The Bridge

There’s a bar in South Street Seaport with a painted concrete floor, bare brick walls, and hundreds of bras tacked to the ceiling. Beer is served in Styrofoam buckets. On any given night the place is full of beefy New York City firefighters, eating wings and drinking Bud. I’m here, too, on any given night, cleaning tables and stomping Styrofoam buckets flat before trashing them. They let me sleep upstairs. Sometimes they send me down to the market for celery or tomatoes or lettuce. I don’t go anywhere else.

It’s a busy street. Lots of people walking up and down. I like to watch the traffic, especially the panel trucks, delivering to restaurants and hotels. I like the sound of the tires on the cobblestones. Some of the trucks are all white; the sides are like movie screens. Some have slogans or company names. There’s something about those trucks.

The Brooklyn Bridge is a block away. It’s so close, you can’t see it from the street. But I can see it from my room upstairs. At night, the lights arc all the way across the river, like multiple exposures of a missile in flight. The first time I saw that, I was on the phone with someone I came here to see. That’s what I’m trying to remember.

When I was out front sweeping up cigarette butts yesterday, a truck went by. It had pictures and words on the side. It said, “Our Produce is Fresh” above a pile of tomatoes and lettuce and carrots. And below the vegetables, it said, “Our Customers are Spoiled.”

Our produce is fresh; our customers are spoiled. I thought that was incredibly clever the first time I saw it, from my room in the Best Western down the street. I had the phone to my ear, listening to a woman’s voice. She said something, just then. And all I remember is that stupid truck.

Hank came out and called me over. Hank is the owner’s son, a firefighter. Looks like they finally found you, he said, handing me a pile of mail.

I don’t want it, I said.

Look Bud, maybe there’s some good news in here, he said. Maybe there are social security checks or something. You have to look.

You look, I said.

Hank sat on the stone steps next to the trash can half full of butts and starting flipping through the mail. Every other letter went in the can. Then he held one up and set the others down. He flipped open his pocket knife, slit the envelope, pulled out the folded pages. And read.

Hey Bud, congratulations, he said, squinting up at me, the sun in his eyes. Looks like your divorce is final. Is that good news?

I thought about the bridge, looming just beyond the rooftops, how high it is in the middle, how far to either end. You wouldn’t want to be stuck there forever, not able to go forward or back. Stuck in the middle.

Hank was saying something.

And I was pressing the phone to my ear as I watched the truck roll out of sight over the cobblestones, and she was saying something I couldn’t quite understand. I tried to call her back, again and again, all that night in the Best Western, but there was no answer.

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First published in Lake Affect Magazine, Volume 37, 2010