“Complex, daring, emotional, and unique, with notes of melancholic brilliance and an aftertaste of subtle elation: it is hard to describe the writing of Raphael Bob-Waksberg without sounding like Frasier discussing wine.”
—B. J. Novak, author of One More Thing
Written with all the scathing dark humor that is a hallmark of BoJack Horseman, Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s stories will make you laugh, weep, and shiver in uncomfortably delicious recognition. In “A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion,” a young couple engaged to be married is forced to deal with interfering relatives dictating the appropriate number of ritual goat sacrifices for their wedding. “Missed Connection—m4w” is the tragicomic tale of a pair of lonely commuters eternally failing to make that longed-for contact. And in “More of the You That You Already Are,” a struggling employee at a theme park of dead presidents finds that love can’t be genetically modified.
Equally at home with the surreal and the painfully relatable (and both at once), Bob-Waksberg delivers a killer combination of humor, romance, whimsy, cultural commentary, and crushing emotional vulnerability.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||1.10(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
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The Serial Monogamist’s Guide to Important New York City Landmarks
Towering over the east side of Fifth Avenue, between Fiftieth and Fifty-First Streets, you’ll find the majestic St. Patrick’s Cathedral, historically significant as the place where you and Eric sat on the steps and ate frozen yogurt that time.
Should you happen upon this neo-Gothic-style still-active Roman Catholic church, you’ll be instantly transported to that ancient day, several summers prior, when the two of you were finally getting along again, for the first time in what seemed like forever. It felt like old times, this excursion into Manhattan, and you smiled as the sticky-sweet swirl of hazelnut and banana melted down your arm.
At one point, Eric looked at you and, grinning, said, “Hey, you’ve got a little . . .” and as he reached for your face, you instinctively jerked away from his hand. You didn’t mean anything by it, this flinch—it just happened—but in an instant, the whole day fell apart.
You and Eric looked at each other, in the shadow of that cathedral, and you saw Eric’s face fall, as you had often seen it fall, in that just-so-Eric way.
“What are we doing?” Eric asked, and you shook your head and said, “I don’t know.”
And then the two of you sat on the steps of the cathedral for a very long time without saying anything.
Later, you and Eric went back to his apartment and had sex. But it was too late. The damage had been done.
New York City is full of history. Take, for example, the Waverly Diner down in Greenwich Village. It was at this very spot you and Keith stayed up all night talking over pancakes, after ducking out of Emily’s twenty-sixth birthday party.
There was so much to say to each other, you and Keith. It was right after you and Eric broke up, and Keith was so not Eric. Keith was like the opposite of everything Eric stood for.
If you had been thinking rationally at the time, you probably could’ve guessed that you would end up hurting Keith in ways he didn’t deserve. But that night everything seemed so perfect. You wanted Keith, and you felt like you had earned him somehow. It felt like all your life had been persistently preparing you for meeting this man.
You still sometimes pass the Waverly Diner, down in Greenwich Village, on the Avenue of the Americas, but you rarely go inside it, and you never order the pancakes.
Was ever a city so ruined by history, so smothered in the blood of past conflagration? Once, while haphazardly browsing the Restoration Hardware on Ninth Avenue and Thirteenth, killing time before meeting Boris’s parents for a walk up the High Line, you idly picked up a loose spatula that suddenly reminded you of a fight you’d had two years earlier in Keith’s kitchen.
The conversation had started innocuously enough when Keith asked, “What do you want in your omelet?” and somehow ended two hours later when he shouted, “I don’t think you really love me; I think you’re just terrified of being alone,” and you, gesticulating wildly with the spatula, spat back without thinking, “I am alone; you have no idea how alone I am,” as if that were some kind of comeback.
The spatula you now held in the Restoration Hardware was the same, the architecture of it surprisingly familiar, the weight of it in your hand alarmingly potent, and when you breathlessly explained to Boris the story of the artifact’s eerie significance, he scrunched up his nose and said, “If the two of us are ever going to move forward, at some point, you’re going to have to stop looking backward.”
You’d already started dating Sean when Boris called, late, drunk, and asked if you wanted to go to Staten Island. You’d never been to Staten Island, and Boris had never been to Staten Island, and since Boris was about to move to Philadelphia, this seemed like as good a time as any to visit Staten Island.
Boris had also invited you to go to Philadelphia with him, but that felt too far, too much, too soon, too Boris. Instead, you chose New York. You broke up with Boris, got your own place in Bushwick, and started dating Sean, the cute bartender at Union Pool. You didn’t think you’d see Boris again, but on his last night in New York he called you, late, drunk, to invite you on an adventure.
The truth is there’s not much to see on Staten Island, not after midnight anyway. The boat ride there is awfully romantic, but once you get there . . . well, there’s the elevator ride up to the top floor of the ferry building, and if you’re bored, you can take it back down again.
There’s a fish tank in the ferry building and some reading material posted at the base of it about the logistics of housing a fish tank in the Staten Island ferry building. It’s a very large fish tank, so heavy the floor has to be supported with iron beams. “It’s a big deal, this fish tank; a lot of work went into it,” says the placard at the base, to the best of your recollection (you haven’t been back). “We did this all for you, visitors to Staten Island, so you’d better appreciate it!”
You remember standing next to Boris and reading the fish tank placard. You would have thought there’d be more to say to each other this night before you said good-bye forever, but it turns out you’d already said everything. So instead of going through it all again, you stood side by side in the silence of the ferry building and read the information at the base of the fish tank.
