Filed under: Things Maybe I Shouldn’t Have Said.
I went for a jog on Saturday. As I left my apartment I was heading down the hill on 41st Street, where I encountered an older woman carrying an odd assortment of things in her arms. As I approached the intersection she asked me if I could help her. I pulled the buds out of my ears to ask what I could do. “Carry this for me,” she said, and thrust the heaviest cast iron cooking pot I’ve ever held in my life into my hands, along with an enormous serrated butcher knife. “Where are we going with these?” I asked, even though it was a little late for such a detail to matter much. She gestured at a building across the street. “Just right over there.”
She was wearing a long flowing muumuu that looked too hot for the day, and cushy summer sandals. Wiry gray hairs poked out of her chin like antennae feeling for smell. “Where did this stuff come from?” I asked, because at the moment she called out to me she’d been walking down the steps from a parking lot behind a large apartment building. “Oh just in there,” she said, waving behind her with her free hand. “Have you ever been in there? Sometimes they have great stuff.”
I knew there was a small market in the bottom of the building, but otherwise did not know what she was talking about. “Like a consignment shop?” I asked. “No no no,” she shook her head, disappointed and kind of annoyed. “You know, it’s like a, like a, like a,” she lost her words for a moment, then said, “a garbage room.”
In addition to the heavy pot, which was bright yellow and kind of fabulous, and the gigantic butcher’s knife, she also carried a small purse and what looked like a single slat from a wooden bookshelf. When we got across the street to the bottom of the steps leading up to her building she handed me the piece of wood and asked, “here, can you carry this too?” even though it wasn’t really a question. I reached out for the shelf, and as I did I looked up at the towering facade in front of us. “This is a nice building.” “Hmph,” was all she said in reply as she turned and started slowly up the steps.
When we got into the lobby I asked her what floor she lived on. “What floor do you live on?” she shot back, her wide eyes dancing around. “Umm, the first?” I replied, confused. “Well I live on the second,” she answered and flung open a gray door that led to a narrow staircase.
She took these stairs at a similarly glacial pace, one at a time, stopping to rest on each one. I felt sorry for her, but was also thankful she didn’t live any higher because, it crossed my mind, I would be there all afternoon. I remained a few steps behind her, shifting my weight, ready to get out of there. It was like she could hear me counting the seconds, and must have mistaken my impatience for anxiety or apprehension because as she neared the top of the stairs she said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to bite you.” And before I knew what I was saying or could stop myself I replied, “Oh I’m not worried. After all, I’m the one with the knife.”
She froze. She climbed no higher, and then suddenly she took the final few steps at a clip and when she reached the top she just pointed. “Put the stuff on the floor over there,” she said, and backed away from me. I did as I was told, realizing with cold shame that I’d said something stupidly frightening – and yet simultaneously thinking that it was also, in its way, perfectly hilarious.
With the knife safely on the floor behind me and well out of reach, she clasped my hand and thanked me for helping her – but as I walked away I couldn’t help wondering if by this point she wished I hadn’t.