A Year In New York

A Daily Bite of the Big Apple

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Day 23: What is the “What?”

July 19th · 3 Comments

Something about the way Paul opened the door told me he didn’t particularly enjoy having guests. We’d made a Craigslist connection – he had a coffee table and I needed one – and now here I was, an interloper in his 500-square-foot kingdom, looking over his stuff, saying hello to his wife, who was at the range cutting up an egg pie.

We closed the deal quickly, $50 cash for a table of glass and faux wrought iron. A moment’s conversation revealed I was from San Francisco and that he would head there next week for work.

“Watch out for the smoke,” I said.

“What?” he said, in that particular way that New Yorkers ask that question, with emphasis on the huh? Head tilted back a little, chin jutted, mouth open, as if to say and why are you wasting my time? For just a moment, despite Paul’s slacks and pink dress shirt, I saw his lineage fall back a few generations to the Italian at the docks, ready to settle things with his fists.

“Smoke,” I said. “There have been wildfires all over California for the last month. You can barely see the hills,” I added, with some regret, since one of the built-in joys of being Californian is feasting your eyes on the mountains and ocean.

“I don’t think it’s gonna matta,” Paul shrugged. “I’m going to be at some offices in the Financial District, a few restaurants.”

I looked over at Paul’s window, which like so many windows here was permanently covered with cloth, to hide the dismal view or keep out the prying neighbors, and I realized oh, he doesn’t care about the smoke because he never gets to see the sky.

I picked up the table and turned to leave. As I headed down the hallway Paul poked his head out and confounded me. “You enjoy that table, OK?” he said. The Italian pugilist was gone and his eyes had a certain softness and generosity to them, a look I have been surprised to see on the face of many New Yorkers. Paul may triple-lock his door against me, but somehow I knew that, had I at that moment tripped and banged my head, he would have let his dinner go cold and kept me company until the ambulance arrived.

Tags: East Coast v. West Coast · Personalities · Urban Survival

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bharath // Jul 21, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    Is that Paul? He is much friendlier if he allowed you to snap his picture 🙂

  • 2 Kimberly Winston // Jul 22, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    I love what you write about the cloth covered curtain. How true. My last apt in NY was on W170th and I had a view of the brick wall of the building across the alley. If I wanted to see the sky I literally had to stick my head out the window. I am writing you this from a lawnchair in my backyard. I do not miss those days at all, honey bunny.

  • 3 Bev // Jul 23, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Oh man, to LIVE in Manhattan! I’d stare right at that brick wall and be thrilled, cuz I’d know it was in Manhattan! Fuggedabowtit!

    Please enjoy…for me!, as I’ll never live there. I’ve visited 13 times though. LOVE it!

    And yes, NYers are VERY loyal and real. They watch out for each other.

    (btw, who am I? I’m a looooooong time close friend of Shannon’s and somewhat Susan. I’ll be reading faithfully since I LOVE NYC, but can only live vicariously, so, thanks for the blog! If you run into Derek Jeter, please give him my looooove…and #!)

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