Here at The Common, we’re all about place, so we’ve been experimenting with more ways for readers to experience the locations of our pieces. Using this map, you can explore all the dispatches we’ve published set in New York City. Get to know Eli the Seltzer Man, the nighthawks on the Upper West Side, and more!
There’s a cafe called Dante’s on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village that my father and I used to visit when I was a teenager.
It’s located in what is sometimes called the “south village,” which once was largely Italian. There were still traces of that neighborhood when I was a kid. Grandmothers on folding chairs outside tenements on Leroy Street, Our Lady of Pompei on Carmine Street, a Mafia social club on Sullivan Street, St. Anthony’s Church, the Vesuvio Bakery, tough kids hanging out in Thompson Park, Ottamanelli’s butcher shop.
“Kinder,es endet noch schlecht!” my grandmother cautions my cousins, who are wrestling near the fireplace. “Kids, this is going to end badly!” She laughs as she says it, though. Everyone is scattered around the living room, the nucleus of the big house. Cushioned benches run the length of two walls, and there’s a big fireplace elevated in a square stone fixture in the center of the room. A giant cylindrical black flue descends from the ceiling to catch the smoke and carry it outside.
We both come from famous places. He’s from Nashville, I’m from Sedona. We one-up each other: He saw Porter Waggoner pushing a mower and Chet Atkins at the golf course. I served Bruce Springsteen a chocolate ice cream; Ted Danson’s folks banked with my mom.
I wrote my first college paper on a new Smith Corona electric typewriter and my last on an Osborne compact word processor. I started graduate school with a turntable and ended with a compact disc player. When the boys were born, I took their pictures on film that had to be sent away to be developed. The pictures came back to fill albums and shoeboxes. When the boys graduated from high school, I uploaded the photos to my computer and posted them on Facebook.
We walk back onto the road and down towards Niko’s house. The herd of sheep follow us and begin to run up the rocky dirt path. The island whispers. Trees sway above, letting sporadic splotches of sunlight warm the road, pierce the ground, looking like a bundle of rocks landing on the Aegean’s surface. Tiny figs dangle from each branch, growing. I turn to look at the free animals as they hurry to push by. Some get trampled, stuck and pinned between a bigger body and the half-opened fence separating the den from the road. Others squeeze through the tiniest of crevices. They all wiggle themselves out and soar together. They cheer in unison, ringing their bells up the mountain. They don’t have to worry about financial crises.
Tomorrow is Spring Break – Monday, the start of the season – and kids and families and everyone will come. But tonight it’s still quiet (has been since the day after Thanksgiving), and I have the motel and the campfire and the geese all alone.
The trees say nothing of spring. They speak only of winter, with their bark and branches.
Only three cars are parked at the motel. Two big trucks and mine. Townsend is right next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The town calls itself “the quiet side of the Smokies.” Seventeen miles down the two-lane Highway 321 is the other, not quiet side of the Smokies: Pigeon Forge, home of Dollywood.
A marshrutka is kind of a bus but mostly a van, and at full capacity it can carry 10 people from Brody to Lviv. There were 20 passengers in the marshrutka that day. Garrard looked at me and got a thin paperback novel out of his satchel. “It will be at least two hours on this shrutskie today for sure,” he said. He stood hunched over the van’s middle seat and then asked if I wanted some pills.
Garrard is a friend who will stand for two hours so that I can sit. Ours is an intimate friendship wherein I can blindly trust the handful of mystery pills soaked in his palm sweat he gives me. I swallowed the damp pills, a metallic taste lingering on my tongue.
The US of A finally stamped its visa in my black pocketbook. Jazz fusion played in my ear, songs from an album fittingly titled This Meets That. I floated out of the document collection center in Nehru Place, New Delhi.