The 11th Street Ruse was “designed to raise the eyebrows and the social/poetical consciousness of the world. So far it has failed.” Or so its publisher, Sparrow, and editor supreme, Ellen Carter, said in their introduction to our first excerpt from the Ruse, in 1989.
Since then, Sparrow arguably has made some strides in raising poetical consciousness. As a member of the poets’ group the Unbearables, he protested the quality of the poetry in the New Yorker. Among the group’s demands: a one-year simile hiatus and, because New Yorker poems are generally worst at the end, that the poems never end. In response, the New Yorker’s poetry editor took Sparrow to lunch and eventually accepted four of his poems. When his fellow Unbearables threatened to try him for treason, Sparrow said, “If I am lowering the artistic standards of the New Yorker, then maybe I am doing something good for humanity.”
Sparrow and Ellen have this to say about the Ruse in 1995:
“It’s been eight years since we started the 11th Street Ruse — making it one of the oldest literary magazines in America. Our output has slowed (the Ruse began as a weekly and is now more semiannual), yet it continues. Along the way, we’ve become more civilized. Originally an erratic, improvisational outpouring, the Ruse now serializes staff writer Violet Snow’s novel (about a ten-year-old mystic who lives in a hole in the ground), while roving reporter R. L. S. experiments with celebrity journalism.
“These selections cover the period from our marriage in 1989 to the present, including the birth of our daughter, Sylvia, in 1991. They also detail our neighborhood — the East Village of Manhattan — with its beggars, Italian laundromats, prostitutes, stacks of New York Times, and scatological performance artists, whose explosive influence permeates our pages.
“What is our goal in the Ruse? To be philosophers and diarists; to write quickly and without error; to publish four mimeographed pages that will appear suddenly in a phone booth in Des Moines and delight a dentist.”
Any similarities between the Ruse’s main contributors, R. L. S. and Violet, and Sparrow and Ellen are . . . well, obvious. But pseudonyms are a Ruse tradition, along with irreverent satire, compassion, and low production values.
Subscriptions are one or two dollars for three issues (cash preferred, but checks payable to Ellen Carter also accepted). Write to the 11th Street Ruse, 322 East 11th Street #23, New York, NY 10003.
— Andrew Snee
So we went ahead and got married. The Sabbath was almost over, but not quite, and all the Orthodox Jews on Bennett Avenue glared out their windows at us. Also because I’m a shiksa, I suppose. Everyone at the wedding had a good time, except for me. I liked only the hugging and kissing part after the ceremony. My friend Sharon says the bride isn’t supposed to enjoy her wedding — it’s for everyone else. In that respect, the wedding was a success.
The first thing that went wrong was I forgot the Charlie Parker tape for the recessional. I called up Stan, who lives around the corner from the church (our woman rabbi’s congregation meets in a fieldstone Lutheran church), and he brought over some jazz he had recorded at the Philharmonic. Then, while I was in the bathroom getting dressed, I put my hand in the pocket of my dress and discovered that R.’s ring had fallen out. We had to borrow one from the best man.
Finally I stepped out, looking as elegant as I ever have, in electric blue silk, my hair stylishly vertical. R. whispered, “You look so Republican.” (A week later, he finally apologized.)
Then Pavarotti burst into “Cielo e Mar” (“Sky and Sea”), and the procession began. It went much faster than we had rehearsed — the canopy first, followed by the rabbi, R.’s little nieces, and the rest of us. R. and I took our places under the canopy. I liked it there. It was like a little clearing where the bushes meet overhead. Then, because our timing was off on the procession, Uncle Tony cut off Pavarotti midcrescendo.
The rabbi welcomed the guests, gave R. and me each a sip of wine, then said, “Pinch yourself — go ahead, pinch yourself.” (I did.) “Yes, it’s real: R. and Violet are getting married.”
I was insulted. Did she mean that everyone thought we were too immature and disorganized to pull off a wedding? (I was still agonizing over losing the ring.) Luckily, at that point my brother’s pole fell apart; he was one of the canopy-bearers, and the bottom half of his pole fell and hit the floor. It was very amusing.
There were more words said, more wine sipped, poems read, rings stuck onto fingers, light bulbs crunched underfoot. Halfway out, someone reminded us to kiss. Then came the part where we hugged everyone, including people we’d never hugged before. I felt each person was happy for us, and that made me glad.
