When my mom asked if I needed a pair of warmer socks for our walk (I’m 45) I reminded her this is the guy who’s slept on the side of glaciers and gotten up in the middle of the night to climb them in the dark so I know how to keep warm thank you, but about an hour later caught myself complaining about a muscle spasm in my neck probably from a sneezing fit last night, the fact I had my head angled to the side explains it — and all of us in my family getting older it seems and quivering, shaking just slightly like a breeze blowing through a tree of half-dead leaves our hands flap like that with our sandwiches and our gloves — and we all say it sure beats the alternative but none of us really know, we just keep repeating it and laughing and slapping each other on the backs, saying I love you but not as many times as we really mean it.
Saying goodbye to my uncle at the rehab center Monday, where my grandma’s recovering from a massive stroke, I broke the hug but he hugged back, this time harder, and I whispered something in his ear I don’t remember but meant it, and he broke down, and dad put his hand on him and said something about leaning on one another, how we had to do that now, and we all stood there startled and smiling and split apart then waving, walking away, not sure what else to say.
A couple summers ago when I was here in Germany I read a Paul Auster book my friend Ross suggested, and in one of the stories there’s a crazy old guy the protagonist follows around Central Park observing him as he collects unusual, found objects and pockets them in plastic bags — coins, twigs, baubles, some unidentifiable, maybe dried animal feces — and I think Auster is comparing it to the writing process, this act of stowing away bits and pieces: it’s what I’m doing in my notebooks and here on the Internet, like some weirdo you pass on the sidewalk in the city who unrolls a blanket with things of nominal value for anyone to stop and inspect, consider its worth, and move on.
I complain about all the screens everywhere on the plane flying back to the States, and then when I’m leaving Newark all the restaurants and bars in the airport have iPads now as menus: they’re tied to bike locks and sitting upright in metal clasps with a credit card reader mounted to the top and you don’t need to order from the server anymore, you just tell it what you want and they bring it — and somehow I spent more than $100 on drinks and frou frou apps: $10 for toast with a heap of fresh ricotta drizzled in olive oil — a kale salad with shrimp brought in a stainless steel dish with a plastic lid the server removes with flare, like it’s something more than it is, matches the beauty shot on the screen.
I wanted to ask the guy sitting directly opposite me what he thought of all the iPads, but it seemed too direct to talk to him in person so I didn’t.
The server said he missed the feeling of cash tips because why wouldn’t you, especially since now the gratuity is rolled into their pay checks and they have to wait until Friday to get it, and they’re taxed on it the same as their hourly rate, and the default is 18% so that’s basically what they can expect which isn’t bad, but since it’s pretty much automated that’s all you get. A woman much older than me asked one of them how she pays for the tea she got since it seemed to have happened offline and they didn’t run it through the computer and no one knew what to do, so they just let it go.
The screens are faster and flashier than real life and more interesting than the skyline that stretches vaguely out my window on the plane toward New York, and my feelings looking at the city from a distance which will never be the same.
The foam lining on my headphones is collapsing, flaking off, and I stuff the string beans from a jar of brining solution that cost $4 into my mouth, fold them like legs, swallow them whole, take pictures of other customers looking at their tablets and pretend I’m not, post them on my blog.