At Hotel Shinjuku 510 in Tokyo, a man who sleeps in a tiny capsule, six and a half feet long by five feet wide, said, “You get used to it.”
In New York City’s Upper East Side, a dog named Nestle had his vocal cords cut by a veterinary surgeon after his owners’ neighbor threatened to complain about all the barking to the co-op board. Now instead of a bark Nestle makes a raspy wheeze. “Debarking” procedures are often performed on dogs in the show circuit, as well as on those of drug dealers, who prefer their attack dogs to be silent.
Throngs of Hungarian opera-goers streamed by as you got down on your knee and asked her the question. Of course she said yes. I told you to ask her. You would never have asked me, but I felt you should ask somebody. Afterward you two went inside a pub and grabbed beers in steins with strange-looking words on them, and she held the diamond up to your camera. You had carried it sparkling across the ocean, on the long plane flight to where she lives in Poland. You were visiting for Christmas. It burned in your pocket like a secret never meant to be kept for long, a secret so explosive that it had a time limit, a countdown like a bomb. You got down on your knee like I told you. It could never have gone any other way.
I got drunk at the rodeo. You were far from charmed. Hadn’t you just finished telling me about the time you were 13 and you went to the bar with your stepfather and he got so drunk that you had to drive the truck back to your house on long roads between rural Colorado towns with him drunk in the passenger seat? You had never been behind the wheel before, and you told the story like it was funny, like you had been excited as a 13-year-old to be given such license, to be trusted so much. But I know you better than that. You hated it. Hadn’t you just finished telling me that story, right before I got drunk at the rodeo?
Muzak for an empty mall
We saw an old-people dance at the mall. Not just any mall, but a small-town mall, so dead that Muzak played all day and there was no one to complain. The dance was in the food court. They had chairs arranged in a circle, and music came from somewhere, maybe a boombox. A few old people danced, and others stayed in their chairs because of shyness or ailments, we couldn’t be sure which. One old woman slowly got up and approached those who were dancing. She stood there on the edge of the action for what seemed like a long time. None of the old men asked her to dance. So she returned to her chair, made the sad journey back, and her friend in the next chair patted her back reassuringly. Hey, at least you got up. Hey, at least you tried.
The grizzled old cowboy lived in a trailer that went with the traveling carnival. He had a snake exhibit in there, and at the end of the short tour you could put two quarters in a gumball machine and get a clear-plastic bubble filled with shed snakeskin that he’d scraped from the bottom of the glass cases. We saw him in a mall parking lot. We’d eaten deep-fried Twinkies and rode rickety rides. It was all very quirky and exotic to us, but to them it’s just everyday life. I wonder what old life that cowboy had shed like his snake skins before obtaining his trailer and getting the OK to go with the carnival, but before I wonder too long my thoughts dead-end and I’m back to thinking about my everyday life, and in this way some people will always be exotic to me.
I will see you in my dreams
I read in the news that Japan’s jobless have taken to renting “capsule hotel” rooms — coffin-sized berths in which they sleep. The hotels originally provided a temporary place to sleep for workers who had missed the last train home. Now the capsules are home. At Hotel Shinjuku 510 in Tokyo, a man who sleeps in one such capsule, six and a half feet long by five feet wide, said, “You get used to it.”
The 89-year-old man has crossed the English Channel so many times standing on top of a single-engine biplane in a sport called “wing-walking,” in which participants are strapped to the plane with nothing but goggles and layers of clothing to protect them from windchill. He started to do it after his wife died of a heart attack. It feels beautiful every time but it’s not enough. So he does it again and he’ll keep doing it again. He’ll keep doing it forever.
Christie Chapman is an award-winning journalist and short-story writer who once ghost-wrote an article for a fictional cat named Mr. Whiskers. She contributes pranksterish microfictions to The Moustache Club of America under the name The Shining. Some of her short fiction can be found on her pseudonymous and admittedly very low-tech website, Lauryn Mutter. These days she writes marketing stuff for a nonprofit joint in DC, and for a while she was keeping up a blog, Digging Out of the Hole.