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I saw a little boy today on the mall, breathing hard on a bench. I caught him in a moment when the expression hanging on his face was like a gateway to the man he was going to become: he suffers from low-grade chronic anxiety. He likes to pretend he’s invisible. He is angry and he doesn’t know why. He finds pleasure in quiet, private spaces. He wants desperately to please (fill in name of boss/significant other/parent). But right now: he is racing his brother down the mall and stopping to rest on wet park benches.

Snapshot: Intimate / Anonymous

One of the things I love about living in DC is the forced intimacy it creates with total strangers. Here are some moments that stuck out lately.

Two women, sitting opposite each other in the front window of a nail salon. Their fingers drying in the same magic-blue-light-machine on the table top, their toes doing the same on the floor. Heads inclined in opposite directions, bent over gossip magazines. Like those paper chains where you fold the paper in half a lot, cut out a heart, unfold, and there: a whole string of identical hearts.

On the metro, I study the rings on your right hand as it grips the rail 3 inches from my face. You like dark jewels set in gold and you keep your nails done. You fixate on my feet in their silver sandals. I feel your eyes and wiggle my toes; you look elsewhere. Caught you.

On the bus from New York, from the seat behind me: “Baby, I told you I didn’t sleep with that white bitch!” The silence becomes electric around me as everyone starts to listen.

From my office window, I watch you climb the stairs, happy you’ve found some shade. You put down your backpack. You take off your shoes, slowly. You pop the top on your tall boy of whatever in the paper bag. You drink, slowly. I watch you.

I read your discarded shopping list: what are Crushers?

I am crossing the street. I am watching the sky. The clouds are grey-green-black and moving much too aggressively. I am listening to the thunder. I am trying to beat it home. We cross in the middle of East Capitol and you say: “Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it?” I nod emphatically and we smile.

On the train, a man and a woman across the aisle from each other. She reads the paper, he reads a book. Both are emotive readers. I watch her face, all puckered eyebrows and shaking head. His eyes are big Os of surprise and his mouth is slack. I imagine that I introduce them, they fall in love, then they read next to each other in bed just the same way.


She is ironing when it hits her: a wave of pure whatever originating somewhere below where she is standing that is sucked up through the live current of her body, moving close and full against the walls of her guts, straight up to her face where it breaks into a smile and she has to put the iron down. She stops her breath then starts it again, and puts her hand on her heart where she can feel it beating through the cotton of the borrowed t-shirt. She doesn't make the connection between what's happening in her body and the sudden flicker of the lights in the room.

Creative Writing Assignment

Followed a stranger again. Found this guy on the metro. He really was wearing a Gas Co uniform--and some magnificent hair.
His name is Eddie, and he has the best hair of anyone who works for the Gas Department.

A few things about being named Eddie.
First: It’s a family name. His dad is Edward. His grandpa is Edward. His great grandfather was Edward. On and on. When Eddie was at a family get-together (once or twice a year, in a park, picnic-style), his least favorite aunt asked him over the potato salad if it wasn’t time they started calling him Ed, being as he was a man now. Eddie, who was 19 at the time, thought about it, then decided he liked Eddie better.
Second: it looks so perfect stitched on his greasy coveralls that people sometimes assume it’s a joke. “Nope,” says Eddie, “Eddie’s my REAL name.”

He took hell today at work. Usually, he doesn’t ‘do’ his hair just to go to work. Usually he just wraps a greasy red bandana around his head and that’s that. Work isn’t the place for hair; Eddie knows that. But today, his boss promised him he’d be able to leave just a little bit early. A little bit early wasn’t early enough to get where he was going on time, but it would help; and he knew he could do his hair and wear his nice clothes under his coveralls to save him even more time.

“Damn, whatchoo, got a hot date?” Victor whistles low and throaty at Eddie as he comes out of the bathroom for what was supposed to be his last 30 minutes of work. “Whatchoo, goin to the discotheque or some shit?” Eddie shakes his head and doesn’t joke back. Usually he would, and usually he likes Victor (even though he doesn’t like Mexicans, Victor’s okay), but Eddie hates it when people talk about his hair. “Shut it, Victor. Where I’m going, they don’t even let people like you IN.”
Victor watches the back of Eddie’s glistening curls, not knowing what to say. He hates not having comebacks.

