A big black dog sleeps on a sofa in Texas with his paws curled into his chest. The front door opens and a baby person comes into the house with the dog's mom and dad, dog gets up to sniff it, goes back to his place on the sofa. Everything was good right up until this moment, now, uncertainty. And it's raining. Where the rain ends, near the border of New Mexico, a toddler runs into a fuzzy type of cactus, won't stop screaming; her mom can't pull the tiny prickers out, they'll just be there until they're not. In Georgia a little boy wants to enter a pageant with his sister, mom asks him if he wants to be a gay boy, he doesn't know what that means, cries anyway. In Brazil, a five-year-old girl in a dirty dress sees a monkey throw its poop at another monkey, she will laugh about it on and off for the rest of the morning.
In London, an expressionless ten-year-old boy in a pristine school uniform leans into the street to hail a taxi, he's got a math test today he wants to do well on, is already thinking about university. At Disney World, a chubby kid gets lost, his dad doesn't notice for an hour, the kid is crying in front of Snow White's castle. Somewhere in Africa, a kid plays a guitar with a missing string, sings a Michael Jackson song, he's good. If he had a video camera or a computer, it'd be on YouTube, but he doesn't. He's only heard of these things. In Venice Beach, California, some teenage boys grind their skateboards to a halt beneath an underpass, share a tiny rock of crack, laugh. In Switzerland two teenagers fall in love on a ski trip, the girl will move to the US the next year with her family, this seems tragic at the time, but don't worry, they'll find each other again after a couple marriages and kids. In Daytona Beach, a college girl who lifted her bikini top earlier that day is passed out on a dirty motel bedspread. In a thousand cubicles in a thousand offices, a thousand men are looking at the same blurry online photo of a college girl lifting her bikini top, one of them thinks of his daughter, picks up the phone. Outside, beneath narrow ledges and tucked into alcoves, accountants and secretaries smoke in the rain; they shiver but they never wear scarves. Remember the good old days, when you could smoke in places?
In Rome, a woman who won a prestigious art fellowship falls in love with a local, he introduces her to heroin, this detour takes a few years she won't remember much about. Somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma, a UPS guy delivers a package to a farmer who gives him a cup of coffee in a travel mug, says Just keep it, guy will use that mug for years, think often of that small kindness. In Seattle, a barista makes a fine latte, looks in the tip jar at three dollars and change and pushes up a sideways smile as she hands it across the counter to a businessman who's applying lip balm with his pinky in a weird way. His lips are very chapped. In Australia, a woman's house just washed away, she watched it from a tree. In Nevada, a croupier didn't take home enough for her electric bill, her cat curls up around her neck, she's got two more days before the lights go off. In India, a man's been at the same desk for ten years, he's good at his job, well-liked, but every single day he thinks there's got to be something better, never tries, knows he's lucky, tries to just be happy he's got a wife at home that makes the dull days worth it. In Idaho, a new wife buys flour with a double coupon, bakes blueberry muffins for her husband. They're a little bit burnt on the bottom, he doesn't mind, they're going to do it again tonight.
In Arkansas, a married man believes it's god's will that he sleep with his wife's sister; the sister is not fully convinced, but she's considering it. In Mexico City, a fight breaks out in a bar, a scrawny American tourist takes a punch to the eye but finally breaks it up, feels good about himself. In Chicago, a single woman has a fortieth birthday party, feels the love, her best friend comes from New York, it's one of the best days of her life so far. In Michigan, a woman gives birth to a beautiful, healthy boy; she's disappointed that he has her nappy hair. In Atlanta, a kid gets bullied at school, his mom goes over to talk to the bully's parents, they're surprisingly friendly, apologetic, the bullying continues. Over in Iowa City, a lesbian couple, together thirty years, gets married by a justice of the peace, throws a beautiful backyard reception, tiny lights and joy, one of their dads refuses to come. In Philly, two middle-aged brothers took out loans and opened a restaurant, it's been their life's dream, but they have no idea what they're doing. In Barcelona, a couple is in a custody battle, the husband seems to be winning; privately but in front of the child, calls the wife an ugly c**t.
At a Paris cafe, a guy about to turn fifty realizes for a second where he is in life. He's never been married, never wanted to be, never dated a woman anywhere near his own age, has this moment where he feels lonely for this one second, then buys an espresso for the lovely young lady at the next table. In Nebraska, a mixed-race couple takes in the wife's elderly father; his dementia is setting in to where he often forgets to censor his racist comments. Wife hangs her head, closes her eyes, husband shrugs one shoulder, says, He made up for it in advance, kisses his wife on the head. In Montreal, a widow who's been running every day for forty-six years, since she was in high school, blows out a knee, doctor tells her she has to stop running if she wants to keep walking, she has to think about it, takes her time, takes a cooking class, meets an attractive younger man, he's more persuasive than the doctor. On Park Avenue, a seventy-year-old man ends his banking career in disgrace, he's been embezzling from himself from almost the beginning, his children no longer speak to him, sees that famous baseball player on the news who got booted from the league for doping, had his World Series ring taken back, feels this guy would understand him, tries unsuccessfully to reach out. In Queens, four young actresses share a small two-bedroom apartment. Two of them are from Kansas, best high school friends, the other two they found on Craigslist, they're not from New York either. They're all scared, but only one says so out loud. The other three take the subway into Manhattan for auditions for student films, squeeze each other's hands, they're so excited.
Across town in the East Village, a woman who left the city twenty years ago returns with her husband to find things totally the same and totally different. Maybe it's she who's totally the same and totally different, maybe both. It seems to her like the city has been picked up and replaced with a duplicate that still carries all her memories, that even though a lot of it is shinier than it was back in her time, the memories are still, well, less shiny, some of them, a lot of them, even the things that aren't real memories, e.g. people on the street she doesn't know, like some marginally attractive guy in in his thirties but who maybe chain-smoked for a few years with the windows closed, in a black shirt and black pants, sometimes a black hat, smoking, and with a lunky walk - do you know the kind? so many guys have a lunky walk, even the most handsome ones, you don't see a lot of women whose walk is so lunky, there's not much better of a word for it, this long-strided, bouncy, arm-swinging, forward-leaning walk (do you see it now?) - this guy exemplary of a long-ago type that would have taken up some good portion of her time, he might have been an actor, or a waiter, and what happens when she sees these types, on the street, is that they aren't just passed by, they blur into the real ones, and there is a wish that she could get just a little, just a little of the time back that was spent on these types, because time is moving very quickly now, and just in the one direction, and she knows she wasted good stretches of it on all manner of ill-advised endeavors, and even if she could have let's just say ten percent of her time spent on these types returned to her, she could make very good use of it now.
On 57th Street she'll remember that one dinner with a much older man from her office, they used to flirt, she should have left it at that, was trying something other than men in black, that direction didn't stick. Over on Bank Street she'll remember that loft apartment she once looked at in Westbeth, wonders if it would have gone differently if she'd moved downtown, if she'd have slipped into a life that made more sense, or if downtown would have just been a variation on a theme. Uptown on Third Avenue she'll remember her first kiss, it was around here somewhere, she's sure, it's a bit of a sweet memory; he was nice, and he's still nice, that's a what-if rabbit hole too. Or where the Palladium was, a dorm now, she'll still think of that one time she went there when it was a club, shared a glance with one of those guys from the Brat Pack, which one was it. On Riverside Drive she'll think of her first therapist, how for years she shook her head no to every reasonable suggestion he made, until one day he suggested she should teach, how it was like she'd been pouring nickels into the same slot machine for years and it finally paid out. Down by Wall Street the streets feel haunted, could just be it's nighttime, could be she feels like she's walking on the dust of her friends. Or she'll see some young woman going into Stuyvesant Town who looks like her grade school friend she'd been trying to track down, the one who never turned up on Google because she died before Google was a thing. Or she'll be in a neighborhood that she didn't spend a lot of time in, but a restaurant location that's housed nine different trendy restaurants since she was last there will bring up dinners she couldn't afford, ones where she drank at home before dinner because drinks were six dollars, or ordered an appetizer saying she wasn't hungry but it was really because she couldn't afford an entrée, but then the bill was of course always split evenly at the end of the night, at which time she always wanted to yell that she couldn't even afford the appetizer to begin with, remembers when it seemed like a good idea to get a hostess job at that restaurant, but how awful everyone was, the customers and the waiters and the owners, everyone, not approving of her clothes or her shoes or her hair or her ability to do her job (not friendly enough, they said), and that that job, and not a few others like it, usually lasted for a week or two at most.
