Brooklyn jollies, Manhattan follies, part 2: Sometimes a great notion

24 Jul

1.

The plan was complicated. We would drive to upstate New York from Chicago, spend a few days with friends, and then zip down into New York City. There we would stay with some of Beth’s friends in Brooklyn; I would go to a party at a friend’s apartment; the next day we would visit Manhattan; and then leave Simone overnight and go to a wedding in Mystic, Connecticut. The next morning we would drive back through New York, pick up Simone, I would attend my online graduate classes, and then we would return to Chicago via interstate 80.

It was an ambitious plan.

Any number of things could go wrong.

And many of them did.

Although punctuated with some bright spots, the trip was a disaster.

Before things fall apart, Simone makes a friend in Cooperstown, N.Y.

2.

The first leg goes fine. Simone is happy. Beth and I listen to David Sedaris on the radio. I develop a crick in my neck, but I deal with it.

Oneonta is a town in upstate New York, surrounded by tree-covered mountains. It’s nice, pretty and quiet, but we don’t sleep enough, hours less than usual.

On the way into New York, we’re cranky. Traffic is light. Beth talks about bridges.

We park the car in Park Slope, where Sherina lives. The early afternoon sun filtered by tree branches and the sky wide and handsome.

Beth’s friend, Sherina, and her boyfriend, Jonathan, live in a two-bedroom apartment. There’s a windowless corridor running from the front rooms, where Jonathan has a command center of computer equipment, to the tiny single-window kitchen. It’s nice and we’re excited to be here. But, there’s a problem.

They have two cats.

Beth is allergic to cat dander. Super-allergic. Her throat constricts, her eyes water, her skin itches.  “I forgot about the cats,” she says in a half-whisper, her bag sitting open and exposed on the bed.

3.

Jonathan and I walk up Fifth Avenue. The street is lined with restaurants and shops, people. We drink Norwegian coffees and talk about comics. I feel better. The cobalt sky and it isn’t too hot. We finish our route, watch Bored to Death and wait for Beth to call. I spend an hour stretching my back on a yoga ball. I call my friend, set up my plans for the night. He lives about a mile away. I’m excited.

Beth finally calls. “We might have a major crisis on our hands,” she says.

“I’m having a bad allergic reaction to Sherina’s cats. I can’t breathe. I feel like I’m dying. We might have to stay with your uncle.”

This is serious; my uncle lives six hours away, and if this is the best Beth can come up with, we’re in trouble.

She can’t return to the apartment. She’s stuck outside. Toni, the only other New York friend Beth knows, is out of town.

Sherina has a friend who lives nearby. There’s a couch, etcetera.

My chances of making it to my friend’s party are shrinking.

For dinner, Beth picks a bar on the corner. We sit outside. It’s standard fare. Simone eats French fries and some bread. Her diet this trip has been bad: cheese curds, rice cakes, frozen yogurt, pancakes and fried potatoes. She’s tired, cranky and bored by the end of the meal so I run her up and down the sidewalk, where she touches the blinking walk sign with dirty hands.

I take Simone up to the apartment while Beth begins her peripatetic jaunt around the neighborhood; she’s waiting for the friend to get home.

It’s 8:45. Simone has two dirty diapers in as many minutes; she’s sick. I call the doctor; I inform Beth; I hug Simone and put her to sleep. I email my friend, bail on his party, sit in semi-discomfort, full of regret. I haven’t seen him in two years.

Jonathan reads. I stare at my computer screen. Beth continues her walk. Sherina joins her, and soon so does Jonathan.

I sit in the empty apartment. I contemplate getting drunk. Feels irresponsible. My nose is running. My shoulders ache. I feel clammy. My throat is tightening. Am I allergic to cats, too? I’m anxious about Simone, feeling wretched.

Too tired to read, I dash off a half-finished blog entry and then watch The Golden Child on TV.

It’s something to do.

4.

The next morning, Simone wakes me up at 5:50. We watch Toy Story 3, because I don’t want her to wake up our hosts, and I spoon-feed her yogurt as per the doctor’s instructions. Beth wakes up at 6:30 and starts walking around the neighborhood with her bag. She’s slept maybe 4 hours; I’ve slept closer to 5; Simone has slept 8.

The sleeplessness accumulates. Beth is touchy. So am I.

Simone and I join Beth outside around 7:45.

A week’s worth of refuse and recycling rests on the curbs and sidewalks in multicolored garbage bags.

“At least in Chicago we know what to do with our garbage,” Beth says.

We walk Simone through Prospect Park to the farmer’s market. The place is already crowded. Simone is docile, occasionally kicking her legs inside the stroller. We buy blueberries and eat them as we stroll through the park.

The morning heats up.

We meet Sherina for breakfast. The food is good. Simone eats a pancake.

We walk to Gorilla coffee, a local roaster. The storefront is blanketed with gorilla faces in Che Guavera red. The baristas are friendly. We drink lattes on blood-red benches as the morning shifts into midday heat. Beth’s been on her feet for close to four hours, and it’s just past 10.

Still, a good start to the day.

We walk towards the Brooklyn flea market. Discarded shoes and books dot the stoops of the awakening city.

I strike up a conversation with two guys in a vendor’s stall. They’re both in their forties, one looks familiar, the other is from Australia. We talk about old crime movies. They know their stuff. More than me. We chat for 15 minutes before I leave with a handful of recommendations and plenty of good cheer.

