Voyeurism

I came out of the gym on Friday and turned the corner to discover a car being eaten by fire. There was a very energetic cohort of firemen buzzing around the scene shouting at each other. The flame seemed like the Christmas tree from the Nutcracker–it kept growing exponentially taller and pointier. The car was an Audi sedan. All the doors were open and the windows were soot-blackened and menacing. The interior was charred and the leather upholstery was curling away from the metal core of the seats like wood shavings from a small carving.

I was fascinated and horrified by my fascination. I looked around and noticed that an ambulance was still on the scene and I comforted myself by imagining that if anyone had been injured in the fire, the ambulance would already be on its way to the hospital. I looked at the front of the car and determined that it hadn’t crashed into another vehicle. And just as the firemen extinguished the blaze in a puff of steam and ash, I noticed that the fire wasn’t coming from under the hood, but from inside the car, as if someone had dropped a particularly ambitious cigarette or worse, had set the car ablaze on purpose.

At that moment, before I could imagine who sets a car on fire in the middle of the day on a busy avenue in the middle of a residential neighborhood, a guy walked past me holding up his cell phone. He had clearly recorded the whole thing and was saying to himself over and over, “Let the m*ther f*cker burn!” His callousness snapped me right out of my voyeuristic indulgence and I went quickly through the cloud of debris, around the corner and on to my apartment.

But I have been thinking about it all weekend. He was not the only one with his cell phone camera. He was not the only one who wanted to capture this strange, scary, awful scene. To commemorate it? To share it with friends?

Then, I heard about the man in Washington DC who was attacked for no reason on a metro platform by two kids. No one intervened or called for help. Several people did, however, record the attack and put it up on YouTube. While I know that I have to be very cautious living in a big and often violent city, and that I am ill-equipped to put out a fire or intercede in an assault, it breaks my heart to see our natural voyeuristic impulses play out in these ways.

On a side note, I remembered that my third resolution is to pick up the phone more often when people call, or, if I don’t pick up, to at least return my missed calls. But this weekend has made me hopeful that in addition to my more mundane resolutions, I will also be good at asking for help when it is needed, on my behalf or for others.

Resolve

Resolutions:
1. Be on time.
2. Write it all down.
3. Remember the third resolution I thought of this afternoon.

I never make these, but maybe this is a good year for them.

********************

I remembered the third: answer my phone. I have a reputation for not picking up the phone when people call, and while that alone may not be a problem, I also fail to return missed calls. So this year, I am going to be a bit more available. Even if I can’t talk for long, or I can’t talk now, I will try to answer my phone so no one thinks I am stuck in a ditch somewhere. And thusly resolved, I must now go and call LN.

Resolve

Resolutions:
1. Be on time.
2. Write it all down.
3. Remember the third resolution I thought of this afternoon.

I never make these, but maybe this is a good year for it.

Exposure

The afternoon autumn light comes through my front window and casts albino Northern Lights on my ceiling.

Follow the Leader

I read somewhere that people who have brown eyes, like me, are supposed to be more resistant to sunlight. They are supposed to be able to go easily without sunglasses: standing deep in baseball fields ready for a pop fly; laying exposed on the decks of boats with no thought of unsightly tan lines; posing uninhibited for outdoor photos.

I on the other hand, used to cover my face with my softball glove to keep the sun out of my face. When I go boating, it is only after I have triple checked that I packed at least two hats and two pairs of sunglasses (because if one of either went overboard, I would be up a creek, so to speak). I close my eyes on purpose in outdoor photographs because they begin to water so badly that I figure it is better to look like I blinked at the wrong moment than like someone off camera is dicing the biggest onion in the history of the world just for my benefit. There is not a single photograph from our family reunions in which my eyes are open.

When I was really little, before I could really compare my sensory experiences to others’, I didn’t know that I was significantly more sensitive to light than other people. I thought that everyone must experience the sun like I did. So instead of making a big deal out of it, I turned it into a game: Lead Me! Any time I got out of our car or burst out of a movie theater, or left a family grocery shopping bonanza and emerged from a suburban cocoon into the bright white light reflecting off the parking lot, I would close my eyes, reach out my hands in front of me, and cry, “Lead me, Mommy!” She would dutifully take my hand, and steer me to our destination, even if the other hand was holding my brother, pushing a cart, balancing her purse, and pulling out her keys.

Not much has changed. Obviously, I am now a devotee of sunglasses. I have a pair to live in every purse, in every glove compartment, and a few extra just in case. My eyes are still dark brown—my father’s eyes. But my sense of direction in the world—where I am headed, why I am going there, who I look to for guidance—comes from my mother. Because of her, there are so many things I can do, even if sometimes I have to close my eyes and just go.

Burnt Marshmallows

We live on the ground floor of a classic Brooklyn brownstone. Above us lives an active family of five, or eight if you are counting pets. And I know both that they are active and how many pets they have because we can hear them over our heads.

This is actually something I love about our apartment. I think it comes from growing up in an older house with wood floors—I would always know if someone were up early or going to bed late because the creaking floorboards of my house made democratic announcements about everyone’s activities. While it was much harder to sneak in or out as a teenager (though this was not the deterrent for my brother that it was for me), it became a sort of unnoticed background music that contextualized our daily family life.

In my current house, or apartment rather, I feel just as fond of the overhead symphony as I did in my childhood home. But the floorboards in this house have their own distinct sound effects. When someone walks over a few certain spots, it sounds like the first bite of a burnt marshmallow when the toasted, fire-exposed sugar scales yield to your teeth releasing a torrent of steam and exposing the raw treat underneath. Except louder. Boyfriend thinks that it means the house will come down around our ears. I think it’s just the house humming along to the activities of its occupants.

(Photograph by Cindy Shaw.)

Butta

I have been dreaming of Maine. For the past few years, we have gone to visit Boyfriend’s aunt and uncle for a long weekend of stolen days out on the ocean. They are amazing hosts and they have an enviable boat where they practically live all summer.

As soon as we arrive, I don Queaz-Away bracelets and nibble ginger cookies until I get my sea legs, which are often slow to arrive. But once I do, I lay languidly like a lizard across the bow of the boat until I am certain I am getting sunburned. Then, I pull on a t-shirt and a sun hat and move to the stern for shade and champagne. In the cool mornings, while we are docked off the shore of one of the Calendar Islands, I dive off the back of the boat, cleaving the waves, peeling away sleep like the skin of a ripe mango. It is cold in a refreshing, good-morning-new-day-I-am-glad-I-am-young-and-alive kind of way. As a former swim team champ, I show off for the gulls and the seaweed, swimming laps to and from the other boats docked around us like an accidental, bobbing trailer park. Then I climb out of the water, pleasantly exhausted, to let my salty hair crinkle dry in the blooming sunlight.

But, when I dream of Maine, and Portland and the boat, what I really dream of is lobster. Last year, we flagged down a lobster boat and bought 10 squirmy crustaceans that had literally just been plucked from the ocean only moments before. That night all of them went into a giant pot and we had nothing but lobster and wine for dinner. Well, lobster, wine, and butter. Or, as Boyfriend’s aunt—a New England transplant from Long Island—pronounces it, “Butta.”

This year, we aren’t going until October for a tragically abbreviated trip, but I know that when I get there the lobsters-in-butta will be waiting for me.