The from the other. At times. But it

The months would arrive as quickly as they had departed. You could open the curtains one morning to grey. And the next, to blue. But the grey days were more. Even the air tasted grey. Could turn your lungs to shriveled raisins if you let it. Breathing cigarette smoke or the air in Pittsburgh, one was indistinguishable from the other. At times. But it could also be beautiful. Very so. You greet the sunny days with a bigger joy when they come as rare as they do here. The winter winds would sap the life out of the city. You too. Against January and February and March you would have to wrap chains around your tires and shovel out the wet, cold, grey shit that is exhaust trapped in snow. Shovel it out of your ears. Eyes. Mind. Your soul. The grey winter shit heaped beaten on the cold and icy curbs and the Port Authority buses–big and bright, green ones and red ones–plowed through the covered streets and the 61c coffee shop was sparsely filled. The coffee shop’s windows were frosty and dewey from the cold outside mixing with the light and body heat inside. It was a lazily run coffee shop where the folks of the neighborhood ventured in and I was attracted to it because of the smell of espresso grinds and the sweet-sweat smell of productive thought. The people who came to the 61c stayed productive most of the time–mostly on the research projects that they pumped data into by the bucketful. The shop shelves were crowded with jars filled with coffee from all over–India, Mexico, Costa Rica, Africa–but most people stuck with the blend or two that their mouths and stomachs had first accepted with the most ease. 61c was one of the meeting places of Murray Avenue, that beautiful wide packed avenue which drove on to Shadyside. The tall and thick chimneys of the old mansions–two or four chimneys for the old, old mansions–lined the smaller more narrow streets which crisscrossed Murray Ave. In the wintertime, on an early evening jog, you would get whiffs of the dried-out wood burning in the fireplaces and the smell was pungent. In a good way. The buses were painted green and red as unripe and ripe tomatoes and in the daytime when they carried commuters from and to they resembled great playing blocks of metal and glass. No one darted out from 61c to catch a bus or to hurry home though, and its peeling vanilla bean wallpaper and cone-shaped lanterns hung overhead were faded like the clientele’s skin in the wintertime. All of the hope of the city arrived swiftly with the first melts of spring, and there were no more white-covered roofs as you strode along but only the bright blueness of the sky and the sky reflected in the windowed storefronts of the barber, the tailor, the grocer and the restaurants, the clothing store–second hand stuff–and the neighborhood where Chabon had wrote and where you sought to learn as well. The apartment building stood three stories tall and had grey-painted walls with white trim and thick red metal doors on each landing and I thought about how much the cooking gas and living heat and air conditioning and fan-blowing electric would cost throughout the year to make it livable. Maybe even comfortable. I walked to the eastern side of Murray Ave then turned right onto Forbes. There was an electronics store–used gadgets, mostly–and I thought about how the internet could be set up and of the apartment getting connected to the world at large and the monthly cost of the internet and other things and I walked on through the snow. I walked up beyond the Sixth Presbyterian Church and across from the bike shop to another good coffee shop on Forbes Avenue that I had been told good things about. It was a modern coffee shop, clean but not sterile, and I took off my grey and black beanie and headband and neck warmer and running gloves with the reflective stripes and stuffed them all into separate zipper pockets of my jacket and hung it on the back of my wooden chair and ordered a cappuccino. The barista switched on the Mastrena’s bean hopper which ground the coffee beans into tiny bits and into the wandspoonthing and the barista flattened the grinds and slammed the wandspoon hard against some metal machine which did other things or the iron countertop and flicked the switches of the Mastrena machine this way and that which created steam and warmed the milk in the steel cup. I had ordered a thousand drinks from coffee shops before without fully knowing how the baristas created their liquid magic. The dirty espresso made you feel replenished as water. The barista set the cup and little silver spoon on the saucer and the saucer on the counter all at once and I took out my wallet and a few dollars from it and paid the barista. Seated again at my little corner table, I pulled out my acer chromebook with the blinking orange low battery light and plugged it into the wall outlet which was packed with other charging ports and wires all white or all black.Once my machine booted to life I began to write. I was writing journal entries from the week’s work and the day’s exercise and since