Goodbye To You

We shared a moment didn’t we, L? Fleeting, glancing, but real as a gloved finger brushing snow off an officer’s bristly mustache. I had high hopes for how things were going to be. But…I’m breaking up with you.

It isn’t you, it’s me. I’m just not ready for this kind of relationship. I was tentative from the start. If someone said I was hedging my bets when we got together, they were right. I began with a feeling of dipping my toe in the water, never plunging completely in.

It’s just – I have so much going on in my life right now, and it feels like you require more of me than I’d be able to give. Maybe it’s foolish to say I know this isn’t the end; that one day I’ll have another chance with you. You’ll probably laugh yourself silly over that one – when haven’t you heard it before?

With heavy heart and no small measure of embarrassment (in the first flush of bright hope I crowed about you to anyone who’d listen. If only I’d heard the measured replies for what they were – care and concern; instead I saw them as jealous and grudging).

Now I make that sad trudge of shame back to the public library to return you to the shelves, so that someone more pure of heart, less self-involved and busy frittering their life away on worldly pursuits that bear slim chance of success, can find you. I’ll take a look at the shelf and eye War and Peace which I could maybe watch a film of one day, and for a second I’ll heft the slim Death Of Ivan Ilych in the palm of my hand, for your pull is so strong and that book is so short, I’ll think…perhaps?

But this is really goodbye Mr. Tolstoy, for now. At over 800 pages, I have to quit, barely forty pages in. I promise to have more faith next time, to shell out sixteen dollars (minus my thirty percent employee discount if I’m still working in the bookstore, which I hope I will be if only for the chance to see you go home with others more worthy – yes, I believe in you that much) for my own copy. With heavy heart I climb the stairs and place you on the returns cart, praying the kindly librarian doesn’t ask how things are going – there’s no lying to a librarian. I’d have to tell her I wasn’t up to it. When her back is turned, I’ll slip you in between Easy Hudson Valley Hikes and Guy Fieri’s Hot Barbq, and for a second all the other possibilities I’ve had to shut my eyes to will stretch out before me: The Southpaw; that book of Edna O’Brien short stories; good old McMurtry; a new Oprah magazine. But this moment of goodbye is just you and me.

There – it’s over. Adieu, adieu – until the next time.

(Maybe if they’d given you a better cover?)

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Made In Manhattan

I’m standing at the main entrance to the World’s Largest Store in New York City, the ground floor all bright marble and perfume counters and music blaring, and I’m wondering if you’re upstairs working. You found a job waitressing in the sleek new restaurant with stellar views of Manhattan and it’s really hitting me now that we both live in New York again. That for the first time in eight years, I live near you.

The city you’ve come back to is different from the one you were born in – like, do you remember so many visitors everywhere, all the time? And everyone has money, it feels like, except the ones who don’t.

And it’s different now because you’re the age I used to be when I lived here, and I’m – while not shopping cart old lady age yet – a lot older.

Some boys surrounded me in Bryant Park earlier. Maybe they were messing with me, I don’t know. But this was the Bryant Park of now, not long ago, and I was sitting in a section called the Reading Room on a pert green chair with a pile of books courtesy of Bank of America next to lots of other people browsing the classics, so it was more weird than threatening. The boys, young and black, twelve or thirteen years old, six of them, sat down all around me in green chairs. What are you reading? they asked, where did I live, and did I like basketball? I started telling them about growing up in Pittsburgh and how there was no pro basketball team, only a great football team the Steelers and the mighty 70’s Pirates and I think I bored them away because the next thing the one boy who’d been the first to sit across from me was shaking my hand goodbye. “Come back!” I wanted to say, and realized I’d liked talking with them, and that I was lonely. I wanted to be connected to something in the big city of my youth and my dreams, and if it was some kids with nothing better to do, well at least they aren’t the Benefit sales rep at Sephora or a coffee bar barista, so – fine.

I guess that’s how I ended up here at Macy’s, on my way to catch a train upstate. Wanting to text you to see if you’re working upstairs, but my phone battery is dead and I can’t find an outlet to charge it. I applied for a job at Macy’s a long time ago and wasn’t hired, so I’m proud of you. I don’t want to mess anything up, appear in the middle of your huge restaurant in your huge city in the middle of your shift and throw you off.

