7:30am, downtown Manhattan.
Wake up on couch, clothes on, shoes on, lights on, Netflix curious whether I’m still watching or what. I’d been dreaming I ran a department in a big vivid office where I was tasked with marketing a new fruit to millennials. I spent all day yesterday drinking whiskey in the sun up the Hudson on a work-retreat situation, so now I am sweat-crinkled and floppy-sore and confident this will be a very lazy day.
Eski, age two, is standing next to my head and saying today is “mommy AND daddy day.” He and his mother were just reading a book where a tiger goes to the doctor, so we discuss doctors, computers, carpentry, poop, his recent trip to “the lamp store,” and whether candles have names, like “Susan” or “Candler.” I make some coffee. Eski pretends to be a doctor and weighs his toys on a baby scale. I sit in a rocking chair with my coffee and the dog in my lap and pretend I’m rocking the dog to sleep, which Eski finds semi-funny.
I skim a few things on my phone. Argument about definition of terrorism. Information about demolition of Palestinian village. Opinions about libel. Information about police shooting. Funny jokes from the phones of clever happy gorgeous people. Eski and I get in the empty bathtub. He hands me a wrench and tells me to fix the toilet. I tell him I already fixed it.
We walk up the street to a coffeeshop called Third Rail. There’s a kid inside, maybe six, who’s been attending karate camp and is showing the baristas his new moves. Eski helps me pick out donuts. For a moment I remember a lot of things at once. I remember how for a long time my father wouldn’t eat donuts, because he’d worked in a donut shop when he first came to the U.S., and could do without seeing another donut for a good decade. I remember being a toddler in New Mexico and walking with my mother to meet my father and brother at their tae kwon do classes, and how the yogurt-covered raisins she’d given me all melted in my pocket, cursing me to be bad with money in my youth. I remember being a kid in Colorado and going with my father on Saturday mornings to the donut shop owned by our neighbor, Mr. Lee, who if you asked nicely would show you martial-arts moves he had to learn in the South Korean army. For a second I’m staring at the wall trying to assemble some kind of thought about donuts and martial arts and what Eski will remember about me, or how my hand feels around his when we’re walking down the street, or what the sky looks like when we’re doing it.
We go home and eat the donuts. Eski drinks milk. I drink coffee. We get a little sugared up. We pretend to be each other: I whine to him to read me the doctor book, and he pretends to drink my coffee. We talk about heartbeats. I pull up my shirt so he can put his head against my chest and listen to my heart; the sound makes him laugh. I listen to his heart. Two-year-old hearts are hummingbird fast.
I sing “The Farmer in the Dell,” the whole thing, because he always laughs when we get to “the cheese stands alone.” I goof around and try to amuse the local adult audience by telling Eski the song is about hierarchies of oppression — “the farmer takes a wife” represents the subjugation of women, “the child takes a nurse” is about the landowning elite oppressing the workers, “the nurse takes a cow” is our exploitation of animals, and so on unto the cheese. Eski looks at me with the same skeptical look as when I explained to him how fucked up it was that he knew what a king was.
Eski’s sits in his mother’s lap, typing on her computer. He says he’s writing a letter. To whom? “To mommy!” Time for his nap soon.
I wake up on the couch again, sweaty from intense stress dreams.
Unicorn crisis. Eski’s looking at pictures and finds one from his birthday, when I snuck home from work early and dressed up in a unicorn onesie to surprise him. He wants me to put on the unicorn onesie. It emerges that his mother put it in storage without telling me. I pretend to be angry about it, like you never know what kind of unicorn-onesie emergencies I might have in my personal life. Eski says he wants to get inside the picture.
We eat lunch, then spend a long time building a little town out of foam blocks, and building a little foam garage, and driving a little foam bus in and out of the garage. The bus saysvroom when it goes forward and moorv when it backs up, which is a thing I learned from Ralph S. Mouse.
I take a shower. Midway through, I remember something humiliating from middle school. This used to happen to me all day, that sudden gut-wriggler of a humiliating thought that worms around inside you and won’t be waved away. Not so much anymore. I take my mind off of it by trying to come up with funny names, like Kareem E. Futterbart.
Check social media for a minute. Everyone’s away this weekend: islands, beaches, mountains, music festivals. There’s something about a beheading, and an article headlined “When Your Big Toe Isn’t Your Biggest Toe.” I ask Eski if he wants to help me make up funny names, and he says yes, but it turns out he thought I said “bunny names.”
