Richard

I’m on the corner of 53rd and Park, and I can see Richard crossing the street.  He is of average height with wavy chestnut hair which is neatly parted to the side.  His temples are graying, but this only frames his face to give him a distinguished look.  He lives alone in a small one bedroom, but with a spacious kitchen, in one of those pre-war buildings by the UN.  He is not home the majority of the time to feel the loneliness of living alone since he spends most of his waking hours at the office.

Richard has been divorced for eight years now, and although he has enjoyed throwing his weekly dinner parties for his art society friends, he still manages to escape to Montclair, New Jersey to play golf at his country club.  His ex-wife kept the 5-bedroom Colonial and the Mercedes, and he even agreed to letting her keep the cat.  He decided to keep his membership at the club so he could keep in touch with the friends that he had known throughout his time in Montclair, an intimate community where people could relax around each other and trust enough in each other to share intimate secrets.  In New York, he always feels like he has to keep his guard up, even with his closest acquaintances.  He was not an avid golfer, but he liked to come out to the quiet to escape the craziness of Midtown.  Sure, the conveniences of having his dry cleaning and his dinners delivered were great, but his apartment was not home like his house in Montclair used to be for all those years.  Those were the happiest years of his life, sprinkled with a few sad years.  The saddest years coming towards the end of his marriage.

Richard never speaks above a whisper.  The doormen more than half the time just pretend to understand what he says to them.  I am somehow able to understand most of what he says, even when he speaks with his face turned away and down to the floor.  We run into each other when we are waiting for the elevator or getting our mail.  The conversations are mostly limited to the weather and the contents of the junk mail we receive that day.

It was all a misunderstanding last Saturday, and although I know it was a misunderstanding, I can’t act like I know it was a misunderstanding now because it would just make the matter even worse.  Rob, the daytime doorman, told me what had happened.  Ethel has a way of being a troublemaker.  She is retired and lives by herself and is friendless.  Her daughter moved as far away as she could to California and never comes to visit, even when she was sick in the hospital with pneumonia.  Ethel’s the type that if you prick her, she will stab you in your most vulnerable spot over and over again until you regret it for the rest of your life.  She never forgets a snub and she will never let you forget it either. So last Saturday, she was coming back from walking her toy poodle when she noticed a huge bouquet of roses sitting on the front desk in the lobby.

“Who are the roses for?” Ethel asked in an inappropriately domineering way.

“Oh, they’re for 724.”

“For Richard?  He’s divorced.  He shouldn’t be getting flowers.  Are you sure?” She spoke as if she had the lone authority over flower deliveries.

“That’s what the envelope says,” Rob muttered. He didn’t feel like he needed to explain the flowers to her.  Ethel wanted to continue the inquisition, but Rob left the desk to open the door for Mrs. Bradford.  Mrs. Bradford just recently suffered a stroke and needed help with her walker as she exited the building.  While Rob was getting the door for Mrs. Bradford, Ethel went and opened the envelope.  She just couldn’t help herself.  The card was blank.  Ethel then quickly wrote:  For you.  From 818.

This was payback for when I caught her, completely unintentionally, stealing Carol’s newspaper.  Ethel always gets angry whenever she gets caught doing something she knows she shouldn’t be doing.  So when Richard received the bouquet, he was perplexed.  He didn’t even know who lived in 818.  He asked Rob about the flowers, and he had no explanation for him.  By the time he realized what had happened, Rob felt too embarrassed to let Richard know.

Richard went to look up at the mailboxes to see who lived in 818.  He saw my name and asked Rob, who told him that it was me.

The next time he saw me, he smiled and shined his pearly whites and gave me a wink.  “Thanks for the flowers.  I never knew you felt that way about me.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, confused.  I never saw this side of him before.

Richard’s face reddened.  “Oh, did you want to keep it a secret?”

“Oh, I think there’s been a misunderstanding.  I never sent you any flowers.  In fact, I don’t even know your name.”

“Well, who else lives in 818, then?”

“Um, just me?” I replied sheepishly.  I was terribly embarrassed for him.

Richard’s eyebrows furrowed, “Is this some cruel practical joke?  What did I ever do to you?  I smile and say ‘hi’ and make small talk with you, and this is the thanks I get for being nice to you?!”

