Tea on the Train

Posted in Fiction on October 15, 2008 by kwhobson

In Newburgh the tea is too hot for even sipping.  The cup knows it as soon as the tea is poured, can feel the heat radiating through its bone china bones.

A mouth pulls in air and hot tea with a breathy ‘hoop’ sound.  Lips and tongue are scalded, and the bone china teacup is set back in its saucer with a hasty clink.  The train rumbles and shakes along the track and the teacup rattles in its place on the table in the dining car.  The tea sits in the teacup, breathing steam, choppy with little golden hot waves.

In Poughkeepsie there is clear water in a stainless steel teakettle and a cellophane-wrapped pouch of gauzy paper filled with dry leaves.  Before that there is rain and a seed in the ground.  In Newburgh there is hot tea scalding lips and tongue and in Yonkers there is yellow urine pushing against the round of a bladder.  In New York there is a seat on a toilet and a satisfied groan.

A man with a newspaper flips his business section like an old maid snapping a clean sheet across a half-made bed, and the crease in the center of the paper stands at attention.  In Poughkeepsie it is the sports section.  In Newburgh it is business and in Yonkers it is the obituaries, where the amn sees that his high-school sweetheart was killed last week in a car accident.  He feels sad for a moment, and then congratulates himself for riding the train.  Across the way he sees a woman sipping her tea, her face a hasty grimace as she sets the cup back in its saucer.  In New York he tosses the paper in the trash.  The paper is a tree.  The paper is a blanket for a homeless man.  The homeless man is a boy, a father, a corpse.

The woman sipping tea has cold hands, has always had cold hands, will always have cold hands.  She wraps her fingers around the teacup, wincing at the sight of her knuckles, which she thinks are too bony.  The heat of the tea through the bone china warms her hands.  Her eyes close and the warmth creeps into her too-big knuckles.  Her too-big knuckles stretch against the heat and expand larger still.  The knuckles swoop and close fingers around metal jacks and open fingers again to catch a rubber ball.  The knuckles hold fingers tight around needles to pull thread and stitch fabric.  The knuckles swell and creak with arthritis.

The woman opens her eyes and sees the man with the newspaper watching her.  The corner of her lips arc in a smirk and the man’s lips do the same before he rustles his paper and feels the dry smell of ink rubbing off on his fingers.  His knuckles are small, too small he thinks.  In Yonkers there are lingering glances, in New York there are words and cards exchanged.  There are calls, dates, too-big knuckles and too-small knuckles interlaced, bodies interlaced, babies, laughter, tears, and a sunny breakfast nook where morning newspapers are read and hot tea is sipped.

The woman lifts the teacup off the saucer and holds it against her lower lip, breathing out air across the surface of the tea.  The golden tea ripples with hot little waves.  Steam rises and condenses on the window, beads into droplets and rolls to the sill.  The woman sips cautiously, making a breathy ‘hoop’ sound and funneling the tea through the circle of air inside her lips.

Copyright © 2008, Kevin Hobson

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Advice for the Small-Towner Who’s Just Moved to the City.

Posted in Non-Fiction on October 15, 2008 by kwhobson

When the sun breaks through the fog for the first time in three days, you will know it is time for a walk.  Maybe you’ll feel it tingling in your calves, or as a spark of intention in the brain. Or maybe you’ll feel it as a tugging echo in your heart, the yearning ghosts of love and wanderlust leftover from that famous summer in ’67, coaxing you out into the sun-drenched day.  Perhaps you’ll look out your window at the golden-dappled street and be suddenly reminded of Hank Thoreau, who in Walking wrote “we should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return…”

Whatever it is that compels you, listen.  Go.

Bring what you will: a purse, a wallet, your keys, or a cell phone (if you must), but realize that you will not be needing any of them. Those forgotten ghosts of wanderlust, after all, require few utensils.  Maybe you’ll think again of Thoreau’s Walking, that “if you have paid your debts and made your will, and settled your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk,” and you won’t bring anything at all.  But take your things with you if they give you comfort.  Thoreau, after all, had a lot fewer affairs to attend to on that pond in Walden.  And the hippies will understand.  They all carry cell-phones nowadays anyway.  In any case, as you leave your house, (or more likely, your apartment) try and disregard your notion of destination.  Where you are headed is not a place that can be arrived at by placing heel-to-toe.

