No Speak Engrish

I don’t recognize the area code, but I pick up. A woman introduces herself, and then drops a name.

"I realize it’s been a while since you’ve worked with her," she tells me. "But she listed you as one of her references, and I can’t seem to get hold of the other ones. Would it be okay if we talk about her — just a few minutes or so?"

"Sure. I’d be happy to."

"Are you still in touch with her?"

"Yeah — postcards, mostly.”

In another city and another era, I played this song on a radio show that, over the course of a year, received exactly two phone-call requests (one from a girl who had google-stalked me and “just wanted to reach out”).

This was a pre-YouTube, pre-Wikipedia time, and I was a long way from hearing the 1954 Marvin & Johnny originallet alone the George Carlin version on Arsenio

I’d found the ’Fess album at Planet Records in a bin labeled “Am. Ethnic.” At the time I was much more into the guitar player on the session, Snooks Eaglin, than ’Fess. But the Professor finally got me on “Cherry Pie” — that clanging doo-wop riff with the left hand, the triplets with the right, the unsteady warble of his voice. It might be the most primitive thing he ever recorded. 

I keep it in a crate. Smiley Lewis, Irma Thomas, Sam Cooke, Bobby Patterson, Howard Tate, Z.Z. Hill, Percy Mayfield, Ann Peebles, Junior Parker, Syl Johnson — they’re all in there too.

Occasionally, someone will ask: “What’s in the crate?”

"Cherry pie."

Professor Longhair, “Cherry Pie”
Recorded in Memphis, 1972

The Sunday morning security guard asks me, “How you doin’?”

"I’m tired," I say.

"I know dat feeling."

"How long you been here?"

"Since seven. I get off at three. But today’s my Friday, man. I get off three today, ain’t coming in again ’til Thursday."

"Well, enjoy your weekend."

"Thank you. I would say da same to you but I don’t think you can no more since you standing here.”

Old school activity log

Jim Dow, American Studies
(powerHouse, 2011)

Old school activity log

Jim Dow, American Studies
(powerHouse, 2011)

Return to normalcy

Return to normalcy

At the post-game table for seven, Woody asks who would be interested in a trip to Cuba next year.

The driver, who is Ecuadorian, questions motive: “Idaknow about that,” he says. “What’s there to do in Cuba? Everyone’s trying to get the hell outta there and you want to go there?”

Woody raises his glass and says, “I bet the mojitos are better down there.”

Over at the far end of the table, the ringer leans back in his chair before asking a question about a girl I was talking to earlier in the day. 

"She’s from Montreal," I tell him. "I actually suggested that she talk to you. She’s looking at MBA programs."

"Get her number?"

"No. But I’m sure we’ll see her around."

"I overheard that girl talking," Woody adds. "She sounds kinda stuck up. Like S_____, don’t you think?"

"Maybe," I reply. "But weren’t all of us a little stuck up when we were her age?"

In the scene that ensued I did not take a hand, But the floor it was strewed Like leaves on the strand With the cards that Ah Sin had been hiding, In the game “he did not understand.”
— Bret Harte, “Plain Language from Truthful James”Overland Monthly (September 1870)

In the scene that ensued
I did not take a hand,
But the floor it was strewed
Like leaves on the strand
With the cards that Ah Sin had been hiding,
In the game “he did not understand.”

Bret Harte, “Plain Language from Truthful James
Overland Monthly (September 1870)

The B32 is stuck on Franklin. It shouldn’t be at this hour but it is so I get off a stop early and walk across the street where the Hawaiian is finishing up her shift just before happy hour. 

"Okay if I sit at the bar?"

"Of course."

The second stool from the cash register is a seat that did not exist three years ago. Before they remodeled the place, the bar ran parallel to the front windows and then made a quick jag to the right, just enough to fit two seats facing the clock on the wall.

The bus. The bus is why I’m in here. Not poached eggs and hash. It’s the bus.

I used to hate runny eggs. But a couple years ago I pretended not to mind and now I order them sometimes.

The windows facing Franklin Street — if I stare long enough at one of them, I can see a girl drinking a mimosa during brunch. If I listen long enough, I can hear the musician talking about a French-Canadian a couple hours before his next Pete’s Candy Store gig.

Was not expecting the broccoli. Blame the bus.

A few days ago I was talking to a friend of a friend who could not remember where we had first met. (It was Tribeca, four years ago.) But since she couldn’t remember, I decided to pick a different place and a different time. 

"Oh, right," she confirmed. "I knew it was something like that."

I order toast. To sop up these runny eggs, the ones I used to not like.

If the bus had not been stuck on Franklin, I would not be in here with excess parboiled broccoli and the fragments left in this room.

As my plate is bused away, I look at the fingers of my left hand and try to remember how it goes.

Greasy Greens — it’s in G. That sort of makes sense.

G train’s shutting down. Prepare yourself.

— A man from Harlem

Dust, dander. It’s just a shot away.

Dust, dander. It’s just a shot away.

The TSA guy does a double take when I show my boarding pass. “We don’t get many JetBlue customers over here,” he says. 

"Was I supposed to go in at the other end of the terminal?"

"Nah, it’s all connected. Line’s shorter here anyway. You’re good."

By the time I get through security, my flight status has changed from ON TIME to POSSIBLE DLY. 

Something that I can’t seem to get out of my head is the rug in my father’s living room; I noticed during my visit that he had gone and cut off all the tassels. “It’s a pain to clean,” he told me, although I had never asked why they were missing. There was another rug in the den (6’ by 8’ with tassels intact) that I rolled up and moved into the garage for him. I guess it makes sense; the vacuum cleaner is a lot heavier than the Swiffer, and every time you have to bend down (say, to pull tassels out of the vacuum) is another strain on your back that you could do without.

Inside the plane, the pilot announces we are third in line to take off and that we’ll be standing by for another seventeen minutes. As for the 75-minute delay up to this point? “If you’ve ever flown into New York,” he says, “you know there are always delays going into New York.” 

I’m not sure how many more trips like this one there will be; the idea that I might be able to count them makes me uneasy. During the car ride to the train station, there was (again) talk about moving to a retirement community closer to the city, so that he can ditch the car for good. “Or maybe in Taiwan — it’s a lot cheaper there,” he said. It’s unclear how he will decide, or if he wants me to decide for him.

In the row ahead of me in seat 16E is a German kid — probably a college student — who keeps repeating, “Shit, oh my gott!” at the score of the game…

Five hours later my eyes are strained from reading in the bad light. We touch down and I’m not liking the LIRR schedule; the next train to Woodside is at 10:15, then 10:25 and then 10:49. I reach the Jamaica platform at 11:10 and get to Sunnyside in twenty. I book it down the stairs and over to Forty-Seventh and Greenpoint Ave. I used to know the bus schedule from this corner by heart, but it’s been a while. Was it 11:34 or 11:38? (The answer turns out to be neither, since it’s running late.)  

By the turn onto Van Dam Street I’m the only person left on the bus — the Ghost World stretch, from here to my front door.

B24 drivers are known to take their breaks early by simply parking at the Manhattan Avenue stop and ignoring the last few stops on the route. But tonight I happen to be sitting here, and I’m tired and I’m not volunteering to walk the extra block.

"Franklin Street," I remind the driver.

"Okay," she says. "You got it."

Clinging to the crutch again.

Clinging to the crutch again.