“I-I don’t know what to say.  I had nothing to do with this.  I really didn’t!” I didn’t know how to explain because I really didn’t have an explanation.

Richard angrily opened the door to the stairwell and took the seven flights of stairs up instead of waiting for the elevator with me.  He now missed living in Montclair more than ever.

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Springtime Troubles

When people ask me what my favorite season is, they should really ask me what my least favorite season is, which is spring.  It’s messy and confusing, with the conflict between the cool temperatures and the warm sun making my hands cold but my head hot, and all the dirt that settles and accumulates into the city throughout the winter is finally liberated by the springtime breezes, which always ends up in my eyeballs.  Plus, I have bad allergies, and the dirt and the pollen that fly about always, without a doubt, find their way through my airways which leave me in a season-long state of discomfort.  But the worst part of spring is what happens in my apartment.

The walls and floors are porous, so I’ve gotten used to hearing my neighbors sneeze and cough, do their dishes, and practice their guitar, but it’s also porous enough for their smells to end up in my tiny studio apartment.  With the heat on in the winter, and the AC on in the summer, I don’t get these odors, but last night I woke up in the middle of the night to the smell of someone grilling steaks and this morning to the smell of wet dog.

I don’t really care what other people do in their own homes, but when I can smell what they do, then they involve me.  This is unfortunate when you live next door to the most evil person on the planet.  She knows how much all this bothers me, so she’s been invading her odors with her evil powers where every piece of fabric that I own smells like her dog.  I swear that she uses her sorcery to absorb all the odors from everyone’s apartment and siphon them off into my stuffy little studio.  Sometimes it’s a guessing game, like, oh, what is that? is that… menthol? now what is she putting up against my closet??  that smells like.. mothballs!  The worst is when she, with her evil powers, spreads the smell of urine right where I’m sitting on my couch.  A few years back, I thought it was me.  But then, I was like, I haven’t changed my hygiene habits- I still bathe everyday.  When I realized what she was doing it really grossed me out.  Now every time I get a nasty whiff of her dog, I feel like I’m on the verge of getting pink eye.

It’s supposed to get up to 90 degrees this weekend, and I can’t wait to blast that AC so I can finally inhale without getting any gritty particles in my nose or a whiff of any disease inducing odors.

Summer can’t come soon enough.

 

Man on Bike

I saw a man on a bike this morning.  He was an elderly gentleman who looked to be in his sixties.  He was tall and thin with a healthy complexion.  He sat upright and wasn’t wearing a helmet or a jacket in the brisk cool air, just a navy blue cable knit sweater with orange khakis and suede oxfords.  He had a gray beard that blended into his neatly parted hair that was flowing in small gentle waves in the breeze.  He was riding with such joy and freedom, I envied him.

Last Christmas

I spent Christmas Day with Annie.  She is moving to Chicago on Thursday, so she won’t even be around for New Year’s.  I didn’t know it then, but I know now that I won’t ever see her again.  I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

Annie texted me the news of her moving last week.  I asked her when she decided on this, and she replied back, “two weeks ago.  I think if we were closer friends I would have been more emotional about it, but I only see her a couple times a year, and sometimes several years go by when I don’t see her at all.  Annie wasn’t that emotional about it either when she told me.  It wasn’t even like she told it in a snooty vengeful kind of way either, like the way some of my friends do when they tell me they’re moving away.  Those use it as a way of saying, I’m done with this town and I’m moving on.

Annie’s always been expressionless and uninterested about everything except when it comes to dating and relationships.  That’s when she starts to giggle and loosen up.  I just play along when she starts to talk about boys.  It’s the only  way our conversations become fun.  When I try talking about other topics with her such as music, movies, or politics I run into a dead end.  I see her eyes glaze over, so I figure it’s easier to pretend to be interested in things she’s interested in.

We went to Chinatown for lunch after we braved the crowds at Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree and to watch the ice skaters skate on the tiny ice skating rink in front of the enormous tree.  We had to dodge all the tourists taking selfies with their selfie sticks.  I don’t do selfies.  Neither does Annie, thank God.  Ok, that’s another thing we have in common.

