Saturday, April 5, 2008
A Face to Meet the Faces That You Meet
"Good morning, Peter!" Our part-time doorman, a middle-aged Chinese man who commutes in from Queens before I leave for my job is sweeping up the sidewalk out front, smoking a cigarette. I love the way that he smiles with his eyes and agressively nods his head up and down when I greet him.
The tall and lanky owner of the café to my left and the ice cream shop to my right walks between his two locations, chatting with his regulars and keeping watch over his employees who are carrying the morning's freshly baked muffins up from the basement. Sometimes he catches my eye and says hello, but he is so tall that I think he looks over my head to something happening down the avenue.
In the window of the laundry and dry-cleaning shop, the little Chinese lady sits at her ancient sewing machine with her walkman headphones covering her ears. If she happens to look up, she will nod and smile. Later I will need to once again spell my last name when I pick up my laundry, even though I am there every week, but she was so excited when I had stopped in to drop off maternity clothes to be hemmed, wrapping her hands around my new belly and laughing.
A white-haired gentleman sits at the single café table in front of the aforementioned coffee shop. He is tall and attractive, and sits casually and cross-legged, wearing expensive jeans, a button-down shirt, and loafers. Sometimes he talks with a companion and sometimes he sits alone with his espresso. Once again I wonder who he is and what he does, but as always our eyes meet, our heads nod and our hands wave.
Rounding the corner, my little friend at the bodega who is always trying to teach me Spanish arranges the flower bouquets and bids me "Hola! Buenos días!"
French expatriates and nannies rush by with their children and charges to the French school across the street. They are always the best dressed people I will see all day.
Towards the end of block, the teenagers gather outside of the high school, completely oblivious to the world outside of their circle. If I were running a few minutes late, I would catch their teachers herding them all inside with far more attitude than I ever heard from mine. While maneuvering around the mob I see the doorman on the other side of the street wave as he opens the door for one of his wealthy tenants.
The delivery men parked outside of the restaurants on Second Avenue stop their trolleys loaded with meats and produce so that I can hurry past on the sidewalk and cross the street. They seem to be more cautious with me now, with my small but obvious baby bump leading the way.
I am happy to see the old Asian man sitting alone at his table through the window of the corner diner, eating his eggs and toast. He wasn't there yesterday and I'd been worried.
The Eastern European doorman outside of the highrise on the next block asks me how I am today. I reply favorably; I've been grateful for his morning watch since my days managing the 6 a.m. shift at the hotel in SoHo.
Through the bank window on my left, the bank manager who had set my account two years ago is starting up his desk computer. If he had happened to look up at that moment, I know he would have waved today.
On my right, the fruit man is readjusting his price signs. He is not very friendly and even less efficient, but if the light had just turned and I had a spare minute, I would buy a banana or a box of blueberries to suppliment my breakfast. Today he is too preoccupied and the walk sign is flashing, so no words are exchanged.
Across the street, a smiling Middle Eastern man stands in his pushcart making coffee. He looks up and yells out "How are you my friend? Are you good? When will you stop to talk to me again?" as he collects money from the people standing in front of his window. I yell back "tomorrow, Ali, I promise!" and he laughs and waves me on. He would be setting up when I would make this walk at 5 a.m. only a year and a half ago, when he would not let me pass before making me a cup of tea.
At the end of my last block, the newspaper man with his yellow vest who looks like Tim Meadows, with his New York Post and Daily News and scattered Spanish-language papers stacked neatly at his feet, looks uneasily around, jingling his quarters in his vest pocket. But when I catch his attention and smile, he always smiles back with a sincere 'good morning,' even though he knows I won't be buying any papers from him. "Have a good day," I say with a wink, and his uneasiness seems to fade for just a moment. I can't help but wonder what he's so worried about all the time. Maybe it's the NYPD always lurking around the intersection.
There are men handing out free newspapers on both sides of Lexington Avenue. If the light is not in my favor, I will take a paper from the Metro man on the near side. He is new to the corner; the one he replaced stopped me and shook my hand on his last day and I told him he would be missed. The Union Square neighborhood has him now.
On the far side of Lexington, yelling "Metro! Metro! Get your morning MetRO!" is a man I have seen every business day for at least six months now. His papers are always perfectly folded and fanned out, ready to hand to those of us going down into the ground and those coming up, transported from uptown neighborhoods. Dozens of these new transplants are in scrubs, on their way to work in the hospitals scattered within a few blocks.
Downstairs in the tunnel, I know that I will pass a musician on the way to my waiting spot on the platform. Their music will play in my head for the rest of the commute and set the tone for my morning, and so I hope that performing today are the quartet singing Motown, the classical violinist playing waltzes, or the jazz trumpeter channeling Louis Armstrong. Regardless, I will toss a coin or two and wink at the performers, grateful for my neighbors.