i got a text from tisdale a couple weeks back: schwartzbard’s letting go of his apartment. want to come by and see if there’s anything you want? tisdale has been living with his girlfriend since he was released from the hospital. their arrangement had just become more permanent. whatever we don’t take schwartzbard’s paying guys to demo.
so i ride my bike, taking dekalb across town to franklin, then uphill on franklin, past atlantic to prospect and on over. i send sarah a text when i arrive, reminding her to put the ribs in the oven.
tisdale’s blue t-shirt is soaked with sweat beneath the white brace that clamps his torso, a hard plastic corset. his legs and arms are thinner, with multiple name-that-country scars. alexa is in the back of the apartment looking for her mask. after an awkward, hug-less greeting, he hobbles stiffly down the hall to continue gathering stuff from his room, and i head to the front of the apartment to browse the books and the vinyl. feigmann is facetiming with schwartzbard at the bookshelves. any of this stuff any good? feigmann asks him. yeah, it’s all good stuff, says schwartzbard. i see a lot of philosophy and ethics--stuff i might have swept up in my twenties but not now--and a lot of film books: camera manuals, lighting guides, that sort of thing. show me the middle shelf, up near the top, says schwartzbard. there are a couple manuals schwartzbard tells feigmann to hold onto for him. fascinating, i think. so those are the choice items.
you built these shelves, no? i ask schwartzbard. yes sir, he confirms. they’re beautiful, i tell him. you know anyone who wants them? demo is coming tomorrow, he says. i flip through his vinyl, pulling only as much as i can manage on the ride home.
we load up feigmann’s outback with tisdale’s stuff. tisdale, of course, is useless. on the way back in, i take stock of two posters in the hallway. they’ve been there as long as i can remember. one is an image of a man rowing a boat with a rhinoceros in it. it’s hard to tell whether the boat is in the water or on the sand, but either way, the man is straining against the oars. federico fellini, e la nave va, it says. the other, in portrait and much larger than the first, is a collage of stills from godard films. i used to feel like an outsider, looking at these posters, like someone without any culture. maybe if i watched these films, i thought, i’d learn what i needed to know.
what about these? i ask tisdale as he’s locking up. take ‘em you want ‘em, he says. i don’t think they’re worth anything. that one is just tacked up there. it’s true: the godard is carelessly pinned to the wall. the fellini is in a frame, but it doesn’t fit. the frame is too big.
alexa is already downstairs in the car with feigmann. nah, i’m good, i say. let’s go.
i can smell the ribs as i mount the stairs with my bike. i come in through the bedroom and lift my bike onto its mount opposite the bed before changing out of my sweat-drenched clothes. baby supplies are piling up in the library, seems like everyday a new amazon package. most of the stuff is from the registry sarah constructed at her mother’s behest. <quote-01>mary, the merry attendee of many a baby shower,<quote-01> wants to give all those relations the opportunity to return the favor. sarah is less than thrilled about the idea of a virtual shower, but she’s grateful for the support. me--i’m learning to yield to these outpourings of generosity, celebrating the growth of our extended family. whenever an actor friend or a musical acquaintance requests that i send along the registry, i just do. <quote-02>fuck it<quote-02>.
there are boxes piled atop cooper’s crate and others stacked on a chair we relocated from the living room in order to make space for our spinning baby rituals. <quote-03>our little guy<quote-03> seems to want to remain in breech, and we’re doing everything in our power to remedy that: the chiropractor, the acupuncturist, even moxibustion on bladder 67, <quote-04>where one burns a cone of ground mugwort leaves near the pinkie toe<quote-04>. we spend 20 minutes three times a day with the three sisters of balance: forward leaning inversion, side-lying release, and rebozo manteada. i think of jesus quintana and his bowling partner lustily shining their bowling balls in the big lebowski: how not to perform rebozo manteada on your partner (i had to google the film for jesus’s last name. quintana. of course. i can hear him saying it to walter and the dude. seeing the name on the page, my mind immediately went to didion. quintana roo. <quote-05>knock the wind out of you, that name<quote-05>).
luckily for me, these spinning baby activities pair well with watching baseball, as does the online birth course we’ve enrolled in. rather than attend a scheduled socially distanced class in person, we’ve subscribed to birth matters, a virtual course by a new york-based childbirth educator. birth matters--solid title, you ask me. <quote-06>last tuesday, however, i vetoed the birth videos in favor of joe davis and orel hershiser<quote-06>. after a four-game series with the giants to open the season, we were headed to houston. i had to listen in.
