Saturday, August 15, 2009
The Giant Ashtray
This last Thursday afternoon my friends and I decided we were going to the beach. Like most beach plans the day was set aside in advance, and we were determined to make it to the ocean, rain or shine. Even though the sky was heavy and gray and the air was cool, we trooped on; sailing to Coney Island on the Q train, over the Manhattan bridge, underground and overground through the tree lined streets of south east brooklyn.
We lucked out. The rain turned out to be a few modest drizzles, and the gray skies frightened the tourists and locals who would've been competition for a spot in the sand. We relaxed, read, talked, watched the skies. I dipped my feet in the water, but it was cold and the sand was full of broken glass and cigarette butts. The mood was melancholy and contemplative, we simply existed in the face of the ocean and sky, vast and silent, except for the groups of screams and whistles from the far off park. After a few hours we packed up camp and made our way to the Wonder Wheel, where we packed ourselves into a red metal cage and swung around for a little while, pointing out the cityscape on the horizon line, the people below.
By the time we continued on our walk to Brighton Beach, I felt fully enraptured in the moment. It's not something I can easily articulate, but I felt a certain oneness with our walk, with the air, and the strange people we passed.
And then my eyes grazed across the skyline and I saw the thin beautiful brown arms of a woman adjusting her sari in the fluttering wind. When the scarf came down an emotional tide rippled within me. I knew those arms, that cornrowed head. It was Key.
Key used to work in a shop on the corner of Prince and Mulberry by the Young Designer's Market, where I stood on the corner and passed out cards my first year back in New York. I maintained a job during the week. We immediately became friends, I stopped in her shop on an almost hourly basis every Saturday and Sunday to gossip about the neighbors, our love lives or lack thereof, and our sadness and dissatisfaction with our careers. We were two artists, bound together by the prison of the paycheck. We fantasized, we sang, and we laughed. We waited for our husbands, we waited to be discovered, we waited for our lives.
And then one day, Key left. The shop owner refused to pay her, and she was gone. We had phone numbers, we texted, we talked, but it was mostly through the other locals in the neighborhood that I found out about Miss Key. She was working at the Mercer Hotel, I eventually left the market.
In the ensuing two years, despite facebook, myspace, emails, or telephones, we lost touch. Life caught up with us, and whirled us into different directions. We didn't see each other once. She called from a payphone in the rain one afternoon. I called on a walk to meet friends at Astor Place.
And then there she was. I called her name, and when she turned around I was consumed with emotion. I felt her sadness flood into me, and for a moment we didn't speak, we just cried and held each other. She was having a bad day/week/month, hiding out on the Coney Island boardwalk, eating a pile of deliciously greasy food. And I was one with the universe. So much has changed for me since those times I spent warming up in her shop during the cold winter Nolita mornings. My art has become my work, and I was surrounded by some of my closest friends- and had a beautiful boy on my arm. Life has been good. She kept saying how much she needed to see me at that moment, and I couldn't help but feel some greater force making it happen.
After we said our goodbyes, I couldn't explain the sudden outburst of emotion to my friends. How do you explain something that just is? A feeling. Rushing water at the bottom of our wells. Dark, and moving. Our souls know each other, our hurt knows each other.
I don't think it will be another two years before I see Miss Key again. Read her beautiful words at her blog, Lady Plum.