Essay Fiction posted January 3, 2015


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A make believe essay.

Faces of the City

by Ric Myworld


People hustle and churn in a frenzy. Pushing and shoving as they wade through the crowd, rushing to make up for lost time.

Obviously running late, they race full-throttle ahead, with little regard for others.

Slower commuters often draw angry glares and outbursts of ugly names as they waddle around in the way.

In the background, a fierce pounding of a jackhammer's repetitive rat-tat-tats vibrate the sidewalk. Its driving pulsations shake your whole body, jar your teeth, and spray white dust that burns your nose and tastes like chalk.

Vehicles stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic have sat stalled for more than fifteen minutes, emitting fumes to paint the air with a bluish-purple haze and a choking stench of petroleum exhaust.

Restaurant lines extend outdoors, across carpeted cigarette-butt-covered welcome mats and down sidewalks as people cluster under awnings that protect only a few from the drizzle.

Car horns, distant sirens, and the deafening sound of an ambulance about four blocks up the street trying desperately to clear a gridlocked intersection and reach the hospital in time to save someone’s life.

Giant digital screens flash their images and messages from walls and storefronts. The biggest screen of all divides the lanes of Broadway. People shop and hangout underneath, as others scurry to outlets up the street, to purchase discounted tickets for matinee performances of today’s shows.

A wannabe singing cowboy struts for attention as he crosses the roadway from sidewalk to sidewalk, strumming his guitar. Scantily clad, he wears only jockey shorts, a white cowboy hat and boots, with his bareness shining for all to see.

Street vendors are selling everything from hot dogs to nuts and every imaginable Asian food.

A bunch of old guys, with nothing to do and nowhere to be, hang around the newspaper stands. They fumigate the sidewalks with the smells of their cigars and sweet, pipe tobaccos while they read or enjoy watching the shoeshine artists at work, swinging and flipping their brushes and snapping their rags.

Limousines make stops to recruit tourists with the lure of free tickets and the opportunity for them to become members of studio audiences at the tapings of television shows.

Thugs scurry like roaches, approaching you at every corner as they try to sell knock-offs of designer products. Scuffling to grab your dollars before the painters and photographers can offer you a lasting memory.

The aroma from every restaurant captures your senses, so strong that you can almost taste the seasonings outside.  If you are not hungry when you walk by, you will be. Welcome to the sights, sounds, and smells of Manhattan, New York!

If you have never been to Manhattan, take my advice, everyone needs to visit at least once. I love the mass confusion and the urgency to be first in line, but with so much variety and too many choices, I can only deal with such pressures for a few days.

The people who live in this turmoil every day are real troopers. People of the city get a bad rap, accused of being unfriendly. In reality, they have to be stronger, more patient and understanding, and most of all, willing to forgive and forget. Otherwise, many of them might become mass murderers just to deal with their trying day-to-day experiences.

Today, I rode the train into the city from Rockville Centre, located out on Long Island. Rows of people stood behind the yellow and red lines waiting to board. The train screeched to a halt. The door locks released with a distinct pop and the doors slid open. People shuffled in shoulder to shoulder and grabbed the first available seats.

Everyone looked down or away as if trying to avoid eye contact. Barely seated, the train began rolling over the joints of the track with a rhythmic click-clack sound at each connection.

 The conductor adjusted his hat and cleared his throat before he began to walk down the aisle, yelling with his megaphone voice, “Have your tickets ready.” He took up the single tickets, scanned cards and punched holes in the appropriate return vouchers for patrons who ride regularly.

 I almost jumped out of my seat when a bubbly little man, sitting next to me, turned and said, “Good morning.”

Relieved that a New Yorker had finally spoken to me, I replied, “Good morning to you, Sir. I had begun to think that people in this part of the country don’t speak.”

He smiled and assured me that most have other things on their minds, are running late, or are leery and afraid, because of the same inflated horror stories of evil characters that prey on train or subway riders. The man adamantly guaranteed me that in forty years he has never experienced a frightening incident during his countless rides.

Well dressed with a pleasant face and a glowing smile, he was a talented speaker who soon had my undivided attention and interest. In a short time he told me what seemed like his life story, with the exception of his name.

Every word he spoke was entertaining. He gave me a detailed description of how he had made this trip five and sometimes six days a week. Leaving home by 5:30 am, he boarded the train around 6:00, and arrived close to 7:00 at Penn Station. The huge terminal occupies six square blocks between Seventh and Eighth Avenues from 31st to 33rd Street.

Upon arrival, he quickly grabs a crème-filled doughnut and a coffee before jumping on the subway to be on the job by 8:00 a.m. He works until about 12:30, stops for a short lunch, and then hurries back trying to take as little time as possible away from work. From 1:00 or 1:15 when he returns, he works until 6:30 or 7:00 allowing time for the subways and the station to clear out and slow down from the mad rush between 4:00 and 6:00.

He rides the train back to Rockville Centre and arrives around 8:00 o’clock. Then, he walks a few blocks past shops with heavy metal gratings on the windows and little bar with the out-of-place rebel flag hanging in its window.

