I am closed.
41-31 51st Street, Woodside, 1980–82
First typewriter: sister patiently showing how it works; entries from the Encyclopedia Brittanica, copied word for word for practice, for enjoying time with fingers; black, sleek; constant ribbon changes; gone now. Blood from mouth: staring into mirror, fascinated; Dad had been angry, only that once, ever; but about what? can’t remember; the leg from a rocking chair; a paddled bottom; hanging upside down by feet. Steven B. Choi: best friend; moved to Korea; found him again freshman year in college; two completely different people; hugging; but where is he now?; mania.
Main Street, Flushing, 2006
Apartment-sitting. A sense of both belonging and distance in balance. A chair on the balcony: the eyes are closed, the head is tilted back, the wind and sun are fresh.
Confucius Plaza, Chinatown, 1980–85
Handball. Slumber parties. Angela. Hello Kitty. Shortcuts.
Friends: A best friend, beautiful and limber from birth, moves here. An ex-boss tinkers with drums, guitar, proofreading, and his wolfish tyke. A leisurely ferry ride one morning, resulting in generous photographs, large stories, and a steadfast bond.
West 11th Street stoop, 2003–08
Discussions: boys, writing, food.
2005: A friend’s apartment; a tabla player’s lap; a balcony; sweet Douglas. 1979–80: A dark railroad apartment, now conflated with friend’s cramped Madison Street apartment and my narrator’s studio. Our first piano, a present from Dad to Sis, with much surprise from Mom. Baby roaches on the kitchen table, smacked upon. Popcorn-textured walls avoided by hands. Little brother’s first steps, his wispy hair a Superman’s curl on his forehead. Stairwell with neighbors’ boys.
Sixth Avenue, 1997
he, a stranger in the street: Help me.
she, emerging from store: I’ll try.
he: Look, I have all this money.
she: Put that away! Don’t show it off like that.
he: No? Tell me where should I put it, then.
she: In a bank, of course.
he: A bank? Like a riverbank?
she: . . .
he: You’re telling me to bury my money by the side of the river? Is that what you’re saying?
she: I have to go now.
West 75th Street, 2001
Two cats in my sister’s apartment. Head, wrapped in scarf to ward off allergies. A photograph of me with baby T asleep in my too-thin arms. Little interest in snooping through the life here.
841 Broadway, summer 1995
Editorial internship, first publishing job, the sudden, incredible access to free books. Eric, The Heiress, Garbage. Tim, tall, Showtime. John, supervisor, beautiful, eyes soft and deep. Tightly knit, parties, no pot.
Cypress Hills, 2009
School project: A high school freshman interviews me. I answer, then ask him too many of my own questions. His smile is hesitant. Later, the class’s book of interviews is published. My profile takes up a whole page, the title “Living in Different Worlds.” He focuses on my parents, China, Taiwan, Buddhism, and Christianity. It’s very well written.
Heart, emptied. Tearing everything down in order to build back up. Time must be taken—I see that now.
Dieterle Crescent, Rego Park, 1982–84
Brother laughed at all my jokes. Raced toy cars around the house. Shared room with him and my aunt. Went to bed with Thriller in the background, but always turned it off when Vincent Price’s laugh came on. Hated the Cabbage Patch dolls, then begged parents to buy one. Collected Garbage Pail Kids cards. Tried to run like the Bionic Woman, i.e., in slow motion. The attic was reached through a hole in parents’ bedroom closet. The backyard had a large tree. Walked down the street frightened of the gnarled knots in the trees. Was terrible at selling chocolate to neighbors. A man in a car asked me to approach him. I learned how to ride a bicycle, and skinned my knees every day.
I had not been here.
A loud solitude begins.
Mott Street, Chinatown, 1979–88
Dance class: awkward cliques; passable flexibility; rudimentary gymnastics; sibling rivalries; halfhearted performances at Columbia University, the Statue of Liberty, Flushing Meadow Park, a Bowery bank, a mall. Oily crullers and sweet soybean milk in the Elizabeth Street tunnel. Juicy crystal shrimp dumplings. The torture of Saturday-morning Chinese school. Parents’ store, first on Delancey Street, then Kenmare. On Delancey: “Why are those women leaning into men’s cars, Mom? Are they asking the men out? Why are their skirts all torn up?”
Here comes the motherfucking Ruckus.
270 Madison Avenue, 1996–97
Second publishing job. Fridays off. All-women department. Not so much claws as manic expression—but also warm, warm bosoms.
Boerum Hill, 2008
American he: Your ex-husband sounds like a bum.
Parisian she: I do not like this word “bum.” You can’t call my ex-husband an asshole.
American he: I’m not! I don’t mean “bum” in that way.
Parisian she: My dictionary tells me that “bum” is not nice. You are saying that he is an asshole, and he is not.
New Year’s Eve. Everything has changed.
175 Fifth Avenue, 1997–2000, 2002–03
Third publishing job. Sensitive to everything, including one coworker calling me “Wah” and another clipping her nails at the desk.
Woke up in the
233 East 69th Street, 2007–present
Elizabeth Bishop had lived here for a month one summer. Now my sister and her family live at this address. I am allergic to the neighborhood. I have vowed to avoid it for good.
Madison Avenue, 1999
Breasts are soft!
Union Square West, 2005
The writer walks through his publisher’s office unaware of the books and people he passes; the night before, he broke his girlfriend’s nose, and this morning his imagination is fired up.
Lost, again, and wearing a see-through dress.
first 19 Union Square West, then 18 West 18th Street, 2003–present
Fourth publishing job. Am overwhelmed by brilliant books, boys, a terrible first year, tighter schedules, slackening rules, bursts of desire and emotion, now a white-noise hum in head and heart.
Fort Greene, 2004
The DJ invites me onto the stage. “One sec,” my finger says. Then I dash off to the bathroom. Q holds my hair back.
A fifth-floor apartment. A ground-floor apartment. Cherry blossoms. Crêpes. Omelets. The Bordello Salon.
I am open.
Canal Street, 2003
Painful, beautiful nipple.
71 Irving Place
A man, just finished reading his first Sebald, looks dazed and is thinking of giving up books. Uma and Ethan discuss things civilly. First dates, second dates, long marriages. Laptops everywhere, and laughter, and wine followed by coffee.
West 19th Street, 2009
At ten a.m., a man clad in beige slacks and shirt rides by on a gray bicycle with a burst of peach flowers in his basket. At nine-thirty that evening, a writer saunters off in wise purple, her hair a mass of coiling black silk and fire.
East 22nd Street, 1997–present
I am blank.