Steve waited on a corner in Tribeca. They had coordinated the meeting spot by text. He paced. He was always extremely nervous for the first five minutes of any date. And he would always pace right beforehand. Steve usually quelled his nerves by convincing himself that this was the last date he would ever go on, after which he would immediately become a monk in some undefined mountain range, at a monastery with very lax admission requirements. Then, the date would actually happen, and he would realize that he truly enjoyed the company of women and the conveniences of modern society.
He turned, looked out towards the street, and then he saw her. Abby looked cute and willowy. She wore a bright yellow sundress. Her earrings were made out of real butterfly wings, finished in a glossy jeweler's grade resin. The natural sectors of winged color were twirling as Abby approached with a playful bounce in her step. Despite being in her early twenties, Abby moved girlishly, as though she was a source of wild energy spilling forth uncontrollably, without the ability to coordinate itself via her body. With sparkling eyes, she would randomly seem to speed up and bound forward, but then she would predictably become breathless, and slow down, only to abruptly persist ahead in half-committed jumps a few seconds later. And so she approached that way, within Steve's visibility, for a block and a half, sprinting, slowing, and then hopping up onto the curb only to extend her open palms and splayed fingers outwards, as if she had just performed an impressive feat with the final hop. "Jazz hands!" she cried aloud, and this was how she greeted Steve. She flushed red with embarrassment and then tried to sound more casual. "I mean, hey stranger. So, what are we doing?"
"Right now we're talking," said Steve. "But pretty soon we're going to walk. We're going to walk there." He pointed.
They strolled past Stuyvesant High School and walked up to the railing at the water's edge of Nelson A. Rockefeller Park. They stared out across the water at a green speck raising its arm in the distance. "Hey, what do you think the French were thinking when they gave the Statue of Liberty to America in 1886?" asked Steve.
"What do you mean? They were trying to be nice."
"Well, the Statue of Liberty is an imposing gift. That's like giving your neighbor a mannequin."
Abby laughed. "Huh?"
"And now we've put the Statue of Liberty on all these postcards! And people think of it as a good photo op. It's so odd. That's like if you were to mail out a photo in which you and your family posed in front of the creepy mannequin that the neighbors gave you. Everyone would ask, 'Why did you send us a picture of all of you standing in front of a mannequin on your front porch?' And you'd reply, in all seriousness, 'Because she symbolizes freedom.'"
"Haha, you're ridiculous. It's just a statue and it's very green and pleasant."
"It wasn't always green. It's copper. It changed color on us."
"Haven't you ever heard of the expression 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth'?"
"Yes, I've heard the expression, but I've never been given a horse, so I don't see how that applies."
Steve walked away from the railing and Abby followed. Steve continued, "It makes me wonder though -- what if America didn't like the Statue of Liberty? What if we thought that it completely clashed with all of our other civic decorations and the overall design of the city? When you're given something big like a three hundred foot statue, you have to put that on display somewhere prominent. Or else France would come over, and ask, 'Where's the statue we gave you?' And America would awkwardly reply, 'Um, yeah, we put it in Iowa.' Then France's feelings would be hurt."
"I think the real question is, what was the gift that we subsequently gave to France?" said Abby. "I'm surprised that we didn't try to out-gift each other. When you're given something like that, it sets the bar really high."
Steve smiled. They walked along in silence for a little while. An airplane flew by overhead. Abby stared up at the sky and said, "It's strange, isn't it -- the way that my imagination deals with airplanes?"
Steve said, "I don't know. It could be strange. You'd need to elaborate."
