Randy Cohen

My 9-year-old daughter, Sophie, and I finish building our first model, the Visible Horse. The shoulder blades are slightly misplaced; any responsible vet would prescribe immediate orthopedic surgery. But not bad. We’re thinking about what to work on next. They now make the Visible Man, the Visible Woman, and the Visible Dog, thereby allowing for perverse transplants. Sophie says, “Either a human head or a car. Maybe a car.” I’d told her that when I was her age, kids built model cars, then blew them up with firecrackers. It’s a gender thing, I suppose, but I think I’m doing my job as a dad if my daughter wants to blow up model cars. At least she doesn’t suggest putting firecrackers in the human head.

This morning, to line the kitchen trash can, I take a plastic garbage bag out of the box. It is the last one, so I throw away the box—in the bag. A satisfying reversal of roles. A solution that creates its own problem.

To a party with S. where an actress from Berlin tells us she and her best friend shift among three languages, English, German, and French, depending on the topic. I ask what they discuss in our language—bipartisan harmony, inadequate health care, sexual harassment, family values, family restaurants, four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicles, Christian therapy? She says, “Well, for talking about America.” She smiles Teutonically.

Walking home from Barzini’s market, I run into D. Thirty years ago he was involved with the Weather Underground. Now he writes furious letters to Time Warner about their inflated cable TV rates. I think he lacks the passion I bring to my issue, traffic safety.

Some of the things pinned to the bulletin board above my desk:

·         brief reviews clipped from newspaper of books I mean to buy

·         laundry ticket

·         credit-card receipts

·         list of Jackie Chan movies I want to rent

·         photographs of Sophie

·         drawings by Sophie, including:

back of a woman’s head, sketched on the subway

rocket ship race


nesting quail


“one of those fancy ladies”


·         raffle ticket from my niece and nephew’s school

·         map showing Vietnamese restaurants in lower Manhattan

·         list of records I want to buy

·         photo of King Oliver band with Louis Armstrong, circa 1924

·         World War II-era photo of Raisa Surnachevskaya, Soviet pilot of the 586th Fighter Regiment

·         some quotations from Dr. Johnson, including: “The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.” (The Rambler, No. 2)

·         10-percent-off coupon from Gotham Wines & Liquors

·         cartoon of a cat saying to an old woman: “I’m going out. Do you need any voles?”

·         article from the Reading Eagle, my mother’s local paper, titled “Silo Ruckus Involves 300”