it was still cold outside I had only run some four or five miles that day which was less than my daily goal of six. In the cold months you seemed to cut your expectations down by ten or twenty miles for the month depending on how many nights were too slick with ice to run on the sidewalks or on the streets. Running and thinking about writing and writing and thinking about running. That was how I spent the first few weeks of January. That was called logging your miles and your moods, or that is what I called it atleast. I thought that maybe plenty of other people around me were doing the same sort of thing. But in my journal my mind started to wonder to fiction and stories that I had read or those that had been read to me as a boy. The first story that drifted to my mind involved a girl who was locked away by bullies during the event that meant the most to her. I guess I kind of felt the opposite now, free to roam but without experiencing the events that meant the most–I think–to me. Because the story involved rain and bleakness I decided to order an Irish Coffee to warm my mood and also as it was approaching four thirty and on a Holiday I thought that it may be alright to indulge. The Irish Cream ran through my spirit and I wiggled my arms and legs a bit to let the cream fill my body throughout.A girl walked into the coffee shop and waved to a boy and then sat down next to him toward the back of the place. They were both young, possibly in their early twenties and both had good-looking faces and looked like they had both walked out of a clothing ad if they made ads animated with the pinkness of life, their pants were of dark denim and they were wearing t-shirts made with black and white and grey threads.I looked at them and they made me feel jealous and I felt wishful for camaraderie. I wanted to talk with them as a friend or atleast as a known person, but I was only an ambiguous face amongst the other unknown fellows at the coffee shop and they were seated together several tables across. So I kept to myself.The computer screen looked back at me asking what I wanted to put into it but I was hoping it could tell me. I got up and asked the barista for another cappuccino and I watched the couple whenever I needed a break from looking at the computer screen or whenever I wanted to disengage my brain from the writing for a moment or to have a sip of the cappuccino.I felt like I knew the girl and the boy–or similar versions–from someplace. Perhaps from college. I wanted to capture their happiness in the written form, but it did not belong to me. The city was full of things which I hoped to be able to capture the feeling of, but I doubted my ability to do this.Then I went back into the computer and into the words that I was writing. The words were not coming as they had the first few pages or so and so I took a moment to look through some old photographs of my partner and me. We had gone rowing in Central Park on her birthday and we had gotten spritzy drink things at the boathouse afterward. In the background of one of the photographs you could see another couple rowing, but because the camera captured them in the motion of rowing they looked more like the background of a painting. I felt nostalgic and thought of my partner’s good nature and beauty. I went back to my writing hoping to get in the middle of it and to once again lose track of my surroundings and time. I lost track of all distractions, including the self.Then I came to a resting place and I felt fatigued by the thinking. My stomach was sick of the bitter coffee and my head was sick of the strong caffeine. I carried up my coffee cup and spoon and saucer and placed them in the dirty dishes bin and asked the barista for some tea. When it came and was steeping I poured in some milk and honey. I re-read the last few sentences or so that I had written and looked back to where the couple was seated. They were laughing and were animated and there was a group of older folks who were talking with passion about something and it made me feel comforted. Good coffee shop vibe, I thought. I liked to think that they were all old friends. It made me happy to think so, but also it made me feel lonely.I shut my chromebook lid and lodged it inside the large pocket of my backpack. I got up again and asked the barista for a sandwich with oven-roast turkey, chipped, with white american cheese. The sandwich came on a plain white plate. I would eat mouthfuls of the sandwich and sip the tea and milk and honey over the bread and meat and cheese to sweeten it and to soften the crusty bread. While writing I felt buzzed and hopeful, nervous even, as though it were the moments before a big race or party. And nervous because I was never sure if I had written anything coherent or truly worth a reader’s time. Buzzed and hopeful though. I would re-read at the end of the day what I had written and make some edits, but I was careful not to mutilate the thing as I wanted to preserve the words that I had written as I had first felt them.As I ate the sandwich with its meaty flavor of