i don’t know if you caught the first day of spring training back in april, hoke, but joe and orel were vocal upfront about not wanting to touch on the cheating scandal. we’ll have plenty of time for that, joe assured everyone tuning in. at the time i appreciated the sentiment. it gave me a warm feeling. you’re right, i thought, baseball is bigger than its cheaters. besides, the fans will hold court, even if the commissioner refuses to. (in response to rob manfred’s pathetic insistence that the world series trophy doesn’t really mean anything, i think justin turner said it best: the only thing degrading the trophy is the commissioner’s name on it). the punishment manfred had refused to mete out would be rained down by one fanbase at a time throughout what would prove to be an endless season of shame for houston, those loathsome asterisks. hell, i had looked forward to the astros’ spring training games as much as the dodgers’! who’ll receive the heartiest chorus of boos? that little bitch altuve? correa, the piece of shit! dodger fans had been making gurriel face the music ever since his racist eye-slant gesture toward our then pitcher yu darvish; it wouldn’t be hard to re-ignite those flames. i’d be surprised if at least one of them doesn’t kill himself, <quote-07>you said, murph<quote-07>. but then dusty baker chose to sit the entire ‘17 lineup that first spring training game, and we got our first taste of the medicine the astros would not be receiving. enter covid, exit fans, and the astros continue to be denied a <quote-08>reckoning<quote-08>. the fear in los angeles--as well as in new york, for that matter--is that the intensity of the fandom’s vitriol will simply fade.
this past tuesday, after hailing the long-awaited dodgers-astros game a rematch of the ‘17 world series, joe and orel proceeded to leave well enough alone. i was mystified. aren’t these, like, our guys? the fuck is going on? what special breed of denial am i being asked to swallow! they talked of the excitement of these two teams facing off without acknowledging that one of them had literally stolen the championship from the other. they referenced astro batting averages from the previous match-up as if the players hadn’t known what pitches were coming.
i was incensed. stupefied. inning after inning passed without the slightest acknowledgment of houston’s treachery. i began to feel deflated. worse than that: demoralized.
for a couple weeks casey and i had been trying to get to the ballpark at night to play some music. sarah and i aren’t comfortable with us <quote-09>singing in close proximity in closed spaces<quote-09>, so outdoors it would have to be. when casey suggested tuesday night, i requested it be after 11 so i could at least catch the top half of the game, but now this from joe and orel? sorry casey, i’d say, apologizing in advance for my mood.
then seager opened the fifth with a leadoff single up the middle, and the replay from behind the plate included an alternate audio feed that further accentuated the sound of the ball off the bat in the empty, fan-less stadium. whack! orel must have heard the same explosive sound bite in his headphones. whack! he said. he paused. we were all thinking the same thing.
orel: you want to get into that?
joe: ooooh, we got to at some point.
orel: (under his breath) you’re gonna really get me going.
me: yes! good! let’s go!
joe: (as a.j. comes to the plate) here’s pollock. (to orel) go ahead.
me: (anticipatory gasp)
orel: i view the 2017 dodgers as world champions.
i welled up. how sweet the relief.
orel started by imagining for us an alternate career trajectory for himself had the batters he pitched to in the 80’s known what pitches were coming. then he and joe continued to address the subject head on, pulling not a punch in providing a litany of damning statistics: kersh’s strikeouts at home versus in houston during the world series? 15 and 2; batters that bit at kersh’s lethal slider when low in the zone in houston? not a one. the list went on and on.
the game no longer played like a game; it played like a film--a film that could teach you how to live. the dodgers loaded the bases and via walks and shallow outfield singles proceeded to punch in a runner at a time. they were workers in mankind’s mail room, punching their time cards.
when i met up with casey later that evening, the weather was pristine, the beers cold. <quote-10>we played for hours<quote-10>, arranging a new tune of casey’s and revising lyrics on a tune i’ve had around for a while. my fingers hurt from lack of play. it was a wonderful evening.
i caught up on the joe kelly drama later that night. my response to the excessively harsh punishment handed down to kelly the following day--an eight game suspension, the equivalent of 22 games in a regular 162 game season--was as follows: <quote-11>permission to throw at astro batters was granted to pitchers everywhere by the commissioner when he refused to take the trophy away from houston<quote-11>. also, good luck proving kelly can intentionally hit anything.
i mix the salad, put the quinoa on the stove, and, pulling the ribs from the oven, switch to a high broil to finish them off. sarah asks about tisdale: and you were all wearing your masks, yes? she’s busy opening the latest batch of amazon boxes, making temporary room for the contents alongside our evening’s place settings. think about what you want to watch now, because i’m hungry, she says. i don’t want to be browsing forever. she’s not wrong. if we don’t know what we’re watching when we sit down to eat, it can take me forever to decide. the only hard and fast rule is this: no foreign films. subtitles are a pain in the ass when you’re eating.
