Little Recognitions
Alex Czaja


The city directory was buried or missing or misplaced somewhere beneath the city, which
left residents feeling less serviceable than they had before.

Most, if not all, taxis remained empty. Every day the cabs drove the same passengerless
loops through the city. Pedestrians who no longer wished to be pedestrians wandered
aimlessly on foot, complaining about the sidewalk and how it was surely detrimental to their backs and knees.

Occasionally, a cabdriver would roll down his window and gently ask someone
lollygagging on the sidewalk: “Call me?”

“I can’t,” the pedestrian would say, shaking their arms at their sides, watching the
yellow cab drive into the distance.

Or, on occasion, some sulky walker would stand on a street corner and cry at the
taxis passing by: “Hey, would you pull over sometime?”

“I can’t,” was their only response.


There is a new retirement home in town with brand new televisions and card tables and a garden and pond out back. Have you heard? Did you know? Do you want the address? No one is there. It is empty. Of course, the orderlies are still at work, cleaning the carpeted hallways. Cooking in the huge tiled cafeteria. Orderlies cleaning up after other orderlies. Isn’t this unfortunate? Shouldn’t you have someone drop you off when the time is right, when they know that the time is right for you to retire? Because, of course, no one ever gets to decide for himself or herself, gets to say: I’m retired, take me to my home. But just imagine all those afternoons you will get to spend by yourself, retired. Are you a merchant? Reach your customers with a free coupon. Are you hungry? Aren’t you? Do you prefer Mexican or Italian, Chinese or Thai, Mediterranean, Middle-Eastern, American? Do you want to sit down, take-out, Buffet? Gorgeous views, glowing décor, menus delish. These restaurants prove it.


There was a group of residents, mostly male, obsessed with the voice of a woman. Each man had his own conversation with her. She was apologetic, agreeable, and even suggestive. She made statements that somehow oriented the men, statements that spoke directly to their situation. She was inclusive.

The men would call her from a house phone, the cord curlicuing from the wall, the
men stretching it taut to gaze out a window, and they’d hear: “We’re sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed from the phone you are using. Please read the instruction card or call your operator to help you.”

The men would form lines outside gas stations, coffee shops, supermarkets, they’d
wait under the pavilions at public parks, in the lobbies of courthouses, they’d line up across the painted rows of parking lots, they’d search for the hard-to-find corners of amusement parks, linger in the well-lit baggage claims at airports, and at every location they would patiently wait to enclose themselves in a phone booth to hear: “If you’d like to make a call please hang up and try again. If you need help, hang up and then dial your operator.”

They would empty their pockets, depositing quarter after quarter into a pay phone just to listen to: “ We’re sorry, you have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service. If you feel you have reached this in error, please check the number and try your call again.”


The pond that is in the park that is surrounded by geese is hardly within walking distance. Don’t you think? The water is guaranteed to be very blue. Do you hate geese? When someone asks you why you dislike geese do not tell them that you know. Are you tired? Are you in pain? Did you know that there is a new furniture store in town? Chesterfield, divan, sofa, couch. Are you or are you not sick of walking? The shortest distance between two points is a ride. Aren’t you tired? In pain? There is a new dentist in town. Does your tooth ache? Does your tooth have a toothache? When you say: surely another person can’t have this pain! How can you generalize your toothache so irresponsibly?


Many plumbers, in fear that they’d soon be out of work, climbed onto the roofs of many buildings and listened. Some lay on their sides, pressing one ear against the building-top. Many plumbers assumed that the noises they heard were connected to pipes or air-ducts. One day, a plumber overheard what sounded like a party. The clatter of drinks and trays. People laughing. He sat upright and wrote on a sheet of paper connected to his clipboard. He stood, folded the paper into a paper airplane, walked to the edge of the roof, and threw the message in the air toward the adjacent building, where there was another plumber curled up on his side. The airplane landed, bouncing once before skidding into the coveralled shoulder of the plumber. He sat upright, unfolded the paper, and read: “How do all these people know each other?”


Your name is said in a far-off place by someone alone in a room. You do not hear it.

Alex Czaja is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. He grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah.