Mr. Sensitive

This wasn’t exactly my finest hour. I was calloused and self-absorbed. I don’t blame my Ohio upbringing. New York City did it to me.


July 29, 1995

We’re in the midst of a horrific heatwave. Baby, there’s no heat like New York City heat. The subways heat the sidewalks and the glass buildings reflect sunlight onto the streets. The air is a thick, dead, goop. It’s not good for my hair and my underwear sticks to my ass. The worst part is all these fucking cockroaches. I keep a clean apartment but they’re everywhere. In the cat food, crawling on the bathroom towels, in my shoes, laying eggs in the cutlery drawer. The exterminator has been here TWICE but those guys are useless. There’s too many of them. This morning, I opened a box of Q-Tips and two crawled out. I was half-asleep and they scared the shit out of me. It was a new box, too. This is the worst part about living in an apartment. All you need is one dirty pig in the building and everyone suffers.

Colleen and I were supposed to take the train to Philadelphia today. Neither one of us has air conditioning so we had this great idea to sit in the Philadelphia Museum of Art all day and night. You should always take a bona fide artist with you when you go to a museum. They teach you stuff. Anyway, she called this morning and said she’s not going because she can’t be just friends with me. Her voice was quivering. I think she’d been crying. Jesus Christ. Really? I have LOST COUNT of how many women have told me not to expect anything other than a friendship. You rise above your stupid hurt feelings and move on. Now I have to sit in this goddamn hot apartment all day. It’s like being inside a pizza oven. I should’ve gone out with Eve. What an idiot. [Note: I met Eve at a party Colleen took me to.]

Kris glided past me up Avenue A on her rollerblades. She didn’t see me but she wouldn’t have stopped even if she had. She hates me. Early on, I think she wanted me in the biblical way. But that all changed when I told her I’d never rent my apartment to a girl because I thought the neighborhood was too dangerous. She said that was sexist and I wasn’t be fair to women. The moment the words left my mouth all the air was sucked out of the room. She changed how she felt about me in a New York second. You could feel it.

She was with another girl who I didn’t recognize. She wasn’t wearing any protective head gear. Just a black baseball cap on backwards. Her hair flowed behind her. It was like watching a slow motion Gen-X Lower East Side angel. That’s what she is.

After that, I was waiting in line at the ATM and Austin bumped into me. He called me Mike. That’s pretty much the impression I leave with everyone. They can’t even get my name right. I’m like a wisp of vapor. People sense my presence but I’m easy to look through and I leave no impression. His teeth were kind of yellow and his clothes were a mess but it was nice chatting with him. He said the band might go to Japan in September. I’ll believe it when I see it. He asked what I’ve been up to and I told him I just got out of jail for assaulting my landlord. He got the joke but everyone in line was eavesdropping and you could tell they took me seriously. I think God put other people on the planet for my own personal amusement.

I just saw Sedaris on a cable access show. They were talking about ‘One Woman Shoe,’ the play he did with his sister at La MaMa a few months ago. Holy shit, it was funny. His sister acted in it but he didn’t. I wonder why? The New York Times reviewed it. I think that guy might actually make it. [Note: I’ll say, he did.] This is the second show they did at La MaMa and I’ll bet it’s the last one they do there. [Note: It was. The next one was at Lincoln Center.] I left him a note at the box office to say hello and tell him how much I enjoyed the show and he wrote a gracious thank-you letter back, which I thought was classy. [Note: No texts or emails. An exchange of actual hand-written letters. A lost pleasure.]

Whenever I hear someone in the hallway, I run to the peephole to see if it’s anyone fun. It’s usually for that asshole across the hall. Cindy and I hate him. We always stomp on roaches in the hallway and then wipe our shoes on his welcome mat. There are some good bands playing at Fez tonight but I don’t have anyone to go with.

    *     *     *

This is the last Picasso sculpture. I promise. This is his young daughter, Paloma, jumping rope. He made it with found objects.


Another sensational New Jersey parking job. How do you live so deeply inside your own head that you’re oblivious to the world? In a way, it’s enviable.