And do not bring a jacket.  There should be enough sun, if you have chosen the day correctly, so that, for the most part, you will not need it.  You will need sunglasses, though.  Even if it weren’t a bright day, you would still need them.

You might be tempted to start your walking in the Haight—it would seem a logical choice.  All that history, all the colorful characters, surely you will find whatever it is you are looking for there.  Resist this impulse.  You will find nothing but ghosts and clichés there.  You might also be tempted to head towards the Mission, or the Castro, if you are so inclined, but again, these places just won’t do for this type of walk.  Too easy; too obvious.  Where you need to be is in the forgotten heart of the City.  Start at Market Street, walking up past Van Ness.

Feel the proximity of strangers around you, and let your arms ripple with gooseflesh if they come too close. See how the light glints off the gilded dome of City Hall, casting opulent sparks against your eye. Study the ripples of traffic that wash through the intersections, and breathe in the city odors: the car exhaust and sticky urine and rotting cigarette butts.  Count the Starbucks that you see.  Count the trees.  Keep walking.

Your pace should be brisk, your strides as long as your legs will allow them.  This is no country stroll, no saunter. Weave your way through the crowds.  Zig zag, dodge, pass on the right.

See if you feel frustrated by the dawdling packs of tourists with their maps and flashbulbs, if you stutter your steps behind them, wait for an opening, and then go.  Notice the way the crowd parts for the two-way foot traffic.  Notice who makes way for whom, and who holds their courses.  But don’t think about it too much.  Resist the impulse to generalize.

Maybe you feel strange, rushing so heedlessly through these packs of your fellow humans.  Or maybe it feels natural and correct.  Is there a tinge of guilt in your indifference, or that faint echo of love tugging again at your heart?   Ask yourself as you walk what Thoreau would say if he were with you.  Or those hippies from back in ’67.

Imagine they say: It’s the death of meaning, and the execution of interpretation. That’s what’s different now, that’s what’s changed.

Keep your pace steady as the crowds thin, heading up Market, just past 10th, where there seems to be more garbage now, more smells, and more shifty strangers, huddled on cardboard palates or leaning idly against streetlamps.  And maybe you notice that even the trees here are struggling, shaded on all sides by the chasm of the rising city.  Check the sketchy-eyed derelicts and feel nervous if you will, afraid if you must, but don’t speed up your walking.  Just maintain the quick, even pace of a person with a place to be.  And remember, there is no eye contact permitted, with anyone, at anytime.  That’s why you need the sunglasses.

Make up the worst possible story you can about the next bum you see, how he killed his family with a power drill and now begs for change to buy brandy for the tempting of young schoolgirls back to his dingy lair.  This is just an example.  Go ahead and slap your preconceptions on him for a moment.  Really try and let the horrors spill forth.  Then try a tale that’s the polar opposite: a hard-on-his-luck family man, maybe stricken with cancer, or with a kid so stricken, his house repossessed by hospital bills, forced into this humiliation of scraggly blankets and an empty coffee cup.  Realize that the truth is locked away behind those glazed eyes, behind that matted scraggle of beard.  Think about asking him if he’s settled his affairs and is ready for a walk.  Ask him if you must, but remind yourself about the death of meaning, the execution of interpretation.

And keep counting the Starbucks.

Hustle past the porno theatres and the head shops.  Perhaps you feel conspicuous here, because your clothes or the color of your skin contrasts with those around you.  Let yourself feel conspicuous.  Let it roll over you.  Feel the eyes burning holes through your clothes, and then get over yourself.  Nobody gives a fuck.  Remember the bums you just passed, see if you can find that echo of love in your heart when you look back at them.

Notice now that the crowds are thickening again with tourists and business people, well-dressed folks, and that the store facades are becoming friendlier, emblazoned with familiar brand names.  Pay attention to how this change makes you feel.  Relieved?  Or more conspicuous?

Watch the shoppers with their arms akimbo, elbows hooked with laden sacks, chatting to each other or to the electronics in their ears.  Eavesdrop on their conversations while you wait for the light to change.

This should be the only time you stop moving, to wait at a corner.  Watch the crossing signals with their white men and red hands.  Pay attention to the numbers counting down on the signal perpendicular to you: they will tell you when it’s time to move.  Jaywalk with the packs at first, until you get the hang of it.

You’ll have to start weaving through these crowds of shoppers and tourists again to continue up Market Street.  Make up some more stories about them if you must, and then reverse your preconceptions.  The tourists are locals, and the locals are tourists.  The blonde businesswoman in the brown power-suit has a crack habit and a fecal fetish.  The low-pants kids blasting Hip-Hop are Christian missionaries from Ghana, bringing the word to the street.  Whatever it takes for your perceptions to be skewed.

Maybe by now you’re noticing how if you walk up close behind a lone woman you can sometimes feel the hairs on the back of her neck prickle.  Stutter your steps, pass on the right.  Keep counting Starbucks.  Keep counting trees.

As you continue up Market, you should soon notice a break in the buildings, a flourish of grass down the end of a wide walkway, just after the only café that wasn’t a Starbucks. Turn right.  Notice the metal benches in groups of three as you pass through the walkway of fresh concrete and shiny marble.  Maybe you notice two strangers sitting down on one of the rows, the middle bench empty between them.  Maybe they are all full, or all empty.  Notice the metal elbows bolted over the edges of the planer boxes and retaining walls to keep the skateboarders at bay.

Think if you must about the distance between things, and then ask yourself about the death of meaning, about the execution of interpretation.

On your left there should be a brick wall coming into view from behind the gray high-rises that cast the walkway in shadow.  At first the wall may appear to be part of St. Patrick’s, the brick church sitting at the end of the walkway, but as you get closer, you will see that the section is not connected at all, rather it is just a lone segment retained by rusting pipe buttresses, the fourth wall of the world’s stage removed and placed here for storage.  Ask yourself if you think love can still exist in a world where the fourth wall has been removed, where meaning is dead, where interpretation has been executed.

If you continue down to the end of the walkway you will reach Mission Street, with the Yerba Buena gardens directly across from you.  This is the grass that tempted you down that breezeway in the first place, but you will not take time to linger here.  Steal a few glances at those lazing in the sun. Try and forget about your categories: bums, lovers, students, hipsters, hustlers, tourists.  For a moment just let them all be exactly what they are: people, lying on the grass, in the sun.

Now turn left and keep walking, up Mission Street, past the sliced cylinder of glass rising from the MOMA.  Maybe the sun shines a little brighter off the building’s façade.  Maybe it’s obscured in shadow.  Maybe you start to notice that the cross streets are approaching zero, and start to feel as if a countdown is waning. Let your curiosity get the best of you, go ahead and wonder what street will come after First.  Maybe you hope that it’s Zero, and maybe you feel disappointed when it is revealed to be Fremont.

Or maybe not.

Keep weaving your way down the street, briskly still. Follow the sidewalk as it curves into a crescent to dip into the Trans-Bay Transit Terminal. Go ahead and put on a show of meaning to do exactly what you just did, taking the long way around like that.  Or you can pretend to be a new person, just off a bus or train or ferry, as you merge again with the crowd you left at the beginning of the sidewalk’s arc, those who carried on directly across the mouth of the concrete inlet.

How does it feel to be new like this?  Liberating?  Or terrifying?

By now you might be feeling the urge to slow your pace and crane your neck upwards, to take in the towers of the financial district.  Resist this impulse.  Glance up if you must, but do not slow your pace.  Stutter your steps, pass on the right.

Remain nonplussed.

Turn left when you reach the gold boat propeller that guards an alcove of bank ATMs.  Venture deeper into the financial district, but remember about not looking up.  The crowds might be thinning a bit, or maybe it is lunchtime and they are chaotic.  Pay attention to how you feel.  Do you feel conspicuous here?  Overwhelmed?  Do your clothes or the color of your skin contrast with that of those around you?  Let these feelings wash over you, whatever they are.  Perhaps they are familiar feelings.  Perhaps foreign.  Perhaps the echo of love tugging at your heart is fading like the wisps of fog around you, burnt away by the green heat of money and Starbucks signs.

