There’s a plain-faced couple lingering by the subway steps, they’re pressed close and kissing softly. It’s lovely to watch, it makes you want to kiss the next person who walks by. But no one else sees them. Everyone is late for work, or dazzled by the neon lights.
Archive for September, 2008
It’s dusk, and the rain is coming. There’s a man, unsteady on his feet, with a long, curled-handle umbrella. He’s holding it up to his shoulder like a machine gun, staring down the barrel and swiveling like a jungle commando, catching his image in the scratched plexiglass window of the bodega. I wonder if the yellowed, dust-refracted reflection suits his idea of himself better than a harsh mirror. A small boy wanders out of the store and stands a few feet away, watching. The man pivots slowly, beginning to grunt and growl before he comes around to face the boy. The boy pulls his arms around himself and waits to see where this is going. So do I. The man hunkers down and grunts his way toward the boy, the umbrella-gun carefully aimed. I’m weighing my slightness against the man’s new equilibrium. In case. Then, something invisible passes between them and the tension breaks. The boy giggles and runs behind a tree, peeking out. The man pulls a 40oz out of a pocket and sits down on the bodega steps. The evening begins.
The fat man puts down his begging cup and says, “Baby, you look good to-day,” stretching each word to the limit of its strength.
The old people have taken the buns off their hamburgers. The man in the suit speaks Italian in a heavy voice. The boy’s face twitches as his father talks. They don’t seem to know each other very well.
There is a man who is paid to vacuum the wide slate sidewalks surrounding the modernist skyscraper every morning. He never smiles.
He’s sitting on an upturned milk crate, drinking coffee from a mug. He raises it in greeting. The incongruity of the street perch and the kitchen cup pull a grin out of me. He shakes his head. “A man could look at a smile like that for the rest of his life,” he says. I stop a moment. I like the look of this one. He’s got some Cherokee around the eyes, a lullaby voice, the rangy arms of a swimmer. He rocks a little on the milk crate, then holds out the mug. “Want a sip?” I’m late for work, the air is thick as a swamp. I laugh, and keep walking.
Every time I come down here, something else is gone. Now a man with a fine-boned face and an untucked shirt walks toward me, his arm angled out like a dandy’s. He comes closer and I see that he’s been crying in a dry and quiet way as he walks, the face quivering and the eyes ringed red. Up close the cocked arm seems to be holding him up, no longer a flourish. It’s so early in the morning, it all bespeaks heartbreak. A final night, a last, fumbling exit, a sorrow that sinks like a stone.
Two well-dressed black men, their hands bound behind them in metal cuffs, are reasoning calmly with a cadre of cops. The cops listen intently, interrupting at times with a fluttering of hands. They might be bantering over beers in a dimly lit bar, or by a chess table in the park, except for the shackles.
An elevator full of women talking about their insomnia.
A new come-on from the corner boys: “How you doin, white chocolate?” I’m already a few steps past, but I am seized with the desire to turn back around, to pierce the fourth wall of this little spectacle we’re partners in. I want to ask, “What does that mean exactly? Break it down for me.” I don’t ask. I keep walking. They whistle after me.