It’s been five weeks now since I left the competitive highways of suburbia for the commuting and walking strategies of NYC. It was a transformation and somewhat of a walk back for me – the building where I work now is around the corner from where I started a career in publishing as well as meeting The Brunette, she in the well pressed world of editorial and me in the rough and tumble alleyways of book production. A match of opposites in a continuing adventure.

The old neighborhood is familiar although it’s filled more with glass and chrome than I remember. Most of the stores, including the narrow luncheonette I used, are gone and replaced. I seem to remember a Woolworth’s across the street now taken over by a chain store with more carefully arranged aisles and lines rather than the chaos of clothing bins and crowds. That popcorn smell that came thru the doors was gone but the humid steam is still coming up from the sidewalk corner vent.

The Helmsley Hotel is still there although its been sold and its name now shortened to The Palace. I remember when it was being constructed, watching them build up and around an elegant brownstone with the circular courtyard just across from St. Patrick’s. It would still come into play years later when, as a salesman, it was my go-to destination for the wooden telephone booths where I could sit, spread my notes out, and talk with my clients on the massive pay phone.

This morning I realized that for the past few weeks, I’ve picked the same seat on the train that I had taken when I first began my commute 25 years ago. I used to sit across from a paper salesman I knew in my hometown who always kept his day’s orders on a single sheet of paper folded in his shirt pocket. As old as he was he was still a street kid with a pair of beefy hands that could handle any problem. He would say things to people just to see the lights go on in their eyes but the smarter ones didn’t tangle with him. Yet he always watched over me like an older brother occasionally showing up at my house with cuttings from his garden for me to plant in the front of the small house we just bought.

But sitting across from me now was a young girl who was methodically putting on eye makeup, pulling all manner of tools and brushes out of her handbag and using them with careful precision as the train bumped and rocked along the tracks. I felt a bit self conscious staring at her so instead watched her reflection in the window which seemed more neutral territory. I felt far too old to engage her in a conversation so instead admired her fashion and technique obliquely while suburban wood frames with grassy yards passed behind her.

Up from the subway, I moved along the avenue across from the Waldorf which always seems to be elegantly dressed for business. With my head up I walked with one hand in my jacket pocket and the other carrying a soft case with my lunch and some old calculators and rulers inside. Oddly, I suddenly thought of my father, walking easy down the block, a day-old newspaper tucked under his arm, his workman’s cap tilted slight back on his head, one hand in his pocket and in the other carrying a small cloth bag.

Who says you can’t go home again…

salignacAn experimental exposure made on the Queensboro Bridge
on February 9, 1910

photo by Eugene de Salignac
New York City Municipal Archives

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