When words meant to be spoken are bottled up for too long, those words stop showering and shaving. Crank speed metal at four a.m. Carve lines into your forehead with rusty knives. Illegally park in handicapped spaces, create fake ads on Craigslist. Those bottled-up words trade up for down, left for right, dropkick you into the shacklebone zone. They smile in public, beat you in private. Fill your mouth with rains and hurricanes, pee a circle around your soul and mark it for extinction.

The other day I got on the L-train at Third Avenue, hair still wet from the gym, molars cemented together by the last bite of my post-workout protein bar. Grabbing the nearest pole, I quickly scanned the occupied seats, knowing that if I parked myself in front of the nearest pair of Converse, I’d probably get a seat at Bedford or Lorimer. Listening to a recent NPR podcast and rifling in my bag for some gum, I quickly spotted her. The ex-girlfriend of an ex-boyfriend of mine.

Dear Whoever Who Has My iPhone:

I’m sure you thought it was weird, finding an iphone lying in the middle of the street last night, nestled in its tiny black leather case, just sitting there on the asphalt. I would have thought it was weird, too, maybe even funny. How often do you see something like that? It’s almost as common as finding a baby on the street, except an iPhone is a lot more fun to play with.

That’s what I would have thought, too, but when I woke up this morning and realized that it wasn’t in my purse, car, or coat jacket, that something was seriously, seriously wrong. I jumped into my car and raced back to where we parked last night, and scoured the street. It was nowhere in sight.

Then my sister called, and apparently you butt dialed her last night at 2:45 a.m. while you walked around for three minutes with my iPhone crammed in your pants somewhere. If it’s still there, kindly take it out. So, I’m sure the first thing you did this morning aside from moving my iPhone away from your privates—I mean, I don’t know how much radiation comes off that thing, I’m not sure of any studies to the effect, but do you really want to take that chance now, do you?—you’ll notice that there’s an listing under Lost and Found on Craigslist for my iPhone, in which I list not only my email address so that you can let me know that you have it, but the words, “REWARD OFFERED.”

And I’m serious about that. I could certainly sport you a breakfast for doing something very nice and thoughtful by returning my iPhone, in fact, I’d be delighted to.

How about breakfast and coffee? Even something complicated that Starbucks would charge extra for. Hey, my treat—after all, you’re doing me the favor, remember! No arguments!

But I just checked my email and I realize it may be too early yet for you to arise and sober up a little, I mean, judging by the phone call to my sister’s, you were up pretty late. I’m sure it will take a couple of minutes for you to figure out you found my iphone and discover that you desperately want to return it and then ran through a series of logical deductions that you should immediately go to Craigslist, which would be the reasonable place that someone who had lost their iphone would list a “lost” ad on. “Lost” ad with “REWARD OFFERED,” you know. Make sure you see that!

It’s okay. I have time. I know how it is. I was in college once, and on occasion found myself wandering the streets at 2:45 in the morning, finding iPhones and whatnot that some unfortunate soul had dropped because she was too stressed to realize it was in her lap, not in her pocket, and she stood up and well, you know the rest, right? Iphone in the street. Oldest story in the book.

So I just checked my email again and I guess you’re sleeping a little bit longer, which is fine, it’s fine. I’m cool with that. Because I’m sure as soon as you’re able, you’ll email me and I’ll email you back to ask you under what circumstances you found the phone and what my case looks like, because, after all, there is a REWARD OFFERED, and I can’t be running around, giving rewards to everyone who found an iPhone last night, you know. And I need to make sure it’s not one of those Russian mobster, “Meet me at the gas station and give me the REWARD OFFERED first and then I’ll give you the iPhone” sort of deals, because you can’t be too careful. I have to watch out for myself, after all, although I am quite appreciative of your potential willingness to even meet at the gas station, I sure am.

