The week I had my wisdom teeth removed, I saw a man in line at the corner bodega drop a pencil, a nice-looking one, without noticing. I was fixed in a Percocet fog and stared at the pencil (handsome wood, something an architect would use) instead of telling the man he had dropped it. His transaction completed, he left, and I stepped up to the register, placing my beer next to it. I then turned to watch as an employee mopping the floor discovered the pencil, picked it up and admired it. I regretted not doing the same when I had the chance, but it seemed fair that all I should receive was the moment of transfer, as one man would never know where the pencil went, and one would never know where it came from, and I alone knew both.
The Gchat I received from a person I don’t exactly know, clearly intended for someone else, that said, simply, “sent,” and my crushing inability to deliver a perfunctory, helpful reply. My name on her chat list, just above or below the right one.
The occasional, peripheral certainty of a heightened martial presence in Manhattan, the alert bomb-sniffing dog, an extra pair of camouflaged soldiers, an assault rifle slung over a shoulder and gathering the sun’s warmth on Wall Street; the suggestion of classified intelligence pertaining to this day, this block; the quickened pulse that meshes with implicit and perhaps nonexistent danger, but then danger is never more than this potential, an unbroken vibration we periodically acknowledge.
A painful twinge in my forearm when painting along the molding at the top of a wall, the wall ending a quarter of an inch beyond my normal reach.
When I read a book whose author is dead I can’t help but sense the ghost reading over my shoulder-Nabokov’s chuckle as I flip back through a chapter in eager perplexity, before he teleports to the classroom of an hopelessly inept college English professor whose lectures he never misses; Woolf’s satisfaction at my satisfaction at her use of “staccato” to capture the movements of a sparrow’s head, her inaudible agreement, yes, that line was one of my favorites, too, it came abruptly, following a struggle, yet long after I’d given up.
The way I groped with a paper towel in a dark bedroom after spilling a glass of water, not willing to risk the light, searching the plane of wood until a wetness crept into the quilted square.
A dream preceding a hangover: My family has moved into a lavish, mazelike apartment, with gleaming luxuries around every corner. But in exploring the endless series of rooms I encounter an infestation of what are surely some South American variety of ant, bristling with poison barbs and secreting acidic juices and roughly the size of land crabs. When I find my father I tell him that his new apartment is overrun with ants-for mysterious reasons I refer to them as “digger ants,” which would seem to describe most ants and not properly convey how repellent or dangerous this particular species is-and my father laughs as if to say, “Well, that’ll happen when you live in a place this nice.” The room fades and is replaced with a shopping concourse dimly related to the one at Grand Central Terminal, and I wander into a cheese shop to find Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and GZA doing tandem stand-up comedy for an audience of customers so absorbed in finding the right sort of gouda or brie that they all but fail to notice the two rap legends vying for their laughter. I listen for a while but am too fascinated by the intense focus of the other shoppers to follow the threads of several jokes and eventually slink out a rear entrance, not wanting to offend the performers or (and this is a truly unacceptable possibility) be expertly mocked for leaving the show early.
Evading eye contact with friends and seeking it with strangers, especially strangers sitting in outdoor cafés, especially female strangers sitting in outdoor cafés, especially female strangers sitting in outdoor cafés and allowing their attention to drift, their heads to tilt, their expressions to darken with mystery.
A powerful, morbid fascination with countless daily ritual nothings. Juggling my small carton of orange juice and messenger bag as I attempt to extract and display my office ID. My apartment building key selected from the set, its bow pressed between the knuckles of my middle and index fingers, the blade thrust outward as though I will slash the unlucky mugger who chooses to strike when I’m mere feet from my front stoop. False accretion of detail in the subway advertisements and graffiti that fringe each commute-contours, irregularities and shadows that were and weren’t there last time. The seconds wasted every week on the observation that my favorite deli lunch order (buffalo chicken wrap) and my favorite vending machine snack (Chex Mix) are both given the code C4, this universe winking with meaningless coincidence.
The burst of loneliness when, whether in conversation or lecture, a speaker pauses to search for a word, and you silently arrive at the word they want, and the speaker then settles on that very word, not without some relish, and the strange fermata quickly recedes in the wake of further talk, and you turn to watch it shrink against the horizon.
Being so wretched at informal goodbyes that I leave gatherings without saying a word, hoping the host will construe this rudeness as somehow more intimate than the hearty backslap, or handshake, or hug.
The voyeurism of city life, yes, but more the incompleteness of it: an arm, just an arm, adjusting a curtain in a window across the street. Each bedroom filled with its own light, light from a secret arrangement of lamps. I was walking home at 3 a.m. one Sunday morning, charged with the intuition that this ghostly hour was when public became private, and came upon an arguing couple: the man stood on the curb, the woman directly across from him, the whole sidewalk between them. I didn’t hesitate to pass through this turbulent strait. She attacked his masculinity. He bragged about an ongoing affair. And as their shouting dissolved behind me I imagined they had saved their cruelest lines for an impartial passerby, for some contextless verdict made possible by tangent, the way I grazed the curve of their fury.
The unexpected calm that washed over me when I realized my laptop’s hard drive had been wiped clean, the subtle euphoria of this tabula rasa, the immense satisfaction of taking the computer apart and installing a new hard drive myself, the pleasure of starting over.
How sure I was that the man who entered the elevator and pressed the button for floor seven after I pressed the button for floor six would mistakenly exit a floor too soon, how palpable his distraction was. My purely mental smile when he strode out confidently on floor six and I mumbled something like, “I think you’re one more,” one of those otherwise nonsensical shortcut phrases. His embarrassed “Thanks.” The impression of his wobbly final step into the blank white lobby-an unstep, aborted as mind and body came to an asynchronous awareness.
All the women I love or loved or nearly loved know how to make silly faces, and they know to do it often.
The sky, which we do describe so often because we can’t, and because our failures nonetheless strike us as lovely. A landscape’s apparently infinite range of greens, of illumination and shade. Those glittering flecks in pavement! The ocean, despite its currents, flowing in every direction at once, and never going anywhere-the temporary shine of smooth wet sand when a wave retreats.
That when moving though a crowd, I fantasize about shoving absolutely everyone to the ground: children, the elderly, men twice my size with shaven heads, stunning women in precarious shoes, sleep-deprived students carrying books, cops, executives, street preachers, drunks, the rare celebrity, the person I recognize but want to avoid, the tattooed girl with brilliant teeth, the guy who sort of looks like me. I will shove them all. The crowd will subdue me, eventually; they will band together and pin me down and demand to know what is wrong with me, and I will say that nothing is wrong, that this was always how I pictured it.
Miles Klee goes outside.