By now the wind has probably picked up, tunneled down through this canyon of industry, peppering your arms again with gooseflesh.  Maybe you’re wishing you had your jacket.  Go ahead and wish.  Keep counting trees, and keep counting Starbucks.  You can also go ahead and look people in the eyes here.  There is no danger of them returning your gaze, no threat of eye contact.  Notice how everyone is wearing sunglasses.

Look right as you cross Market and see the Ferry Building, obscuring a view of the ocean.  You might want to linger and sigh at this sight, but keep walking.  The sidewalks get narrow here, crowded, but the sun has returned. Dodge the pedestrians removing their jackets, stopping to tie the arms around their necks or waists, dodge the other ones untying their jackets from their necks or waists, slipping arms in awkwardly.

Maybe your legs are starting to quiver in spots, maybe your knees are creaking a bit.  Maybe the buildings are starting to blur together in a wash of scaffolding and colorful signage.  Maybe you’re starting to understand this whole “death of meaning” thing.  Find someone who walks as briskly as you do and follow a few yards behind them for a while.  Notice how they move, navigating their way through the short city blocks, crossing at whichever light is permissive, swapping sides to avoid the orange construction zones.

Wander your way past California Street, past Montgomery, up to where tourists snap photos of the concrete lions guarding the red gate into Chinatown.  Maybe you have walked in Chinatown already, maybe not.  Go ahead and stop to look up the hill at the shops and paper lanterns, and then turn left and head back down the hill.  Save Chinatown for your next walk.  There are different rules and different expectations across that red gate.  Walking there is an advanced technique.

Take your time making your way back to Market.  Avoid the big hills.  Maybe you find it ironic that Bush is a slighter grade than California.  Maybe you don’t.  Maybe you think about the execution of interpretation and laugh.

Try to find the empty streets, or the ones with just a few idle standers.  Try to find whatever scares you.  But remember: it’s daytime.  Don’t insult the nighttime by lavishing an inordinate amount of fear upon the day.

Stay on the other side of the Market as you head back to Van Ness.  Notice what feels different, and what feels the same.  Maybe you walk right up behind a lone woman, just to watch the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. Maybe you walk in a straight line now, letting those who approach weave and stutter to make their way around you.  Maybe you take a moment to stare at the beggar whose eyes are opaque with cataracts, pull off your sunglasses and allow your gaze to pass through the line of his blindness, feel the echo of love from that lost, mythic summer resonating through your core.  Maybe you notice the grungy man with a full coffee cup, his hands shaking and spilling the hot coffee all over his clothes, and wonder: DT’s? or just a way to let people know his cup is full, so they don’t spoil his drink with their loose change?  Wonder all you want.  Wonder what was meant by the death of meaning, the execution of interpretation.

Think about the stores with the strange names and the stores with the familiar names, and the people, strange and familiar too.

You most likely counted more trees than Starbuck’s, but go ahead and count the approaching Starbuck’s again, even though it was the first one you counted as the walk began, because surely you missed one at some point along the way.

Copyright © 2008, Kevin Hobson

Meteor Strike at Dolores Park Decimates Mission Hipster Population

Posted in Humor on February 21, 2008 by kwhobson

A sunny Sunday in Dolores Park turned fatal for a large portion of the Mission District’s Hipster population when a giant, Dolores Park-sized meteor fell from the sky and landed directly atop the park, witnesses said. The meteor reduced the park to a festering crater of twisted fixed-gear bike frames, molten PBR cans and shattered over-sized sunglasses.

The neighborhood is still reeling in the wake of the tragedy. Surviving Hipsters–those who were either waiting to get brunch at Boogaloos, drinking bloody mary’s at the Zeitgeist or simply sleeping off their all-night coke binges at the time of the catastrophe–were understandably shaken by the news.

“My buddys Chase and Diego were at the park that day…” local Hipster Joe John Jacobs noted somberly, wiping his tears with his over-sized neckerchief, “I, I was supposed to meet them but I stopped off at Gestalt for a beer on the way…it really makes you think…on the plus side, Chase told me once I could have all his Lou Reed vinyl if anything ever happened to him…so that’s kinda sweet.”

