Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve and the snow is falling fast. The windows in the employees' lunch room look onto a Hudson obscured by dense white clouds. Snowflakes stick to the window panes and threaten to form a crust. The Greek man who runs the lunch room, and who usually pretends not to know me, wishes me a Happy New Year as he rings up my soup. People smile (genuinely) in the hallways. After the enforced joviality of the holidays, New Year's Eve is a welcome rebirth, a renewal of hope.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Subway Jazz

Saturday night, waiting for the A train (running late night local) at 59th St., I walked away from John Lennon's "Yesterday" sung as a durge, and into the cheer of "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay". Sometimes in New York, to change your mood all you have to do is walk a few feet down the subway platform. I sat on a bench listening to the old man croon Otis Redding, and thought, thank God for people who have the guts to sing their hearts out. They are a gift to us all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Yesterday I was taking the subway down to the Upper West Side. Also on the platform were two mariachis in cowboy hats and pointed boots. As they waited, they tried out new combinations: a stretch of the accordion followed by the strum of a guitar. I've seen these guys on other subway trains, usually in groups of three. They walk into the car and, as the doors close, fill it with Mexico. But these guys were missing their third wheel. Sitting on the back of the bench, they looked lonely.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Oboist

Down the hall from me lives an oboist. I don't know his name, or even whether he is really a she. All I know about this neighbor is music, the melancholy notes tinged with the exotic (like a snakecharmer) that float down the hall during practice. When I was a teenager, I played the oboe and was quite good. I want to knock on his door and ask "Can you hook me up with some reeds?" the way a junkie might ask for a fix. The addiction of music is strong after all these years.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Back Row

Last night at the Nutcracker ballet I sat in the back row beside a couple with their arms draped around each other. As the curtain went up, they didn't change position. Throughout the ballet, they leaned close and giggled: at the toy solders, at the rat king, at the Christmas tree that grew, and grew, and grew. All this didn't seem so romantic to me, surrounded by fidgety children dressed in red velvet frocks. It reminded me of the couple next to whom I'd sat while watching Indiana Jones, the woman in tight leopard print pants, the two overflowing their seats to cling to each other. I guess no matter where the back row is, it's still the back row.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Native American in Washington Heights

Today, as I waited at the Starbucks outside NY Presbyterian's ER, the man ordering in front of me looked Native American. He had a great mass of straight black hair that stretched in an uninterrupted cascade to his mid-back. He wore a beige leather jacket and leather pants with fringes. Around his neck hung a broad necklace made of white stones (bone?), and his profile resembled Geronimo. He reached into a leather paunch slung around his waist, pulled out a five, and paid for his double latte with soy. Was he the real thing? I once worked on a Navajo reservation, where I would not have doubted (oh the turquoise boulders that the old people wore!). But here in Manhattan, you have to wonder.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Moon over George Washington Bridge

Tonight as I walked through the heather garden a sliver of a moon hung like a fingernail, or a scythe depending on your political persuasion, over the loops of light of the George Washington Bridge. Two bright stars (planets) twinkled to the bottom right of the moon. I wondered: was it Jupiter? Or Saturn? I hoped at least one of them was Venus. I could use a little love in my life right now. The night was warm for December, though a cool breeze swept off the Hudson. I sucked in my breath, overwhelmed by beauty.

Friday, November 28, 2008


On the subway I sat across from a woman in whose lap rested a bag with a chihuahua poking out of the top. The woman lovingly stroked the head of the animal, who rested contentedly, eyes closed. A garbled voice announced 181st St., and the dog's eyes sprang open. Two aquamarine opaque beams emerged from under its lids. The eyes searched blindly, then the dog closed his lids again as the woman's petting reassured him that all was safe. Between 181st and 190th the lids fluttered open and closed intermittently, revealing those ghostly orbs, a hybrid of cujo and yoda. There is someone for everyone, even for a blind chihuahua.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Jazzy Hair

Yesterday on the subway-- the slow weekend local from 190th street to 14th-- my mind wandered and I began eavesdropping. Beside me sat a young boy leaning on his uncle. All of the sudden, the boy reached up and stroked the older man's head. I want you to grow your hair out, the boy said while petting the man's closely cropped hair, I want to see your jaaaazzy hair again. The older man laughed, you don't like my hair? he asked. Nope, the boy replied, when you got married you had jaaazzy hair. You shouldn't cut your hair no more, I like it jaaazzy, the boy finished. It was a command made playful by the older man's laughter and the smiles of the elderly couple across from me.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


