John Vaghi / Software Engineer / Omelette Ruiner
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NYC is a great place to lose yourself in isolation — the myriad cute dogs you’ll pass once on the street and never see again, the friendly, wrinkled farmer’s market fruit vendor who’ll never know your name. Once in awhile, however, despite your best efforts, the air of genuine disinterest you project upon others will take purchase in someone’s memory —- and they’ll smile knowingly at you the next time you run into one another. Perhaps it’s a simple wave from that early AM jogger you do your best to avoid, a nod from the deli counter guy whose schedule you’re aware enough of to plan your lunches around so he’s not there, or, worse, a barista who, after five years of frequenting the same coffee shop and ordering the same black coffee, has finally caught on and begins preparing it for you the moment she sees you in line. It’s a simple gesture of recognition. We’ve, for an instant, escaped the atmosphere of an expectation that demands from us no more than the rote mechanics of transaction. You’ll both smile warmly, mention something notable about the weather; perhaps a presidential debate was on last night and will afford material for light riffing. You’ll leave a nominal 75-cent tip and briskly depart. Importantly, your regular status remains intact. The problem with recognition, though, is this new expectation. For those of us conditioned to avoid these kind of middling interactions, we’ve now established a relationship with someone whom we must interact with in this middling way almost every day. What if there was no presidential debate the night before? Perhaps the weather is more unremarkable than usual and, in fact, somehow begs not to be remarked upon? Maybe you recently dined out a bit above your pay grade and really need to use that 75 cents for laundry. How strong is this “regular” status? Can the relationship withstand a day of neglect and allow you to turtle your head back into its shell? What even is this relationship built upon anyway? It is precisely this kind of overthinking, spawning an anxiety that seems only tempered by a uniquely millennial form of cynicism, that makes me so incomprehensible to my parents. “Have you made friends with any of your neighbors?” they’ll constantly ask. “Why don’t you say ‘hi’ to Scotty next time you’re at the diner,” they’ll urge. It’s true —- in one day-trip to the city they managed to make acquaintances with the proprietor of a midtown luncheonette. A feat that I, in six years of living here, have been unable to replicate. I would, a few years back, drink coffee at Kellogg’s Diner in Williamsburg every other night around 10pm and binge on Cormac McCarthy. I saw couples fight, break-up, reconcile; soggy hamburgers; booths littered with the remnants of what seemed to be a college student’s last gasp for a passing GPA; celebrations of one kind or another, balloons in every possible shape and color; and yet I never once saw a flicker of recognition from any of the wait staff in the fleeting moments of eye contact we would make when I’d first walk in. But this made sense. I’d plop into a seat wearing headphones playing nothing and a book I was all too eager to open and become immersed in; an escape from. There was no invitation for small talk or anything resembling a real interaction —- and so no effort was made. I’m not quite sure what has happened to me since moving to New York. Maybe I was once genuinely concerned with the plight of strangers, or maybe I was always just riding on the coattails of my more empathetic parents. It’s easy to blame the city —- its throngs of people, the velocity at which it urges you to move, the way it makes you feel like you always have to be in pursuit of something. “Can I spare a moment?” you might ask yourself in a waning glimmer of self-reflection —- but you look around and see that no one else seems able to either. It feels very modern to countenance this self-imposed isolation with nothing more than a heightened awareness of that very isolation —- as if this awareness somehow rationalizes it; disarms it. I like to think that at any moment I can pull myself out of this mindset and slide into a routine where I embody the emboldened and somehow casual ease of my father as he strikes up a conversation with the deli guy —- politics, education, sports. Nothing they’re saying makes any sense, but they’re both laughing with a warmth traditionally reserved for old friends. The other issue with becoming a regular at a coffee shop is that they know your order. In theory, this is nice, but imagine one day you want something different and they’ve already prepared your usual. What do you do? Do you say you want something else? Does this rejection compromise your relationship? Are you now suddenly a “wildcard” customer —- relegated to a status where they’ll now only be cautiously proactive? Will they merely hold an empty cup at you for approval, but never again fill it ahead of time? As David Foster Wallace once wrote, “This is the sort of shit we waste our lives thinking about.” I find it strange