Tallie Woods, another local Hipster, seemed to display survivor’s guilt when asked about the accident. “I wish I would have been there…dying in a freak meteor strike is totes gonna be the new trend…I was saying it last fall, but everyone just laughed at me. Ha, well who’s laughing now! Gosh I’m so jealous of all my dead friends. How cool are they?”

In lieu of flowers, surviving friends have asked to borrow a fiver to help them all get tickets to go see some Vampire-named band you’ve never heard of that’s like, totally big in New York right now.

Copyright © 2008, Kevin Hobson

Baseball to Add Extra Base so High Schoolers can Finally Distinguish Fingering from Oral.

Posted in Humor on October 11, 2007 by kwhobson

In a stunning revelation sure to rock the worlds of both sports and romance, officials representing Major League Baseball and its lower affiliates have announced that beginning next season, the total number of bases on the field will be increased from four to five.

The drastic rule change, which will have a profound impact on the history and integrity of America’s pastime, was done primarily to “allow gossipy High Schoolers a wider linguistic palate with which to describe the relative successes of their dates,” said Baseball commissioner Bud Selig in a press conference yesterday. “Baseball takes great pride in its long history as a euphemistic device for describing the various stages of copulation–from finally getting to first base with that cute guy from your trig class after three dates already, to getting all the way to third with that slutty punk rock girl during fifth period study hall, baseball is part of the very fabric of young America’s sexual innuendo.”

The move was made to “keep up with the changing times,” Selig said, noting that the increasing number of teens engaging in casual oral sex has pushed the base system of demarcation into a gray area. “Back in my day, there was a clear quadrant system–first base was kissing above the neck, second base was hands under the shirt, above the waist, and third base was a straight up fingerbang…” the liver-spotted commissioner continued, pausing to allow the collective shudder from the gathered reporters to subside. “These days there’s just no consistency. What is third base anyway? A beej? Does that move fingering to second base then? What about good old fashioned nipple tweaking? Where’s the base for nipple tweaking, dammit!?!”

Pausing again to sip a glass of water with a shaky hand, the visibly aroused grandfather of five continued, “the addition of an extra base to the game we all love is the only logical solution. It restores the natural order to things–third base can go back to its rightful definition of hands on genitals, and the new addition of fourth base finally gives fellatio and cunnilingus a place to call their very own.” Selig added “Staying relevant to the youth of America has always been one of Baseball’s most important goals–and we feel secure that this move will influence more and more promiscuous teens to get out there and toss the baseball around the old diamond…er…pentagon, I guess.”

The move has been met with a fair share of skepticism by both the baseball and casual sex communities.

“So, does that mean I play fourth base now?” Superstar ex-third baseman Alex Rodriguez asked, scratching his head. “I mean, I’m excited by the prospect of finally hitting that elusive five-run homerun and turning triple-plays with regularity, but what? Are they gonna add another out too?”

Shortstop Omar Vizquel was a bit more optimistic: “I’m excited about the change–I always felt naked standing out there by myself with no base to call my own. Shortstop–WTF is that anyway? We’re not all short, you know… Plus, chicks dig Third Basemen better anyway.”

Teenagers were equally skeptical. “Wait, so oral is FOURTH base now?” asked Salt Lake City Sophomore Kendra Smith, a 15 year old Mormon. “Cause I like, always thought oral was second base and third was, you know, anal…right? Right guys? I mean…that’s what I HEARD at least…”

No word yet on responses from the other leaders of the sexual innuendo community: The Professional Union of Salad Makers and Tossers, The City of Cleveland Steam Cleaners Association, or The Federation of Glass-Bottom Boat Operators.

Copyright © 2007, Kevin Hobson

Psspsst! Literary Gossip!

Posted in Humor, Non-Fiction on July 17, 2007 by kwhobson

OMG you guys, like, SUCH the drama the other night!! Stephen Elliott TOTALLY threw a beer all over Howard Junker!! I know, FOR REALSIES!!