“Alright, boss?”
Eddie’s boss hadn’t worked a day in the field—he’d transferred from management at some other utilities company. Eddie resents him for this sometimes but it also sometimes means he can pull a fast one on boss—get away with stuff that anyone who actually worked out there would be able to see right through. Take 2 hours to read the meter at one apartment building, for example, because that apartment building was right next to his buddy’s house and his buddy always had cold beer in the fridge.
“Alright what?” asks his boss. Eddie can tell this isn’t a good sign.
“Still alright that I leave early?”
“Oh, Eddie: I’m sorry buddy, but I forgot. Victor had some family emergency come up and I thought I could have you respond to this.”
Boss hands Eddie a piece of paper and as that white piece of paper is coming at Eddie’s face, Eddie has time to hope it’s something small, something manageable he can do on the way…
Eddie is having trouble breathing easy, because this?
“Is there anyone else, boss, that could do this?”
“Why? Bad?” Boss looks dutifully apologetic.
“Nah, not bad, just gonna take some time. There’s paperwork. Hand holding. Instruments and stuff.”
“Yeah…” says boss, trailing off.
Eddie considers whether or not it would be rude to ask what kind of family emergency Victor might be having. Not emergency enough to stop him from fucking around about Eddie’s hair. Eddie’s seen pictures of Victor’s girls: two cute girls, brown hair and liquid brown eyes. He knows the younger one’s been getting into trouble at school. He thinks it might be that.
“Alright.” Eddie exhales, turns around, and walks out of the office.
“Did you get a haircut?” boss asks, but Eddie is far enough away that he pretends not to hear it.

Out in the garage, Eddie undoes the latch and swings the two blue doors of the back of the van open.
“What the fuck, man, I’m doing inventory!”
Eddie hands Rob the white piece of paper and pushes past him, maybe a little too close, to get at the storeroom. He starts loading up the back of the van.
Rob’s not a fast reader, so Eddie is almost done by the time Rob finishes. On his last trip past Rob, Rob pushes the paper back at Eddie, laughing. “Sure your hair’s such a good idea? Could really go up, if this shit is real.”
“I’ll do the inventory for you when I get back.”
“Fuckin-a right you will,” says Rob, still laughing. “And don’t bother lubing up the tools—just rub em in your hair!”
Eddie slams the driver door and rolls down the window so he can give Rob the finger as he pulls out and makes a left onto the street.

He checks the address on the paper against the side of the building and almost drops his head to rest against the steering wheel. This was one seriously fucked-up night, and up until now he thought maybe he’d be able to make it, to keep his plans: now he knew it was over. Killing the engine, he grabs the clipboard and heads inside. The automatic doors swoosh open for him and he walks up to the beige counter, fluorescent lights making the woman sitting behind it look orangey. She looks up from her computer screen as he approaches, her eyes finding the name tag on his coveralls.
“Do you work for the gas company… Eddie?”
“Yes ma’am.”
“That was fast. Let me show you where the problem is.” She hits a buzzer and a door to Eddie’s right opens. Eddie follows the woman down a linoleum hallway that smells like bleach and piss. An old man sitting in a wheelchair stares at Eddie as he passes. Eddie hates rest homes. They remind him of going to see his great grandfather, Edward, every Sunday till he died. Edward lived to be 98. Eddie thinks that if living to 98 means you end up in a place like this, he doesn’t want to live that long.
“We had a resident complain about it earlier this week,” the woman was saying, her shoes squeaking on the floor. “We take these things very seriously, but I stuck my head in there and couldn’t smell anything. He wouldn’t quit, though. I think maybe if you can come in and take a look, he’ll leave it alone.”
Eddie nodded. They were turning into one of the rooms now. The blinds were open and he was momentarily blinded by the unexpected light; as his eyes adjusted, he could see a wasted man barely making a bump under the bedspread.
“Roger, this is Eddie. He works for the Gas Company. He’s come to see if there’s a gas leak.”
“Hello Eddie. You should smell my bathroom.”
This is just about the last thing Eddie wants to do, and he thinks about how he’ll tell his friend over a cold beer later what this old man said and they’ll laugh. But for now, he nods at the man and walks across his room to the bathroom. He feels like he is seeing something he shouldn’t, so he makes a point to walk in slowly. The toilet has a soft plastic cover. The soap is shaped like a shell. The bath mat is a fuzzy blue. There is a pair of the man’s socks balled in the corner: they look very small. There is no smell of gas. Eddie looks at himself in the mirror. He thinks his hair looks good. He thinks he looks ridiculous with his hair and these coveralls, though. He hates that he’s in this man’s bathroom pretending to smell for gas. He thinks it’s way too late to make his plans. He walks out of the bathroom.

