I’m writing a short story that features a guy I see in the park who has a dog. Most of the feedback has been like, “Yo, can you put some conflict up in this piece?”–as if conflict were as easy to add as red pepper flakes on a slice of pizza. Every time I see this guy, the part of me that loves to be awkward wants to tell him about the story and maybe ask for a lock of his beard. The part of me that has more social decency just wants to make small talk to find out if he has any drama in his life. 

This morning, for the first time since I started the story, I saw him outside of the park. He and his dog were on the corner of my street. It seemed that they had walked east for a cup of coffee. Maybe he’s writing a short story about a Dazbog barista, because I know there’s better coffee on his side of Cheesman. Or he could have a nascent Cheesman East romance going on. I have no idea what he was doing this morning. I know this guy so vaguely that I’m not sure I would recognize him without his dog.


For the past three nights, I’ve had a dream about a medium-famous person. He’s famous enough that most people would probably know who I’m talking about, but not famous—or destructive—enough to be in the pages of US Weekly. 

Other than the fact that I’m not famous, this medium-famous person and I would get along, I think. We seem to have the same sense of humor, definitely like the same music, and, according to Wikipedia, have similar backgrounds. We could celebrate various holidays together with the same level of irony. 

One of my real-life New York friends, who is known in certain circles, though is not famous by any means, knows my medium-famous crush. When I wake up from these dreams, I think maybe I could get set up with this guy. And then I remember someone medium famous probably isn’t interested in starting something long distance. Hell, I’m not famous and I’m not interested in something long distance. 

In New York, it’s easy to be adjacent to things like fame and creativity. Bumping up against money isn’t hard, either. One of the best restaurants in the city is in a mall. A fancy mall, but still a mall. In Denver, I’m adjacent to the mountains, which, when considering reality, is much better for my quality of life. But for better or worse, or just honestly, I miss the chance to be adjacent to more unattainable things. 

Bad Luck and Bad Decisions

A few days after I came home from Part II of the Teen Tour Summer, Eastern European odyssey, I was in my hometown on my way to buy ice cream, when a woman approached me. She looked like she was about to cry, and said she needed $20 because she was locked out. The rest of what this woman said won’t make my ultimate decision—to loan her $20 and keep her son’s social security card as a kind of collateral—seem any wiser. 

But I had just come back from a trip where a lot of people helped me. There was the college acquaintance who let me stay in her apartment in Berlin, the Israeli real estate investor who gave me a ride to the train station in Burgas, and the teenage Turkish girl who showed me around the Asian side of Istanbul. She approached me when I got off the ferry—I was with some cyclists who I had met at the Black Sea in Bulgaria—and said, “I know a lot of people in Turkey are trying to rip you off, but I just want to show you around.” 

As sales pitches go, this was maybe not the best approach, but the bikers believed her, and I was with them. She led us to a good place for a lunch, took us to the bathhouse we wanted to visit, and brought us to a beautiful meditation garden, where she often reminded me to cover my legs. She was insistently friendly and odd, so odd that even though she paid for our bus tickets, I worried all day that she would lead us into an alley where we would be killed. But she didn’t, and now she and I are Facebook friends. 

All this is to say, when I got back to New York, I wanted to do the universe favors. I wanted to live in a place where if I got locked out of my apartment, someone would lend me $20 for a locksmith, and I would return that money. 

For a while, or like a week, it bothered me that I was naïve to give that woman money, that I should have paid more attention to how dirty her fingernails were, that no one responsible enough to pay back $20 would be willing to give her son’s social security card away, or would have the social security card of a stranger. I’ve outgrown that feeling. I’ve returned to a self I wouldn’t even call hardened, but a self that can’t get caught up in calling a strange woman every day for a week to get $18 back on a $20 loan.  

There are homeless people in Denver. They hang out at long traffic lights, willing to trade cigarettes for dollar bills. They hold signs about their service or their kids to distinguish themselves from travelers and oogles. In New York, when the subway door opened, and a man with no shoelaces and three coats shuffled through, there was no need for a sign. Still, anyone spending their day at the corner of Colorado and I-25 is probably not in a great place. And somehow, or because that’s the only way to get to work and get on with it, you have to roll up your window and not think too much about the world you would like to live in if you locked yourself out of your home. 

Weekly Endorsement: Undergrowth With Two Figures

I have been listening to the Slate Culture Gabfest a lot lately. Well, a lot being every week, since that’s how often the podcast comes out. I wouldn’t say the Culture Gabfest is my favorite podcast, but it is the easiest to listen to. Each episode is like a smart person’s dinner party where no one talks about their children or their dogs. And like a dinner party, if you miss any conversation to the sound of washing dishes, it’s not a big deal. 

