Short Stories – Portland/New York

19 September 2008

In the brief cross town car ride M. mentioned she was going to China soon. Did she speak Chinese? Yes she said. She'd lived there five years. How come? Oh she'd passed through Shangahi when travelling, age 19, and somehow got stuck there, waitressing, trying to save money for a ticket home. Five years. We turned a corner, the traffic got complicated. J. said it reminded him of a song. About a piano player. Also trying to get home. Could not remember who by. We thought Tom Waits. M. agreed, still focused on the driving. We never found out more about Shanghai or what had happened there.

Over coffee next day R. said he'd grown up in Houston, a NASA kid. His dad was a NASA engineer. Doing what exactly? Turned out his dad ran one of the teams charged with bringing the crippled Apollo 13 back to Earth. Calculating orbits to swing the ship around the moon. 1000s of calculations all done by hand since no computers big or fast enough back then. His dad got a Presidential Medal. J was two years old. 1973. I knew the year already cos as a kid I'd watched the whole thing from England in black and white. Those static voices don't go away. Those pensive men in shirts and ties at desks, staring at screens. It was a weird loop of time – or more some strange shift of proxemical relation to those event – to be sat there in diner with R, eating pancakes, discussing the part his dad played in all that.

Walking from the apartment each morning V. and I are conisseurs of the day. Stepping out of the air con for the first time we are like "nice" or "yeah not bad" – savoring the air – or "really hideous" or "too close" or "not so bad as yesterday" – offering up our opinions all the way along the street, like trigger happy wine tasters, experts of the summer or something, until at the end, past the garage and the empty lot haven of rats, of it we've reached a kind of consensus.