we invest so much of our time nowadays in digital loyalty programs and the “status” those programs yield. We crave for the rote acknowledgement of having spent a certain amount of money, flown a certain number of miles, or chugged a certain ungodly amount of coffee. What would happen if we leaned more into the “status” earned by just being a slightly better person? And look, everyone hates small talk. But that’s only when we regard it as small talk; when standing in an elevator with a random coworker you have no interest in or are too stuck inside your own head to bother getting to know, filling that awkward interval of time with superficial conversation is missing the point. You don’t need to go into every coffee shop and suffer through some kind of back and forth with the barista about the weather just to hit a certain quota for social interaction. But I think it’s worth considering that we all suffer in various ways on a daily basis. The barista who doesn’t ever seem to crack a smile, that homeless guy on the subway you’re conditioned to tune out, that coworker who never seems aware of your abject disinterest in whatever they’re saying. Sometimes we’re numb to our own suffering, sometimes it’s intensely present, and sometimes it’s lying blissfully dormant. But suffering affects us all and, to me, this is the thing that should compel us to be fully present when engaging, in any capacity, with others. You’re both occupying the same space for a brief period of time —- which is pretty crazy if you think about it. We’re not trying to become best friends with everyone, but it is possible to show genuine compassion in a way that’s not contrived or uncomfortable —- in a way that is unmistakably human. And it’s totally possible that in those moments someone is truly down, and your small gesture of humanity helps to lift them up. So embrace your regular status if you’ve done the simple, human things it takes to earn it. Don’t worry about the crippling defeat of receiving your typical, and sort of snobby, oat latte when that day you inexplicably wanted a flat white. And don’t worry about the constant pressures of making “small talk.” Maybe what I never understood about my father when he would rattle on incomprehensibly about “education not being what it used to be” to people he’d just met, was that it didn’t really matter what he was saying. What mattered only was that he was engaged with that person and that he was fully present. And whomever he was talking to would see this quality and smile, not because my father way saying anything particularly funny, but because this gesture would often rip them out of the malaise of daily life and remind them again what being human is really about.
The napkin dispenser sits there - prolific - held up all these years by a table that’s sat between people sitting across from each other, in front of couples slouched against it in repose, against a wall dividing it from the outside world. Daylight will flood in, occasionally, and hit the table such that it creates a pool of reflection within which diners fix their hair, adjust their makeup, practice the nonchalance required of a smile on a first date. We’ve all sat here one time or another - maybe not here exactly, but somewhere like it. A table that has seen an endless parade of patrons wander in and spill their emotions all over it; the despair of tragedy, the joys of love, the excitement of opportunity. Everything we’ve felt in earnest the table has absorbed in earnest. Look at the texture of the wood, slightly warped, not from age, but from the weight of loss, from all the people it has over time helped to prop up. It’s deep brown slowly fading, but not from the persistence of the sun. Think of the salt that has been spilled from condiment shakers, all the tears that have been shed, the exhales of breath from faces burrowed in arms. Think of the acid from a lemon prematurely removed from a cold glass of water. These are the ways it betrays its wisdom - they are signs of age, sure, but not in the way we think of age. These are the signs that betray the permanence of understanding. Through all of our better days we have used the table to create a context for our celebrations; when we were down, it would provide stability; when we were eating, it would hold our plates. Think of the clasped hands, the clammy palms, the sweat, the oil, the errant eyelashes, hair strands receded. It retains our scars long after they’ve healed so that it might bring understanding to the next people that arrive in need of comfort. The table stabilizes the napkin dispenser and the food the waiter places on top of it. It wicks away the condensation that rolls from the water onto its surface. It does not mind the smears of bacon grease or ketchup or ragu that may splatter in whatever direction. The restaurant has a history beyond the neon signage and the gaudy menu and the uniforms donned by the waitstaff. Remove the table and the place becomes somehow diminished, somewhat emptied of its essence, void of the stories that have provided solace, however unconsciously, to whomever might have needed it simply to