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cold nostalgia

There is a note, stuck to the front entrance of our building. The hot water will be turned off for ten days. This is something that happens every summer, although it snowed a week ago and children wander the playgrounds in ski hats these days. At night it can be 40 degrees fahrenheit.  The hot water is always turned off like this, at some point during June or July. It is a long-standing Soviet tradition, and people begrudgingly accept it here. But the baby, V does not. She wants to stand in a hot bath before she goes to sleep, to splash and pour water all around her, and N. She wants to stand and wiggle her tiny hands under the spout, as she grows pink and clean, as she howls and shouts for us to see what new trick she has improvised. There is no explanation for her, why the hot water is off today, and will be tomorrow. She is angry, furious even.

I used to buy the story that this offered a chance for the water department to fix pipes, to take care of routine maintenance. Hot water c…

the imaginary numbers



There was a farmer down the road when I was a boy. He was Polish and raised goats, milking cows. He made his own maple syrup like everyone else. Every day or two I would climb into the filthy white Ford pickup and sit next to my father. I would hold the milk pail, drumming against it as we drove. We would arrive, maybe Mr. Kluzak was playing with his goats, even trying to get them to butt heads with him for a laugh. We filled the milk pail and I held it hot between my knees on the way back home. Milk is warm I would tell myself - not cold like in the giant refrigerators in the supermarket in plastic gallon jugs. This curious little truth nagged at me. 

Years later, I am haunted by handfuls of these sticky truths. They repeat in my ears, a humming whisper, a stale reminder of what I already know, or that I should know better. My cheeks run red as I step outside of myself hoping E does not notice. She catches everything these days. Being the parent of a ten year old has thrown me for a loop. Too many ideas have been set in motion to be unsaid, too many habits gone wild. I had no toys with batteries when I was her age. We were too poor and it was not such a strange idea back then. 

Price Chopper was the supermarket we went to, paying mostly with food stamps. I would go to the metal bin of broken electronic toys with my brother, jabbing at them, making frantic attempts at some crude football game or with real luck an Atari left unattended. The salesman would eventually find us, leaning in and saying something like "I'll give it to you cut and dry, you either buy something or you walk away boys." He really spoke like that, like a substitute science teacher. 

I found a game, four white squares across and four down. It had a working battery but the plastic that showed the instructions and the numbers for each square had been ripped off. It had to have had a price of one or two dollars on it, not more. Somehow I got my mother to buy it for me. I spent days, methodically pressing buttons, flipping the little switches imagining what mode I was in, listening to the little electronic songs it burped out. Sooner than later, I surrendered. It was junk, useless, nothing I could bring to school and flash in front of anyone to make them jealous. 



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