People Who

The best we can do, it seems to me, is to admit that we speak of ourselves every time that we have not the strength to be silent. (Anatole France)

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The balconies on our buildings have been undergoing replacement for some time now. A few weeks ago I rolled our lemon tree out onto the new structure, as the tree had been looking sad and poorly without its usual summer sun exposure, but I knew that at some point I’d need to bring it in so the concrete could be sealed.

During those weeks, a wee baby anole took up residence in the tree. I couldn’t figure out how (or why) such a tiny thing had climbed a four-story brick wall to find a home on the new balcony, but we were happy to see it. Not only is there powerful magic in wild things, it made itself useful straight away by eradicating a troublesome population of mealybugs, each of which was almost larger than its own head. We called it Nolan, then Nola, then finally Nolie (to avoid the binary). In the mornings it would climb to the topmost branches and bask in the sun, monorail-style. At first I’d fill a tiny jar lid with water for it every day, but then I read they prefer to drink the morning dew off the leaves.

This morning, as Nolie was basking, we heard the clank of ladder-on-wall by the balcony rail and knew it was sealing time. I went out to roll the tree back inside, but then I realized our indoor cats were going to be a problem. The female, especially, is a killer. She’s about twenty years old, and she came to us five years ago from the streets. Bony, asthmatic, and flea-raddled, she was feverish with pharyngitis; her hairless gray ears were stitched with fine veins and edged with scabs. She knows what it means to be hungry, and she knows how to hunt for a living. The other cat, a Fancy Dan I raised on a bottle, has scarcely left this apartment in his six years of lordship. He’d hardly know what to do with an anole if he caught it, but he’d certainly poke holes in it until it stopped being interesting.

Andy helped me locate Nolie and herd it onto the windowsill before we brought the tree in. I brought a hanging plant for it to hide in for the time being, but it was having none of it and scurried out to the brick wall instead, right under the ladder. The worker on the ground began to clank and shift said ladder, and, understandably, the anole spooked. Scrambling against a smooth brick face it lost hold and fell, four stories to the pavement below.

It was a glimmer of good luck that Andy didn’t see this. I was nonchalant as I told him I needed to check on something downstairs (I’m on the homeowners’ board, so I’m always needing to check on something downstairs). Once in the hall, though, I scurried down to the driveway where Nolie had fallen, steeling myself for a one-person reptile funeral and a lifetime of deceiving my husband as to whatever became of our wee visitor. But, wonder of wonders, there it was, essentially unharmed but looking a little shook.

Catching a 2.5-inch lizard that’s thinner than the business end of a chopstick without actually smashing it is no easy feat; even the tiniest gap betwixt fingertips is an escape hatch. The hard-hatted chap at the foot of the ladder watched my feints and contortions in silence. When I finally caught the anole I explained that it lived in our tree up there and had fallen off. I pointed up at the balcony. He looked at me as one might expect a young man with little English to look at a middle-aged loon under such circumstances.

Nolie spent the day in a Mason jar on a stem clipped from the lemon tree with a few drops of water on a leaf. It spent hours alternating between climbing the glass and hanging from the rim under the lid with its filament fingers, but by evening it had given up its attempts to escape. It lay on the bottom under a leaf, its hands under its chin as if it were contemplating the end.

The workers say the balcony work may take a few days, which means at least a week or two. I checked with an online herpetology group I belong to, and they recommended releasing it rather than trying to keep it alive in a jar for an indefinite period. So tonight I gave it a sack lunch and an envelope with money for bus fare and took it back outside, gently placing it in a gardenia bush below our balcony. It whisked away into the dense leaves and vanished. I’ve read that anoles return to their home territories if moved; I left our address on the envelope, just in case.


In Which I Indulge Myself in a Rant


Dear editorial candidate,

The job market, while tough for most everyone, is especially unpromising for book editors. I have deep sympathy for your situation; I’ve been there, and I expect to be there again. Which is why, instead of just deleting your application and leaving you to wonder what happened, I’m going to tell you about the little things that counted against you.

