Archive for May, 2008

near the waterfront

In Greenpoint, inside a fenced lot, a weathered man in a stained jacket sat on an overturned milkcrate. His hands kept pace with his voice as he talked intently, in Polish, to a single mesermized pigeon.

in the neighborhood

In this, the downscale end of the neighborhood, the men in the street call out to me. Always the same things, sometimes with the mechanical repetition of a talking doll, a little bored, expecting no answer: “You want a date, baby?” and “Can I get your number?” and “You look fine.” Others are singsong and earnest, “You look mad exotic,” one tells me, “Put those legs away,” another calls out, fingering his wedding ring, looking pained. They always ask, “You got a boyfriend?” and I always tell them yes, even now, now that not so long ago it became a lie.

Though I would not have imagined it possible, the chatter has become more insistent, fervent, and louder, now that my hair is red, red like a stop sign, like a crayon, like blood.

Today when the bodega clerk told me in a low voice how beautiful I was, I thought, how would this work? The animal nature of each man’s approach is plain, I am not in doubt of what they want. But how, I can’t help but wonder, what words exactly would we speak, if I actually wanted any of them, how could one of these exchanges of street intimacy proceed? The thought of it is grotesque, comedic, awkward, sad. Maybe they know that, maybe it’s that boundary of impossibility that gives them license to sing out their lust openly. Or, maybe not.


at dean & deluca (recalled)

There was an old woman dressed in red and gold, her hair like yesterday’s spun sugar. Her hands were gnarled with arthritis, curled like claws. She ate a raspberry jam cookie, resting from time to time as if some part of consuming the treat had cost her effort. A young man in a blue blazer came in, and she was momentarily captivated. Maybe he was a ghost to her, someone from her youth, or maybe she had never stopped looking wistfully at young men. When she packed up to leave, she stopped a hip Asian guy with bleached hair and asked if he knew the buses in the neighborhood. He didn’t.

on the subway

An early train, everyone quiet. There was a tall fat man with a cheap cane, worried eyes. A young man leaned against the pole, trying to suppress the inward, private smile that kept overtaking his face. An older woman with veiny hands noticed a small stain on her pink pants, touched it as though that might give her new information, then moved her purse to conceal it. She read over my shoulder for a while, and then her head dropped down into sleep. The smiler got off at 14th St, the fat man at 34th. The dozing woman kept dozing all the way up the line.

in a taxi

In front of my house, the driver says, “Is this a safe neighborhood?” I tell him yes. He says, “Are you sure? It looks a little…heavy.”


On Sunday, in industrial Sunset Park, an abandoned world of curving train tracks, there were only half-hearted security guards pacing around their little booths. One called out to me, “hey babydoll,” and another walked down the whole length of his fenced-off pier to tell us there were better views at 58th street of the stalled barges and the glowing mist hanging over the cool river.

Behind a fence outside a factory, a man suddenly emerged from what seemed to be a pile of pallets. He was shirtless and lean, stretching his arms into the sky with a swimmer’s rangy elegance. He looked too healthy for an addict, too unmarred to have been homeless long. He was perhaps between the acts of normalcy, marking time. Or like Dante, maybe, on a tour of hell.

on the street

A man staggered up to me on the street: “Look at that face. I’m gonna marry you. I’m gonna buy you an apart- -no, a house. Gonna get a job, go back to school. Okay?”

on the bus (recalled)

I was riding the bus back from the beach. At a bus stop in front of an old drugstore, out near the end of Flatbush, I saw a black girl in a bridesmaid’s dress, her hair upswept and laced with flowers. Next to her stood a stooped old white woman, with impossible red hair and the kind of outlandish, improper makeup that suggests both innocence and insanity. The old woman looked up at the tall girl, dazzled, reaching out her reedy hand to touch the girl’s arm. The girl looked at her, and as my bus began to pull away, I could read the woman’s exaggerated lips: “You look so beautiful.”

on a hill (recalled)

I was with a lover in a small European capital. We sat on the deserted steps of a cathedral overlooking the city’s valley and the broad river. Something in the near distance caught my eye, some small movement. He had seen it too. “Look,” he pointed to a red car parked half a block away. “There are people having sex in that car.”

“Let’s go see.” He stood up, pulling me by the hand. We strolled along, as though without destination. When we were close, I looked through the windshield. I saw a girl in the back seat, her legs spread wide, a man’s head between them. She caught my eye, giggling, and moved their disarrayed clothing to try to shield her body from view. There was no shame in her gesture, as though she were charmed to have been discovered. We kept walking past them down the hill into the city. I wanted to turn back.

on the corner

Today I wore striped tights. All the men in the projects I cut through had things to say about that.

All but this one. He was on the corner behind the drugstore with a pile of paper in his hand. He looked at his shoes. He looked at the sky. His face was ruddy and creased with time. As I got closer, he looked away and sang out softly, “Boycott Walgreen’s.” I stopped and asked what was going on. He handed me a sheet of paper. He whispered, always looking away, “They’re not fair.”