This is an apocryphal story in my family: a dad took his family to New York, saw a guy with the cards on a card table on the street, said, “I can do this!” and lost all their trip money in four minutes. Three card monte.
“You have a lovely voice,” said the woman to my left, who had brought her husband.
“What’s this?” said the guy on the other side of me.
“It’s from ‘Guys and Dolls,’ it has Frank Sinatra, you’ll love it,” I said to the handsome Indian guy with glasses.
“You can bring him up to speed,” I said to his boyfriend, when they switched places. “You can work with him.”
“Yeah,” he said. “He’s a good guy.”
For at least half an hour, I was having fun. This night the piano player was different last night, they’re always enthusiastic, of course, or pretend to be, that’s the job, but last night, he was bursting out of his skin, rocket fuel, there was a concentration, fluidity, ease, in the keys, the banter, the way the songs went into each other, the way he defended himself as they must against one or another drunk demanding a dumb song. Last night it was no problem. There were no problems.
We sang “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” which I didn’t recall singing before, nice, even if we didn’t get to the dirty verse, and “Maybe” from “Annie,” which we don’t sing often, but I love.
Maybe far away
or maybe real nearby
she may be pouring his coffee
he may be straightening his tie
When the waiter came back and I ordered a whiskey, he said, “Good girl.” There are two other people who say this to me, my godmother and my stepmom. My godmother, when I do something brave like move to New York, and my stepmom when I remember to put the convertible top back on my dad’s car.
While I was waiting for my coffee the next morning, a woman said, “Do you live around here?”
“Well,” I said, “In New York, yeah, but not around here.”
“Well my church is having a….”
“I just came from church,” I said, which should have been enough.
“Well, we’re having a seminar about how prophesies are coming true….”
That is the last thing I want to hear about. Wait, which prophesies? I figured she meant the evil dictator ones, not the lion and the lamb lying down. I didn’t figure she was going to invite me to sit and hear someone say it was going to be all right, that every valley would be exalted and every mountain and hill would be made low, and the crooked made straight, and the rough places, plain.
Somewhere it’s all right, but not here.
Maybe in a house
all hidden by a hill
she’s sitting playing piano
he’s sitting paying a bill
It was raining ice today. Still I got up and dressed and walked through it, walked slowly on ice sidewalks to the subway, red umbrella arch proscenium over my view of our boulevard with its black scratch trees in two lines, then even more slowly down the subway steps that were almost underwater.
I was only a little late, I had missed only the opening hymn and prayers. I sat in a pew right behind a stone pillar, its soft shape attracted me, when we stood for the gospel, I touched it because it looked soft, and it wasn’t.
“She loves chocolate,” someone told me.
“But she hasn’t had it in two years?” I said.
“She’s fasting from chocolate,” someone said.
“That’s intense,” I said. “I used to fast for Lent. I don’t any more. Once I had given up alcohol, and I ended up sitting with two poets and a painter until late at night, and they got more and more beautiful and I got duller. Never again.”
I didn’t say exactly that, but that was what I meant.
Betcha they’re good
why shouldn’t they be
I undecorated the Christmas tree. Pulled the red shiny balls off the branches. The branches were as crunchy as bones. The lights were wound around folded, old sections of the New York Times, a newspaper full of lies and fake news. I pulled the popcorn string off. I opened my bedroom window, fished each string out, and shut the window on the end of the string, so birds would eat them, or squirrels, hopefully not rats, but if rats, oh, well.
My roommate carried the tree down to the sidewalk, lay it on top of the black trash bags and their snow coats. I crossed myself. It seemed like the thing to do.
Maybe now this prayer’s
the last one of its kind
won’t you please come get your baby
Image: “Planning the Capture of Booth” by Alexander Gardner, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“Annie” lyrics by Martin Charnin.