Your query email was clumsily worded, full of errors, and/or downright rude. This isn’t the first day of middle school, when you can expect to do little besides ignore another lecture on cellphones in the classroom. Your formal application starts the minute you click “send.” (Note also that there is no intermediary between you and your potential supervisor. I am my own secretary, admin, and editorial assistant. Your “Hey can you tell me is the job still open?” comes directly to me.)

Your query email is cluttered with e-jargon. I don’t care if you’re sending a smoke signal with a dampened saddle blanket and a pile of smoldering juniper bushes—use correct capitalization and punctuation, a polite and congenial tone, and no BTWs, IMHOs, or emojis. This is book publishing. If you don’t like to use words, why did you apply for a job using words?

Your resume has errors. You’re not applying to be an engineer, a graphic designer, or a farrier. You are applying to be a whip of written language. For the love of all that is holy, proof your resume the old-fashioned way, reading it from the last word backward to the first. Check for flawless consistency in subheads and list items. Remember that the past tense of “to lead” is not spelled like an element in the periodic table.

Your filenames show that attention to detail is not a compulsion for you. Editing is all details. Does it matter to the fate of the world that your resume is saved as “b2-rerite.doc.doc”? That your cover letter contains tracked changes? Yes. Yes it does. Written errors and ugliness will precipitate the End Times.

You used nine spaces and a tab to center your name in your resume. There’s a reason the ad called for resumes to be docs rather than PDFs: to test your formatting knowhow. You’ll be editing hundreds of manuscripts in Word, then styling and prepping each one for typesetting or the Web. Am I supposed to take you seriously if you don’t understand about paragraph formatting?

You pasted your heavily formatted resume in an email, and the formatting went haywire in the transmission. Surely you know an em-dash might turn into a question mark in the body of an email, that fonts and indentations may not hold, that firewalls and embedded graphics don’t mix. Surely you know how to create a clean, coherent resume in plain text, if needed. Surely you know these things.

My email inviting you for an interview was bounced back because your inbox was full. Good lord.

I said, “Please return the copyediting test by noon tomorrow.” You replied, “Sure!” And then you sent it to me eight days later.

You used words like “utilize,” “implement,” and “facilitate.”

You didn’t Google yourself or otherwise sweep your online footprints. I don’t mind that your Facebook profile pic is a bare arse superimposed on a full moon, I really don’t. Or that a search for your name yields the details of your sex life on your significant other’s blog. It’s not the content that bothers me; it’s your questionable judgment re: “public” versus “private.”

Your blog entries are full of errors. If you’d represent yourself, your writing, so poorly, how are you going to represent this company?

So, cancel the angry reply you were planning. Refrain from telling me it wasn’t your fault that Word’s resume template screwed up the bullets, or that I don’t have your font on my computer. Don’t argue, using poorly spelled and punctuated language, that you have excellent grammar and spelling. Instead, delete my self-indulgent, crotchety email, and go read something worthwhile.

Before there was Anonymous…

…there was Anonymous (



The Lantern Parade


Thomas Cooper Gotch (1910).

Another Slice of Midtown

Sitting in the bistro across the street, at a small table in front of the window, where a ruddy sunset is going on. Each of the two adjacent patios is crowded: black young and gay next door at Willy’s; slightly older, much whiter, and about 50-50 hetero to homo over here. Two kids in tight shirts wander over from Willy’s and settle in chairs just outside the door. They’re drinking margaritas from plastic cups. Much drunken conversation at the bar about the one kid’s pants, which even in the land of low-hanging pants are impressive, riding at upper-mid thigh, his brown legs visible below the blinding leg bands of his tighty-whiteys.

A waiter backs through the door with a full tray and one of the glasses drops on the patio. It goes off like a bomb and one of the kids knocks his chair over. A dog rockets under a table and nearly upends it, and the owner comes out from behind the bar. He tells the kids from Willy’s, they want to sit here, they have to order here. Then he helps clean up the glass. Everything settles back down, only now there’s a shard of glass in the pot of oregano just outside the window. The shard is curved, like a leaf or a boat.

