Monthly Archives: September 2008
A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?
— Oscar Wilde, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”
It starts raining suddenly one afternoon while I’m walking towards Grand Central on 42nd Street. In the misty haze, I walk east with my face aimed to the sidewalk, both to avoid the chill of the rain and to watch my step around the murky puddles forming in my path. Waiting for the light to change at each consecutive street corner forces me to stand in the open rain, with no umbrella and none of the shelter sometimes provided by those heavy, gray stone midtown buildings that seem anchored to the street. Just wind, rain, and the occasional splash of dirty water from passing cars.
I take refuge under some scaffolding at Fifth Avenue, and light a cigarette while I wait for the rain to ease. Crowds wearing black overcoats and carrying black rain-slicked umbrellas continue to pass me on my corner. Wet feet leave prints on the pavement. I’m content to stay here for a while now that I’ve found a dry bit of sidewalk.
I share my dry corner with a street performer, a drummer banging away on his shiny silver kit. The drummer and his array of drums seem almost as permanently fixed to the spot as the surrounding architecture. But he is in constant motion, producing a continuous bang and rumble for passersby to enjoy — or ignore — as he encourages their donations to the bucket at the foot of his bass drum.
As I stand to the side, with my cigarette burning against the wetness around me, people stop to watch and listen. Maybe it’s only as a diversion to get out of the rain for a few moments, but it appears that when they move on, their heads are held a little higher above their shoulders as they walk back into the rainy mist.
When my cigarette is finished, I will have to join them.
Every morning when I leave my apartment on St. Marks Place in the East Village, a delivery truck is making its morning drop-off to the Dallas BBQ restaurant next door. I always pause to enjoy my first cigarette of the day before heading off to work; at the same time, I watch the delivery man unload his boxes of frozen chicken onto the sidewalk.
The delivery guy is a short Hispanic man from the Bronx, with a thin mustache and a baseball cap. His day begins at 5 a.m. and ends around 1 p.m., during which time he delivers chicken to BBQ restaurants throughout Manhattan.
After he unloads his damp cardboard boxes, the chicken juices thawing and leaking out onto the sidewalk, he has to wait for the BBQ kitchen staff to open the restaurant and sign for the packages. The middle-aged delivery man usually works alone, loading and unloading, driving his truck along the quiet early-morning Manhattan streets by himself. While he waits, he smokes a cigarette and complains to me about his job. More often than that, though, he talks about girls.
“I was driving past Cooper Square the other day in my truck, on my way to a delivery, and there was a girl outside lying there, getting a tan or something,” he says. “She had her knees in the air, wearing this little bikini. Oh man, can I tell you. She had a big knot” — he raises his fist to eye level to illustrate — “between her legs. It was beautiful, man! Just right there in front of you. I had to drive around the block a few times to get a good look! Made me late for my next delivery, but what do I care? Beautiful, man.”
A woman walks by us towards the corner, gingerly stepping over the chicken boxes stacked high on the pavement.
“Hey sweetie, how you doin’?” shouts the delivery man. She ignores him. “Oh well, have a nice day,” he sighs.
“How come these girls can never smile at you when you say hello?” he asks me. “I just want to say hi, wish them a good day. Is that so much to ask?”
Maybe she was just in a hurry. Or maybe she didn’t want to stop and talk.
“I’m not asking her to stop. But how hard is it to smile? That would make my day, man.”
We’ve finished our cigarettes, the butts floating sadly in pinkish chicken juices, and I have to be on my way. The delivery man climbs up into his truck, until tomorrow.