“Mom?”

You’d do a double-take and maybe even drop a tray load of food. (Of course you wouldn’t. But still.)

Instead I push through the revolving door and back out onto 34th Street, where I stop at H&M and look through a rack of clothes I don’t want to buy.

Tracks

Downward-Facing Dog

The first time I saw him, he stood silhouetted against the glass in the door of the bookstore/bar. Tall and lean, he had pale skin with ginger hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. He perched on a barstool and ordered a beer, then another, and a vegetable empanada after veryifying that there was no meat in it. Oh – one of those, I thought, then remembered how I’ve become more and more one of those myself – picky people who won’t eat this and won’t eat that, for health reasons, for philosophical reasons. Still, there was something imperious about him, like he was putting me through my paces. Fine, I thought. I’m here to serve.

After several hours of eating and drinking at the bar, he paid his tab and stood waiting for his change of fifty cents. There was something extra purposeful about the way he held his hand out that told me he wasn’t planning to leave a tip.

No tip! No tip? Had I done something wrong? I’d been pleasant but not obsequious (he’d been the only bar customer on a Tuesday early afternoon). I tried to remember if there’d been any hint of a foreign accent – Europeans sometimes don’t know that it’s customary to tip a dollar for a drink. He’d had three beers and a snack. Was he Canadian? Irish?

He stood at the end of the bar, draining the last drops from his pint glass. Ah, I thought, rushing to give him the benefit of the doubt – he’s really poor and spent exactly as much money as he has on something to eat and drink. That last fifty cents, that’s it for the week for him.

Then he ordered one more beer.

Again, no tip. It bothered me so much, I wanted to ask if there was something wrong. That’s crazy, I thought – a confrontation, over a few dollars? Let it go. But I felt bummed out for the rest of the day. That he hadn’t tipped me. That I cared that he hadn’t tipped me.

And then the next day – there he was again. Hi! he said, so cheerily I realized I was now his friend. I decided to take the high road – yes, I would continue to provide him with excellent service, service with a smile – no tip required! Still, his stinginess, determined or innocent I wasn’t sure, rankled. How could a person reach the age of forty or even fifty or more – he looked like someone who took care of himself and I knew he didn’t eat meat – hell, why was I spending even a second thinking about this guy – he wasn’t paying me enough to obsess over his eating habits! Let it go, let it go.

He came in another day needing change for the parking meter. I’ll be back for a beer, he promised. Okay, I nodded cheerily – looking forward to that.

It’s been a month, and he’s a regular now. I’ve verified with a co-worker that it isn’t anything personal – he stiffs everybody. With a pained smile I greet him once or twice a week and dutifully place a gleaming pint in front of him. Be zen, I tell myself – the feel of the glass, the grain of the wood I slide the beer across, a smile on his sandy face. Who cares about money?

I was looking up the schedule at our local yoga studio the other day. I’ve been going once a week for a little while and even though I’ve always had a problem with the aesthetics of yoga – something about the length of the pants, or the way the yoga people look so enlightened after class as they stand in the coffee shop with their mats over their shoulders that they don’t notice anyone else in the world and bump those blasted mats all over the place – I really like it. I’m scrolling down the yoga studio page and there’s a stark portrait of a man in an impossible twisted pose – torso bare, arms where his legs should be, legs horizontal, feet splayed and – it, it can’t be. My hands claw the laptop screen, maximizing to get a better look at the face. It’s him! Ponytail man, No Tip! The guy’s a fucking yoga master.

What do they say, when the student is ready the teacher will appear? Maybe he’s been sent to teach me.

Or maybe I’ll burn my yoga mat.

Or how about this – at the end of his time here, his master teaching session – he walks into the bar and drops a hundred dollar bill or two in the tip jar, like a guy who’s been staying at a luxury resort tips the staff at the end of his stay.