The reception was trying. I was disappointed that no one tapped a glass with a spoon to make us kiss. Maybe it was because we didn’t sit together. We never sit together at parties, because he’s Mr. Mingle and I’m a social caterpillar.
Afterward we cut the carrot cake, and only two people watched. My sister-in-law took a picture. We haven’t seen any pictures yet except the official ones we hired R.’s friend Jennifer to take. They’re good, even though I look like a spaced-out turkey in most of them. I shouldn’t complain so much. I’m worried that only blue-ribbon neurotics don’t enjoy their own weddings, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m one. But then again, being neurotic in Manhattan is 100 percent normal. So think of me what you will.
Anyway, the wedding may have been a drag, but I love being married. If only R. would stop saying, “Are you the right person?”
— Violet Snow
This letter is part of an ongoing correspondence between R. L. S. and “Legs” Rajadni, a Sri Lankan rickshaw driver.
I was married two weeks ago under a canopy made of cloth inside a church on 189th Street. Violet and I stood together and said these vows: “I do pledge to love, honor, and protect you, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, in comedy and in tragedy, from dust to dust, from the movies to the delicatessen.” My brother-in-law, my brother, her brother, and Harvey Nusbaum held the poles that suspended the white cloth over our heads. It was like a little room without walls, or rather with brothers for walls — brothers and Harvey Nusbaum. It was like a cloth telephone booth with the telephone missing. It was like a big, disembodied hat, as in “keep this under your hat.” Sixty-five people watched.
We took two vows, then read two poems. Hers was from William Carlos Williams. Mine was by Ted Berrigan, from the words of a folk song: “Who’s gonna kiss your red ruby lips, who’s gonna hold your hand?” At the end it goes, “Why, I am, doncha know? Why, I am.”
I had rehearsed it over and over walking down 9th Street. I couldn’t get the intonation quite right. It always came out like a question: “Why I am?” Then it came to me that the stress should be on the I. At the wedding I think it sounded right.
Violet looked nervous, in her violet dress. She looked like an executive secretary of a grain cooperative in the Midwest. I looked like a session musician on a Three Dog Night album.
She lost my ring, so we borrowed one from Jeffrey, my best man. It may be that, legally, I am now married to Jeffrey.
After the reception, we had a talent show. Sheila played a plastic accordion. Martin read from A Treasury of Jewish Folklore. Philip made scarves appear from his hands, which was anticlimactic, as he is exactly the sort of person who appears to have scarves inside his hands.
The rabbi went home early. She goes to a lot of weddings, she said.
Violet and I cut the cake. It tasted as good as borscht to a dying man. She didn’t stuff it in my mouth, for which I was grateful. (“I didn’t know people did that,” she said later.)
(Just now a baby grabbed my hair. I am on the subway, and she touched me over her mother’s shoulder. Perhaps my baby, in the Fields of the Unborn, is saying, “You married for me.”)
Violet got mad — the party wore her out. We rode home in Russell’s jeep with the loot, feeling as if we’d robbed a department store.
R. L. S.
Joan And Jojo
I was supposed to go to the housing-for-the-homeless demonstration in Washington with R., but I changed my mind at the last moment, then felt horribly guilty all day. So I went to Tompkins Square Park to give away some of my old clothes. I couldn’t find any homeless women at first, so I left the bag at the band shell, where the men said there was a woman staying.
A lot of homeless people said hello to me. They weren’t busy, so they said hello. I looked at their tents, ingenious structures made from plastic, cloth, paper bags, carpet, rope, packing tape — resourceful, these homeless — but I felt sad. I kept thinking, I should be in Washington. I decided to interview someone, but they all looked scary. Finally, I picked a white woman talking to a black man in a wheelchair. Maybe she’s a social worker, I thought.
They turned out to be Jojo, King of the Bums, and Joan, a divorcée with six children. “I had six kids and six miscarriages,” she said. She cataloged her children for me. The daughters were either artists, fashion designers, or the wives of oil-company executives. The two sons were a drug head and a fifteen-year-old living with his father.
“Do your kids give you money?” I asked.
“Oh, no, Jojo and I are entirely self-supporting. I hustle cabs over on St. Mark’s. I say, ‘Please give me a dollar and help me buy a condominium so I don’t have to hustle cabs,’ and they give me a dollar. We collect bottles and cans, too. It keeps us in beer.” She pointed to a shopping cart with a few cans in it.
I said, “I noticed you have it decorated.” There were trinkets and ribbons, a red-and-white heart, and a green bird arranged on the bars of the cart.
