Monday, June 29, 2020


I used to love the number 29.  It splices my birthday integers-- a prime number...  indivisible-- a lovely sort of odd symmetry.  I'd been dreading this day, the 3-month anniversary of Alan's death, as though it would establish some boundary-- a negotiable distance.  It would also have been my father's 101st birthday, as though we are still counting, 4 years after his death.

Since the quarantine I've begun this habit of running in the park. I head north to circle the Harlem Meer, follow the Great Hill back down to the reservoir where the El Dorado towers at sunset provide a daily anodyne.  It's become a habit-- not a chore... I miss it when I skip.   I've begun to recognize small natural landmarks-- rocks, graffiti tags on lamposts-- other runners who do not acknowledge me  but seem solemn and immersed in their ritual.  I remind myself-- most of these people have music-- phones, ear-pieces; very few run in silence as I do-- logging sirens, the progress of walking babies, the rising temperatures and lengthening days... Still, even without masks, laughter is rare.  There is solace among the Meer fisherman, the bench-sitters and bicyclists-- but little joy here.

For some odd reason-- maybe my son's obsession with 10,000 daily steps-- I count.  It's become part of the meditation, I suppose-- a distraction-- a kind of poem or verse in my head-- the numbers I can do while thinking of other things-- keeping the log of hundreds with my fingers, starting again at each 1000... Our hands are so perfectly designed to do these things-- an abacus at our fingertips.  Everything makes sense.

Although I vary my route in ways, I generally know precisely where I'l be at 2000 or 3000.   I used to meet my egret at 1000, although she has flown the proverbial coop or changed her schedule.  I miss her.  For a time she discovered a tiny rock island in the reservoir, but she's ghosted me since May.  Her absence reminds me that my world has grown smaller since the pandemic began.  This is a foreshadowing of age; one's global circumference shrinks.  Old poets begin to abandon tormenting passion and desire for ruminations on nature-- things in their garden... insect visitors and leaf-shedding.

When my son was small, we counted.  Waiting for trains, for elevators-- on lines, looking out windows and in the park.  We counted dogs on the sidewalk, our steps, cars, steam shovels... the floors of tall buildings... boats along the East River.  He was so good at counting his nursery school called me in to observe the way he added dominos with skill and speed.  He is still good at numbers-- sports statistics and odds, distance and money.  He has a fit-bit and apps on his phone which do most of the calculating; I'm sure when he runs he listens to Hip-hop music with his bluetooth.  On Father's Day, our special holiday, I visited his new apartment where I found he has no measuring device or even a ruler... I suppose one's laptop has a fixed dimension and he could flip this over... but the difference in our personal cultures seemed poignant.  Me, with the multiple tape measures and cloth ribbons-- yardsticks with long-gone hardware-store logos and school rulers-- steel quilting edges for sewing.

Tonight after my run I walked a bit; I counted homeless men on the sidewalk, glad the rain had stopped and the air had cooled into a reasonable night for sleeping.  There was a man lying on his side reading in the shaft of LED light which bleeds out at the bottom of the new Bank of America building which has replaced God knows how many retail landmarks on the corner of 86th and Lexington.  I did not disturb him to ascertain the book title; if I carried a phone, it would have made a perfect photo of American economic irony-- and perhaps the only example of urban institutional charity available after 9 PM.

I've always preferred odds to evens; it could have something to do with the 'Loves Me, Loves Me Not' sequencing... sometimes I'll stand and wait until the odd comes along, so I can go home with a sense of luck, of hopefulness.  Writing here on my computer, I rarely note that it keeps a running total for me; I generally spill out more than necessary and choose not to look.

There's a man who often rests on the library stoop; occasionally people leave books here, though the building has been shut for months.  There is an installation of three steel chairs bolted into the sidewalk where he also sits; the armrests prevent sleeping or napping (city planners are so cruel).  Anyway, he often leafs through the books... we've talked about this.  He cannot read, he told me.  He never learned.  Last night he seemed absorbed in a page, running his finger along lines.  I looked at him with curiosity.  Oh, Baby, he said-- I can't read but I'm counting the words.  I can count real good, and he grinned with a kind of pride.

One of the homeless people I counted tonight was chanting; it sounded like Nike, Echelon, Grace.  Nike, Echelon, Grace... like a kind of verbal tonic.  Lately when I lie down, missing Alan as I do in early mornings, I say the Lord's Prayer-- I count the parts, the way I count steps when I run-- like a deconstructed poem, it comforts me-- distracts me.

The last homeless man I logged-- the 'odd'--  was asleep on his back,  hands folded neatly, one finger pointing up at the sky.  It was not accusatory-- more like a gesture-- something deliberate-- as though he'd fallen asleep mid-sentence.... Oh, Lord, let me count the ways...   It occurred to me as I reached my door that I can count on one finger the people I can count on; maybe that's what he meant.

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Blogger Bo Reilly said...

Another fine essay. Thank you for posting, Amy.

Sixes and sevens do it for me. And considering my good health (I'm 63) and family, I'm sure they're lucky numbers.

July 3, 2020 at 2:03 AM  

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