Downtown B train

Brushing past me on the downtown B train, she wore her anger outwardly, like a worn red sweater, pilling on the chest and fraying at the cuffs. Mine seethed, like a seam separating as a thin, clear thread was pulled toward the sneer behind an invisible hand.

Etching: attributed to Pieter Jansz


Rosa offered me camarones

Rosa offered me camarones, but I didn’t know what camarones were. She says she wants to bring me one of her favorite ceviches that she eats in her native Ecuador. I speak broken Spanish and she speaks broken English every day when I pick up my towels at the gym before I go into the locker room to change.

111009.stefanShe has four daughters and I have celebrated with her that she recently passed her driving test at the DMV and recovered from a successful surgery and have prayed for her suegra (who has vascular problems) and her suegro (who fell and broke his hip). I tell her about my boys and what we do on weekends.

She, in a typical exchange: “El sabado…I cooking, cleaning, comiendo, a little bailando—” confiding laughter—“then, el domingo, choich—” and she presses her palms together in front of her lips, and her sentence ends there. Her laughter turns to a gentle smile and her brown eyes go soft.

But today, after her offer: “Rosa, que significa ‘camarones’?”

She purses her lips and looks at the ceiling over my head to the left, which she does when she is trying to think of a word in English. My Spanish is better than her English. We speak Spanish more often.

“Emm.” And she looks back at me with a smile and holds her fingers up and wiggles them next to her lips, indicating many legs.

“Shellfish?” I ask.

“Yes…. Maybe, yes.”

She flips open her cellphone and speaks quickly after dialing. “Camarones” comes up quickly several times. Then she hands me the phone. It’s her teenage daughter.

“Hi,” I say, “It’s Howard. I work out at the gym where your mother works.” I know she has three sisters, one of whom who has a baby, and a sick grandmother and grandfather, who will likely die soon, and probably around the same time. I know that her parents send money back to Ecuador often. Rosa’s husband, the son of the dying grandparents, is the only one in his family who is in the United States.

“Hi, it’s Doris.”

“I didn’t know what ‘camarones’ were.”

“It’s shrimp,” she says with a laugh that I recognize.

“Great; that sounds familiar now. Thanks! Here’s your mother.”

Quick goodbye between them, and then I say, “¡Me gustan mucho camarones!” I told her I liked a lot of shrimp instead of saying, as intended, I liked shrimp a lot.

Rosa will bring some for me on Thursday—“el jueves”—and I must show up at 11:00 or so. Usually, I say each day, “¡Mañana, por la mañana!” And she says “¡Por la mañana!” And that’s that. Sometimes, though, I come in the afternoon, and she leaves at 2:00.

Today she’s the mother. And she’s bringing lunch in a couple days.

photo: Stefan

2 First-Graders on a street corner

My 6-year-old son, Teak, was walking with my wife and came across a school friend, Ella, on the corner of 84th and Amsterdam. Ella is in front of him and turns around with a smile.110509.pinksherbetphotography

Ella: “Teak, you are so weird!” She faced ahead once more.

My wife Karen’s thought-cloud: Uh, oh. What did he do now?

Ella, turning again and pressing: “You’re just weird and you should know that by now!”

Karen to Teak, aloud: “What did you do that was weird?”

Teak: “Nothing. She has me confused with herself.”

Six years old.

photo: Pink Sherbet Photography