"Well the thing is, Steve, most people when they're on airplanes, they're looking down at the little buildings below, which from up there look like squares and little blocks, and when they're over the countryside, they gaze down at fields which appear as if they're patches on a quilt, and they probably get to wondering what's going on down there. They probably imagine the little people below in the buildings doing their work in offices, and the farmers in the fields picking their crops and driving their little tractors. But I don't usually imagine any of that. I'm usually zonked out or reading a magazine when I'm on a plane. But whenever I'm on the ground, and I see a plane fly by overhead, I always imagine all the people on the plane -- crammed together, leaning against the windows with those static-y airline pillows, and sitting in the aisle seats getting their elbows bumped as the flight attendants shuffle down the aisle with their beverage carts. But I bet you most people on the ground never imagine what's going on up above inside a plane. They might imagine where the plane is going, and they might wish that they were traveling somewhere else, somewhere exotic, but they don't imagine the interior of the plane. People do imagine what's below when they're actually on the plane. There's not much at all that you can imagine about the inside of a plane, but there are so many things that could be occurring below -- but here I am, always imagining the boring insides of planes. I'm sorry, was I rambling?"
She snort-laughed. Steve smiled. "Don't apologize. Here." He paused and with his eyes he tried to look distant. Then he said, "I just imagined that I was on the plane and given a tiny bag of pretzels."
"Really? Did you?"
"Yes. I didn't want you to feel like a freak, so I did that for you."
"That's splendid, dear. It truly is and I thank you!"
"I just ordered a martini, but the flight attendant is saying that we've begun our descent to our final destination, and anyway, she thinks I've had enough, and now she's reprimanding me for not buckling my seatbelt."
"Okay. Very good."
"Now I'm getting rough with her and making quite a scene. Some of the other passengers who disapprove of my misogynistic conduct are closing in on me and they're about to tackle me, but I see the emergency exit door and I decide that I'm going to make a break for it! I grab a parachute from my carry-on luggage, rob the beverage cart of little liquor bottles, get that door open, and plummet while laughing maniacally about my defiant heist."
"You're mocking me."
"I am not. I would never. But I am about to land soon. In the water over there." He pointed.
Abby folded her arms across her chest and pretended to be annoyed. Then she abruptly changed directions and started to walk away, and Steve followed. "I know of a good place to drink," she announced.
They walked to a bar in the Wall Street area. Abby briefly stepped inside and looked around, before declaring, "No, this is no good."
"You don't want to drink here?"
"It's not the same."
"It's not the bar that you had in mind?"
"No it's the same bar, but the same people aren't here."
"I hate to break it to you, but the odds that the exact same people are going to constantly be in a Manhattan bar, waiting around in the event that you happen to walk in are quite rare, and that's not a reasonable expectation at all."
"I mean the same types of people aren't here. Usually a bar has a scene. It's not the same scene. This place is too uppity."
"I think I know a place around here that is downity. Do you want to--"
"Oh let's go eat Thai food! Do you like Thai food? It's usually the type of food that they eat in Thailand."
"It's always the type of food that they eat in Thailand. That's why it's Thai food."
"Not always. For instance, most Chinese people are farmers who eat mostly rice. Yet Chinese takeout restaurants serve sweet and sour pork and all these things that are eaten only occasionally in China," said Abby. "No one owns a type of food, really. And if an American eats Chinese food, doesn't it then become American food, since it is being fed to an American? I suppose it's really all just people food."
"How do we get to the restaurant? Where is it?"
"We'll take a subway uptown. It's near Union Square."
"Why does China always gets it own town?" asked Abby suddenly. "New York has a Chinatown, so does Philly, so does Boston. There's even a Chinatown in Montreal. China is very good at getting its own towns and getting them to be named very consistently."
They walked past a schizophrenic homeless man, who was shouting out profanities. He scratched his beard and yelled at the empty sidewalk, "You bitch! You stupid bitch, you don't know anything, do you? You're worthless to me!"
Abby sighed as they turned the corner. She said, "I feel sorry for the delusion being yelled at."
"I feel sorry for the man. It's hard to see people suffering from mental illness like that."
"I wasn't even thinking about the man," said Abby. "I just can't help but worry about that poor woman who he kept calling a bitch. That's a horrible thing to say to somebody."
"She wasn't really there."
"Oh I know," said Abby. "I know. But she was to him."
They descended down the stairwell into a subway station. Steve slid his card through the turnstile and entered, and Abby followed behind him. She said, "I think that there should be a Z line in the NYC subway system. The train would be painted white with black stripes. Everyone would secretly get psyched whenever they have to transfer to the Z. Of course they'd have a very inefficient commute, because the route would obviously zigzag between each station."
"Obviously," agreed Steve. He chuckled. Abby walked over to the wooden bench on the platform and perched on the edge of it. She spit out her gum into the silver slip of paper out of which it came, and slowly and delicately folded it up as though she were doing something important.
A little girl wearing a sash with pins walked up to Steve. She asked, "Excuse me, will this train go to Brooklyn?"
"No, you're on the uptown platform," said Steve. "If you go up those stairs and walk over to the downtown platform, you can catch a train from there and it will go to Brooklyn. Which station?"
"It goes there, this is the N line. It's the first stop on the other side of the bridge."
"Okay. Thank you," said the little girl. She scurried off and climbed the stairs.
Steve turned to Abby and said, "I shouldn't have given her directions."
"What do you mean?"
"She's a Girl Scout. Girl Scouts are supposed to learn how to live in the wilderness, using compasses and instinct. That girl couldn't even figure out a subway map. I've done her a disservice by giving her directions, instead of leaving her to her own devices," said Steve.
"Don't be ridiculous, dear."
"I'm just saying, she'd better hope she makes good cookies and has her domestic skills down pat, because she'd be dead in the wild in less than a week. Grizzly bears don't give directions."
"Would you like me to go maul her with my claws?" asked Abby, making a claw shape with her polished fingernails.
"I think it would be worthwhile if you did. Yes."
Steve said, "People are always asking me for directions and I don't know why."
"It's good karma," said Abby. "If you're helpful to them."
"You don't really believe in karma, do you?" asked Steve.
"Honestly, no. I'm being tongue-in-cheek. I don't believe in heaven, hell, or karma. I think that the concept of karma is for selfish cowardly people. They need to believe that there's some invisible referee tallying up everyone's points. If someone does something mean to them, then the referee, being partial of course to them, gives that bad person negative points. And if they get seen doing something good, their selfish side doesn't have to feel uneasy about having done something selfless that didn't benefit them, 'cause heck, they're just racking up points. Did you give spare change to a homeless person recently? Big score! The truth is that you should be good for the sake of goodness. The truth is that mean people get away with mean things because the world isn't fair. This is a pretty dark world. Life isn't a game with a reward and punishment system. You gotta do things for the sake of doing them. You are who you are in any given moment -- not someone on the path to someplace else or being someone else."
"I'd agree with that," said Steve. He paced on the platform. "That sounds like the perspective of someone renouncing a past belief. There seems to be an understanding of the thought process that you're condemning."
"I went through an Eastern religion phase, yeah," said Abby. "That's very perceptive of you, dear."
"Were you a Girl Scout? Perhaps that's why you were defending the Girl Scout."
"I was defending her because she was a lost little girl and you implied that she deserved to be eaten by a bear."
"Oh. What was your childhood like?"
"Horrible. Children are small and creepy-looking, with their big heads and big eyes, and they're mean. They made my life miserable. Kids say things they shouldn't say. It isn't a pure honesty as though they were freshly plucked from heaven -- it's just meanness. And I guess as adults they get better at suppressing it, but, I don't know, sometimes not. As a kid, I had a tree house that was very exclusive. It was so exclusive that I was the only one allowed in. I fell out of it once. I broke my arm and had to get a cast. All my friends, and not just the kids who were really my friends but everyone at the school, they all wrote stuff on my cast and doodled on it and stuff. If they'd been doing it because they cared, out of endearment, because they wanted to give me warm reminders of their companionship during my struggle, I'd have been fine with it. But I knew that they were really doing it for the novelty of being able to write on someone else with a marker. You break one freaking limb and all of a sudden they want to turn you into a communal arts and crafts project! Anyway, these two girls who were jealous of me wrote insults on my cast. They wrote it on a part of the cast where I couldn't see what they wrote until the cast came off. And then I felt stupid because I had thanked them after they wrote on me and I was so nice to them. Anyway, kids are brats, and I knew that kids are brats even when I was a kid and I was a brat. I've always seen things for what they really are. It's ironic, because I work in an industry of lies, you know."
"I work in advertising, so I'm with you on that," said Steve.
Abby didn't hear him. She was lost in her memories. She said, "I used to curtsy a lot when I was a little girl. I saw it in these old black and white movies and I thought it was the most marvelous, graceful thing that a girl could do. So I did it all the time when I met people, like my parents' friends, and they thought it was adorable." She paused. "When you curtsy in your twenties, people look at you like you're mentally impaired." She stared down the subway tunnel and sighed despondently. "It really isn't fair."
Steve nodded while half-listening and looking down the tunnel. He said, "This train is taking forever."
"No," said Steve. "Not literally forever. It isn't a perpetually imminent train."
Abby said, "I used to love watching classic movies so much! I love everything about the 1940's and black and white movies. I think it's all marvelous. Sometimes in the picture shows back then, in romantic flicks, the women would swoon. Wouldn't that be glorious, to genuinely swoon?"
"You've never swooned?"
"I once ate a Popsicle too quickly and got brain freeze. I stumbled around a bit. But it's not the same, and I'm pretty sure I was alone in the kitchen at the time," said Abby with a frown. "I may have landed on the tile actually." She shrugged her dainty shoulders. "When I was a little girl I watched 'My Fair Lady.' It's this marvelous old film, from the 60's, I think, where a guy takes this sassy girl from the streets and teaches her how to be elegant and posh and beautiful, and he parades her around in his upper class social circles, like a little social experiment of sorts where she's basically a paramecium in a test tube, but it's actually a really sweet and lovely story. Anyway, to teach her to walk with poise and grace, she has to go walking around the house with a book balanced on her head. So as a little girl I used to walk around with a book on my head. I think that it definitely affected my walking. But I never get complimented on it. No guy has ever gone up to me and said, 'You know, Abigail, if I wanted to, I could keep one of my books on top of your head.' Guys have said lots of other things that they could do with me, but never that."
The train arrived at the platform with a loud mechanical screeching and a rush of warm air. The doors slid open. The pair waited for a few passengers to depart the train car and then they entered and sat beside one another at the end of one of the long horizontal grey seats.
Steve found himself staring at Abby's face, entranced by her prettiness. She looked at him, conscious of his stare.
"I would really appreciate it if you let me put an Old Farmer's Almanac on top of your head one of these days. You walk so gracefully and sometimes I need to brush up on my astronomy."
She giggled and said, "Okay."
He kept staring at her. He smiled and said, "Who the hell are you, anyway?"
"I don't know," answered Abby quietly.
"You don't? I was hoping somebody might, and I thought that you may have the best theory of them all."
"How would I know something like that? Like who I am?" asked Abby with sincerity.
"To find yourself, you must get lost," suggested Steve.
"Have you found yourself yet?" asked Abby.
"No. I guess I'm not lost enough. I'll get there."
The train arrived at Union Square. They moved through a surging crowd. When they emerged outside, the sun was setting and casting an orange glow over the city. Steve cranked his head above the people bustling around them and looked at the tops of the buildings, and Abby looked over at the old Union Square hotel. They wandered around for a while, getting lost in the sights and sounds, occasionally stealing admiring glimpses of one another.
"Let's go in here," said Abby at one point.
"This restaurant doesn't serve Thai food. You said that you wanted Thai food."
"I thought we figured out that Thai food is actually people food, and that all food is the same and all people are the same."
"We figured that out? All on our own?" said Steve. "We're quite impressive."
They entered the restaurant and were promptly seated. They sat opposite one another at a little table by the window with a candle in the center. Abby stared into the flame. It was an uppity candle, but it didn't matter to her then. She was transfixed by it. She watched the flame struggle to dance, to waver, to get attention by burning brightly.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, David Pring-Mill. All rights reserved.