I’m in New York City on or about December 6, 2013. We happen to be staying at the Hotel Pennsylvania, located on Seventh Ave. just across from Madison Square Garden. Our hotel is booked solid, so we must move to another place in order to extend our stay for two more days. We go out for breakfast at a small place across from our hotel. They actually wanted $18.00 for three eggs at the Lindy’s annex that is located off the lobby.
Way too much money for such frugal travelers that we are.
We have two hours to kill before a taxi can take us to the Marriott on the Upper East Side. I want to visit the New York City Post Office, which is about a block to the west. We walk along 34th Street and there it is.
Engraved above the Greek columns are the famous words about “neither darkness…rain…sleet…from their appointed rounds”. I go into the lobby and see if the Post Office still does the Letters to Santa program. They do, but you have to fill out an information sheet before you can get a letter and then have a present sent to the child. The child who asked Santa for the doll or the truck or the Gameboy. I buy a stamp. It’s a Saturday so there are few people in the lobby. My wife wanders back into the Santa Claus letter department to look around.
I stand inside the heavy brass doors looking out onto Eight Avenue. I notice that the steps are empty of people. A few strollers walk the avenue. Something catches my eye. There is a couple standing together on the bottom step. Someone is taking their photograph with an older camera…it’s not a digital model. I can see that from behind the door. The photographer is holding the camera up to their eye and peering through an eyepiece. Not often done these days.
I’m strangely attracted to this couple. Perhaps it’s their long coats that don’t seem quite in style. There’s something.
Slowly, I begin descending the slate steps. My right leg is hurting so each step down is a task for me. I nearly lose my balance and reach out for the double railings.
Each step down is painful…and it feels like it’s taking forever to reach the bottom…like each step was worth five or ten years of effort.
When I reach the bottom, the man is taking the camera back from the stranger. The man says “thank you” and the fellow moves on to cross the street. That’s when I notice that the cars have somehow changed from multi-colors to black.
Something is drawing me to this couple. I approach and stand facing them. The man says “hello” and the woman just smiles through her red lipstick. Her hair is black. The man looks dashing in a belted trench coat. The coat is secured by a rakish loose fold of the belt.
I stare at them. There is something familiar…terribly familiar about these two people. I began to feel light-headed. I’m suddenly aware that there is a trickle of blood running from my nose. I often get nose bleeds in dry and cold weather.
“Here,” said the man, as he offered me his handkerchief.
Are you from out-of-town?, I ask.
“Yes”, the man said. “Just seeing the sights of the City”. The woman is staring at me. I look deep into her eyes. There’s something I can see but can not name. I look into his eyes and have the same sensation.
“Do you have any kids?”, I ask, searching for something to make the moment of contact last longer.
“A boy. He’s three. My wife’s sister is watching him right now over in Queens. We hope to have a larger family someday”, the man added…now it was his turn to find a way to stretch the moment.
I’m getting nervous. I feel shy about talking to such strangers. Strangers that looked at me like they knew me from somewhere.
A minute later the man takes his wife’s arm and they head to the street to hail a taxi.
“Wait!” I yell. But it’s too late. I hear the door of the cab slam shut. The man looks out at me and smiles in a very peculiar manner. He waves. Not a good-bye wave…rather a we’ll see you later kind of wave. The sped off on Eight Avenue.
I’m left with a sense of emptiness and yearning. I wanted to get to know this couple better. But it was too late.
For them, it looked like a cold day. For me, I was chilled to the bone. I walked back up to the top of the steps, and had my wife snap a photo of me. Behind my head…at the bottom of the steps, is the spot where they stood. Over seventy years ago.
I was going through a box of old, yellow and cracked photos just tonight. I found the one that has haunted me since I was a little boy. I examined the photo with a magnifying lens. I can make out the shape of a man behind the heave glass of the brass door at the top of the stairs.
Were they think about having another son? One who would be on time seventy years late for an appointment?
My father, when he worked at the Bell Labs in the early ’30’s.