Beauty salons were the best, better than restaurants.The lapdogs were tied to the railings, yippy and shivery, and mad that they weren’t getting their own $200 facials. It didn’t take much to scope them from across the street, then walk past and slice the leash, or even unclip it. He could pretend to be a dogwalker, not that these things could walk. If the dog was wearing a fancy coat, he’d shove it into his own coat, one hand over its muzzle to shut it up. Down here, on Park Avenue or Madison Avenue, they hardly looked at a Latino kid in a black jacket and jeans. Some thought they saw a bus boy on his break, but most saw nothing at all.

The lapdogs were smaller than the squeaking _cuy_ that people in Guayaquil would roast for Easter. Who knows, maybe you could fatten them on alfalfa for a few weeks, shove a stick up their asses and roast them pink and crispy over charcoal, like the guinea pigs. But instead he’d keep them for a few days in a box in his room, feed them leftovers and treats, then scout Central Park for the reward posters.

F.Scott or Babette was worth more than an Easter guinea pig. Some tearful rich lady would make up posters, and she’d send someone out to plaster the lampposts in the park. Sometimes the posters begged the dogs themselves to come home, as if they could read; as if they’d run off with some guy from CBGB’s or Spanish Harlem just to piss off mama.

So he’d call from a payphone. “Lady, I think I found your dog.” And he’d take a kid from downstairs, or down the street, six or seven years old, and give him a dollar or two to come with him and cry as he handed over the dog.
“Don’t cry, Papito. Maybe we’ll get you another puppy some day,” he’d say, crouching down to the kid’s level. And then he’d turn to the lady and look up from petting her dog and his fake little brother. “He just needs a minute to say goodbye. He was so excited when he found your dog by the ice rink. He always wanted a puppy.”

He knew what to do because he’d been the fake little brother once. That’s how tricks got passed on. Sometimes the ladies were suspicious, but others, you could see it never even occurred to them that you could steal a dog for a reward.

Only once, he’d taken a dog and no one had put up a reward poster. He searched the park, even the block where he’d taken the dog, and there was nothing. He searched for a week, then two. Maybe the lady had been bored with it already, and happy to see it gone. It yipped furiously in the box beside his bed, _un mamao._ He thought about setting it free, but it was so stupid and helpless that the pigeons would eat it within an hour. Eventually he took it to the pound.

Twenty years later, he sometimes thought about that Chihuahua.


My old friends show me baby pictures and wedding pictures on their cellphones. Many are quitting Vindigo and birthing new lives. Google and Condé Nast scoop them up, and are lucky to get them.

James has to jet. “The baby,” I say sympathetically, but no; his wife is delayed at work, and so he’s going to take over her personal training session. He’s sweet when he’s sheepish.

I cross the bar to talk to David and Jason. They’ve resumed the jokey, syncopated rhythms of a friendship that became business for a while, and they’ve started running together again; on Riverside Drive, not in Central Park, now that they’re both downtowners. They’re discussing their personal trainers. David is trying some new stretching thing. Jason says his trainer never even talks about stretching. David says that in that case, his trainer is a jackass. Jason begs to differ.

I give them shit about personal trainers. I’m only half teasing, even though my Thoreau streak has never played well in Manhattan, and especially not with these two logic addicts. But when we outsource the movement of our own carcasses, what’s left of our lives?

Candy comes over to say goodnight. She blinks and shakes her head, and says how weird it is to see us all together again.

Outside, on Eighth Avenue, the rain sluices down. In a green and democratic city, rain falls almost equally on rich and poor, and after a week of filthy weather everyone is sick of it. New York is not at its best.

Business Trip

My mouse-sized room at the Hudson Hotel cost nearly 200 times more than a night at the Hotel Italia in Bolivia a few years back, and made the carry-on bag wedged next to the bed look huge. For another ten dollars, I got a shaky one-bar wireless connection. On the east coast, the Interweb is still a privilege, not a right. In spite of the the honking on 8th Avenue, the close wooden walls and drafty windows put me in mind of my log cabin days. That suits me, but I’m still horrified at the expense.

“The city hasn’t turned the heating on yet,” said the very nice woman at front desk when I called to tell her I was cold. Was this Leningrad with Louis Ghost chairs? In the Library bar downstairs, people drank cocktails to _Thriller,_ same as five years ago, except the New Yorkers have moved on and these are out-of-towners now. The cafeteria was furnished with heavy benches, like Hogwarts.

In the boom years, my friend Lee would call me for Priceline slumber parties on her work trips to New York. I’d meet her at the Ritz, the Waldorf, or the Royalton. Sometimes we slummed it at the Paramount, which was all sharp edges, tight corners, and tricksy fittings. We sat up late telling secrets over thirty-buck club sandwiches.

At the time, my ex was plagued by phone cards calls from would-be investors in his new business. (1999 was an odd year.)
“You don’t understand,” one specimen hissed, “I can introduce you to the business development group at Acme Corp.”
“As it happens,” said Jason, reasonable as always, “my wife is in a hotel room with the head of business development at Acme Corp right now.” Lee and I were trying on one another’s clothes at the Royalton.

Slumber parties aside, I don’t like the learned helplessness of hotel life. Doormen worry me. So do bellhops. I’m too cheap for room service, even–and especially–when I’m not paying, and too often I find myself sitting alone above a city, dithering over a mini-bar Toblerone that would have bought five nights at the Hotel Italia, and longing for a nice cup of tea.

Oblivio Speaks

“I’ve decided to write something new on Oblivio every day for the next 100 days.

This is probably a stupid idea, another in a series of self-made prisons, but stupid or not, it’s still an idea—something I haven’t had, or haven’t bother to have, in some time.

I do have a few stories to tell. For example I’m working on a series called Girls I Never Kissed. This should keep me busy for a while, given the number of girls who qualify.

How many is that? Several billion.”

–Michael Barrish

I’m among them. And Michael Barrish, who writes Oblivio, is in the top ten of my several billion reasons to miss Brooklyn. It was Michael I called whenever I took a notion to make _coq au vin_ or plum cobbler on a Monday night. While I chopped and stirred and basted, he told me everything I needed to know about New York City mating habits.

Michael Barrish believes that the universe is made of stories, not atoms. I’m glad he’s writing again.

High Line Rashomon

Last October I walked Manhattan’s High Line with five other people. Things fell apart on this walk, in predictably unpredictable ways, and then a few months later, four of us tried to write about the experience, and this too went badly.
–Michael Barrish, “Bug

On Brannan Street, opposite the jail, there’s a neon sign that says

Since 1961.

This always makes me think of my Brooklyn friend Michael, who has also been a Barrish since (more or less) 1961. You should read his latest project, High Bridge Rashomon, and its introduction, “Bug


The bug is my name for a group. I have a little saying about this: A group is a bug with a brain in each leg. I should be famous for this saying, and maybe I will someday, because of how true it is. With little effort it could serve as the basis for a revolutionary new theory of why groups suck. For now I will share but one key postulate: The bigger the bug (that is, the more legs it has), the less chance it has of moving in any particular direction. One need only recall one’s experience in groups to confirm this.