“Yeah, this is my collage. Instead of paper, I use the cart. Jojo doesn’t like it. He says I make the cart look like a faggot.”
“Did you ever paint?”
“Yeah, I used to do acrylics, also scratchboard. Nothing realistic, though — you can use a camera if you want that — just my impressions of things.”
I asked how long they had been living in the park.
“Three or four months,” she said. “I was living with my daughter, until I brought Jojo home one night and she kicked us out. She’s gay, but she hates black people.”
“What are you going to do when the weather turns cold?” I asked.
“I’m gonna let him worry about it,” she said, and she laughed. Jojo grinned. “I need a beer,” she said, and he got up from the wheelchair and walked off to buy her one.
“How did you meet Jojo?” I asked.
“Three years ago I was living with my son Nicholas in the Hotel Rutledge. One night he got very crazy when he was taking drugs, and we had a big fight, so I left, thinking I’d wait for him to come down and become a human being again. It was about three in the morning, and I bought a forty-ounce bottle of beer and sat down in the park a couple of blocks away. Then along comes Jojo and says, ‘What are you doing here? A white woman alone in this neighborhood at this time of night — it’s not exactly healthy.’ So he decided to keep me company, to protect me, and we got to talking. We’ve been together ever since. He’s very intelligent, Jojo is. He used to be an artist, too. He did etching on glass. He can’t stand to live indoors, though. He was in Vietnam, and he was in prison for triple homicide, so he gets real paranoid in enclosed places.”
“Even the tent bothers me sometimes,” Jojo said, returning with a tall beer for Joan. He sat down and sipped at his bottle of Thunderbird.
They started telling morgue stories. “It’s the best place to go in the summer. It’s nice and cool,” Jojo said. “We watched an autopsy once. They cut the guy right down the left side, like this, and laid his penis over on his right thigh.”
“How did you get in?” I asked. “Didn’t anyone see you?”
“They were too busy. There’s a long tunnel that they drive in through to deliver the bodies, and there’s no door, so you can just walk in.
“One time we wanted to have sex, but we couldn’t afford a hotel room, so we went to the morgue. We were naked and wrapped in a blanket when the cops caught us. They asked what we were doing, and I said, ‘She has asthma, and I’m giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.’ They fined us each five hundred dollars for indecent dress.”
Joan said, “Last year I hurt my foot. I had a cast up to my knee and couldn’t use crutches, so I said, ‘Jojo, I need a wheelchair.’ He went to the morgue and found some dead guy in a wheelchair. Jojo untied him and took the wheelchair. We figured the guy didn’t need it no more.”
Then Jojo told a long series of entertaining but strangely unfunny jokes about race, excretion, and sex. Finally, I stood up to leave.
Joan said, “Come back some time and we’ll do a real interview. This was just joking around.”
“Yeah, come on back,” said Jojo.
“We’ve been interviewed a couple of times,” said Joan. “Jojo’s famous. He’s King of the Bums.” She laughed. “That’s what they call him around here: King of the Bums.”
— Violet Snow
A Recent Letter From Sri Lanka
R. L. S.,
How come no one shits in the great novels? No one shits in the epic poems, either. A great pile of shit has been left out of literature: the shit of Don Quixote, of Ulysses, of Ethan Frome, of Arjuna. A great novel could be written with the shit other novels have forgotten, all the twisting, pretzel-like shapes. Shit itself is literary because it often forms letters — Ls and Js and Us, but most of all the letter I. Shit and autobiography have this in common.
Why did writers of all cultures, from Greece to China, choose to edit out shit? So many a soldier’s last shit, in Hannibal’s army or in the Crusades, must have been a moment fit for poetry. And prognostication! How many knew this was to be their last shit? Shits are oracles. The inside emerges.
Sex is a kind of shit two people take together, and sex is the basis of every book in the world — even the Bible! But the shits we take alone, these must remain hidden. We fear that if we speak of them, we might speak of nothing else ever again.
The pleasures of being alone are not fit for literature. Only mystics, like Yogananda, discuss being alone. They have the courage the rest of us lack, because they are alone with God while the rest of us are alone with our shit.
Now shit threatens to invade literature, but it is too late. Too much has been written without shit. If you are writing a book, omit shit. Let the canon stay as it has. Do not foul the nest of literature.
Let the painters paint it. It is more their field.
