On the way back, I stop at the drycleaners. The couple who run the tiny shop are elderly; the man moves slowly. It's okay, I can wait. I'm not in a hurry.
On the whole, this isn't a great neighborhood for being in a hurry. As Time Out noted recently in a profile on exotically lumpen but convenient (and Affordable!) Queens, this neighborhood is, well, not glamorous, and probably won't be anytime soon, if ever. "Solidly blue collar," i think were the words, with a sprinkling of young professionals and artists who appreciate the quick commute to Manhattan.
(Clearly the author of the TONY profile on this neighborhood didn't find much else to appreciate, other than the general neighborhoodliness of it all, a couple of rather desolate Irish pubs, and the convenience of all the drugstores; and you know what? That's totally fine with me. Let someone else write about the attractive and spacious if not terrifically well-kept up pre-war buildings, and their history as "the maternity ward of Greenwich Village;" the trees, legacy of that older socialistic attempt to build "gardens" for urban dwellers; the Romanian and Turkish and Irish grocery stores; the theatre that puts on Spanish-language plays and flamenco and tango and traditional Mexican dance performances; the rather nice little French bakery just up the road; and of course the restaurant at the corner of my block, which -was- profiled in TONY but for whatever reason didn't make this author's radar. Go away, Time Out; go discover somewhere else, why dontcha).
For the most part, the other, non-commuting, non white-collar/artists are older, yes. My neighbor, for instance, the one who stands and waits, is--how old? Old enough to have been born here and not have any official documentation--no birth certificate, no nothin'. Apparently this is causing him some tsuris, I learned last I spoke to him--since his brother died, he's been trying to get his affairs in order. We were having a pleasant chat, me commiserating about the assiness of bureaucracies (and, unspoken, his general aloneness, how hard it must be for him); until he lowered his voice, took on a harder edge than I'd yet seen from him and said:
"Lemme tell you something, sweetheart--there's nothing for Americans anymore. These immigrants--"
I cut him off, politely but firmly. So let him think that these immigrants have a way easier time getting documentation and sustenance than fellas like him, what were born here. -I- don't need to hear any more. Mostly because, I don't want to start thinking of my kindly, lonely neighbor in that less pleasant light.
Here at the drycleaners, they're playing a tape in the background: not music, but an oddly formal set of English lessons.
"Number 23. I have only travelled West as far as Chicago."
"Number 24. She has been working hard."
Watching this elderly Asian-derived couple, I wonder just how easy it's been for them; if they have documentation at all. They probably do. A lot of people around here don't. They just...manage.
Like the kid who lugged four heavy Fresh Direct boxes up four flights of stairs earlier, God love him, I thought he was going to have a heart attack he was panting so hard; of course they hadn't fixed the elevator yet, they said they would have it done by last night and of course they didn't, the fuckers. Still, as my neighbor is wont to say, "I can't complain." I could be that kid, after all. Or, well; something. Someone.
"Number 26. They have been working hard."
"Number 27. They -had- been working hard."
There seems to be a theme, here.
The owner brings me my mended sweaters, we exchange wordless smiles. I pay him and turn to go. The bland male voice continues:
"Number 28. John has worked hard all his life. He is still alive."
I pause with my hand on the door, at the slight oddness of it. Sure enough:
"Number 29. John has worked hard all his life. He is dead."