rest their elbows. It’s like a wave, right? Or an ascension? The way the sensations lift you up and carry you over something like the moon. In this case, it starts with smell, and it ascribes its virtues to bodies in the sky. So, in a way, we’re nearly there before we’ve even tasted anything. Something that, unexpectedly, brings you closer to the earth, like wine, but without the pretension. And then: cut-scene, like a movie that catches you off guard, or the next act of a symphony. What is that called again? A movement? What is the right way to experience flavor except in darkness? Because without darkness, the way by which the flavor illuminates can get lost among the other sources of light. Sometimes it penetrates everything, but sometimes it is more subtle. And sometimes it has to grow on you - like the wick of a candle slowly coming to life. You’ve forgotten it for a moment. It needs some time to absorb the oxygen in the room. But, before you know it, it’s dancing - two-step - to music that’s suddenly filled the area around you. You turn abruptly and it illuminates more than you had expected. But it doesn’t just illuminate - there’s also movement, there’s shadowplay on the walls that casts all the things that adorn it in a different kind of light, in a texture both unexpected and somehow new. As if through these shadows we experience a sort of rebirth of perception. This is the way that flavor can hit you if you just give it time to breath. The way it crumbles softly into salted sweetness. The way it leaves you desperate for more. The same way the candle will burn out, this experience ends, but it ends in a way that reaffirms that all your patience has been rewarded. The experience has fused with your other sensibilities and will, in future occasions, surprise you in those tender moments when you’re most in need of something familiar. It will take you back to the shadowplay of a candle-lit room, and remind you again how a subtle appreciation for any movement that occurs within the context of patience can be transformative. A dreamscape, you could call it. But this wouldn’t be quite right. We’ve allowed its texture and its flavor and its ephemeral nature to transform reality while allowing us to remain firmly planted within it. This is the thing that takes your breath away every single time and will continue to - so long as you continue to afford it the opportunity to do so. The napkin dispenser sits there - prolific - held up all these years by a table that’s sat between people sitting across from each other, in front of couples slouched against it in repose, against a wall dividing it from the outside world. Daylight will flood in, occasionally, and hit the table such that it creates a pool of reflection within which diners fix their hair, adjust their makeup, practice the nonchalance required of a smile on a first date. We’ve all sat here one time or another - maybe not here exactly, but somewhere like it. A table that has seen an endless parade of patrons wander in and spill their emotions all over it; the despair of tragedy, the joys of love, the excitement of opportunity. Everything we’ve felt in earnest the table has absorbed in earnest. Look at the texture of the wood, slightly warped, not from age, but from the weight of loss, from all the people it has over time helped to prop up. It’s deep brown slowly fading, but not from the persistence of the sun. Think of the salt that has been spilled from condiment shakers, all the tears that have been shed, the exhales of breath from faces burrowed in arms. Think of the acid from a lemon prematurely removed from a cold glass of water. These are the ways it betrays its wisdom - they are signs of age, sure, but not in the way we think of age. These are the signs that betray the permanence of understanding. Through all of our better days we have used the table to create a context for our celebrations; when we were down, it would provide stability; when we were eating, it would hold our plates. Think of the clasped hands, the clammy palms, the sweat, the oil, the errant eyelashes, hair strands receded. It retains our scars long after they’ve healed so that it might bring understanding to the next people that arrive in need of comfort. The table stabilizes the napkin dispenser and the food the waiter places on top of it. It wicks away the condensation that rolls from the water onto its surface. It does not mind the smears of bacon grease or ketchup or ragu that may splatter in whatever direction. The restaurant has a history beyond the neon signage and the gaudy menu and the uniforms donned by the waitstaff. Remove the table and the place becomes somehow diminished, somewhat emptied of its essence, void of the stories that have provided solace, however unconsciously, to whomever might have needed it simply to rest their elbows. It’s like a wave, right? Or an ascension? The way the sensations lift you up and carry you over something like the moon. In this case, it starts with smell, and it ascribes its virtues to bodies in the sky. So, in a way, we’re nearly there before we’ve even tasted anything. Something