overheard, wscj

Conversations overheard at various Water Street Coffee Joint locations in Kalamazoo, Michigan, listed in no particular order:

“There’s no reason Aaron should be making $75,000 a year.
“She’s very smart… and very Catholic.”
“It reminds me of the time I went to Thailand and thought I was going to die. They don’t label their spicy food. How do they not all get ulcers?”
“Music, masturbation, and timing. I try to weave in all those themes in this book I’m writing that is about myself. And I don’t want my family to read it. The poor side is probably fine, but the rich, Christian, Republican side…”
“I think you have to be deliberate to remember peoples’ names. I’m not a people person so I don’t bother. Some people are, though — they’re so peopleish.”
“Instead of buying expensive Christmas presents, how about we go for a walk in the woods and watch the birds or somethin’?”
“My pride and joy is my songbook.”


shobby-town, tc #6

Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Leelanau County, Michigan

We passed a green sign announcing our arrival in Peshawbestown, Michigan.

“How do you think you say the name of this place?” I asked my Brazilian fiancé, motioning toward the sign. I raised an eyebrow at him and took a sip of my coffee. Black. Like my cruel soul.

“This is a town?” he asked. And he had a point. The only sign of civilization was a utility pole. He then gave the pronunciation a solid attempt. I would’ve said the same thing myself.
“How then?”



We thought we had driven past it, but we didn’t. This is the progress I’ve needed to feel better about wedding planning, I thought, as we pulled into the driveway. I’m Type Z, but still conscious enough to acknowledge that we’ve been engaged for over one year and have done nothing. This is part of the reason we came up here, but it’s too easy to get wrapped up in the serenity out at the lake. I will never understand people who throw themselves into wedding planning.

We were greeted by Holly, an extraverted black lab, followed by the owner of the farm. She showed us around. The farm was over 120 years old and stunning. She took us through the kitchen and introduced us to her business partner who was also the chef. “He won’t tell you himself, but I’ll brag on him,” she said. “He was just on Man Fire Food for his fire pit. It’s just out here, I’ll show you.”

She showed us the barn and the grotto, where the bar would be placed, and walked us through the garden where they source some of their food. Her parents were tending the garden. It was all very charming and easy to envision a charming wedding here.  The owner handed us a packet of vendors and we were on our way. “We’re headed toward Northport,” I said. “Any recommendations for breakfast?”

“Try the Tribune,” she said, waving us off.


It was a quick, five minute drive up to Northport. The town was still unbuttoning for the day, despite being nearly ten o’clock in the morning. My kind of people, I thought, but I had a hungry and crabby fiance who didn’t want to hang out at the marina while we waited for places to open. We got back in the car and drove down M-22 toward Leland. The morning had been sunny, but it was starting to get cloudy by the time we got to town.

We walked down to Fishtown, which is a surviving commercial fishing village. Our first stop was the Village Cheese Shanty, because I had to feed the beast. A South Shore (a pretzel bun, ham, dill havarti, tomato, onion, pesto mayo) and a bag of cheese curds, just mildly squeaky (the other side of Lake Michigan is better for these).

After lunch we poked around the docks, stepping around fishing nets, tossing pebbles into a school of minnows in the notoriously clear water. The clouds got darker, though, and drove us back toward the car. We’d parked in front of the bookstore and I noticed, in the window, a poster we had in the cottage growing up. Water Wonderland, it said. A picture of a sun blowing air on Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties. I’d thought about it a few times since my grandparents sold the cottage in 2007. One of those relics that’s present in the background of memories and old family photos. It started to rain. “I’ll wait in the car,” J said. I darted in the bookstore. The downpour began just moments after I closed the door.

I fished it it out of the bin and took it over to the register.

“I told her I should have fetched that marquee,” said the bookseller, looking out the front window. “I can’t get it now, I’ll look like a drowned rat.” She continued ringing me up.
“I don’t have a bag that’ll fit this,” she said.
“Yes you do,” chirped the other worker. “Wrap it in a garbage bag.”
I smiled at their banter and thanked them before dashing out into the rain.

The car was just in front of the store but I was soaked by the time I got in. J was on the phone. I started the car. The windshield wipers wicked away the rain. I turned on the headlights and we drove off down M22.



morning ppl, tc #5

Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Traverse City, Michigan

I know he’s not a morning person. This is a fundamental tenet of our relationship. I’m really not either, but his is an extreme case. I treaded carefully.

“Look at this,” I said a few weeks before we left for Michigan. It was an Instagram photo of East Bay, taken from a small, secluded beach we stumbled on a few years ago while staying on the peninsula. It was early in the morning and everything was covered in mist. The horizon blended into the sky. It was stunning.

“It’s beautiful,” he said.
“You know this means we’d have to get up at, like, five A.M., right?”
“That’s fine.”

