Midwife in the Tire Swing
Chapter 7—Riding in the Front of the Train
It is January and cold for New York City. “New York is a 30 degree town,” said Bill Bent, Sarah’s building super. He recommended removing the pressure valves from her radiators to get the steam up to her floor. “And drape some quilts over the windows. You gotta have a grandma who makes quilts. Everybody has a grandma who makes quilts.”
“Nope. I have a father in Maine who is ninety-two years old. He catches mice.”
“An exterminator. He could clean up in New York. Ninety-two.” Bill looked Sarah up and down, appraising.
“I was one of those accidents. An oops.”
“How old were your folks when this... ahh... happened.”
“Guess my age and do the math.” Sarah did not want to look available with the building super. He had a key.
Sarah had already checked for quilts and/or blankets at the Salvation Army. She burrowed through her collection of cardboard boxes, as yet unpacked from a previous move, for the silk longjohns she ordered from the L. L. Bean Christmas catalog. She bought them for running, but they made her feel slimy, sweating even at ten below. The catalog’s draw was “fast, reliable delivery direct from Freeport, Maine” in red letters sprawled lovingly across the bottom of the cover page. Free shipping from Maine more than saved her the subway fare to Manhattan and Eastern Mountain Sports. She had not tried them for just sitting around.
It was soon time to consolidate households. Sarah had gone from stabilized rent to living in a condo. The building’s management company bullied the occupants into a vote. “They condoed the whole damn building. My rent is ‘stabilized’ at 45 percent of the going market rate. In Manhattan. That is an increase of about a thousand dollars a month and I’ve still got roaches,” said Sarah Drye to Emorej Yvel. “Let’s move in together.”
“Cool.” Jerry burrows further under the covers to give her a little lick.
“Don’t, not now, later. Ooo. OK, now.” Sarah and Jerry make love. Jerry is quick to get an erection; Sarah appreciates this.
Jerry calls their lovemakings assignations. “An appointment to get it on,” Jerry says, indicating that he relished the minor naughtiness of him and Sarah getting sweaty in their respective Bohemian lofts. “Makes us sound historical.”
They studied rentals, walking around Prospect Park, Columbia Heights, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill—nether, fore, thither and both sides of the Gowanus Canal where dead fish floated belly-up and stared with large white eyes.
“At what?” Sarah said, meaning what were the fish looking at.
“What what?” Jerry said, meaning just that.
“My father,” says Sarah. She has changed the subject.
Huge marble WBF—it works said the ad in the Brooklyn Phoenix classifieds. Detailing—Hello, Young Lovers. Of course it worked, the fireplace.
Sarah’s toes were cold. “Where does one find firewood in Brooklyn?” She asked when they had fallen apart and crackled with drying sweat. “And a quilt,” she added as she slithered into her silk longjohns.
“Firewood store. The coal and ice man.” Jerry shrugged. In Brooklyn, USA firewood is sold by the face cord, sixteen inches wide by four feet by eight. These are delivered in shrink-wrap plastic on pallets, and on the sidewalk. “But a quilt...?”
“Maybe I could make one. My father’s wife, my grandmother, has a physical therapist who has her doing something called ‘sewing cards.’ She gets them in the mail, with connect-the-dot punch-outs of pets, flowers, yarn with ferrules, those plastic tips like shoe laces and in colors to match whatever project the shut-ins are at that month. She had my father making pictures of daises for her to show the therapist. My building super asked me if she made quilts the other day. Strange.”
Jerry stopped short, hovering over the classifieds. “Your father’s wife is your grandmother.”
“Cat. Catherine Armstrong Hobart. She watches TV most of the time. She makes up stories she thinks she has seen. Lucy sees them too, sometimes. Or he says he does. The barn attic—you know, hayloft—is full of them.”
“You have a barn full of television sets.”
“Her scrapbooks, she cuts and pastes from TV Guide. And she’s not my biological mother. Just my father’s wife. If she weren’t so crazy, you’d say she had Alzheimer’s.”
“Your not-mother but grandmother is crazy.”
“She’s old. Damn, I sound like a teenage cheerleader, ‘old’ as a write-off for bizarre behavior.”