The first snowfall is trying to arrive. The temperature has been waiting for it all week. Too cold to walk to work anymore, and the Rose Man wasn't on his corner this Friday. The wind whips off the Hudson and swirls around Fort Tryon Park where I went running this morning. My dog and I maneuvered up and down ice-covered paths, concentrating hard, trying not to slip. We made it to the river, where my dog looked up at me with eyes made tearful by the wind. Why are you doing this to me, his eyes questioned. I had the same question for myself. Three hours later I am still trying to coax the chill out of my bones.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


It is sad to write this. Friday, as I was walking down W170th St., I found an impromptu shrine to a young man. It stood in front of one of those behemoths of apartment buildings common to Washington Heights. The wall to the left of the entryway was plastered with photos of the young man, smiling with arms draped around friends. On the ground spluttered veladoras (religious candles) next to a combination of plastic and quickly wilting fresh flowers. Propped against the building was a silver car bumper, every inch covered in signatures with the accompanying inscription: "RIP, bro".

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Winter for Real

Winter has taken up shop in NYC. People have become introverted and reclusive, locking themselves away from the cold and each other. It was a few minutes past five, but already pitch black when I went running tonight. I dressed up in those special high-tech clothes that are supposed to wick away cold, but really just cost a lot of money and make you smell funny. Most of the leaves have fallen off the trees now. I swished my feet through thick puddles of them and felt like a kid. Standing on the Linden Terrace, the view of the Hudson opened up more widely in front of me. Most of the trees have turned into skeletons. But the George Washington Bridge has come alive. It winked at me with its outline of twinkling lights. I was alone and it could have been midnight.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Flowers on Fridays

Yesterday (Friday) I walked home from work for the first time in many weeks. Lately the weather has been cold, and my feet need a break from pounding the pavement. But yesterday the clouds hung low and gray, like a blanket holding in the city's warmth. As I neared George Washington Bridge my steps quickened. I wondered if the Rose Man would be on his corner. There he stood, remembering me after all these weeks. I asked him in Spanish, does he sell roses even during the winter? He said yes, but for fewer hours when it's really cold. Good for me, bad for him, I thought. Now I can buy roses all winter long, but he would freeze. This week, I chose five orange roses and he added a sixth with a flourish. I've become a regular customer.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post-Election Day Euphoria

Today is President Obama +1 day. At the polls yesterday, people were one of the following: excited, grumpy (about the wait), or anxious (about the outcome). Some people were a combination of all three. When the results came in last night, I had trouble concentrating on telephone conversations with friends. My eyes constantly darted to the changing electoral vote tally on the TV screen. Walking to work this morning, the neighborhood (and New York City... and the nation... and the world) breathed a sigh of relief. Someone had plastered their entryway with the cover of the Daily News: Obama Makes History! Now the media's obsession with the presidential race can end. Now we can stop suffering from Republican sound bites. Now we can begin recovering from the mess of the last eight years.

Monday, November 3, 2008

NYC Marathon

Yesterday was the NYC marathon. I caught the 4 hour finishers as they ran down Cat Hill near the Metropolitan Museum. My thoughts returned to the last two years, when I was one of them trudging along. At the 24 mile mark, every painful step is painful is filled with joy. Finishing is just about guaranteed at that point. This year, the weather cooperated in a clear blue sky and I was content to stand on the sidelines. Last year I'd vowed never to run a marathon again, but to cheer along others. This year, without needing a week of recovery I tasted the excitement and pride of tens of thousands heading down the home stretch. Once you've run the NYC marathon, you don't have to continue proving it to yourself.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Evening Train to the Bronx

This week, instead of taking the A train home, I accidentally took the D train from Columbus Circle to the Bronx. I didn't realize my mistake until after W145th street, when it went express for several stops. The car was full. Those with seats sat with eyes closed and heads bobbing, exhausted from the days' work. Those standing clung wearily to the metal bars overhead. After the doors closed, silence enveloped the train. Soon a man began sermonizing in Spanish. Ordinarily I am put off by people who proselytize on trains-- usually they have wild eyes filled with anger and wrath. But this man spoke in the singsong, gentle voice of a priest. I suddenly felt like I was in mass, the subway a cathedral. A momentary peace settled on the train. The man finished, and the train returned to silence. The next station fractured the peace as passengers rushed out, eager to reach home.

