I don’t read my New Yorkers, but I still subscribe because once a week they remind me that there’s an outside world. I’m almost always at work and sometimes just need something to flip through on the bus, but more than anything I need to feel connected to people like me. No one I see on a regular basis has ever even heard of the thing. But somewhere other people do subscribe, and maybe read it. They must. The New Yorker keeps on existing. Makes me feel like part of a community.
For awhile now, I’ve needed to have that feeling.
My girlfriend left me, really slowly, which was more annoying than I can describe. It was obvious what was happening, that something had happened, but instead of owning up she just kept looking at me like I was trying too hard, looked at me in a way that told me I was failing. I saw something in the pout of her lips that told me to keep on failing. What was I supposed to do but listen.
She wore these great jeans, with little pockets on the front and none on the back. They took awhile for her to get into but looked really hot once they were on. I loved these little bumps of flesh they formed above her belt, and held onto them like there was no tomorrow. I liked to stand behind her, cupping them with my hands, and squeezing them better as they got bigger, like if she bent over to wash her face or spit in the sink. If she was facing me I’d find where her butt separated from the back of her legs and then make myself lose the spot so I could find it again.
But something somewhere in me must not have been good enough.
I went to my med school reunion and everyone looked at me with deep respect when I said I worked in a community clinic. Wow, they said, that’s so. great. Some would shake their head and look down and say good for you, man, or introduce me to a teacher—someone’s wife—like we were supposed to understand each other. One guy told me Thank You for Your Service like I was a war veteran. I left feeling worse than when I came.
The day I got home and called my own front door an asshole I decided it was time to stop moping and make a serious change, but I didn’t know how or what. I had muttered inexcusable things the whole walk from my bus stop and the kids on my block stopped rough-housing long enough for the grass stains to settle into their bright polycotton kidpants, the kind that cut just above the ankle, to look at me with big eyes and wonder if I were drunk or homeless. It’s the city, but on my piece of Paulina we have front yards—twenty-six feet wide, with two-foot paths, no fences—and on any given evening kids race clear across the lots. Grass grass grass concrete grass grass grass grass grass grass grass concrete. Good thing that stabilizing muscles help their ankles adapt to differing terrains, or I’d see these kids all the time at work, probably crying. I didn’t want to see them cry. I took the mail in but didn’t have the energy to look at it, or to do anything other than lie on my floor.
The next day, I finally got what I needed: not just rupture, but vision, inspiration. I hadn’t known there was a cut on my finger until I used the hand sanitizer at the front desk. Suddenly, just like that, excruciating pain, and I winced. Looked like a baby in front of my patients—mothers, babies. A boyfriend laughed out loud and the rest used their eyes to make fun of their girlfriends, You’re gonna pay this guy to cry all over you? I told you you don’t need to see a doctor. I hated myself for validating the jerks most in need of de-valuation. I hated myself for any number of things, and in this moment I hated all men. Hey assholes, I wanted to say, I’m here because of you, because you took whatever you hold hanging that makes you feel like you can talk to me like that and you flung it around and now I’m taking care of your ladies cuz you can’t do it or pay for it and I’m wincing because I’m trying not to get your babies sick so they don’t grow up to be f***ed-up like you. And these were the “good” boyfriends. And I realized in my frustration that I could be a father, a good one. I thought about it all the way home—past the kids in their polycotton kidpants—where I found on my counter a new New Yorker and a birthday card from my grandma.
My grandfather died three years ago, on my birthday. It ate me up more than I care to admit, and now every year I’ll still remember it and flinch. I think that’s mostly a good thing. Respect where you came from. This year wasn’t a whole lot different, except that I found myself staring at the envelope that my grandma’s card came in. It’s the first time she’s used a label without my grandfather’s name on it too. Eighty-five, and suddenly a new woman.
So Gramma helped. This woman on the bus might too. Probably thirty-six, dimpled when she crosses her legs, sniffles that make me wonder if she stayed up too late changing diapers, maybe alone. And she is reading The New Yorker. Her neck looks really soft. Her breasts look really soft. Her purse is small and the magazine would never fit in it. I don’t know what she plans to do with her New Yorker when she gets off the bus. But it occurs to me that I could carry it for her.
Writer: Marya Spont-Lemus
Location: Paulina Street, Between 35th & 36th