“On the road again?”
The de facto granddame of ________ Street is already awake, wearing a polyester jacket and a navy beanie, tending to the trashcans. To her right is the apartment with the Homer Simpson sticker in the window. I’M HAVING A GOOD DAY DON’T MESS IT UP, it says. Just below it, the planters filled with dirt and fake plastic flowers. I’m not sure, but I’ve always assumed this is her apartment. It seems appropriate. She’s sort of insane.
“Yep!” I chirp, and keep walking briskly towards the subway entrance, secretly thankful she withheld her sartorial commentary this morning. “So you’re going for the flight attendant look,” she once mused in a way that sent me spiraling into an abyss of self-ridicule and doubt, having just been – in my estimation – ridiculed by a woman who wears tracksuits and, for all I know, does not have hair.
This is what I like about this neighborhood: people keep tabs on you, even peripherally. I’m not wholly anonymous and unimportant. I like that this is the woman to talk to if I want to find out what the hell goes on around here. Like that time there was a bucket of blood spilled on the sidewalk, evidence of a carnage I had been sure had been fatal. I imagined stabbing, a terrible fall, Polish gang violence.
To find out what had happened, I asked Old Tracksuit what happened.
“My friend,” she said, in her ancient New York ancient, “He was just standing here, right here and blood just started shooting out of his leg, ya know? Blood vessel burst, just right here. So much blood. You wouldn’t believe it. And we called the ambulance and they came to take him away. All the blood was in his shoe. A huge amount of blood. And the EMT goes to throw the shoe away and my friend, he thinks he can use it again! Can you believe it? Don’t throw it away, he says. He was in very poor health.”
I didn’t eat for a few hours after this story.
Back on Broome Street – the location of my overpriced, renovated, formerly-a-piece-of-shit tenement apartment where an old man named Salvatore paid $380 a month until he likely died there – the only person who kept tabs on me was the perverted handicap Chinese man who would chase me down the street in his wheelchair, shaking a tin can yelling, “Hi, dollar, dollar, dollar!”
I don’t miss that time. I certainly don’t miss that place. And I fucking love Greenpoint.
It’s only 6 a.m. and the street is the color of morning sky, everything imbued with that bluish, new quality that only lasts a matter of minutes. The wet cement sidewalk, the surface of leaves, the sides of buildings. Blue. All of it.
I catch the train right on time and move swiftly to the next, where the doors open and our train sweeps up construction workers and day laborers like dust bunnies. The man across from me flips through a free morning newspaper with dirty fingernails. His shoes are covered in a fine layer of concrete dust, yellow and gray.
The rest of the train sits with their eyes closed, likely regular sufferers of overwork and anxiety-induced insomnia. They sit with their heads tilted back, mouths open like dying fish. The person next to me – a man or boy I cannot tell – is buried in some invisible slump beneath the hood of a red sweatshirt, waiting until some invisible mechanism inside of him tells him he’s arrived at his destination. Pavlov’s Commuter.
I get off the train and wait for the elevator and while I’m waiting this random guy stands next to me, says something like “You’re beautiful” which I politely acknowledge and then ignore until he says, “You a model?” and I say “Yeah.” I look forward again and all I hear is him say, “Still?” We get into the elevator and stand side-by-side, basking in the silence shared between eight other strangers.
Once again, I am headed through security, where I hand some TSA employee my passport because I lost my driver’s license the last time I went to California. I’m waiting for the day someone tells me I look nothing like my photo anymore. You’re too old, they’d say. Too old. And then I could tell them to fuck off, that I’m still attractive in an aging sort of way.
This interaction will never occur.
Still, I think about it.
This is likely where all the problems in my life begin and end.