that, unexpectedly, brings you closer to the earth, like wine, but without the pretension. And then: cut-scene, like a movie that catches you off guard, or the next act of a symphony. What is that called again? A movement? What is the right way to experience flavor except in darkness? Because without darkness, the way by which the flavor illuminates can get lost among the other sources of light. Sometimes it penetrates everything, but sometimes it is more subtle. And sometimes it has to grow on you - like the wick of a candle slowly coming to life. You’ve forgotten it for a moment. It needs some time to absorb the oxygen in the room. But, before you know it, it’s dancing - two-step - to music that’s suddenly filled the area around you. You turn abruptly and it illuminates more than you had expected. But it doesn’t just illuminate - there’s also movement, there’s shadowplay on the walls that casts all the things that adorn it in a different kind of light, in a texture both unexpected and somehow new. As if through these shadows we experience a sort of rebirth of perception. This is the way that flavor can hit you if you just give it time to breath. The way it crumbles softly into salted sweetness. The way it leaves you desperate for more. The same way the candle will burn out, this experience ends, but it ends in a way that reaffirms that all your patience has been rewarded. The experience has fused with your other sensibilities and will, in future occasions, surprise you in those tender moments when you’re most in need of something familiar. It will take you back to the shadowplay of a candle-lit room, and remind you again how a subtle appreciation for any movement that occurs within the context of patience can be transformative. A dreamscape, you could call it. But this wouldn’t be quite right. We’ve allowed its texture and its flavor and its ephemeral nature to transform reality while allowing us to remain firmly planted within it. This is the thing that takes your breath away every single time and will continue to - so long as you continue to afford it the opportunity to do so.
Among the grease stained paper plate, the flipped bean can, bottles of empty green tea, and paper and napkins and half filled cups of liquid, all arranged without intention but with common purpose, the crumpled fast-food paper bag - Mayaya doesn’t dare dig to try and see the logo but, still, there are no fast food joints anywhere around here - the latex gloves in a ball, a single sticker, white, adorns the rim. It’s amazing what you notice when you’re looking for something else. A “Modern Nation” form crumpled up alongside a black plastic bag, coffee cups of myriad design, the fat, sharpie-looking strokes decorating the sticker suggest movement and almost resolve into a crude facsimile of a conductor, almost tympanic. The approximation of his eyes meet hers and the approximation of his baton suggests she move her eyes a bit to the right to meet there a clump of orange petals ripped off a gerber daisy. She doesn’t bother to count them this time, but she remains for a moment to marvel at the contrast there between them and the pale and livid trash that surrounds them, the conductor’s jitters now seeming to mirror her own. She moves down the street. Here we are, this day and age, and the best we can do is create voids within which people can discard whatever they don’t want. The conductor will remain in her thoughts today, she knows. He’ll inform her movements, she decides. The grace of intention tempered by the frazzled, incontinence of, well, the day and the age. There’s an overpass up ahead, busy with foot traffic during weekday afternoons but not so much this early in the morning. The overpass has particularly high fencing, constructed seemingly in retrospect, behind a relatively low steel guardrail. It’s about three feet high, the guardrail, and comprised of two rectangular beams running the length of the bridge, their surfaces flat instead of round and spaced apart by maybe a foot and a half. Foibles Carmine is busy shelving the guardrails with books, himself the proprietor of one of the last remaining bookstore overpasses, once a last ditch attempt of literary purists to skirt the oppression of city rent hikes and take to the streets. People were initially charmed by the tableau, but the rise of projection screens collapsed the bag industry, the purse industry, the tote industry - all industries that produced things that let you carry around other things. And so, books had nothing within which to be carried around in by people in motion. FC’s Booverpass was anomalous in its survival through no virtue of its own. Nature took charge there. Around the overpass, the trees snaked and threw at it vines that grew and weaved into the fencing so feverishly that, over the years, eventually obfuscated completely the blighted views of the interstate traffic below and gave rise to a visage of urban jungle whose aesthetic lures attracted just enough curiosity seekers, snapping pictures of books behind steel choking on nature, and occasionally buying something, that Foibles was always able to pay the requisite city tax for use of its girders. I went to the High Line once and waited in this giant clump of people to get into the High Line and was just trickling through this mess of a crowd for a while until I finally emerged into what I thought was the park, but I was actually back out on the street. I had apparently been in the High Line the entire time. It will shock you how much it never happened the next morning. Among the grease stained paper plate, the flipped bean can, bottles of empty green tea, and paper and napkins and half filled cups of liquid, all arranged without intention but with common purpose, the crumpled fast-food paper bag - Mayaya doesn’t dare dig to try and see the logo but, still, there are no fast food joints anywhere around here - the latex gloves in a ball, a single sticker, white, adorns the rim. It’s amazing what you notice when you’re looking for something else. A “Modern Nation” form crumpled up alongside a black plastic bag, coffee cups of myriad design, the fat, sharpie-looking strokes decorating the sticker suggest movement and almost resolve into a crude facsimile of a conductor, almost tympanic. The approximation of his eyes meet hers and the approximation of his baton suggests she move her eyes a bit to the right to meet there a clump of orange petals ripped off a gerber daisy. She doesn’t bother to count them this time, but she remains for a moment to marvel at the contrast there between them and the pale and livid trash that surrounds them, the conductor’s jitters now seeming to mirror her own. She moves down the street. Here we are, this day and age, and the best we can do is create voids within which people can discard whatever they don’t want. The conductor will remain in her thoughts today, she knows. He’ll inform her movements, she decides. The grace of intention tempered by the frazzled, incontinence of, well, the day and the age. There’s an overpass up ahead, busy with foot traffic during weekday afternoons but not so much this early in the morning. The overpass has particularly high fencing, constructed seemingly in retrospect, behind a relatively low steel guardrail. It’s about three feet high, the guardrail, and comprised of two rectangular beams running the length of the bridge, their surfaces flat instead of round and spaced apart by maybe a foot and a half. Foibles Carmine is busy shelving the guardrails with books, himself the proprietor of one of the last remaining bookstore overpasses, once a last ditch attempt of literary purists to skirt the oppression of city rent hikes and take to the streets. People were initially charmed by the tableau, but the rise of projection screens collapsed the bag industry, the purse industry, the tote industry - all industries that produced things that let you carry around other things. And so, books had nothing within which to be carried around in by people in motion. FC’s Booverpass was anomalous in its survival through no virtue of its own. Nature took charge there. Around the overpass, the trees snaked and threw at it vines that grew and weaved into the fencing so feverishly that, over the years, eventually obfuscated completely the blighted views of the interstate traffic below and gave rise to a visage of urban jungle whose aesthetic lures attracted just enough curiosity seekers, snapping pictures of books behind steel choking on nature, and occasionally buying something, that Foibles was always able to pay the requisite city tax for use of its girders. I went to the High Line once and waited in this giant clump of people to get into the High Line and was just trickling through this mess of a crowd for a while until I finally emerged into what I thought was the park, but I was actually back out on the street. I had apparently been in the High Line the entire time. It will shock you how much it never happened the next morning.
The student walked to the house in the brisk, calculated steps of one assured that the parcels she carried - a butter and a baguette - would lift the spirits of the professor she was hoping to convince merited his regard that she was the kind of artist he could look back upon and be proud of having taught. “The butter and the baguette are mutually exclusive” she told a body now beginning to slump in resignation, having several times attempted to marry one to the other, having several times been told that one was the “gift of art” and one was the “gift of the artist”, having had the aroma of newly risen yeast climb the nose, lift the face, only to have it drop repeatedly as the student forced upon him a separation she claimed was done at his behest. “Your assignment was to bring an object to regard as art.” “And it did not stipulate you bring an additional item.” “That is merely a gift, as stipulated by my role as dinner guest.” It was an object to mark the finale of their time together as teacher and student, poet and aspiring poet, artist and one who aspires to make art - an opportunity to fill the space left in the emptiness that words could never possibly fill. The butter sat on the credenza that adorns the wall framing one side of the table