Monday, October 20, 2008


My next door neighbor is Mrs. Katz. She is in her seventies and stays home most of the day. When we cross paths, she usually asks me what's the weather like outside? Neither of us can see the sky from our apartments. Sunlight trickles in around the edges of the windows, but sometimes it's deceptive. While walking my dog, I met Mrs. Katz six months ago. "Does he bark?" she queried, a little testy. I assured her that he is a very good dog. "Good," she continued, "I like dogs. But I can't stand cats. Just can't stand them." "But your name is Katz!" I teased. "I know," she said, breaking into a mischievous smile, "Funny isn't it? Just can't stand cats!"

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bumps Upstairs

I just met Tamara, my upstairs neighbor. Six months ago I moved into this building, and since then the bumps upstairs having been gradually worse (more so now that the weather is cooler and I am spending more time indoors). This morning, I reached my limit. I had debated for weeks about whether to knock on the door upstairs to find out what all these bumps were about. I was nervous, fearing an angry reprisal for interrupting my neighbor's world in my new building. But Tamara is lovely. She is an old Russian Jewish lady, in her late seventies. Her memory is fading (I had to introduce myself three times). She invited me into her place and we talked about the bumps in this building. They bother us both. Now that I have met Tamara, I understand. I don't want to come home one day to a big bump, followed by silence.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


My dog likes to sniff everything: newly sprinkled lamp-posts, icecream that escaped a child's tongue and has dried on the sidewalk, discarded chicken bones (where do they come from? I never see anyone walking down the street gnawing on a chicken leg. But if they're on the sidewalk, my dog finds them). This morning he tried to sniff an old man while crossing the street. The man took it in good humor, in fact seemed enamored of the dog (everybody loves my pooch, this is an objective fact). He smiled adoringly down at the overzealous canine. "Well, hello Mr. Nosey," he laughed, then continued stiffly and slowly on his way.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


The other day, while riding the elevator up from the 190th St. A-line stop, I crossed paths with a woman and her four year old (?)adopted son. They must live somewhere near me-- I have seen them a few times before, usually riding in the elevator. Though I know they don't live there. Three other children were in the elevator. They were rambunctious and loud. The little boy, who looks Indian and has silken, raven, straight-as-an-arrow hair cut in a bowl shape, calmly reached for his adopted mother's hand. He kissed it, then smiled quietly up at her. Neither of them said a word as the elevator rose amid the anxious chatter of the others.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wine and Opera by the Hudson

In my neighborhood there is a man who goes into the Heather Garden in Fort Tryon Park almost every night just before sunset. He has white hair and wears a faded denim shirt falling precipitously over a prominent belly. He heads to the terrace overlooking the Hudson and the Westside Highway, and unpacks his bag: a full bottle of wine and a radio tuned to opera. On warm nights, he brings a lawn chair and enjoys the view from the lawn sloping down to the terrace. He comes alone, but sometimes finds others (drinking beer) on the terrace. I once remarked to a friend, "How sad, he's always drinking alone." My friend's reply, "Maybe he's happy." I hadn't considered that. Maybe he is happy. There are worse things than drinking wine and listening to opera while the sun sets over the Hudson.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Falling for Good

Fall is here for good. These days I'm wearing a light jacket (although not yet necessary). How I really know fall is here to stay (and winter's not far behind) is by the sounds. Maybe it's a change in the cloud cover. Maybe it's a change in my mentality. But the sounds of fall are crisper, like the apple cider of the season. Planes overhead sound closer. The hum of the traffic from the West Side Highway sounds more like a rumble than a soft current lapping at the banks of the Hudson. The edges of everything become harder, more defined in fall. In preparation for the snap! of winter.

Friday, October 3, 2008


On the A line the other day I sat across from a middle-aged man busily absorbed in a cross word puzzle. He wore a black shirt boldy emblazoned with "IMPOTENCE: Nature's Way of Saying No Hard Feelings." That got me thinking. Was he a poster grown-up for Viagra? Why else would he broadcast something like that? He didn't look like he had problems in that department, not that it's readily apparent on the subway. But he didn't have the buggy-eyed look of someone who's down on his luck with the ladies. There was none of the bitterness about him common to those who have difficulties with the opposite sex. No, he simply looked seriously absorbed in his crossword puzzle. On the NYC subway you see everything, including an unassuming man in a loud t-shirt.