REFLECTIONS ON THE BOULEVARD
by Louis J. Ambrosio
It was one of those beautiful summer days in New York. Not hot, not humid, but not cool. A slight breeze silently flowing down the Hudson River momentarily. People were quietly entering the ferry, some aimless, some lost, a few secure in their position in life.
Michael, 65, tall with salt and pepper hair, gripped a book in one hand, a smart leather briefcase with the other. Contrary to the rest, he had a sense he did belong – somewhere else. The book was Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.
In search of the best view, he found a seat looking out at the river. The sun was reflected in the water, the birds landed on the railing of the boat. He was content. This was Michael’s everyday ritual, coming home from teaching at the university. He was so happy no one sat next to him on the bench; he was able to put his briefcase down. He would have loved a cigarette, but you cannot smoke anywhere today except for under your coat. How about a martini extra dry with two olives? Michael loved to dream of the impossible.
He opened his book, when suddenly a fight broke out between two very smartly dressed men. They did not even know why they were fighting; the police were avoided; the ferry left the dock. People were much more confrontational since the coronavirus epidemic, often harboring a strong edge. He was sure the two men wanted a martini as well.
As the ferry entered the river, one would barely know they were sailing. The breeze brushed against his face; he saw the water pass him just as life had. He looked at the stern of the ferry seeing all his relationships, career, and spirituality disappear in an endless stream of the river, moving them away but not forgotten. Michael felt as if the bow moving upriver was pushing towards his future with the thrust of a young man stealing second base.
From the corner of his eyes, he saw a well-built, nice looking young man, nerdy, longish dirty blonde hair that either needed cutting or a ponytail. He was talking to himself, no, Michael thought, "he is talking on the phone.” But no, the young man was actually talking to himself, or a bird. Suddenly, the young man saw Michael and flashed a small smile.
“Oh no I have been here too many times; those moments are up the river," thought Michael. The young man approached Michael asking if he knew him.
“I could not imagine how," said Michael, in disbelief.
“Yes,” the young man said, “in the park near the university. You were always reading on that same bench. I remember when the pigeons shit on your book and once on your jacket; the whole bench was full of shit,” the young man said with a slight devilish smile.
“Right!” said Michael. “Are you getting off here?”
“In the middle of the river, how could I?”
“You could always try," said Michael, with a slight but cold smile.
The young man asked Michael his name.
“I’m Ron! Now what’s yours?”
“I will tell you later,” said Michael.
Michael suggested to the young man to have quiet time now and sit, Ron sat right next to Michael and put his hands in his own lap and said “Sure.”
Michael and Ron took their journey to the other side of the river. Michael had sometimes imagined the boat taking him to the end of something, his own life maybe? Was it a boat on the river Styx? After a while, he realized they were back in Jersey, safe.
Ron could not help himself; he was bored, and his life had not yet reached a point of deep profundity. Everything for Ron was on the surface, and his energy always remained there, in your face. He asked Michael his name again.
“Too early, but soon,” said Michael, annoyed at being pulled back from his thoughts.
They arrived at the terminal, a place of bars and excitement. Ron was feeling that energy; he was anxious to join it all. He caught up with Michael who had moved as quickly as possible towards the parking lot to his car. Ron caught up but seemed winded.
“How about a drink, friend?”
“No, they cannot mix drinks well here,” answered Michael, annoyed.
Michael wanted him to leave. They were near the parking lot now, his escape. Ron was walking behind Michael like a baby duck, unsure of his every step, following Michael like he was his father. Finally, they arrived at Michael’s car.
Michael asked, “Where is your car?”
"I took the bus. Could you give me a lift home?” Ron stared at Michael’s car, nodding as if saying “nice car” in guy language. It was not that nice, a simple sedan but it was better than Ron’s ride on a bus.
“Maybe you can take the bus home,” Michael said firmly, nodding back.
“I have no more money. I bought a Coke and a sandwich at the terminal in New York.”
“Well, here is some money.”
“No, I want to drive with you.”
“I want to know how a man could sit on the same bench twice a week while birds shit near or on him.”
Michael looked at Ron and smiled. It was not a smile he had worn for a long time; it was different. Off they went.
The drive home was nerve-racking for Michael. Neither of them spoke a word. Michael would occasionally look over to Ron to make sure there was no funny business, like a gun. No gun, just Ron slightly smiling at times looking at Michael. He could not get over the simplicity of his smile and the contentment on his face. Turning off the Garden State Parkway, Ron observed that Michael lived too far from anywhere. He suggested Michael should move to a wonderful place, a place that is pretty, and where the people are nice. Michael realized that Ron just liked to say things, as they had not yet arrived in his town. Michael asked where Ron lived.
“Around here," he responded.
“Around where?” Michael asked firmly. He just wanted him out of the car. Pulling over to a gas station he barked, “All off, the last stop.”
Ron, like a young boy being scolded by his father, got up quietly and left the car.
"Maybe I will see you one day on the ferry. Or in the park with all the birds.” Ron said, laughing hanging on to the passenger's side door. He shut it.
Michael took off, driving as quickly as possible to his home. He lived two blocks from the gas station. His house was a small English cottage with lots of wildflowers around the house. Inside you had a very distinct English feeling. He felt extremely comfortable.
A plain 1980 television set, a 1930 freestanding radio, lots of copper and silver. His bed was the best with a big down comforter you just sink into. The only thing missing was Buddy, his dog. How much he missed him. He dismissed the thought about getting another dog. Buddy was his best friend.
He made a pot of coffee, arranged papers on the coffee table, sat, and relaxed. He started to think about the young man he met on the ferry. What did he want? He was concerned and worried that the young man had some ulterior motive.
He called his children at their offices in a three-way call to tell them about the strange meeting and the ride home. Joshua, his son, said he would come over and sleep at the house for the night. Elizabeth, his daughter, was going to call the police to check on the house through the night.
They loved their father. They knew his limitations, a bit intellectually dizzy, he would phase out and not come back for an hour or so, but he was sharp and loved people. He would tell his children: you can take half of the courses at college and throw them out and, with the extra time, spend it learning about people. The rich, the poor, the drug addicts, the prostitutes, the middle class, and the average person. Talk to them but listen to their stories. They are the obstacle in their own lives humanity has lost touch with. Those people are us.
He felt obligated to tell them about Ron, that he was a little uneasy. Both children forcibly asked their father why he would do that, take a stranger in the car, and leave him off two blocks from his own house. Michael said, “I was just taken by the moment.”
“What moment?” asked his son.
“The moment of innocence. Seeing something in him that was, I guess, pure. Having no agenda. Who knows? I made a mistake; he is gone now.”
“I hope so," said Joshua. “Got to get home to the family, Dad. Take care and watch out.”
Elizabeth told her father to get a gun. They all laughed, and his children hung up the phone.
Michael was alone. He grabbed his second cup of coffee and made himself comfortable in his favorite chair, a huge Victorian armchair. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette. He was prepared with a strong air freshener. He had to be careful and always get the smoke out of the house, afraid someone would smell the smoke and betray him to his lovely children, which would trigger a half hour lecture about the dangers of smoking. He has already heard this message for over 40 years. He loved to smoke, but he limited his cigarettes to seven a day.
The martini and smoke made the world come together, a level of comfort and tranquility entered with it. Time for bed, he slowly got up. It was hard since he had a painful protruding disc. Once up, he slowly went into his bedroom, knowing that age had overcome him.
About the Author:
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