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no invitation

We are at a 3 year old's birthday party in the back room of a cafe. Music is pumping from a tiny speaker. Balloon animals are popping, and waving in the air. A man in a yellow dinosaur costume dances wildly. Parents snap pictures with satisfied smiles on their faces.

A little girl approaches gingerly and stands in the doorway, straying from her parents somewhere inside the restaurant. She cannot be more than three. It must be hard to ignore all of the noise coming from this room packed with celebration. There is a perfect little pony tail at the back of her head. She hesitates, as one foot poises in the air and then rests back down. How to understand that she was not invited. How to understand the laughter, the loose jumping bodies, the presents piled high on the window. None of this connects to her. There is a little plate of food waiting for her back there, in the quiet restaurant. Maybe a warm bowl of soup, thick with noodles. I watch her for some time.

That night, her empty e…

a late birthday in New York

I am back in New York for a few days, speaking clean English, eating real pizza, blowing out birthday candles on a late, delicious cake.

The city smells like laundry soap, and those cornucopia steam tables – of watermelon and sesame chicken. It reeks of cigarettes and stale beer as I travel beneath a midday sun. It is coffee and bacon from Eisenbergs.

Everyone is checking everyone out, sizing each other up like we’re about to fight, or pitch a pathetic one-liner, or get asked out on a date.

I walk up and down the city, catching bits of conversations in French, and German. I hear someone speaking Russian and my ears perk up like a terrier. I turn and follow these strangers down Church Street until I know what they are doing here.

People stop me and ask for directions to the World Trade Center, to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Guys are leaning out of cars, calling to girls in short skirts. Children are running under sprinklers on a playground.

The city smells like a clean shirt.

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