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The Squirrel Lady

The Squirrel Lady’s name is Judy. That somehow escaped my attention, though I have known her for a year: we chat in Central Park while my dog chases the squirrels she lures near. I have learned snippets about her life away from the park, but these are not details I associate with her persona.

The Squirrel Lady pushes a creaky baby carriage full of peanuts to the park every weekend to feed the squirrels. She has a gray crewcut and once entertained the idea of adopting a ferret or a hamster before reading a book of Patricia Highsmith short stories about pets that kill their owners (among which, apparently, ferrets and hamsters loom prominently).

Judy is a typist at a law firm who is recovering from carpal tunnel syndrome.

This invites contemplation of how the essence of a thing may differ from its classification. To me, I am the boring guy who arranges his life around his dog’s digestive and excretory habits . . . and, of course, TiVo. To others, I am that crazy guy who takes his dog to the park to chase squirrels every morning, or a bon vivant who is about to divide his life between two major cities, or a hell-bound pinko commie intellectual liberal faggot.

I used to wonder about the Squirrel Lady. She captured my imagination; I pictured where she lived and what she ate for dinner and what her romantic life was like.

Judy, I can take or leave.

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Time for Timer

Does anyone besides me remember a cartoon creature called Timer that sang in Saturday morning commercial breaks about good nutrition? Timer looked like a half-masticated chicken wing with spindly legs and a top hat. He had a song about beans and rice, and he may have been the Cassandra of “drowning your food” by covering it in too many sauces and condiments.

Either some television executive in the nineteen seventies thought this was a good idea, or I got a hold of a box of Cracker Jacks with the wrong kind of tattoo prize inside.

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Seesaw

Whichever pair I am wearing—old or new, boot or sneaker—my left shoe always comes untied while I’m walking, and my right one never does.

Whichever pair I am wearing—old or new, clear or tinted or sun—my spectacles always end up lopsided on my face, with the right eye higher than the left.

Apparently, I am unbalanced from head to toe.

(And I am not going to delve into the eternal struggle between the hemispheres of my brain.)

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I Was Robbed!

Today, I gave sixty-seven cents to a homeless man whose first name was Marty and whose middle name was either Oscar or Usher (he did not remember). In exchange, he told me the following joke:

“A German doctor moved to this city and hung out his shingle. It said on the sign that his office hours were ‘T.V.’ Nobody knew what to make of this ‘T.V.’ All the ladies would pass by and nobody knew. Finally, this one lady, she went in, and she says, ‘Hey, what’s this mean, T.V., for your office hours? Are you crazy?’ So the guy says, ‘I am from Germany. My office hours are Tuesday and Vednesday.’”

Did I get my money’s worth?

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Hello? Is this Mr. Batory?

When I was in college, I somehow wrangled my way into the position of Features editor of the student newspaper. This dubious triumph was accomplished without any previous experience or strategy for moving forward. As was the case with most of my rises to power, I was in the right place at the right time, and no one else wanted to do it. Once on the job, I simply made things up as I went along (my editorial responsibilities, not the news stories, as so many journalists appear to be doing these days).

I readily admit that I was a terrible Features editor, both in arranging the scope of my section’s coverage and in getting anyone to do the work. My scant staff was so unreliable that I ended up writing everything myself in the hour before we went to press, and those of you who are witness to my love affair with grammar today would be flabbergasted to learn that I did not proofread a single one of the slipshod articles and columns that I published. I was too busy writing the horoscopes that extrapolated my dire predictions about my friends’ convoluted lives to all of the unlucky souls who shared their birth signs.

In fact, I wrote several regular columns under bizarre pseudonyms; it was lucky I was schizophrenic or it would have been difficult to keep track of so many different personalities and points of view. My favorite of these was called “The Campus Curmudgeon,” by “Mr. Misanthropy.” A precursor to this very web log, that column gave voice to the facet of my psyche that loves to complain but is continually mystified by the vagaries of human nature. Everyone found this so depressing, however, that I was forced to invent an alter ego named “Señor Sunshine,” who would merrily swoop in before things got too far out of hand. (Goblin Foo Uvula fulfills quite the same function today.)