You’re a late sleeper, huh? Maybe you’re having dreams about returning the iphone you found in the street to its rightful owner because that’s THE RIGHT THING TO DO. Because I think it’s probably pretty obvious that no one would just go out and throw an iPhone into the street and walk away, right? Right? I mean, it’s not like people have fights with their boyfriend on an iPhone and get back at them by whipping the phone out into space like an engagement ring or something. No one would treat an iphone like that. It’s a treasure. I don’t know of one person who would. I took good care of it, why on Earth would I throw it on the ground? I stood in line for hours to get it. I had my favorite songs on it. Seriously, I had 750 pictures of my dog on that phone, not to mention some private photos I took of myself in a hat I had custom made for me by a girl named Paula on Etsy, in case you looked. I know. I know, it’s not a great photograph, I know that. None of them are. But I was trying to look tough and be funny, it’s a hunting hat, get it, with a deer embroidered on it? She did a good job with that hat. I still have the hat! That didn’t fall out of my lap onto the street. Still have the hat. So no, that’s not what I look like regularly, not at all. I look like that mainly because it is hard to take your own picture with an iphone, it is not like a regular camera at all. Did you know that? You just have to guess where the button is, and keep touching it and touching it around the area you think it might be and yes, it can get frustrating, and yes, you can get hand cramps because that’s the hand where my carpal tunnel is the worst so that’s why I was yelling in some of those pictures. But I was yelling at myself in those pictures, not at the iPhone and certainly not at anybody else, so it should not be an indication of my character or person, not at all. I’m a nice person most of the time. Eighty percent of the time. Maybe 76 percent of the time. In almost all of my iPhone pictures, I am being nice. In fact, if you flip through those photos, as I’m sure you might have—not saying that you don’t have any respect for the privacy of the person who was clearly careless enough to get out of her car with an iphone on her lap, not at all, I’m sure you do, but curiosity baits us all—you’ll see that I take photos of happy, jocular things, demonstrating my multi-faceted interests, hobbies, and things I see as curiosities.

After all, can a girl who has 750 photos of her little dog, who you may notice is sometimes wearing accessories, such as glasses and hats, on her phone be all that bad? She certainly can’t bad as someone who doesn’t deserve to have their phone returned and loses it to someone instead does something nefarious with it, right? But no, you probably won’t see any pictures on that phone of me building houses with Habitat for Humanity or volunteering in Central America, holding the mouths open of tykes while aiding Doctors Without Borders as they fix the cleft palates of little children. Probably not on that phone, but I did give them $25 once, I just didn’t think to take a picture of me donating on line. I’m sure it was used to fix a palate. Or at least part of one.

But if you wonder if I took the picture of the girl sitting on the curb with her butt crack hanging out while her boyfriend was breaking up with her, no, I did not take that. My friend thought that was funny, and in a way, it was. She really needed a belt. But even if I tried to tell her, I doubt she could have heard me over her wracking sobs.

All right, I took the picture, but listen, it was a once in a lifetime chance, you know? I saw the crack rising up and I just snapped, I didn’t even think. It was during the 24 percent of the time when I’m maybe not so nice. It was like seeing the Loch Ness monster or something similar, no one will believe you unless you offer proof. So now I have proof. So when I tell the story, I can offer a visual, and people believe me. That a girl who is very busy having her life destroyed by someone she loved can be too distracted to know that she is slipping out of her clothes.

Oh, God. I just had a horrible thought! You don’t know anyone in China, do you?

Checking my email again!

Boy. How late do you usually sleep?

If you will just get out of bed we can go have your REWARD breakfast right now, if you will just get up and go on Craigslist. Get up get up get up.

Please don’t call China. You better not have called China, if I have to end up paying for calls to China and/or any other far off lands, your reward will reflect it, and I’m just being honest. Fair is fair.

ALL RIGHT. Fine. How about a REWARD BREAKFAST and one call to China. A short call. I will do a small call, a brief call, a “Hello Ma, I am calling you on a stolen phone. I know, I laughed, too!” Okay, I’m sorry, sorry, not a “stolen” phone, let’s just say a “phone that does not belong to me and instead of flipping through the Contacts list and hitting the entry that said ‘home,’ I called China instead” phone. How about that?

Are you awake?

You’re awake, aren’t you? You know, I get the feeling that maybe you really are already awake and instead of spending efforts to find the listing for a lost iPhone on Craigslist, you just might be laughing with your ma about my unhealthy relationship with my dog, not to mention the abundance of pictures of food, and sometimes alcoholic beverages. And about the Russian dancers and slugs having sex on my patio.

The Russian dancer is not a Cossack or Tevya from Fiddler on the Roof. It is my husband. It was very cold that day so he bundled up. And wore the Diplomat, a style of hat he has. Leftover from when he was Hamid Karzi for Halloween. It is quite fetching on him. Anyway, to cheer me up, he did a couple of Russian dance moves one day and then fell over, evidenced by the photos on my iPhone and the blurry image of an ass, but with a belt. My husband always wears a belt. And yes, you were right, those were slugs having coitus on my patio. I had only seen that once before, and again, I cite proof. You should really laugh at those photos. I did. It took them forever.

Dude, GET OUT OF BED.

Please get out of bed.

Why won’t you get out of bed?

Never mind. I already know.

You’re not going to give my phone, are you? You’re going to keep it, aren’t you, or sell it on ebay or take it to some pawn shop across the river, and there are a ton of pawn shops across the river. You know I’ll never find my iPhone. For the next month I’m going to stare at everyone I see talking on a phone to see if it’s you, talking on my iphone. At Safeway, at the mall, at every restaurant, everywhere I go, I’ll be looking. But I’ll never know for sure what you did with it, why you simply couldn’t give it back, or why you thought you deserved to keep it.

You suck.

You’re an asshole and I know it’s just a phone, but really, what did you think when you found it? Could you have possibly thought that someone abandoned it on purpose, maybe someone who was too young to handle the responsibility of the iPhone and thought that by leaving it in a wet, shiny place with lots of traffic that it might have a better chance at life with a different family? If I wanted to abandon my iPhone, I would have left it in a safe place. Like a fire station.

It’s not your iPhone.

It’s not your iPhone.

I’m still paying for it as I write this to you.

You know, my dog is holding my Visa bill in between her paws at this very moment and I want to take a picture of it and make a joke about her reading the fine print and saying, “You know, if you pay this one day late….” but I CAN’T.

I’m going back to using a Sharpie to scrawl, “This was stolen from Laurie Notaro” on everything I own.

You better not have called China.

But if you did, guess what?

Your Ma is going to get another phone call, one from me, on my new iPhone. And I’m going to tell her everything.

Sincerely,

Laurie Notaro

PS: I hope I see you sitting on a curb one day while someone is breaking your heart.

 

 

Knowledge is learning something every day.
Wisdom is letting go of something every day.

—Zen Proverb

Against the dull roar of eight-million-plus, I’ve often felt a shadowy sense of loss as another train whizzes by me, the faces in the windows clear for a few seconds before fading into the future. I find myself thinking about how unlikely it is that I’ll ever see them again, or if I do, how there’s not a chance in hell of recognition.

Enter craigslist. An unlikely credit, perhaps, but along with equipping me with temporary housing, a kitchen table, and cake decorating classes, the venerable 12-year-old marketplace has impressed on me the value of transitory relationships.

Take the other day. I was fifty bucks and a lunch-hour meet-up away from landing a pair of Andrew Bird tickets. Should’ve been easy enough, considering the man with the goods worked all of ten blocks from me. But circumstances were not in our favor, and it took several emails, a phone call, a missed opportunity, several texts, and a few more emails before we finally managed the exchange.

