Carlos and I like to visit the Upper West Side and pretend that we live there. The pristine sidewalks are largely bereft of the tourists that crowd Times Square, or as bereft of tourists as any New York neighborhood can be. We stroll through the tree lined streets, past the Barnes and Noble, the Trader Joe’s, the chic little restaurants and cafes that we can’t afford.
A couple of of spoiled girls were selling lemonade in front of a ritzy apartment building. Their monthly allowance is probably more than our salaries. Of course I don’t know that they’re spoiled. I just can’t imagine anyone who grew up in such opulent surroundings could have a real grasp on the struggles of the proletariat. I bought a red, plastic cup full of sticky, sweet lemonade anyway. Today I’m one of the bourgeoisie.
We sat on a park bench, enjoying the cool breeze in front of a fountain and a sign advising not to feed the pigeons.
An old woman walked up to me, with a cane, and a long, dark coat, stringy, white/gray hair, and a smile right out of the British Book of Smiles. She stood in front of me and said, “Should I go throw myself off the Verrazano Bridge?”
I didn’t miss a beat as I answered, “No, that’s a horrible idea!” A brief pause before adding, “The Verrazano Bridge doesn’t have a pedestrian cross-walk. You couldn’t even get up there. You’d be better off going for the Manhattan Bridge.”
The old woman laughed, and said she’d go for the Golden Gate Bridge, but she’d have to fly there.
I said, “It’s gorgeous, though.”
She sat down beside me and confided that the reason she was distraught was because someone she’d spoken to on the sidewalk didn’t know who Frank Sinatra was.
“Old Blue Eyes.” I said. “Well, there really is no reason to go on.”
We sat in the park for a while, and the old woman began to talk to a lesbian beside us, who’d been intently studying a map of the city, and then she lamented the fact that she couldn’t feed the pigeons.
“I wonder what God has to say about that?” She asked of no one in particular.
I wondered which of the ritzy apartment buildings she’d come from. With her cane, I figured she hadn’t walked very far. I wonder if she owned the apartment outright, or if she had some wonderful deal on a spacious, rent controlled walk-up she’d lived in since the sixties? I imagined dusty hardwood floors, french doors, ornate crown molding, stacks of newspaper, a garbage overflowing with chinese takeout, the smell of cats.
I wondered if she knew how lucky she was to be living in such a beautiful neighborhood in such an amazing city.
Before we left, I turned to her and said, “Have a good evening. Avoid bridges.”
She smiled toothily and said, “Have a wonderful life.”
I said, “You too.”