My dreary tenure lasted a semester; subsequent embellishments about my responsibilities and the prestige of the newspaper danced across my résumé, but I was quick to put the actual experience behind me. Lingering questions remain, however, from that bygone era. These are psychologically intricate but boil down to the familiar (and somewhat huffy) demand: Who the hell do I think I am, anyway?

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The Nasty

In the 34th Street subway station, scrawled across a poster for a new Bruce Willis movie, or perhaps it was for Steve Madden shoes, I encountered the following graffito:

“Sex without love is an addiction!!!”

My first thought was that the huggybear crowd had unearthed a box of marker pens, but upon further contemplation, I had to concede that the anonymous vandal had a point, if only in the unstated corollary:

Sex with love is not an addiction.

The combination of these aphorisms explains a great deal of the angst I suffered over the past fifteen years.

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Civics 101

According to sources that years ago lost their tenuous link to real life—textbooks, for example, and Fox News—we North Americans live in a democracy. So I am confused about the escalating insurgencies of totalitarianism.

George W. Bush, our National Embarrassment, famously (and publicly) revealed his yearning for the position of dictator, a post to which, like the Presidency, he could never ascend on his own dubious merits. Closer to home, merchants in my city have claimed titles such as Sturgeon King and Smoothie King. There is a Burger King on every corner. Elsewhere in the line of succession, we have dairy queens, dancing queens, drag queens, drama queens, the prince of tides, and the emperor of ice cream.

I confess to being closet monarchist, myself. Give the polloi the right to vote, and some of them will invariably do so, and these will invariably be the ones who should not be allowed a say in how we live our lives. This is how we get Republicans in office. This is how Richard Hatch won the first “Survivor.”

But with all of these emerging kingdoms (and queendoms), highly specialized or no, I am worried about war. What if the Burger King were to encroach on the territory of the Sturgeon King with a new kind of maritime Whopper? Can you imagine the outcome of that epic battle? And if these realms were to adopt Baby Doc Bush’s “Doctrine of Preemption,” then that would be all she wrote. The Burger King would only need the flimsiest fabricated evidence that the Smoothie King was hoarding Strawberries of Mass Destruction, and we would all get caught in the fallout.

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New York Tales

A few days ago, I squeezed onto a crowded subway train. Though there was barely enough room to maneuver, I did get a spectacular view of an immense, unusually gender-free individual lurching to his or her feet, shoving his or her way across the aisle, and vomiting spectacularly against the far door. In a flash, we passengers on my end of the car shoved our way over to the other end, where we huddled and listened in horror to the gastrointestinal pyrotechnics that seemed to go on for some minutes.

If we had been on a plane or a boat or even a donkey cart, it would have tipped over.

At the next station, we all burst out of the car and gasped for breath. Everyone seemed annoyed, but not in the least bit surprised.

***

Several weeks ago, in an attempt to prepare for this year’s return and find out the status of previous work, I began trying to contact the man who had reviewed my taxes last year. We will call him Arthur. Arthur is a spooky, middle-aged man of a sort that only exists in New York City, usually in one of the outer boroughs. He is pale and puffy with thick glasses, shifty eyes, perpetually greasy hair, and not a single natural fiber in his wardrobe.

He is, however, oddly endearing in a disheveled sort of way, and he works very cheaply. The best thing about him was that he discovered I had overpaid my state taxes by almost two thousand dollars and immediately began a campaign to get me a refund. A campaign that he promptly abandoned when he disappeared without a trace. My email was bounced back, his phone was disconnected, and his office said that he no longer worked there. I would have become convinced that he had stolen my identity and run off to Mexico, except it stands to reason that anyone who is intelligent enough to decipher my taxes must also be savvy enough to realize that adopting my identity would bring more bad fortune than good.

So I accepted the mystery and made an appointment for today with another accountant.

And guess who I heard from yesterday.

Arthur apologized for being out of touch. He explained that, in January, he had been run over by a car and had spent much of the intervening time in a coma. He is to be released from the hospital in early April and wanted to make an appointment to go over my taxes with me then.

