The Blind Date

436px-absinthe

[Source: Google search.]

My wife and I arrived at a popular Upper West Side restaurant about fifteen minutes before our friends.  Mariam remained by the door to wait.  The place was crowded and noisy.  We’d been here before.  It was always like that.

I made straight for the bar to get a beer and wait for our friends and a table.  We switched our reservations from 8:00 pm to 7:00.  There was some confusion.  My wife made it clear that we couldn’t  and wouldn’t wait until 8:00.

I snagged a seat at the small bar and ordered some kind of imported beer on draught.  I took a sip.  That is when I heard the woman next to me say something.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “Were you talking to me? Is the seat taken?”

“No,” she said. “I was talking to myself”.

I had the feeling she thought I was going to hit on her.  She clutched her iPhone in her right hand.

“Are you waiting for someone?”, I asked.

“Yes, he’s late.”  She turned to me and looked me full in the face.  I saw an attractive woman with just a bit too much red lipstick and too much hope in her eyes.  I took a risk and asked:

“Waiting for a date?”

“Yes,” she said.  “And he’s late.  He already cancelled once before on me claiming there was a sickness in the family.”

“So, you think you’re being ‘stood-up’?” I ventured.

“Yes.”

“How late is he?”

“He was supposed to be here at 6:45.”  I looked at my watch.  It was 6:48.

“Hey, it’s probably traffic.  His Uber didn’t arrive.  Give him a little more time.”

“How long?”

“Give him until 7:10 and then make a call or text him,” I said.

I sensed that this woman has been let down more than a few times on the blind date thing.  She even admitted that it was true.

“I have a lot to offer,” she said.  “I saw a guy for a year and a half.  He didn’t want to go anywhere, movies, opera, museums…I told him I wanted to get out and experience what New York City had to offer.”

“Good move,” I said.

She looked at me again, not avoiding direct eye contact.  “I’m sixty,” she said.  “I have a lot of living to do.”

Our party arrived and our table was ready.

“That’s my wife over there with the white jacket.  She was a former opera singer.”

“Interesting,” she said.  “I’m an opera singer too.”

I got up and took my coat off the seat.  It was a few minutes after 7:00 pm.

“It was nice talking to you,” I said as I made a move to our table.  I felt suddenly very sorry for this woman.  She wanted to have a date on this night.  She wanted a companion.  She most likely wanted a lover.  She was sixty and she said she had a lot of living to do.  I thought for an instant to ask her to join our group but realized it would be awkward for everyone.  I turned to her as I left her side.  She still clutched her iPhone.

“I hope he gets here.  I hope you have a date tonight,” I said.  She smiled.

I went to our table and settled into my chair.

“I met a most interesting woman,” I said to our friends and to Mariam.  “She was an opera singer.”

I ordered a Malbec and ate a thumb-sized piece of bread.

I looked over at the bar stool.  The woman was gone.  I glanced around the room to see it he did indeed arrive.  I didn’t find her.  She most likely went home alone again that night.  She would wipe off the red lipstick.  She would pour herself a glass of Chardonnay and sit alone…maybe watch an old movie…maybe call a friend…maybe go to sleep..she probably had a cat or a dog.  Everyone else in Manhattan seems to.  But it wasn’t a pet she was looking for that night.  It was a man.

She probably cried, alone and wishing for another chance to find someone to join her in life.

I can almost cry myself thinking about her hope that was dashed and her lonely night before her.

Actually, I did.

There are a million stories in the Naked City…and this is one of them.

 

 

 

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Thirty Feet From My Pillow: A Tale Of Love, Sex And Perhaps Death Outside My Bedroom Window

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I can’t recall seeing so many clusters and varieties of Fungi in my front yard in the sixteen years we have owned our home on the hill above Rainbow Lake.  I was on my knees examining a species that was unfamiliar to me.  I was on my knees in three inches of yellow, red and wet leaves that had fallen after a rain.  Too late to rake.  Too wet and heavy.  I also knew that when I stood, I would have two wet circles on the knees of the Route 66 jeans from the Malone Wal-Mart.

Something caught my eye.  Something almost completely buried in the leaves inches away from the mushroom cluster I was studying.  I brushed a few leaves aside exposing a wet and empty bird’s nest.  It must have fallen from the enormous bush in our front yard.

I looked at the nest and began to think of the family of avians that had made it their home for the spring and summer.

I had suspected something was different every time I walked from our front door to the car.  There was always a bird that would flutter close to me and make me duck.  Most of our bird activity was in the back of the house, observed from our deck, with the lake in the distance.  I never gave the creature much thought…until now…as I knelt beside what was probably its home.

How did I miss it all?

The spring was full of bird songs.  It’s what happens here in the Adirondack forest.  I knew in late April and May that the mating season was in full swing.  Some male bird (I never saw it long enough to make a positive ID…maybe it was a Robin?  A Sparrow?), was desperate to find a mate.  Our yard was like a bar at closing time.  The urge to procreate was overpowering.

He must have scored.  He must have found the one for him.  I was kneeling next to the nest that proved it.