It happened on the corner of 23rd and Fifth in Manhattan, at which point I already knew a) where this person worked (in his email signature), b) something about his taste in music (somewhere in the email thread, he’d mentioned a favorite band), c) the kind of schedule he keeps (hectic), and d) that he’s somewhat easily irritated but ultimately sympathetic (okay, so this one’s a stretch). Hardly an exhaustive understanding, but it’s still more than I know about some of my actual acquaintances.

The point of impact involved nothing more than the physical swap, a few breathless words (running late, I’d come at a run), a wave… It was fleeting, in other words, which, following the barrage of communication, felt slightly confusing but ultimately thrilling, and kind of sweet.

There’ve been several others. There was TV Girl, a transaction that involved my showing up at 11 a.m. to find her in the middle of comforting a teary roommate over a recently forfeited boyfriend, wine glasses fully engaged. We chatted awhile, sharing our thoughts on the neighborhood, and as I got up to leave, the roommate said something along the lines of, “Hey, if you ever wanna hang out, get a beer w/ us…” I think we knew nothing would come of it, that this wasn’t the start of some fated friendship, but as I hugged my purchase to my chest and clambered down the stairs, I felt energized by the goodwill—and the novelty—of the previous ten minutes.

There was Chandelier Man, who, incidentally, didn’t live far from TV Girl. (Would craigslist bring them together, too?) My then-boyfriend and I walked into his tree-framed brownstone to find a small museum’s worth of antique furnishings: lighting fixtures spanning every decade of the last century, various paintings, sculpture, glassworks… The fireplace was aglow, and a wiry cat slinked around my ankles.

Chandelier Man offered us tea, which we sipped over small talk. We heard the story behind our acquisition (the 1920s deco piece was rescued from a Long Island salvage yard), and after fifteen minutes or so, we thanked and said goodbye to a gentleman—poised, warm, almost fatherly—we would in all likelihood never see again. Because really, what would be the grounds? Newly emergent Depression Glass Lust? A yet unrecognized proclivity for Rodin replicas? More tea?

Again, I left feeling vaguely intoxicated.

The list goes on. There was TV Stand Girl, Bookcase Guy, Hula Skirt Girl… And then there were the few things I myself unloaded, making me Cheap IKEA Chair Girl, Bike Lock & Helmet Girl, and Kitchen-Aid Mixer Girl. In each case, a meaningful relationship developed—meaningful in an ephemeral, invigorating, faintly surprising way.

The meaning stems from a particular way of relating. Unlike a straightforward back-and-forth with a gas station attendant, deli guy, or a Times Square-seeking tourist, your average craigslist transaction occurs in parts. Contact is initiated, followed by some amount of dialogue, and it’s this “instant history” that brings gravity to the physical exchange once it takes place minutes, hours, or days later. If Lucite Nightstand Man or Vintage Ice-Crusher Lady opens his or her home to you, more weight still. And because this succession—seek out, plan, connect, let go—is not typical of conventional relationships, it can be disorienting. (”Goodbye forever? Really? After I’ve seen your family portraits? After you’ve introduced me to your dog?”) But this doesn’t mean it’s not the right way to proceed.

If you think about it, across media, the focus tends to be on a) maintaining positive relationships, or b) ending negative ones. But what about those relationships that are fruitful for a period of time yet probably not worth preserving for the long haul? What do the magazine articles, the talk show programs, and the self-help books say about them? Not much.

Craigslist affinities aside, I’ve had several such relationships over the years, and I’ve tended to prolong them unduly. Certain friendships and loves have fallen prey, with concern over hurt feelings, confusion in the wake of intimacy, or a general fear of change forcing a deciduous alliance into an evergreen mold. But how refreshing, the notion of ending authentically, with a farewell hug and a string of kind parting words. More often than not, I think we know when to say when. It’s following up that’s tough.

I recently followed up—or, well, for the most part—with a couple of coworkers I was about to leave for another job. These were people I’d chatted, laughed, and whined with over afternoon coffee breaks, people I cared for but never considered to be more than work buddies. And as I prepared to begin a new job elsewhere, some part of me recognized that our time had passed. Sure, we still swapped phone numbers and personal email addresses and let’s-do-this’s, but there was a sense of knowingness in the air. This is it.

