All day long my downstairs neighbor–a 78-year-old woman from Campania–has been cooking an indescribably delicious-smelling tomato sauce. Mikey and Paulie, my Muppet critic pals from the coffee shop, call this woman one of the “black stockings” of our East Williamsburg neighborhood where they have lived since birth. By this they mean she is one of the older Italian (not Italian-American) women who scream at their philandering husbands all day, every day, in between cooking delicious-smelling tomato sauces and attending Mass not once a week but twice a day. On this point my Muppet critic friends are as right as they often are.
(The only times they are wrong is when they insist on my need for a bicycle I mean a man. Yes I am the fish in this equation.)
It makes me laugh to see my downstairs neighbor all demure in the hallway, given that those daily fights with her philandering husband are so loud that my intuition clients can hear them in our Zoom sessions. When her philandering husband made moves on me I got him to lay off by any means necessary, so she refuses to share her delicious cooking even when there is not a raging pandemic. Long ago I accepted this as fair exchange for not having to play nice with a sex offender and his enabler. But today that sauce is torturing me. All I want is to sit at someone else’s table and eat a big bowl of home-cooked pasta and cheese and tomato sauce that magically appears in front of me. I want gnocchi, lasagna, ravioli, penne, fettuccine. Marinara, ragu, puttanesca, carbonara. Focaccia. Broccoli rabe. Arugula. Spicy olives. Polenta. Arancini di riso. I want to wash it all down with a big glass of red. And I do not want to wash the damn dishes.
Essentially I want an Italian mother–or an Italian wife.
It was a beautiful morning full of the bittersweet longing that defines middle-age, regardless of whether you’re coupled up, family’d up, quarantined up. I woke before the sun, made strong French-press coffee with cream, finished reading my detective novel before springing into the day. Maneuvered mini-car Minerva over the bridge to pretty-pretty John Lindsay park from which I walked miles and miles up the Manhattan side of the East River–steering clear of the runners (oy vey), nodding at all my fellow masked travelers. On a patch of waterfront grass as far from the madding crowd as you can find on a NYC morning, I flopped down to pray and meditate and swan in soft unkempt sun. Only a particularly curious squirrel crept up, and she kept a respectful distance as I pulled down my mask and breathed in big big air. By then it was 9 am so I cruised over to the Tompkins Square greenmarket to fetch gorgeous spring produce (strawberries! ramps! mint! pea shoots!) and mediocre peonies (even mediocre peonies are peonies) before scooting home, Roberta Flack pouring out of the speakers. Back home I baked skillet cornbread and pickled watermelon radishes while jabbering on the phone with a friend about a disappointing love.
From a corner permakitten watched through greenly slitted eyes–judging my backsliding as only a feline can judge.
Now it’s midday and I’m already worn out and at loose ends. That’s not pandemic. That’s the sadness that finds us in all the places quotidian pleasures can’t reach. You know: those corners we just don’t feel held. Come mid-life, only the foolish believe those corners fully disappear.
So, dear ones, no nonchurchy church this afternoon. This is a day for reception rather than inception–for rest rather than rigor and wonder even when you can’t wander. Mary Oliver wrote: “My job is loving the world.” It’s all of our jobs, really. Love up your corner of the sky today. I suspect I’m poised for a three-hour nap and a to-go tequila cocktail. Then next Sunday (5/24) we’ll Sky-Inside together. Mark those calendars: (5/24) at 1pm on Rubyintuitionbk IG Live.