This quick agreement threw me off. I didn’t push further. I mean, the best thing I can say is that our intentions were good. We had a morning appointment to check out a wedding venue, the Cherry Basket Farm. We’d just get up a little earlier, have our Zen moment at the beach, and then carry on with our wedding planning. A morning as perfectly curated and meticulously planned as the lifestyle blog where I found that picture to begin with.


…the Zen thing was never going to happen.

The day of rolled around. I snoozed the optimistic 4:30 AM  alarm, and eventually shut it off altogether. We staggered out of bed at 8, showered, and trudged to the car by 8:15. We were late, but still stopped for coffee — one of those tiny, roadside huts with a narrow, looping drive thru that I had to maneuver our beastly Dodge around, yet again. I ran over the curb.

“My love,” J said, scoldingly.
“Leave me alone,” I said, my voice creaking and horse. “I need this.”

apt huntr, ny #7

September 2013
Brooklyn, New York

It wasn’t going well, the apartment hunt. My third since moving to New York.

There was the girl with Celiac’s disease who asked me if I baked with flour exactly twelve times. “Are you sure?” she’d ask, again. “Because I have Celiac’s disease. Here’s the bedroom. Don’t mind the fact that there’s no ceiling. Did I mention I have Celiac’s disease?”
“Yes, Kirsten.”

And then the guy who had me meet him in front of something called Strong Place — it looked like a church, maybe, or the headquarters of a cult. “Was he religious,” I wondered. “Should I just leave now?”
“I should go.”

And then there was Holly, an older woman who owned one of those unique wood-framed townhouses in Fort Greene—the ones with the porches out front and the huge first floor windows. She had a deep and condescending voice… a rare type of woman who almost certainly overused the word ‘druthers.’

And then the woman who lived above the British pub on Atlantic Avenue—I looked at two apartments in that building, actually. The first was tiny, but the roommate was sweet and had a gargantuan pet rabbit named Sir Winston Raleigh. I would’ve taken the apartment, but she admitted that she had offered it to someone else before I had arrived. “I get it,” I said. “Apartment hunting, man!” She said she wished she had offered it to me. I pocketed that compliment and deposited it into my apartment hunting karma bank.

The other one I looked at in that building had me fill out a questionnaire before coming, which should have been my first clue.
“I have a few questions for you, if you wouldn’t mind answering them,” the email began, harmlessly enough. I looked to the left of my screen and wondered why the scrollbar was so small.

Some actual excerpts from the email, which I managed to fish out of my inbox:
“I was just curious to know when you would usually be getting up and going to bed on weekdays/weekends, and about how many nights during the week/weekends would you expect to be hanging out in the apartment.”
“Would you expect to be having any overnight guests? If so, how often? In the spirit of being upfront, I’m not seeing anyone exclusively at the moment, so might have an overnight guest on occasion, but not usually ever more than 4-5 times a month”
The email rambled on. I should have deleted it. I didn’t. I responded and went to see the apartment.

She opened the door and, because I’m a cunt, I scoffed internally at the mismatched tile and hardwood flooring. The other apartment I looked at in the building had been much nicer.
I sat down on the couch where she continued grilling me. I answered them all and snuck in a question of my own about her previous roommate.

“Oh, she had to go,” she said, somewhat belligerently.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“She fell asleep on the couch constantly,” she said. “She had her own room. The huge room I just showed you. Why couldn’t she sleep there? Why did she have to sleep on the couch? It’s not even comfortable.”
“The final straw,” she continued, “was when she would kick my throw pillows on the floor.”
I caught myself looking frantically at her. I should have picked up my bag and ran out of the apartment.
Again, I didn’t.
My karma bank balance rose still steadily. I waited to cash in.

And then there was Lauren. Lauren lived in a charming but dilapidated looking building on the corner of Henry and Warren. It was the top floor of a walkup, but the light and the views were worth it. I liked her almost instantly. She was calm and friendly and worked at a non-profit. The apartment was so spacious and drenched with sun that the stairs ceased to matter.

She showed me the bedroom, which was quiet and in the back of the apartment. Lauren put off good vibes and I was already planning where I would mount an IKEA armoire. The room had no closet, you see. But that didn’t matter. I was sold, and I think Lauren was picking up on those vibes.

“So I have to tell you,” she started, sheepishly. “I did offer this to another guy already.”
This again, I thought. I was starting to take it personally. Like maybe this was simply the way you let eager New York subletters down. There was a script. I was unaware.
“I actually think you’d be a better fit…” she continued. We were in the living room—the one with the huge windows. Uh huh, I thought. Heard that one before.