“Sir? I can’t smell anything suspicious right off, but I want to be sure. If it’s alright with you, I’m going to go out to my truck and bring in some equipment. Really check it out.”
The man smiles at Eddie and nods. He looks at the nurse: “I told you so.”

Eddie walks out of his room and back past the man in the wheelchair. The man is still staring at him. Eddie thinks for a second of holding his hand out for a hi-five, then decides the man wouldn’t get it anyway and keeps walking. At the van, he pulls out an old-time reader with a face. He thinks Roger will understand this. He carries it back into the lobby where the nurse is waiting for him, holding the door open.
“Do you think you smell something? Really?” she asks him. She eyes the reader.
“No ma’am, not really.”
“I knew it. That man.” The nurse shakes her head, looking at Eddie as if to say ‘The things I put up with.’ Eddie normally would smile back, but he doesn’t know what’s gotten in to him: he doesn’t want to play along. He keeps his face still and walks past her, back into Roger's room. Roger is watching the door when he comes in, and he crosses to his bedside.
“See this? This gauge tells us what a normal reading should be. And this one? Will tell us what it’s like in that bathroom of yours. Now, if there’s any gas in there, this one will pick it right up.”
“What will we do then?”
“We’d have to evacuate.”
“Some of the people in here don’t get around so well. I don’t know…” says Roger, looking out the window.
“I could help,” says Eddie.
Roger looks back at him. “Are you a singer?” he asks.
“No sir. Why?”
“Your hair is much too nice for a gas man.”
Eddie wonders why, when this man says something about his hair, he doesn’t mind. He wonders why he actually kind of likes it.
“Thank you, sir. Let’s check out this bathroom of yours, yeah?”
Roger nods and Eddie again, respectfully, enters his bathroom. He makes sure Roger can see him and he takes some time fussing with the instrument; holding it in corners, pulling back the shower curtain, twisting the knobs. After a while, he emerges: “Sir? I’ve checked, and I feel sure there is no gas leak in your bathroom. See? This gauge would have changed, and it’s at exactly the same level as this one. See?”
Roger examines the two faces of the old time machine, and seems satisfied. He nods.
“Anything else you’d like me to do while I’m here?” He is not sure why he asks it, but he means it.
“Well, maybe you could move that chair? I’m tired of looking at it in the same place.”
“Where would you like it to go?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe just to that other corner?”
Eddie puts down his equipment and clipboard on the ground next to Roger's bed, then does as he asks. The chair is light and plastic. “Anything else, sir?”
“No, thank you Eddie.”
“You’re welcome.”


I wrote this when I was 25. I had just moved to LA and was stretching my 'adult' muscles. NOT LIKE THAT...okay, a little like that. This captures part of that time in my life. Still makes me smile.
Sometimes when making
my bed after sex
I'll find, nestled in an elastic corner:
The odd pair
Of purple underwear -
A sleepy giggling reminder
of the time before.

Creative Writing Assignment

Creative Writing Assignment: follow a stranger and make up a story about them. Saw this guy on my lunch break yesterday. The outfit is real; the rest? Well, it could be...
He mostly doesn’t think about it anymore, except for when he meets a particularly good-looking stranger…only then does he wonder: Can they smell the curry?

Constantine (“Connie” to what few friends he still has) lives above a Thai restaurant. What started out as a dirt cheap apartment and kind of a funny joke in the smells of the spiced meat seeping through his floor has turned into 23 years in a red brick one bedroom on a street where it is INCONCEIVABLE that anything is the same as it was 23 years ago…let alone a single gay man or a Thai Restaurant. Sometimes, during his neighborhood walks, he’ll narrate for people in his head about what that Yoga Studio used to be (liquor store) and what that Liquor Store used to be (hardware shop). Sometimes, he’ll hand-pick, for company, a particular imaginary presence from his mental stable of dead friends and lovers to satisfy his mood or the route he’s going to take, but lately Connie’s just been talking to no one. He thinks about that sometimes and it bothers him a little.

