Last week marked my five year anniversary of moving to New York City. Since then, I’ve become more assertive. For example, if someone cuts me off at the Gourmet Garage olive bar, or tries to skimp on paying my bladder infection Emergency Room bill even though he dropped the ball on my company health insurance coverage (ahem, Boss), I stand up for myself.
Most of the time.
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, My Poet and I meet at The University. Since she doesn’t have a computer in her office, I have been granted “permission” to use the Mac in the empty room next-door. This “empty” room actually belongs to a venerable and arthritic fiction writer who is “never there” because of the two steep flights of Fun house stairs.
So I’ve been making myself at home: unsticking the double-hung windows for fresh air; assembling a small dry-goods store at her desk (granola, Smokehouse almonds, bittersweet chocolate); opening multiple browser windows so that when I’m on hold with, say, a furniture refurbisher, I can easily toggle between The Office on NBC.com and You Tube videos of a high school production of Sondheim’s Assassins.
I like to kick back, take off my shoes.
Only this afternoon, after just popping over to My Poet’s office to review her Readings schedule, when I popped back, much to my barefoot horror, my bags (and dry goods store) were out in the hallway. The Fiction Writer, feeling spry, had made the climb and closed the door. In short, I had been evicted.
“What do I do?” I whispered to My Poet, skulking in her office. “I shouldn’t have been in there. Oh God–My sneakers are under her desk.”
The sane thing to do—the adult, sensible, footwear abiding thing to do—would have been to knock on Fiction Writer’s door, abashedly introduce myself, apologize for the confusion, and ask for my Puma knock-offs.
Which of course didn’t happen. Instead, in what psychologists might one day refer to as the “Shoe-d Away” case study for Avoidant Personality Disorder, My Poet lent me an extra pair of her flats (reserved for this very situation?) and sent me to the basement copier, suggesting we “wait it out” until class, at which time we could sneak into Fiction Writer’s office and retrieve my shoes without having to shilly-shally the situation face-to-face.
If it’s true that you don’t really know a person till you walk a mile in their shoes, it’s equally true that you don’t really know a Poet until you’ve walked down two flights of Fun house stairs in her shoes, shoes which happen to be two sizes too big. Holed up in the copy-room, reading a back issue of Tin House, I realized that My Poet and I are cut from the same cloth. It’s cloth used to make a skirt: “How can I skirt this problem rather than address it head-on?” I haven’t changed all that much in five years. Yes, I’d rather photocopy my hand in variant degrees of light-dark for 20 minutes than ask forgiveness from a perfectly sweet novelist. And it isn’t because I’m stubborn or think I’m in the right—it’s because I hate to feel disliked for disappointing someone. I’d rather be a faceless, anonymous disappointment. It’s the same yellow-bellied impulse that has lead me, in the past, to break bad news over email, or quit calling altogether. It’s a kind of existential empathy. I leave my own mind to inhabit the mind of the hurt and offended, and it’s too hard, too much. The way they look at you in person.
At the bar on Sunday, I met Robert, a blurb writer who makes Presidential mobiles. As in: here is a mobile you can hang above a crib and it has Lincoln’s face on it and on the back trivia about bullet brain exit wounds. I’m currently reading Assassination Vacation, so a Presidential mobile seemed, well, Cork. He later emailed me this quick reference (in lieu of a Tillie The Frog comment—please people, just enter the contest!) which I thought about while hiding in the copy room:
I don’t see much value in the aggressive threat gape, but neither do I want to make a habit of the open mouth submissive greeting.