Annie was in the mood for Peking duck noodle soup.  I’ve never even heard of this dish before, and the reason I’ve never heard of this dish before is because it doesn’t exist.  We kept checking the menus that were taped to the windows of each restaurant and we couldn’t find it.  After the fourth restaurant, I suggested to Annie to just go in and ask- maybe it was an off-the-menu specialty item?

“No, try the one down the street,” they said.  Which one down the street?  There were tons of restaurants down the street!  We settled for the only “A” Department of Health rating one on the street.  They didn’t serve Annie’s particular craving-of-the-moment either, so she had to settle for a Sichuan pork dish.  The poor thing looked so dejected.

To help cheer her up, I took her to the ice cream shop next door.  Even though it wasn’t even forty degrees outside, we sat in the park where the  traditional Chinese street singers were singing loudly into their mics as we ate our ice cream with our chattering teeth.

“Do you think you’ll like Chicago?” I asked over the really loud singing.

Annie shrugged.

I was wondering why the sudden move to Chicago.  “Did you find someone there?”

“Not yet,” Annie deadpanned.

“You know, Chicago isn’t like New York, right?”

“Well, I really needed a new job, and it was the only one I could find, so I took it.”

At that moment, I envied her, I wish I had that sense of spontaneity that she had, to just get up and leave, and that is the great thing about being unattached.  Annie doesn’t know anyone in Chicago, but she is not close enough to anyone here to make her stay.  Being single is a double-edged sword.  You have all the freedom you want but at the cost of not having anyone important to share your life with.  Still, I’m not brave enough to just pick up and move to a different city, as unattached as I am.

“You could always come back, you know.”

Annie doesn’t reply back.  I’m thinking maybe Annie doesn’t want to come back, or maybe she doesn’t know enough what’s ahead of her to think that she can come back.

“Hey, what do you think of this guy?” Annie hands me her phone to take a look.

“Scott. He’s cute,” I say for encouragement.

“He’s from Chicago.”

“But it says he lives in New Jersey.”

Annie doesn’t respond.

“You know that you’re moving away from here, right?”

“Yeah, but why can’t he move to Chicago?  Why don’t they ever offer anything for me?”

I let out a heavy sigh.  The toil of online dating has clearly gotten to Annie.

“You could always send him a picture of me and tell him that I’m going to be your substitute?”  It was my feeble attempt at making her laugh.

Only there was no laughter at all.  Annie looks at me without saying a word.  She looks at her phone for a minute and shuts it off.  She then turns away and starts walking towards the subway.

Heather

Heather was upset.  It’s been seventeen years since she started working at the firm, and she deserved better than this.  She was fed up with how Ruth and the others were treating her and how they always sucked up to Fred, who was terrible at his job, but because Fred had this banal way of talking to people, they would just give in to doing things his way instead of wasting another minute listening to him talk.  Heather was ok at the beginning covering up for Fred, but after the Burton incident, she knew that Fred would throw her under the bus if he had to, so ever since then, she made it a point, with an exclamation point! to provide due diligence to all her clients.  Fred eventually caught on to what Heather was up to and, in order to save face, he started spreading rumors about her.  They were little ones at first, like how she has having a bad hair day or how she didn’t know what ganache was.  Giggles and odd looks from the secretaries didn’t bother Heather at first, but when she found out that she was being left out of important meetings and that clients were diverted from her to Fred, her temples burned and her heart sank.

I am way smarter than this, she thought, on her way to meet Mia in TriBeCa, I know way more than the other associates.  Sure it was okay at first to not get the recognition she deserved.  Heather’s midwestern sensibilities kept her modest and stopped her from gloating.  But it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and she was stupid enough to think that she can just sit around and expect the praises for all her good work for the firm come rolling in.  Instead, she laid there like a lost sheep just waiting to get eaten alive by the all to eager wolves in her office.

And that’s exactly what happened.  It’s been happening slowly, steadily, right in front of her very eyes.  The CEO wouldn’t reply back to her emails directly, she didn’t even get invited to the office Christmas party.  Not that I care, she thought, but it would have been nice.

