Thursday, January 25, 2007

My Huckleberry Friend

A sign of spring: pussy willows in the hotel garbage. I may need to scavenge those.

Yesterday I passed my car on the way to work (not that I’m obsessed with this parking spot or anything) and saw a man trying to fit in behind me, not quite clearing the hydrant. “Would you like me to move up a little?” I asked. He certainly would. So I jumped in the car and humped it over the passenger seat and the gear shift, and pulled up for him. He signalled for me to give him another inch, and I obliged. But overnight it occurred to me that I had lost my advantage at the fire hydrant, and it would be harder now to keep my space. This morning, that car is gone, thank God.

7:36 A.M. A pale-blue-green car is lurking when I arrive, and moves up the line of cars, looking for someone who might be pulling out. The driver is a black guy, and he is out of luck. He leaves the block.

The street sweeper comes: 7:41 and all is well.

“Think I can get in?” A new guy on the block has pulled in back of me, near the hydrant, and left the motor running while he goes forward on foot along the line of cars, looking for gaps and asking everyone to pull up. “You’ve gotta get out anyway,” he says, pointing to the bars protecting the street tree, which have prevented me from using the driver’s side door for a week.

“I come in the other way,” I say, but I don’t mind pulling up a little.

“Thanks very much, I appreciate it.”

At the construction site, a man is unloading long sheets of copper from an enclosed pickup truck. One of them is labelled “Rib #2.” Yesterday, when I was approaching this building from a distance, I could see the finished work way up on the roof: dazzling strips of copper fitted over the ridges of gables.

Washington D.C. has her lights on, and probably her heat. A little girl comes out of a building behind her mother, pulling on her gloves as she skips along. Hers is a whimsical wardrobe: she’s wearing a flowered puffy jacket, sneakers, and a pink knitted hat with a built-in Mohawk.

Is this the time to describe my coat? I bought it with the counsel of my friend G., who agreed to act as my personal shopper. Left to myself, I buy only things that look like I already own them. G. is flamboyant, with wavy red hair, a big nose, and leopard-print eyeglasses—very retro. We were at the Burlington Coat Factory. It was our third stop, after Filene’s and TJ Maxx, where I hadn’t seen a single thing I liked even remotely. This coat attracted me on the rack because I thought it was green. (I wear a lot of green.) Then it seemed more purple than green. The tag said it was “Huckleberry.” (I have a weakness for the names manufacturers concoct for things: shoes, bedspreads, shades of paint. I once bought a raincoat called Poetry, and absolutely refused to paint some chairs Nacho Cheese, though it was the closest I could find to Roman yellow.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen a huckleberry, but the coat is a rich gray, with undertones of grape and olive.

When I tried on the huckleberry coat, I laughed at myself in the mirror. It is ankle length, with a piece of hardware at the neck—a chunky clasp that you have to fit through a slot and twist—and a hood lined in fake fur and big turned-back fake-fur cuffs. You know that scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy knocks on the door to the Emerald City, and a slot opens, revealing a little man in a Beefeater’s hat and a coat with huge, absurd, over-the-top Persian-lamb cuffs? Those kind of cuffs.

“That’s not bad,” G. said. “It moves well.” I had to admit, it was roomy. But I’d have to have the sleeves shortened. “I don’t think so,” G. said. “They’ll be warm.” I retracted my arms into the sleeves. It was hot in the store, and G., for all her virtues, was annoying me. She reeked of booze and kept emitting little involuntary grunts. Loehmann’s was next on our list, and I didn’t think I could stand it. So I bought the coat, for $108. I had to stand in a long, long line to pay for it (G. went outside to smoke), and I was a little disappointed that instead of packing it in a lovely box with tissue paper, the way they did in department stores in days of yore (and may still, for all I know), the cashier stuffed it unceremoniously into a big plastic bag. “For a hundred and eight dollars, what did you expect?” G. said.

Now the copper-sheeting guy is stacking up what look like decks of copper cards. He tosses one to a guy on a platform a few stories up. The first toss goes slightly astray, and the catcher fumbles, but they quickly perfect their act. Then they start on the copper sheets. No pulley today, just ropes. There are three guys on the platform, and one on the street. The guy on the street clips each copper sheet horizontally into two sets of pincers tied to the ropes. Two guys haul them up, hand over hand, while one in the middle talks a lot and helps bring the sheet over the balcony railing. I could watch this all day. Maybe next time I should bring binoculars.

I turn the radio on for the climax of whatever is on WQXR before the 8 o’clock news, to hear Jeff Spurgeon announce the time. It’s a pretty bombastic piece of music. Before landing this gig as the morning announcer at QXR, Jeff Spurgeon used to sing with an a-cappella group I belong to, so his voice is very familiar to me. It pops up in the oddest places. Once, I called the gynecologist and was put on musical hold, and there was Jeff Spurgeon on the line. “That was the Introduction and EntrĂ©e joyeuse des vendangeurs, from ‘Giselle,’” he says. Thank you so much, Jeff, I think. I have no idea what that means. (I look it up later: “The Joyous Entrance of the Grape-Pickers.”) The news is brought to us by Lexus IS 250, which I’m not driving any day soon.

How luxurious to get out of the car on the driver’s side, like a normal person in her new winter coat. I am glad I cleared that street tree. I go back along the line of cars to see if I should pluck the pussy willows from the garbage outside the hotel. One car has had a ticket on it for a week now. A red Dodge Neon has a fissure in its front bumper and an amateur repair job that looks like gauze on its rear fender. Stay away from that guy. I give a little tug to the pussy willows poking up out of the garbage, but they are as if rooted, like a stand of trees, seven feet tall. I guess I’ll pass on the pussy willows.

MJN/NYC

3 comments:

erieblue said...

The coat sounds fabulous, but I want to know why Genia was grunting.

MJN/NYC said...

I just found out I shouldn't use her real name, so let's just say that I'll call her Genia. You know how people have tics, ways they breathe or extra sounds they make while eating cereal? I always hear this little extra sound out of her, just before she hangs up the phone after leaving me a message, and it's not a sigh but a refined little grunt, an effort. In this instance, it's possible she's in pain. She has a bad back, and walking around shopping doesn't help it any.

sea glass said...

I have a friend who sometimes does a sharp little intake of breath before she speaks, and I always brace for something bad, and then she says, "I wonder if it will snow."
I want the jacket version of that coat!