Today is a special day, though. Today he’s doing press.

Connie knows it’s important to blend in when observing the public, so as not to inadvertently affect any scene he might witness. He chooses his outfit with care: ancient t-shirt from the days he used to run marathons (his runner’s calves are all that’s left of that version of Connie, and he is shyly proud of them), khaki shorts, worn-in black loafers, sweat band (it is nearly July in DC, after all)…and he can’t resist but to add one little piece of personality: a pair of square diamond earrings which Glenn used to say looked like cufflinks, they were so large. Connie puts them on while looking in the mirror in his bathroom. They weigh his earlobes down. They make him smile.

Down the rickety wooden stairs that are directly over the kitchen of the Thai place and he can hear the sounds of the lunch rush in the banging metal and shouted orders below him. He gave up eating Thai food long ago: when a food is so constantly present it permeates your skin, eating it starts feeling like cannibalism. Marc thought that was a vulgar saying, but Connie liked it; it said exactly what he meant.

Out the back door of the red brick building and it is a wall of heat outside today. Connie congratulates himself for his foresight with the sweatband and adjusts the strap of his Canon A513 camera with the new S100 lens. As a rule, Connie doesn’t like new things. But this camera? Is really something else. He spent a huge portion of last winter at the Botanical Gardens, playing with focus, shamelessly hogging the Orchids from the tourists to capture the textures and colors he saw, then finding the best print shop on the Hill (no small feat as that is clearly a dying art) and matching those prints with handmade frames from Eastern Market (antiques whenever possible), and now his curry-smelling one bedroom has a whole wall of spring, year-round.

The Capitol Hill Rag has tapped Connie to do a piece on the re-opening of Eastern Market. The Market has always been one of Connie’s absolute favorite things about DC because it’s always the same, but always new. He was devastated when a fire ate the main building of the market and has been cautiously accepting of the temporary digs across the street. But now, after two long years of being crushed into inadequate space and the anxiety over whether or not the Crepe Man was going to have enough room to set up this week, the Market is reopening. There is a big festival and Connie gets to write about it.

Connie’s done some freelance work for The Rag over the years (he can just hear Gary snickering at how pretentious freelance sounds and he shakes his head; he feels the earrings move and thinks of Glenn) mostly because of THE HAPS. He can’t help but think of it in all caps (THE HAPS IN CAPS!) because that’s how he used to print it: and print it he did, in the old way. Every issue would get a limited run, produced by him, on his very own hand-cranked letterpress in his red brick apartment. He can still call up the smell of the ink (stronger than the smell of the curry, at least to him) and the sheets of naked, fresh paper lying in bricks all over his apartment, his one-bedroom turned into a press room once every couple of months. Marc, or Glenn, or Paul (whoever it was at the time) didn’t have a lot in common other than a love for Connie and a sudden need to get out of Connie’s apartment during that one week when Connie only had eyes for THE HAPS. He imagined it was the closest thing to childbirth he would ever experience.

THE HAPS covered what was HAPpening around Capitol Hill—at least, the things that interested Connie. He made it because it pleased him. Of course, things change. For one, he could never print photographs like the ones his Canon could capture with a letterpress. Also, as his circle was whittled away by time and disease and he found himself seeing fewer and fewer people and then mostly at funerals and those weren’t like the parties they used to go to together, he found the urge to create THE HAPS asserted itself less and less. He hadn’t done an issue in, oh? Four years now. The urges still came, but weaker and with more time between, the same way the urge for sex had started fading from his body; and freelance (take that, Gary!) assignments like this one mostly took care of those feelings.

The Capitol Hill Rag had asked him for a brief write-up on the history of the Market, some images of the construction taking place, and then an eye witness account from the grand opening. Well, he could write the history without doing any research, he was planning on going to the opening anyway, and today was the day for construction photos—a million degrees out or not.

He took the short walk across Pennsylvania Avenue (the Capitol Building looming down the street never disappointed) and into the shady area around the market, lenscap off and Canon at-the-ready. He got some shots of the new brick road of the Market. Some shots of the temporary blue building across from the old/new brick one. He ducked into an alleyway behind the old/new building and framed up for a shot of a spring vine already climbing its way up the new back wall.

