about a march where the march is and when, and they tell me that it’s right over there and that it’s soon. I say, “Cool, I’m gonna go grab my hat,” which I really, really, really am glad I did, “And then I guess I’ll see you there or whatever.”

Of course, the march is pretty big, 1,000 or so people, so I don’t see them again, but it doesn’t really matter. We walk slowly for two and half miles from the big Pitt building in Oakland to the City County Building. Whose streets? Our streets. Even if I don’t live there. Many people speak when we reach the end of the march, and it’s important, and powerful, because they’re people saying shit that needs to be said, shit that has always needed to be said, but rarely ever is.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put it on the cover of the next day’s paper. According to the story, we outdid Boston. And by we, I mean Pittsburgh. Because for at least that day, I was on Pittsburgh’s team.

*

Pittsburgh Bill Cabbie, of course, was right — there are no cabs in Pittsburgh — and since I didn’t know how public transportation worked in Pittsburgh, instead of catching a cab after the march on MLK day, like you would in any real American city (ahem, New York), I walked back to my hotel.

*

I went to the United counter and asked what the situation was for getting on an earlier flight. The nice gentleman at the counter informed me that there were two people ahead of me on standby. I asked if status would come into play should I register as the third and another person were to come after me and request standby as well. The nice gentleman at the counter informed me that it would. I went to smoke two cigarettes and nap very uncomfortably for two hours.

A friend of mine recently told me that she didn’t understand why I disliked hotels and airports so much. It’s one of those things you can’t really get until you’ve done it. Another friend asked me why I’d opted for an AirBnB instead of a hotel for a conference in Toronto. I said, “I dunno, come be a traveling salesman for a while.”

To most people a roller bag, an airport, a cab to or fro, a hotel — all of those are luxuries. To me, they’re “every other week.”

*

The librarians at both Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon explained hills to me. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. Just that Pittsburgh is hilly. And the elevators are consequently screwy. And their explanations were actually really helpful. The point of the story is that there are ups, there are downs. I’m going to spell this metaphor out for you. Hills = life. Going up = yay. Going down = oof.

And all you can do, really, is keep breathing. Assuming you can still breathe.

The Poconos

In the 21st century, you sometimes think about what your friends and family might think about the last text you sent. In my case, had I died this morning in the Poconos in the middle of a snowstorm, having left my Brooklyn apartment at 5 AM, the texts would have been as follows, between a woman I’ve been seeing on and off.

Me: You’re late.

Her: Well I just realized I can’t see… because I left my glasses. Keep them safe, hopefully I don’t die on my two block walk home

She called me and I missed it and I called her back and she said, “It’s no bother, I can deal without my glasses,” and I said, “It’s not a big deal, just come back and get them,” which she did. I kissed her goodnight/good morning, showered, shaved, dressed in pretty much the same clothes I’d been wearing the day before, and got into my rental.

The night before I’d texted a co-worker.

Me: I just set my alarm and I’m about to set like 30 on my phone.

Her: See now I’m going out on Friday night, making him drive, then sleeping at his place. Because I’m sensible.

Me: See I just cancelled my hotel reservation because of a “family emerency” and because I’m Hilton Diamond they aren’t charging me

Her: Ha.

Me: Gotta love status. And sensibility.

Neither of which, status nor sensibility, matters much in a snowstorm in the Poconos, when you’re half convinced you’re going to die. I’m 31 years of age. In the past few of them, I’ve noticed a serious deterioration of my night vision. So the idea of spending the first half of my trip in the dark and with limited visibility due to snow and terrible road conditions wasn’t really appealing. On the bright side, I hadn’t checked the weather, so I had no idea what I was in for. If I had, I would’ve told my client I had another “family emergency” and stayed home with the naked woman and the prospect of sleep.

***

I told the librarians that I had just endured a harrowing drive through perilous conditions and that I’d been awake since the wee hours of the morning. I didn’t tell them that I hadn’t actually slept the night before, too busy with fucking and so on. But I prefaced my presentation with this because 1) the science lab in the library didn’t have an HDMI cable for me to plug my computer into, rendering my product demos impossible to perform, and 2) I was nervous. Put me in a room with 30 librarians where we’re all seated around a conference table, and I’m golden. Put me in the same room with ten, in front of a podium, winging a presentation due to technical difficulties and I’m a bit nervous.

My voice was shaky and my mouth was dry. I drank water. I found my rhythm, but it was too late. I faced silly questions from people who clearly didn’t understand what my role was at the company —  a deficiency that I can’t entirely blame on them. Though I’d explicitly delineated the various silos in which the business functions at the beginning of my presentation, I had also begun the whole thing with an air of annoyance that I’d been thrown completely off-script. Improv is fine when you expect it, when you’re planning for it, etc. It’s not fine when it happens moments before your hour-long prepared presentation is effectively gutted.

I did my best. I tried to make jokes, liven up the room. The lab was set up in such a way that, with three monitors for the librarians to view the presentation, three tables around those monitors, I had very little actual eye contact from people sitting ten feet away from me. Instead I saw their backs as they looked at some stupid back-up Powerpoint presentation projected on monitors about the room.

