The past few days have been a whirlwind. I am so tired at this moment, but I have so much in my head. All of the words that want to find their way to my fingers and into the laptop. Maybe the words are motivated enough, that if I lay my head down on the laptop, rather than my pillow, they will fall out of my ears, find their way to my blog and form perfect sentences so I can wake up to read everything that was swirling around my brain.
But that could be dangerous.
I want to type about J-Vowel. He is the barista at my café on the corner. I thought he was Italian. And when I asked, and he shook his head, I felt certain he would say he was Columbian. The café is Columbian…so that would have at least been an educated guess. He is Moroccan. And his name sounds like “Joe-wow”. But when I asked for the spelling, it was the letter “J”, followed by five or six vowels. I spelled it back. Twice. And then promptly forgot it. But he is happy to see me every morning. He chats about moving here from Morocco, and how much he likes New York. And I wasn’t really paying attention until I thought about it, but he has given me at least one beverage each day without charging me. He works at the Statue of Liberty on the weekends, and has offered to get me in for free. And I can’t even remember which vowels come after his “J”. I don’t deserve him.
And then there is George, who works at an exhibition here in New York. I went with my family, but got ahead of them, and while walking through the 3rd floor exhibits, I had a rather serious attack of claustrophobia. I was looking for the exit, and a young man realized something was wrong. He motioned toward an elevator, and put me in it. When the doors opened, I was in the lobby. I had to wait for my family, but needed air. I made my way to the front door, and there was George. I think he knew something was wrong, so he followed me to the street. We made small talk for less than 5 minutes when a strong storm blew down the street. Back inside the building, he continued to chat with me. Distracting me from my panic, and before I knew it, I had forgotten the walls that were closing in on me. George had spent all his life in Manhattan. He blinked, and then said he had left the island once to go see a Yankees baseball game. We talked about Chelsea, and his eyes lit up. He had gone to school there, and knew the street where I was staying. He asked about some of the restaurants and buildings, since he hadn’t been over that way in years. On an island that small, I thought that was so strange. But he was clearly in love with his neighborhood. He spoke in glowing terms about the buildings and the people. When nearly an hour had passed, he found me a chair so I could sit and wait for my family. When they showed up, we were so involved with getting a car without getting soaked that I completely forgot to find George and thank him. I don’t deserve him.
Achraf. The only reason I know how to spell his name is because he was my Uber driver, and it was spelled out on my phone. He drove us from the apartment to the theater, in the rain, and when he realized that the doors to the theater wouldn’t open for another 30 minutes, he drove around the city to kill time and to keep us from getting soaked. He could have easily dropped us off and picked up another fare instead. He never lost his smile. He was young. He had moved here a year ago from Morocco. Living in Brooklyn, going to school, and driving an Uber. He said he liked New York. His first language was Arabic. His second was German, followed by French and finally English. This was surprising, because his English was amazing! I asked about his family. They were all still in Morocco. He was alone in the city. I asked if they would be coming to visit. He blinked and answered that immigration was difficult. No sob story or excuses. And then he asked if I wanted to ride by the Museum of Natural History, since we had another 15 minutes. When he finally dropped us off at the theater, I waved goodbye to the boy who was probably the same age as my daughter, and had a pang of guilt realizing the difference between his life and mine. I just wanted to get to the theater and stay out of the rain. I don’t deserve him.
I can’t forget Edwin. Our waiter at Junior’s. He was young and charming and I immediately assumed he was an actor. It turns out he is a primary school teacher. This is his last week at Junior’s, and then he is off to China where he will teach school. He had spent the last 5 years in Korea, and had only been back for 7 months. He was born and raised in Manhattan. His father worked in Brooklyn, and would take him to the original Junior’s on occasion as a treat. He grew up loving Junior’s, so he was happy to work here for the summer. When I mentioned my daughter had an interest in Korea, he gave me his phone number and told me to have her call him before he left, and that he would be glad to tell her anything she wanted to know. He was (on top of being an excellent waiter) sweet and intelligent. I hugged him before we left, and wished him all the best in China, and then packed up my leftover cheesecake and headed out to the lights of Broadway, where I would find an Uber and head home to sleep. I didn’t deserve him.