I looked from the nest to our bedroom window.  Maybe twenty feet.  Ten more feet inside the room was my pillow. I stood up (wet knees and all) and walked over to a chair on our front deck.  I brushed aside the leaves and sat down, keeping an eye on the empty nest.  It suddenly occurred to me that the drama of life, birth and loss was played out a few feet from where I slept.

The courting took place.  The mating took place.  There were a few eggs.  The male had constructed the nest.  The female would protect the eggs.  Later (I never heard anything) one egg cracked…then another.

The chicks would need food.  That was the female’s role.

I thought of the thunderstorms that shook the trees around our house on more than one occasion during the summer.  The nest survived.  Then, when the moment, that unspoken unexpected moment arrived, one of the chicks climbed to the edge of the nest.  Another followed while the female urged them, one by one, to take the risk…to take the leap…to learn to fly.

Perhaps, I thought, the weakest chick fell and was made a meal by an animal.  Perhaps they all survived.  I’ll never know but nature is often unforgiving and the rules are not weighted in anyone’s or anything’s favor.

I do know that soon the nest was empty.  A breeze shook it from the branches.  It fell to the ground and the autumn leaves began to cover it.

Where did the birds go?  Are they migrating south as I sit here and write this?  Will they survive the coming winter?

I don’t have the answers.  After all, an entire Cycle of Life took place just thirty feet from my pillow.  While the Great Instinct of Life was being played out in the big bush, I was reading, playing Scrabble, tossing off a bad dream, napping, pacing, worrying, aging, weeping, staring at the ceiling, regretting, hoping or just sound asleep.

I decided I’m going to pay closer attention to that giant bush in our yard when the spring of 2017 arrives.  I’m not going to miss out on such a great story of life again.

But, I probably will miss something, some detail and the great drama will start without me.

bw-bedroom-window

[The bedroom window.  The giant bush.  The nest is at the lower left of the frame…covered again by leaves.]

The Great And Silent Feast

I felt the breeze…

I stumbled on a tree root when…

Finally, we reached the pond…

yardleaves

Concentrate. Start over.

When I was a teacher I was often given the dubious privilege of “lunch duty”. A room, nearly the size of a gym, filled with 5th & 6th graders…or 9th & 10th graders and a hand full of teachers produced a noise level that made it impossible to carry on a conversation or to even think about the hour before you. Sometimes on days when I didn’t have duty, I would retreat to the faculty lunch room. Even there, teachers talked about the students, the administration or their Valium prescription. Still, no time to think.

As a last resort, I would take my tray to my empty homeroom and eat alone. It occurred to me that I would appear antisocial…but at least I could think.

Once, perhaps a decade or so ago, I found a guidebook to monasteries, close to our home in Manhattan, that opened their doors to travelers…like a B & B with stained glass. Mariam and I found one, run by the Episcopal church, on the western side of the Hudson River. It was a large estate-like building that sat high above the river in the Hudson Highlands. It happened that we booked our room on a “quiet” weekend.

No talking allowed.

During the meals, all I could hear was the clinking of forks and spoons on the china plates. A whisper here and there…but otherwise, silence.

I could think.

On October 7, Mariam and I with our friends took a walk on the Silver Lake Bog trail. The sky was azure. The foliage was at a peak. Brilliant reds, yellows, copper and scarlet leaves mixed with the green conifers.

pineneedles

[Even the conifers lose their leaves (needles) in the autumn]

I hung back and walked alone. I stopped to listen. The gently falling leaves sounded like a light rain. I looked around me and realized that I had walked into a grand feast, a forested restaurant, a silent meal.

And, I could think.

A gentle sense of melancholy overcame me…it’s that time of year that evokes death and endings and dormant life.

lichentree

[This once-living tree is now being consumed by dozens of organisms]

Nearly everything I looked at was in the process of dying…or already dead. What was alive was consuming what was dead. This was considered to be a fairly dry summer, but you would never have guessed that from that bog or our front yard.  I have seen more fungi this October that I can recall.  My copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms was used more than the previous decade.  It is now well dog-eared.

fungusinyard

It was like watching “The Walking Dead” with the roles reversed. Of course I have lived a life-time of seeing this every autumn, but on that day, the Big Picture came into focus more clearly and gave me the urge to put all this into words. I was a witness to the Great Cycle of Life. I know it’s a cliché, but there it was, all around me. The ground itself was covered by a blanket of moss and lichen that were feeding and consuming the organic material. The dead logs, many cleared from the trail by a chainsaw, were helpless to resist the countless fungi, moss, bacteria and water that were breaking a once tall and stately beech or maple or oak into mere molecules.

mossylog

[A dead log feeds a number of organisms]

And, all this was done in total silence and would continue even under three feet of snow and ice and temperatures of -37 degrees.

mossyground

[The ground cover of moss and lichen]

In six months, a small spore, a seed, a dormant larvae of a black fly would begin to revive and then bloom and the green would return.

Everything goes somewhere.  “Matter cannot be created or destroyed…it simply changes form”.  I think that’s Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics…but I could be wrong.  I stopped being a science teacher a decade ago.  Most things return in the spring.  Some things take a longer time…but sooner or later it all comes around again.

The exception, I hope, is lunch duty.