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cold nostalgia

There is a note, stuck to the front entrance of our building. The hot water will be turned off for ten days. This is something that happens every summer, although it snowed a week ago and children wander the playgrounds in ski hats these days. At night it can be 40 degrees fahrenheit.  The hot water is always turned off like this, at some point during June or July. It is a long-standing Soviet tradition, and people begrudgingly accept it here. But the baby, V does not. She wants to stand in a hot bath before she goes to sleep, to splash and pour water all around her, and N. She wants to stand and wiggle her tiny hands under the spout, as she grows pink and clean, as she howls and shouts for us to see what new trick she has improvised. There is no explanation for her, why the hot water is off today, and will be tomorrow. She is angry, furious even.

I used to buy the story that this offered a chance for the water department to fix pipes, to take care of routine maintenance. Hot water c…

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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