The sounds of a television echoed in the hall outside Gabrielle’s co-op. I inserted my copy of the key into the lock, and opened the door to find her stepfather, Butch, sitting on the Castro convertible, watching a movie in the dark. I’d forgotten that he was staying over, and was surprised.
“Where’s Gabrielle?” I asked,
“She went out dancing with a friend,” he said from his perch.
“Is she out of town, or just out for the evening?” I asked stupidly, the pork and oysters from Mr. Tang’s disrupting the neurotransmitters in my brain.
“Just for the evening,” he said slightly incredulously, “she left a few minutes before you got here.”
I had met Butch once, on my first visit to Gabrielle’s co-op last December. He was a retired construction worker, and the fingers on his left hand had been sliced off in an accident years ago, what remained of them were angled like an advertisement for Cingular wireless. His belly was as round and hard as a melon, and the remains of a hairline clung tightly to the circumference of his scalp. I made myself busy with the computer at the dining room table, not wanting to rush him through his evening entertainment.
“You want to go to bed?” He asked, “I’ve seen this one before, I don’t mind.”
“Oh, don’t stop watching on my account,” I said, “I’m just firing up the old computer here.”
“I’m tired anyway,” he offered, “got to get up in the morning and drive Gabby and the kids to Jersey.”
I disassembled the couch and pulled it out into bed mode, and climbed in. I had been asleep for some time when the front door opened.
“Hey,” I said, after looking up to make sure it was Gabrielle.
“Hey,” she said mischievously, and then whispered “I just had a bootie call!”
“You did!” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster from my sleepy state, “good for you girl!” When Gab and I first reconnected, she was in the process of putting her life back together after a sudden split with her husband of ten years. Her stress was palpable; when we made the trek out to Jersey to visit with a mutual friend she left the house in a harried state, with no time to shower. Her thick dark hair stuck up in a wild mane, personifying her inner turmoil. While she may have been overwhelmed with a business to run and two kids to suddenly raise on her own, she was unsinkable. By the time I next saw her she had started dating again, her self-confidence returning, and stronger than ever. On that second visit we went to a fundraiser at the showroom of Moet Hennessy, and she ended up picking up the bartender who had served us all night.
Gabrielle took off her shoes and crawled under the covers with me, having graciously offered Butch the master bedroom for the night. We lay awake and giggled like we were back in junior high, reliving nights spent on the windowsill of my bedroom listening to Prince and smoking Marlboro cigarettes, and secretly hoping that one of the popular girls from school would walk past and see us.
In the morning Butch watched Cinderella on TV with his grandchildren.
“Hey D,” Butch said to his grandson, “I think this movie should be called 'Cinderfella', whadda you think about that?” Gabrielle giggled from the next room.
“Are you sure that isn’t already the name of a ‘pee oh are en’ Butch?”, she asked. He continued to entertain his grandchildren as Gabrielle prepared the family for a weekend on the Jersey shore.
“No rush, I’m used to this,” Butch said after she apologized for how much time it was taking, “when I’m out shopping with ya mutha, I always bring a book and wait in the car. At the grocery store it’s a coupla pages, at the department store it’s a couple chaptahs.” D climbed and squirmed over his grandfather as they watched Cinderella, Butch tolerating it stoically like a bull mastiff tolerating a puppy.
Once they left I gathered my things and headed for breakfast at Choice Market. I ordered my eggs at the register, and sat down at a long wooden table by the door. Half a dozen diners were sharing a communal copy of The New York Times, and I grabbed the lifestyles section. When I was finished I headed to the G train to catch the Fung Wah bus out of Chinatown.
Despite the reviews that can be found in a Google search describing the transportation line as a live chicken-infested horror show, I found the Fung Wah bus to be quite comfortable, blessedly air-conditioned, and uncrowded. I bought my ticket from two women sitting behind a Dutch door in a cramped street level office on Canal Street. It consisted of a narrow slice of card stock paper with my name handwritten on it, the date stamped in red ink, and the letter N followed by an arrow pointing to the letter B, indicating that I was traveling from New York to Boston. My bag was tossed into the luggage compartment under the coach without fanfare or the use of identifying tags.
I sat next to a teenage girl who was traveling with her mother and younger sister seated across the aisle from us. Halfway through the journey the girls started playing each other on a video game over small, hand held consoles, the younger one clearly besting her sister.