A coma.

If a hussy five years my junior shows up, seduces my boyfriend, and then reveals herself to be my long-lost daughter, I shall endeavor to determine which soap opera I am currently inhabiting.

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There’s No Place Like . . .

So the secret is revealed. I had expected a good deal of discussion over whether Baltimore or Manhattan were gaining or losing in this deal, and depending upon their positions in this debate, gasps of horror from people who live in either of those fine cities. I suppose the jury is still out on that topic.

In case anyone is wondering, searching for a house is not an easy task. It starts out with the amusing challenge of imagining the potential of every space you invade, but it quickly transforms into a terrifying spreadsheet of comparing budgets, taxes, neighborhoods, and the myriad benefits and drawbacks of every building. Our wish list was for a house that contained at least three bedrooms (we each have home offices) and, ideally, a friendly ghost. Proximity to the train station, offstreet parking, and places to walk Goblin were other considerations.

Many of our needs were met in a gorgeous, newly converted building in Little Italy. There was no place to walk the dog, but the establishment it had been converted from was a funeral parlor, thus increasing the chances of supernatural encounters. Naturally, we put in a bid, which was seriously entertained before being blown out of the water by someone who was willing to pay more than the asking price. It was a crushing blow, augured by two path-crossing black cats and a swooping seagull with menacing black eyes.

So many properties we looked at had either been funeral parlors or were directly adjacent to one that even we were beginning to get the creeps. We also looked at an abandoned church (cool, but too costly to renovate, and too much bad energy from Christians) and an abandoned bank (huge, but falling to pieces, and too much bad energy from capitalists). Finally, the second-to-last property we were scheduled to see was paydirt: a Victorian rowhouse in a beautiful neighborhood, currently owned by a gay couple who had transformed it into a showplace. They accepted our first offer without negotiating, and the deal was blessed by a friendly squirrel we saw in the back yard.
No funeral parlors, though.

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THE YEAR EVERYTHING CHANGES, Part One

Don’t you hate it when after endlessly planning, then moving heaven and earth to get what you want more than anything, you come to within a millimeter of your goal . . . and then time stops.

Welcome to my world.

The past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster of colossal proportions. The origin of every hill and loop is not necessarily in the secret I am about to reveal, but in that context, they are made all the more perilous. The truth is, I am wiped out. Wiped. Out. If one more person wants one more thing from me, I am simply going to evaporate into the atmosphere. “Where did David go?” someone will say. “He evaporated into the atmosphere,” someone else will say. “Can I have his computer?” the first person will say.

Luckily, a good thing has happened. This is what has lately been going on behind the scenes:

Rob and I are buying a house. It is in Baltimore, in a neighborhood called Bolton Hill. It also happens to be the most beautiful house ever. We put a bid in last week, it was verbally accepted, and we got the signed contract back today. If all goes well with the inspections, we close on 16 April and will probably move by the end of that month.

Whew.

This may seem to be a outlandish turn of events given that most of Rob’s work requires him to be in Manhattan, but he has to be here only on certain days. It is also true that, despite my initial indifference to this city, I have fallen madly in love with New York and would hate to leave it for good.

And thus we have Step Two:

Rob and I are also looking for a small apartment in Manhattan. Rob will commute up for a day or two weekly, and I will join him every two or three weeks. We are going to bi-locate. The Metroliner will be our home away from home, as well as our home away from home away from home, and it will all be very glamorous.

Now, if you will pardon me, I need to take a moment for a little affirmation: Nothing will go wrong. Nothing will go wrong. Nothing will go wrong. Nothing will go wrong. Nothing will go wrong . . . .

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Werewolves of Springtime

Saturday the Thirteenth. I never thought I would say this, but I am anxious for spring—itchy, watery eyes and all. I love winter, but this year it has seemed endless and dreary. I am cold all the time, and Goblin has missed her nighttime off-leash romps through Central Park.

