Not long after moving to Brooklyn I was introduced to two women at an art opening–a blonde and a brunette. They asked why I had come to New York. Embarrassed to say, “to be an artist,” I jokingly answered, “to be a poet.” The brunette pointed to the blonde: “She’s a poet!” “I’m sorry, I was kidding,” I said. “I came to New York TO BE A DANCER!” The blonde then pointed to the brunette and said: “She’s a dancer!” I skulked away.
The first time I sought therapy was as a student in a small liberal arts college in Texas. I had high hopes the school counselor would be able to untangle my messy life (I had to, considering that I was majoring in Psychology).
I told him the sordid story—I was dating my housemate’s ex-girlfriend, and she cheated on me, with him. Now I was trapped in a painful jumble of regret, resentment, and despair. Plus a very uncomfortable household.
I did it. On the eve of the iPhone’s seventh anniversary, I finally bought my first smartphone. That’s right, I’d been using a flip-phone all this time. I didn’t even have a calling plan, I had one of those pay-as-you-go things that my wife says only ex-cons use.
It’s not that I’m a Luddite – I’m on the computer day and night. Hell, I was working professionally for a website in 1998 (the year Google was founded!) and bought my first domain name in 2001. It’s just that I hate phones. I hate making phone calls, I hate receiving phone calls, and I. Fucking. Hate. Voicemail.
This morning I crossed paths with the elderly Indian gentleman I see most mornings on my way to work. We went through our usual routine: I smile and say good morning, and he smiles back, performs an elegant flourish with his hand, and responds, “and a very good day to you.”
Not only is his greeting unique, the fact that I willingly interact with a stranger is itself exceedingly rare. Whenever I hear that Will Rogers quote, “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet,” I think, “That simple-minded Okie clearly didn’t live in New York.” I figured that out the first year I lived here.
Last week I was looking for my boss when I noticed Nabokov’s Pale Fire on a colleague’s desk. I asked her, “Are you reading this?” Realizing how condescending that sounded, I tried to make a joke of it and added, “Or what?”
It wasn’t stomach pain that finally drove me to a gastroenterologist, it was embarrassment. My innards were getting progressively louder. They started by sounding like a creaking door at a haunted house and eventually worsened into the howls of a depressed hound dog. The doctor ran a few humiliating exams and suggested I get an endoscopy, which is the misleadingly reassuring term for sticking a camera down your throat to take pictures and gather samples for a biopsy.