At the end of each episode, each host endorses something, usually cultural, occasionally esoteric, they have enjoyed in the past week. I think it’s a good practice to recognize one good experience weekly, and I’m going to start. 

My endorsement this week, along with the Slate Culture Gabfest, is “Undergrowth With Two Figures,” a 1890 Van Gogh painting that is now on display at the Denver Art Museum. I had never seen that painting before I went to a lecture on the exhibit. Even though purple on the bark of trees is rare, I know what Van Gogh means. Trees in twilight feel purple. I also like how the two figures sort of seem like trees, how they have the same verticality. Plus, and maybe most importantly, the walk those two figures are going on seems like something they’ll remember, like it’s the moment they fell in love or fell out of it.  

To see this painting, you have to live in Cincinnati, where it is normally shown, or visit the Becoming Van Gogh show at the Denver Art Museum. And for that, I endorse making reservations online and going early.  

You Can Go Your Own Way

Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortune may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth. – Nathaniel Hawthorne, taken from the epigraph of Unaccustomed Earth

The other night, watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics at a friend’s house, another guest asked me how long I had been in Denver. “So not even a year,” she replied, which struck me as odd, even though it was factually correct. 

A year isn’t that long, sure. But I’ve been here this whole time, trying to figure out how to live and make friends in a city that until less than a year ago, I had never visited and where I knew no one who owed me anything. All that I had was an idea, stolen from Jhumpa Lahiri, stolen from Nathaniel Hawthorne, of striking my roots into unaccustomed earth. 

I might have known that an idea is not the same as a friend who’s not doing anything, but wants to know what I’m doing or even a crashable house party. There are times when I find myself, if not homesick, then acutely aware of where I would be if I hadn’t left New York. Some of my friends rented a house in Woodstock this weekend; I’m sure I would have had a great time. 

I’ve never regretted my decision to move to Denver. Like Hemingway’s idea of love, there is no choice anymore. I live in Colorado. Still, there are lonely times, when I wish I had one more person I could call or a place where the udon soup always put me in a better mood. While wanting these things, it’s easy to forget that my new life isn’t even a year old. I know I’ll look back on this time as a transition, but meanwhile, I have to live it. And unfortunately, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, there is no remedy for time but more time. 

But there are many moments when moving on an epigraph makes sense. Every time I parallel park successfully (which is not every time I parallel park) and sometimes when I ride my bike along streets no one I used to know has ever walked along, I feel proud and also free. Last weekend, I’m not sure what I would have done in New York. Probably something fun to escape the heat and maybe a party where I would have known all the guests for too long. I couldn’t have predicted a year ago what I ended up doing in Colorado: mountain biking and then going to a house show where the band played Side A of Rumours. But there are still more friends to make, a set of Colorado license plates to be acquired and hiking trails to learn. In short, there is still more time to pass.

The Plantonic Ideal of Ice

Right now in my backpack I have many things, including, but not limited to, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, two books I had loaned to a friend, a DVD another friend had loaned to that first friend, and an ice cube tray. 

I wanted this ice cube tray since I spotted it at the Whole Foods on Bowery six months ago. The tray is made of a silicone-like, hopefully non-cancerous material, and can hold six three-inch ice cubes. Though I rarely drink liquor, it was easy to image how beautiful one of those large ice cubes would look dissolving into an amber liquid. But when I first saw this ice cube tray, I was already living in Denver, and naturally thought it was absurd to travel home with kitchenware. I would soon find out that no Whole Foods in Colorado carries these ice cube trays. And now, back in New York for two weeks, this ice cube tray was one of my first purchases. It was $8. 

Eight dollars might seem like a lot for ice, but what is $8 in the face of perfection? That was the question I often asked myself while living in New York, in reference to a bowl of Udon soup or an artisan sandwich. While much of New York is out of reach, small, perfect things are easily acquired. It was those small, perfect things that made New York livable for me. Even if I could not afford good light, which a woman who had recently purchased a classic-six on the Upper West Side told me is the most expensive thing in the city, I could afford the very best meatball sub in maybe the whole world. 

There are many things I still love about New York. I love that there is a web site devoted to what people are reading on the train, the way the east coast smells during the spring and the fall, that the Met is free, and that the subway goes all the way to the beach. But it wasn’t until I left that I realized that small, perfect things are just that: small. I’m happy to visit, to read on the train, to make plans to swim in the ocean, to see Juan de Pareja, and to walk my parents’ dog. But I’ll also be happy to go back to a life of imperfect sandwiches and light from the mountains. 

Denver Summer

Before the summer, there is the spring, which can sometimes feel like dating a jerk. Even if the weather or the jerk doesn’t realize it, they’re playing games, getting your hopes up with warm days and flirtatious text messages. But wearing skimpy clothes will not make it warmer or guarantee a call the next day.