“Noted, you don’t like cheerleaders, a sound decision. They cut you out of their club; you went behind their backs—this is a figure of speech—and screwed the jocks while the girlfriends weren’t looking. Fine. And your father. You started...”
“My father. It is time that he was dead. I am going to help. And not all the jocks, just the basketball team. Football players are such whiners.”
“He’s the normal one, then, Lucy Hobart. Call collect. Give him my best.” Jerry Levy dives deeper under and does not look up.
“He has the oil tank wired with an incendiary device to beat out the state at any tax sale that might be forthcoming at his death: ‘Kaboom, The Big Bung, so I know where they’re going to get it—straight up the ass,’ he says. My father never ever played football, there’s that. Mmm. Right there,” Sarah says. Sarah Drye and Emorej Yvel have been together for a month.
Sarah has a long distance bond with her father. The telephone, long-distance collect from Sarah Drye in Brooklyn, New York. She tells Lucy about the silk longjohns. Order begets disorder and the resistance in the wires turns Lucy’s long silences into the spattering of distant stars. Sarah has to shout. The call to Maine has the ballooning effect of many miles and many connections to make the circuit.
“People never buy any more, they get,” says Lucy. “Getting suggests limitless piles of cash or credit. You need a piece of whorehouse lingerie, go to Sears and Roebuck. Just go get it, goddamit. Have implies a longing. A piece of flashing from the Depression, now: ‘Lead, rolled flat. Can’t beat it; gotta have that.’ Meaning the guy can’t afford it, but lead flashing would be nice. He hammers out tomato cans instead. Silk longjohns are clammy; you’ll sweat and get a rash on your poozle, daughter mine. Your boyfriend will misinterpret a rash.” There is a pause, then a bloom of dial tone and a disconnect drilled through her ear.
Riding at the front of the F train, creeping uphill from the York St. station. High above is Vinegar Hill in Brooklyn and Jerry Levy’s back building apartment where in 1989 a girlfriend’s ex rides his motorcycle through the door—the door is closed and locked at the time. A Fox police lock, a rolled steel bar wedged at an acute angle from an iron-bound niche chiseled in the floor kept incursions to a minimum, but couldn’t hold off a motorcycle.
In Brooklyn the F train goes elevated at Fifth Ave. to rise above the Gowanus Basin. Jerry is a kid again after that, lurching as shoulder contact shifts from side to side of the cramped quarters at the front of the train. He lets his chest rub against the glass and notices that others have done this—the subway green paint has been worn off the rivets. Not the stainless steel Coney Island-bound air-conditioned F trains in the 1960s, but the old BMT-style cars with peaked cathedral windows. When he gets back home, he rummages through decades of memorabilia to come up with a cassette of a kid he went to school with, Pauley deGroot, singing what may have been a subway song:
When you go down to deep Pelham keep your socks in your shoes
’Cause the women in deep Pelham got those deep Pelham blues.
The Bergen St. F train station and downstairs the Brooklyn-Queens local tracks. The GG makes all stops, every station. Sarah and Jerry ride together at the front of the train, shuddering with joy at the lights, the screech of steel on steel, the sudden drops and turns, the underground topology of the tunnels. The GG tracks are often underwater at the Warren Street end of the Bergen Street station, Brooklyn. Karl Gellar from over on Wyckoff Street, a supervisor with Vents and Drains once tells Jerry the Bergen St. station alone pumps 2500 gallons an hour, overflow from Brooklyn’s unused artesian wells.
Riding between the cars pressed against the front door’s glass pane, the inter-car doors have no sliding rubber safety edges—the subway’s butt-gumming lips. They don’t slide but open in. There are three feet of open air between 600 DC volts and eternity and, even with the emergency handle pulled, while the car stands motionless the rails are still hot. The power is shut down for emergency services, the police, etc. For the trackwalkers with the big wrenches only seldom, they are union men and have to take their chances alone and unmourned like cowboy gunslingers. The transit cops come clambering down the catwalks that lead to the sidewalk grates where kids fish for quarters with chewing gum and a lightweight monofilament line. The transit cops request that all power be turned off before they go in after the murder victim.
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