the fields and the salty taste of the cheese that the tea smoothed out, only the meat and leaf flavors and the wet and crusty textures remained, and as I enjoyed this experience I started to feel filled with energy and excitement for what might come the rest of the evening.Now that spring was coming and I had been accepted to graduate school, we–my partner and I–could feel settled for a while again. Settled in this place of grey and snow and struggle and worth. We could feel at home in this place of asphalt–warm and sticky in the summer and cold and icy in the winter–and tall, pointy row houses and old mansions. We could read and watch together and lie awake in bed at night dreaming of the future together.I would end the month-to-month lease of my small one bedroom in Mount Lebanon where I read and wrote and then we would have only one apartment worth of rent to manage. I had contract work for a bank and would be starting up grad school in early August. But in June or July we had plans to take a trip to Andros where we could climb stairs and rocks and swim our little bodies in the big Aegean blue.Perhaps then, out of my hometown, I could speak to and put down in words what the city meant to me. We would go to Andros in June or July when my partner’s parents and grandparents would be there, and I took the last bite of sandwich and the last sip of tea and walked back through the new snow on Forbes to Wightman, that was the street that our apartment sat on, at the top of the street.”I can’t wait to travel again with you.” my partner said. She had a beautiful Greek face with green brown wolf eyes. Her whole face would light up when she was excited and she was excited for us to travel together. “When will your last day of work be?””My contract was extended through the end of March.””Great! Then you may have an extra few weeks to hobby around.””Hopefully it will be warm and light when we get back. It can be a lovely city when it is changed with warmth and light.””I think it will be,” she said, “but it can be lovely in the grey and white of rain and snow.”When we returned to the city we found it waiting for us full of warmth and light. Pittsburgh had welcomed spring and there were sturdy umbrellas being sold at the shoe store down the street and it also was selling waterproof jackets so you could walk and run in the rain. Our flat was cool and light. My partner and I made eggs and hash together on the stove, and you could see out the kitchen window people passing by in a pleasant flush of spring colors. There were the first green buds appearing on trees and bushes and as you looked closer you might catch sight of a bee or a small bird fluttering about. You could now also see the fresh sky no longer grey but a soft blue and as you walked on the sidewalks or on the bike paths on the street you could see the water draining down the grooves along the sides of Wightman and Beacon down to the water basin which had formed on the southeastern side of Schenley Park. The plant life was beginning to gain fullness which filled you with thoughts of possibility, and the spring breeze moved through the tall zebra grass and some of the houses still had their Christmas lights strung hung on bush and branch. The western end of Beacon street opened to an expanse showing Schenley and Oakland. Forest and city. Shapes old and new, organic and inorganic. I had picked up and carried with me some salt roasted cashews and pitted dates which were juicy and soft and pulled apart with gelly ease which was pure fun. The cashews had come in a paper bag and the dates had come in a squat plastic box. I had some leftover clementines from before and decided to peel one in a spiral, rotating the small fruit with my thumbs and I picked the white center stem out and began to pull each slice which was a pure joy. The transparent clementine slices were spongy and had a sci-fi quality in their orange translucence when you held them up close. I loved how the clementine would spritz as I peeled it with my fingertips and create a small orange mist for a moment. To a lady bug this orange mist would seem like the violent flash of a tropical storm and would probably seem to last longer than the moment that it lasts for us.Now my fingertips smelled like clementines and the juice that was left in my mouth left a pleasant flavor that mixed well with the warm tea.The walk back had made me thirsty and the clementine juice helped with this, but the salty cashews dried my mouth again so I went to the fridge and pulled one of the san pellegrino bottles that we had refilled with water from the tap. The water was cool and refreshing with a hint of calcium from the Pennsylvania ground. We kept our liquor in the dining room on the top shelf and I had a bottle of black label that I had bought at the Fine Wines & Good Spirits. I pulled the plastic mould from the freezer that was used to make ice balls and slammed it hard on the kitchen counter. Out popped a lopsided ice ball. I refilled the ice mould with water from the kitchen sink and returned it to the freezer to