All the cabs are filled and no one stops for me. My boots have been splashed about fifty times as I stand here on the corner of Times Square, holding out my arm like a statue, to hail a taxi. I start walking again, hoping I’ll see an empty cab somewhere along my way to Cid’s Deli. I won’t have time to go anywhere further for lunch before my break is over and I’ll be due back in my office.
The air is crisp cold and my watered boots slush through piles of gray snow. I wish I’d come to New York in spring, or even through the stale hot-aired summer. I shrug further into my wool coat and pull my arms closer to my chilled body. The tall buildings are creating a powerful wind tunnel, and I actually wonder if my cheeks will be permanently chapped red when I’m finally back in the office after lunch.
I watch, miserably and am increasingly grumpier as taxi after taxi speeds past me. I mumble about all those lucky New Yorkers riding in comfort and grouse over their carbon footprint. I pat myself on the back that I, at least, am not contributing today to the global warming problem and then laugh at the absurdity, considering the weather.
My small-town roots have been nipped loose from Midwestern soil, replaced by the grungy and steel-like dust that covers Manhattan. I no longer crane my neck to search for the source of the sun, high above the shiny towers that house a myriad of workers and natives. I cull my glances now without seeking friendly smiles, but instead, keep my head down and my stride purposeful. The impersonality of the city has infiltrated my soul.
I have no more thoughts about corn or soy bean fields, farms or rolling hills, and cattle or chickens. Living close to the earth is a memory long gone. I don’t even mind that, other than the people I come into contact with at work each day, I don’t talk to anyone I don’t know anymore. The word “neighbor” isn’t even in my vocabulary, or for that matter, neither is “Hi.”
Somehow, I’ve adjusted much more quickly to this sterile world than I thought possible. Sometimes, I worry about what I’ve lost, but then, I shrug it off. Someday, I’ll leave this assignment and head someplace else…maybe a smaller city next time. No doubt, I’ll remake myself there, and perhaps, some of that simpler childhood personality, wrought in dirt and hay mows, will reappear.
I glance ahead as a surge of men and women merge with me onto the sidewalk. They all pull inward and grab their coats and scarves more closely to themselves against the winter and the faceless crowd. We walk en masse but with no friendly connection at all. We move forward toward our goals, the icy wind only a little lessened by our fish-schooled bodies. We shift around impediments as one.
I spy Cid’s off to the right about twenty yards ahead and begin my subtle arc toward the edge of the crowd. I pride myself on my ability to merge right with little or no contact with any other hurrying New Yorker. The city breathes its chill approval on my talent to keep wholly to myself.
The door to Cid’s is scarred and marked with age, and its hinges squeal a welcome as I push in. Warmth blasts me like a furnace, and, instantly, my nose, toes and fingers begin to tingle to life.
Cid’s elderly mother hurries from behind the counter and helps me unwind the scarf that protected my neck outside. We laugh as we do a tango with its long fibers.
“There now!” she pronounces happily. “You are better, no?”
“Yes. Thank you. It sure is cold out there.”
She nods and pats her finger knowingly against the side of her nose. She winks. “In more ways than one, Dearie. Have a seat. I’ll bring you out the best cup of Manhattan chowder you’ve ever tasted. You’ll be warm as spring in no time, eh?” Her smile shines over me like a heat lamp, and her fragile hand pats my arm as she hurries back to the kitchen.
Later, as I cuddle the hot cup of chowder, I watch the people outside flow past the window, and, once in a while, when someone looks in at me, I lift my hand to them and smile.
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