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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise


Submitted by on May 22, 2006 – 11:20 AMOne Comment

I tend to get caught up in the stories of objects, where things came from, how they got here. The up side is that I can pass the time during a wait in line or an unpleasantly rainy walk by telling myself these stories — whether a capless pen is forgotten or purposefully abandoned, who is missing (or not) a string of colored beads. The down side is that, sometimes, when I tell other people these stories, I sound like a weirdo, or at the very least like I watch too much CSI, retro-engineering a whole soap opera from a paper cup with bite-marks around the rim.

So, I try to keep these tales to myself, the 1001 Arabian Cruddy Things I Saw Lying On Their Sides In The Gutter, but then I see something like I saw on the Manhattan-bound R train platform the other day: a yellow peanut M&M, sitting on the yellow safety line. It had perched itself upright somehow; the average peanut M&M is ovoid, and should lie horizontally when at rest, but this one…stood. Stood up. Waiting for the train, I guess; leaning out to see if it could spot the lights. I kind of wanted it to have a teeny little iPod on, and carry a teeny little messenger bag — or better yet, a teeny little stick with a teeny little bandanna bindle tied to the end of it, while meanwhile, back in the bag of peanut M&Ms, the blues and greens are sitting around playing three-handed hearts and sniffing that he’ll never make it in the big city. “They’ll eat him alive!”

The next time I went down to the platform, the M&M had vanished. I didn’t check the tracks; I didn’t want to know if it had jumped (or…was pushed).

Other things I’ve seen and made up stories about:

Mystery splatter. You know the stuff I mean — the stew-like puddles you sometimes see on the sidewalk, which the strong of stomach use to play a little game I like to call “Soup Or Barf?” If it’s outside a restaurant, on a weekday, you can tell yourself it’s soup. Stepping over it on a Sunday morning, feeling rather fragile your own self after a Shiraz ‘n’ Snacks Sleepover with White Russian and A Plus, when it’s not only on the ground but in a planter and streaking the side of a beige Chrysler LeBaron? It’s barf, and you’re ever so grateful to its previous owner for sharing.

But that’s the sidewalk on a weekend morning for you — the garbage equivalent of the audio track on an Altman film, layers of thrown-away anecdotes in the storm drains. Beer cans. Paper plates stained with pizza grease. Vitamin Water bottles. Cigarette butts and Post-Its with names of bars and trains written on them. Needles and guitar picks. So, drugs and rock-and-roll present and accounted for — where’s the sex? …Ah. Used condom, condom wrapper ten paces later, and about a half block after that, a belt buckle, aaaaaaaand then the belt. Interesting progression; if that litter does belong to a single story, the way it’s spaced means the sex got had next to a vacant lot, next to a little village of pee bottles and dandelions.

The pee bottles. It just seems like more trouble than it’s worth to pee into a bottle, then put it out on the curb. It’s also gross. Find a trash can, truckers, damn.

A tube of lipstick. The story is not always immediately evident. Makeup is, I think, a strange thing to lose; there is a kind of muscle memory to the way each woman applies it that means it gets put away, even if the woman in question is strafing the back of a cab with ATM slips because she’s too drunk to handle her bag. On the other hand, a drunk woman will sometimes hurl things out the window of a taxi in the service of a grand metaphor about freedom or staying true to herself. Or so I have read.

A can of Sterno. “What did I say? Did I tell you?” “Relax, it’s fine.” “Did I say, ‘Bob, it’s just too windy out to fondue curbside’? I said those exact words, and now look.” “It’s fine, just shield the — just put your hands up like this.” “It’s too windy, Bob.” “Just put your hands up!” “This is stupid, I’m going inside.” “Fine, but when I get this to — ow! dammit — when I get this to work, and I’m enjoying some delicious bread and melted cheese –” “I’m ordering Chinese.”

A screwdriver. First, the trip to IKEA. Then the cartoon instructions, cave-drawing-esque in their opacity. Then the increasingly frantic cranking of the Allen wrench, the bleary and uncomprehending staring at the leftover dowel pins, the stubborn shop-class-for-the-sight-impaired rhombus…

the raaaaaaaaage.

The teary-voiced wail: “HAAAAAAAATE!” The yanked-up screen. The hurled tool, sailing end-over-end into Carroll Street like the home-run ball at the end of The Natural, flung into the twilight, damned.

Approximately twenty-six nautical miles of denatured silly string. Street fair, we hardly knew ye.

An earring backing. Slippery little bastards, earring backings are, so maybe there’s not much to tell — or maybe it went something like this: “You know what your problem izh? Lishen, lishen — serioushly, your problem, I am going to tell you what your problem, your problem? Izh? That…wait, what wuzhai gonna say again? …Ohhhhh yeah, so your problem izh that you don’t zhee yourself, you know? [heec] Right, zho…yeah. That’zh all I’m shaying.” Pair it with the over-emphatic nodding of the fourth cran-tini, chase it all with the tackle-icious “I love you maaaaaaaan” hug, and the jewelry is toast. The earring itself probably went to a watery grave in someone’s pint.

Pink roses fanned out in the street. Not a giant leap here from the aftermath back to the incident: an offering, a plea for forgiveness or mercy that somehow went awry. I blame the roses themselves, frankly; something about pink roses is just depressing, I think because, out of all the colors of rose, the pink ones turn the fastest, and look the worst once they’ve turned, chewed-up and cheap and like a poorly-run funeral home.

A rubber duckie. You’re not the one, dude.

A Yankees/Mets ticket stub. I feel that. My God, Randy Johnson, if Aaron Small doesn’t think he’s too good to bunt the runners over when he has five professional at-bats, maybe you, who used to play in the National League and had to hit for yourself for years, could pretend to make an effort when you come up to the plate. Because you could use the run support, Grandpa.

A Teen Pilates Summer Boot Camp flyer. Well, seriously. My name is Sarah D. Bunting, and I endorse this message. Paid for by Bookish Adolescents for Sloth.

A nearly-full roll of Mentos. So, you got parked in by a couple of SUVs; you couldn’t get out of the spot; you ran into the deli, bought some Mentos, and ate a couple; four burly dudes in overalls did not materialize to lift your car out of the space for you; you got disgusted and chucked the rest of the roll. Dude, it’s still perfectly good candy.

A Tab can. I see cans all the time, but I never see Tab cans. I don’t know if other places have the crazy Tab culture New York does, but people here will set an alarm for 5:30, go down to the loading bay of their local D’Agostino’s, and bribe the delivery guys to just sell them the cases directly. They know when the distributor is sending more, and they stake out the deli and wait for it. Now, I like me a can of Tab on occasion — it is, bar none, the best soda for leaving a half a can in the car in the summertime and then drinking the rest after it’s been sitting in your 140-degree front seat all afternoon, which is eminently handy for me, given my penchant for opening a soda, drinking part of it, and going somewhere else and forgetting it until I come back — but I don’t go out of my way to find it. The people who do, it gets intense, and every couple of years, the local press does a story about the kookoopants Double-Super-Secret Society of Tab People and how some Texas-cheerleader-mom-type fight broke out over the last six-pack at a Gristede’s on the Upper East Side, and the monomaniacal hoarding, and the executives who drink a case of it a day, so it’s unusual to see a Tab can out in the world, because the Tabbites get so Masonically special-handshake about its procurement and consumption and they would never just casually discard a can, empty or not. I think they have to decommission them, like churches, or bury them in hallowed ground while chanting or something.

May 22, 2006



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