Monday, November 24, 2014

Snapping the Pieces Together

Snapping the Pieces Together by Jon Stark
November, 2014, about 1100 words

Blustery is probably the best word, because the wind was fierce and when you’re on the corner of 31st and Avenue of the Americas it’s hard to find someone to help you.  There was one nice man but he apologized, said he was from Brooklyn, and had no idea where Garrett’s was.

If you have never been to New York City than you can’t imagine how big it is.  Not really.  You can’t sympathize with the man from Brooklyn who didn’t have a clue about the iconic popcorn shop that I hadn’t even heard of before this trip.  And I lived there for years.  Brooklyn, not Manhattan.

Which makes another interesting point.  If you’ve never lived in New York City you don’t know how small it is.  You know how Legos all sort of snap together and make up interesting things but all the interesting things – death stars and Hogwarts and race cars – are made up of the same blocks?  That’s New York.  A thousand small towns where everybody knows everybody all snapped together and connected by a half dozen bridges and tunnels into a 7 million person metropolis.

I don’t live there anymore.  And my girlfriend said that when I came back I’d better have a bag of caramel corn from Garrett’s.  Apparently, to her, Garrett’s is New York.  I have another friend who told me to make sure I had a knish.  “It isn’t a trip to New York without having a good knish.”  For me it is.  I don’t like them.  Maybe a slice from Cosimo’s or D’Angelo’s but I didn’t bother with that this trip, New York isn’t about the food.  Not once you’re from there.

Not that I was ever from Manhattan, but I spent a lot of time in the lower part, down by Battery Park and Pearl Street and the towers.  That’s New York to me.  They’re gone now.  What they’ve put back is a sign of the city’s decline.  They dress it up with fancy language, but the truth is obvious.  If New York was still the center of the universe and a place of opportunity and growth, they’d have built something big.  Real Estate that valuable wouldn’t have been used for a memorial.

Don’t get me wrong, I think a memorial is good.  When I was dating Toni -- when I lived in Brooklyn --she and Mike’s wife had to go across the bridge for a procedure so Mikel and I went too.  And her son Brandon.  He was probably about three.  I didn’t know anything about being a father, wasn’t interested in being a father, but Mike was so it was a good day.  Sometimes I wonder if Brandon remembers that trip or if we were just part of the blur of faces that came in and out of his mother’s life.

The twin towers of the World Trade Center were huge.  You know what I mean if you’ve ever stood at the foot of them and looked up.  I remember one time driving across the Brooklyn Bridge and seeing the towers disappear into a cloudbank only to emerge into bright sunlight a few hundred feet later.  They were like mountains, sheer unassailable cliff faces rising from the bedrock with more concrete and glass than my hometown.  We wandered in their shadow and stumbled across a firehouse.

There was no Dalmatian but the young men working there were friendly and went out of their way to show Brandon everything there was to know about their truck and the garage.  They even took us all upstairs to see the barracks and kitchen.

I think of those men every time I see smoke in the towers.  I hope they transferred before September.  It doesn’t change the tragedy of what happened but maybe the people who died weren’t as nice.  Bad things should happen to bad people.

There was a girl I knew who worked there.   In the towers, not the fire house.  Her name was Tricia and she liked Pinot Noir and I couldn’t afford to take her out again.  We’d meet socially on occasion and I liked to think she always wanted me to ask again.  I almost did a couple of times, but she was out of my league.  Or I was just scared.

When I stood at the construction site of what used to be the towers I overheard an old woman complaining to her daughter and grandchildren that she’d never been to the top of the towers.  She’d had the chance but didn’t want to spend the $17.  It was a regret, she said.  Don’t be cheap when life offers you a chance for something wonderful.

It made me think of Tricia.  I don’t usually think of her when I see the towers.  But it did then.  Her office was above the line.  Impossibly high.  I thought about her fear.  Her terrible choice.  I think she would have jumped.  I looked at the street, the broken sidewalk where I stood and wondered if maybe that was where she landed.

Or someone else.  I was suddenly overwhelmed and my knees buckled and the city around me became a blur and I had to get out and I couldn’t understand how the woman could complain about her life being incomplete when she was still alive and how could anyone blow their horn in impatience there, in the cramped quarters of the final resting place of thousands of souls who had loved the city and hated the city and gone to work excited or hung over and had plans for weddings or birthdays or were expecting children or grandchildren and it made me terribly sad.

And that was New York to me, not knish and certainly not Garrett’s Gourmet Popcorn but here I was, wind tearing at my ears and killing time before my train following directions on my iPhone that told me I was right there but I couldn’t see it.  The man from Brooklyn couldn’t see it.

And then I did see it.  I’d over looked the door a hundred times.  You know how it is, if you’ve ever looked for a special place in New York.  No awning.  No real store front.  Just a door and a window and a small sign that said, “Garrett’s.”

The door was open.  A woman held it for a family that must have been from North Dakota because they were in shirt sleeves and the rest of the world was freezing and I saw her face and it was Tricia and she was alive.

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