I have this house guest who comes to me by way of Argentina, and speaks Italian, Spanish, and French, but no English. I found myself trying to explain alternate-side parking to him in my frail Italian:
“Tomorrow morning I must go out early-early to move the machine.”
“The men must clean the street.”
“What happens if you don’t move it?”
“I receive a ticket.”
He considered whether it might not be worth sixty-five dollars not to have to go out early-early in the rain.
“Or they take it,” I added.
“They take it?”
I was not up to explaining about getting towed and having to go to the car pound to redeem your machine.
It was as miserable a day as I ever spent sitting in a car. The rain was drumming down—inches of rain at the crosswalks, currents running in the gutters. There was actually a space available when I first arrived on the block, but it got taken, at 7:30. A haggard woman in a long white terry-cloth robe, her hair held back with a white band, stepped out on the stoop to have a smoke. The little girl with the whimsical wardrobe left for school at 7:45, under a pink and blue umbrella. She had on a pink suede coat with pink fur trim and a pink backpack. She looked as if she’d grown since the last time I parked here.
I had been hoping the street sweeper would skip it this morning. His feeble squirts and rotating brushes would be ridiculous in the driving rain. But the cleaning lady in me (of which there is precious little) knows that a hard rain is actually an ideal time to sweep the street. I learned this from a Greek landlady, a clean freak if there ever was one, who saw a storm as an opportunity to get out there with her pushbroom and scrub. From her I learned a very useful housekeeping trick: Ladies, when you are expecting guests, take care to leave your brooms and mops, your Clorox and your Ajax, prominently displayed, so that people practically trip over them. This creates an impression of cleanliness that is almost as good as the real thing.
At 7:51, the street sweeper came, preceded by his honking escort, the Department of Sanitation police. Nobody fooled around: over to the right, and reverse back into position, like a military drill.
I knew what was coming when I returned home, shortly after eight. “With this rain, why do they have to clean the streets?” my house guest teased.
“I don’t know,” I said. Then I added, “I don’t do this all year.”