During an unseasonably warm week in early March, when every day after work I rode my bike past people drinking outside in sunglasses, I thought spring was ready to commit to summer. That Sunday, I went to Cheesman Park with plans to idle, but spent most of the day waiting for the sun to break through the clouds. It was the first day of Daylight Savings, and my heart was broken. What was the use of long days if the nights were still cold?

Then in April, spring bought me some perfume: Water Drying on Cement. I wish there were more adjectives for smells, but Water Drying on Cement has some of the earthiness of a dog’s paw, but none of the musk. The evaporating water adds a lightness to the smell, like the beach without the salty overtones.

I’ve been through enough springs that I won’t believe its promise of summer until the first time I can wear a t-shirt at night. There’s something about the feeling of dark air against bare arms that makes me feel like everything will be ok. Or at least that I won’t have to worry about layers for a long time. But in Denver, to paraphrase P. Reyner Banham, the heat has a kinship to the light. The air here is so dry that the temperature drops about 15 degrees when the sun goes down. I was afraid that the feeling of walking through warm nights on lit streets would never come. But then the other evening, I went to Wal-Greens in a t-shirt. There may be some disagreements—colder days and rain—but I believe in Denver summer now. And I’m excited.

Blame It on the Altitude

One thing I love about Denver, and people in Denver love about Denver, and people talking about Denver love about Denver is its altitude: 5280 feet. I’ve never lived anywhere else at elevation, but the evenness of the number—5280 feet is one mile—makes the fact that we’re living above sea level a constant source of fascination. The number serves as decoration at many coffee shops, lends its name to the Denver lifestyle magazine, and is tattooed on more than a few wrists.

But the number is not just a gimmick: it’s a real part of living here. Boiling water and cooking in general take longer for reasons I once understood for a 9th grade chemistry test. Alcohol is also more potent, and the sun is brighter. There’s less pressure in the air, and less oxygen, too. After months at elevation, I’ll still get out of breath walking up a hill and talking on the phone.

Oxygenation and air pressure are big, if hidden parts of the way we exist. Like God or Mercury in Retrograde, their effects are both far-reaching and not completely understood. So whenever something is off in Denver, the altitude could be the cause. For example, I’m about two minutes early to everything in this city. Must be the air pressure in my bike tires.

The first time I was homesick in Denver was when I saw info for the premier of Girl Walk // All Day. I had become accustomed to being in the city where premiers occurred, and I was bummed about missing out on what I imagined to be (and turned out to be) an amazing dance party in Brooklyn. But as is the case with most forms of self-pity, it was all for not, because Girl Walk // All Day is coming to Denver this Thursday. // More info on the screening here. // Interview with director Jacob Krupnick on Listen Up Denver! here

Favorite Denver Ride

No hands cruising west on the north side of Cheesman Park. There are barely any cars, there’s a view of the mountains, there’s a view of the city, and there’s Cheesman Park.

Spirits from Prospect Hill Cemetery may haunt the place, but there’s no better spot for grass in all of Denver. And with all the irrigation, the park has the smell of water drying on cement, which even in the fall, smells like spring. 

Related, I started a tumblr for BikeDenver. Check it out:

Freedom Speaking

Like If You’re Feeling Sinister, the Belle & Sebastian album that played behind my sophomore year of college, Freedom brings back a very specific, if not too distant, time.

It’s not the details of my life I remember, but the feeling that there was a writer on the cover of Time Magazine. Everywhere I went, people were talking about a book. That New Years, I went to a party with a lot graduates from Connecticut colleges. Before we got there, I bet my date that everyone he would meet will have read Freedom. I won. As someone who is in favor of reading, I was favor of this.

Tonight, I’m seeing Jonathan Franzen speak in Denver. And the thing about hearing an author speak—it’s not like a show or an opening or a game. People aren’t dragged to readings. No, the people who go to hear an author speak are excited to hear an author to speak. I’m excited to hear Jonathan Franzen speak tonight, and I’m excited to be in a roomful of people who agree. 

Affordable Real Estate

Sometimes means people are willing to trade rent for an awkward, semi-sexual living arrangement for a month:

$5 Roomie / house share / arrangement (Denver)

Date: 2011-09-07, 8:49PM MDTReply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]

Seeking very special roommate situation. You – please be a liberated and open minded female (college student, struggling artist, or something like that) – we share the house, which is a very nice home in nice neighborhood, close to RTD, washer & dryer, high speed internet, fenced back yard, access to pool, parks, and a 10 minute bike ride to downtown………The catch – hit me back with a picture – to see if you’d fit the bill – and I’ll clue you in further and continue the dialogue. If curious - give this a whirl - it’s not a bad arrangement - everyone smiles at the end of the day - that’s the thought. Enjoy!