Which is a fascinating technological advancement, those monitors. I guess HDMI cables come next year.

***

It occurred to me a number of times on the drive to central Pennsylvania in a snowstorm that I was risking my life for my job. I’ve risked my life for all sorts of things, of course. Pleasure, education, travel, novelty. Hell, even just some of the experiences I’ve had that I haven’t yet written about that I want to one day write about — that’s all been acceptable. My aunt told me one Thanksgiving that she really liked my blog, that one day she was sure I was going to “burst,” and as much of a compliment that seems like, it’s also an unbearable burden. Because what if I don’t? What if I die in the Poconos?

***

The trucks pass on the left in a lane that’s barely visible. Sometimes I wonder if they aren’t actually driving in the breakdown lane. They, perhaps, have not driven to Montreal as many times as I have in snowstorms, with 18-wheelers flipped over on the side of the highway. I hate them. I hate everyone who’s passing me. They should all be slowing down.

I forget if it was Matt or Mackenzie who told me this story, but I only remembered it after one of them did. They were dating at the time, and we were all driving back to Montreal from Boston in the middle of a blizzard. At one point I apparently interjected to suggest that I take over driving duties (N.B., this squares with another story from those times, which I actually do remember the exact details of, when I got a ride from a dude on Craigslist who almost got us killed six times before we reached the New Hampshire border and I “offered” to take over driving duties, which I did for the next five hours till we hit Axel’s spot in Mile End.)

At any rate. Apparently this happened. I remember the drive, just not the volunteering. In a blizzard with no plows and no salt, you find one good line of pavement and keep half your vehicle on that, and you’re probably okay.

And so, driving through the Poconos, I did that. I found my lines and stuck to them. I kept a safe distance from vehicles in front of me in case shit went down. I talked aloud to myself about my own life history, both to keep myself awake and for entertainment. I thought about the last of my text messages, hoped that, were I to perish, my family would be able to retrieve everything. I sang songs I made up. “Driving through the Poconos/Don’t you know that bridges freeze before roads/Trucks driving past with goods to be sold/Driving through the Poconos/Driving through the Poconos.”

Today U Went 2 Baltimore

Today I went to Baltimore. Baltimore, for me, has a special meaning. It’s urban decline fostered by civic neglect, and absolutely gorgeous at the same time. Pittsburgh, too, has this feeling. Milwaukee as well, if you’re keeping score. I’ve never been to Detroit, aside from the airport, but I hear there’s a Whole Foods there now, so, as you can imagine for a white 30-something, I’m enamored of that city, too — just from afar.

The Wi-Fi didn’t work for me on the way down from New York. It seemed to work for a lot of other people, but not for me. As a consequence, I couldn’t really do any work. My work is now the Internet. That’s my job now. I use the Internet and hang out with librarians. Occasionally I sell something, but I don’t really care.

That’s kind of a problem in sales; I’ve just gotten away with it so far.

My friend Peter lives in Baltimore, and I texted him yesterday to see if he was available during my five-hour stint in his fair city. I figured, “I went to your wedding in the middle of nowhere last summer and milked your open bar, so you OWE me this shit.” To no avail. Peter, like most of my friends, had work. When my visit with my customer was over, I looked in vain for a taxi stand, and then a Marriott — both recommended by the librarian I had just met with (who was also, I might add, dressed in a fucking suit, which, Jesus. I’ve had librarians dressed better than me before, and that’s fine, but I had khakis, sweater-shirt combo, and desert boots. That said, the thing about being in sales and having a prescription to anti-anxiety meds is that you don’t really care if someone looks better than you do. Your job isn’t to engage in formality — at least, not if you want to do it well. Instead, your job is to become professional friends with your clients, because people buy shit from people they like, respect, etc. As I once said, “Rule number one for selling me shit:  you must make me like you.” This is the salesperson’s job. I remember some of my best haggles pretty fondly. Professional and personal.) — and the Marriot, of course, wasn’t there. There was a Hilton, but no cabs. Every corner I approached there were cabs, but the trouble was that they were moving. Past me. So I couldn’t be like, “Oh, hey cab, please pick me up and drive me to the train station so I can change my ticket and cost my company money.” Instead I ended up walking. I called my boss and it was windy and I stepped into an apartment complex’s gray, gray vestibule, and we chatted for a while. It was nice. We hadn’t spoken in a while, and this is probably the best boss I’ve ever had, so it was no nonsense and pure kinda-awesome.

Today I went to Baltimore.

On the way I wrote this letter:

Dear [redacted]

You’ll probably never get this, and that’s okay. It might simply be the case that some things will always remain unsaid between us.

I’m on a train to Baltimore for the day. I’ll go and chat with a librarian and see what he says, and then I’ll come home. There’s a man who can’t stop coughing. The sun is in my eyes and the bumpiness is fucking up my handwriting. Also, the awkward position. That, too.

Today I went to Baltimore.

