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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…

It's our pleasure to serve you




The street is dark, and I hear the rustle of sleeping bags unzipping. A man and a woman emerge from wrinkled layers on the sidewalk. There are old Chinese women in flip-flops shuffling around. I smell diesel, and hot tar. Yes, there is roadwork on the next street with those giant metal slabs overlapped, as if they are giant playing cards tossed by a mammoth hand. Right on Eldridge and then the bright lights of Cup and Saucer  - a downtown cousin to Hopper's nighthawks. The construction workers are hunkered down over plates of potatoes, sausages and eggs. They speak in big voices, their vests orange and old.

I order two scrambled on a roll with ham to mix things up. The waitress at the register is just a little bit cross-eyed. I see my coffee cup filling, that famous blue Greek pattern on it and the words in camel brown "It's our pleasure to serve you." I could be in any cop film from the 70s on a stakeout next. But I am not. I am marching back to the quiet room, the sky already getting brighter, the street sweepers rumbling around. I will shower maybe even shave and put on one of the well ironed shirts N prepared for me, that she slipped into plastic bags to keep me from messing them up. I will call E, and she will wish me luck.

The streets will shuttle under new shoes, churning uptown towards an office. I will get a day badge, try too learn the halls, try to make friends with the guy sitting at the desk next to me. I will wander behind people with a notebook and a good pen under my arm into a conference room and take notes.

Even working for a handful of days here, my blood runs loud in my ears as I press my way through the crowd on the corner of 5th Avenue and 23rd Street.
I am one of them, a smile plastered across my face looking uptown.

Soon enough the bags will get packed, swollen with gifts and toys for my girls. I will take that quiet ride to the airport with the sun shining on the graveyards in Queens.


Comments

Colette said…
Great post. You have said so much in a few paragraphs. Enjoy your trip back home.
liv said…
"Blue Greek pattern and the words in camel brown"...oh yes, I remember them well. Not to be found in this part of the country, sadly.

You have managed to capture old NY within your just-now shot. Spectacular photo!

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