Saturday, March 24, 2007


Seen outside the garage gates: a squirrel chasing a cat under cars and down the street.

Meanwhile, the good garage cat grows fatter by the day, good only for patting now.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


It's grey outside today, and clumps of brown snow lie everywhere in Blissville. I took this photo a month ago at the close of a frigid Sunday in January. I haven't visited since, but surely the structure is further along now.

I cling to my memories of the neighborhood as it once was. Only some of us now remember that five years ago this was a stone mason's yard. Its owner, when I glimpsed him, was wizened and sturdy. We waved to each other, but we never spoke.

I'm sure he did well, within sight of the cemetery, just down the block. So perhaps he had no one to pass it down to, perhaps the neighborhood prices for land were too high to turn down. Perhaps the market for hand-crafted headstones had shifted. Whatever the reason, he sold. For a year or more, the land sat vacant.

And now this.

But still surprises lurk as I found out that Sunday, when I followed the lines of the grey newcomer. Although I knew I didn't want to live there (being next to the Long Island Expressway), I wanted to imagine its space. And so I looked for its corners and its views.

But I couldn't find the two back corners that would mark its floorplan, and I had to retrace my steps. I found a single corner instead. Which makes it perfect Blissville, where triangular buildings abound.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Little Temptations

Yikes, there they are, just waiting for me. How can oat bran compare?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


John, John and Jesse, three generations of DeColle's selling used clothes in Blissville. Sadly, senior John only sells on occasion. I used to see him on cold days sitting outside the shop, taking in the winter sun. It's been years, and I still miss seeing the shock of his white hair. Too much time has passed.

I doubt I've ever seen his son, John, and if I have, I wouldn't recognize him. John drives to construction sites all over the city with his stock, used clothes (cleaned) bearing only traces of their former owners, José, Herby, Chris, Abdul, Alfonse, as the red script atop a white oval indicates. John has the heart of a union man, and so he sells only American-made clothes.

Young Jesse tends the store with hours a girl could envy. The old store once sat on the main drag, its displays a call to any worker passing by. Then the rent tripled, and DeColle's had to move. And about that time, Senior John retired. Even so, one of the old signs, painted in bodega colors, still stands on the face of their old home. Graciously, the new tenents, also vendors of work clothes and equipment, point the budget-conscious lost to the new DeColle's, now tucked around the corner on a side street in a basement. But they'd better get there early or on a day off, because out of frame the sign says Open M-F: 8-3:30, Sat: 8:30-1.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Cost of Business (Another Story from the Deli)

I heard that Michael was thinking of selling the deli. And so I wondered. Who would be next?

But then one day I saw a new man in the deli, and he seemed as in charge as Michael and Joy. So maybe Michael sold a part of his deli. The new man is tall and wiry, and he never stops moving.

A week after his arrival, and the deli's windows were covered with hand-written signs on neon cardboard in shocking pinks and greens. Hot Breakfasts! Hot Lunch! Sandwichs and Wraps! Hot Udong Soup! I looked, but I didn't try any of the new offerings.

Next, out went the fake espresso machine and in came a real one, made in Italy according to its sign. Fresh Cappuccinos! Mochaccinos! But an espresso cost $2.00, and I passed.

A few weeks later sticky buns lay on the counter. To heck with the budget and diet. 24-Hour Breakfast! I bought one and told myself I'd only stop in there every other morning.

Is ambition a thing, once seeded, that multiplies? The deli's latest acquisition is a hot buffet.

It cost $10,000, Michael whispered to me as he pushed out a cooler. $4.95 Hot Buffet Lunch! Hot Oatmeal! Hot Grits! The outside of the deli is still quintessential Blissville. Inside it now looks like a midtown Manhattan lunch pad.

Manhattan prices, too, the local workers grumble. On Queens salaries.

Though I've never tasted it, the food looks tasty as the new man carries out tray after tray of glistening fish, pork, chicken and vegetables, sauteed, steamed and baked.

Some of the workers admit they splurge every so often. Not bad, they say.

And for everyone else? Miller can 24 oz. $1.25!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Garage Cat

One day he limped into the garage. His nose and ears bled, and he mewed as if he had no where else to go.

He was so bloody the mechanics didn't dare clean him, fearing his pain. He was so dirty, they didn't care to touch him, either. They tended to him as they knew. They set out food and water, and prepared a bed for him out of an old seat.

Little by little his wounds began to heal. A month passed and he was able to walk with ease. The gash on his neck closed. His hair grew back. He gained weight.

Perhaps when we are weak, we always return home. For this cat, the garage was his first home. The garage owner brought him there to catch rats.

And for years he did that. But he was an independent soul, a working cat who roamed the neighborhood by day and fed on rats by night. He shunned any hand but one that held food.

Then one winter day he disappeared. The mechanics tried whistling, but they were whistling into a void. He wasn't coming back. Perhaps he had been hit by a car, perhaps he had been mauled by a dog. They didn't know. Then he disappeared from their thoughts.

The season led into spring. Then one day a mechanic caught a glimpse of him sneaking out of the hotel. He was plump, and his once oil-slicked coat looked soft, even fluffy. The mechanic called to him. He disappeared back into the hotel.

Back in the garage the mechanics laughed. Maybe the cat was enjoying the spa there, too.

