Thursday, February 7, 2013

Life above Henry Street

All through dinner a car alarm on the street below goes off, intermittently. Eventually we figure out that it does so only when another vehicle drives by. At least we learn this after I hang over the edge of the terrace to watch the street below, wearing Tshirt and jeans in the light snow.

Later, long after dinner, all hell breaks loose on the street. Like a meerkat I pop my head over the side of the terrace again to see what's going on. The owner of the very same car is there and is now standing beside his car, pressing on his horn, for ten seconds at a time and waking the neighbourhood. A woman wrapped in a bathrobe appears at a window across from us, phone in hand, her elegant apartment backlit behind her. The man on the street walks up and down and shouts up at the brownstones. A couple on the sidewalk passes. He returns to the car and presses the horn again - a sort of bedlam of bent steel and exploding trumpets. It's awful and shatters the night. The couple on the street notice an approaching police van and wave it down. They gesture at the man. I am delighted. Karma on wheels. I turn from the show on the street and climb down from the cold stone table, onto the chair, step onto the gravel quickly, bare feet cold, and catch my knee on the sharp edge of the field stone slab, a jolting pain down the bone, and hop inside to explain the whole drama to Vince, who seems unimpressed. Vince is tired of New York. In the night my patched knee bleeds on the white sheets; a tiny, deep cut.

It's not a very noisy neighbourhood. And by New York standards Henry Street is fairly quiet. Because we are sandwiched between a hospital (under threat of closure, now) and a nursing home, unnecessary ambulance sirens are not unusual, and, always, the business of the street continues. Nurses and doctors park, and unpark after their shifts end, home owners circle like hawks, watching for a parking spot. Young, late night drunks weave home loudly on the sidewalks under the oaks at weekends. We hear them  because this is winter and our small bedroom window stays open to the cold air, which we like.

Our architect friends, Eric and Mimi, remarked that the bedroom-division within our apartment is in fact illegal - its window is too small. Inhumane, in short. These are the same nArchitects who just won the competition to design microunits for the City of New York. I hope their dinners in this impossible space had some influence. In summer, the inhumane window whose reflections of overlapping and melting squares of bright sunlight against the white walls in the mornings, that teach me to tell time through the changing year, shuts, and we return to a silent cocoon, cushioned by the white roar of the air conditioner.

But now it has been open for months, to the street, the sirens, the voices, the wind, the rain on the roof outside, and, if we are lucky, the soft patter of a promised Friday snow storm.
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