January 6, 2009
I got back from New York yesterday afternoon. The train ride back was more enjoyable than the trip in. I had pleasant companions in the two wide four-seater booths at the end of the car, including a young mother with a nursing baby who told us about how her older child couldn’t wait for her to leave because “Daddy is taking me to school tomorrow!” She was accompanied by her sister. They got on at Philadelphia. I have no idea why they were travelling to Harrisburg. A man who reminded me of actor Idris Elba, who had been occupying a booth alone, moved over to the one where I was sitting with a grandmother from Poughkeepsie so the women could have some room for the stroller and all the other baby gear they had. We talked about babies and literature. Somewhere in New Jersey I saw seven swans a-swimming in what looked like an industrial tarn behind a factory. I made a sketch in my purple Moleskine. I’m a writer, you see, who needs to write down what she sees so that she can funnel it all into her stories.
New York City is a laboratory for the fiction writer, especially one like me from a fairly conservative and conventional town. When Lynn and I visited in November, I saw a man dressed as a woman. Not a drag queen or a transvestite, but a man, attractive in a Mad Men way, who had manly hair, a manly build, but who was wearing a dress and high-heeled pumps. He passed us as we stood on a corner near Lincoln Center waiting for Lynn’s friend to join us for dinner. You just don’t see that in downtown Harrisburg. I didn’t see anything quite that remarkable this time, but I did pass one woman, a middle-aged matron such as I might see at my supermarket, who was reading a hard-back book as she walked. I can even tell you what it was — Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups. She held it upright about chest height as she walked slowly down West 71st. She continued reading – turned a page – when she stopped at the intersection with West End Avenue, and moved along with everyone else when the crossing sign came on.
I listened for conversations. I’ve been talking to a young male friend about dating and relationships in these uncertain times, so perhaps I am attuned to that subject. At one crosswalk I found myself beside a young man not unlike my friend who was saying into his cell phone, “She texted me twice today! CLEARLY I am on her mind!”
Another time I stopped beside a young woman who was looking at her phone. “He texted me again!” she said to her friend. “What should I do?” The friend said “Let it go until tomorrow. Let him think you’re busy. Don’t be too available.” I wanted to lean over and say Call him, goddammit. Stop playing games!
On the subway platform a youngster said to the older boy he was with, “So I’m sixteen now, but she’ll be fifteen until August. Will it hurt me to be hooked up with her?” The reply was lost as the train arrived. On the subway a group of young people got on at 59th St. & Columbus Circle. Presently I saw one young man holding his Blackberry-type phone and working it with his thumbs. I wondered what he was doing, since there is no signal in the subway. Then he said to one of the girls in the group, “So how do you spell your name?” And I realized that he had, as my friend sometimes says, snagged her digits.
Both nights I was in town I ate at Café 71 at 71st and Broadway, a deli across the street from a McDonald’s and a Starbuck’s. The first time I went in I paid for my sandwich (a grilled chicken panini with tomato and brie) and soda with a ten dollar bill. As I was leaving I picked up two almond cookies. When I gave the owner three ones to cover the $2.12, he said, “I gave you change!” So I dug around in my pocket where I’d dropped the coins to give him the right change. Sunday night he greeted me as I walked in. “What kind sandwich tonight? Try something different!” I had the mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and pesto mayonnaise number that was the best thing I’d eaten since Christmas. I remembered to give the right change when I left with my cookies.
On the way back to the hotel I looked up at some of the windows of the apartments I was passing. The hotel is wedged into a residential neighborhood — lots of Christmas trees out at the curb, and some people were already putting out the trash for collection Monday morning. One apartment had soft living room lighting in all of the windows except for the room at the end. That had bright work light, and I could see an easel, drawings tacked on the wall, and a man bending over a table. He picked up a large piece of canvas, turned, and clamped it to the easel.
Someone ready to get back to work, I thought.
So am I. This is the last day for Holidailies. I managed to post all thirty-three days, and once again, the experience has been good for my writing. I felt part of this unusual temporary community, and I saw three of my essays chosen as “Best of Holidailes” (Miss You Like Crazy, What Teachers Want, and Feelin’ Groovy). That means a lot to me, and I thank the panel of readers who have so honored me again.
If you’re here because you just drop in at Holidailies time, thank you for visiting and see you next year. If you’re a regular, thank you for reading, so much, so often.
A year ago, I wrote about hearing the Epiphany story in a new way.
Two years ago, I did not post on this date.
Three years ago, I had nothing to say as well.
Four years ago, I wrote about going home by another road.
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