We drove across the Manhattan Bridge back into Brooklyn, passing a building with the words “screw rent” painted in five foot letters onto its façade. We drove past Riley Bros. Mausoleums, and took the Triboro Bridge to the Major Deegan Expressway. From there we crossed the Throgs Neck Bridge to the Bruckner Expressway, passed Gun Hill Road, Co-op City, and Mamaroneck, and drove over the Tappan Zee bridge and continued on through Connecticut.
With time on my hands, I reflected on my visit. I love New York, there’s no denying it. I love the clam pizza at South Brooklyn Pizza Co.; I love that on Smith Street a cane-carrying man wearing a white hat with a feather in the band gave me unsolicited directions in a lisp; I love that a park called Diana Ross Playground exists; I love that there’s a restaurant called Kennedy Fried Chicken on Nevins Street, and a restaurant chain called Hot Bird; I love that someone on Vanderbilt Avenue has a chicken coop in their back yard; I love the gnarled roots of ancient trees pushing up through the sidewalk on Vanderbilt Avenue; I love brownstones; I love that the mariachi band at Mexicana Mama on 102nd Street played “happy birthday” at my friend Sara’s request; I love that someone yelled “Hey A-Rod” to his friend while crossing Smith Street at Pacific; I love the inherent nostalgia involved in hiring a car service; and I even love the uncomfortable, sticky heat that makes the dirt from the street cling to my face in measurable quantities.
I love the subway: I love that at 81st street there are tile bugs and dinosaur bones embedded into the walls because that's the stop for the American Museum of Natural History; I love that on the A train a woman wearing a TSA uniform was reading a book called “Bloody Money 2, The Game Ain’t Fair”; I love that a man hawking self-published books yelled out the titles: “This one is called ‘don’t beat your kids or they’ll turn out like me.’ This one is called ‘you know you’re in a bad neighborhood when.’”; I love that I saw two boys break-dancing on a moving train, and then walk the length of the car with an upturned baseball cap for donations, and I love that everyone on the train applauded them; I love that High street follows Jay street; I love that a man braiding his long hair in the doorway had the word “crisco” tattooed on one arm; I love that a uniformed boy scout was reading “The Kite Runner” across from me; I love that there was a discarded Russian language newspaper on the F train to Coney Island; I love that in some stations you can hear people walking on the pavement above; I love that a seated woman worked the New York Post crossword puzzle while a women leaning against the doors looked over her shoulder; and I love that it only takes thirty minutes to get from 145th to 34th Street.
I disembarked near Boston’s Chinatown at South Station; my luggage had survived the ride in one piece, and so had I. The 215 mile journey cost me all of fifteen dollars. I descended the subway escalator to the red line bound for Alewife, the dimensions of the Boston subway toy-like in comparison to New York. A Chinese man played French songs on an accordion on the subway platform; I reached into my pocket and withdrew a dime and six pennies to drop into his open accordion case, and he smiled as they fell in. At Downtown Crossing I switched to the Forest Hills-bound orange line, where a woman in pink plastic framed glasses played an electric guitar. I reached into my pocket and, not wanting to be unfair to the accordion player, dug up the exact same amount of change - a dime, a nickel, and a penny.
“Thank you,” she said as I dropped the change into an open suitcase. What can I say, I’m a patron of the arts.
I exited at Green Street, and rolled my luggage along a narrow, winding road past sweet clapboard houses to Centre Street. I was suddenly very hungry, and stopped at the City Feed Lot, a grocery and dining establishment that leans heavily macro/veggie. I ordered a cup of potato leek soup and a plate of sesame noodles with tofu from a young man who had deep circles under his eyes, and dark greasy hair that fell to his shoulders. Moments later a second young man wearing a necklace with an oversized yellow button in the center appeared at the register and asked:
“Is Max helping you?”, though I had no reason to know his name.
I paid for my order and helped myself to a set of compostable cutlery, and sat down at a table near a discarded copy of the Boston Bulletin. My sister wasn’t due home for at least an hour. I took my time eating, then left the restaurant and rolled my bag the rest of the way to her house. I had no sooner sat down on the front steps when her green Odyssey van appeared, and she waved to me from the passenger side window. The van was packed to the gills with her husband, three young children, and aging Australian cattle dog. I waved back, set my bags down on the porch, and approached the vehicle.