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Bloomsday New York

James Joyce’s novel Ulysses traces the complex inner life of an ordinary Irishman through a single day, June 16, 1904. It took seven years to complete. One hundred years later, we asked four writers to employ the same technique, each on a real New Yorker—and to do it on deadline.


Jaime Wolf
Lawyer, 42; single; lives in the West Village.

J. Wolf is awake, trapped in a twilight state between sleep and wakefulness for a long period of time every day—a period called morning. His breakfast ambrosia: All-Bran, Spoon Size Shredded Wheat, raisins, peanut butter, soy milk—a reaction to childhood, in a minor sort of way, remembering that when he was growing up he could only have one cereal at a time. Now he likes the idea of mixing four or five together. It feels like liberation. Shaking out vitamins, Ester C and Especially for Men, reminds him that he’s of an age where he can cherish the idea of 50 milligrams of saw palmetto slipped into his morning meal. He takes a slug of Gatorade and the vitamins go down.

The apartment is not immaculate. It is, in fact, maculate—spotted. There’s something everywhere. The cleaning lady was here yesterday; he gave her a raise and she said, “good ting too I’m glad you did.” He hasn’t told her that the domestic partner left; one would think surely she knows. He should tell her . . . it would be a good idea. She still puts the pillows on the bed as though they were for two people, arranges the towels as though they were for two people.

Wolf stands before his Diane Arbus photograph of a group of Russian midgets, bent, observing. He is forever noticing something—this time, a small tub of Breakstone’s sweet whipped butter in which a violet appears to be growing. Stranger still, around the corner is a portrait of Wolf’s parents taken by Amy Arbus; the parents made small, black-and-white, fixed in place. It is an opening, a portal, one generation folding into the next.

Jaime Wolf pauses to return a book to the shelf—S. J. Perelman will be happy next to Mike Albo. The house is quiet and a little dim—Wolf hates when the sunlight just comes pouring in and socks him in the face. “Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.” No. 14 of Berryman’s Dream Songs—bathroom reading for this boy. Wolf doesn’t think reality is banal or pathetic, and yet last night as he put out his clothes, he was all too aware that it was not very interesting or of particular consequence whether he picked the ripped Calvin Kleins or the newer pair of 2(x)ist. He puts on his work clothes, takes his gym clothes and changes into the gym clothes at the gym. Sometimes it’s a little chilly out and he doesn’t want to be running around in his gottkes . . . . Is that a real Yiddish word? Yiddish is on his mind—he once met a woman who referred to her undies as her schmeevers. Wolf checked with fluent people who’d never heard of the word. The woman insisted that it was real—Yiddish is filled with all sorts of outlaw elements. En route to the gym T-shirts speak to the passerby—YOU AREN’T WHAT I AM. And Naughty by Nature’s “It’s On” plays in Wolf’s head.

The elliptical trainer provides a gentle transition allowing him to travel in his mind and exercise safely. He muses on a line his friend Rhonda Garelick recently coined: “How infrequent are the instances of Schadenfreude, and how frequent the instances of feeling Gluckschmertz.”

Wolf, the straphanger in love with the efficiency of the train, is a citizen superhero there to help with a stroller, to offer his seat. He is beaming—ebullient. Shazam—it sure is glorious. Up the steps, the park, the fountain and the Duane Reade. J. Wolf, of course, has a Duane Reade club card and uses it frequently to get the 39 cents off moisturizer . . . he really likes being a member of the club.

Having just relocated his expanding law practice, Pelosi, Wolf, Effron and Spates LLP, to the Woolworth Building, Wolf enters the Cathedral of Commerce paying his respects to the carvings of architect Cass Gilbert and F. W. Woolworth himself, wedged into the ceiling, counting his nickels and dimes.

The elevator opens onto a construction site—the space is 80 percent done and the last 20 percent is on Wolf’s mind constantly. In the office, Wolf’s computer desktop opens to a cascade of urgent and unfinished items unfolding like a magician fanning a deck of cards. Checking his voice mail, he flips through the pages of a legal pad making notes in scratchy pencil. “Oh, Jesus,” he says, scratching. “Okay, okay,” he mutters as though he doesn’t believe what he hears. He pauses. “Lie,” he says. “Not a problem,” he offers—all the while talking to the voice mail.

He is a transactional entertainment attorney, putting together deals, counseling clients, drafting documents, with a sub-specialty in libel vetting. Wolf loves having his own firm, didn’t know it would suit him quite so well. He spent two years at the edge of the high dive thinking it looks cold and when he finally took the plunge it was the best thing he ever did.

He slaps a binder on his desk—a book by a first-time author, Shalom Auslander, Beware of God. Auslander was on “This American Life”—he talked about walking to a Rangers game on Shabbes from New Jersey.

Reviewing a letter of agreement for a TV producer, the little yellow billing clock on Wolf’s computer clicks—like a taxi meter. He reads aloud. “This constitutes . . . maybe be divided.” The yellow second hand sweeps around again.

He glances at something for a pro bono client, a hip Jewish magazine called Heeb. Wolf reads and types frantically. “NO, it is not clear that this is satire. It’s like the kids with the chemistry set in the basement . . . Sometimes I’m the grown-up who has to say no jokes about Dr. Mengele.”

Wolf likes his clients and wonders what would happen if everyone only worked for people they liked and respected—a lot of people and a lot of companies would be without legal representation. Maybe that would be a good thing; they’d have to do better work, be nicer. What is the spiritual aspect of manners—a distinction between manners and courtesy? . . . Just thinking how corrupted the word spirituality is; there’s a kind of dampness to it, it has a commercial sound, the word seems to have been hijacked by New Age marketing people. And as transcendent issues and the uninstalled in the conference room vie for his attention—a distraction; it’s amazing having a view of the water—I’ll see a ferry boat and think—a boat—completely putting me in touch with the 3-year-old aspect of myself. Being near ground zero makes me think about September 11 a lot . . . sometimes the sadness of being here is overwhelming and other times I think I’m bringing some life back to the joint and that’s a good thing. —A. M. Homes

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