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Authors: Mitchell Kriegman

Things I can’t Explain

BOOK: Things I can’t Explain
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TO THE NOW AND FUTURE T.K.

 

You have to be prepared to take a spill.

—SHAUN WHITE

If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the animal is going somewhere.

—GROUCHO MARX

 

CHAPTER
1

Was it Malcolm Gladwell who said, “Where you're standing now is not where you're going to be”? Maybe it was Lady Gaga. All I know is that it's true. Whatever you think your problems are now, by the time you solve them you're in some new place with new problems. I think Einstein tried to adjust for this with his theory of relativity and Heisenberg had some special principle about it, but I don't think anyone has ever explained it.

Where I'm standing now is on an Upper East Side sidewalk, shaking off the residual effects of another pointless job interview, thanks to Lou at the Unemployment Office, who, if you ask me, is lucky he has a job. They should really think about changing the name of that place to something more upbeat, like the “You Will Be Settling into Your Own Cozy Little Cubicle Any Day Now” Office. Otherwise simply tag it “The Unenjoyment Office,” because that's what it is.

Like a lot of people my age, in my situation, burdened with college debt and overqualified, I prefer
not
to think of myself as “unemployed.” What I really am is an aspiring, highly trained journalist—whatever that means in the age of BuzzFeed. Sooner or later, some editor in chief or web czar is going to recognize me for what I can do. I'm hoping for sooner.

This afternoon's interview was more miserable than most; they were considering me as the faculty advisor for the school paper at a private academy for overprivileged and underdisciplined girls. The headmistress, Mrs. Rippington, really seemed to like me. Although this job is not exactly a career booster, a paycheck of any kind is an urgent priority, so I was thinking I'd sign up for this gig. Besides, it might be amusing, catering to the pampered progeny of the 1 percent while trying to catch up on my back rent. But that thought lasted about twelve seconds. That's when I heard fourteen-year-old Marissa, the seventh-grade, ahem, head editor, whisper to her sportswriter and BFF, Gwenyth, that as soon as she got her braces off she was planning to bop and drop handsome Mr. Lithicum, their twenty-something science teacher. I still have enough Ohio in me to be appalled by this. Exactly how much extra credit in biology is brace-face hoping to earn here? I flash back to my own seventh-grade science teacher, who wore a toupee and smelled perpetually of formaldehyde.

Mrs. Rippington was just opening her mouth to offer me the position when I overheard Miss Metal Mouth's bestie propose in a fast-talking addy rant that they make the little independent study in science a three-way, with a very specific graphic description of the contours of Mr. L's anatomical assets. How do they know that much detail?

I couldn't help myself. I thought the headmistress would appreciate knowing what's going on behind her back, so I ratted out the little Lolitas, thinking it might actually endear me to the woman by showcasing responsibility and moral fortitude, but apparently, headmistresses at posh Upper East Side girls' schools prefer to be ignorant of such sordid scandals—even those that threaten to become statutory, if you know what I mean. Who knew?

Guess who's still out of a job?

Now do you blame me if I'm in need of a little comfort? And for me, in New York City, comfort is spelled c-o-f-f-e-e.

I head to the downtown subway because that's where the coffee is. Not all of it, of course, but the kind I'm jonesing for right this minute. I don't have full-blown trainophobia, which is a fear of subways and other trains (not to be confused with trannyphobia, which I also
don't
have), but I admit, however, that in eight years I've never become quite comfortable with speeding underground on a rickety train through a pitch-black tunnel filled with electrical wires, water pipes, and rats, while enormous skyscrapers hover overhead.

Back home in Ohio we commuted at street level with plenty of available oxygen circulating among the minivans, punch buggies, and SUVs. But since the subway is the most expedient means of getting from “where I am standing now” to “where I would like to be,” I plunge. Mr. Gladwell would be proud. Lady Gaga would probably want to know why I hadn't worn taller stilettos.

The subway seemed so exciting to me when I arrived in the city. At first it was such a novelty, but eventually it began to wear on me. Taking the 6 train, I find it calming to imagine I'm on a ride at Disney World
simulating
a New York subway. I note the cartoonishly authentic details that include metal-against-metal screeching noises, shaky train cars, lights flashing randomly on and off, and even an old deserted City Hall Ghost Station.

Like the seasoned eye-contact-avoiding New Yorker I have become, I slide past my fellow subway riders and gingerly take a seat. To my immediate right there is a man eating the world's smelliest falafel (a Disney cast member in disguise?). I may also be sitting on gum, but I overcome those lingering concerns. I'm the last one to endorse all that princess Disneyana of Disney World, but you've got to admit they know how to make a good ride. I marvel at how good Disney is at this authenticity stuff.

As the doors open and the speakers fzzt and schzzt, garbling every word from Subway Announcer Lady, reality sets in and I know it's not a theme park ride. Besides, if it was actually a ride at Disney World, I would have exited into a gift shop and bought a bracelet made of antique subway tokens for a souvenir. But no matter, I am on a quest for the dark roasted steaming beverage I've come to think of as nothing short of liquid manna.

In my opinion, the best coffee in Manhattan can be found in the lobby of the
Daily Post
. That's where I used to work. The
Post
was the reason I came to New York City in the first place. It was my dream job, the answer to an aspiring journalist's prayers. But like a lot of old-school newspapers (the kind with news actually printed on paper) the
Daily Post
was forced to close up shop many months back, resulting in my present career-lite condition.

That hasn't stopped me from returning here. I guess it's like visiting the graves of deceased loved ones. Maybe communing with the ghosts of grizzled old newspapermen and -women and listening to the echoes of breaking stories hot off the presses inspires me, even though the concept of old-style news is totally obsolete—like developing film in a dark room or sending a postcard. Maybe I'm a nostalgia junkie or even, despite my precocious early video-game-making experience, a Luddite at heart, but I still like to turn the pages of a newspaper made with wood pulp and ink.

The fact that the best cup of joe in the entire city can be found at the coffee cart in the
Daily Post
lobby is what I call a major perk.

I should also add that the operator of said coffee cart and I have been involved in what I call a micro-relationship for quite some time. For those of you who live outside the city that never sleeps, let me define my terms:

micro-relationship
(n.) the sense of being incidentally connected on a very small scale, 1968.
micro
meaning “small,” comb. form of Greek
mikros
“small, little, petty, trivial, slight” (see
mica
) with
relation
+
ship
, 1744, “sense of being related,” specifically of romantic or sexual relationships by 1944.
micro
+
relation
+
ship
interpersonal connections that develop in bustling metropolitan areas, as a result of frequent exposure, 2007. A stranger who happens to appear in one's sphere of experience on a regular basis and with whom it becomes necessary to interact usually in a positive manner. Not to be confused with “meaningful relationship” or “unconditional love.”

New York totally lends itself to these drive-by friendships. And they're more important than you might think, because in a city like this, you can really start to feel disconnected and alone.

BOOK: Things I can’t Explain
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