I was about to beg… to plead. Cancel him, I wanted to shout, I’m your man! But before I could start down that path, a flash caught the periphery of my vision outside the window, disappearing just as quickly as it had come. I stopped, quite likely, mid-sentence. Lauren turned around.

Again, another flash. A huge flock of birds, dipping down into Henry Street and back up again.

“What was that?!” I asked. Lauren smirked and walked over to the window. “There’s a guy over there,” she explained, pointing to the rooftop of the brownstone across the street. “He trains birds.”
“You’re kidding,” I said.
“Oh, I am not.”

I walked over the window. Across the street, as described, a normal looking man—someone who might describe his occupation as, “Oh, me? I work in finance.”—was brandishing a baton which he used to direct this flock of pigeons. They stuck together, these birds, as they flew through the sky over Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.

We watched together for a few minutes. I should have found a way to get her evicted so I could have this apartment to myself, but instead I relented. 

“Lauren…” I said, letting the silence hang in the air for a second. “If this guy cancels on you I need you to call me immediately.”

The birds swooped down again.


trap door, ny #11

February 2016
Brooklyn Heights

João loves Chez Moi, one of the French restaurants near our apartment. I’m ambivalent at best. The name is fucking stupid, but they have good food, but the atmosphere is depressing, but they have a drink called Hemingway, but their servers are always ornery. So it’s a wash. Still, we go.

The host motioned to us from across the room. One moment, his pointer finger indicated.

“These books are fake,” J said, pointing to the bookcase that was built into the wall near the host’s station.

“The atmosphere here confuses me,” I said. A typical visit to this joint isn’t complete until I bitch about how dark and unappealing it is, so I left it there. The host came over.

“Two?” he asked.

J said yes.

“What is this?” I asked the host, motioning my head toward the fake bookcase, “A secret door?”

The host made a face. “Actually, it is.” He explained they had just opened a new bar down there. It was sort of like a cave that linked up with the old subway tunnels under Atlantic Avenue, so they figured they’d turn it into a speakeasy modeled after the boudoir of Marie Antoinette. 

J and I looked at each other.

“Do we need a password?” I asked, suddenly excited.

The host smirked.
“The bartenders down there would like you to think so.”


east bay minutiae, tc #4

Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Traverse City, Michigan

“What do you want for lunch? Peegios? It’s that biker bar by the house, but they have good pizza.”
“Are you crazy? It’s hot.”
“Yeah… something lighter, I guess?”

He ignored my question and I wasn’t starving, so we got in the car and headed in the direction of the cottage.

“Don’t ever say I don’t do anything nice for you,” I said before whipping the car across three lanes of traffic into the strip mall on the corner of 31 and Garfield.

“What?” J was startled. I pointed to the sign.

Jimmy Johns.


We ordered alongside the fine working people of Traverse City, happy to not be among them, for the week at least.

One Turkey Tom, no tomato, with added sprouts.
One Bootlegger Club, as is.
And one Cherry Coke, to share.

We hopped back in the car and drove over to the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay. There’s a small beach across from the State Park. We found a picnic table near the water and plopped down with the goods. Off to the side, a woman had pulled her beach chair into the shallow water and was reading her book. 

We ate our sandwiches in the sun, listening to the waves lap up on shore.


parallel, tc #3

Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Traverse City, Michigan

I tried once and tapped the Cadillac behind me. Gently. But still, I have to keep reminding myself this isn’t New York where that is an acceptable way to park a car. 

I tried again.
What was that rule? Something about two o’clock on the steering wheel?
Same result. No Cadillac tap.

And again.
Something about the front wheel of the other car? I tried to remember. Whatever, the other thing didn’t work so let’s try it.
The results were a little better, but the front of this Dodge Journey was still poking out into the street. I flicked the steering wheel in an expression of gay anger.

I hate this car. It’s the second time we’ve been stuck with a Dodge Journey rental. The websites always promise you a RAV4 and then stick you with some garbage Dodge. Or a Jeep Patriot with Texas plates.

One of the employees from the café—Yiaya’s Eatery and Sweets—came out to watch. I don’t blame her. I, too, would watch a Fudgie tourist try to wedge his way into a parking spot… Not to help, but purely as a judgmental spectator.

She motioned for me to roll down my window.

“You don’t do this often, do you?”
“I do not.” I didn’t tell her I lived in New York. There were already enough reasons to mock me with this parking fiasco.
“Pull up there, next to that car. I’m gonna help you out.”

I kept my window cranked down and followed her instructions. Naturally it was a plucky, fresh faced youth that allowed me to wedge the heft of this stupid fucking car into a generously sized parking spot.

I stuck my head out the window and thanked her. “I’ll see you in a minute for some quarters.”
“Actually, if you hold down the button on the meter you get a free thirty minutes,” she said.
I faked a worshipful bow in her direction.
“For coffee, then.”