The taxi crept along. I could barely hear the horns blasting or the music that was blaring from the front seat. The reds and golds seem to jump right through the window and into the back seat.
The sidewalks were crowded. People pushed and scurried without so much as an obligatory passer-by nod to the season changing all around them. Maybe these New Yorkers were jaded, but for a girl who grew up in the middle of tumbleweeds and cacti it was an amazing site.
I tore my eyes away and looked at the traffic ahead of us.
“Are we close?”
“What?” the driver yelled over his shoulder. He turned down the music.
“What is that. Dorsey?” I asked digging from the memory archives of my father’s albums and turning my attention to the streets again.
“No, it is In the Mood.”
“Never heard of them. Are we almost there?” I tried again.
“Glen Miller. You have never heard of The Glenn Miller Band?”
“Uh, yeah, sure.” My stomached followed the violent lurch of the taxi as we barely missed colliding with the yellow blur that was probably another taxi. A brilliant white light momentarily blinded me. I moved my hand to shield against the assault.
“Wait…is that Apthrop building up there?” I asked.
“What? Oh…yes. I think so. You don’t want to go there. It’s just an old building,” the driver replied in a thick accent that I could never hope to place or imitate later for my friends. “Yeah…yeah, it is! Stop right here.”
“Are you sure? Okay. You want to make sure you go to La Pieta though. It’s the best fettuccine in the world.” I got out and paid the driver who kindly pointed and rambled about where I could find the restaurant. “And tell them Joe sent you. They’ll know I sent you.”
I left Glen Miller and the 1940s and stepped directly into reality. People darted around me in the incessant hurry of the city. They reminded me of those old faded photographs where no one smiles. Maybe New Yorkers are a secret society of people from years gone by. Or maybe they all have bad teeth. Which would also be a well-kept secret.
I realized I was still holding my hand in front of my face even though the white brilliance had disappeared. I lowered my arm. The white light had been replaced by a white marble statue of a male nude. Two men were arguing in front of it a language unknown, apparently about how to continue the Adonis on its way.
I walked up the street slowly and allowed the building to make its impression. The trees showed off their October highlights in what was left of the afternoon sun. I leaned over the small wire fence and patted the bark of one of the larger ones. A rust tinted leaf floated gently down. I watched it toss itself cross the gray cement and momentarily considered chasing down. A huge brown dress shoe attached to a large man landed a devastating blow before I could act.
I continued toward the building maneuvering around the naked statue. The two men were in agreement now and grasped the statue abruptly as they tried to shift its weight. I felt his exposure. It was smaller than I had imagined. The building I mean.
I stared as if I had never seen brick before. I couldn’t believe my luck. I guess most people wouldn’t consider an apartment building a tourist destination. For me though, it was a gem.
It was the first time I found myself lamenting that I wasn’t one of those crazy photo-taking people. I was trying to remember if my phone had a camera when I realized the doorman was eyeing me. The average person does not stop stare at apartment buildings even if they are historical works of Italian architecture. I inadvertently took a step back into the path of the daily commuters.
“Hey, you wanna watch it there.”
I glanced up and smiled, still in a daze, forgetting that I was in a place where people probably don’t accept a smile as an apology. A beautiful woman with dark eyes had placed one hand on my shoulder as she tried to keep me from backing her off the curb.
“Sorry,” I mumbled and took a step back toward the comfort zone closer to the naked statue.
The woman’s dark pony tail swayed as she stared at me for a moment with one eyebrow raised. “That’s okay.” She took a step to the side and knocked one of the trees with a gloved hand. A few orange and golden leaves cascaded around her to the sidewalk. She grinned wide at me. It made her seem at one with nature and the city in a way that made me jealous. And she winked.
“How did you know…”
“How did I know what?” she said eyeing me suspiciously now.
“Uh, nothing. The leaves are beautiful. I’ve never seen autumn leaves before,” I managed to say feeling stupid. Her smirk put me at oddly at ease.
She hesitated as if to speak, but then just nodded and continued on her original course. I gave the building one last look. If the doorman was any indication, I was looking at the building with the same bewildered amusement that the stranger had just given me. At least I was smiling. It seemed forever since I done that. I glanced in the direction she had taken. She was gone.
