Archive | City Matters

Beeswax and Other Urban Myths

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 →

I Do Not Dervish Well (Morning Regrets)

last night

It is an absolutely lovely Sunday morning and I am find myself reflective in a way that would be better suited to a real essay but I have a kitchen to clean and a greenmarket to visit before the best spinach sells out. So I’ll just write this out in a few messy overlong paragraphs, perhaps most fitting for my fugue.

It’s just that never before have I been so aware that human joy and connection is fleeting. More than that: fragile. And never before have I felt so stricken by this fact. This last week has been more social than the 15 months before it, and I have been constantly overstimulated, giddy, and anxious. How to find a center in this whirling dervish of everyone and everything after the cozy claustrophobia of covid incubation tanks. This morning my cuticles are bleeding, my guts are a mess, and I am obsessively running over the dumb things I said and did in every social event I attended–the myriad ways I failed to listen well, hold space for others, breath before opening my big trap. Not to mention the small and big hurts I glossed over in everyone around me, including how they were clocking me (how embarrassing). I of course am an extroverted introvert; I naturally replenish energy reserves alone rather than around others, who drain me even when I adore them (especially then) because I always clock everything they’re thinking and feeling even as I am prattling on a topic of my own (especially then). Worse, it means I am someone who dominates and performs when nervous–so much so that you can tell I actually trust you when I got silent.

this morning

After 15 months of nearly zero socialization I have lost my mechanisms of self-regulation, meaning that I get so overstimulated by the energy of people around me that I keep turning into That Lady–the oxygen-sucker with mentionitus, which is what I call the pathology of using everything someone says as an opportunity to jump in with a comment of your own. AKA the worst. There’s not much to add to this and in fact it’s the kind of post that I normally leave up for 15 minutes and then delete. But for now I’m pressing send just in case anyone else is feeling this particular overwhelm. A sense of being so grateful to be back in this world. To still be alive. To love so much. But also a sense of not living up to any of it when trying to live within it.

My dreams–well, my dreams have been a mess.

An Unaffectionate Memoriam

Walking out of my building yesterday, I ran into the older woman who lives downstairs. Without warning she grabbed my hand. Even fully vaccinated, I’m still shocked when someone touches me these days and her grasp carried an extra frisson. So did her words: My husband died last night.

She said it in English, though she usually speaks in Sicilian. For two decades I lived above those two, and their constant battles–screams, tears, explosions—always took place in their mother tongue.

In the early years he would assault me in the corridor–boobs, ass, whatever he could grab as I scooted by their door. Growing up how I did, I was accustomed to dirty old men, but he was over the top. The landlord didn’t do much about it, just “talked to him man to man.”

These old Italians, he said, waving his hand like an old Italian. Whatever he said worked for a while, then my neighbor began to knock on my door whenever his wife was at work. In all the years I knew him, he never worked and she always did. Vaffanculo, I’d hiss until he’d creep back downstairs again, footsteps soft but sure.

For a while there also was a brothel on the second floor. Not tech-savvy sex workers with master degrees in gender studies, but dead-eyed girls who sucked off johns in the vestibule and pulled knives when you complained. You could ask why I didn’t move.  I’d answer the apartment was rent-stabilized, and if you don’t get that, you don’t get living in NYC when you weren’t wealthy.

Eventually the crack whores were replaced by hipsters with jobs I didn’t entirely understand, and the vials and small baggies littering the hallway were replaced by a small gym and laundry room. People complain about gentrification, but it has its advantages. So does aging out of being prey. My downstairs neighbor began to bother the blond millennial on the first floor instead, and that generation doesn’t mess.

When the girl called the cops, they put him in lockup where he had a mild stroke. After that he was a tamed man, though the fights never let up. I’d hear them through the floorboards—her anguished squawks rising and falling; his deep vibrato. I didn’t mind their soap operettas, which validated my decision not to marry, but I did mind the baleful glances he shot at me. Head down, he’d flatten his body dramatically against walls whenever he saw me or any other female in the building. Predators play victim better than anybody.

I wasn’t surprised to learn of his death. A few weeks before I’d been awakened at 4 am by red lights pouring into my front room, and through the window I saw his body–frail, shrunken, intubated–being shoved unceremoniously into an ambulance. I may never see him again, I’d thought. Maybe it’s just the sustained devastation of the last year, but I’d felt a profound lack of sentiment. Something was shifting that lived below emotions–the Earth itself, hurtling forward on its axis.

Their apartment was quiet after that, but I didn’t check on them. The only time I’d gone down there was when he’d begun swiping my deliveries a few years before. He old, she’d said as she handed over the unopened packages.

Then shut the door in my face.

It’s so strange when someone you’ve known a long time but didn’t like passes over. He must have had good qualities, but I saw him every day and never cared for him nor his wife, defined by her marital boulder. That man, she said once after yelling at me for calling the LL. Like he was both of our burden.

Devout even by the standards of our neighborhood elders, she was known as a “black stocking”–someone who attended Catholic mass every day. “It don’t make her happier,” said Mikey, my seventysomething pal from the coffee shop. “It don’t make him faithful,” said Paulie, my other seventysomething pal from the coffee shop. I sighed. “It makes her faithful.”

She did feed him beautifully. I always envied the aromas drifting from their apartment at mealtimes: garlic, tomato, basil. She grew it on the fire escape.

Now he’s gone and when I looked into her eyes she seemed to be registering this loss as if tonguing the gap left by a pulled infected tooth. Anxious and angry no matter what. I felt compassion for her if not affection. I feel this way so often. O humans.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy