When I climbed to the top of the stairs and pushed through the heavy steel doors, so reminiscent of a neglected public school, I stepped out into Mercer Street and hesitated for a moment. I hesitated without ever quite coming to a stop. When the hesitation was over, I had turned right, north toward Bleecker Street. This meant that I would not be going to Jacques, in Prince Street, for lunch. I had been out to lunch on both of the previous days, and the kind of ham sandwich that I make for myself at home was very appealing. Also, I wasn't in the mood to sit alone at a table in a restaurant. That was something new. Come to think of it, I'd done just about the same thing two weeks earlier, when I'd turned left when leaving the Angedlika but only walked as far down Prince Street as the bookstore.
Walking along Bleecker Street, I thought how remarkable it is that I never run into anybody I know. It's not remarkable at all, really. I don't know that many people, and few of the people whom I do know are to be found walking around Soho in the middle of the day. But, still, it seemed odd, as though I'd made some kind of mistake. The intersection with Broadway was very crowded, as usual, a mix of indegenes and explorers. The explorers in Soho are different from the tourists in the rest of New York because they (the explorers) have come in from the suburbs in search of cool purchases. I can't think what it might be about the crossing of Bleecker and Broadway that occasions the thought, but I always find myself picking out a solitary passer-by and wondering what kind of a life he or she lives in the city. I wonder, but I don't guess. Today, it was a woman with long blond hair, straight but for the ghost of a wave near her neck, an assertive skirt that, while not too short, indicated a well-curved, purposeful woman with, as I could plainly see, strong and shapely calves. She wore substantial but not heavy heels that corresponded perfectly to her skirt. Her stride was brisk and assured. She knew where she was going and I hoped that they would be ready for her when she got there. I never saw her face.
I could hear the rumble of passing trains as I descended into the subway at Mulberry Street, but they were expresses, and I had plenty of time to pull out my Metro card and swipe it through the turnstile. A few people were standing on the platform, which promised a medium wait for the next train. I thought I might read a bit of Tomorrow They Will Kiss, a really rather engrossing novel about Cuban exiles in Union City, New Jersey - a dismal town, from what one can tell as one drives through or beneath it on the way to from the Lincoln Tunnel to the Jersey Turnpike - in the Sixties. Before pulling it out of my bag, I reached for my reading glasses, and only then realized that I had left them behind, in the theatre.
The great nuisance of the neck brace, which I have to wear for another month, at least when I'm outdoors and moving around, is that I usually forget to remove the reading glasses before putting it on or taking it off. The beautiful beaded chain that Kathleen strung for me - restrung, after the original snapped in the hospital (guess how) - usually gets tangled in one of the neck brace's odd contours. Only then do I have to put the brace down (or leave it around my neck) so that I can pull the chain over my head. In the theatre, after the movie, my maneuver was even more complicated, because I had my coat on, and couldn't really see what I was doing. Exasperated - I am always exasperated by this mixup - I lifted off the chain and draped it over the back of the seat in front of me. The chain was just long enough to allow the glasses to slip midway down the back, and that, I realized with a bolt as I stood on the subway platform, is where I left them. I turned on my heels and hurried back to the Angelika.
My hurry was strictly practical: the sooner I got back to the theatre, the more likely my chances of retrieving the glasses. I rather thought that they'd have been found by the attendant who was already sweeping the front rows before I left. (I always sit in the back, so that I won't block anyone else's view.) I was hoping that this woman would have forgiven me for being rather testy at the beginning of the show, when I left the auditorium three times to complain. The first time, it was to point out that the show ought to have started at least ten minutes earlier. The second time, it was to report that there was no sound. The third time, the projector was aimed too low for the screen. Oh, and there was a fourth complaint as well, because it took the projectionist a very long time to fix the third problem. I had not been rude, exactly, but I had demanded to see the manager, a request that was put off by the assurance that the manager had been notified. I wasn't having it at first, but eventually I gave up, and, by that time, everything seemed to be in order in the theatre. How I wished that I had left my glasses (and Kathleen's chain) behind on some other, complaint-free day.
I wondered if I'd be allowed back into the theatre, or if I'd have to wait upstairs while someone went to look for the glasses, or checked the lost-and-found. I wondered if Kathleen's chain might tempt anyone into stealing it. It's very beautiful, as I say, but I don't suppose that its harmony of sea-green and cobalt is to everyone's taste. But I was not flustered. I was not angry with myself. "Mildly irritated" is really an overstatement. Even though they were fitted with non-prescription magnifying lenses, the glasses were expensive, and the chain bordered on the priceless, but I knew that both could be replaced, more or less, and that it is in the nature of New York's bustle to lead one into leaving things behind. I ought to have put the glasses in my bag, not on the back of the seat in front of me: I registered the stupidity of that move with complete candor. But my anxiety was, how to say it, of a limited liability. The closest I got to magic-thinking deal-making was the idle promise that, if I found the glasses, I would celebrate their recovery at Jacques after all. Otherwise, I would just go home, as I had been doing.
The ticket-taker all but waved me through, and I scrambled down the stairs as quickly as I could. The Angelika Film Center's theatres are in the basement of a building just behind 611 Broadway, which is also known as the Cable Building. The Cable Building was erected to house the power plant for a cable-car line that ran along Broadway at the time. I remember thinking that it looked pretty shabby in the Eighties, but now it's one of the monuments of the neighborhood, as spruce (and doubtless as dear) as can be. Two subway lines run beneath the pavement right outside it, and these can be heard quite distinctly in Angelika's six-plex. (Trains can be heard in Carnegie Hall, too - of all places - so who's complaining?) There is an escalator, but it has been under repair for a while, and I certainly wasn't in the mood to wait for the elevator, especially as I didn't know where it was.
I hastened past the personnel standing around the concession stand and beetled into Theatre Four. I could see nothing. I found my seat right away, but I could see nothing of the seat in front of it. I reached down blindly. And there they were, the glasses and the chain, all unnoticed. (I was wrong to assume that utility lights would be turned on for the sweeping.) I took my prize to the men's room, polished it off, and hung it round my neck. Then I climbed the stairs and pushed through the heavy steel doors.
I hesitated for a moment, without stopping. When the hesitation was over, I had turned right once again. (November 2007)
Copyright (c) 2007 Pourover Press