Last night, we watched “Wonderfalls,” an irreverent “Joan of Arcardia” knock-off featuring Diana Scarwid of Mommie Dearest fame. Now, twenty years later, it is Scarwid’s turn to play dysfunctional mother; her acting is still as wooden and chilly as a popsicle stick, and, inexplicably, she looks like a werewolf, but the show is enjoyable despite her non-presence.

As I type this, my face is as red as chili pepper (a red one, not a green one) after having treated it with apple cider vinegar. One of my health newsletters recommends this solution as an astringent, promising clear skin and, after three weeks, reduced signs of aging. It seems this is possible through the magic of acidity: in three weeks, there will be no skin left to age, and the vinegar will be pursuing the disintegration of my skull.

Still, I persevere. And await the spring.

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Bill Garvey

The Amtrak train is a merry, merry place. Since the advent of polyphonic ringing on mobile phones, passenger cars have begun erupting in a randomized cacophony of songs from the “Love Boat” theme to “We Will Rock You.”

These rings seem to have been specially designed to sound as if they are emanating from mid-air, like messages from the heavens. I am jealous because my own mobile phone has a barely audible ring that sounds like a cheerful canary being strangled, or perhaps merely becoming suddenly less cheerful. And no one ever calls me, whereas my fellow passengers are the most popular people in the world.

I wonder what it would be like to be indispensable.

The man in front of me the other day was named Bill Garvey. I know this because he phoned dozens of citizens and loudly announced, “This is Bill Garvey,” each time. Bill Garvey is an investment banker or stockbroker or some random person who is frequently possessed by the impulse to call people up and mention a lot of numbers and the possibility of “movement” in the “market.” I can only assume he was not discussing the problem of how the carts at my local Gristides are improbably large for the aisles.

At one point, the man across the aisle from us shouted over, “Hey, Bill Garvey! Do you know how annoying you are?” This was not keeping in tone with the merry, merry atmosphere, but Bill Garvey graciously got up and went to stand between the cars as we rocketed through New Jersey. I was so overcome with gratitude that I wanted to go over and kiss the man across the aisle, even though he was old and not particularly attractive. But he looked as if he wanted to be left alone.

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‘Til the One Day When the Fellow Met This Fellow

Television theme songs are powerful. Some-“The Brady Bunch,” for example, or “Laverne and Shirley-are my first line of defense against fussy infants. Indeed, few babies are indifferent to my soothing rendition of the story of a lovely lady, or my delicious recitation of schlemiel, schlimazel, and hasenpfeffer, incorporated.

But there are those songs with a more sinister intensity.

Last night, Rob and I discovered that, when we were children, the same three themes induced in us terror and despair. These were “Welcome Back, Kotter,” “Taxi,” and “The Odd Couple.” I am not certain if it is a coincidence that all three of these were set on the streets of the city in which we now live, but we did both overcome our initial aversion to the “M*A*S*H” theme, which was set in South Korea (and filmed near Malibu).

I was not all that thrilled with the “Barney Miller” song, either, but I have not yet had a chance to run that by him.
Clearly, we are a match made in heaven.

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Magical Moments, Brought to You by Purina

Tonight, as I took my dog for her evening walk in Central Park, there was enchantment in the air. The moon hovered round and silver-white over the towers of the Upper East Side, casting an eldritch glow over the clouds and trees. The air was still and fresh with the day’s rain, carrying a faint scent of the approaching spring. Couples walked arm-in-arm, smiling and nodding as they passed.

The atmosphere invited deep thought and joyful contemplation, and indeed, I found myself pondering a transformational milestone for my little family:

What if I changed Goblin’s name to Clementina Snortbox, Surgeon General?

(Her friends would call her “Bippy.”)

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Sunrise, Sunset

Last night, Rob and I saw of the Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. More specifically, we saw the first act and snuck out during intermission. The play was fine, if a bit flat: we were both simply exhausted and unable to focus on what was unfolding before our eyes. At one point, I nodded off, only to be awakened by a clamorous group of men dancing like Cossacks in Luke Skywalker’s Tattooine desert outfit. At other points, I was so bleary that I could not differentiate between any of the trio of sisters whose unconventional marriages formed the center of the story. I found myself thinking they were all played by the same actress, even when all three were on stage at the same time.