Or a doorway will look familiar, and even if it's a doorway that's been polished up, a doorway that has a nice new security system or some such, she'll remember the photographer upstairs who told her he was also a psychologist and did she mind if he just asked a few personal questions to get to know her better and how creeped out she was but still answered some of the questions before leaving - why? - why didn't she just leave? - because don't you know that seven or eight years later that guy was brutally murdered in that very photo studio above that nice security system, by the pissed-off boyfriend of a lingerie model (the term 'lingerie' and the lingerie itself and maybe even the term 'model' all being used loosely here), and in the photo of the boyfriend/murderer, on the front page of the Post, on his way to jail, guess what he's covering his face with, his black shirt. Or she'll see some some older guy with a high-pitched laugh at a bus stop who reminds her of the good things about her stepdad, any or all of it cause for contemplation of her old, less good life, the one where she drank a lot and could not find a boyfriend or a job she ever really liked and was broke always and her mom her mom, with the crazy and the cancer, her mom is still everywhere here, in front of Fairway picking out fruit, on the Lower East Side in front of lighting stores and wholesale shops that haven't existed for decades, in a dishware store in Chelsea Market even though there was no Chelsea Market then and no such thing in that building even, that dishware store was ten blocks up. Sometimes that's not even so bad, some lady on the street carrying an ironing board looks like her mom from far away, dark thick hair, and she thinks of all the times her mom came over with things she might need, leftover fabric from a dress that could make a cute top, a saucepan, a book about forgiveness (was she asking to be forgiven, or the other way around, still not known, will never be known). You'd think years of therapy would help that some, it surely has, though there she is in her dreams too, again and again, on the days when her specters aren't out walking the street on her behalf.
Everything seems different now, the streets have all these rejiggered new weird lanes where as far as she can tell there are parking lanes in the center of big streets like Second Avenue and whatall. Her husband's never lived here at all, and they're both excited, it is a chance for a bit of a do-over (or for him, just a do) but both kind of scared too, a little bit. Look at where this is going now, so off track, as usual. This was supposed to be universal. Is it even possible for her to imagine a world that she's not at the center of somehow? Let's go back over to Jersey, where a ten-year-old Russian girl arrives at her new home, she's entirely unsure about it. In the UP there's a hoar frost, sugary coatings of snow on every last needle of every last tree. Everyone's cold there, but they still kind of love it. In Minnesota too. Also in Lapland. In Iceland there's that whole darkness thing, can you imagine? Italian food is so good. Lots and lots and lots of people have cancer, are reading puffy old Us magazines with stories of somebody's third breakup ago while they get their chemo. I'd like to go to Spain someday. In Canada there are Mounties. And mountains. There's some bad shit going on in the STAN countries, right? What's up with Antarctica, anyway? Am I the only one who gets it mixed up with Greenland? Wait, I think I forgot a continent somewhere, maybe. I was hoping to include all the continents. It's still me, you know that, right? It's always me. Well, here's this: in every town and every city a poem is being written; the percentage of good to bad is unknowable, whether it matters, also uncertain.