The Audacious Magpie
A Novel in Real-Time
Chapter 7: The Revolving Door
April 6, 2014
I frantically hailed a cab hoping to make Abraham's early morning yoga class. My favorite teacher was finally back after 3 months of travel.
The cab driver's white hair and talkative nature revealed his years behind the wheel.
"Ya got your seatbelt on?" he asked as he moved into traffic. "There are so many crazies on these roads. Ya gotta wear that belt." I followed his instructions and clipped in, becoming hostage to the one-sided conversation heard from the backseat of so many cabs. "The whole world's gone mad."
Hydey stretched out in the seat next to me and gave an exaggerated sigh, rolling his eyes. I pulled out my phone to avoid the broken-record conversation of a world going downhill.
I was already dismal enough with the apartment search still on. April 15th was looming large. Taxes due and moving day all in one. Brilliant.
I could stay with Izzy until I found a place, of course, but we'd be like a pair of high heels in her shoebox apartment. It would be tough not to poke each other no matter how perfect a pair we were.
"When I was growing up, it wasn't like this," the cab driver continued. He motioned to a heap of garbage bags. "I mean, look at all this. There's trash everywhere, so many potholes in these streets. Who are they giving the contracts to, anyway? Nobody cares anymore. The whole place is falling apart." He paused. "Don't ya think?"
I looked up from my phone. "Yes, it's sad," I agreed flatly.
"It is sad. That's what it is." He paused his speech to navigate a left turn.
He coughed a little. "I want to take a PowerPoint class." He looked in the rear view mirror for a response.
"Oh?" Had I heard him right? PowerPoint?
"I want to give presentations to teenagers about what I wished I knew when I was younger. Like starting a retirement account, putting family first, the importance of a positive attitude, ya know? A positive outlook is so important, ya know? Life all depends on how ya look at it. A sunny perspective can really make gray skies turn blue."
I smiled to myself at the contradictions in his stream of consciousness. Perhaps Jekyll and Hyde were sitting on his shoulders as well, whispering away. Maybe they were on the shoulders of every New Yorker fighting to remember their love for the city in the midst of trash piles and potholes.
He meandered through his lesson plans ranging from exercise to investment. Just as he was admonishing the values of a good IRA, we arrived at the studio.
Abraham was standing at the front desk with his perfect smile shining against a deep tan. His salt and pepper goatee had been cut meticulously to complement his carefully sculpted body. Lord, let me have such form when I reach 50, I prayed silently.
"Mami! So wonderful to see you!" His words enveloped me in a hug before his arms did.
"You look fabulous." I admired. "You've soaked up enough sun to warm the entire island."
"Ai! Que hace frio!" He punctuated his weather report with a mock shiver. "That's why I can't move to Albuquerque fast enough!"
My heart fell over and my stomach sank. "You're moving?"
"Oh, Guapa. I thought you knew." He became sober and gentle, placing his hands on my shoulders. There was no way for him to miss my eyes welling up. Damn this revolving door of Manhattan. It emptied my lobby of dear ones too quickly.
He hugged me again and explained, "that's where I've been all this time, going on dates with different cities to find the perfect match. I need one a little warmer, a little calmer -- one that will love on this old bag of bones." I laughed and leaned back to look at him and wipe my eyes.
"Right, Hercules, because you've got one foot in the grave already."
Abraham chuckled and put his arm around my shoulder as we walked into class. "This old yogi just can't do it anymore," he explained. "To do what I love, I'm just working all the time to make rent. I need a cheaper date," he whispered in mock conspiracy.
We paused at the door and he looked at me seriously. "I just can't bring myself to wear the armor any more, either. You need so many layers of it to survive here. It's becoming too heavy."
I nodded. "I know exactly what you mean. The chain mail can rub you raw, can't it?"
He nodded and then squinted his eyes. "Why are you still here, Gus?"
His question startled me. Never had anyone asked me so directly before.
Another student approached to ask Abraham a new question before I could answer the one still lingering in the air. By the time they were finished speaking it was time to start class.
His question left me daydreaming for the next hour. In downward dog I envisioned a backyard garden. While holding warrior 2 I saw myself on a bike year-round. I dreamed of open blue skies in child's pose and quiet streets while holding tree. My body practiced yoga in New York while my mind decorated a little stucco house in New Mexico.
As I rode the bus home from the studio I pulled out my phone to continue the apartment hunt.
$550 for a one-bedroom? Albuquerque wasn't looking half bad.
An email from Izzy interrupted my reverie.
You up for this event on Friday? It's an art installation about owning happiness. If you can't find an apartment to rent, at least you can own a little piece of happy, right? Let Ms. Magpie Kravitz know, too. This is right up her alley.
I forwarded Izzy's email to Lenny.
Ms. A. M.,
All well? Haven't seen a gift posting yet. Perhaps you're out spreading the love at this very moment?
Izzy proposes an interactive exhibit in TriBeCa on Friday if you'd like to join. It would be great to catch up!
I didn't hear from Lenny all day. It was unlike her to be so silent.
I started on my traditional Sunday night cooking experiment. Tonight was pumpkin lasagna and raspberry tarts. At 8pm a message from Lenny lit up my phone.
Something was amiss. Magpie was never so short on words.
I opened the door to a pair of red eyes swollen with sorrow.
"Len, are you ok?" I motioned for her to come inside and took her jacket.
She shook her head. Her mouth was clenched. It formed a dam against the deluge of tears that would surely flow should she speak.
The walk down the hallway was eternal. Every possible catastrophe entered my head.
Finally we sat on the couch. She took a paper from her pocket and handed it to me.
