The woman was pleased that I was buying an umbrella. I had just splashed through Rockefeller Center, in three inches of rain, this made me laugh. Nothing was making me laugh at all, only actually wading in my sandals, running between the buildings there.
“Once we sold almost every umbrella we had, to this whole bus of people from China,” she said. She was so pleased, and so pleasant, I wondered if she had stock in the store, or the umbrella company.
That afternoon I was going to meet all these agents who could either tell me my life was worth living or not. So I thought I would try to calm down.
Under the red umbrella, I crossed the street to the cathedral. They were starting a service. I didn’t have time to stay for the service. I stopped at the St. John altar.
I did not believe in anything, except maybe I did believe in St. John, I felt nothing was his fault, not that I was again without a job, my career a mess, or that my ovaries had given up, or that, the previous evening, after I got home, I flossed and a crown popped right out of the row of my teeth. I don’t belong here! the crown said, just as I had crowned a whole afternoon of def con anxiety and thirty read-throughs, editing every other time and making marks for pauses and longer beats, then careful ingestion of exactly one and a half glasses of wine while I waited to go on so that I could stand in front of people and look and sound spontaneous and fresh and people could say to me, “You’re a natural performer.”
They were being kind, I know, but I was ungrateful and wanted to hear, “You worked really hard and persevered through the train you wanted to take not running and having to walk extra blocks, as usual, going the wrong way first, in the rain, in heels, on the brick and uneven streets of downtown, and you showed up late even though you thought people who are late for their own readings ought to be shot, what disrespect, what disrespect, why can’t you get it together?”
The sign at the St. John altar said candles $2, I realized I didn’t care what the sign said, I took out all my change and plunked it through the slot and took the candle and lit it, and God, the church universal, or St. John himself could take it up with me later that it wasn’t $2.
I got a pew and started the service with everyone, sang the parts.
I lost my St. John medal about six months after I moved here.
On my way out of the cathedral, I turned into the gift shop and in a revolving case there was a St. John medal, a heavy one on a heavy chain, right there.
I went to the counter and asked for it. The woman brought back a Joan of Arc medal, which was more than a little weird because the novel I was trying to get an agent to want to sell, thus telling me my life was worth living, the novel is about Joan of Arc (obliquely).
“No,” I said, “John.” Then I wondered if I should have bought the Joan one.
She brought back the John, I gave her a credit card because I am so out of my mind with exhaustion my checking account has too much money in it, I don’t know why, but I’m expecting that means any moment I will be overdrawn because of something I forgot.
I went back to the agent meetings. They went well. I enjoy talking about my work.
At the end of the meetings, a woman I had been talking with was suddenly a friend and we walked to an outdoor cafe and ordered drinks. She talked very fast and so did I and we had plenty to talk about. The waiter asked us to pay because he said it was about to rain. Then the heavens did open up, we leaned back under our umbrella and still we were misted. Heavy rain in New York City means nothing. When you are from tornado territory, nothing less than Shiva-level destruction impresses.
I got back to Brooklyn and in the last block before I was home, I looked over at a huge rainbow, I could see because there is a school across the street from us, an open piece of land, giving us some sky, and a huge rainbow.
Happy postscript: the crown that fell out was just a temporary one. Dentist stuck it back on in five minutes and $50.
Image: “Man With Umbrella In Times Square,” Ted Croner, Metropolitan Museum of Art.