We take a walk around the neighborhood. There’s a homeless guy who sits in front of the drugstore on Bleecker and just terrifies Eski: he’s huge and boom-voiced and takes up a lot of air. As soon as Eski spots him, he tries to pull me into a nearby store, the same way the dog does when he realizes we’re walking past the vet. I pick him up and we talk about it. On the way into the drugstore, I stop and chat with the homeless guy. Once we’re inside, we review. Eski agrees that it was nice of the guy to say hello to me when I said hello to him. If this remotely improves our future chances of walking to the drugstore without incident, then I’ll have accomplished at least one small thing today, which is way more things than I’d been expecting. We buy drugstore stuff and then spend a while watching a big fluffy white dog walk down the street.
Playtime, dinnertime, playtime. Eski points at his mother’s soda and says “mommy’s wine.” We watch what turns out to be a particularly good episode of Peppa Pig. We do the bus and garage thing again. Then there’s some dancing and rolling around on the floor pretending to be different animals. At 6:56, I brush his teeth and send him off to bedtime.
I get a phone call from my boss and start worrying there’s some huge crisis to deal with. Turns out it’s just a pocket dial. A minute after I hang up, I get a FaceTime from him. I can hear him talking to one of our coworkers; they’re on their way to an R Kelly concert in Newark. I yell weird things into his pocket until he pulls out the phone and looks alarmed to find my face inside it.
I text for a while with an old friend. We know all about each other’s various piles of good and evil and bullshit, so we do a quick gestalt life-checkin. She seems run-down but headed in a good direction. We plan out an ideal place for her to spend a vacation: a heavenly cloud that is also a library and also the library is made of dicks.
We watch an episode of Halt and Catch Fire.
Interrupted by the first of the night’s screamy man-feelings from outside. It seems a little early for a man to be screaming already, though, and pretty soon we realize the screams are turning into sobs and wails, the sounds of a life well and truly crumbling. The last time I heard this sound, I looked out the window and saw a man holding the near-dead body of his fiancee, who’d fallen from the roof of the building next door, and for days after that I had to keep the dog from sniffing the patch of blood where it happened and would nearly cry every time. The man outside has two friends pulling him down the street.
Eski keeps waking up and crying. Sick? Good thing I decided not to go anywhere tonight: we’re in and out of his room trying to help. In between trips, I think about ordering some pants, answer email, read about the Centralia Mine Fire, try to figure out how old the mandarines in the fridge are, Snapchat with a friend in London, read a poem by Ariana Reines, read a poem by Jesse Ball. I studied poetry in school, and the main thing I learned was that I had no business being around poetry; it wasn’t until last year that a poet convinced me to come back to it, at least a little.
I try to listen, very quietly, to a playlist of early-90s rave music. I’ve been obsessing over it for days, thinking about the whole Utopian notion and scene surrounding this stuff, the way it seemed to want to cherry-pick all the best sensations and experience them all at once, as keenly as possible, for as long as possible. The perfect spine-tingling clip of a singer looping again and again around a tumble of drums, the long rush of a serotonin overload, the wonder of bright lights and the awe of the future, the ideas of hyperreality and Temporary Autonomous Zones and love, turning yourself into one big tingling nerve ending and one big swelling heart — I’m trying to feel and think through every Icarus-rushes-toward-the-sun feeling embedded in there. I lie on the floor next to Eski’s guitar and the dog sits down on my ear. Suddenly I remember hearing one of these tracks at a terrible party I went to in Chicago in the late 90s, one where I got ripped off, and the bouncers thought the king-size candy bar in my pocket was a gun and shoved me around, and I lost the people I came with and none of the raver kids wanted to talk to me, and in the end I spent two hours walking to a train line as the sun came up, stopping on a bridge at one point to throw rocks in the air and tell myself I was throwing them at god.
Finally I go into Eski’s room and give him a talk. I tell him he’s getting to be a big boy and that he needs to work on putting himself back to sleep on his own. I feel gross and dadlike saying these things. I tell him his mother’s asleep, and we’re not going to wake her up. I tell him I’m right outside if he really, really needs me, but I’m going to try not to come in anymore. If he wakes up again, he needs to try to stay calm, and not cry, and just get comfortable and think of nice things and go back to sleep. I ask if we can make that our deal, and he says yes, and we shake hands in the dark.
Wake up on couch again. Two guys outside are shoving each other into parked cars and yelling about what good friends they’ve always been. I walk the dog. Outside is a normal Saturday night near Bleecker Street, which is basically a PSA about the dangers of alcohol and heterosexuality.
Yes, Netflix, I am still watching Archer.