I have never seen Fiddler on the Roof, even though, according to Rob, it has been on Broadway several times. I would imagine that its themes speak to each era differently. I was quite amused to note the brouhaha over the “sin” of men dancing with women, as men dancing with other men (and kissing each other, and sitting on each other’s lap) was quite the accepted norm in this small town. On the other hand, the anti-Semitism rang about as hollow as George W. Bush’s empty, empty head.

The most engaging thing about the production was the set, which was gorgeous but seemingly fashioned for an altogether different play. It gave me decorating ideas for when I get a room large enough to plant a forest of trees, hang lanterns from the rafters, and host a full orchestra playing “If I Were a Rich Man.”

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Fly . . . Be Free!

I have a plant that is suspended in the twilight between life and death. The annoying thing is that this has been going on for some time. I want to throw it away and rid myself of the bad feng shui generated by its drooping husk.

On the other hand, I cannot bring myself to discard something that clings to life with such tenacity.

Besides, it is stuck in its pot.

A few weeks ago, I would have used this as an allegory for my novel, but I have actually been making some progress lately. I suspect I will get through this yet, but I make no guarantees about the plant.

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Tomorrow is Another Day

I spend a lot of time telling my therapist about the valuable life lessons I pick up on television. She never confirms or denies seeing the relevant shows when I ask her. She simply says, “What do you want me to know about that?” I want to tell her my theory that “Sex and the City’s” Carrie Bradshaw is actually “The West Wing’s” Josh Lyman in drag, but I fear the repercussions. Yesterday, we discussed my plans for the future. I had not yet received the bad news, so she let me chatter on. But the writing was on the wall, and I should have whipped out my reading glasses. The path-crossing black cats did their job with wickedly stealthy precision. That morning, the sky was bright with false hope; I took my dog and a bag of peanuts to Central Park, but there was not a squirrel to be seen. Goblin slouched home, her nub of a tail drooping. What do rodents (and people and black cats) think about when they are crushing your dreams?

I am breathing deeply and releasing. Today, at the park, a flock of squirrels swirled around, snatching the peanuts from mid-air. Goblin jumped delightedly from tree to tree, sending them chattering back up to their branches.

Not a black cat in sight.

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Live from New York

My hapless adventures today began when the toilet overflowed for no reason. Well, it overflowed because I flushed it, but (not to get too technical) there was nothing solid in there to cause a blockage. I believe the mechanism inside the tank malfunctioned, because reaching inside and jiggling it had the effect of stopping the waterfall, but I was left standing in a puddle a half inch deep. It took ages to clean up, and, late for my appointments, I ran out of the house looking as if I had just spent the morning cleaning up after an overflowed toilet. Which was nice because, when I went to vote, I found myself in the spotlight of a television camera. A reporter I could barely discern behind the glare asked my opinion on the design of the ballot, which, in fact, had much room for improvement. After sputtering out my comments, I discovered I was being interviewed by Fox News, an organization that has proven itself many times over to be the enemy of both democracy and objective journalism. I am quite certain that, using whatever wizardry they employ to make Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter appear of this Earth, they will twist my comments to mean precisely the opposite of what I intended.

Of only they could expend the same effort to make me look as if I had not spent quite so much time scrubbing the bathroom floor.

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No Little Pricks

Why do they call it “pins and needles”? “Tenterhooks” is an equally tame description, as it refers not (as I suspected) to the equipment that holds up massive slabs of beef, but rather to the small clasps that suspend fabric as it dries.

No, I am suspended by a crane from the top of a skyscraper. I am Luke Skywalker, digging my fingernails into a catwalk within inches of Darth Vader’s billowing black cape. My heart stops and my lungs constrict like empty sandwich baggies every hour.

What am I getting into?

Today, though I can barely afford to pay my rent, I had a woman come and clean the apartment. The qi is flowing again, unimpeded by the stacks of unopened mail (which I have hidden under the radiator), the sedimentary layers of pungent laundry, and the insidious coating of grime that advanced during my many absences.

I can breathe (I should breathe). Everything will be okay.