NJ Parking

109 thoughts on “Mr. Sensitive

  1. Ahhhh, Mark, I missed your incisive descriptions of life in New York as a young man. Awesome as usual. Every time I read another of your installments, I think it would make a great book. I am always left with the feeling that there is more to come and I want to hear it – the makings of a best seller. This sounds like bullshit, I know, and yet the truth is when I read your stuff I am transported into the time and place – I become a part of the story, as if I were standing there in the drenching windless, oppressive heat smelling the faint background odor of garbage. I gotta tell you that is rare for me Mark. I have read best sellers where I was always aware that I was holding a book and reading words – not standing on a New York street. Keep it coming my friend.

  2. This post makes me wish I had kept the diary I wrote as a young woman. It would be fun to read what I wrote then.

    I appreciate the landlord comment that was taken seriously by bystanders. When my middle daughter was in college, I took her with her then boyfriend to a restaurant that used to be a city jail. The thrill was that each table was inside an actual former jail cell. About a year later, daughter and boyfriend were at a different, more upscale restaurant with us for a family event. I couldn’t resist teasing the boyfriend by saying, “So, isn’t this better than dinner in jail?” The looks we received from other diners were just priceless.

    • Honestly, sometimes I wish I hadn’t kept these. Some passages are so painful. Who needs to relive this stuff? And as I mentioned above, God help me if the Daughters find them. They’ll change what they think about their old man.

      It was taken as a serious comment because at that time—the mid-90s—there was an epidemic of landlord/tenant disputes. Many people would have very much liked to assault their landlords.

  3. See, I could go way down in that passage about the wisp of vapor, and people mistaking you as a Mike, which is understandable, as you haven’t quite made your Mark in the world. Ha, ha, ha, ha. HA. But seriously, I am a sucker for that psychological crap as you probably get from my posts, too. And wiping your dead roach exoskeletons on the doormat, that sounds pretty New York. I lived in Philadelphia, and that’s probably more Philadelphia than New York.

  4. At least as a young man, you wrote well. When I look over my past journals, I wince at my writing. I was trying so hard to be serious and thought-provoking, but most of the time I came across selfish and whiny.
    Love the Picasso!

    • To be perfectly Fair and Balanced, I don’t post this stuff raw. It’s pretty much verbatim but I do clean up some of the spellings, punctuation, sentence fragments and syntax. I have to. Nobody would ever come back here again if I didn’t.

  5. You could write a column in a newspaper about daily life in New York and the impressions it leaves you with. Well, if there are any newspapers left, that is. But you could submit a blog post to Huffington Post online. You capture the nuances so well.

    As for the cockroaches, UGH. I may have lived in some crappy sleeping rooms and apartments, but I never had to deal with roaches. Always something to be thankful for.

    • Do you know what, Carrie? I should do that. I like this piece. Why not submit it? What’re they going to say? No? SO what. And what a thrill it’d be if they said yes. Thanks for the nudge. All I ever needed was a little direction.

      Never mind cockroaches. Do you know what a water bug is? We used to get those once in a while, too. NYC was way more disgusting back then than it is today.

      • I don’t think I’ve had to deal with water bugs either. But I saw lots of boxelder bugs when I was a kid.

        Good luck if you submit. Like you say, the worst that can happen is you don’t hear back. Their loss.

  6. Your notebooks are great reading.

    Can’t believe I actually like that sculpture. Also, his daughter Paloma went on to sell perhaps my favorite perfume, self-named. I’m down to the very bottom of my bottle and it’s another small loss in a sea of life’s disappointments.

    • It’s great reading but some of it was no fun to live through. I thought I had a boring life. I didn’t. Youth truly is wasted on the young.

      It’s that face on the sculpture. It’s a sweet little kid. Plus, he caught her mid-jump. I think Paloma also designed some jewelry. Didn’t she make those squiggle pins? I hate when I get to the bottom of my bottle.

  7. I wouldn’t judge your younger self too harshly. The heat can make anyone irritable and Kris was being ridiculous. How is wanting to protect women being sexist? I hope that kind of silly feminism has mellowed a little over the past 20 years.

    • I was young but old enough to know better. I think in New York you’re surrounded by so many people that relationships become disposable. You think nothing of being chucked aside or doing the chucking yourself. Or is that youthful folly? I can’t decide.

      As far as Kris, remember…this was the Lower East Side, which they could’ve easily re-James Malcontent Central. Everyone was spoiling for a fight.

