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August 16, 2004
Have we met? I had just dropped off a fedex package at the Rockefeller center location. The lady at the counter had a heart warming conversation with somebody who was, as so many, moving to the east side of town. The rents were supposedly lower there. The west side, so expensive, completely out of range. She asked him to definitely leave an address. Many people moved without leaving even a hint of where they were going to. The deliveries would still arrive. Sometimes for weeks. She told him she would miss him. He said he would miss her too. The temperature outside was not all too bad. Maybe 18?C. We have seen and felt worse indeed. The rain was about to set in. There was maybe a drip here, a tear there, nothing worth an umbrella. The subtle wind made it feel like a perfect preparation for the New York autumn. Only the smells were not here yet. And neither were the colors. Though who knows. It was dark at eight PM. I walked past a few closed restaurants, then Ted’s broiled steak place, then KFC, hiding ashamed under another one of those New York City awnings. I walked through the shadows towards Broadway, towards my train station, it was not really late, still somehow busy, locals and tourists, everywhere. A lady maybe in her sixties, her hair freshly put into a muffin like shape, her clothing a perfectly matching assemble of thin thin layers of beige wool and other natural fabrics passed me under the awning. She was slowly walking towards Radio City Hall, so it seemed. She smiled at me, for the few split seconds when our eyes met. She had this incredibly perfect smile, the best available smile. Perfect teeth. She looked familiar. I smiled back. I think I even nodded. I sometimes nod. Am I a nodder? A few moments later, on the corner, the same lady walked up to me. She must have been quite tall when she was younger. She was maybe a head shorter than me. Impressive for her age. “You look familiar to me.” Her voice was so soft and melodic. I wanted to reply, but noticed that it was not yet my turn. “You work in the city, I bet.” She never stopped that smile. “I do, I actually do. Yes, you look familiar too.” I rushed my words as if to fit them all into the very brief period of time she allocated for her breathing in. “And you live in the city as well?” She was more telling me than asking. Whatever she said sounded as if we knew each other for several decades at least. “Yes, I actually do…” I rushed, and smiled. “I live right here on 57th street. You should come over sometimes. Relax a bit after work.” The entire time while she was talking, I was holding on to the single anonymous bill in my right pant pocket. I had expected her to ask me for some money, perhaps?… Now she was inviting me for tea? I knew that something was not right about the situation, but the images that suddenly took over my mind were completely peaceful memories of friendly past and future conversations. I saw the two of us looking at the photographs of her passed away husbands. The music came from a softly crackling freshly oiled gramophone. She told me of the great time when she performed at Carnegie Hall. Her voice was the one coming from that crackly record… I imagined us sitting on red antique chairs in a very lush drawing room, surrounded by dusty art, old photographs, some landscape paintings, maybe two tiny Picassos. There would be tea on that little art deco table between us. She would then tell me about the arrival in new york, right after the war. She would tell me about the great idea to buy the building she lived in, together with her other singer friends. Most of them had passed away. She was so happy to still be able to do what she loved. She would tell me how she still gave singing lessons. Her housekeeper would be this strange Polish lady, who’s daughter would call for more food from the very, very distant kitchen. Hmm… Maybe she was that photographer I once met at the Guggenheim? I had first seen her in a documentary on German television. Then met her again visiting her own exhibition at one of the side galleries of the Frank Lloyd Wright snail of a building. I got her name wrong back then. I could certainly not remember her name now. Why did she appear so familiar? Where could I possibly know this lady from? “I can do a variety of things,” she continued, “I can do the full body, I can do fellatio.” Her voice never even changed a bit. She said all these things as if she wanted to recall memories we had of riding together on ponies, back in the 30’s in the Normandie. I was ready for a lot. I was certainly not ready for “I can do felatio” from a familiar looking 60 year old on an evening where I myself probably looked far past my age because of the stressful day just passed. I tried not to act surprised when I looked at her, I looked into her glowing, strangely hopeful eyes, her smile, her perfectly made up puffy hair, the wool sweater, the entire matching beige outfit. Her shoes were broken down. This poor lady. Her shoes… the shoes. The black and old broken shoes. I felt as if I had just violated her space. The entire brief memory of me having tea with her, it was all a lie, a violation, it was not right. I really was not ready for this outcome of this encounter. I thanked her for having such kind thoughts about me. (I think I even used these exact words.) I touched her shoulder as kindly and gently as I possibly could. My light turned. There were people standing around us. Now walking. I walked with them. I walked. I walked away. She did not say anything. She stayed on that corner. I do not think I turned back. No, I did not turn back. I watched my feet walk me towards the train station. I felt horrible. I felt horrible on my way home. I felt disastrous on the train… even now. I should have at least offered her dinner. Why hadn’t I offered her dinner? I really wanted to know about Normandie. I wanted to know about her husbands. And what about the Polish housekeeper with her ugly daughter who never left the kitchen? And the pictures she had taken for that show at the Guggenheim. And what about all those nights when she sang at Carnegie Hall? I can’t believe I did not invite her to dinner… will she be okay? Will she be okay? I failed to react properly in one of my most unexpected New York moments. I feel horrible about it. I feel horrible. Where could I possibly know this lady from? Damn it.