A quarrel at the bar about who offended whom: a few minutes ago there was a joke about whether heteros should live in Midtown, and a reply about paying taxes, and ten minutes later someone is offended. Two women at opposite ends of the bar lean out around the argument and discuss whether anyone, anywhere, should ever eat liver and onions. On one TV screen above the bar, the Red Sox are playing the Orioles, with much standing around and open-mouthed cud-chewing. On the smaller TV in the corner, Bart Simpson is being shaken upside down by Homer, while Lisa shuffles a deck of cards in front of a man in a smoking jacket who might be Hugh Heffner, or maybe Ricky Jay. A third TV, by the kitchen, is showing European football.

A woman sticks her head in from the patio and announces the po-po’s here. There’s a cry of merriment. Speculation as to why someone called the cops: someone had his pants down, there was a fight. The woman in the doorway says there was an incident last weekend (knowing looks, fingers sketching quotes around the word “incident”).

Gloamy on the patio now. A short, heavy Mexican man in a ball cap angles between chair-backs and shoulders, lighting the candles on the tables with an electric match.

The controversy over the pants is long gone. A tall woman with a coat-rack build and permed hair sips golden liquid from a shot glass and peruses the wine list. Her friend, also a woman, a good bit younger, is talking about dating. “I’m expecting to be impressed. I’m expecting chocolates and roses. I’m expecting to be complimented.” Her older companion looks at her over the top of the menu. “Just kidding.”

Yankees vs. Sox: aught to aught.

Scattered Thoughts, for Megan

Blogging: it’s a stupid word. It’s Gog and Magog and agog. It’s bog-hopping; it’s clog-dancing in boots. I don’t know why I’m doing it, except as a quiet writing exercise, putting words in the world just to see what it’s like to finish things. I don’t publicize it and I’m not enabling comments because I don’t much give a damn what anyone thinks about it. I mean I do, of course, but I believe all the way down into the spongy red marrow of my bones that praise is a faulty motivator. Praise messes with your head, and the absence of praise messes with your head. It’s hard enough as it is to figure out how to do this, and why; hard enough to forget and unlearn the everything wrongheaded I keep thinking I know about it. Craving praise has never done anything for me but make me afraid to write a word.

* * *

I know what you mean about looking up and realizing you’ve missed it. The supposed missing of a supposed chance or calling is only an illusion, but that doesn’t make it feel any less real. Having done nothing with your talent but avoid getting fired for ten years is no more significant in a given moment at sixty than it is at a given moment at thirty; the moment lasts exactly as long in either case, and the space that could be filled with what you have to offer is just as empty. Read the rest of this entry »

Random gif whimsy from Erdal Inci


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Among the Things That I Am Not: Photojournalist

Several years ago, as you may recall, the U.S. invaded Iraq. It seems strange to think we ever weren’t at war in a desert, that there was a time when camo looked wrong and fake if it wasn’t in shades of green. That most of us imagined the Middle East as a place of endless golden sand, with a few mirages and mosques and bullet-proof limousines to break the monotony. That we’d come to know it instead as a place of fractured gray mountains, hard-packed fields of green and brown, narrow alleyways and narrow twisting seams of caves, crowded asphalt streets, cellphones, cigarettes, and places so ancient the Bible hardly remembers them.

But that sounds rather grand and global, when what I mean to write about is entirely personal, and frankly, quite small.

During that gray wedge of time after the bombing of the towers but before the invasion of Iraq, I attended a war-related march while on vacation with the husband in New Orleans. I had my camera with me, and my notebook. I freelanced as a steeplechase photographer and copy editor and was half-imagining becoming a photojournalist. I’m partial to photography in general, but especially to good photojournalism: its ability to freeze and intensify the moment and preserve it for eternal reexperience — not only as a moment in time but as a  moment in feeling, without the blotching and fading of ordinary memory. I also wrote: essays, stories, odd bits and pieces of nothing much, hopefully but also with a measure of embarrassment.

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California Golden Poppies, ca. 1908 (Arnold Genthe)


WPA photos: or, if Van Gogh had been a photographer

From the Library of Congress: “Photographers working for the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) and later the Office of War Information (OWI) between 1939 and 1944 made approximately 1,600 color photographs that depict life in the United States, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The pictures focus on rural areas and farm labor, as well as aspects of World War II mobilization, including factories, railroads, aviation training, and women working.”

Second-hand plumbing store, Brockton, Mass., December 1940. (Jack Delano, WPA / FSA)

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