On my way to learn the lost language of the tribe, Yahweh died for me along with FDR, in the tabernacle of the radio. The first initiation in my thirteenth year.
Clouds mushroomed, treaties signed, bodies counted, new wars were kindled. History was happening. Doors opened; others slammed shut.
Mrs. Danziger lived on the floor below in our four-story walk-up. Flowers bloomed from her fingers which she fashioned onto women’s hats. She chose me to deliver them. This would be my exodus and my gospel was the Manhattan grid. I was sent off with six boxes at a time to learn the language of money, two bits a box.
I was the kid who disappeared into the subway with my stack of hat boxes. There was a magician in the change booth who knew the weight of twenty nickels when given a dollar bill.
In sweltering August when the humidity was tied with temperature in extra innings I made a small clearing in the forest of bodies around a pole. If I sat I’d have stuck.
The boxes felt empty. I, too, was weightless with my fantasy taking flight beneath the overhead fan, in the company of unremarkable subway faces, brave in their dailiness and distant eyes. The air was thick with dreams of elsewhere. Some were sailing with Odysseus, some as Penelope, entertaining suitors and others soaring with Icarus.
I didn’t know it then but I know it now. Macy didn’t tell Gimbel. But Lord spoke to Taylor and I overheard.
Now Peggy is younger than I but she was twice my age that year. We swayed together, embracing the straps over the straw seats where she might have stretched as some odalisque. She was the girl on page seventy-two of my dog-eared paperback. The viva la difference from the French resistance whom I’d pull my parachute for. No Short Subject but a preview of coming attractions; my passport to another world.
I, of a dozen years merely, fumbled my light-as-feather boxes to the trot-foxing of the whish and whirr. Each chapeau sprouted floral felt and velvet vapors. In that steamy hot house, gardenias opened on Peggy’s scanty sun-dress from Saks.
She was off to ballet and she Ballanchined me a pas de deux as we pirouetted under the eternal blades. Did we not take our vows that sultry afternoon thrusting in God under the river in that wind-rush tunnel?
I returned that day, initiated in ways beyond the arcane mumbles of bearded elders, having crossed the waters and found something of myself.