“Welcome to Staten Island,” it probably said. “We hope you enjoy your visit! Maybe if things were different, maybe if one of you weren’t about to leave the city for good, you could come here again sometime. Maybe this could become something special, something bigger than just a thing you tried once because, hey, why not? But on the other hand, it’s probably best not to think about it too much. Just enjoy this for what it is. You’ve still got the boat ride back to Manhattan to look forward to, and if you load yourself up with too many might-have-beens, the ferry will sink under all that weight.”
This area, New York, once called New Amsterdam by its early Dutch settlers and Lenapehoking by its native Algonquin peoples, is overflowing with its own half-buried past. The subway tunnels are nearly unnavigable, flooded by a thousand overlapping adventures. Should you, in your travels, zoom by the Lorimer stop on the L under Williamsburg, look closely at the swiftly passing platform and you’ll see a young woman waiting, hair disheveled, makeup smeared—it’s you during those six weeks when you would stumble home from Sean’s apartment at three o’clock in the morning, high heels in hand, just because you didn’t want to be one of those girls who spent the night.
The town is full of these triggers, and the longer you live here, the more land mines you set. There’s the Gap at Astor Place, the bathroom at the Crocodile Lounge—the odds of stumbling into the lingering smoke of an old flame are staggering, and increasing still with every new significant instant spent with another significant other.
But of all the tributes to the fallen heroes and tragic victims of your fickle heart, a list as long and exhausting as a full avenue block, there remains one place more than any other you know you can never return to.
You know where it is and you go out of your way to not see it, to not be reminded of the thing that happened there. It’s too much, this place. It would swallow you whole, this void, this pit, this unassuming two-story brownstone in Carroll Gardens that houses the one-bedroom apartment a much younger you and the man now listed in your phone as “DO NOT CALL HIM” were ever so foolish as to refer to as “home.”
Sometimes you imagine DO NOT CALL HIM also not going there. You picture the two of you both not going there at the same time and not meeting each other outside on the sidewalk; you not taking the opportunity to tell him all the ways he wronged you, not explaining that even though you were over it now—so, so over it—you just wanted to make sure he didn’t try that shit again with the next girl, for her sake.
“Because you’re such a f*cking humanitarian,” he would not say, and you would wonder why you’d bothered to not meet up with him in the first place.
And then there’s the Bronx, which is where people decide to get married—specifically the zoo part of the Bronx, specifically the part of the zoo that’s in front of the Monkey House, and specifically your grandparents, who visited the Bronx Zoo Monkey House after six weeks of courtship and decided to get married.
“How did you make such a big decision after six weeks?” you once asked your grandmother. “You barely even knew each other.”
“In those days, people didn’t drag their feet so much. If you loved someone, you married him.”
“But how did you know?”
“It was easy,” she replied. “I asked your grandfather, ‘Do you think we should get married?’ And he said, ‘Let’s ask the monkeys. Hey, monkeys! You think we should get married?’ And the monkeys were laughing, and he said, ‘I think that’s a yes.’ ”
“That’s it? You got married because the monkeys were laughing?”
Your grandmother shrugged. “I thought it was a sign.”
You took Alex to the Bronx Zoo once—or was it Anthony?—to see if the primates might make some magic for you, but the Monkey House was gone. It had been torn down in 2012.
You decided that was a sign.
In Astoria, Queens, sits a small studio apartment in which Carlos, love of your life for the moment, puts together his applications for grad school. During slow days at work or long rides on the N, you’ll catch yourself daydreaming about Carlos getting accepted somewhere—and you following him—far, far away.
You imagine spending the rest of your life with this man, as you’ve imagined with all of them—not because you think you will necessarily, but just because you can’t help but wonder.
You imagine the kids you’ll have, the family vacations and anniversary dinners, the way you’ll help each other with the dishes, the way you’ll interrupt and editorialize each other’s stories and jokes, the way you’ll promise to never go to bed angry, even if that means—as it often will—staying up all night arguing.
But mostly, you imagine living somewhere else, miles and miles from this cramped and crowded once-thriving capital of the twentieth century. You could live in Austin, you think, or Minneapolis. You hear Seattle is gorgeous and you’ve never even been.
One morning, over breakfast and tea and the weekend Seattle Times in your spacious new downtown loft (or whatever kind of apartment people get in Seattle), Carlos will smile at you and you’ll smile at him, and he’ll scratch the back of his head in that shaggy Carlos way of his, and he’ll say, “Hey, why don’t we plan a trip to New York sometime? We can see a Broadway show, catch up with old friends . . .”
Carlos will clear the two cereal bowls, part of the brand-new set you bought when you moved here, and on the way to the sink, he’ll kiss you gently on the forehead, the very forehead that’s been so gently kissed by so many men, a marker amid thousands in a graveyard of kisses.
And you’ll smile at this man and wonder to yourself if he too, like all those who came before him, will someday be a bittersweet memory, will someday be felled by the same foolish blunder of knowing you a little too well and yet also somehow not enough.
“What do you say? You want to go back to New York, see the sights?”
“No,” you’ll say. “There are too many ghosts there.”
Table of Contents
Salted Circus Cashews, Swear to God 3
Short stories 5
A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion 7
Missed Connection-m4w 33
The Serial Monogamist's Guide to Important New York City Landmarks 37
We Men of Science 45
Lies We Told Each Other (a partial list) 67
These Are Facts 73
Lunch with the Person Who Dumped You 101
Rules for Taboo 119
Move across the country 151
You Want to Know What Plays Are Like? 155
The poem 171
The Average of All Possible Things 179
More of the Yon That You Already Are 201
We will be close on Friday 18 July 241