The Audacious Magpie
A Novel in Real-Time
Chapter 5: A Spring in Her Step
March 20, 2014
The longest winter was finally over. Sunshine spilled through the windows offering actual warmth and not only a false promise of it. The slightest whisper of heat found its way into the breeze, elbowing aside the bitterness that had long outstayed its welcome.
There was only one problem. I was still shivering inside.
As if in defiance of the shift in season, old Hydey had tightened his grip on my heart. He was more stubborn than even this gnarly winter had been.
Over the last few weeks, he'd moved in for what seemed like a permanent situation, his proverbial toothbrush now a fixture next to mine. There was no sign of him leaving and I longed for the Jekyll side of the city and myself.
I wanted to kick the old stinker out but he insisted on following me everywhere. His long shadow made everything seem just a shade darker.
There was reason enough to be low at this particular moment. Last week a posted notice informed our building that we had a month to vacate. Like so many privately-owned places the building was being sold to condo developers.
The cozy oasis I'd so painstakingly crafted for half a decade would be transformed into a sleek suite with stainless steel everything. The layers of paint that held this place's history like tree rings would be stripped. The living room's perfect blue that morphed from robin's egg to cornflower through the day would be painted over with sterile white. The creaky warm hardwood floors covered with sheepskin would give way to laminate.
For so long these walls had hugged me with welcome after 3am study sessions, wished me safe travels as I left for a work trips, cradled me during the heartbreak of love lost. One can make a home anywhere, true, but certain places simply resonate goodness and my one-bedroom treasure vibrated with positivity. I ached to have to say goodbye.
Why did so many people want to move here, anyhow? Go back home! I wanted to scream, but the hypocrisy of it stopped me short. I only had as much -- or as little -- right to be here as the next transplant.
It was only this morning that an acquaintance from my office building reminded me of this fact. Our crowded elevator hiccupped its way to the 28th floor stopping 7 times before we were that last ones to exit. I let out a sigh big enough to fill the little space once we finally reached. "It drives me crazy when so many people have to stop along the way," I commented, expecting him to commiserate.
He raised his eyebrows and smirked slightly. "Imagine," he mock shook his head, "the audacity of 'em!" His voice was so heavy with sarcasm it hit the elevator floor with a thud.
Successfully chided, I exited the elevator after him. He was right, we were all just trying to get where we needed to go. Still, the comment felt like insult added to injury.
At lunchtime the warm sunshine meant newly-crowded sidewalks. It felt like a purposeful affront to my current situation. Why are there so many people here? screamed my inner temper tantrum. I'd once viewed navigating the busy streets as a jovial jostle. It now felt like an obstacle course to conquer before I was rewarded with lunch.
Izzy knew how hard I was taking the notice of the building sale. She texted during lunch:
There's nothing that a good quesadilla and banana split can't cure. Come to my place for dinner and we'll search for a fabulous studio. You'll Gussy it up in no time.
Ah, Izzy, my salvation in this place.
That evening she opened the door and said, "Do you know why New Yorkers are so depressed, Gus?"
To my raised eyebrows she replied, "Because the light at the end of the tunnel is only New Jersey."
I smiled and laughed a little. "Very nice, Isabelle. Just don't tell Isaac that joke." Her boyfriend grew up in Jersey City and was constantly defending the place.
"Oh! You know what he found on his way home today?" I shook my head as she took my coat. "A Justin Bieber ticket nailed to a tree. He took it, of course, you never know when you'll need a nail."
I shook my head again. "So it's a little Izzy stand-up for the appetizer tonight? Delicious!" I walked over to her kitchenette.
She joined me there, opening her fridge to pull out various ingredients. "While I was waiting for you I made up a song about tortillas," she paused for timing. "Well, it was more of a rap." She smiled and closed the fridge to punctuate the punch line.
"Did you rehearse this? You kill me, Izzy girl."
"At least I'm not nosy like a pepper!" Another short pause. "They get jalapeño business."