continue the cycle. Sitting at the kitchen table–which was a plain wooden table that we had bought in pieces and built and covered with a rough, simple beige cloth–I plopped the ice ball into a lowball glass and poured a finger of the amber colored liquid into it and watched as the scotch splashed and smoothed across the chipped ice ball. I took a drink. Then I set out to write the next scene of the story that I was writing. After I had come to a resting place I closed the chromebook and set to the side of the kitchen table and tossed the clementine peels into the brown paper bag that we were using for waste.It was good to have had a nice walk today and a little reward for having sat down to write. If I found myself writing with too much yeast I could always throw out that batch of words or add some other ingredients like some salty words or some bitter words or some sweet words depending on how the feelings were. The thing about writing–like meeting a new friend–was that it appeared in my life out of nowhere. I had set some new year goals to run more and to care more and I think that writing was the answer to my desire to care more. Writing makes you a more caring person because it forces you to confront the feelings and words of the people around you. Now you become more sensitive to the language that different kinds of people use around you. Writing, for me, was about becoming more mature.When I  grew tired of thinking and writing I would stop to give my partner some kisses on her cheeks and forehead. Then we would share about our days both the good and bad. Good things that made us laugh or smile or inquire. Bad things that made us feel pounded under ambiguous stress. Thinking of the good that you could do and building discipline through working and running and reading and writing made you feel strong and that was a beautiful thing, to feel free and in control. You could look out on any part of your city and feel hopeful for the next morning. When I walked along Murray Avenue in the springtime I could feel the water running below my shoes and it felt as if the whole Earth was draining its winter skin all over and all at once. And if I continued walking down Murray, across from the seasons flower store, I could walk into the Manor Theatre where the good movies were playing. Sometimes we would have similar takes on what had transpired up on the silver screen. Other times we would argue about what the character’s motives were and what it all meant. The times when we argued felt the most productive and memorable because we had challenged each other to see things that we had not seen ourselves.At a quarter past three, I left work because I had started work early and I wanted to beat the snow which was coming at four or five o’clock and would be going strong by seven. The bus was already stuffed but in order to fit the next stop of people in the driver told us all to “make a friend.”When the bus passed Murdoch my mind rolled back out of the book that I was reading and I pulled the yellow wire to signal to the driver to stop at Forbes and Wightman. I tried to look outside but the interior lights of the bus were on and it was twilight outside so I could only see the reflection of the inside of the bus. After I stepped off the bus I noticed an older woman who was having trouble crossing the snow embankment which had formed on the side of the road–she reached out and I held her hand as she stepped over the snow. It felt good to be of help to someone and it felt good to be thanked even for a small thing. Later that evening I went for a run. It felt good to be running in the sun and I saw two cars parked and the second car had grey smoke billowing out of its exhaust pipe. As I ran past I glanced in the windows and saw a coat moving up and down on another coat that it was straddling. I kept running and wondered if it was teenagers who didn’t have anywhere else to go or if it was an on the way home from work affair. It hurt to think that it might have been an affair so I hoped it was a young couple or an established couple looking to keep the adventure.There was a mom and her boy sled riding on plastic lids down the hill fifty yards of open air away. It was cute to see the mom and her boy playing and the mom had stolen the makeshift sled and started sledding while the boy ran after her and then leapt onto her back and they tumbled together into the snow laughing and building what would be a memory full of worth. When I returned home my partner had made her first loaf of homemade bread and it was warm and crusty and delicious and I was glad to get to taste her first bread project. My partner was an excellent budding chef and she had made meatballs with rice and butternut squash. I sliced the meatballs with my fork and combined the meat with the rice and ketchup because this flavor reminded me of the beggars’ purses that my Mom cooked for Christmas when I was a small boy riding a sled down our backyard hill on snow colored cotton candy pink by the early sunset.


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