Foraging In Central Park
I was waiting for Cynthia at 96th Street and Central Park West on a sunny late afternoon. As cars stopped at the traffic light, a thin black man in olive drab shuffled over to them and asked for change. He had a kind face. When the light changed, I gave him a quarter.
“Thank you very much,” he said. “I have a hard time, you know, but I keep going.”
I nodded sympathetically.
“McDonald’s has been very good to me.”
“Yeah, I go to this McDonald’s — the manager there knows me personally — and I give them my change, and they feed me. They’ve been very nice to me.”
“Where do you sleep?”
“Here.” He gestured toward the park. “I got a locker at Grand Central where I keep some stuff — a change of clothes and some soap. The shelters are no good. They don’t do what they was designed to do.”
“You can’t work because of your hand?”
He extended his misshapen arm and moved his fingers as best he could, which was very little. “Yeah, I can’t do much with it.”
“What happened to it?”
“I got shot in Vietnam. That was twenty-five years ago. I’m forty-three now. But I’m still alive. I’m glad of that. I just keep going.”
“You know, there are things you can eat in the park.”
He looked at me like I was crazy. “Naw. You mean like poke salad?”
“No. Well, yeah, there is poke in the park, but it’s too bitter to eat now. There’s other things, though.”
“But you gotta have a place to boil stuff.”
“Some things you can eat raw. Of course, you have to watch out for dog shit.”
“Yeah, that ain’t no fertilizer.”
“No, not with what these dogs eat.”
“And some of these dogs eat better than me.”
The light turned red again, and a man tapped on the side of his Camaro with a quarter. My friend hurried over to accept it.
I climbed a hillock beside the road and found a patch of violet leaves. I picked two and brought them back. “See, this is something you can eat raw: violet leaves.” Munching one, I handed him the other.
He stared down at the leaf for a long time and murmured, “Violet leaves. Violet leaves.” Slowly he folded it over and took a bite. “I gotta remember that. But shouldn’t you wash them?”
“Yeah, you can wash them off in the drinking fountain.”
I went and got three more so he’d know what they looked like. “See, they’re heart-shaped, and they curl in a little. They’re about this high from the ground now.”
He stuffed the leaves awkwardly into a pocket. “Thank you very much, ma’am. Thank you very much. Violet leaves. Violet leaves.”
— Violet Snow
As a junior citizen who hopes to be a senior someday, I think about old age often. I like the way the aged speak of their afflictions. They watch the dissolution of their nerves and how it affects their pancreases. We are all big systems wired together; the proof of our unity is our disunity.
I am terrified of getting old, but I find the prospect of getting younger just as unsettling. If only I could have four more years of being thirty-six — an age at which one can write novels and still step lively at the local nightspot.
Age exists for poets to explore — no one else can see profit in it. But has a great laureate ever done so? Only William Shakespeare, who threw a bunch of insults at an old king named Lear.
When an old person kills herself, we feel she hasn’t killed a whole person. It’s like killing a cat — a smaller crime — because most of her has already lived, and the part that’s left is small, like a cat.
— Herbert Dispenser
After eight months in the freezer, my placenta at last lies under a mulberry tree. I’ve had trouble making it to the park since Sylvie was born. I bought a car so it would be easy to get out of the city, but Sylvie hates the car, so we have to leave at nap time or take the train. The train is exhausting, with all the carrying her between trains and picking her toy up off the floor again and again.
But two weeks ago I managed to go and pick the year’s last and sweetest mulberries, and ate them with a deep pleasure that called for repayment. In fact, I had already decided to bury my placenta beneath the mulberry tree. R. wanted it interred in Tompkins Square Park, where the homeless used to live, but I refused to bury a piece of my body in a war zone.
Actually, at first he wanted to eat it, an idea that I found revolting, although both our midwife and our childbirth educator offered placenta recipes. As a vegetarian, R. was excited about the idea of eating meat without having to kill anything. He changed his mind, however, when he thought perhaps my herpes virus might have lodged itself somewhere in the placenta. So we decided burying was good enough.
Sylvie was born at home, in November. When the placenta came out after her, it was inspected by the midwife, placed in a white plastic bag, and put in the freezer. By the time I was ready to take it to the park, it was winter and the ground was too hard. I forgot about the placenta for several months. Meanwhile, the freezer filled with ice, and we could no longer extract the plastic bag. Yesterday we defrosted the refrigerator, and I knew it was time.
I invited Kay to come to the park with me. We knelt by the mulberry tree, and I unwrapped the slightly thawed and bloody parcel. I held out the piece of umbilical cord, still attached, and a tender, slippery white membrane that I judged to be a bit of the amniotic sac.
