Brooklyn, New York
June 13, 2021
To the email from my employer telling me I’d lost my job, Google offered three suggested replies:
None was exactly appropriate. But if I had been forced to pick, I suppose “Wow.” fit closest to my actual feelings on the subject. The choice of a period, rather than, say, an exclamation mark, seemed fair too. More of a “Wow, finally,” than a “Wow, I’m shocked!” An I-saw-this-coming wow.
I wasn’t the only one who had been laid off. Everyone at the company was gone. There was no company, which also meant there would be no meeting to say goodbye. It was just the email, which had been delivered at 8:00 sharp on Sunday night.
That morning, unaware of the news the evening would bring, I made coffee and put two slices of sourdough bread in the toaster. My partner Ryan and I sat at our little table in the corner of the kitchen and made plans.
In the street below us, a grumpy trucker honked at a car that was apparently taking too long to turn. Traffic congestion is an ongoing issue near our place, close by the intersection of two unusually narrow streets. One day, a poor fellow managed to get his eighteen-wheeler jammed in the intersection, entirely blocking both roads. I watched from my perch as he paced in the middle of the street, hands clasped to his temples. Eventually, he tracked down the owners of the cars parked on the shoulder. They relocated, allowing him to finally wriggle his way out.
My partner had recently rearranged his work schedule so that we’d both have Sundays off. Now fully vaccinated, we’ve tried to make a habit of taking a trip somewhere each week. So far, we’d voyaged to Coney Island, Highland Park and Beacon, a small town upstate. This time, I advocated for something closer to home: A trip across the borough, into Manhattan. “We can go to that bookstore you like,” Ryan said.
The roar of the trains hurtling underground fell away as we emerged from the subway tunnel into the open air. We went to Madison Square Park, where I headed instinctively to the dog park, peeking over a stretch of bristly shrubs, and spotted the dogs—those happy creatures. We watched them cooling off under the shade of the benches, and Ryan and I imagined owning each one. Ryan wants a dog that’s big, fluffy and wolf-like. But I prefer the kind that look like they came from outer space—the borzois and the whippets, with their impossibly long noses and spindly legs, like the figures in Dali paintings. I’m convinced they must have supernatural powers—maybe they speak to you when you are alone with them. But owning a dog is only a daydream. We are too busy for that, what with the jobs and everything.
North of the park, we stopped at the bookstore Ryan had suggested, which is my favorite in the city. It’s not like this store has the best selection in town, but it’s pretty and quiet in the particular way of a bookstore. It has a kind of antique-globe aesthetic, with murals of pillowy clouds on the walls and towering bookshelves lining a long corridor.
Ryan bought a pair of coffee-table books, one about Paul Klee and the other, a book of artworks from the High Line, the onetime stretch of abandoned train tracks that the city converted into a greenway. I bought a collection of essays from 2019. It was the kind of arrogant spending of someone with a salary and benefits. I could have looked up each of those essays online and read them for free. But print is the only way I can read anything at length these days.
People say it’s the feeling of the pages between their fingers that makes for a purer reading experience. But for me, guilt is the driving factor—the idea that I spent money on this object, so it shouldn’t go to waste. In this case, too, having the essays collected and named the best writing that the country had to offer that year makes it feel as though I am holding something monumental.
We’ve lived in New York for a couple years but aren’t above going to see all of the tourist destinations. As we headed to do some thrift shopping Ryan spotted the still-scaffolded Flatiron Building, and I, the now scaffolding-free Chelsea Hotel. At one of the thrifts Ryan found a pair of homemade coasters, molded out of red clay and painted with an abstract design resembling flowers with blue petals and white bulbs. Then we meandered to Tompkins Square Park, occasionally seeking shelter under awnings during spells of rain.
Back at home that night, in bed, the window air conditioner droned. I hate the way it oscillates, like an old engine heaving its final breaths. I couldn’t sleep, still sad about the no-job thing, and got up to thumb through my new book. But before long, my laptop beckoned. My recent employer’s Slack page was now a ghost town. I scanned my former coworkers’ Twitter accounts in search of some sign that they’d seen the news. Tumbleweeds. Next up: LinkedIn and a bunch of journalism job sites. It was time to start looking again. After a period spent in an anxious internet wormhole, I glanced at the corner of the screen to find it was sometime after 2:00a.m.
As I got back into bed, I set my alarm for our weekly Monday morning meeting, just in case.