18 July 2014
Late yesterday afternoon, I was riding my bike in another part of Queens, a few miles from my apartment. Conditions were nearly perfect: a little less warm, and a lot less humid, than we can normally expect at this time of year. High clouds swirled around the sun; a light breeze twirled leaves and petals.
I stopped, not because I was tired, but to immerse myself in the wonder of the day. (Make what you will of that statement; at one time in my life, I would have sneered at someone who made it.) Also, an old favorite pizzeria was nearby. Somehow I felt a slice would be a worthwhile deviation (i.e., cheat) from the kinda-sorta diet.
So I bought a slice—plain, old-school Neapolitan, with tangy slightly acidic sauce and oozing, almost unctuous cheese—and a small bottle of San Pellegrino. Then I crossed the street to a triangle “park” fenced off from the three streets that intersected. I sat in one of the pastel-colored metal park chairs and rested my paper plate and bottle on a matching table painted in Pepto-Bismol (or Mary Kay) pink.
Although I savored every mouthful of that slice of pizza, I finished it before I drank half of the bottle of Italian fizzy water. I sinuously sipped from the curvaceous green bottle and languorously crossed my legs.
All right, any sinuousness or languorosness (Are those real words?) was unintentional on my part. Or unconscious, at any rate. That is, until I noticed, from the corner of my eye, a man eyeing me.
Much to my surprised, he walked over to me. Even more to my surprise, he tried to start a conversation.
“You are a beau-ti-ful woman.”
I pretended not to hear him. But he repeated himself, moving closer: He was even less convinced by my pretense than I was.
He must have been at least a decade older than I am. I didn’t mind that: After my experience with a certain younger man, and one before him, I have come to appreciate the virtues of age.
But I am still not ready—or, to tell the truth, willing—to acknowledge the virtues of men, or a man, at least in a certain kind of relationship. He wasn’t bad-looking, at least for what I thought to be his age. His green eyes—a color somewhere between sage and olive—refracted a wisdom borne of experience and reflected a vision of his own mortality. I didn’t tell him that, but he told me I have beautiful eyes.
He was trying to escape, not merely from his loneliness, but from gazing into the abyss and seeing nothing—not the wife he lost to cancer, to the children he never had or even himself. Or perhaps he saw only himself. I cannot help anyone confront that, or even to turn away.
Perhaps he understood that. Or perhaps he simply realized that, while I thought he was nice enough, I simply could not feel about him the way he claimed to feel about me. I think he also knew that I’m too emotionally weary, or simply old, to have a fling with him or anyone else. It’s not even that I’m looking for commitment, necessarily: Actually, he might have wanted that.
I simply wished him a good evening. It was all I could do.