Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Moving Day

Before I walked back in to the building I forced myself to look up and out at the new expanse I’d call home. At that moment, I saw it as neighborhood—concentrate. There was a church, butcher shop, bakery, furniture store, several restaurants, hat shop, Laundromat and store dedicated to mozzarella balls and nothing else. I could wake up, buy a cup of coffee, couture fedora, furnish my apartment, get married and die and still not venture beyond my block. A Billy Joel tune fought its way into my head.

Sergeant O’Leary is walking the beat,
At night he becomes a bartender.
He works at Mr. Cacciatore’s down on Sullivan Street
Across from the medical center…

One day, I’d find “Mr. Cacciatore’s” and take Mamma there for dinner. She’d begin to understand why I had moved. We’d have spaghetti and casks of red wine and I would put down a piece of plastic when the bill arrived. “No, Mamma—I insist. This is my city and I’m treating,” I’d say. She’d love that my street was in a song by Christie Brinkley’s ex husband. Christie’s exercise tapes were her favorites.

Looks like I’ve got myself an audience, I mused, noticing a man standing, staring nearby.

The young fellow stood several yards away watching my moving men cart big, inappropriate farmhouse furniture inside my apartment building. Town cars with tinted windows and sports cars with important drivers formed a line down the block as a polished oak bed and kitchen table were transported, assembly-line style, across the street. The sound of car-horns bounded from building to building and shot back to me like a boomerang, the noise returning to its rightful owner. The young guy didn’t say a word. The shopkeeper across the street stood in the window, staring, coffee mug in hand. Several floors above me a window slammed. No one acknowledged me.

What I didn’t understand then, and I wouldn’t for many months, was the paradox of city living. The coexistence of intimacy and anonymity was something I had never experienced before. Homes rested atop businesses while coffee shops and liquor stores flanked either side of a St. Anthony’s or a St. Agnes Church. Life and all its motions were condensed to such a compact area that anonymity was a gift from your neighbors. They had to look the other way—feign ignorance or otherwise—and you would be expected to do the same. Back home everyone knew my business, but only because we frequented the same tea and coffee hour after the 10:30 Episcopal service. We repented our own sins only to turn and promptly discuss the sins of others. When two lakes and a hunting camp separate you from your nearest neighbors, casual run-ins aren’t possible.

Why wasn’t Mamma there to help me? Surely she could tell me what to do and how to think and, for once, I would listen.

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