  8. When you share your journals, I’m almost glad I was in Columbus, and not NYC, during that time! The sculpture is a perfect capture of a little girl having fun. I wish I had kept a journal when I was in my 20s & 30s about being a young wife and mother traveling and living overseas. Or maybe, it’s better just remembering the fun times. xoxo

    p.s. I appreciate your honesty about editing your journals, sweetpea! 😉

    • My best pal lives in Columbus. It doesn’t seem like such a bad place. I think it’s got a bad reputation for dullness. I had a nice time on my visits.

      Trust me… No one wants to see the raw versions of these journals. I didn’t know how to construct a proper sentence although I could get the thought out in my own wrecked way.

  9. I’ve said often enough what to do with your journals. I don’t want to sound boring.

    Selfish parking? Pfft! Yesterday some dork parked so close behind my car I had to drive forward to open the hatch and put the groceries in.And it’s not the first time! We have kerbside parallel parking in town …and Council rubbish bins 6″ from kerb edge. Sometimes it’s fun to watch passengers clamber over the gear shifter to exit driver-side.

  10. Hi Mike! lol I saw Carrie’s suggestion up there and your response… how come when I asked you to do that stuff you shot it down? Have you had a change of heart?? Your stuff really is very interesting and well-written. It’s got that edgy, NYC vibe and all.
    I wouldn’t have been able to live with those roaches – no way. I don’t know how you could step on them on purpose – gross, Mark, and not sensitive!

    • Mike is not that far removed from Mark. It’s, basically, the same name. But I’m very happy I’m not a Mike. I’m more Mark, don’t you think?

      I shot it down because…are you ready…? I’m an idiot! I suppose I have had a bit of a change of heart. I’ll throw it over the wall and see if anyone’s interested. Wouldn’t that be fun?!

      Roaches are disgusting. I remember going to the gym once and when I got to the locker room and open my gym bag, one ran out and scurried off into the gym somewhere. I felt awful. I thought I was solely responsible for an infestation.

      • That’s hilarious! I think I told you about the roach or whatever it was that hissed at me in Florida – I can still see its face and hear the thing.
        And yes – start submitting! Like Carrie said, what do you have to lose? You’re the one who always says how thick you are anyways, so that should serve you well. Now or never, Mike!!! lol And yes you’re more of a Mark!

      • Insects are the main reason why I’ll never move to Florida. The proliferation of guns is a close second.

        I’ve always opted for never over now. Perhaps it’s time I stop being so lazy.

  11. It’s always a comfort to know that other people have this problem with women — the ones you want as lovers want you as friends, and vice versa.

    If the Huff Post publishes your stuff, tell them you’ve got a friend in a little backwater in northern England who could do a regular piece for them too! 🙂

    • Rejection and unrequited love is the common thread that runs through all of humanity. It’s part of the human condition. It’s why we’re all so fuck up.

      My plan is to have one post published and from there, I’ll take over the editorship. I’ll pull you up over the wall after me. Please stand by.

  12. What was so insensitive about you? That you didn’t want to be more than friends with Colleen? Or that you met Eve at a party Colleen took you to? You didn’t strike me as that insensitive.

    Back in those days, I once walked in on my then-boyfriend having sex with a friend of mine. I threw her clothes out the window of my 9th floor apartment.
    Another time, my best girlfriend started dating I guy I had met first and was pursuing. She just nudged me out of the way, and started sleeping with him. That time I did nothing; I waited for them to crash and burn.
    I even remember his name: Dominique. Isn’t that a girl’s name?

    • I think I could have been a little kinder instead of just thinking she needed to suck it up and get over it. There weren’t that many girls carrying a torch for me and since I’ve been on the receiving end of that treatment more times than I can count, I should have been more understanding.

      You definitely ran with a rougher crowd than I did. Dominique is, indeed, a name for a pretty girl, but I still think you had a rougher group of friends. Weren’t those the days?

      • Those days were a decade-long party of a lifetime. There are many times when I think of how much I got to experience back then.

        But I also sometimes wish I’d done everything differently back then. I’d have so much more to show for my life!

        Maybe if I wrote a bestseller about those days, it would justify the crazy choices I made.

        By the way- a giant YES to you submitting your work. You could write an excellent column on NY life, interspersed with your brand of funny. You love to write and get read; it’s just a way of widening your audience.

