New York City
I WAS WRONG about the leaves, first of all. Coming out of the subway at 125th Street, for the middle school dropoff, I saw some bedraggled trees and formed the notion that this was it, that last night’s heavy rain had finished off the lingering beauty of autumn, the way it used to happen some day in November under the old climate. The glory of the season swells through October and fades and then one big storm pounds everything that’s left on the trees down into the mud, so that the last round of raking is the soggiest and heaviest of all.
But then I said goodbye at the school door and headed downtown inside the park, as usual, through an increasing drizzle. And all around me things were still thrumming with color, glowing in the dimness in a way the phone camera couldn’t register: gold canopying and carpeting a rising flight of steps; deep scarlet hanging at eye level beside the path.
My navy hoodie and yellow down vest—my unshowered dropoff uniform for years now—were unzipped and unsnapped. I’d been bracing against the rain when I gambled on walking home, but the uncomfortable part of the walk was the warmth and humidity. Off to my left, spectacular little pink-red fruits clung to the contours of a tree’s upthrust leafless branches. I was so busy staring at it, failing to make the phone capture the burning pink against the darkly dampened surroundings, I didn’t notice the barrier of bright silver fencing sealing off the path till I was almost upon it.
It took me a moment to realize this was a real fence, non-negotiable. It was taller than my head and it cut off the walkway and everything around it. The only ways out were to climb the stairs leading up to the west, the wrong direction in two different dimensions, or to exit the eastern edge of the park. A walkway of wooden chips led that way, through an improvised gate where a section of the permanent railing had been removed. None of this had been there last time I came through, yesterday or the day before.
Other morning walkers—a smiling woman with a ceramic coffee mug in her hand, a man with a white pit bull—were following the detour. So did I. I headed down the sidewalk, over a mushy and drab mat of dead leaves, newly covered by bright ginkgo. I passed another stretch of fence sealing off the next park entrance. Down below, I could see what I was missing: the willows, streaked green and gold, pendent beside the green pond; small flame-topped maples I’d been marking day by day.
Two little Bobcats were creeping down the old potholed pathway where I would have been walking, one with a pneumatic hammer on the front and one with a loader scoop. A long, low mound of black asphalt rubble stretched away from the foot of the grand entrance stairway, the start of a repaving project. I could see more fences shutting off the stairs.
I’d been in too much of a hurry getting the younger boy out the door to eat my bowl of oatmeal, so I ran it in the microwave with a new splash of milk, then stirred in almond butter and molasses-y sugar and some slivers of the red-fleshed apples I’d ordered in the last grocery delivery. The first two of them had been disastrously mealy, but this round was fine.
An unfamiliar sound turned out to be someone actually ringing the Ring doorbell, for the first time since we’d figured out how to charge it and turn it on, weeks before. Out on the landing were two guys with a shop-vac and hoses trailing behind them. Neither one wore a mask. I had forgotten about the dryer vent crew coming through the building, or I had forgotten that today was Wednesday, when it would happen.
The one who did the talking was scrupulously, excessively polite and gentle. I’d left a load of clothes in the dryer, and he apologetically summoned me to get the laundry out of their way.
The front door of the apartment stayed hanging open while they worked, and the job took a while. My wife had gone to the rear bedroom and closed the door, and I assumed the cat was in there with her, but once the dryer team left and I checked in, no cat. I couldn’t imagine our cat actually darting out the door, past the roaring shop-vac; still, it took a few tense minutes before I located her—pressed into the furthest corner of the top bunk in the younger boy’s room, twisting herself down into the space between the mattress and the rail.
A little after 2, the younger boy texted me his standard pickup time and “remember,” as if I’d ever failed to show up. I tried to call a city agency about a problem we’ve been having, and the phone system sent me into a new and futile kind of loop: telling me to leave a message, telling me again in Spanish, and then declaring that the call was being transferred, which bumped me back to the beginning of the announcement without ever giving me a beep to talk to. So I called 311 instead, and got a live person with a strong New York accent, who was warmly outraged when I told her about the problem and the lack of response we’d been getting. She filed a complaint on our behalf, and gave me the complaint number for my records. She told me I would get an email with the complaint number, too; it never came.
I made it back to the middle school with five minutes to spare. One minute before pickup time, the child texted me to say “Ill be out soon.” Nearly 10 more minutes went by before he emerged. We walked home through the park till we hit the fence, then went the rest of the way on the sidewalk.
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