Monday, April 30, 2012
To Shannon's & Back
Yesterday I went to buy flowers at Shannon's, a garden center on the far side of Green-Wood Cemetery. On the way there, I skirted around the edge of Green-Wood, and for half the journey a chatty woman in her sixties took to walking along with me, telling me all about her son (well not her actual son, she said, that son had died) in Washington - the kind of guy who leaves money under a pillow after a visit ("Isn't that the kind of kid you want?) - and his daughter, training civilians in Afghanistan. After I'd been to Shannon's, and got my tray of plants, I was going to get the bus home, or walk back the same way I'd come, but I figured it quicker to cut through the cemetery and come out by Eighth or Fifth. I thought there might be plenty of people around, it being a sunny day, Sunday and all, and with Green-Wood back on the map as a tourist site, but when I got through the entrance gates it was quiet - just me, the security staff, and the tombs. Further along, there was someone else on foot, though: a middle aged man with thick glasses, who was snapping dead twigs off trees in a random, yet mildly compulsive manner. He was listening to a right-wing talk show on a little radio, and as I approached I had a sinking feeling he'd have something to tell me. I was right. I guess he assumed I was going to be planting my flowers at a gravesite. He warned me earnestly that the peonies wouldn't take. It would be too dry, he said, and the sun too fierce. I thanked him for his observations, and moved briskly away. I suppose I did look like some sort of devout relative, come to tend the ground where a loved one rested. That was off-putting. The rest of the people I saw in the cemetery were all driving cars, including a chubby, shifty-eyed man in a dark sedan, who backed up to offer me a lift. No thank you very much, my shifty-eyed friend. Perhaps you really were a kindly man, moved by the sight of the flowers I bore, but I trusted you not. Leaving Green-Wood behind, I walked along Ninth for a bit, and right outside McFadden's American Legion a man copping a smoke wished me good luck with the plants. I asked him if many of the Timboos crowd had found a home there, as I'd heard they might, but he said no, they had to be some place else. I turned down 17th Street, and was pleasantly reminded how nice this block was, with its modest, homey, comfortable frames. A couple of jarring apartment developments marred the streetscape though, and a modern rethinking of a rowhouse stuck out too, with its teak-slabbed facade and large windows, and its artfully placed group of pebbles by the front door. Right next door to it was an older-looking place, with a green door the color of oxidized copper, its paint peeling in a thousand places. It was a beautiful door. The man sitting on the stoop below it looked very old too. He wore a snug fitting woollen cap and multi-layered baggy clothes of no particular shade. He had the thin, sharp gaze of an elderly bird. He was the kind of man that used to inhabit stoops and corners all over the place when I first lived here. He was the kind of man I missed seeing around. He liked the plants, and wanted to know where I was going to put them. We talked about this and that for a while, and as I left he muttered something I couldn't quite hear. First I thought it was, "Take the plants", but as I was taking them, that didn't seem to make any sense. Then I thought it might be, "Pull up your pants", but that seemed unlikely, though I did yank my jeans up nervously. Just in case. Then I realized it was "Take the pants" & he gestured to a pair of khaki dress pants hanging on the fence of the neighboring house (no, not the artful modern place, but one on the other side). They were on the big side, and I couldn't imagine them fitting or suiting anyone at home, but I almost took them anyway. It seemed rude not to. I had my hands full with the tray though, & I was glad this was a good enough reason to leave the pants behind. I said goodbye. I stopped to talk to no-one after this. I got the plants home, and put them out in the back. They were a pretty bunch: climbing Black-Eyed Susans, nasturtiums, some bright green potato vines, and a few frillier annuals. But it was noisy in the yard. In the new building overlooking it a party was going on. I felt suddenly tired after all that walking, and the loud chatter was distracting, so instead of planting the flowers, I went inside for a drink. I'd come back out again before it got dark, and give them some water then. I'd put them in dirt the next day.