One evening not long ago I went for a walk, the way I usually go, down West 22ndStreet to the river and then back along either 21stor 20thpast the seminary garden. I stop most days at the florist on 22ndand 8thto visit Sammy and Hazel, the two cats who live there and keep things okay on the block, and I stop whenever I notice a cat or a dog sitting in a window, too. 

Sammykitty passing Hazelkitty's Batman-like shadow on 22nd Street

I was on my way back home that recent evening when I saw a man put a lot of books out on the sidewalk and then hurry back inside the building he’d come from. I stopped to look at them—lots of musical scores, theatre books, travel books, a couple of histories of Puerto Rico, philosophy, Immanuel Kant and Lao Tzu, a biography of Domenico Scarlatti with musical scores included, a few about cats and all there is to know and love about  them, Ned Rorem’s New York Diaries of the 1950s, a few about marvelous tropical fish—and I was thinking that an old, gay, Puerto Rican neighborhood cat lover must have died. I was feeling the usual, Oh, no, oh, loss, when the man returned with more books to put on the sidewalk.


He told me to take as many as I wanted. “Bring a cart!” he said. He said that nobody wants books anymore, that you can’t give them away. I asked him about the person who had owned them, and he told me that his name was Eduardo. And not only was he not dead, he was very happy to have moved into a place full of other old people, and he was indeed an old, gay, Puerto Rican cat lover and musician who played church organs for many years and loved to travel and read and keep fish. He had lived in this old building for fifty-some years, the man told me, so his moving out made the landlord happy. During the pandemic Eduardo had felt lonely and isolated. So he was very ready to go live with the old folks, and he’d read all these books anyway.


In one of the buildings down the block from Eduardo’s there sat a white cat in a window who saw me passing by with my little pile of books, and I stopped to take his picture. One of the books I took with me was the diaries of Ned Rorem, which I had read once already, borrowed from my friend Indra who knows Ned. Indra took me to visit him once in his apartment on the Upper West Side, and we sat in his living room with his grand piano piled with sheet music and had tea and it was very exciting, in a very quiet way. 

For me it’s always the buildings and the shadows and the sound of the train down under the sidewalk and the Empire State Building standing there regarding it all that make the city so hard to stop liking. And I find that the cats everywhere have much the same attitude as the Empire State Building. When I’ve passed through Times Square recently it’s been filled with people from everywhere else, all of them excited. They all look thrilled. And why not? It’s New York! Even after almost forty years, even I still think New York is exciting. Even with everything that’s wrong with it, it’s still King Kong. 

I saw a double decker tour bus filled with  tourists waiting at the light on 55thStreet and every single person looked enthralled. I thought of my friend Charlie, who for a long time was a tour guide on one of those buses, a job he was very good at. The tour guides were allowed to make their own tour—they didn’t have to follow a boring script, and I took Charlie’s tour once. He somehow made things I’d seen a million times feel surprising and fascinating. How did he do it? One of the details I will always remember is a moment when the bus was standing still, waiting for the light to change, and Charlie pointed out a spot on the corner with the double green light fixtures and said, “Look, see that? It’s the subway entrance! And see all those people going in? They’re all going home from work!” And there they all were, the working folks at just about six o’clock, and everyone on the bus saw them all, going down into the subway to go home.


So much closed down and emptied out in the last two years, but there is still a lot that didn’t. On 6thAvenue in one of the old flower wholesalers there’s Maureen, an old kitty who I’ve known since she was a kitten. Whenever I pass by, which I do a lot, if it’s after hours I look at her through the window. And if it’s during the crazy business hours I go in and pet her. Here in this neighborhood at the florist on 8thAvenue there’s Hazel, not yet old but much more sedate than he was some years back, and then there’s Sammy, who had a very sad life at first living in the back of the deli up the block until he ran away to live in the florist, and now he’s happy. I’d imagine Eduardo must have known Hazel and Sammy, living so close by. I probably saw him myself, since he lived just a few blocks away from me. I wish I knew what he looked like. 

Maureen in the flower wholesaler on 6th Avenue

Today I opened the Ned Rorem book that had belonged to Eduardo. I read a lot of it, and he’d made one little notation that I found, a check mark at this, that Ned wrote: “Can you polish a phrase about tears in your eyes with tears in your eyes? Yes.” To which Eduardo added in pen, “But of course…!” 


Today is my friend Charlie’s birthday. Happy birthday, Charlie!


May 24, 2022 




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