      • I try not to have any regrets. It’s not healthy. But when I read these journals and look at all the dead months where I did nothing to further myself it makes me a little sad. I only post interesting stuff, but there are pages and pages of dead time. What a waste. Regret is part of the human condition. Just like love.

  13. You chivalrous bastard! I would have lied and given Colleen hope of something just so i could screw her and then throw out the whole “i don’t know if this is gonna work but we can keep having sex” line, knowing that she was emotionally invested and therefore more than likely to keep screwing me until she got completely fed up and realized i was a total dick and had only been in it for the easy lay, i was a mofo in my youth… and i for one never get tired of Pablo’s work, keep ’em coming.

    • Now THIS is what I was thinking of, in terms of insensitive: continuing to have sex with her, knowing that she would in the hopes that it would lead somewhere. That’s a pretty common scenario for men. They have a strong “hunting and conquering” need and it often overrides their humanity. Blame it on biology and youth. 🙂

      • Holy Jesus, I’d love to see you two in the same room. Talk about dinner and a show! How can I arrange that? It would be YouTube fodder for months. Why I didn’t think of this before?

      • Hahahaha! I’m not judging him! I was actually kind of wondering why that wasn’t how you handled the Colleen thing!

        But hell, I’ve always wanted to do something on YouTube…

      • If I’m being perfectly honest (and that’s what we are with a bunch of strangers in the interwebs) women still kind of scared the shit out if me at that time. I didn’t handle Colleen that way because that might’ve fostered a closeness. I only threw myself at women who wanted nothing to do with me. Pretty smart, right?

      • I relate to that too well. I try not to foster a closeness with anyone. It only leads to complications, and I’m not in the market for complications.

    • What the fuck are you two on about? lol… and now so i can sound like an ever bigger prick (smirking, for reasons juvenile and other) sometimes that wisp of vapor shit and people getting your name wrong isn’t a bad thing, being 6’4 and having what i guess they call a presence can get you picked out of a police line up really fast (though i avoided that)… or make you pretty easy to spot if you were with someone who was not your significant other and doing things that significant other would not like, you see man we all had problems back then (still smirking), granted Pittsburgh ain’t NYC, i had strangers approach me all the time and tell me they saw me here or there, and i can admit i was a bit hell on wheels back then and sometimes acid and shrooms made you talkative and blow always did, and the women? (really smirking), i guess i had it easier than most, especially for a homely fucker like me…

  14. So enjoyed reading this. It takes me back to my NYU days, and all the adventures in New York I stored away in my journals. It also makes me wistful for all my old writing classes, reading the different styles in the room and getting to know people through their writing. I’ve recently been pulling my old stuff out with the intention to share it, but I too – need to do some serious clean up.

    • Thank you, very much, for your kind words and for taking the time to comment. These journals are a constant source of humor and agony for me. If you click on the Memoir category, there’s plenty more where this came from. I thought nothing was happening but it turns out I was having the time of my life.

      • It was, in many ways. New York is always in my heart. I love reading others’ stories about it – because living there is quite different than visiting. I enjoy your writing – I’ve been lurking for a while but often don’t think to comment. 🙂

      • I read my journal entries about the Lower East Side and then go down there for a walkabout and I don’t recognize the place. I know this is an old complaint but it’s relevant. I feel NYU is part of the problem. Their devouring all of Manhattan below 14th St. Don’t get me started. Oh… Wait… You already have!

      • I haven’t seen much of the village since I moved away, but I took my daughter up to the American Girl store and chose to park right off the square to show her my old school about 3 years ago. I was shocked to hear that CBGB was closed. So much has changed. Even NYU.

  15. I’ve been lucky living on the Upper West Side in roach-free digs, but about 33-34 years ago I knew someone who had a place in Chelsea that could double as Cockroach Central. I remember waking one morning to one crawling across my bare chest. She quit that apartment when I was looking for one. For a nanosecond I considered pursuing it, but then I’d think about the roaches crawling not only across my bare skin, but out of the stove and all over the bathtub. No way.

    Did you ever go to the movies to escape the heat? During a horrible heat wave in 2012, I managed to slip in and out of five films before returning to my oppressive a/c-less rathole to suffer. That was one of the times when being an invisible middle age woman was an advantage.

