New York, 2014 – 2016.

 

 

IMG_4062Shirts

After washing them and folding them up I counted twenty plaid shirts, all men’s size medium. In addition there was a jean jacket, a baseball jacket, and two golf jackets. Each jacket had a clean stack of paper napkins in the right pocket, like he’d always grab some to take home after his lunchtime meal in the neighborhood.

The medical equipment that was left in the basement showed he’d had difficulty walking in the last months. The books bundled with twine ranged from a complete anthology of opera librettos, a biography of a famous singer, a few fictional books jacketed in covers with gold embossed letters, and some histories of an earlier New York. There were several dvds of blockbuster films, and some good walking shoes.

A couple of people in the building must have remembered who he was, but they never spoke of him. Someone said he’d been president of the co-op, which I now am, which is why I ended up being the one cleaning out the storage area. I imagined him when he was alive, padding around his wood floored apartment, laid out very similarly to mine.

L1070021OrangeLegs

In my dream I was wandering through the spaces of my old studio building, looking for the corner where I used to work. The entire place was populated by young artists whose production looked contemporary, with their emphasis on found materials, sculpture, and collaborative efforts. I climbed over the clutter, looking for my paints. I was disoriented and preoccupied, as the downstairs door lock seemed to be broken and I was trying to think where the nearest hardware store might be so that I could fix it. Rummaging through a cardboard box where I could see my oil paints buried underneath someone else’s supplies, I mentioned my concerns to a colleague who was walking by. Hadn’t I read the new School Handbook? He asked, with a slightly annoyed look on his face. I realized that the art school had colonized the space for the students, and it was no longer a haven for the teachers to work and hide on their non-teaching days.

In the box I was looking through there were some small vintage plastic figurines, one of a superhero and the other a figure of a dwarf like clown. I stuffed them in my bag as mementos of my time there, and headed out.

 

IMG_9299RachelStuff

Her name was Rachel, pronounced with a hard C. She had been living under the scaffolding of the synagogue next door until the spate of rainy days might come to an end. The synagogue, which was having the wooden frames of its stained glass windows replaced, doubled as a small Off-Broadway theatre. Rachel’s stuff was interfering with the sidewalk, which basically functioned as the theatre lobby. We assumed they’d told her she had to leave. She didn’t go far, just a few feet sideways, to the spot underneath the tree in front of our building.

I’d see her there dressed in her layers and what looked like a giant beekeeping hat, rearranging her pieces of cardboard. She said she wanted to sort through them before she moved again, saving the best pieces. The police would come by daily, and they would have long sensitive debriefings, without trying to move her. Another time I saw some teenagers roughly tossing her stuff around. I confronted them to the extent that any middle-aged woman could act like a bulldog, telling them to leave her alone. She told us she was from the Upper East Side and used to live in a building with a doorman. She had a genteel, mid-Atlantic accent, like Katherine Hepburn. She seemed like a ghost from the twentieth Century.

We were going away for the weekend and she said she’d be gone when we got back. She was going to one of the ‘ministries’ in her former turf. I thought sadly that they wouldn’t let her keep her best things.

A year later she returned, but ensconced further down the street. We asked her how her sojourn had gone, but she said that she could only have wished for a respite like that. Either she’d forgotten she’d told us or she had been telling a story. It seemed busy where she was, closer to Times Square, but she was probably safer there.

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