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Bonheur

November 29, 2011

Coming back to New York after a long absence is like having a reunion with a lost lover. I am compelled to seek out all my favorite places, all the things I think no one knows but me. I take note of the pattern of ginko leaves on the sidewalk. I observe the new painting in the window of the studio near the apartment. I have to touch everything. I absent-mindedly stick out my right hand to run along the iron fence around the Presbyterian Church at the corner of West 12th Street and 5th Avenue while listening to The Decembrists’ Crane Wife 3 pouring through my headphones. I’m trying to learn to play the entire album on guitar. Some songs are easier than others. That one’s an easy one for the left hand – just three chords – but the strumming is fast and a struggle. Maybe the rhythm of my hand hitting the fence rails helps me.

When I cross through Madison Square Park, they are piling the fountain full of evergreens for winter. Since yesterday, they have planted hollies in the urns. It is still warm though. There are two people meditating in the zen garden in jackets and wool socks, eyes closed, hands raised.

Here is the difference between Chicagoans and New Yorkers. The difference besides the smoking, I mean. In Chicago, in the dead of winter, when it is 0 degrees, you will see people outside in shorts and t-shirts. In Chicago they like to pretend winter doesn’t exist. In New York, when it is 70 degrees out, people are wearing puffy down parkas and ski hats pulled low, fur jackets and long winter coats, just because it is November. It is time for winter, no matter what the thermometer says. I wonder why the man in the blue puffy coat and scarf is not sweating. I am wiping sweat off my face and I am only in a cotton dress and an unlined trench coat. This is maybe proof that I am not yet local.

At the grocer’s on my way home from work, they are playing Christmas music, the good kind with singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett, not an octogenarian victim of a reindeer accident in sight. I buy three packets of raspberries for five dollars, a carton of tofu, a bag of organic spinach, an apple and some green tea. The man behind me in line has an entire basket of meat. Diversity in action.

On my way home, it begins to rain. I consider getting out my umbrella, but it seems like a hassle to juggle it with my groceries and besides, it is warm and sometimes it’s nice to get a little wet. On the narrow street, a man offers me an umbrella. “You come under here. I no let you get wet.” I shrug away on the dark sidewalk, duck my head and shuffle on, not looking up until the next corner where the streetlight was haloed with water droplets.

On the next block – my block – I overhear two men coming out of the French restaurant on the corner. They have their hands stuffed in their jeans pockets, their jacket collars turned up against the rain. One tells the other, “And there were like a THOUSAND sheep jumping over a fucking fence, you know, like sheep DO.” And it briefly crosses my mind that I might be dreaming, because this is exactly the way I would dream about sheep, at a level or two of remove, not actual sheep, nor even hypothetical sheep, but a discussion of fictional sheep.

Inside, the groceries stowed, the French African radio station on, I think about my day, which included many good things, the nicest of which was an unexpected email I got from someone I work closely with. He not only praised my work with an effusion and specificity that made me blush when I read it, but he sent a copy of his email to my boss. I marvel again at my good fortune, at the job I do, at the people I work with, at the city I am in. I run my fingers over the dilapidated piece of oak that serves as both desk and dining table, while on the radio, the man reads a phone number in French over and over again, and I finger Crane Wife 3: D. A. G. D. A. G. D. A. G. Un. Cinq. Quatre.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2011 10:04 am

    These posts of yours make me smile.

  2. November 30, 2011 2:01 pm

    I like the idea of going to a grocery store for the sole purpose of purchasing meat – preferably a wide assortment thereof.

  3. Cranky permalink
    November 30, 2011 2:38 pm

    We were offered a sheltering umbrella yesterday also, I think for the baby’s sake. I also shrugged away.

  4. November 30, 2011 7:11 pm

    I am one of those people in the puffy coat. No, I am not sweating. It feels cold to me all the time now, and the puffy coat is an attempt to make going outside possible.

  5. December 1, 2011 4:47 am

    Let me throw Hong Kong into the city mix: fur coats on September first! (Then again, that was a city where shelters opened when there was a cold weather warning, cold weather being 50F/10C).

    This time last year we were deep in snow. Apparently the Met Office is not releasing long term forecasts for this winter so today I am searching out other sources in order to find out what sort of preparations I should be making for the coming months. Can you imagine that happening in the States?!?

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