— 55 West 13th Street, Manhattan. New York, late morning
On the eve of the birth of the Christian’s Messiah I left the office for a late lunch and went to a bar around the corner, had a portabello mushroom sandwich and two glasses of champagne and then returned to work. There were very few people left in the office. The new employees like myself were straggling about – trying to get a handle on our tasks, seeking definition for our selves in the context of this place.
I sat and talked with a couple of my colleagues about the evening. I intended a long walk through the city “to watch the Christians on their eve. It is something I have done in cities all over the world,” I told them, and now I would get to do it in New York.
Together we mapped out a route for me. It began from the office here in the central village and proceeded south and west and then cut across the island through Soho, back to the East Village and then up through Astor and St. Mark’s Places and eventually to Union Square. I was to go up Park Place to 35th street where I was to cut over to Fifth Avenue and make my way up past all the shops and stores, past Rockefeller Center, to the park and my final destination, Wollman Rink at Central Park for ice skating. The walk was to take several hours and would take me past some of the cities most famous landmarks.
We talked at length and then the very pretty young woman who works near to me in the office – and who is also new – and I began talking about the approaching holiday. We would have a few days off, we were both new to the area, what would be doing & etc. Her name is R., originally from Connecticut, she was returning there this evening after work to be with family for the holidays. She was taking a 6:30 train.
I invited her to leave work a little early to have a glass of wine before her trip. She agreed and we found ourselves at the little bar around the corner where I had just dined, she sipped a red wine and I another champagne. It was nice. I haven’t worked in an office in three years and I have forgotten about things like protocol. I do not know even the most rudimentary rules for relationships in the office anymore. I find them troublesome and I am fearful of them. I was nervous thus to ask the young lady to have a drink, even though I wasn’t suggesting anything by it, but a drink.
She and I talked about art and philosophy and about her plans for courses at the New School. It was a very pleasant time and then it was time for her to leave for her train. I sat and finished my champagne alone.
A woman came in and sat beside me. She chatted freely with the bartender and the waitress. She was either a regular or was close with the bartender in some other context. She had a slight accent. She was Belgian. The waitress, a half-Cuban, half-Puerto Rican, now american, commented in a slightly Nu-Yorican accent that the Belgian had not lost her accent despite having been here for so long.
The Belgian said she had not changed her voice in twenty years. I asked them both if they ever changed the way they speak when they talk to different people. They both appeared confused by my question and the Belgian shook her head negatively as she exhaled smoke and ashed her cigaret. I continued, “Sometimes when I am talking to my family or to other Indians, even though I am speaking in English, my voice changes to the idiomatic English which they also speak.”
They both smiled at that in recognition and the waitress, the younger of the two commented that sometimes she did that when speaking to someone from another country even if it wasn’t her own country. The Belgian woman said she never changed her voice, but seemed to understand what we meant.
A woman came into the bar seeking a tobacconist and wanted to know where she could buy a brand of Cuban cigar called Romeo y Julieta. A man responded that the Romeo y Julieta company also grew tobacco off the island of Cuba. The woman did not know this. She wanted a cigar which would taste like the Cuban make of Romeo y Julieta cigars. The man and I each recommended a brand of cigar and he knew of a shop. She left. Shortly thereafter I too left for my walk.
I had chosen the music to soundtrack my walk earlier in the day. I was wearing a Sony Walkman and had Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello on tape as performed by Pablo Casals. The Suite #1 began as I stepped onto 6th Avenue headed south and the sound of the long drawn bow across the strings filled my ears.
I walked southward on 6th. The streets were crowded with people shopping.