He wondered if the people around him could see ghosts the way he did. Not scary ghosts like in the movies Peter had always liked to watch (they did nothing for Connie), but the kind where you almost see a presence in your peripheral or when you glance really fast across a room, and before you consciously have the thought, you know who that person is: but then you look at exactly where they should be and there’s nothing there and you realize at that same time that they’ve been dead for 15 years and that’s when you know you’ve seen a ghost. As he lines up a shot of workers carrying dowels into the south end of the Market, Connie sees Patrick coming out the door with a bouquet of stargazer lilies wrapped in newspaper and understands, just like he did on that morning 19 years ago, that Patrick was both telling Connie he loved him and telling him he loved himself because stargazer lilies were his favorite and in his hometown if he even looked towards flowers his dad would call him a queer. Those two years with Patrick meant flowers were always around the apartment.

It is a young Asian mother with a baby in a stroller, and her husband holding the hand of a little boy. Connie lets the camera hang from its strap.
“Capitol?” She looks around helplessly.
“Oh sure: see that? That’s Pennsylvania. Just take a right there and you literally can’t miss it.” Connie is sure to point a lot so they understand the directions.
“Thank you!” They start to walk away.
“You know, if you’re going to be here this weekend, you should really come back here!”The family turns around.“This is Eastern Market.” Connie standing in the middle of the alleyway and he spreads his arms wide in the sunlight. “It’s been here since 1873, and this weekend, there’s gonna be a big party to celebrate cause it’s reopening!”The woman smiles at him and nods. Connie is sure she doesn’t understand but he appreciates her being so polite.“It burned down two years ago, and that was real sad, because this is one of the best parts of DC! I’ve been coming here for years. I live right over there, see?” Connie points towards his apartment. The father dutifully looks around. “I’ve been there for 23 years! Sometimes I can’t even believe it. What’s an old relic like me still doing here, right?”Connie shakes his head and laughs. He can hear Bobby telling him to shut up and leave these poor people alone, but he doesn’t care. “Well I just can’t leave! Really, there’s nowhere else for me to go. I don’t have any family, no kids—like your’s—“ he is pointing at their children and the woman nods again, “and it feels like sometimes, my family is still here, even though they’re all just memories now. There was a guy used to work here, and I’d buy coffee from him every Sunday morning. He roasted it fresh, and Glenn just thought it was the best. That’s saying something, too, cause Glenn was from Seattle, and they’re real snobby about their coffee, you know?” The woman’s smile has faded and the little boy is pulling on his daddy’s hand. “Paul used to always come back with these lovely handmade soaps and he’d send them to his mother, but she never called him and said thank you. Can you imagine that? Never even acknowledged that she’d received them. I told him just to stop wasting his efforts on that woman, but he never would.” Connie shrugs. The man and woman are glancing at each other now and taking small steps away from him. But Connie can’t stop: “The best was the Sunday night dinners that Marc used to cook for all of us, all fresh, all local stuff he bought here. I know that’s a trend now, but then, it was just the thing to do. I’m really not much of a cook, and who likes cooking for one anyway, you know?”
The woman smiles and waves abruptly at him, and she and her husband take off down the street towards Pennsylvania Avenue, towards the Capitol Building, towards the rest of their DC experience. The little boy turns around once and looks back at Connie. Connie waves; the little boy does not.

That night he sits in the old corduroy armchair by the window, his laptop in front of him with the pictures he took up on the screen, and a scrapbook on his knees. The scrapbook has all of his old issues of THE HAPS. Some of the pages stick to the ink as he turns them. They still smell the same, though not as strong. In a bizarre impulse he has purchased take-out from the Thai restaurant downstairs; it sits half-eaten on the sill in front of him. He looks at his screen and sees the new/old building; the brick road; Mexican workers with shy smiles setting up booths. He looks at his scrapbook and sees blotches of ink; stories about new restaurants; an ad for a cobbler. He looks out the window and sees Glenn; Peter; Marc; Patrick; Gary; and all the others. He sees himself reflected in the glass: old, grey, and wiry, like steel wool. He sees the city out his window.