the professor and the student now sat at, the hands of one clenched in a frustration now rising up the arms and into the flesh of the face, turning it a red accentuated by a new heat funnelling into the room from the kitchen - a stove livening a pot of stew, vegetables and meat and potatoes rising to the surface and breathing bubbles briefly touching the face of God before bursting back into the pot and infusing into the surrounding air a heat that now made its way back into the dining room - towards the credenza - to engulf a butter beginning to soften like the face of the professor who saw now in his student the same audacity he had once carried throughout his formidable years, when he was still grappling with the demons that had held him back - professors like himself who were wholly unable to see that it was never really the butter they were meant to regard. Fingers wetted and brought to turn a magazine page with the sort of care reserved for old wine, or the tubed vintage concert poster brought up out of basements and excavated as if on an archeological dig. What would a noticeably whetted page do to the resale value, she wonders; a page turned by a finger ostensibly licked. Or worse. Could be chicken grease? Paws having just scraped the last out of a bag of chips? No, no one would dare. Index finger to lip, she considers - herself unraveled from an earlier age and so whose forbearance lent itself to a sort of kinship with the printed page. She doesn’t like ambiguity, and tears out the page once she’s finished with it. She does this for a few more minutes, pages accumulate on the floor. She regards them occasionally with the quiet detachment of a soldier running past the wounded and the dead. Larger things at stake now. The door opens, crashes shut, pages flutter briefly and are still. The thing about pancakes was they could never seem malformed. Regardless of their shape, their lumpiness, stack height, the number of fruits or confections they were plied with, whether they were torched, basically batter, smiling back at you with rock sugar eyes twinkling from the overhead incandescent, even served to you on fire and you’d think it was part of the act — twisted, de rearranged, frumpy and stretched to their snapping point. You could never void pancakes of their essence. Even served as cardboard, as these had been, they still met expectations. There was a broadness there. A range of existence that allowed them to roam in a way people could not. People had to be contained into neat, concentric circles. Within those circles all sorts of chaos could occur, sure. But the moment the circle tries to bounce, to move away from the axis of, what, humanness? There’s more give to the pancake. It’s built in. The syrup rolls right off. The student walked to the house in the brisk, calculated steps of one assured that the parcels she carried - a butter and a baguette - would lift the spirits of the professor she was hoping to convince merited his regard that she was the kind of artist he could look back upon and be proud of having taught. “The butter and the baguette are mutually exclusive” she told a body now beginning to slump in resignation, having several times attempted to marry one to the other, having several times been told that one was the “gift of art” and one was the “gift of the artist”, having had the aroma of newly risen yeast climb the nose, lift the face, only to have it drop repeatedly as the student forced upon him a separation she claimed was done at his behest. “Your assignment was to bring an object to regard as art.” “And it did not stipulate you bring an additional item.” “That is merely a gift, as stipulated by my role as dinner guest.” It was an object to mark the finale of their time together as teacher and student, poet and aspiring poet, artist and one who aspires to make art - an opportunity to fill the space left in the emptiness that words could never possibly fill. The butter sat on the credenza that adorns the wall framing one side of the table the professor and the student now sat at, the hands of one clenched in a frustration now rising up the arms and into the flesh of the face, turning it a red accentuated by a new heat funnelling into the room from the kitchen - a stove livening a pot of stew, vegetables and meat and potatoes rising to the surface and breathing bubbles briefly touching the face of God before bursting back into the pot and infusing into the surrounding air a heat that now made its way back into the dining room - towards the credenza - to engulf a butter beginning to soften like the face of the professor who saw now in his student the same audacity he had once carried throughout his formidable years, when he was still grappling with the demons that had held him back - professors like himself who were wholly unable to see that it was never really the butter they were meant to regard. Fingers wetted and brought to turn a magazine page with the sort of care reserved for old wine, or the tubed vintage concert poster brought up out of basements and excavated as if on an archeological dig. What would a noticeably whetted page do