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streetlights

There is no easy way to say it. I was married to someone I hid from. Tucking E into a sling, I would disappear for hours saying I was going shopping for dinner, and if she fell asleep the excuse was that she needed fresh air as I sat on a park bench with her tiny hand grabbing my pinky until she eventually woke up. I would make my way along the side streets of Greenwich as the sun went down, leaning into store windows but not going in. Eventually I would go home, and as I turned the corner there was a security light that would switch on - obviously attached to some motion sensor. In those strange and lonely moments, I would talk to that light. Each time it clicked on, I felt somehow that the night ahead could be survived no matter what madness waited for us behind the front door.

That was twelve years ago.

Another life, another country.

Today, I turned a corner in Moscow with an all-too familiar bag of groceries swinging from my shoulder. A street light flickered on and all at once I…

no gold (things will have to wait)


There is an old Russian expression for the inevitable moment when your neighbors begin renovating. "Searching for gold in the walls." They say, to describe the epic sounds of drills in ancient concrete. You might appreciate this odd humor, this dark joke, this survival tactic. I am not so graceful a man to wrap my thoughts around it. Those drills and grinders, they shake the very walls of our apartment. Early on Sunday mornings and often long into the evenings they go.

This has been going on for the last four months, maybe more. I stopped counting.

I cannot imagine there are any walls left, that there is an entire open floor below us, the wind whipping through the naked beams and nothing else. That is the only explanation. Or that they break down walls, build new ones, find a flaw, some grand mistake and then break all of the walls down again. Not swiftly with sledgehammers, but with one crappy old drill with a dull bit, mashing away, so that children hundreds of miles away are awakened from afternoon naps.

You see, I write music at home. Sitting on the old couch, with the balcony windows in front of me, looking out at the trees bending in the wind I find songs. It keeps me sane. I have been writing an album-long collection about prisoners and streets, lonely rooms and late night confessions for a year now. And I am ready to record them in this room. I bought new mic stands. I bought arcs of foam to soften the sounds bouncing around. There is a magical guitar made in Austin that sits in a case waiting to be played. But the renovation does not end, and somehow it seems to grow, as if the rooms above and beside us are being ripped apart too. It grows like a tumor, this faceless invasion.

On Friday, I turned some music on when the grinding began once again, without warning. I turned the sound to 10, convinced this would drown it out. But no, it was just making things worse somehow. I put on headphones, ones that cover the ear. No luck. I meditated, and tried to ignore it. I had urgent work to do, and all of the computers and drives and tablets must sit on a large table. There was no way to detour this ugly hour.

All at once. I am somehow kicking our walls. I am slamming the door, hammering my way downstairs and banging on the door of that deathly apartment. A shadow moves. A scrawny woman opens the door and I think half of the words flying out of my mouth are in Russian, the rest I cannot tell you if they were Chinese. She mumbles something, not even an apology, not even an answer as to when the hell this will all be over. I don't know if my eyebrows were on fire, but I spoke as harshly and clearly as I could that their work should finish quickly, and it was already after six o-clock. I found myself stomping back upstairs, my foot throbbing from kicking our wall. A few moments later the drilling starts back up again, as if I do not exist. There is no department we can call to report them. Everyone here lives with this. There is nothing special about our situation. There is just the wound, and the salt. The waking up, the big idea, the delay, the inescapable sense just like a balloon deflating, forgotten in a corner of a room, weeks after the party has ended.

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