I laughed aloud. She was a rock star.
Picking up the salsa, she pointed at the picture of a man in a sombrero. "Did I ever tell you about Juan?" she asked innocently.
I shook my head and waited, knowing the show was only just beginning.
"Well, he was a twin given up for adoption at birth. He went to Spain and his brother went to Jordan and was named Amal. Years later, Juan met his birth mother. During the meeting she turned to her husband and said she wished she could meet Amal, too. 'But they're twins,' the husband replied. 'If you've seen Juan, you've seen Amal!'"
Eventually we sat down at Izzy's multi-purpose desk to eat and search apartment listings. Her dose of humor had helped us start on a high. Sorting through the limited options slowly killed the buzz. I'd never find a one-bedroom in my neighborhood at the same rate. In fact, I would have to share a place or move much further from the city. It was every New Yorker's dilemma. You got place, space or price, but rarely all three.
Deflated, I closed the laptop and fell back onto Izzy's bed.
"You know, Gus, twenty years ago the world had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Steve Jobs. Today we have no Cash, no Hope and no Jobs." I raised my head to hear the ending. "Please don't let Kevin Bacon die," she said earnestly.
Izzy laughed and clapped her hands.
We were both silent for a moment.
"It will all work out, Gus. It always does."
Later that night as I descended her building's stairs Izzy called out, "Sleep well, Gus! By the way, what do you call a sleepwalking nun?" I gave an exaggerated shrug and stopped to hear the answer. "A roamin' Catholic." Oh, Izzy girl.
As I walked to the subway I thought about the relative ease of my troubles compared with the intensity of what so many others faced. I felt selfish and shallow to let this bring me so low. Still, the weight of others' tragedies didn't lighten my own burden. I was still losing my home.
A message from Lenny lit up my phone just then. Her message was a welcome distraction.
Happy First Day of Spring! The A.M. was at it again today! This time the scene was near Columbus Circle. This was my favorite gift yet.
People stopped to take photos and a few approached to ask what I was doing. I was able to give them the gift directly. It was wonderful.
One man called out, "Good on you!" while he passed in a hurry. Isn't this place just the best? I'm loving New York more every day!
Hope you enjoyed the sunshine!
The brightness of her photos was rivaled only by the brightness of her disposition. How did she have so much energy? Only a week ago I'd delivered chicken noodle soup to a phantom with raccoon rings of red around her eyes and a bird's nest of orange hair.
The Audacious Magpie sure is an early bird! SO glad to see you're feeling better. So The Big Ample project is turning out as you hoped?
By the time I emerged from the train, Lenny had written back.
Oh, Gus. You have no idea. Delivering every gift gives me such a jolt of excitement. There's no more self-consciousness to it now. It is just so fun to see people's reaction.
I had 2 flowers left over that I took on the train with me. Across the aisle an older woman sat with her arms folded and eyes closed. Upon reaching my stop I laid the flowers in her arms. I didn't mean to disturb her, but her eyes popped open and upon seeing the flowers she looked up at me with curious eyes and a wide grin. Her smile has been with me all day. Every time I think about it, I can't help smiling myself.
Is all well with you?
I hadn't told Lenny of my current plight. I left it out for now. Instead I wanted to ask her where she got her fire. I could use a little of that warmth in addition to the promise of spring.
Wonderful story, Ms. A.M. Tell me, though, how do you do it? Your energy and enthusiasm practically ignite my phone.
Lenny's response took some time.
You're too kind, Gus. You pose a good question, though. I've thought about it and I think it all goes back to Gramps. I've only mentioned him briefly, but he's shaped my way of being more than anyone else.
In my teenage years, I was all sorts of lost -- just like any teenager, really. Gramps knew I was struggling and every Sunday during 8th grade we'd speak on the phone. During these calls he taught me a few lessons that guide my worldview to this day.
Let's have dinner next week to catch up. I can tell you more then.