One recent evening I found a few old LP records put out with the trash downstairs, all very colorful and labeled as “Prohibido” and “Solo Para Adultos.” I guessed that they had belonged to my neighbor Tito, who was moved from St. Vincent’s Hospital to a nursing home somewhere. I see his daughter sometimes. I kept two of the records. They might not have been Tito’s, but I find it hard to imagine anyone else in this building having records like that, and I know sure enough that he did have some salsa records, because I heard him play them whenever the weather was nice. Tito was a meticulous housekeeper, and over the years I often caught sight of him mopping his kitchen floor. His door was always left ajar in the old-fashioned tenement way, music and fried cooking would waft out into the hall, and sometimes I’d look up from down on the street and see him propping his mop over the fire escape to dry in the sun. And just about this time every year, he put his stereo speakers on the window ledge and then the whole neighborhood would get to hear his salsa records. One of the records that I kept was made by a company called Spanoramic Recordings, located in the Lower East Side at number 106 Rivington Street, N.Y. N.Y. There’s no date on the record, but it was printed before there were zip codes.
On my way home from work downtown yesterday, I went into Economy Candy, which has been there since the 1930s. They have every kind of candy imaginable; so many choices that I always become paralyzed and just buy Necco Wafers. They have all the old-fashioned chewing gum too; Blackjack, Clove, Teaberry; it reminds me of childhood but I never buy any. Ever since an old Pan Am stewardess told me once when I was twelve that a lady shouldn’t chew gum I’ve hardly had any, even though I don’t agree with her and she’s probably dead by now. As I left the store, I noticed the address, 108 Rivington Street, right next door to where Spanoramic Recordings once was. I walked back up to my neighborhood thinking about that and eating Neccos, which tasted just the way they always have: like chalk.
When I got home, I carried my dog down the stairs to let her inch her way along 21st Street and get a little air. I tell her I love her a lot as I carry her up and down the stairs because it’s true, but saying it also distracts me from how heavy she is as an ancient, tired being, closer every day to heaven. When she was young she used to fly up and down the stairs and impatiently wait for me to catch up at each landing. She doesn’t seem to mind being old any more than she worries about her warts. So I try not to worry about those things either.
My friend Jo told me about a remedy her grandma swore by for warts. What you do, she said, is find a rock and put it in a box. Then you make the box look very beautiful and you take it into an unfamiliar street and leave it there. When somebody finds the box and opens it, that’s when your wart disappears. What I wondered is whether a man who opened the box and saw the rock would get the wart himself. I thought that if the remedy was one that lots of people knew about, a lot of people would be afraid of opening the pretty box in case there was a rock inside. And then I thought that even now it might not be such a good idea to open a pretty box just sitting on a street corner. Even if the remedy did work, I would need to do it 25 or 30 times to get rid of all the warts that have sprung up all over Pilar since she’s gotten so old. And I would have to go to Staten Island to find a street that wasn’t familiar.
I read in the newspaper today that St. Vincent’s Hospital will close, meaning there will be no more emergency room downtown. The article spoke of how St. Vincent’s treated survivors of the ship Titanic, and that it is $700 million dollars in debt. Then I read another article about how 10,000 poor people in this city are about to lose their housing vouchers because the housing authority is $45 million in debt. I felt my blood pressure rise the way it does when I read things like this, the way I felt when I read last fall in the New York Times about how Michael Bloomberg had spent more of his own money than any other person in the history of the United States in the pursuit of public office, an amount predicted to reach $140 million dollars by the end of the campaign.That kind of money goes a long way toward putting people into a “why bother” kind of trance on Election Day. He almost didn’t win, and a lot of people didn’t bother to vote. If the other guy had won, St. Vincent’s and the Housing authority would still have their troubles, I imagine, but Bloomberg won. And he has billions of dollars just sitting there. He could buy all the candy at the Economy Candy Store if he wanted to. He could pay those hospital and housing debts and not even feel it. And I imagine it would feel very nice to be able to make such a gesture. Sometimes a kind gesture makes a big difference.
Today I remembered something sweet from a day when Pilar was just a puppy. I carried her on my arm to show her New York, and outside Lincoln Center a lady stopped to pet her. She said, “Long life, Sweetheart,” and those words worked their magic and came true.
April 7, 2010