This exhilaration, I now realize, comes from the awareness that a person has served his or her purpose in your life. It comes with being in command of yourself, and it comes with moving on. Life is too short to cling to expired relationships.

Thanks for the lesson, Craig.

Dear Life,

I hope this letter finds you well, happy, and infinitely less confusing and melodramatic than you were when I was writing it. Just to be on the safe side I think I’ll wait a few hours before sending this just to give you a chance to mellow out, you highly strung weirdo.

Yours, with infinite respect,

Zoë.

Dear People Who Keep Coming Into This Internet Cafe And Leaving The Door Open,

Are you, by any chance, made of some new kind of Nasa-manufactured, cold-resistant super-flesh? Does your meat not freeze? Can I get some? No? Well fuck you all over again then.

Later today, when you go back to your tent (for surely that is what you live in) and try to shower, I hope the hot water runs out. Standing there in the frigid water you will quickly realize that you have no towel to dry yourself with. In an ideal world a desperate and clever thief will take this opportunity to sneak into your tent (hey, you left the flaps open, you were clearly asking for it) and steal all your clothes and food, leaving nothing but a bag of frozen peas that you will be forced to hug close to your naked chest to defrost before you can ingest them, sobbing all the while and wondering what on earth you did to deserve this misery.

Sincerely, and with contented revenge,

The Shivering Girl In The Cornër.

Dear Black Tea,

Tea1

Wow! You really know how to get the party started in my heart, right!? Weeee!! My aorta is about to leap out of my chest and do the Lambada on the counter!! Exclamation point!! How strong are you, tea?! What do you mean FOUR CUPS IS TOO MUCH?! What do you mean DON’T ADD SO MUCH SUGAR???!! Are you crazy?!! What are you trying to say anyway?! Are you saying I have a problem?! Are you calling me a wimp?! Lets take this outside.

Bitch.

Yours, with jitters, Zoë.

Dear Internal Organs,

The next time I try to overload you with tea please feel free to speak up and say something about my complete and utter lack of self-control.

Don’t be afraid. I can only punish you further by changing my intake of liquids to something stronger like, say, tequila.

Love,

Zoë.

Dear Craigslist,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for providing me with a solid eight hours of alternating boredom and fun today. You’ve inspired me, broken my heart, annoyed me, uplifted me and generally made me want to smash my laptop into the innocent face of the next person who comes in here and leaves the fucking door open. You’ve also given me three job leads, five potential apartments and a damn good laugh.

All in all I’d say our relationship is on the up and up.

So…. when do we get to have sex?

*Saucy wink*,

Zoë.

Craigslist


Dear Boyfriend,

I’m really sorry you don’t like the word c**t. I’m also really sorry that I occasionally use it. If you knew how often I wanted to say it and didn’t then you’d be really proud of me. I am trying really hard to be the delicate little flower you have somehow convinced yourself into believing I am. I have been meaning to ask you, are you on crack? Anyway, I’m sorry, but you were absolutely right when you said that I should not bow to your Republican censorship. Especially considering you are not a Republican, which is one of the reasons why we get on so well. You’re quite conservative for a hippie.

Yum, Z

P.S. That green t-shirt gives me the flutters.

Dear Hello Darkness My Old Friend,

Where did the fecking day go????

“Craigslist”?

Oh.

Cheers for clearing that up, Z.

Dear Guy Behind The Counter,

Is it too late for another tea?

Maniacally, Your Biggest Fan.

 It was great to hear your voice again, Igor.

It was as if we hadn’t missed a beat, or it was as if you deleted my number and didn’t know who was calling you last Tuesday afternoon at 4:32.

Igor, your newest email address doesn’t work now.

Sounds about right.

Par for this course you’ve had me playing on for the last six months.