A year passed. Then another. The mechanics could see that he wasn't living at the hotel any more. He looked muscled now, strong and sleek, and the ears on his fat head lay back. He lived bowl to bowl, from anyone who offered sustenance. He was no one's cat now, only his own. The mechanics thought him fearless and bold, roaming even beyond the borders of Blissville, where no neighborhood cat had gone before.

But pride before fall, the saying goes.

When he hobbled in, the mechanics laughed. And as they cared for him, they teased him.

His coat is blue again, slicked back with oil. On cold nights he seeks out the warmth only an engine can offer in an unheated garage.

He has healed mostly. And on warmer nights he now goes out to wander through the neighborhood. But he doesn't stray far.

Each morning they open the garage, he trots up to them. He rubs his back against and between their legs. He lifts up his face to their open hands. He purrs.

Monday, March 12, 2007


The brothers Taskin and Tafhim settled in Blissville three years ago. By chance, they moved into the building directly across the street from boys their same ages, Nabil, Abrar and Faraz.

Perhaps they were shy, perhaps they had other things pulling them, for they didn't meet each other on the block. They noticed each other on the school bus. Back then, only Taskin and Nabil went to school. The others were too little for that.

As boys will do, they began to play ball together. They played the street games New Yorkers have always played – soccer and volleyball and basketball and handball and dodgeball. When their brothers grew old enough, they included them. I caught them playing basketball and soccer.

When I learned that their parents were from Bangladesh, I asked them about cricket. They shook their heads. They didn't know how to play that game yet. The two older boys thought they might learn this year. They've watched their fathers bowl and bat, and sat with their fathers while they watched the game on TV, too.

But they didn't know that tomorrow marks the start of the 2007 Cricket World Cup, to be played in Kingston, Jamaica. Surely they will know by Saturday, though. For Bangladesh will play its first match on Saturday, against its rival India.

And anyone could win.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Najib came to New York as a student, not a baker. He knew nothing about cooking, but a friend had given him a recipe for bread, believing that Najib could make a business from it. And so Najib did.

When I walked into the bakery years ago, I first noticed the poster about the plight of Afghani refugees, then the slim, dark bakers who worked in silent harmony. I would gesture to the loaf I wanted, then pay for it (a dollar back then) and leave. I didn't buy bread often, but when I did, I felt grateful for the bakers, and to this country, for sheltering them.

Could it have been five years that passed? I grew friendly with Simón who worked behind the counter at the deli. I was learning Spanish, and I practiced with him, naming things as I went. Pan, I would say when I pointed to the Afghan bread. Simón would nod.

My vocabulary grew. One day I told him about the panaderos who made the bread, and their exilio, their exile.

Simón smiled. They were his relatives, from Bolivia, from a mining town south of La Paz. Each morning they arrived at four to begin making Najib's bread. Each noon, they finished.

They made two kinds of bread, wide loaves and narrower ones. The wider ones were for Najib's Pashtun clients, and the thinner ones for Americans who were always dieting. As for Najib, he was Farsi and he didn't eat bread at all.

They saved every dollar they earned. If one was sick, another relative filled in. Those were good years for Najib and good ones for his bakers,too. They worked one for all, and all for one, never sacrificing their dream. The day arrived when they had earned enough money to buy a house in Wisconsin. But it was a sad day for Najib.

They moved four years ago, and Najib still misses them. But each December he telephones to wish them a merry Christmas.

Found on Review

Traces of other people's stories lie everywhere. Blissville happens to abound with them. Like snapshots taken at 1/125th of a second, they shed only a glimpse of the moment, leaving the barest of clues.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Beyond the lights, the cemetery.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Buried somewhere in the cemetery:

Mayor Robert F. Wagner
NY Governor Alfred E. Smith
Gandolfo "Frankie Marlow" Curto, mobster
Lorenzo da Ponti, Mozart's librettist for the Italian operas
Baseballer "Wee Willie" Keeler, "Hit 'em where they ain't",

Friday, March 02, 2007


Across from the deli stands Colbar Art. Inside they make Statues of Liberty. But for Olvidiu, its owner, the statues mean more than his livelihood.

Olvidiu comes from Romania, and he grew up during the brutal regime of the Ceausecus. When he was a young man, he tried to escape by swimming across the Danube. But the guards at the border caught him, and Olvidiu spent five long years in prison for his offense. When he got out he was wiser but no less determined. He applied for a visa to the United States and for four years he waited. Finally the Romanian government granted him permission to leave. Olvidiu left for New York City.

But for the people he left behind, things grew worse. His brother Alexi was an engineer, with a good job and his own house. After Olvidiu's escape, the government took away Alexi's job. Suddenly in a country desperate for engineers, there was no opening for Alexi. He found work cleaning buildings. Then the government took away his house. Alexi packed up his belongings and moved to an apartment in the center of the city. He went on.

In the meantime, Olvidiu started again in his new country. He worked in menial jobs in factories, assembling, welding, filing. He brought enthusiasm, energy and inventiveness, and soon he moved up, into positions of more responsibility.

Every cent he made, he saved. And when the time was right, he opened his own factory, making miniature Statues of Liberty. This was his dream. With the help of refugee organizations, he staffed his business with others who had sought asylum as he had, with refugees from Haiti, Albania, Philippines, China, Colombia and Guatemala.

On the other side of the Atlantic, unrest was sweeping through Poland, the USSR, East Germany and Romania. Overnight the people of Romania overthrew their dictators, then executed them. Alexi waited until the new government was in place, and then he, too, applied for a visa to the United States.

And now he, too, works at Colbar.