I was a little depressed after I saw M off at the LIRR station, it was the first time in six days that I didn't have an agenda, and I wandered for a while looking for a slice of pizza at what looked like an authentic spot. I found a place, ordered a slice and a coke, and sat down at a booth across from a refuse container that had a piece of paper taped to it with the word “trash” written on it in blue crayon. The man who’d taken my order walked towards me with a bright orange tray in his hands.
“Signora,” he said as he approached me, “buon appetito.”
I ate my pizza, listened to Billy Joel’s “only the good die young” playing on the radio by the cash register, and considered my next move.
Then I wandered a bit until I happened upon a place called the Brooklyn Lyceum, which advertised free WiFi . For the price of a juice and a scone I sat for three hours, took six phone calls, and typed up notes. The café was attached to a rehearsal space, and the sounds of opera filled the air. I walked through the rehearsal in progress to get to the ladies room, overhearing the director giving notes:
“At that point Oscar makes his entrance, stage right…” the bathrooms were behind the stage, protected from view by lengths of plywood.
On the #77 bus from Smith & 9th street, I sat behind a quarreling young couple.
“Why are you looking out the window, I’m right here,” the woman said. The bus passed a store called 99 cent dreams, and a fast food place called U.S. Fried Chicken, where a man stood wearing a t-shirt with the words “Red Hook Old-Timers Day 2007.” At the Ikea stop a woman stood at the front of the bus engaged in an animated conversation with the driver. It seemed they were having a disagreement about the fare, but the conversation turned.
“Have a good night,” the driver said to her as she descended the front stairs of the bus.
“You too my love,” she said. I got off at the end of the line, and walked to Anne and Harold’s. Anne had grilled steaks in the backyard, and we ate in her kitchen, the back door open to the warm night. I told Anne that I’d seen street signs in her neighborhood for streets named Van Dyke and Beard.
The next day I visited my friends Mara and Sarah. Mara was visiting for a few months from Spain, where she now lives, and was staying at her stepmother’s house with her husband and young daughter. The house was filled with collections: books lined the walls of the living room; glass jars filled with screws, nuts and bolts took up an entire built-in shelving unit in the hall; and art was hung everywhere. There was copious handwritten signage - Mara’s stepmother took in borders and sometimes ran the house as a B&B. In the bathroom certain shelves were labeled “communal”, and a sticky note by the light switch in the hallway had the words “hall,” “stairs,” and “nothing” written with arrows pointing to the corresponding switches. At the base of the stairs a piece of paper read “no high heels or toxic chemicals on the stairs.” Hanging in the kitchen was a 1981 calendar featuring photos of whales and other marine life; Mara's stepmother had saved it, and the dates were the same as 2009. Sarah joined us, and Mara put on a pot of coffee.
“The coffee is making,” she said, “there’s chips and salsa, is anybody hungry?” We caught up with each other in the kitchen, Mara and Sarah discussing the trials and tribulations of parenthood, all of us talking about what we were doing in the world. I told Mara that I remembered a painting that used to hang in her father’s house that had the word “zaftig” in it.
"That’s a Peter Saul," she said, “he still has it.” Then I remembered one time when she had to write a paper that one of her classmates at Murrow had paid her to do for them. I was bored, so I offered to write it for her.
“I at least paid you, I hope," she said.
“I’m not sure you did. I do remember you telling me not to use too many fancy words though. You said ‘don't write things like due to the fact that, write things like because’."
“So you mean you were outsourcing papers that you were getting paid to write?" Sarah asked.
In the vegetable garden behind the house, two neighbors spoke to each other over a fence.
The hours passed, and as we got ready to part ways, Mara gave instructions to the boarder she’d hired as a babysitter for the night.
“Sometimes she takes a shit at six,” she said matter-of-factly, “you’ll smell it.”