High, I leave the house. When locking the front door I check to make sure I am wearing pants. I am. I dream of a halal plate: lamb, warm bread, over salad, covered with white sauce. A lot of white sauce. More white sauce. I walk up Columbus. I am in a different plane than the people. They are standing still even as they’re walking. It is I who is moving past them. More white sauce.
I do not see the halal stand on 97th street. It’s Sunday. I did not see it there last Sunday either. I go down 96th towards Broadway. There is another guy there, on Broadway and 96th. He is always there. 96th street between Columbus and Amsterdam is empty and endless. All there are on that street are bus stops. Bus stops and parked cars. I consider turning back. I keep walking. I walk into a scaffolding tunnel. Three Italian tourists are walking towards me through the tunnel. I turn sideways to let them pass. After they pass I reflect on how awkward that movement was, my turning sideways, and decide not to do it again. I decide to stay away from people altogether.
Amsterdam. Green light. I cross. This was the right decision, to go to the halal stand I mean. I brush past a fichus on the sidewalk. The fichus does not apologize. Neither do I. As I near the corner of Broadway and 96th I see that I do not see the stand. As I get closer I still do not see it. He’s not here, I think to myself. It’s Sunday, of course he’s not here, I think to myself. I get to the corner and look. He is not here. There is a McDonald’s across the street. There is also another halal place just past the McDonald’s, and that one I know is there. But I do not want halal. I want a Filet-o-Fish sandwich.
I walk into the McDonald’s. I approach the counter. I ask, Do you still have that special with the Filet-o-Fish and a small fries for $3? Yes, he says. One? He says. Four, I say. $13. I wait. There is a young Russian couple with a young boy there. They are tourists, from Russia. The young father’s English is proper, learned in school and learned well, exercised in professional settings. The boy can’t decide if he wants the green toy or the yellow toy in his Happy Meal. But his parents feel no discomfort at his indecision. They are not intimidated by the dark-skinned McDonald’s staff or by the dark-skinned Americans all around them, yet they are not disdainful of them either. They are not afraid to ask for what they want. Yet they are polite and not at all rude or vulgar. They do not have the scent of chronic shame. They talk to their child. They take his wishes seriously, yet they do not spoil him. They are not impatient as the boy decides, they are not self-conscious. They are hip, modern, savvy Russians. Liberals. Intellectuals. They have money but are not ostentatious, dressed very casually, almost like European backpackers. I have never seen Russians like this. Maybe Russia is… My Filet-o-Fish slide down to the counter. Two blue boxes. Then two more. The fry cook breaks up the french-fries to stuff them into the small paper purses. Two. Four. Can I get four packets of tartar sauce please? I wait. A young black man brings me a small water cup half-filled with tartar sauce. I look him in the eyes and thank him. He seems surprised by this. I walk home.
I carry both bags in my left hand. This walk is quicker. I cross the street and see on the sidewalk a big squashed cockroach. I had seen it earlier, on a previous excursion. I should have crossed the street later so as not to see it a second time, I think to myself. Basement. Elevator. 4. My keys are in the door and I have run into no one. I am relieved. I left the air conditioning on when I left and the apartment is cool. I notice my left wrist is cramped from holding the McDonald’s bags. I reflect on the fact that I always hold things too tightly.
What was it all for?