    • We did, eventually, get the roach situation under control, thank God. It’s a good thing because I was stuck there. I couldn’t afford to move. Do you think I lived in a roach-infested apartment in a narcotic- and crime-soaked neighborhood because I wanted to? As an epilogue, a unit in that building just went on the market this past week. Here’s the listing. MY, HOW THINGS CHANGE.

      Going to the movies would have offered some relief. I think I preferred to suffer at that time.

      • Wow. I just learned that the rental building I left is removing units’ rent stabilization status. Apparently, this had been going on for years and I never knew it. They’re price gouging all of the tenants without stabilization. No wonder the turnover in the updated apartments was so fast. NYC is full of greed-whores.

      • It’s a damn good thing you got out of there when you did. Are there THIS MANY wealthy people in Manhattan? Every construction project is high-rise, high-rent apartment buildings. Aren’t they afraid of running out of rich people?

  16. Well, at least Mike is sort of in the right ballpark. Our new receptionist thinks my name is John, which is way off, but I’m going along with it, because now I hardly get any phone calls.

  17. I’m such a wimp when it comes to cockroaches. Oh man, they give me the creepy crawlies. Yuck. I couldn’t do it. I would go live at that museum. I think your girl trouble is a symptom of that age. You know, when everything is in flux and you have the world in front of you, nothing feels permanent, things could change any day. What a thrill you got a personal note from Sedaris. He can be in your book, too.
    And hey, that person was getting their lashes done so what could more important than that!

    • We never could have dated when I was in New York City. Both of my apartments had roaches in them. That would’ve killed things quick.

      I was younger but I still think I was old enough to know better. I was an egomaniac and I hope I’ve gotten better since then but I still slip once in a while. Who doesn’t?

      Sedaris was a good guy. He deserves all of his success. His material is strong and All the attention never went to his head.

  18. I like being Mr. Cellophane now for many reasons that I won’t attempt to explain or defend. Being noticed is not a plus anymore. You are right about the Florida bug environment. It’s what would make me move back to Ohio. NYC summer heat can ruin the vacation. Keep posting pictures of any art with descriptions. I hate apartment living, but no choice in NYC. You must of got a lot of tail back then. I understand why you don’t want the daughters to read them. Love those journals.

    • Mr. Cellophane
      shoulda been my name
      ’cause you can look right through me
      Walk right by me
      and never know I’m there

      I saw what you did there, pal. Nice work. Very appropriate. I think living in New Jersey has ruined me for apartment life. I don’t know that I can go back to a compressed space with people walking on my ceiling. Funny…it never bothered me before. Thanks, as always, for your kind words. Who doesn’t like a complement every now and then?

  19. Great read Mark, seriously. The sticky underwear and the detritus of crushed cockroaches is going to stick with me. The part about not leaving an impression… that makes me a trite sad. I always want to pay attention to people, especially if they’re the type that don’t usually attract it. I always want to talk to them. The popular, attention-grabbing ones? Not so much (unless they’re really hot). So it goes.

    • I really was invisible during those years. I had a lot of acquaintances but didn’t make any real friends. There are names I come across in these journals and I can’t even place their faces. Some of it was pretty lonely. Cindy, who I mention in the post, and I are still good friends. Not many true friends, but lots of roaches. Thank God those days are gone.

  20. Gotta hand it to you. These juicy posts make the cockroaches come out of the wood work. (As in a whole lotta comments).I’m joking of course. But gee those New York roaches would have sent me flying home real fast.

    Do your daughters know that you write a blog? If so, they’ll go looking for those journals.

    • Where I was living was OK for a young man. But I never could’ve sustain that lifestyle indefinitely. Any normal person would’ve ran like hell to a different city. It takes a certain amount of damage to put up with that.

      My daughters know I write a blog but they’re too young to have read any of it. I live in a constant panic that they’ll stumble across these journals. Some of it is not very pleasant and I never want them to read it. I thought of burning them many times.

      • You could get a large safe and store them in there. I still think all of those writings will make a heck-of-a book. One day you will be ready to make something of it. Perhaps when you retire but you are still young and have miles to go.

      • I wish I could tell you how old I am but I’m too vain to post my age. I had kids very late in life. I don’t have miles to go and need to decide what to do. I need to make peace with these things.

  21. Ooh I do love these stories. You think people looked through you like they couldn’t see you but you did the same to others. We all do. You should have run after the angel. She could have rollerbladed over the roaches.

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