you seen any godard? i ask sarah. no, she says, knocking a fork from the table with a package of organic baby something-or-other. any good?
i slide the ribs in on the top rack, leaving the oven door ajar, then grab my phone and text feigmann: you got keys to schwartzbard’s place, no? i tell sarah i’m not gonna have time to watch anything tonight because i need to go back to shwartzbard’s. what? why? she says. feigmann hits me back. sweet, i respond. oh, and i got to borrow your car if that’s cool. the timer goes off on the quinoa. i put my phone down and kill the burner. because we need somewhere to put all this baby stuff, and if i don’t take the bookshelves tonight, they’ll be gone by tomorrow.
it’s a hot night. folks are out and about outside. hydrants opened earlier in the day continue to spray into the street. someone will shut them off at some point.
i open the windows in the apartment, then sit down at schwartzbard’s desk with the beers i’d picked up from the bodega. i crack one open and drink half.
it’s quiet in the apartment.
you seen one of these before? schwartzbard had asked, sliding a small metal box across the desk. there’s a toggle switch on top and that’s it. go ahead, he says. i flip the toggle. a small hatch opens just enough for a tiny metal arm to reach out, flip the switch back to its original position, and retreat back into the box before the hatch closes directly behind it. it all happens in less than a second. it’s a robot that turns itself off, schwartzbard announces.
a robot that turns itself off. unbelievable.
i flip the switch again, and again the arm pops out and flips the switch back. this time i notice the light. there’s a light that shines out of the hatch, triggered to turn back off again when the hatch is closed, i’d imagine.
you come up with this? i ask him.
there are others that make them, but i designed this one, yeah. i turn it on again, and again it turns itself off. got a lot of personality, doesn’t it?
i flip through my phone for some music. i can’t decide what i want to listen to. what would schwartzbard put on if he were here? i text him. counting crows, he says. he’s happy someone is taking the shelves. which album? i ask. is there more than one? august and everything after!
counting crows it is.
there are three units, each eight feet tall, and together, nearly as wide. i pull the books down and stack them along the wall. one shelf has a pile of kodak photo envelopes with the film rolls still attached. jesus, i think, imagining the memories they contain for schwartzbard. i flip through a stack of black and whites. there are scenes from an outdoor wedding, one of a young schwartzbard in an oversized blazer holding a drink. i put the photos back in their envelope, then sweep all the envelopes into my bag. i can’t leave them there. i’ll give them to schwartzbard the next time i see him; he can do with them what he wants.
i feel strange going through someone else’s stuff--stuff left behind, willingly or otherwise. there is a solemnness to the endeavor, a certain humility required. i try to imagine what schwartzbard is doing. he must be picturing me in his place, picturing all the objects. he saw me over facetime earlier in the day, but what does he imagine when he can’t see me? perhaps cutting ties with his new york apartment and all the stuff in it isn’t a big deal for him. i don’t know. there’s a lot of change happening these days, and it doesn’t all look the same.
i carefully lay the empty shelves alongside one another in the center of the room. first i take them apart in my mind, deciding the best way to label the pieces so that i may best reassemble them as they were. <quote-12>i question my labeling system on the drive home<quote-12>, wondering rather what the minimum number of pieces might be that one would have to label in order to reassemble them correctly. the longer boards run the length of feigmann’s outback, a partition between me and the empty passenger seat.
i take vanderbilt all the way to myrtle. the light is red at dekalb. i fancy myself a stranger catching a frisbee tossed to me by paul during my bachelor week, and quickly take a photo of the intersection for the two of you.
the virtual baby shower is the following weekend. our sister-in-law taylor drives out from jersey to drop off the acquired props of celebration. there are half a dozen cupcakes, a bottle of martinelli’s, an it’s a boy banner, one cooking a prince sash, one flower crown, a vase of flowers, and a #1 dad ribboned pin. sarah is overwhelmed. i know--i’ll wear the crown and the sash. when we sign on, everyone will chuckle, and i’ll respond by voicing my disappointment that taylor didn’t drop off anything for you to wear to the party. then, we can double down on the joke when you stumble upon the dad pin and i realize that the crown and the sash were meant for you!
following initial greetings and jokes at my expense, mary asks everyone to go around and share how they know sarah. she invites my mother to go first. debbie’s discomfort at being put on the spot helps to ground sarah, and she begins to relax. an hour later it’s all over. that was really nice, sarah says.
<quote-13>the godard i’m having framed, supposed to arrive tomorrow<quote-13>. i’m gonna leave the fellini in its oversized frame for now.
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