Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Night Falls in Midtown

So. I'm leaving the company holiday party. I have had a glass of wine and a free dinner. I am wearing a new dress, and newish boots that are beginning to hurt my feet even though I bought arch supports to wear in them on Sunday. I am wearing an old winter coat, but it's made of nice wool, and I wear a costume-jewelry brooch on it, and it doesn't look too shabby. At the party, I have been gossiping with my coworkers; there was a speech by the president of the company heralding the younger generation; I have giggled with my boss and danced to "Hey Ya" (not simultaneously).

One of the guys from the mailroom is tall and broad-shouldered, with a square jaw and lucid eyes and skin like caramel. When he moves, all power and grace, it is hard to imagine that everything in the world is not easy for him.

My closest work-friend is knocking back Brooklyn Lager, grinning a grin he knows is charming, putting his hand on the knee of a woman twenty years older than he is.

Another work-friend is worrying about her assistant, who is being skeeved on rather vigorously by some sort of sales guy. He is very short, also quite skeevy. The assistant does not seem to mind, but the work-friend is worried anyway. Anything could happen, she says. I do not think anything could happen.

I talk with some girls about whether or not we are wasting our youth, about what we have learned and where we will go next.

When I leave, I do it without saying too many goodbyes. I get my not-too-shabby coat from the coat check, and put it on, and go out through the shining hotel lobby, and I like the feeling of the cold in my damp hairline and I want a cigarette badly. I like to smoke cigarettes in this particular mood, which is open and quiet and thoughtful, and I like to smoke cigarettes while walking in pretty shoes. I do not have any cigarettes. So walking down Vanderbilt Avenue, I stop in front of a guy smoking outside a cheesy tourist-trap restaurant. I ask him for a cigarette. I do not have a quarter, or I would give it to him. He gives me the cigarette, and offers me a light. My hand rests on his leather-gloved one while he lights my cigarette off his. He has an accent of some kind. I thank him, wish him a good night, and keep going.

I am standing in front of Grand Central, finishing my cigarette. There is a man whose backpack is sliding down his back, the straps slipping down his arms. He is panhandling. He is doing a bad job of it. He is muttering and looking dejected. He asks me, almost unintelligibly, if I have any change. I do not have any, or I would give it to him. He apologizes, wishes me a happy holiday. I smoke my cigarette. The Public Safety officer walks by in his yellow vest. The man is easy to brush off; he's hunched and muttering; people do not even look at him. The Public Safety officer doesn't either. The people keep going by, all of them going somewhere.

I ask the man what he needs. He needs a ticket to Poughkeepsie. I tell him I will buy him one. We go inside. He asks me to tell them I'm his friend, if they ask—he says they told him he was committing a crime by asking for money inside the station. He says he's only got about a dollar. I think of how long he must have been muttering at passers-by, and how long was spent in the cold. He tells me his girlfriend kicked him out, that he can't call his family because they'd hang up on him. We fight all the time, he says. He has terrible teeth. He punches the buttons on the machine. Cash? If I had cash, I would have given it to him. Debit. He turns around while I enter my PIN. The ticket drops with a little click, the sound of light contact. He thanks me; we shake hands. He asks if I have a boyfriend. I say that I do. He goes to get the train to Poughkeepsie; I go to get the six train home.

When I pop up again aboveground, the cold is a little more biting, and a cab slows down, expecting me to flag him and say Take me away from this squalor. Take me to Eighty-First and Fifth! The handle on the outer door of my building is still missing. I take off my shoes as soon as I get inside.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

An English major indeed!

Anonymous said...

The entire 6 train was in love with you in those boots.

Christina (vorare) said...

This post made me happy to be alive.

Concerned said...

I'm surprised by your comment "I like to smoke cigarettes in this particular mood...". How often do you smoke? This isn't meant to be critical, but for a personal finance blogger, I'm sure you're into details--how much do you spend on cigarettes per month usually?

I only say this because although you're way ahead of the game in terms of saving for retirement, but that retirement might not be super fun to enjoy if you have lung cancer!

Anonymous said...

Concerned, it's not like she said, "I like to smoke cigarettes in this particular mood...if only my oxygen tube didn't get in the way!" Bumming a single cigarette off a stranger isn't even grounds to bring up money, let alone the big C.

EM, normally I would have written a more caustic response, but your blog is too darn delightful. I don't even come for the PF, I just enjoy reading!

English Major said...

I buy about a pack of cigarettes every three weeks. At $8.50 a pack (given how little I smoke, I can afford to smoke nice cigarettes), that's an average monthly cost of $12.28.

Anonymous said...

I have not read something this well written and descriptive (in an informal format) since my college days (which was about 2 years ago). I have a picture of a beasutiful girl walking down the spot-lighted streets of NY. It is kinda femme fatale. Great post!

concerned said...

Sorry, just wasn't sure how heavy a smoker you were. Also, I can understand where you (Anonymous) think one cigarette isn't a big deal, but I'm sure it's pretty well known that cigarettes aren't GOOD for you! But to each her own. :)

Anonymous said...

Bronx Chica...wow I felt like I was reading a novel...nice post!

gaga said...

Beautiful. Best. Post. Ever. Pay it forward. Merry Christmas!

My Inner French Girl said...

Lovely post!

Salut,
Marjorie

Anonymous said...

Makes me love and miss New York.

Thanks for the perfect Christmas Gift EM!

anonymous 8:33 said...

Well, neither are plenty of things we put in our bodies, but as long as you use moderation, they won't harm you.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, you are saying that cigarettes in moderation do not harm you? I guess you and I have different definitions of harm. I can think of plenty of other things that EM can spend that $12.28 per month that WON'T entail consistent and deliberate lung damage (however small it may be). But as I said, it's a personal choice. I'm not critcizing her, I'm criticizing the attitude that cigarettes are harmless in "low" quantities. Doing something with full knowledge of its risks is different from doing something without it.

Sistah Ant said...

I like this post.

I wonder if panhandlers have been doing badly ever since debit cards started getting more popular - I know I don't give like I would if I had to carry money around with me...

PiggyBankBlues said...

ah, lovely, this is why i read your blog :)

Anonymous said...

May G-d bless you for the kindness you showed a stranger.

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