“What is a placenta?” Kay asked. “A muscle?”
“No, more like an organ, I guess. It’s where the mother’s blood mixes with the baby’s.”
I turned it over and saw the deep, rich red underneath. It reminded me of health, and how well I had nourished my baby. Sylvie, sitting in the grass beside us, lunged at the strange object. A drop of blood landed on her foot.
I buried the placenta alongside a thick root. I imagined the root absorbing the thawing blood, and thought of how seldom one may thank a tree for fruit by feeding it a piece of one’s own flesh.
Just now I realized that I will nourish with my body every person who eats from that tree this coming year.
— Violet Snow
The New York Times is the paper of record — and it sounds like a record. It has the doctored sound that records have, as if ordinary sound weren’t good enough. Records are made in scrupulously soundproofed rooms, like tombs.
A similar made-in-a-tomb sensation pervades the Times. The Times is a tombstone for future men to see; all the people in it look gray and dead. The living women are in the tabloids, where they take pills and have affairs, but the dying men are in the Times, where they cough and sign bills. The Times has more reach than the tabloids, though. The Times frequently goes to Mars, and recently the whole solar system made the front page when it had its first portrait taken. The solar system looked solemn, like a Roumanian bureaucrat.
Much of the Tuesday “Science” section is pure myth, I’ve heard. The Times is not concerned that its news be true; only that it look true. Now it has expanded its “Corrections” section so everything can be made true in retrospect. One envisions (even hopes for) a hundred-thousand-page correction supplement dating from Millard Fillmore’s years in office to the present, supplying all the details the paper has omitted.
The Times’s grayness is like smoke. It is one of the dirtiest papers; its ink comes off on the hands. All the real human dirt suppressed in its text — the secret that men fart, that women bleed monthly — comes out in its ink. One must wash after reading it.
— R. L. S.
Sylvie can’t sleep in this heat. She wakes at 3:30 A.M., when it’s still about ninety degrees out, nurses, then sits up and calls, “Bye-bye! Bye-bye!” I could distract her and deal with intermittent screaming for an hour, or I could carry her once around the block — more strenuous, but it would be over sooner. I pop her in the sling. She immediately shuts up and rests her head on my chest. We descend two and a half flights and head west on 11th Street.
As always at night in the East Village, I feel safe yet cautious. I can’t walk fast with the baby, but I look straight ahead and avoid eye contact. Who are these people out at 3:30 on a weeknight? It’s too late to be coming home from a party, too early to be going to work. Who would be out besides insomniacs, drug dealers, and hookers? Who is this guy in the tank top and plaid shorts walking toward me? A second-story man?
At Second Avenue I can’t help but stare at a beautiful black woman, her hair bound by an African cloth. She is not scrawny, not nodding off, and her clothes fit, all of which distinguish her from the hookers who frequent this corner. However, she is wearing shorts, showing cleavage, and leaning against a street sign.
I cross the street in front of her, then, since Sylvie seems to be asleep, I decide to go home, although I’ve only gone half a block. This is cheating, and as soon as I enter the building, Sylvie starts shrieking, “Bye-bye!”
“OK, OK,” I mutter. “I’ll go all the way around.”
As I step back into the street, the woman from the corner passes by. She frowns at me and asks, “Is everything all right?” Her voice is husky, with a Jamaican accent.
“I . . . uh . . . yeah. The baby’s having trouble sleeping. The heat.”
The woman walks on, and I follow ten paces behind, west to First Avenue, up to 12th Street, and back east. At the playground she ducks inside and calls out softly. A man emerges from the shadows and they walk toward the basketball court, murmuring. Her pimp? Her dealer? Her lover? I’d like to cut through the playground, but maybe they would kill me. Also, Sylvie might notice I was cheating again.
I finish walking around the block, and this time Sylvie stays asleep.
It’s later in July, and I’m at my parents’ house, near Poughkeepsie. It’s 10:30 P.M. The house is air-conditioned, so Sylvie has fallen asleep effortlessly. My father drowses in bed before the TV, which will stay on all night. My mother is away visiting her sister. I unlock the back door and sit on the stoop.