"A guy gave it to me on my subway ride here," she whispered. Her quiet voice was as clenched as her jaw. "He asked if I spoke English first," she laugh-sobbed.
"Did he tell you it was part of The Big Ample project?"
She laugh-sobbed again. Tears streamed down her cheeks and played Connect the Dots with her freckles.
I stood to hand her a cloth napkin from the cupboard.
She took it and looked down. In a barely audible whisper she said, "Gramps is gone."
My stomach clenched and my heart lost its footing for the second time today. Like an echo from this morning I held another friend in a tight hug. This time I was the comforter.
She released choked sobs against my shoulder "Dad -- called at -- midnight. Gramps went -- peacefully in his -- sleep. We're all -- flying there to -- morrow."
Eventually she leaned back and met my own wet eyes. My heart ached for Magpie. My heart ached for the loss of a stoic farmer who told stories of life's smorgasbord and true love's DJ skills. One of the world's dearest souls was gone, his canyons had been deep, profound, lovely.
"I'm so sorry, Lenny." The words were a pittance for the size of her loss. Why didn't they make a Toastmasters for practicing condolences? Someone could teach us to be better at this, couldn't they? Why couldn't I ever find words big enough to hold the size of the sorrow?
I picked up her note from the boy on the train. "This was really sweet of him. I'm so sorry you had to bare your grief on the train, though. This city really doesn't let you hide much, does it? The subway platforms are like mini stages for life's drama."
Lenny gave another choked laugh and shook her head. "That's what I love about New York. It doesn't let you forget any part of what it means to live this crazy human life." Tears were streaming again. "I'll miss it so much."
In response to the slight furrow in my brow, Lenny explained. "I'm going to live with Gran. I can work from anywhere and I can't bear to think of her living alone." She looked down again. "I can't stop thinking about how Gramps always tucked her hair behind her ear and kissed her cheek every night before bed." She looked at me. "Who will tuck her hair back now?"
I nodded. Of course she must go. Still, I couldn't help thinking of that ever-emptying lobby. Lenny was exiting through the revolving door for very good reasons, but I would miss my new friend whose warmth was surpassed only by the bright fire of her hair.
"I have to finish packing so I won't stay much longer." She blew her nose softly. "I do have a pretty big favor to ask of you, Gus." She reached into her bag and pulled out a thick envelope. She opened the flap to remove a sheet of paper and I saw a stack of bills. She unfolded the paper and revealed a list:
Happy Birthday cards
Tootsie Roll pops
These were all familiar. There was also a long list of items like directions to a family from Long Island and helped a woman push her car out of the snow.
"I've given just over half of the 714 gifts," she pointed to the tally.
Then Lenny looked me in the eyes with the same force that Abraham had this morning. "Would you help me finish The Big Ample project, Gus?"
My mind raced in a hundred directions. I thought of her beautiful origami birds and how terrible I was at crafts. I thought of posting Valentines in the subway and how little nerve I had. I thought of her early morning deliveries and how much I loved to sleep in. I thought of her seemingly unconditional love for New York and my newfound dream of New Mexico.
Then I thought of Abraham's unanswered question. Perhaps finishing The Big Ample project was the answer.
"Of course," I agreed. "I'm no Audacious Magpie, but I'll give it my best shot." Lenny gave me a hug and then drew back quickly as if she'd been shocked.
"Gus! You never told me how you got your nickname!"
I blushed. I hadn't explained its origins in years. Especially now with old Hydey as a permanent fixture in my life, I felt barely deserving of it.
I thought back to my christening just weeks after arriving in New York. Izzy had organized a dinner for me to meet some of her childhood friends. A dozen of us sat at a large round table in a Williamsburg restaurant.
Halfway through dinner, the conversation was taken over by an especially vocal trio -- 3 guys who had known Izzy since kindergarten. They were comparing Manhattan to the island in Lord of the Flies.
"It's the perfect comparison," said one. "It's every man for himself out there. Make one wrong move like Piggy and you'll get your faced smashed in."
"No doubt," agreed his counterpart, "just take the subway during rush hour and tell me it doesn't feel like a lawless island filled with teenage boys down there."
"No need to wait for the subway," laughed the third. "We're in W-burg. Just ask the server for a refill and she'll put your head on a stick."
I kept quiet throughout the conversation. I was enamored with the quirkiness of Williamsburg. I loved the pulse of the subway at rush hour. New York and all its beautiful crazies held such wonder for me.
Izzy was sitting next to me and looked under the table in search of something.
"What did you drop?" I whispered.
"I'm looking for the cat who's munching on your tongue."
I blushed. We'd only known each other for a short time and I was playing the sullen party guest. "I just don't have too much to add," I confessed quietly. "I'm so smitten with the city. There's no place I'd rather be."
One of the trio turned to me and asked, "what do you think?"
Blushing again, I admitted that I was like Simon in the story -- hopeful, optimistic and quite taken with the island. "I've only been here a few weeks, but everyone has been wonderful so far. Even on the way here, for example, I didn't have enough money on my subway card. A teenager coming out of the train, saw me bump against the turnstile and turned back to swipe his card to let me through. He gave me a thumbs up as he rushed off before I could even thank him."
My interlocutor smiled. "So happy we're rolling out the red carpet for you, Simon."
"No, not Simon," Izzy corrected. "This is Gus." She raised her glass. "Welcome to New York, Gus. May you always see the good in us."
Due to this week's unexpected turn of events, The Audacious Magpie will take an intermission next week. We look forward to seeing you again on April 20th for Part 3, Chapter 1.