So I was at this Literary Death Match thingy? With Amick, Gravity and Marisa? They, like, have writers read in a competition against each other, with like judges and stuff. It’s like AMERICAN IDOL but for book nerds, right? Howard Junker, who’s like this crotchety old dude who edits this magazine ZYZZYVA, was one of the judges–it was him and Beth Lisick who was all “I’m Cute!” and this other guy Jon Wolanske who was all “I’m Funny and Stuff! Lobsters!” and then Howard Junker was all “Grr I’m old and serious an no-one likes me but everyone respects me or something…”

So it started with Stephen Elliott, who wrote this book “Happy Baby” that’s like kinda famous or something, reading first, and he was like “I’m Stepehen Elliott, I write about wanting to have sex and having sex and not having sex and stuff!” and we were all like “ROTFLOLZ.” Then Joyce Maynard read and she was all like “I fucked JD Salinger bitches!! I’m the most famoustest person here!! In this story, I’m a middle age housewife and I wrote letters to a guy in prison who was crazy, please no one mention some other middle age housewife just wrote a book with this exact same plot…” and we were all like “zzzzzzzzzzzz, tell us about JD Salinger!!”

So then the reading part was over and the judging part started and they were all like “Howard Junker, you’re judging on literary merit” and Junker was all “Stephen’s piece made me laugh, but his work has NO LITERARY MERIT.” And we were all like “OH NO HE DI’INT!!” FUR REALZ Then he was all “Joyce’s piece tugged at my heartstrings and I enjoyed it very much, gee your ass tastes great Joyce!!” and we were like “gag me with a spoon already.” So they decided that the Joyce was the winner of that round, (big surprise) and then they were gonna have another round after a break so everyone went to the bar to get drinks and Howard Junker was all “hum dee dum, I’d like some pretentious sounding drink in a snifter or something…” and the Stephen Elliott came up behind him and was all “Hey Junker!” and Howard was like “Huh?” And Stephen was like “How’s this for literary merit!?!?” and SPLASH!! Beer all over his shirt!! Okay so maybe he didn’t say the “how’s this for literary merit” line, but isn’t it better if he does? I think so.

We were standing right behind them and I totally caught the Howard Junker shaped beer-spray all over me. It’s like my claim to fame now! Woot!! So Howard was all “Ga!” and Stephen just looked at him like “now we’ve BOTH been humiliated, huh?” and it was actually kinda sad casue you could tell Stephen really got his feelings hurt, I mean, no one’s gonna argue Stephen’s work has the literary merit of like Dostoevsky or anyting, but c’mon, you don’t say something like that in front of a big group of people…unless you’re Howard Junker I guess…

So Howard was like “screw this I’m outta here” and everyone else was like “OMG OMG OMG” and then they started up the second round and the guy was like “Howard had to leave, we had a little ‘incident,’ no, no-one got stabbed, Eddie Vedder didin’t come in with a lightsaber and kick ass, just a little ‘beer slipping out of the hand action’ (yeah right) so let’s keep going with a new replacement judge…” and then the other two readers read and Michelle Richmond was like “thanks Stephen, Howard Junker scares me” and the new replacement judge was like “both of these works were DRIPPING with literary merit” and we were like “DRIPPING!! That is teh funnyz LOLZ!”

Then some other stuff happened and they played “poke a hole in Nebraska” which is like “pin the tail on the donkey” but with a US map and a pencil instead of a donkey and a tail and then Sam Hurwitt who read and was all “I like comic books but Socrates was just a Bullshit artist” was all “whoo-hoo I poked a hole through Nebraska, gimmie my crown bitches!!”

And we were like OMG can we go already? We’re sticky and we smell like Stephen Elliott’s beer and Howard Junker’s old man sweat…

…ewww that’s butt.

But srsly guys, Stephen Elliott is SO not getting invited to Howard Junker’s next pajama party. Maybe Dave Eggers can like talk to Howard and be all like “Stephen says he’s sorry but dude why are you such a dick?” and then Howard can be all like “Your book was an Assbreaking Pile of Staggeringly Smelly Dog Poo.” And then Dave can be all “Oh its ON NOW!!” and McSweeney’s and ZYZZYVA will be all like the Jets and the Sharks and there could be more and more beer throwing until finally they agree to have a climactic dance off at City Lights bookstore or something…

That would be teh coolz.

Copyright © 2007, Kevin Hobson.