Christopher was an interesting find. There he was, behind the bar at a dive called The Trailer Park. Just past middle-aged, thick glasses (to match his accent), a smile for miles, and the ability to talk for 10 minutes at a time without taking a breath. He was a New Yorker from the upper west side with a home in Michigan. He told me that he would be moving back to Michigan in 9 months, and was very happy about it. He was married to a dancer who traveled. It was nearing closing time, and he mentioned that he was looking forward to heading home because he had a “little one” waiting for him. I made an “awwwe” face, and he said, “Oh yeah, he’s two. We just adopted him. So he already came with a name, and we aren’t too happy about that.” When I asked about the name, he half-grinned/half-grimaced and answered, “Bam Bam”. I tried to hide surprise, but wondered out loud if that couldn’t be changed. “Oh no,” he said, “He’s Bam Bam.” Then he pulled out his phone and showed me a picture of his newly-adopted “little one”… a mixed tabby cat with an adorable face! He spilled out another minute or two of Bam Bam stories before my brain reconciled and came around to the present. I ordered a second drink and wondered out loud if the kitchen was open. It wasn’t, but he offered to make me some tater tots. I happily accepted. While I waited, my attention turned to the conversation going on next to me. Two girls were talking with Christopher, and one was about to head home. They wanted to get one more round of drinks to toast their 7-year anniversary. Christopher pulled the bottle down and grabbed an extra glass. He congratulated them, and let them know he was going to do a shot with them. I leaned over to congratulate them myself. Christopher filled my glass as well and we all toasted the girls. After the first girl left, I motioned to Christopher and whispered that I wanted to pick up their check. That was the last time anything was spoken in a whisper. Christopher turned to the girl and told her (loudly) that I was getting her check. Her reaction reminded me of when people win new cars on game shows. She jumped off her barstool and gave me a tight hug, and when she pulled back I could see she had gotten a little misty. She went on and on about how sweet that was, and how no one had ever done anything like that. Christopher chimed in and agreed. It made me sad that it was such a big deal. The girl’s name was Meital. She was from Israel, and said her name meant “dew drop”. We chatted for awhile, exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet for brunch. After she left, Christopher gave me the check… hers and mine combined. It was clearly far less than what should have been charged for the food and alcohol. I am lucky to have met them both, and I deserve neither of them.
And finally, there is Eva. Working at a jewelry kiosk in the center of the Oculus. She is from Poland, and works 7 days a week. Mondays are hardest for her, but you wouldn’t know it. She has a 12 year old son, who is in Poland for the summer. Although she misses him, she is happy knowing that he is getting to know his family… his roots. “Besides,” she adds, “what else would he do all day here while I work? Sit at home and play video games.” I asked her if she ever took a day off. She is taking this Wednesday off, as a matter of fact! I was happy for her. I resisted the urge to invite her to brunch as well. I strolled back over to the side of the kiosk and marveled at the pretty jewelry. As I brought my choices over to pay for them, she pointed to a group of earrings and said, “There… pick out a pair of earrings for free. I want you to have them. For your enthusiasm.” I will wear those tiny, moss-filled cubes and remember how I don’t deserve her.
There are so many others. The smiling young man from Texas who has only moved here three weeks ago and just began his job yesterday. The Uber driver who took me two extra blocks when I decided I wanted sushi before going home. The hot dog vendor at Washington Square who gave me a free hot dog bun so I could feed the birds. The woman at the honey exhibit on the High Line who showed me where to go for a free lavender/honey popsicle. Zebra, the cat, who I never would have met had it not been for an unfortunate locked-out moment after midnight when I found myself stranded on the street with Cholula, no phone and no bra. Honorable mention to the 4 drunk men (well, one was a woman that night) who kept Lula entertained while I stood there, braless and sweating.
But most of all… I am living a life that I know I don’t deserve. I am thankful beyond words (yes, it happens) to have such a wonderful family. I am able to live a Rockstar life because they love me and live in amazing locations and are generous enough to share their lives and homes and not kick me out after 3 days. I have this ethereal sensation of moving seamlessly from cloud to cloud… life to life… fantasy to fantasy… undetected. Like wandering into first class and sitting down when no one notices, and then not being asked to leave.
I sincerely hope that I get to come back in another life. If for no other reason than to pay this all forward, since there certainly isn’t time left in my current one.