Hugging Away the Dishwasher



Washington Sq S & MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012

Neighborhood: West Village

I came to Washington Park because I did not know where to go. Riding in a cab with my friend John, on his way to study at the NYU library, provided me with a sure and fast way out of his apartment. This morning, a fight had been close to breaking out between the two of us, and the sound of the dishwasher running early on a Sunday morning echoed of the unpleasant episode.

I entered the park on the southeast corner, passing the chess hustlers without a look at their game. I did not want to be tempted. Usually fond of them, they reminded me this time of sweet, apathetic California bums basking in the sun. I wanted a lazy Sunday morning to unfold before my eyes without me having to get involved. I wanted no part in it, but already I struggled not to think about the dishwasher. I sat on a bench near the small dog park, under a large tree around which pigeons had congregated. Sitting there would increase my chances to receive a bird dropping.

I welcomed the diversion a pigeon shit would create. Would it fall on my hair? My shoulder? My white shoes? A pigeon dropping would have gone unnoticed on my white shoes because they weren’t exactly white (my white shoes had been much whiter when I first met John 5 months earlier). My moccasins were presently the exact color of pigeon shit: shiny beige with, like tropical fish, silvery, greenish, and translucent undertones. I smiled at the mental picture of pigeon shit falling from the sky, wings clapping in the distance. I yearned for a pigeon to choose moi; I would have felt special for one moment, right before cursing in French at the idiotic putain de merde pigeon. I had no such luck, the useless pigeons were busy making out on the ground…

Behind me, men and women stood like babysitters within the fences of the “Robin Kovary,” a small dog run, intervening at times to avoid a fight between animals. Masters and pets drooled alike; dogs drooled because they were dogs, and men drooled because they had been around dogs for too long (unless they weren’t drooling and I thought they were drooling because I had been watching dogs for too long). I didn’t mind the drooling, but I minded the dogs –those unfortunate city animals which are the result of breeding the most sheepish dogs for centuries to secure in the gene pool man’s best-friend attributes. City dogs wagged their tail in adulation of their master, blissfully displaying their obscene loyalty to man. If dogs trust men, then how can dogs be trusted?

I would have been happy if I wasn’t trying so hard to be happy, consciously maneuvering my mind away from the waters of the dishwasher. I dreamt I was sitting at a Parisian Café with a golden Leffe, the best French beer on the planet (it’s only so good because, like the French fries, it’s actually Belgian), indulging in what the French do best: judgmental people-watching. Many passersby wore clothes that resembled second-hand clothes, only you couldn’t tell for sure if they were genuinely worn-off. It was still early in the day and I assumed most were West Village inhabitants or regulars: artists, writers and first-rate scholars enticed to teach at NYU, a non Ivy-league school, for the apartment they are given in America’s finest neighborhood. With both genuine and wannabe intellectuals, you can never tell about the brown corduroy jacket they’re wearing. The jacket before me could have been a 20 year-old jacket bought at a second-hand store or a new designer’s jacket made to resemble a 20-year-old jacket. Maybe it had belonged to the person the whole time.

Schools of oversize heads passed by like pallid professors out of a Woody Allen film–only the film was silent. I felt drowsy contemplating slow-moving creatures in a gigantic aquarium. I reached for a pen to turn a solitary activity into a worthy solitary activity, but could not find any. Humans looked like fish and I lacked the instrument to keep a record. I smoked a couple of cigarettes and proceeded to empty my purse, removing an oversized wallet, a small notepad, a larger red notebook, and a book of Rimbaud’s poetry. Next, I threw my purse upside down, shook it like a ketchup bottle, and still didn’t find a pen. I couldn’t find a pigeon in the park to shit on me, and now I could not find a pen.

I left my bench, walked past the chess hustlers without a look at their game, and entered the first store on the corner of MacDougal and 3rd Street. A man who looked like he could have worked at a used CD store, friendly, with buzz hair and tattoos, explained that they did not sell pens. “We only sell used CDs,” he said. Seconds later, he handed me the yellow pencil lying next to the cash register. “But you can have this, if you want.”

Back in the park, I found an empty bench opposite where I had been sitting, directly facing the dog run. A man stood with open arms in front of a large banner that read “Free Hugs.” His T-shirt read, “Free hugs,” and he smiled suspiciously while chanting to each person who walked by: “How would you like a free hug today?” The free-hug man received many smiles and little hugs in response. A woman said: “No, thank you, I’ve had plenty at Church today.” A man opted against the free hug with a sharp “Nothing is free!” I looked for a sign that would give him away, but I could see no literature, no money-collecting device, no camera installation, nothing. There was nothing but his big bright smile and maybe the subtle sound of the dishwasher.

We had been damn close to fighting this morning. It had been like Texas meets France: “Would you please allow me to beat the crap out of you?” Luckily such words hadn’t been exchanged. John and I have been watching out, knowing that we were one fight away from becoming boyfriend and girlfriend (if two people are seeing each other but have never had a fight, they aren’t boyfriend and girlfriend). It started around 8 a.m., when I awakened in his arms and felt so happy that I opened my mouth and what came out was a long, nice, sweet and loud meow. I can do the cat real well because I spent lots of time with them while growing up on a farm in Normandy, without television nor supervision. My friend John, who grew up in San Antonio, Texas, had real business on his mind. His math final was coming up the next day. But how could I know? This morning, I had been but a cat. It took him a long time before he said: “Can you please stop?” (He doesn’t speak cat very well, give the cat some food, or else find its babies, and the meowing will stop.) Soon after, John had taken my hand softly and led me to the narrow kitchenette before an imposing dishwasher. He’d rinsed two or three dirty glasses and some kitchenware that he’d previously rounded up in the sink, and installed them in the dishwasher while lecturing about its use. My blue-eyed mathematician had premeditated his act (I did not say a word). The dishwasher in his bachelor’s kitchen was as useless as a Sunday morning before math finals. I didn’t ask what all the buttons were for; I was too afraid to find out about delayed wash-time or controlled temperature (I am but a French cat, I do not do well with Fahrenheit).

This morning, the mood had been properly set for the fight that would have crowned us “boyfriend and girlfriend,” yet we opted against it. I was now sitting in Washington Square Park, with a free hug waiting for me, a hug that wouldn’t ask me to shut up, a hug that would not lead me to the kitchen to be lectured about a dishwasher, just a hug, a spontaneous act of kindness between two strangers. It was difficult to believe, but I had been watching for about half an hour now, and there was absolutely no catch to it. There was something free in New York, and I was gonna get it. I smiled at the free-hug man walking in his direction. He opened his arms wide and I ran the remaining distance.

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