When she saw Mia at their favorite cafe, Heather felt the pain in her heart leave.  The furrow between her brows disappeared and her face was back to its old cheerful self.

“How’ve you been, girl?” asked Heather as she greeted Mia with a kiss on the cheek.

“Oh, can’t complain, you know same old stuff goin’ on.  How’s everything with you?”

“I just can’t stand it anymore!” Heather blurted out.  She just exploded right in front of Mia.  She couldn’t share anything at all how she felt at work because there was no one to confide in.  Heather felt better now that it was all out, but her atrocious work situation remained the same.

“Girl, you’re going to have to find another job.”

“I can’t.  There is no way any of those monsters will give me a good reference.  They’ve even turned my clients against me.”

“Can’t you just change careers?”

“Doing what?!?” Heather asked in complete exasperation.

Dogs And The City

I love animals, I really do, so that’s why I feel so badly for these poor creatures who are forced to live in such tiny cramped boxes, also known as New York City apartments.  I wouldn’t call myself a card-carrying member of PETA or anything, but it seems inhumane to have them live in a place that goes against their natural instincts.

Dogs should always be jumping around and running free, rolling around in the grass with their tails wagging and their tongues hanging out.  Dogs in New York, however, waddle along obediently on a leash and only have sidewalks and trash bags to sniff on.  Their tails limp, their fur matted, their eyes clouded and crusty, they always look like they’re about to keel over.

It seems that dog owners get more out of the relationship than their pets do.  In fact, according to a recently published article in the New York Times titled “New York Burial Plots Will Now Allow Four-Legged Companions,” domesticated animals are now allowed to be buried with their owners. They can now be united and decompose together forever in a cemetery plot.  I’m sure that’s what the dog wanted all along.

I was sitting on a crowded subway the other night, when I noticed that the tan canvas tote bag that was right in front of my face had a furry nose sticking out of it.  It belonged to a lady that had it slung over her shoulder, as if it were an ordinary purse.  The nose belonged to a dachshund, and it was sitting in the bag very still, with its nose pulsating as if desperately trying to breathe.  The owner may be considered an animal lover to some, but I felt so badly for this poor dog who was forced to sit in this lady’s bag, suspended in mid-air, constrained to be perfectly still on a crowded subway car.  It was like a type of urban animal torture.  I imagined slashing the straps of the tote bag to release it from its misery and screaming “You’re free, doggie!  You’re free!”

Recently, my church held a service called “The Blessing of the Animals” as part of the celebration of the Feast of St. Francis.  It was where everybody could bring their pets in to church to have them blessed by the rector.  On a typical Sunday, it’s quiet and barely half full.  On this particular Sunday, the service was completely packed.  It was standing room only, and I had to stand at the back by the entrance next to a lady and her rabbit.  I’ve never even seen these people before.  It’s as if they sprouted out of nowhere.  They were more concerned about the salvation of their pets than they were of themselves.  Or maybe they were just taking advantage of the fact that they were allowed to bring their fury critters inside a building without being scolded for it.

You think New Yorkers are tough?  Just observe them with their pooches, and their tough New York exterior just melts away.  I’ve never seen so much PDA in church before- the hugging, the kissing, the abundant ardent phrases they whispered into their receivers’ floppy ears.  They slung their poodles over their shoulders and patted their backs soothingly like a baby.  They dressed up their terriers in pink satin with matching booties and pearls.  They snapped selfies with their pets to post on Instagram.  They could go deep into conversation with their pets than they can to another human being.

I wonder if these dogs ever have a chance to realize how different their lives would be if they had a different owner.  How their fates were determined by whether a guy from Scranton picked them up from the litter box instead of the lady from the Upper West Side. Scranton:  Spacious backyard with trees and your own little door to go in and out of the house as you please.  Upper West Side:  Where you have to hold it until your owner comes back to let you out, or if you’re really lucky, the dog walker to come pick you up, so you can go pee on a slab of concrete.

I’ve noticed that the dogs in New York always perk up their ears and wiggle their tail whenever a stranger passes them by on the street.  It makes them look so optimistic and hopeful for something.  They’re probably wishing that the stranger is from Scranton and will take them away from this godforsaken place.