“You guys have been great,” he’ll say, shaking hands with all of us behind the bar. His hand is warm and dry. Then he’ll pose one last time, silhouetted in the glass of the front door, his shoulders broad. Then he’ll bow.

“Namaste.”

Summer Idyll

backyardA beautiful July morning in upstate New York. The wide backyard glows green, maple trees standing fifty feet tall crown a cloudless blue sky. I walk out onto the back patio in a cotton nightgown and sweatshirt, clutching a red mug of hot coffee, my face beatific at the perfection of the day.

Another woman walks a smallish dog along the street that borders the far end of our yard. She and her dog waddle, lumber, limp a little along the edge of the fresh bright grass. I watch them but try not to judge.

Dog woman and her charge pause. They look over and move a few steps further down the street. Walk back to a spot between our trees. Waddle. Pause. They’re both getting up in years.

Then I hear her voice chirping across the yard. “C’mon – poop! Poop for mommy!” The dog hesitates. “That’s it – poop right here!”

The bitch is telling her dog to take a crap on our grass. A hard voice I don’t recognize rises out of my throat as I shout: “Don’t let that animal crap in our yard!” I rasp like Marge Simpson’s third sister. “That’s right, you heard me!”

Dog lady turns as I move towards her across the grass. “I was going to pick it up,” she says, brandishing a Kleenex.

“You didn’t yesterday! We watched you – your dog took a crap right there and you left it. We walk there! We cut the grass there! Don’t tell your dog to shit in our yard! If it happens again, I’m bringing it to your house and putting it on your front step!”

“Okay, okay – I get it,” she says, making a lame show of scooping something into her inadequate piece of tissue.

I remember the neighborly feeling I had giving her a ride to the supermarket in subzero weather, that time I saw her waiting for a bus on the icy street corner.

That was a Good Samaritan costume I put on. This harridan in a nightgown, the property police – that’s the real me.

The Ring

I left out the worst thing about my bad day two weeks ago – I lost my wedding ring.

Somewhere in between closing up the bar and listening to the Archers with Eric late that night, the ring came off and disappeared. It’s not one of those kind of wedding rings you wear all the time. It’s big and clunky and partly made of porcelain.

You could say we’d chosen comedy rings when we got married in the French countryside. They were porcelain because we lived near Limoges and that’s the thing they make there. The first time I wore it out, to a crowded concert, the porcelain part fell off. I managed to reach down onto the floor and pick it up before someone crushed it with their boot. So much for French craftsmanship – I found a German jeweler in Limoges who glued it all back together. Eric’s fit wrong and had to be re-sized.

The rings were too big to play guitar in. Eric kept his in a pocket of his Dennis Hopper jacket on tour, and when the van got broken into near Melkweg in Amsterdam, Dennis Hopper jacket and Eric’s ring were stolen. They’d already stopped making the rings (hmm, wonder why) so we replaced Eric’s with a simpler silver one.

Several years later my ring was really coming into its own with chips in the lunar surface of the porcelain. I’d put it on to go to work at the bookstore/bar – not, as a friend suggested, to warn customers “back off, I’m taken” but because it looked so good pulling the tap handles.

I looked everywhere. Down drains, in drawers. Behind and under the couch, in the car. For two weeks I’ve been in mourning. Wondering if I could call Marie Ange at the porcelain shop in Limoges – does she still work there? Could I still string a sentence together to talk to her about rings and things in general? It feels like our past life keeps slipping further away – Eric’s out on the road by himself now, driving all the way to Memphis – things change and progress and it’s all for the good but…I’m really sad that my ring is gone.

Yesterday I’m back at work – it’s Wednesday again, when the cardboard has to go out for recycling. Between books, wine and art supplies, the store generates dozens and dozens of boxes every week. I hate breaking up cardboard in the dank, dingy garage behind the store. But I can’t stand to let Eve my nice co-worker do it yet again. I’m really getting into it now – clawing, slashing and flattening boxes – I will get to the bottom of this blasted pile – what’s this? Hiding in the very bottom box, under a layer of plastic?

Man that garage has a wonderful reverb! “I FOUND MY F*$#ING WEDDING RING!”

ring

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