Morning scene #42

“Memphis versus St. Louis…” He waited.

“St. Louis,” she answered quietly, looking down at the paper.

“New Mexico versus Long Beach State?”

“Long Beach State.”

He held his pen three inches above the sheet on his right leg as he sat. His starched white shirt cuff ventured out from the sleeve of his blue pinstripe suit jacket. She was thoughtful but decisive with each choice, and he wrote as instructed, never questioning except when offering the next bracket. He directed his entries onto the page while fighting the shake of the subway. He paused to rub his nose. An itch perhaps. A stubborn cold? She looked up at him, eager, even impatient. They weren’t finished, and she knew it. Yet she held her Dora the Explorer backpack tightly on her lap. Her legs dangled over the seat.

“Louisville versus Davidson…”

“Louisville.”

Her brother, to her left and about the same age, looked at their father’s writing and his sister’s predictions. The boy’s mouth was slightly agape, his eyes in a trance at the piece of paper that no doubt was to be entered shortly into the office pool.

photo: detail/Under the Stars Photography

They come for the money

“Ma’am!” the voice came from a bullhorn on the roof of the 7-story building across the street. “Please close your window immediately!” I saw men with rifles. Our living room was on the 6th and top floor of a pre-war building, overlooking Madison Avenue.

My mother’s reaction was to stare even more intently catty-corner to the north side of 96th Street between Madison and Fifth. In fact, she crooned her neck out further to see if he was getting out of his limousine. At some point in their candidacy, all the presidents, not just Clinton this particular evening, had come to that street to do fundraisers. We had photos of FDR and his motorcade passing beneath us on 96th Street. I had seen Reagan’s procession while standing on the sidewalk. And a day before “W” came through, they had sealed the mailboxes on Park Avenue and 95th so he wouldn’t get blown up by an IED. But they all came here for the money.

“MA’AM! Close the window NOW!”

Oh, shit, I thought, Mom’s gonna get blown away by Secret Service sharpshooters.

But she didn’t die that day. She died of brain cancer ten years later. At 3:58 a.m. on November 26, 2001, with Mom already in a coma and under hospice care at home, a fire broke out in the deli on the ground floor of 50 East 96th Street. Ladder Company 22 and other units descended quickly on our street, sandwiched between our building and 49 East 96th. Firefighters extended their ladder to her apartment and carried Mom down unconscious and strapped to her ironing board—deemed the best stretcher at the time. It was an urban deus ex machina like no other.

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