Unfinished Business (or, The End of Summer)
This summer, I can't even believe it. The summer of good surprises. It began with a list of plans and none of them got finished — better ones came instead. I began August in a frenzy. I didn't know that my birthday (in early September) would come with the best end-of-summer gift anyone could ask for (Harry, and our trip to The Hamptons, a post is coming) but there was a new friend to make before that. I needed to meet Kent (nickname of course).
On August 30 at 8 am waitress set before me the first soft boiled egg I'd ever eaten in public. Kent ordered the avocado toast. A pot of coffee steaming between us.
"Thanks for meeting me this morning," Kent said. He lifted up his toast and a lump of avocado went into his lap.
"Did you drop some?" I asked.
He nodded his head "yes."
"You know when you meet someone new, and you're nervous?" The two suits to our left looked over, their ears picking up his British accent from far off. Kent was petite, in both height and build. His nose, eyes and mouth reminded me of Matthew Goode. His hair was salt and pepper. He would later complain that he was losing "a bit off the top."
"Don't be nervous," I laughed. Then to change the subject: "Its really nice to be out before work. I love walking through midtown in the morning. I saw them taping the 'Today' show on my walk over. And, it's nice to have a big breakfast before work."
Kent had a piece of avocado now dangling from his mouth, struggling to get it all in. When he did, he did so with his eyes wide and his cheeks blushing. I stifled a laugh and looked down, pretending to miss it completely.
I'd met Kent online. Within an hour of matching and messaging each other I learned that he was in New York working for the US Open. He wasn't seeking dates but friends, specifically a local tour guide who wouldn't mind an afternoon in Central Park.
At first the idea was unattractive — a time suck. In my 20s this sort of thing was fun, "a new friend!" I used to say. With tourists you never see them again, two or three texts after, but you never see them again.
My heart decided there was room to play tour guide one last time. Besides, I was already closing out August like a madwoman. I had been meeting so many men for cocktails I was always sleepy from midnight cab rides home. It felt like nothing to add a new face to the rotation of faces.
Kent was running off a list of New York must-dos.
"But I don't want to do anything too touristy," Kent warned. "I like the unseen, underground hidden stuff."
I put a finger to my chin.
"There's lots of things," I said. "Let me give it some thought. I'll send you a list."
Two weeks later Kent agreed to meet me for an afternoon uptown, the last neighborhood he had yet to explore. I was impressed by his itinerary without my help: so far he'd walked all through Williamsburg, made a pass through Queens, crossed a bridge on foot and did the dinner and drinks thing in West Village. Together we'd had a time trying to get into a speakeasy on Labor Day (it was closed) and had to suffer at an empty spot nearby playing the Open on a big screen.
I planned the usual uptown tour: jazz at Marjorie Eliots, a walk to The Highbridge and the Little Red Lighthouse, and drinks somewhere near 168th. At 3:30 we buzzed Majorie's apartment and entered the wide, white marble lobby still done up like something from the 1920s.
"Every Sunday she opens up her home and gives a free jazz concert. It's the coolest thing in town. The only tourists that know it exists are Norwegian," I said as blondes filled the little folding chairs of Marjorie Eliot's apartment.
I'd always gone to Marjorie Eliots in the winter, when the sun set early and a darkness overtook the room. In the summer the parlor windows were open, the breeze lifting the curtains. The music was as good as it always is, I closed my eyes and swayed in my seat. We left just before 5.
"That was really nice! Can you imagine, it's so nice that she's able to do that every week," said Kent as we walked north on Edgecombe, past the prison.
"Hey! I see you!" shouted an inmate from a window. We could barely see the face, the window was laden with bars.
"Who said that?" Kent asked.
"That's a jail," I said. "A prisoner just yelled at me from a jail cell!"
"That's never happened to me before," Kent laughed.
"Hey!" yelled the voice again. "When I get out I'll come get you! That man ain't doing nothing for you! Don't you want a piece of this!"
"Well," I said to Kent, "it's not like he can get out."
"I'm getting out someday!" yelled the man.
"I can't believe this is happening," Kent said, beside himself. We'd now made it to the end of the block, turned down towards Highbridge Park, where two adult community teams were playing basketball. He pulled out his phone and started snapping the large, animated crowd.
"Is this local enough for you?" I asked.
"This is amazing," Kent said. He put on a face I'd seen so many times before, the wide-eyed wonder of a tourist. A face I'd made when I was still "just visiting." The face I still make when New York surprises me. Before moving here, all the art I'd ever seen about the city I thought was just exaggeration for arts sake. Then you get here and you see the train rats, the public pee-ers, and the jazz bands, the lights, the couples, the sparkle. It's all very, very real.
I took Kent to the Highbridge that connects my neighborhood to The Bronx. Then we went East so I could take him to the see the George Washington Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse.
He was in awe of the fire hydrant that was left open so the neighborhood kids could splash in the heat. He was in awe of the elderly woman dancing to bachata with a cane balanced on her forehead. A documentary film crew followed a couple arguing down the street ("We'll be the faces waffled out when that thing releases.") He was in awe of that too.
We started the path to the lighthouse just before sunset. It was my first time there, and I was glad Kent was with me. The walkways were dotted with teenagers smoking marijuana and small tunnels covered in graffiti. We caught a couple being lewd in the woods, and when they saw us, directed us to take a left to make it to the lighthouse.
"I hope it's worth it," I said to Kent. The sun was setting, so the sky was getting it's color. The whole area by the Hudson River was quiet, the water was low enough to wade in. There were big rocks on the shore, we climbed from rock to rock. You could see all the way to downtown.
"Why couldn't it always be summer? Always beautiful weather, a day or two just before or after my birthday, why couldn't I eat fish everyday and drink rose, just keep pretending," I said.
"But it's so hot," he said.
"I like it," I said.
We walked back and Kent wanted to buy me a birthday drink, my birthday had been the day before. I'd celebrated with Harry on his roof (post to come) but otherwise wanted it to be very low key. We had a horrible pair of cheap cocktails at the local spot. A homeless man, overhearing my conversation and clearly mentally impaired, yelled at me from the sidewalk.
"You're a fucking vampire!" (Clearly, he's been reading my blog.)
I just shrugged, as if I'd been living here 25 years instead of just nine. I'd heard it all before.
I walked Kent to his subway stop, hugged him goodbye and watched him descend the stairs. He would return to London in a couple of days.
He hadn't exhausted his to-do list yet.
I hopped on an M3 bus and recalled the days when I had a "list." Every trip I made to New York (which was twice or three times yearly after I began college) the list got bigger. Counting down to a flight home was the most depressing thing on earth. I couldn't wait for now, when I would finally have a forever in New York to take my time, see everything, do everything.
To know that I have that gift now? The thought eased every anxiety. On the bus I let my legs stretch out in front of me. Sunk into my seat.
I got a text from Kent, he'd made it to the hotel. A few days later, a text before his flight. Then they stopped, just like I knew they would.