Friday, February 09, 2007

just a small slice

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."

9 comments:

ArrogantWorm said...

The audio you heard is surreal. And...dare I say it, it also sounds severely depressing, in a way.

JackGoff said...

"Number 29. John has worked hard all his life. He is dead."

Makes me look forward to like, like totally! 8^)

super des said...

Ah the American dream... work hard and then die.

KH said...

Sounds like Beckett.

Bimbo said...

Funny how no one ever makes comments about immigrants in Algonquin. If he tries that on you again, gently ask him what language his parents spoke when they arrived.

Nanette said...

lol, this is a great story, belle, a real slice of life. And what a weird language tape! I'm glad you stayed for that last line. I'm still laughing.

belledame222 said...

Bimbo: well, what i did say was, somewhere in there, yeah i was born here; but my grandparents weren't; we're all immigrants at some point or another in this country. he kind of mumbled and changed the subject, the way people do when they see they're not getting any traction and/or have a feeling they should be vaguely embarassed but aren't quite sure why.

kh: actually i kept thinking of this Maria Irene Fornes play called "The Danube." it's set in Hungary and all the dialogue is this weird stilted Berlitz stuff, you know (one character is a foreign visitor); and, it's a romance, but then it gets--well, she wrote it as a commission for an anti-nuclear play. it gets more and more surreal; smoke pours out from the floor between scenes; the characters gradually become ill and disoriented, and start showing up wearing goggles and radiation burns and "strange drippings."

UNIT TEN. Basic sentences. Paul Green visits Mr. Sandor. They discuss the weather.

...MR. SANDOR: Yes, the weather is bad. Perhaps tomorrow the weather will be good.

PAUL: In the morning I was warm. Now in the evening it's cold. Where's Eve?

MR. SANDOR: She went to town.

PAUL: But it's raining. In the winter she works. In the summer she studies. I haven't seen her since spring.

MR. SANDOR: Would you have a cigarette?

PAUL: Yes, please.

...PAUL: This cigarette is wet.

MR. SANDOR: Oh, I beg your pardon. Here's another one. You look much better.

PAUL: I am better.

MR.SANDOR: Is Fured a good hospital?

PAUL: Yes, very good. (PAUL looks in the cup) What's this? (MR. SANDOR looks in the cup)

MR SANDOR: Oh, I beg your pardon.

(MR SANDOR takes an amorphous black object from the cup and looks at it carefully. He puts it in his pocket and sits).

PAUL: This coffee is cold. It may be my last cup and it's cold. Which way to the toilet?

MR. SANDOR: The toilet is to the left.

(PAUL exits to the left. EVE enters from the right).

EVE: Where is Paul?

MR. SANDOR: I haven't seen him since yesterday.

EVE: Paul...

(Lights fade. There is music. As the scenery is changed, smoke goes up from the stage floor)...

Cassandra Says said...

Damn, those are some depressing language tapes. Every language I've ever studies has been rather more "Where is the train station?" and "How much for one kilo of apples, please?".
On the other hand it may be reflect our current society's general lack of good chyeer rather well.

queer dewd formerly known as be elle said...

i heart this story.