For some odd reason, the NYTimes does not deliver to my house. It delivers to other houses, house not far from me. But my street is not on the route, so I have it delivered to the church.
Six out of seven days someone is there early in the morning to take it in. But on Saturday there is no one. And my church lives in a neighborhood where men of impermanent domicile stroll about, looking for something to do. For some time after I began my subscription my Saturday paper vanished before Sunday morning.
Generous as I am, that paper means a lot to me, so I started walking over early on Saturdays to see if I could claim it before the law of the street made it public property. This is now part of my morning ritual – enacted between 7 or 8 a.m. I walk the 3/4 mile down to the front steps where the plastic blue bag lies on the majestic front steps of my neo-romanesque cathedral. On nice days I then take a slightly longer walk home.
Today’s walk was among the very best, as the weather is just about perfect. The sky is clear, the temperatures are cool, and the sun is still at a steep angle, casting strong shadows so that I can appreciate the contrast of light and dark. Daylilies have sprung up, tiger and lemon, the former tall the latter short. It has been dry for a few days so the grass is tinged with brown, and yet the border annuals, begonias and petunias mostly, are perky and colorful. They sit on their lawns like corsages, marking the corners and edges of the houses along my street.
My house and others have abundant vinca and pachysandra and ivy, the latter gamely creeping up the south side of my house. I will go out later and pull the pachysandra that loves to invade the vinca. Trees are now heavy with leaves, sometimes drooping too low over the sidewalk obliging me to crouch or go around.
Yesterday the park department came and tidied up the triangular park that is the haunt of our alcohol habituated habitués. A bronze statue of a soldier, memorial to the Spanish American war and thus with that rakish brimmed hat on his head, marks the center. By afternoon older men will be sitting on its marble edges to savor their pickled perspectives. Right now, though, the red and white flowers on the eastern corner (I cannot recall their name) are bright and solitary for me alone.
A middle aged man in ball cap and basketball jersey shorts and Velcro secured leg brace ambles up State Street coming toward me. We are the only ones on the long sidewalk and exchange greetings as we pass. He sits on a retaining wall outside a medical office, the only perch along the stretch of street we share.
At the corner, an obtuse angle that encloses a former museum on one side and the downtown Presbyterian church, I turn north and eventually pass the new bistro with its outside cafe tables. A fire truck stands outside, the men inside at a table. Two young slender women are eating gargantuan breakfasts. That is the time of life when you can do that and not worry.
I am now downtown, or very nearly, and walk easily across a main street that normally is full. I cut through the parking lot of the Congregational Church, pass between another park with its vagrant occupants and the town library, and that puts me alongside my church where my paper is waiting for me.
Now I take a different route home, walking toward the main north-south street that is half a block away. I turn left, south, and walk most of a mile straight down this avenue which is also nearly empty.
I favor the shadowed side of the street, mostly because I am very pale skinned, burn easily and have a history of melanoma in the family. When I lived in Texas I also learned to walk in the shade for heat reasons. Downtown the shadows are angular and sharp. The sidewalk I am on is veneered with brick, some of which is gone, chipped away at the curb edges, patched with Macadam. I wonder how long it will be before it is repaired. This is not the most important block in town, but will not get better for having decayed sidewalks. In the mostly vacant building a seedy videogame center announces it too will be closed for July 4th. Somehow that seems odd.
A familiar denizen of the neighborhood is ahead of me. He is probably mentally ill, as his voice is often loud and his conversation to no one in particular. But all I have ever seen him do is scowl and walk and shout. By the time I catch up to him I cross the street because construction in then next block has closed the sidewalk.
The main streets that divide town into its four quadrants also divide the richer north part of downtown from the poorer south. As if to mark that transition a vacant lot with grass and debris sits on the southwest corner. It is faced on the south by a tall brick wall with a grand old painted advertising for White Sewing Machines and Coca-Cola.
Actually, South Division is becoming a destination for the young, edgy, arts crowd. They like the decayed aspects because it mocks self absorbed prosperity. So between the bums and SROs are galleries and bars and other Gen Y / Z emporia. Crumbling cement cornices and peeling painted window frames are part of the ambience.
In fact, there are wonderful architectural elements here that have been lost to the tidier downtown. Terra cotta tiles on the old BPOE headquarters have Della-Robbia elk horns, even though the building is now a shelter and drop in center. Art Deco brick work winks from a row of hip probably failing art galleries. On one side of the street is a Hooters style bar, bragging about its bikini clad barmaids. On the other a gay bar with rainbow flags and a sign that says Sunday is female impersonator night. A colleague says that line dancing is big Sunday afternoons. Ah, the Sabbath.
Speaking of which, I should go to shul now. So let me finish this little amble quickly. At the corner where I turn, where an old hotel from the heyday faces a breakfast joint and parking lot, there is an old dry cleaner with a sign that us straight out of 1950 – Uptown Dry Cleaners – in smooth neon style letters at a steep angle set in a clean brown circle. Very modern for its time, very dated now. I head west, passing too many parking lots, including the one made from the demolished German restaurant I enjoyed once or twice in my first year. Hokey, dated, mediocre? Sure, but I sure do miss it.
Street repairs, something that seems to take place with no central planning so that two streets I use to drive home are closed right now, has left sand everywhere. It squishes under foot, like a beach. Heading north to my house I re-enter the canopy trees and notice that I am not smelling things very much.
I have noted this before, but today it leaves me wistful, as half the pleasure of flowers and plants is their aroma. The price of age, I suppose. Even a whiff would transport me back to days like this when I was young and summer was an eternity of time and space. I am glad for the view, which may itself cloud and vanish with the ravages of time.
Shabbat implies re-creation, that as the world was supposedly made in seven days, so each week is a recreation. Hard not to agree on a morning like this, “when spring and life are new.”