This is the second and final installment of an essay that I began earlier this spring. It is a window into my book, to which I’ve been slowly returning as the world is too rapidly opening back up.
NYC has opened back up, and the smell of fresh paint suffuses every block, a top note to the concentration of garbage piling up on sidewalks, weed clouding every corner. For every person fleeing their Covid cave for fresher air and wider horizons, another is claiming a new base for big-city dreams, 16 months delayed.
It all involves an awful lot of fresh paint.
Some associate this scent with toxicity—chemicals, ill health, colonization. For me, it’s a gateway to an autumn four decades ago, when Audre resurfaced and the world first opened up.
Really, it was simple. One day Audre called up, and the following Friday, without disclosing any of the long-awaited details of their conversation, my mother whisked Jennie and me into Cambridge, where Audre had rented a long apartment on a tree-lined block between Central and Inman Square. It didn’t occur to any of us to bring my father because he never strayed from his Friday routine: popcorn, tea, computer manuals, sports radio, and bed at 8:30. Of course now substitute poetry for manuals and 70s film for sports radio and my routine is not that far off, but back then his diurnal rhythms seemed the ultimate in passive domination.
Sitting on my stoop, I watch a young woman hurry by.
I call the practice of people-watching “stoop-snooping,” I guess because I’ve done it most while lolling on stoops. My schoolmates recall me watching them from the library stairs, even. (I called that library-stairing.) Watching the world walk by is hands-down one of my favorite activities but since things have opened back up, it’s more charged. I suppose everything has after months of fearing and missing each other in equal parts. Constant life-and-death stakes are not just wearying. They are deteriorating.
Earlier today, my block was abuzz as it has been every day since the café next door re-opened. People drinking espressos, wolfing piadini, cooing over each other’s pets, chattering and clattering over the Italian pop pouring out of the speakers. Now, in what approximates magic hour in these apocalyptic times, the heat is just beginning to abate as the handsome baristas speed off for the night, the last stragglers move into their next NYC dream.
So it’s just the two of us on the street right now–this girl with places to go, and me. She is narrow-framed, long-legged, straight-backed. Wearing no airbuds, wielding no phone. Eyes locked straight ahead, fingers hooked onto the backpack slung over both shoulders, spotless Keds shooting out from neatly creased shorts. She is moving rapidly into her horizon. Continue Reading →