It has been suggested that I include in my column some information about Rhode Island. Something, anything, about where I’m living. I stay inside as much as possible, but for the sake of the blog, I decided to go outside and look around.
The first thing I saw – A man in a Taurus dropping his toddlers off at a day care center. He looked rushed. He grabbed each child, one at a time, out of the back seat, and placed them on the sidewalk.
“Hold on to my coat, don’t move,” he barked. The kids were jumping beans, a lunch box dropped to the ground and split open. An apple rolled out. “Oh, Christ, I’m gonna be late.” He pulled the kids, frenetically, toward the school crossing. The crossing guard hurried to him. She took the children’s hands. “I can take them from here, no worries…”
Down the block, a shivering dog in foot-high snow, tightly tied to a stump. I knocked on the door. A large dark woman with a black eye answered. “Excuse me, but your dog…his feet…may be freezing.” “I just let him out to take a shit that’s all…. come here Princess, come now, baby…….. I said NOW…” She yanked the dog like a yo-yo. “You should mind your own business.” She said, slamming a mud splattered door.
Down another block, a straggly young man waited for a bus in front of an antiques store. A stylish woman in cashmere came out of the shop with a heavy box. He said, “Hey, need some help?” He took the box. “I saw your sign. Why you closing your shop down? I love your shop.”
The woman, hunched over, beaten, answered with a monotone heaviness, “High rent and low customer traffic.” The young man followed her across the icy street to an already stuffed SUV.
Down the street, standing in line for coffee. A wide woman in a thick down jacket studied a plate of fudge. She hovered over it, oblivious. I heard her heaving, struggling breath and felt the stinging heat of rage in my throat.
“Oh, I’m sorry” she said, turning toward me with a painful smile.
“Oh, no problem…. Are you in line?”
She’d sensed my disdain. “I guess I am now.” She said.
We waited in line for another few minutes before she confessed. “My doctor told me that now that the kids are gone I should be good to myself, I’m treating myself today.” She grabbed a piece of fudge with a piece of Saran wrap. “But it isn’t easy…I’m surprised to discover…. figuring out what I want.”
“Well, who doesn’t want fudge?” I said, trying to be cute.
“Oh, yes! Ha! Especially lately… my doctor did some tests on my head; there’s something on my pituitary gland and he mentioned Crone’s Disease… then he said, ‘You don’t want that disease, believe me.’
“That wasn’t very nice.”
“No, it wasn’t. So, I’m having some fudge.” We looked each other in the eye. I didn’t know what else to say. She turned away.
I had failed the woman somehow. I walked down the street with my coffee. The sidewalks were covered with glare ice, a skating rink. A crumpled older man walked by, baby steps. “The city’s broke. Can’t salt the sidewalks anymore, gonna break my neck….and the taxes I pay…” He toddled past, swearing.
Another older woman came up behind him. “Ben, you’ve got to get some boots.” She was walking a little white dog. Our two dogs began to play. “He’s blind.” She warned. “He gets scared and he doesn’t like to play.” The dogs continued to play.
“Well, isn’t that nice? Pluto, you like this little dog.” She was limping, her face pale, swollen. I told her I had just moved to the neighborhood.
“I live here.” She pointed to a bland, multi-story building that resembled a mental institution.
“Be careful walking here. It’s private property. The building that I live in, they don’t care enough to plow. There is a very good Portuguese market down that street, and have you been over the bridge to the dog park?”
I said no. “I would walk with you further but I am not feeling well today…an immune deficiency virus that comes and goes….”
I told her I had a lower back problem that was so bad that morning I had to crawl to my wastebasket to piss, unable to make it to the bathroom.
“It’s always something.” she said.
I headed to a bistro for a bowl of soup. Barely dusk, the bar was busy, a mix of high and low brow nursing martinis and lagers. A pumped-up man in a tuxedo and spray-on tan forced a laugh as he pretended to enjoy a joke.
“God damned Penguin, that’s what I am!” He roared, feeling splendid and solvent in his finery.
A rugged workman in canvas and denim pounded his fist on the bar. “Clothes make the man, penguin!”
The man in the tuxedo leaned into his drink. He pressed his lips together and closed his eyes, wavering, half-drunk. “That bitch.” He grabbed his drink. “That damn bitch….”
The workman called to the bartender “hey man, get this guy another drink on me.”
I don’t think this is what GET RI had in mind when they suggested I include information about the “goings on” of Providence, but there’s another show in town not listed in newspapers or plastered on posters. You won’t receive an e-mail reminder. It’s everything else, all of us, together, putting on a good face despite big setbacks. Through the early dusks and ice storms, en route to a “Going’s On”- theater, gallery, party, hip new nightclub-I hope to remind myself that these tough times are a great opportunity to help, to give, to comfort, to humor. I think I’ll go outside more.