to the resale value, she wonders; a page turned by a finger ostensibly licked. Or worse. Could be chicken grease? Paws having just scraped the last out of a bag of chips? No, no one would dare. Index finger to lip, she considers - herself unraveled from an earlier age and so whose forbearance lent itself to a sort of kinship with the printed page. She doesn’t like ambiguity, and tears out the page once she’s finished with it. She does this for a few more minutes, pages accumulate on the floor. She regards them occasionally with the quiet detachment of a soldier running past the wounded and the dead. Larger things at stake now. The door opens, crashes shut, pages flutter briefly and are still. The thing about pancakes was they could never seem malformed. Regardless of their shape, their lumpiness, stack height, the number of fruits or confections they were plied with, whether they were torched, basically batter, smiling back at you with rock sugar eyes twinkling from the overhead incandescent, even served to you on fire and you’d think it was part of the act — twisted, de rearranged, frumpy and stretched to their snapping point. You could never void pancakes of their essence. Even served as cardboard, as these had been, they still met expectations. There was a broadness there. A range of existence that allowed them to roam in a way people could not. People had to be contained into neat, concentric circles. Within those circles all sorts of chaos could occur, sure. But the moment the circle tries to bounce, to move away from the axis of, what, humanness? There’s more give to the pancake. It’s built in. The syrup rolls right off.
The lamps that illuminate pockets of parks at night mean that most people wander as shadows, and then but what does this mean when they finally emerge? Is one transformed through the illumination of their countenance? And what of the girl on the gradual slope for whom the park lights don’t quite reach, drifting in and out of poses. And what of the man walking in the red puffer vest with a step quick to keep with the intermittent breeze. And what of the couple, hand in hand, swaying gently from side to side as if to prohibit forward movement, as if to create something like a linger. And what of the four on a bench designed generously for four, that have here always gathered that, as she approaches them from behind, from above and down the gradual slope, past the girl almost but not quite in repose that we recognize more as shadow than as human but which recognition we associate somehow more strongly with human, as if her silhouette leaves room for a projection of ourselves onto it, backlit by the nearest park lamp’s flicker that casts light outward into the space between the trees and the girl propped up by the generous slope, and lends definition to the four on the bench she approaches slowly from behind as she sees their shapes sway and roil to a backdrop of winnowing urban sprawl. She moves towards them, her flats giving to stones rising from dirt, her arms guiding hands into wool, her mouth exhaling in resignation as she approaches them finally, coughs to grab them, and four heads, from behind, turn simultaneously left as the approaching figure’s silhouette dwarfs them from their seated positions on the bench, where they remain sitting; the Midnight Kids at their perch. Back down onto the street now and down the avenue she’s on her way. The air smells like salt and lilac, but only on the fringes of the day and only during certain months. This is the middle of June, and there are always men on stoops talking just loudly enough for the entire block to hear—as if conversations were flowing cross-stoop, somehow. Cross-stoop and down the block, and the chorus of answers to questions from one end would drift on the salted air of the other and would continue through June or as long as the air remained buoyant enough to carry them; these exchanges. Asked on lilac and lavender and answered on MSG. Down a bit further two alley cats snake down the sidewalk, playful; one black and the other seemingly starlit. Their night moves charm. Their tails wrap around one another, and then one darts forward and the other darts as if to catch it. Although their movements seem independent, they end up intertwined. She knows these cats, seen them before. They come about an inch closer to her each day - whenever she’s willing to humor them as one darts underneath a car while the other sits, chirping, behind the back bumper. A black Camry and the street is quiet. She steps onto a grate in the middle of the road and... The black one is playing hard to get. She watches as it emerges from the car and darts again, this time at the starlit one and it arches its back and then half-leaps into the other as their bodies wrap and then, in a zoom, the black one is out onto the street maybe eight feet away from her hand still outstretched. She is quiet this time. This time she just watches as it sits, cranes its neck in what looks like a 180 degree turn. From her crouched position, the cat is framed almost perfectly by the empty street. It seems to almost want to howl