It’s hot. People are dealing with this with various levels of success. Some spend their day running from air conditioning to air conditioning. Developing a tell tale sneeze.
Others are not so lucky. On Crosby Street, a man empties construction debris into a dumpster. He is not wearing a shirt and his chest is ingrained with dirt. His stomach is flat as if he’d spent his life doing sit-ups. The buildings on my office block are constantly being emptied, or so it seems. Office chairs remain on the sidewalk, abandoned for days. I come in and drop my bags and then go back out to get breakfast and find a group of workmen sitting in a circle of discarded office chairs. One looks thoughtfully at a Blackberry.
I go to Café Colonial — it’s gone — its bright mural replaced by a painted message mourning its departure. I hadn’t known it was leaving. I have been here long enough to remember ghosts of my own: if Café Colonial is gone, so is the me who sat in its window seat eating a breakfast sandwich, editing large chunks of manuscript day after day.
So I go on down the block to Pulino’s. My new breakfast place? I take a seat at a table I like, and look around and find I somehow don’t appear in the mirror. Right away they start reflexively filling up the water too often. I hate that. At Café Colonial, they made a perfect breakfast sandwich with bacon I always imagined came from special South American pigs. They played gorgeous Brazilian music and were generous with playlist details. But they were quirky. Some days they would refuse to serve the sandwich if it was past 10 — no more pigs — and I would find myself having walked all the way down the block in order to have an omelet I didn’t want.
At Pulino’s they’re offering me a third refill cup. The day has just improved.
It’s hot here. Our elder daughter comes in for a night from camp (she decides to go back), and we seem, in comparison, like zombies: slow moving, expressionless maintainers of the status quo. We have stayed on the treadmill and the speed has increased so much that it can no longer be discerned by non-residents. We look like we’re going slowly. People who don’t live here can’t tell. Not even people who have just gone away for the summer.
We’re seething. I walk alongside a woman on the subway platform who is eating strawberries out of a plastic cup. We walk all the way down the platform together and get on the D train. As she gets on, she tosses the cup into the gap between the train and the platform where it lodges. I sit across from her. The fact that she’s just tossed the cup into the gap between the train and the platform from where it is unlikely to disappear for weeks, months, years, does not seem to be penetrating the stress visible in her features. I think, as New Yorkers do, of the things I should say. Of the reactions I might get. But it is hot and the train leaves and the shards of the plastic container are likely scattering onto the track bed.
In the heat one discovers the myriad intricate and beautiful tattoos that have been hiding all winter. A light skinned black woman on the subway turns out to have an image of a flapper on her arm like a label from a vintage perfume bottle. There are women with designs on their upper torsos as intricate as summer shirts. I marvel at their courage to decide they want to look like that permanently. I try to think of what I would want on myself permanently. A pen? — pen ink is routinely there already — a typewriter key? — but I use a computer — A sailboat. On which I would rather be now.
Watching basketball players with tattoos I always think of it less as a rebellion than as a claim to their own advertising space. If I have to run up and down the court wearing these meaningless corporate insignias, I’ll let you know who I think I really am — by the way, here’s my girlfriend and some things I like. If I was making millions to play basketball, I think I would probably get all kinds of tattoos, but for normal life, it has always seemed imperative to be able to change. To get up in the morning and not, if you don’t want to, have a butterfly creeping up your neck. To put on a suit today and shorts tomorrow. To fade into the crowd.
But the heat seems to wreak havoc with New Yorkers’ desire for anonymity. The stuff that usually rolls off our backs sticks as if our duck-like New York skin’s protective covering had been burned off. Don’t cut in front of me. It’s not all right. Don’t hog the stairs. How could you make me miss that train with your bondage high heel slow walk? This tiny subway passageway is an excellent place to have my cell phone argument — why, you disagree? Don’t throw that container into the crack between the train and the platform. What is wrong with you? It’s hot.
I will be on a sailboat soon. We’re going on vacation starting this weekend. And as soon after we arrive as possible I intend to be adrift, slowly circling, or heeling at an angle, cutting fast across a choppy sea. On vacation, I will write on the porch instead of at my desk or on the train. And I will count my vacation a success if sooner or later, I start to miss the self I‘ve left here. The writer on the train.
So, to be fair, to be accurate, if I get a sailboat tattoo I will have to also get another one. A city tattoo. Maybe the number 2 with a red circle around it. With a pen cutting across like an arrow through a heart? Yes, that would work fine.