The night is warm and moonless, but I can see the silhouettes of the two tall oaks in the yard. I’ve always had great respect for these oaks, although I didn’t have much of a personal relationship with them as a child, as they had no low branches for climbing. Still, it seemed significant that there were two of them, as if they amplified each other, and I liked how they shaded and cooled the house all summer. Here in the suburbs, it seems that most of the trees have been allowed to stay, and have an enervated quality. But these two oaks have kept their spirit and dignity, as if they chose to be here, and thereby escaped domination.
I am listening to the plonk of tiny acorns on the patio when I hear faint, raucous voices. A woman’s voice, strident. Silence. Then again voices, and what sound like blows. Silence, unbroken.
I think, 10:30 in the suburbs is no safer than 3:30 A.M. in the city. At least the crimes of 11th Street are victimless, by and large.
The roar of the air conditioner will drown out Sylvie’s cries if she wakes, so I go inside to check on her. She is sound asleep.
— Violet Snow
Ah, it’s true: laundromats are schools. So much can be learned while the whites and coloreds tumble. (Isn’t there another way to say that? The colorful and the colorless?)
Events in a laundromat take on a cyclical nature. One watches first the left leg of a customer, then the right one. Then the left one. Eventually, one has watched both legs an equal number of times.
A subscriber to the Ruse wrote that he found a sample copy in an Albuquerque laundry. We should be in laundromats all over the nation. An issue takes about one spin cycle to read, which still gives you time to look at the customers’ legs. And we have the kind of information one needs while laundering — fluffy knowledge. Have you ever tried reading physics next to a dryer? You end up reading the same sentence for half an hour.
Education is in a crisis in this nation, because we ignore the goings-on inside laundries. None of us knows where Portugal is, but we can all find the machine that sells the little packets of detergent, and that’s something. There is too much emphasis now on what we don’t know. One hundred years ago, did people in Wisconsin know where Portugal was? I don’t think so. They probably didn’t know where Baltimore was. Ignorance has always been the rule, and intelligence has been rare. Intelligence should be rare.
Laundromats teach contemplation, and contemplation is the highest skill. You learn the location of Portugal once, and you’re done, but you can contemplate for your whole life. Contemplation teaches you to wait in lines, and the ability to wait in line — along with the ability to be married — is one of the noblest traits.
If you can fill thirty-five minutes, you can fill a life — because thirty-five minutes can be longer than a life, being emptier.
You watch the laundry fly up, then fly down again. The clothes appear to be shuddering, as if they were in hell learning over and over some revelation: that their child has died in a fire. Then they numbly collapse in resignation. Then they learn again of their child’s death. His name was Irving. Suddenly, the tortured souls realize both that they’ve lost a son and that they have named him Irving. His whole life he was named Irving. This is the fear when a child dies: that he had the wrong name.
By thinking thus, you are learning something — how to be awed by clothes. Being awed by a sweater is the highest education.
— R. L. S.
Today I went to Macy’s to look for clothes. Not that I expected to find any, but I remembered going there as a kid, and how big and fascinating it was, and how I loved the escalators. The department stores in Poughkeepsie didn’t have escalators. Now I think, You dumb shit, whatever made you think you’d find anything you could afford at Macy’s? You’ve wasted your afternoon off!
I think I really went there for nostalgic reasons. Being the mother of a two-year-old sends me into the past over and over.
At the moment, I’m in Woolworth’s, where I’m eating a BLT. Macy’s was so alienating and vast that I got lost and could barely ask the salespeople anything. (This BLT is delicious.) I got stuck in the petites section, which is huge. I didn’t know what I should ask — “Where is regular-sized sportswear?” I finally found some, but I didn’t like the clothes much, even the pricey ones. I am continually amazed that there are enough people rich enough to keep that store going, never mind Saks.
Then I came across the street to Woolworth’s. I think my family came here, too, when I was small. I feel so much more comfortable here, although I remember hating the tackiness of such places as a teenager. (I guess I still do, only less.) It took me fifteen minutes to figure out which package of toddler’s socks to buy. Even Woolworth’s is too vast.
A wrinkled lady wearing big fake pearls is joking with the Jamaican waitress. “Agnes,” she says, “I have no money. I’m gonna have to wash dishes!” She seems to work here, the pearly one.
I’m having apple pie for old times’ sake, though I usually spurn white sugar. I did pass up the scoop of ice cream.
Pearly is banging her coffee cup with a spoon, waiting for a co-worker to look up from her menu. Nice that this straight-looking white lady is so chummy with the black women. Now she’s banging her cup again! She sees me looking and says, “Can you tell what that song is?”
“ ‘Jingle Bells,’ ” I say.
— Violet Snow