He inhales the delightful fragrance of barbecued chicken cooking on burning charcoal and hears Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” blaring into the street. Breathing a sigh of relief, he finds his car where he left it that morning.

He drives another fifteen minutes farther out on Long Island to get home by 8:30, unless he stops in Rockville Centre for a drink at his favorite local hotel bar. On the nights he stops for a drink there is no need to check the time or be in a hurry to get home, since his wife will either be asleep or mad (if she's even at home).

He and his wife met when he was a young boy selling newspapers in the city. His wife-to-be was slightly younger than he was and worked in a small, family-owned spice shop. She ground spices and created oils for candles and for cooking. She would often grind his favorite scents and flavors of cinnamon and vanilla. It would absorb into her hair and clothing, making her smell sweet and fresh like an icing-covered pastry that needed licking.

He first saw her through the storefront window. Her smooth coal-black tresses reflected in the case lights like a mirror, and its shine combined with her bright-red blouse made her skin sparkle like a porcelain doll, accented by her rosy pink cheeks and glowing, turquoise eyes.

For weeks, he stood outside the window and studied her sense of confidence, and enjoyed every move of her rounded hips on her curvy slender body as she walked back and forth throughout the store. Her pearly white teeth glistened inside the frame of full, perfectly shaped lips.

Many days he made it to the shop’s front door, only to panic and retreat as his fingers touched the handle. He finally found the nerve to open the door and walk up to the counter, but when he tried to speak, nothing came out. He stood waiting for what seemed like minutes for the right words. Then, she asked, “May I help you?” He was still unable to dislodge the frog stuck firmly in his throat. So, all that came out was croak—croak.

Then, he stammered and spit out with a spray, “Ye-e-e-yes plea-ea-ea-ease, could I p-p-purchase some ground c-c-c-cinnamon and va-vanilla”, as this was all he could smell and the only spices he knew besides salt and pepper.

It was love at first smell, the very minute he got near God’s beautiful creature and breathed one whiff of the bouquet of spices absorbed into her clothes, his senses were overwhelmed and he was helplessly captivated.

Every day for the next two months, he would visit the spice shop as he stocked his parent’s pantry with a conglomeration of spices, until he managed to work up the courage to ask her out for an ice-cream sundae and a movie. From that day forward, they became an inseparable pair.

Sitting quietly, it appeared the man had ran out of things to say, then slowly and deliberately he shook his head as if to say no, and began to chuckle while he explained how he has never stopped carrying toothpicks soaked in cinnamon oil. He keeps them rolled in aluminum foil and placed inside a sealed plastic container that helps maintain their potency.

I was amused to learn that they named their youngest daughter Cinnamon. She lives on the west coast. Her unusual name illustrates how strongly our senses can influence and control our decisions in life.

The man’s three children have all moved away and started their own families. He admitted there were times he couldn’t wait for them to grow up, but now confesses the quiet is hard to accept.

He and his wife can neither believe their marriage has lasted thirty-seven years, nor how fast life has passed. On the days that he goes straight home after work; his faithful companions greet him at the door. His Scottie-dog named Buttons, and his two parrots Bozo and Bruno, one trying to out-squawk the other. After a rub on Button’s head and a whistle or two from his talkative-feathered friends, he barely makes it to his La-Z-Boy before falling asleep.

His wife is seldom home. Long ago, she grew tired of being alone and wondering what time he would be in. She stays busy playing golf and tennis with her friends or volunteering to help the needy. She works charity events or anything that will keep her out of an empty house.

His wife only cooks on Sundays these days, other than an occasional loaf of warm cinnamon-nut bread left on the stove. It meant as a simple reminder of her special-spiced perfume, and the special days way back when they met and fell in love.

Sundays are family day. Two of his and the wife’s three children bring the grandchildren to have lunch and enjoy a few hours together. On most of those happy days, they call their daughter, Cinnamon. However, she is active and seldom home.

Each area of Manhattan has its own unique scenery and smells. Yes, truly every block smells different. Some of the smells are good, and some are worse than bad, but we always find ourselves waiting and anxious for what awaits us in the next block.

Chinatown, Little Italy, and the delicatessens intermix with the smells of the business next door, and the streets lined with flower vendors mingle with the adjacent fish markets.  Everything is distinctive in New York, including the people. Boisterous New Yorkers voice their opinions loud and clear, any place, anytime. Ready to debate any issue, even those they know nothing about.

My visit to New York City with so much happening all around me, ignited my senses and invigorated my mind with thoughts long since filed away. Still, with everything I like about the city, it is impossible for this small-town Kentucky boy to imagine spending a lifetime in a “City that never sleeps.” Especially, a place that leaves so little time for yourself and those you love, eroding the closeness of those who love or once loved you.

Over 600,000 people make the daily commute into the city called “The Big Apple,” and each one shares a busy lifestyle. It’s a grueling pace, but my bet is, few would change a thing. Most, still believe the famous saying found on countless bumper stickers and T-shirts that says, “I Love New York.”

 


Recognized


A couple years back, I went to a free class at the public library. We were told to write a fictional essay about a place, spices, and someone we met there. And this is the result, after a little polishing. I hope it takes you to my chosen place. :-)
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