I started up the street where the woman had disappeared into the crowd and gently knocked each tree as I went by. I let the colors fall to my shoulders. I’ve never really been one who was in tune with nature. Today I had been shown a short cut.
I tried to remember the taxi driver’s directions. One block up and two blocks over or two up and one over? I stood at the street corner with the rest of the herd waiting for the light to change trying to figure out how to discreetly look at the map on my phone without looking like a tourist. I decided there was no way to accomplish that. I crossed over to the next street. As fate would have it, The La Pieta Italian restaurant was just where it should be. I suppose. I thought it was still one more block down.
The young man at the small podium looked stern. A second, older man bounced out of the kitchen toward us and flung a white towel over his shoulder. His mustache somehow made him appear serious as well, even though he was smiling. He glanced at me then looked again, this time up and down. His smile grew. That made two people with great smiles I’d met today. There goes the bad teeth theory, I thought.
He tightened his stained apron and whispered something to the host. The host informed me I would have to wait an hour for a table. The A few more patrons came in behind me. He looked over my shoulder as if to gently tell me to move on.
I smiled and tried to look stern, “Does this place really have the best fettuccine in town?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” the mustache man replied offering an even bigger smile now, if that was possible. He took a closer look at me. “The best in the world. My wife and I make it ourselves!” His pride was evident as he patted his chest. He turned and pointed to woman on the other side of the restaurant. “She’s the usual hostess, runs the place really,” he said making a pretend frightened face and cupping his hand as if telling a secret. He had such a stereotypical Italian accent that I almost giggled out loud.
“Well, then I’d better wait. I don’t want to miss out on the world’s best.” I smiled back trying to sound friendly yet as cocky as possible in an attempt to fit in. “Oh, and Joe the taxi drive sent me.”
“Well, in that case, I’ll see what I can do.” He nodded in a familiar way to the host at the podium who gestured with open palm to an empty chair in the cramped lobby. The aproned man winked at me before disappearing back into the kitchen whistling.
The door opened and more people managed to maneuver their way into the tight lobby space. I could feel the chill as evening approached. I wrapped my scarf tighter and tried to make my way to the door. There was an inviting book store across the street where I could possibly kill some time with more breathing room.
The would-be host’s rich baritone rose above the growing crowd. It was obvious he thought he was whispering, but his words hovered in the air above the commotion. “What are you talking about? It’s just dinner…why not with a stranger? What have you got to lose? You could use the company. Joe said she was nice. Miss…Oh, miss!”
My hand was on the door handle before I realized he was trying to get my attention. The would-be aproned host was now down-right jovial and waving me over. A woman with her back toward the door was tugging on the chef’s marinara stained white sleeve apparently pleading with him to return to the kitchen.
“There is one table available. If you don’t mind sharing,” the grinning chef-host-owner said has he pulled his arm away and headed my direction.
“I, uh. I don’t know…” I said in my own weak protest. I offered my hands up in a gesture that mimicked my growing sense of helplessness. He wrapped his arm around me and ushered me in the tight space back to the front of the line with my palms still face up. Sausage and garlic filled my senses.
He pulled me over to the podium. I looked up at the apparently equally helpless individual I was being thrust upon. It was the stranger from the street.
“Uncle Franco, please!” the younger woman protested quietly as she turned with arms folded to face us. Her eyes widened and she let her arms drop. “Hey, it’s you,” she smiled. It’s no wonder I recognized the chef’s smile. Perfect teeth, by the way, both of them.
“You know each other already? See? No problem.” The kitchen chef host—Uncle Franco—took us by each arm and led us toward the back of the restaurant.
“I should probably start by apologizing,” the woman from the street offered. Her hair was down just past her shoulders. A much softer and more flattering look.
“You’re name would be good too,” I said growing more nervous as we were shown to an unusually quiet corner.
“My name’s Marie. Marie Martelli.”
“Kathy Morrison. And it’s me who should apologize for nearly knocking you into incoming traffic. It was nice of you to share your table. I hope you don’t mind.” The nervousness had taken over for a moment before I could stop myself from rambling.
“My family owns the restaurant,” she said apologetically and with obvious pride.
Uncle Franco smiled slyly as he made a motion toward the front of the restaurant for the lights to dim. From somewhere in the background a Glenn Miller song played. Or maybe it was Dorsey. Or maybe it was something else entirely. I’m not really sure.