“The brotherhood of the cinephiles!” the Australian says as I back away. Did he want a hug?

Back in front of Sherina’s apartment, Beth stows her bag in the car. “Do you think it’s too hot for my products?” she asks. “Will the bag be okay? Do you think my stuff will melt?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe not. I can run it back upstairs. It’ll only take a second.”

“Then it will get more cat hair on it.”

Sherina stays out of it, waits.

“It’ll be fine,” Beth says, and we head for the subway.

Hey, where's my coffee?

5.

Simone, Sherina, Beth and I head for Manhattan. The train ride is uneventful.

We’re going to stay with Toni but she isn’t ready for us. So, we walk. It’s hot. We head to the High Line Park, which is fantastic, an elevated park on an old railroad track, with wild grasses and beautiful benches and stunning views of the city. And people. Lots of people. It’s a crush in the narrow places, and Simone in the stroller is stressing us all out. An impossibly old lady moves at a glacial pace, sliding along with her walker. I feel guilty about it, but when I see an opening I shoot Simone past.

The sun bears down on us. It’s a relentless UV assault. I can feel the golden lasso’s touch on my face and hands.

At the park’s end, we descend.

Beneath the park, there’s an outdoor beer garden and food trucks. I eat spicy kimchi tacos while Simone climbs on the seats and tries to run away. It feels good to sit down.

“How far is Toni’s apartment?”

“It’s about two miles,” Sherina says.

They talk and turn to me. “You want to walk or ride the train?”

“Up to you,” I say, a major mistake.

“Let’s walk,” Beth says.

If only life could be lived backwards.

6.

We walk. The sun is hot. The ground is hot. The sky is glassy, unwelcoming and cloudless. The people have indifferent faces. New York smells like a combination of sea salt and half-rotted sweet cabbage.

On a semi-deserted street, I pass within two feet of some old guy fumbling with some camera equipment and plastic bags.

He flips out. “Six feet of sidewalk and you almost knock a $600 camera out of my hands, you’d be replacing it you piece of SHIT!” his voice raises to a yell. He rails. He shrieks. He threatens. His screaming turns into a rant. We walk.

“That guy is yelling at us,” I say to Sherina.

“What?” They both turn and look at him.

“That guy, he’s yelling at us.”

“He’s crazy,” Beth says.

“I tune all of it out when I’m here,” Sherina says.

“Let’s cross the street,” I say, and cross it we do. The angry old guy follows us to the corner and then stops. He’s wearing a yellow button down with brown suspenders and with a slight bewildered look on his face. It’s clear that he’s forgotten about us.

A Christian youth troupe enacts a public performance about the twelve disciples. They look bored. We move on.

It isn’t two miles. It’s almost three, but we walk six blocks to avoid Times Square. By the time we make it to Toni’s, we’re a ragged, overheated, desperate crew. The sun or the city has bleached the joy out of us.

Beth has now been outside, on her feet, for close to 12 hours. Simone is sleepy and taxed. I feel like a barrel of sour mash. We’re done and we know it, but we don’t put our failure into words.

Chewed up and spit out by the naked city.

7.

Night. Toni’s apartment is small, organized, and air-conditioned. She and Sherina look for gluten-free restaurants while Beth and I ignore each other. I scan the room. Our stuff is everywhere, invading Toni’s orderly life like a rampant weed. Simone is sleeping in Toni’s room. The tv is off.

My eyes pause on Beth’s bag. The coloring is too dark, splotchy in places. Something has spilled inside. I’m tempted to stay quiet, let her discover for herself, but I don’t.

“Hey, babe? I think, maybe, something might have spilled in your bag.”

She bends over and looks. “Shit.” It’s an angry, defeated word.

She empties her bag, methodically. It’s bad. There’s oil on a lot of her clothes. It’s seeped through and stained almost everything. She’s furious. I retreat to the bathroom, hear her through the walls. She’s muttering. “We can’t have a decent goddamn trip because everything is just so fucking terrible.” I don’t catch the rest. I’m so tired my eyes are unfocusing. Beth spends thirty minutes cleaning out her bag, coughing, eyes watering, as she re-exposes herself to the cat dander. She’s miserable. I don’t have the heart to ask if the dress she’s going to wear to the wedding is okay.

Toni goes to sleep. I inflate an air mattress in the bathroom. It’s a clunky, silly procedure, wedging me between the sink and the door. When I emerge, Beth is sleeping on the couch. I’m too tired to sleep, so I read some comics before eventually giving up. It’s almost 2.

Simone wakes up at 5:30. The sleep deprivation continues.

Beth hands her to me, goes back to sleep. Simone is tired, and eventually I get her to fall asleep on the air mattress, half of my back on the floor.

The city has defeated Beth. We take Simone with us up to Connecticut. We leave New York at 10. The wedding starts at 4. We have six hours to drive there, check in to the hotel, and get ready for the night.

I drink a huge cup of coffee for the road. My thoughts spark like exposed electrical circuits. I carry the jittery hungry feeling in my limbs. I bounce my feet. I sing songs in my head. I think of ideas for a new novel. I wonder how Simone is going to handle a night wedding after two hard days.

Beth and Simone fall asleep.

We leave New York behind us.

I have a realization as I catch a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror. My face has hardened over the years. I use to get hit up for money every few blocks wherever I went.

Now, it never happens, anywhere.

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