Time keeps on rolling with me

The homeless people who were begging outside of Schwartz’s in 2006 are still there, in case you’re wondering. Schwartz’s is the famous Montreal smoked meat shop, though Mike and I, at Bar des Pins, decided that Main, across the street from Schwartz’s, was just as good, if not better. I haven’t seen Mike in years, probably since 2006 or so, but Mike is the barkeep at Bar des Pins, and when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, Mike told me that I was the only one among the assorted Massholes and shitheads that he was actually happy for.

Mike was my first bartender, and I went back and saw him this evening, after spending the afternoon wandering through the McGill campus, there was no small amount of nostalgia. Mike was my first bartender because in one of the first few days at McGill, Maura and I went to Bar des Pins for a Frosh orientation event, at the end of which Maura puked outside and I pretended not to notice. This is, I would argue, perfectly emblematic of the relationship Maura and I have since developed. One of us pukes in public, the other pretends that didn’t happen, and we’re there for each other no matter what, even if no matter what doesn’t happen as much anymore.

Maura is pretty much a sister to me.

And she became my sister early on. I met Maura my first day in Montreal. My mother was moving me off to college (God, that drive, six hours, pre-Google Maps, into Montreal, having broken up with my high school sweetheart I guess that morning — but that’s another story), and Maura smelled me smoking in my dorm room. “Wow, you can smoke in here?” she asked. “Sure, I guess,” I said.

So that made us buddies. I guess spending four years as buddies can make you love someone.

*

If there’s a Platonic Form (Plato, “The Republic,” et al.) of the rigid designator (Kripke, “Naming and Necessity”) “Axel,” then Axel pretty much is it. Six foot four, Swiss or Swedish or whatever (Aryan, at least; Hitler, “Mein Kampf”), Axel kind of just looks like you would imagine someone named Axel would look. You have to discount Guns N Roses, of course, but outside of, like, five songs, that should be an acceptable sacrifice. Axel also carries himself like an Axel. Slightly ungraciously, but aware of it.

He’s a good dude.

Axel and I ate at Main last night, after drinking, god — what was it, Axel? — twelve or so beers at the AirBnB I’ve got for the week. He kept wanting to drink more beers and I kept wanting to eat, but he won, because his name is Axel (and I have a drinking problem).

When we finally got there, to Main, the Quebecois woman who was serving us probably thought we were drunk Anglos — and we are, I should add, very much drunk Anglos — but Axel lives in Montreal, and I became a man there, here. So I was counting on her cutting us some slack.

I ate poutine covered with smoked meat. Axel ate, I dunno. What did you eat, Axel? I also got a smoked meat sandwich to go. Should you ever be so inclined, I’d advise against the latter. A sandwich just doesn’t hold up overnight in the fridge.

*

Mike said I should go to Main and I asked if there was anyplace that had opened on St. Laurent that I should try. He gave me a couple of suggestions and I wound up at the Lebanese place whose potatoes had so kept me alive during my time living in Montreal. I ordered those potatoes (get the garlic tahini-esque thing/sauce when you go), and I ordered a shish taouk, and I ate the shit out of both. I thanked the man at the counter. I forgot to get a receipt.

I was 30.

In a few days, I’ll be 31. I’ll celebrate here because this is the place where I became a man, but I’d also like to become a grown-up.

I’m going to give it a go this year.

On Trying

Talese and I met outside of a bar. “Do you want to get sober?” He lives in East New York, Brooklyn. He kept talking about his wife, who is apparently in Pittsburgh and fucking another dude. He said he wanted to kill them both. He saw a Facebook post.

I asked him again.

“Do you want to get sober?”

Granted, this is something I haven’t been able to do myself. But that doesn’t mean I can’t lend a hand. I called the AA hotline to try to find a meeting for the dude, and they hung up on me. I said, “Dude, you don’t want to kill anyone, that’s dumb.” I went inside the bar, and told Jay that I would be escorting Talese to the hospital. The bartender told me that it was bad for business to bring Talese inside. I wanted to say:

“I don’t give a fuck about your business, you horrible piece of shit,” but I didn’t. Because the bartender is a person, too.

Talese and I walked to the hospital Siri told me existed (it didn’t), and along the way he told me about the size of the dude’s dick who his wife was fucking, and I stopped him as he started to cry and I said, “Listen, I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I do know that if you kill them, you’re an asshole and an idiot. Don’t be an asshole. Don’t be stupid.” We were on the corner of Franklin and Atlantic. Jay texted me to say he was leaving and I ignored it.

Talese said, “I just can’t…”

And I said, “I don’t care. I really don’t. Do you want to go to Riker’s? Is that how you want to end your days? Because I don’t give a fuck if it is. But if you want to get sober, let’s get you to a hospital.”

I asked him if he had any drugs or weapons on him. He said he didn’t. I trusted him, because I’d already convinced him to go to rehab.

“Don’t tell them your real name. Don’t give them your social.” Basically, I told the dude to lie as much as possible and receive the care that he needed. He told me he wouldn’t.

When the hospital Siri told me existed didn’t, I pulled a black cab over and asked what the fare was to Brooklyn Hospital.

“Twelve dollars.”

I gave it to the cabbie and shoved Talese into the backseat. “Remember: you remember nothing.” I shook his hand. The light turned green.

I hope he makes it.