"You know what I want," she said, "I want beer and dinner." She was white-haired and alone. She sat at the table directly across from me. The waiter had placed his hand on her shoulder and listened to her like he would to his grandmother. He knew her. He brought the beer in a lady-like wine glass. She took a sip, then looked at me and said, "I'm Joan. What's your name?" Veronica, I replied. "Where you from?" she asked. Los Angeles, I said. "I went to Glendale College. I wrote for the college paper. I worked at Webb department store. Do you know it? Probably before your time." I shook my head no, I didn't know it, it was indeed before my time. She continued, "I had a friend from that Norwegian town up north. What was the name?" Solvang, I said. "Yes, Solvang!" She grew excited and dropped her fork. The waiter swooped down to pick it up. Just then thunder exploded outside the restaurant. A few people got to their feet to take a look. She said, "I hope you don't have far to go. I'm just one building away." Not far, I replied, I will run if I need to.
But I needn't have run. The thunder was nature reminding us of her power. The day had been beautiful, the first real day of spring when one still needs a light coat despite the blue sky gracing us with her presence. Poochini and I had spent the afternoon in Central Park, where all of Manhattan had turned out. Especially the French part (Manhattan being an outpost of Europe, as we know). The language of luuuuuv was everywhere. People were saying s'il vous plait at the Bethesda Fountain, French kissing at the Boat House Cafe (where I fed Pooch French fries), and smoking in a very Frenchie way at the new food court in Tavern on the Green's former garden, whose exclusivity has been superceded by food on wheels: Pera (a Turkish food truck), The Chinese Dumpling Truck, a soup truck, and an Italian gelato truck (the economic downturn has done wonders for democratizing food in Central Park). The wall of people had over-stimulated poor Pooch, who walked across Sheep's Meadow in paroxysms of nervous coughing. Despite the seizure-like quality of his affliction, I think the outing was good for him. His nose forgot to run. Now, after five hours of wandering, he is lying nearly comatose on his little dog bed, the corners of his mouth upturned in a smile of contentment.
But I needed more of an outing. Maybe it was the sun, but something in me was missing California tonight. When I miss California, I eat Mexican food. So I headed to the Mexican restaurant down the street, which is where I met Beer and Dinner Joan. There are many women like her in my area. Unlike the Central Park crowd, not many speak French. In my neighborhood, they speak Spanish, Russian, Yiddish, and Hebrew. The woman who runs the neighborhood drug store is from Riverside, not far from where I grew up. She came to be on Broadway, and stayed when that didn't work out. There are others. For instance, my neighbor Mrs. Katz, who has Alzheimer's and is obsessed with the layout of my apartment (yours is bigger than mine). There is the old German Jewish woman one floor down from me, who always has her hair done just so, still wears make up, and is completely (snap snap) Put-Together. When she says hi, I do a double take. Her accent reminds me of Dad. Then there was the old Russian lady who lived above me, and whose bumps in the night disappeared a few months ago. She has been replaced by a young woman whose bumps carry on throughout the day. I can't say that I like the replacement. The older neighbors have better stories. Their bumps are less vindictive. As if, after so many years of life's ups and downs, they've learned to go easy on their neighbors.