Leaves flutter around on the street. A sudden shift in the wind (maybe a passing truck), and a flurry of leaves fly up into the air. They remain airborne, floating around thirty feet above the street alongside the traffic lights and telephone lines. Traffic passes beneath them, the air shifts and the leaves dance.
Off in the distance, a blue helium balloon is rising skyward. (Was it decorating the Honda dealership’s lot downtown?) A few minutes later, another balloon – this one red – flies up toward the clouds, its string pointing at the ground. (This one came from somewhere else, south of the car dealership.)
Most of the leaves that were suspended above the street earlier have scattered now. Gravity’s job is done, it has won out over the wind.
Now it’s raining. Leaves stick to the street and dam up around storm drains.
A steady rain of leaves. Neighbors bent over, plowing through a thick blanket on the sidewalk with their arms. The leaves end up in a pile on the strip of lawn between the sidewalk and street. What I first understand to be a quick effort to clear the sidewalk without the benefit of a rake turns out to have a different motivation – when it’s tall enough, the two of them stand over the pile and look at it with satisfaction, before jumping into it with a, “Wheee.”
“‘Curiouser and curiouser.'”
“. . . ”
“It’d be interesting to go back and read that book now.”
“Wait. What book is that from again?”
“Alice in Wonderland.”
“I’d probably get something entirely different from it now. You know, as the person that I’ve become.”
The bike cop wears a pair of those little velcro fingerless gloves. There’a an oversized pair of gloves clenched to the handlebars of his bicycle – starch-stiff and disembodied.
The Chinese restaurant is drafty. The girl dishing up fried rice wears sanitary plastic gloves over her black knit gloves.
I stop when I get to the corner and turn to look in the direction of a siren. An ambulance. Across the street a man is waving his arms. For a moment I think he’s going to wave down the ambulance, but it turns out that he’s really just trying to direct traffic. He holds up one hand, palm out, toward the cars in the sidestreet. Stop. (They already have a red light.) He waves toward the southbound traffic, as if giving them permission to go. The ambulance is the only car coming from that direction. All the pedestrians cover their ears as it zips past except for the self-appointed crossing guard, who steps back up onto the sidewalk and waits for the light to change.
I’m walking up the steps from the waterfront. Two men walk out of a shop and head downstairs. At their feet is an impossibly small puppy, its tiny legs racing to keep up. The dog’s concentration is on managing the stairs, so he veers away from the group a bit. He stumbles right into my path and sits on the step in front of me, looking up through his black sheep dog style dog-bangs. I hesitate for a second. (It’s so small.) The dog doesn’t do anything, so I go around him, passing between him and his people. He follows, going up a few steps before one of his companions calls his name and he turns to rejoin the group.
A few days ago, I ran into an old coworker. He told me that he’d just lost his job. His girlfriend had too, he said, then pointed at a sad short girl standing in the doorway of the convenience store. She had a dazed expression on her face. I looked at the brace on her foot and he told me that she’d sprained her ankle. In fact, he explained, he’d hurt his foot too and that was how he lost his job. He lifted up his right foot and pointed. I followed his finger to the foot. There was no visible sign of his injury. “We both injured the same foot. How about that?”
I nodded my head sympathetically and tried to think of a quick one-liner, maybe something about not being able to run the three-legged race. It didn’t really come together though.
He asked me, “Do you have a quarter?”
“Oh sure.” I imagined that he needed to make a phone call. I fished around in my jacket pocket and pulled out all of my change – 22 cents.
“We’re broke and need beer money,” he went on. “We were able to get enough together for rent, but there’s nothing left. So we came down here to get beer and just decided, Fuck it. We’ll just spare-change.”
I had the 22 cents in my hand and he was waiting expectantly, so I handed it over. I said good-bye and good luck to both of them. His girlfriend’s eyes focused when I waved at her, and she game me a rather blank smile.
Yesterday, I was walking up the same street. As I walked past two people huddled together on a park bench, I recognized the sick looking woman from the other day. I turned to give a quick nod hello and got an eyeful. Beside her was an old man, he was mumbling into her ear, drunk or high. He hugged her with one arm and clumsily tweaking and fondling her with the other. She didn’t react at all. She just sat completely still, wearing the same expressionless smile.
I understand little of what’s going on and yet I feel like I know more than I want to.
I was leaving Broadway Market just as someone was heading inside. We went for the same door. I pushed the door open wide and squeezed past, while he maneuvered around me. He offered some parting words to the man he’d been walking with, and waved good-bye, turning toward the door. Then, while I was passing in between them, his friend yelled out, “Have a good life.” Without turning around he called back, “You too!” I wonder what led up to that – A roommate moving out of town? A student visa expiring? An intense conversation with a stranger on the bus?
It might not surprise anyone to know that there are bloggers who write things like: “Women constantly want equal rights and privledges [sic]. But when is the last time a women [sic] in your office lifted something heavy or opened the door for you? That’s why I always say women want equal rights only when it benefits them.” Or: “Little Johnny Taliban. If Cohn was still alive today this treasonist, liberal little fuck would be sharing the same fate as the Rosenbergs. I say give him the chair and throw a pound of bacon on his lap. I’m hungry damnit.” Many diverse people are attracted to weblogging.
Also, there are people on the web who have the exact same name as me.
And, there’s at least one person on the web with the same name as me who writes things a lot like what I quoted above – pretty much exactly like what I quoted above, in fact.
So I wanted to mention that I’m not him; and, as far as I know, he’s not me.
As I turned around to leave, I caught a peripheral glimpse of something moving in the water. I turned back and saw a school of enormous red fish heading in my direction at a leisurely pace, right beside the pier. (The schools of little fries that hang out near the piers always swim around aimlessly – these big guys were heading straight ahead, confident.) I followed alongside them, watching. And again, I wanted to point them out to whoever might be around.
The thin cloud break in the west was still lit up a fading gray-orange well after sunset. The shape and texture of the dark blank cloud was unreadable. No point of reference. If I hadn’t seen it before sunset, that dim chunk of negative space would have looked like a strip of cloud stretched across a starless night sky.
It was behaving strangely, which is to say that it was behaving exactly as one would expect a pigeon to act. It twisted its head around nervously, flinching two or three times. Then it stopped for a moment, stunned. It recovered its composure and flicked its neck around – more aggressively this time. It stopped and waited again, woozy. On second thought, the pigeon may have been acting strangely, it was kind of manic.
It pecked at the sidewalk a couple of times. That didn’t seem to satisfy it. It nodded its head down as far as it would go (not very far at all) and reached up with its left leg (its good one – the right foot was missing a toe) and took a quick swipe at its beak. And again – head nod, foot swipe. It planted both legs firmly on the ground and regained its balance. I could see the problem now – a little fluff of feather caught in the bird’s overbite.
It flicked its head back and forth a couple of times and I imagined that it had a crazed look in its blank orange eyes.