but, instead, dashes to the other side to a construction lot, barricaded by fencing with a gap just wide enough for it to consider briefly, and then it slips through. Tssk, tssk, tssk ...to the starlit one still by the car, then it’s again beneath it, and she’s up and walking down the block counting the building lamps. One is not like the other. It sits separate from the building, it’s light is more of a brilliant fluorescence. Instead of a single bulb, it contains a canopy of tiny, illuminated pearls. It’s glass enclosure is perfectly clear, as if newly installed. The top of the lamp is loose, and from her tiptoes she’s able to lift it just enough to drop the paper in, watch it flitter down the pearl canopy and come to rest near the bottom, pearls illuminating the name on it briefly before they all go dark. And she’s off. The lamps that illuminate pockets of parks at night mean that most people wander as shadows, and then but what does this mean when they finally emerge? Is one transformed through the illumination of their countenance? And what of the girl on the gradual slope for whom the park lights don’t quite reach, drifting in and out of poses. And what of the man walking in the red puffer vest with a step quick to keep with the intermittent breeze. And what of the couple, hand in hand, swaying gently from side to side as if to prohibit forward movement, as if to create something like a linger. And what of the four on a bench designed generously for four, that have here always gathered that, as she approaches them from behind, from above and down the gradual slope, past the girl almost but not quite in repose that we recognize more as shadow than as human but which recognition we associate somehow more strongly with human, as if her silhouette leaves room for a projection of ourselves onto it, backlit by the nearest park lamp’s flicker that casts light outward into the space between the trees and the girl propped up by the generous slope, and lends definition to the four on the bench she approaches slowly from behind as she sees their shapes sway and roil to a backdrop of winnowing urban sprawl. She moves towards them, her flats giving to stones rising from dirt, her arms guiding hands into wool, her mouth exhaling in resignation as she approaches them finally, coughs to grab them, and four heads, from behind, turn simultaneously left as the approaching figure’s silhouette dwarfs them from their seated positions on the bench, where they remain sitting; the Midnight Kids at their perch. Back down onto the street now and down the avenue she’s on her way. The air smells like salt and lilac, but only on the fringes of the day and only during certain months. This is the middle of June, and there are always men on stoops talking just loudly enough for the entire block to hear—as if conversations were flowing cross-stoop, somehow. Cross-stoop and down the block, and the chorus of answers to questions from one end would drift on the salted air of the other and would continue through June or as long as the air remained buoyant enough to carry them; these exchanges. Asked on lilac and lavender and answered on MSG. Down a bit further two alley cats snake down the sidewalk, playful; one black and the other seemingly starlit. Their night moves charm. Their tails wrap around one another, and then one darts forward and the other darts as if to catch it. Although their movements seem independent, they end up intertwined. She knows these cats, seen them before. They come about an inch closer to her each day - whenever she’s willing to humor them as one darts underneath a car while the other sits, chirping, behind the back bumper. A black Camry and the street is quiet. She steps onto a grate in the middle of the road and... The black one is playing hard to get. She watches as it emerges from the car and darts again, this time at the starlit one and it arches its back and then half-leaps into the other as their bodies wrap and then, in a zoom, the black one is out onto the street maybe eight feet away from her hand still outstretched. She is quiet this time. This time she just watches as it sits, cranes its neck in what looks like a 180 degree turn. From her crouched position, the cat is framed almost perfectly by the empty street. It seems to almost want to howl but, instead, dashes to the other side to a construction lot, barricaded by fencing with a gap just wide enough for it to consider briefly, and then it slips through. Tssk, tssk, tssk ...to the starlit one still by the car, then it’s again beneath it, and she’s up and walking down the block counting the building lamps. One is not like the other. It sits separate from the building, it’s light is more of a brilliant fluorescence. Instead of a single bulb, it contains a canopy of tiny, illuminated pearls. It’s glass enclosure is perfectly clear, as if newly installed. The top of the lamp is loose, and from her tiptoes she’s able to lift it just enough to drop the paper in, watch it flitter down the pearl canopy and come to rest near the bottom, pearls illuminating the name on it briefly before they all go dark. And she’s off.