The newsstand guy outside the F Station is gone. That red-haired fellow who always seemed to be there. I’m sure you’ve seen him.
It doesn’t warrant much more than a thought, I guess, but the guy’d been there since I moved uptown, like, 18 years ago.
I asked the woman behind the barricaded kiosk what happened to him and she didn’t have much to report, just grunting that he’d “retired.” I think she’s his aunt, or something. I bought some gum. And a bottled water.
A shame. He was sweet. You could tell he was a little off, like he’d been born before amniocentesis and came to term inheriting some kind of slow-down gene that left his movements very deliberate when he made change or reached behind himself for smokes or risqué magazines. He had a gentle smile fixed on his seldom perfectly shaved face.
His eyes grew merry every time he saw me; something in his unique mind recognized that he could be unafraid of me, I guess. In our years of nameless fellowship, I became a person with whom he could take a chance on talking to, a little. He’d maybe tell a schoolyard joke, or observe something different in my apparel, or note if I looked tired, or my hair seemed grayer. He found immense humor in my reactions, whatever they might be. Especially if I raised my rather pronounced eyebrows, Groucho-style.
I continued my amble west towards my apartment on 79th around sundown. I remember it because it was that time of year when the setting sun stares straight at you and all you can do is try to read approaching shadows to avoid walking into everybody. Only that day there wasn’t as much “Everybody.” The streets were kind of empty. It was like a snow day, except, of course, it was a fine autumn day. Their was an incense to the city air, of wood smoke. An odd fragrance for the city, even if preferable to the usual mélange.
What time was it? Before 7pm, for sure.
“Retired, I think.”
“Really? He never mentioned it.”
“Well, you know,” concluded the new doorman.
I didn’t know.
Over to Morton’s for some prime rib for din-din.
Claude over there sets me up just right. Been going there for close to 30 years now. Claude played for the Canadiens, the Habs. Back in the 20th Century.
No extra-thick well-done roast beef with lots of horseradish, creamed spinach, and occasional free shots of Johnnie Blue? Ouch?
Guess what. Yep. Retired.
“Just like so?”
“Any forwarding address?”
The check came. $100 more than usual!
I step outside for a cigar and a bit of a walk. It’s getting colder. Feels more like Chicago than Edge City. I headed over to the River. The Mighty Caliyuga.
At that moment, I suddenly remembered my old roommate, Buzz, was in town! Tonight. I was supposed to have called him! I looked at my cellphone, which was supposed to vibrate to remind me. Confound these cellphones!
I buzzed Ol’ Buzz.
Buzz… off. No answer.
“Hope he’s not retired,” I joked to myself. I turned south at the river’s edge and started walking down towards the University.
That’s where I work. I’m the H Turner Joy Professor of Ethnic, Ideological, Class and Gender Grievance at Caliyuga University. My department has grown in recent years, but of late there’s been word that cutbacks may be coming. I’ve had to prepare a list, and I thought I may as well go ruminate on it for a while.
Usually, I’d meet a few panhandlers along the way, but this evening the streets were empty. Not too many pedestrians, either. Lots of buses, though.
I swear to you, one of the buses looked as though someone had put an enormous, lighted decal of a detail of Hopper’s “The Night Hawks” all around the interior. Just the glass part with the diners in it. I turned to look at it as it sped uptown. I swear to you, that’s what it looked like.
I always enjoy the walk across the jewel of the Caliyuga Quad in any season. I marvel at the existence of this enclave amidst the iron musculature of the big city encysting it. I have ever done so since matriculating here, too many seasons ago to number.
My glass-enclosed office in the new Weber Sociology Building was its usual papery chaos. New guy on night security, too! Unbelievable. It’s an AARP windfall!
I keyed up the list on my ten-generation-obsolete (but just fine by me) Solaris and looked at it. We were looking at 50% staff reductions. Deadly!
Just then, I noticed the light was on in N’s office. I could sort of see it, that is, prismed through glass the walls of the offices and intervening cubicle dividers. I stood up and walked over.
N was on the phone, feet up on his desk. He gave me the friendly “Give me a sec” hand signal. I sat across from him.
“Nope. Not yet. Gotta go.”
He grabbed his mouse.
“Take a look at this.”
“It’s Power Point.”
“Yeah. I know.” He made a funny face like he was gagging. “Want a drink?”
“What you’re having.”
“Johnnie Blue.” Seriously!
“Damn! I didn’t think anyone drank scotch anymore.”
He poured up a couple in University shot glasses, and we clinked, then sipped.
“You make your cuts?”
I looked around. Not too many people were supposed to know about the cutbacks. It was late, though. No one around.
“Working up a list.”
“It sure is,” I agreed.
“Remember Phil Rizzuto?”
One of the few things N and I could talk about was baseball. It was about all we had in common. He’s a bit younger than I.
“Remember? Holy Cow, Ya Huckleberry! He was the voice of the Yankees for me. Him and Roy White.”
“Great. Well, you remember, he was the captain of the Yankees.”
“Well, there’s a classic story about him. Really speaks to his loyalty. Before the 1955 season, Casey Stengel, the manager, shows him the lineup card. And it’s, like, packed, with talent! Berra, Mantle, Bauer, Whitey Ford. They’d traded for Don Larsen…”
“… and a young Billy Hunter,” I finished for him.
“Right. So Stengel shows him the lineup, and he asks Rizzuto, Who would you bench?”
He finally keyed up the Power Point, turning his screen so I could see it better.
There was Caliyuga’s lineup. Not the school baseball team, either. The entire faculty, tenured or not.
N lets me take that in. He clicks the mouse.
Next frame’s our department.
I hadn’t realized our department had grown quite THAT big. It occurred to me that it had been three years since I’d had something published.
“So, you remember what Rizzuto answered?”
“He,” I paused. Things were becoming clear.
“He said, Me.”
“We were hoping you’d see it that way,” spoke the unexpected voice of the University chancellor, who had somehow quietly slipped in behi…