In the back of my head, I can hear that nagging voice, and I think of the reason I would give.

You see, I’m too perfect as it is. I need something to tie me down, to anchor me to reality and all the normal, mundane, humdrum stuff.

I shelter the cigarette from the wind with my body and the cup of chamomile tea, the lighter’s flame licking up in the dark, the orange glow illuminating my face to passersby.

Over on Bedford a roar of voices comes rising out of the night. But Jefferson is quiet, and only the occasional car or cyclist disturbs the uncharacteristic stillness.

In the gutter, a few blackened chicken bones. 

Up above, gray clouds drift through the orange-black sky of Brooklyn, veiled through the branches of the tree that stands in front of my apartment.

The landlord comes and sweeps the entryway and puts down new mats. Nothing said about the roaches and black mold. Happy New Year.

I look across the street at the houses with new TVs, visible through the windows, giant garish mind-numbing magic mirrors to dumb people down and suck their brains out like a milkshake.

I climb the stairs to the second floor, each wooden step frozen momentarily in the slow process of disintegrating into matchwood.

“See anything good lately?” my little brother asks.

Noir movies from the 50’s and 60’s. Alan Watts lectures on Zen and Hinduism. The moon.

We make shaky plans for New Years but they fall through. I clean my apartment after work and heat up leftovers. Sew two patches onto my camera bag. Listen to Kei Marimura sing The Very Thought of You.

The soft warm glow of the lightbulb in my office seems to be pushing me towards sleep.

I kick back in my chair and put my feet up, feeling Kei’s voice tumbling down my ear as I tumble into the dark of sleep.

I dream of Salma being vulnerable and exposed to something dangerous. In a red room full of books, a chaise, and a roaring fire. 

Salma’s naked, crying, shielding herself from something in the room. I reach out to her and she shrinks away from me. 

When I call her later, I lead with this. “May I call you back?” she asks politely.

But she doesn’t.

Maybe I was the something in the dream.

Or maybe she just doesn’t want to talk to me.  

“I don’t think that’s it,” Garrett reassures me. “She’s the kind of person who would want to hear every detail.”

I wash my face with cold water and look at the reflection in the mirror. 

A question I cannot ask myself. A question I cannot put into words.

I stare up through the branches of the tree and tap the ash from my cigarette. Sip chamomile tea. Think about the past year.

Important things that happened to me in 2021:

  1. I photographed Olivia
  2. I changed my wardrobe
  3. I was made a godfather


Is that all I did in 2021?  

Did I get a raise? Did I write anything astounding? Did I start any new photo projects? Did I accomplish anything?  I wrack my head for some crumb of progress, but all I can turn up are a few book titles and things that seem to mean even less: conversations and nights carousing with Alex in Williamsport, plans to learn French and take dancing lessons, a bank account that should probably have more money in it.

“The fool is always getting ready to live.”


Well, I also took up smoking again, I think to myself. There’s an accomplishment.

I smile to myself and feel the twinge in my chest. Twisting up over my right breast and clawing to my neck.

That’s okay, Carroll. Everything that lives must die.

My apartment is filled with Stuff. Too Much Stuff. Needlessly Useless Stuff. Luxury Stuff. Stupid Stuff. Repulsive Stuff. Stuff I Want to Throw Out in the Street.

Think of all the stuff you bought in 2021.

Sick of buying. 

Sick of owning, consuming. Sick of acquiring, of being burdened with things I don’t need.

“I haven’t dated anyone in six years,” I begin, taking a drag on my cigarette and holding it in my lungs while I take a sip of lager. “But I’m thinking about going four more.”

“And make it an even ten?” Alex laughs, grinning ear to ear.

I laugh too. 

Maybe it’s sad, or pathetic. Maybe I’m getting closer to understanding something. Maybe I’m trying to figure out if love is a noun or a verb. Maybe I’m trying to figure out if I’m the kind of dog you pet or the one you put on the end of a choke chain.

Maybe I’m just wasting my life alone.

Anyway, what do I have to offer anyone?

One foot in the gutter, head in the clouds.

Something to tie you down, something to anchor you to reality. 

A lead weight. A dead albatross.

I have nothing to teach, I have nothing to sell, the Zen master says.  

Aspire to nothing, a voice in my head tells me. Get back to meditation. Get rid of all the stuff.


But I’m a selfish and vain person; everything I do is calculated to make you think more of me.

Don’t think more of me.