Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I Heart New York 2

I bought the cutest purse the other day. It was $25, one of those cheap street deals that'll fall apart in a month. Well, I thought I had a month. Turned out, the zipper on the outside pocket broke the day after I bought it. Normally this wouldn't have fazed me (I get all my purses and earrings off the street, so I constantly have cheap Chinese hardware falling off me), but I really liked this purse and I'd just gotten it, so I wanted it fixed.

One of my responsibilities at my not-very-demanding job is to check the PO box once a week. It's three cross town blocks away, not a short walk, but not ridiculous. I usually just get into an iPod reverie and I'm there before I know it. This morning, though, a sign caught my eye - URIEL'S SHOE REPAIR SHOP. The place was open, so I went inside.

New York City shoe repair places tend to be impossibly small. Smaller than the smallest store you've ever been in, so small that two people can't stand next to each other without becoming embarrassingly intimate. Uriel's was no exception. I pushed open the door to find the place already filled to capacity with two Russian men in yarmulkes.

I asked if they could fix purse zippers and the man behind the counter said sure. While I waited. I just had to empty my purse.

They watched everything come out of it. Book, notebook, wallet, cinnamon gum, pens, Tide-to-Go, lipgloss, worry beads, Leatherman, the last piece of Nicorette I keep for emergencies. "What?" the second Russian said. "No candy?" And then, like magic, I reached into the very bottom of the bag and pulled out an M&M Kudos bar I'd completely forgotten about. "See," the guy said, triumphant, "I know women!"

I balanced on a narrow bench and opened my book. The second man inched aside to give my knees some room, and they resumed their conversation in Russian. My stuff sat in an embarrassing pile on the counter.

Suddenly, the door flew open, almost hitting me. A fourth person squeezed her way into the shop. She was stooped over, holding one of her pant legs by the cuff. "Uriel!" she called, even though he was not three feet away. "Help me!"

We all looked up, but the woman was staring at me, not Uriel. She was black, middle aged, and had on multicolored polkadot glasses. "Oh my god, those earrings are gorgeous." She let her pants leg fall. "Where in God's name did you get them because I am always looking for the perfect earrings."

I was disappointed to realize I didn't know. I liked this woman (I liked being flattered) and I wanted to help, but I stop at every one of those street stands I see looking for earrings and purses, and I couldn't begin to even guess if I'd found them in the Bronx or Morningside Heights or the Village.

But she had already moved on.

"I need a needle, Uriel. I need one in the worst way. Here I am on the way to work and I rip my goddamn seam out with my heel and it's only by the luck of the Lord that I did it across the street from you."

Uriel was bent over my purse, sewing my zipper back in. He didn't smile. "Needle's busy," he said.

"Oh for crissakes, Uriel."

Without looking up, Uriel pulled a magnetic needle holder out from under the counter and set a spool of dark blue thread next to it. The woman leaned against the Russian guy - who didn't seem to notice - crossed her foot over one knee, and began to sew.

That's all I needed. I was in love with the place. I wanted to be just like this woman, able to find a joke in Uriel's unsmiling face, to lean against the Russian without a word. I began running through all my purses in my mind, trying to remember which needed repairs. I wanted to be part of Uriel's in-crowd.

And then, as if just to drive the point home, a big gray cat weaved it's way out from the back and jumped into my lap.

"Do you know Masha?" the Russian asked.

"Know her?"

"Masha is famous. Everybody knows Masha."

The black woman eyed the cat. "I know Masha. Masha, you stay the hell away. I'm in navy."

Masha mewed.

"Are you married?" The Russian asked me.


"Do you have cats?"


"Masha can always tell." He pointed at me, not accusingly, but with emphasis. "A women with cats needs babies."

Uriel looked up. "You can go ahead and tell him yourself," he said to me, gesturing at the Russian.

"I'm too young for babies."

The black woman snorted.

"All right, done." She used Uriel's long, heavy scissors to clip the thread and carefully placed her needle back in its holder. "A lifesaver."

I leaned back to let her open the door. Masha followed the woman out, twitching her tail with lazy confidence.

Uriel passed my purse back to me and I filled all its little pockets with the appropriate things. The charge was ten dollars. My $25 purse had become a $35 purse in just two days, but as Uriel and the Russian resumed their talk, barely nodding their heads as I said goodbye, I couldn't have minded less.


cynthia said...

Our friend Rick said to me once, "You make wherever you are into a village." He was responding to my talking with so many people on the Pasadena Arroyo Seco "suicide" bridge party one year, my response to my feeling that every place is a village, just like my growing-up town of 800 people in rural New Hampshire.
Your story simply proves that any place, no matter how populated, can be a village. You just need a few folk, together in the same space, and a little time on your hands.

Robin said...

I love this, Miranda...

...I recently remarked to your mum, that the finishing of the BA while trying to assemble research for the MA is just about killing me...

...and that if I don't make it all the way through, then I want a career waitressing in some old diner by the sea, where everyone knows everyone else and the most challenging part of the day is frying bacon to perfection, brewing a decent cup of coffee, and making sure that the Boston Globe is nice and dry...

...and that if this was to be my destiny, then everyone was going to have to be Ok with that, because that was Ok with me...

....your vivid prose explains one reason why...

....they must have interesting old diners in New York....'ya think...... : )

David said...

sweetjesusinthemorning, Miranda..this is some outstanding writing..

didi979 said...

Yep, I agree with them all. This is one of my very favorites . . . that I remember! :)

Hugs again,