These sketches, many based on actual incidents, take as their subject the "smaller dramas" of mankind, the chance encounters and random episodes that inform one's life; often twisting suddenly, surprisingly, at the end, they convey strong feelings in little space. Using all of New York as his broad canvas, Pete Hamill recreates the baffling array of human emotions, from sadness and nostalgia to home and love, with affection, grace and wry understanding.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||5 MB|
About the Author
Hometown:New York, New York, and Cuernavaca, Mexico
Date of Birth:1935
Place of Birth:Brooklyn, New York
Education:Mexico City College, 1956-1957; Pratt Institute
Read an Excerpt
Hirsch was shivering when he came up from the subway at Forty-second Street into the cold spring rain. It was already a few minutes past nine-thirty but he didn’t really care about the office. The office could wait. The secretary and the cutters and the rest of them could wait. The fall line could wait too. Right now he was going to get some coffee. Right now he was going to get warm, on a cold, wet day in another cold spring.
He went into a coffee shop called the Lantern and walked past the counter into the back. The booths were mostly empty, breakfast finished, the waitresses sitting together in a corner booth. One of them came over, and he ordered a toasted bagel and black coffee and looked again at the paper. Children murdered in the Bronx, a man with hostages in Toronto who wanted to visit Idi Amin, bombs going off somewhere. Fighting in Zaire.
Hirsch sighed, folded the paper and shoved it down beside him in the booth. He bit into the bagel and aimlessly stirred the black coffee. When he looked up he saw a woman coming down the aisle past the empty stools, and his heart turned over.
She wasn’t very tall but she looked taller than he remembered because of the high heels on her shiny boots. Her dark hair was covered with a cheap plastic hat and her trench coat glistened with the rain. Her oval Italian face was thicker now, even pouchy, and there were dark smudges of age around the eyes. But he saw her the way he had first seen her thirty years before. He saw her beautiful.
“Is that you, Helen?” he said, slowly rising from the booth.
She stared at him, her face blank, the rain dripping off the plastic hat. She blinked and a puzzled smile spread slowly across her face.
“My name is Helen, but—”
“It’s me, Helen, Hirsch. From Bensonhurst. From Eighteenth Avenue, remember?”
He was all the way out of the booth now, and she leaned close, trying politely to embrace him, the move made clumsy by her handbag and folding umbrella. She smelled of soap and rain.
“Oh, Hirsch …”
“What a surprise,” he said, feeling raw and fat and clumsy. “Imagine running into you like this. Who would have expected it? Here, let me get that.”
He helped her off with the raincoat and took her umbrella, snapped the loop shut and hung them both on the hooks beside the booth. She thanked him and sat down across from him.
“Have some breakfast,” he said. “What’ll you have, Helen? Want some eggs? What’ll it be?”
“Just coffee, Hirsch.”
He waved at the waitress and asked her to bring some coffee, and then he looked at Helen. She had a hand up to her face, the thumb tight against the side of her jaw, as if trying to stretch the skin. Her powder was streaked from the rain and the dark hair was scratched with gray.
“It has been a long time, Helen.”
“I’m surprised you recognized me, Hirsch.”
He laughed. “I’d always recognize you.”
She chuckled and the waitress arrived with the coffee. She mixed a spoonful of sugar with some cream, stared at the cup and, without looking up, said, “Well, how’ve you been, Hirsch?”
“Great, just great,” he replied. “Well, not so great, if the truth be known.”
“I heard you had your own business. I heard you got married and had kids and all.”
“I did. I do. I mean, have my own business. But my wife is gone. She took off. It’s eight years now.”
“You mean she just disappeared?”
“No, not that simple. We got divorced first. Then she took off. With most of my dough too, I might add.” He laughed.
“I’m sorry about that,” Helen said.
“What’s to be sorry? The world is a crazy place. Just look at the paper. Crazy people everywhere. Assorted maniacs.” He sipped his coffee. “What about you, Helen?”
“My husband’s dead.”
“Oh,” Hirsch said. “Oh, that’s too bad. You had kids, didn’t you?”
“They’re all grown up,” she said. “That’s why I went back to work. I work right down here, near the UN.”
“You got married while I was in the Army. One of the guys wrote me about it. I was in Yokosuka, going to Korea.” His voice was flat now. “I’ll never forget it.”
“It’s a long time ago, Hirsch.”
He smiled. “I had a sergeant that used to say, ‘Broken hearts make the best soldiers.’ Well, he was wrong. I was lousy.”
He waved at the waitress again, motioning for a fresh cup of coffee.
“How’s your father?” he said.
“He’s dead too. For years now, since 1958.”
“Oh boy,” Hirsch said. “I always ask the wrong thing. I’m sorry.” There was an awkward pause. “He should have let us get married, Helen.”
“You know how it was then, Hirsch. It was different then.”
“You mean if he was alive now he’d let you marry a Jew?”
“I mean if he was alive now I’d tell him it was none of his business.”
She reached across the table and touched his hand. And he was flooded with the things he wanted to say: about living alone and the passage of time; about people they had known long ago; about the night he took her to the dance at Prospect Hall and the Irish guys fought the Italians and he had whisked her out the side door and they had walked for hours in the summer night.
He wanted to tell her how he kept going to the old neighborhood for months after he got out of the Army, to buy ice cream sodas at Jahn’s on Eighty-sixth Street, hoping he would run into her in the street. And how years later, when he got over it at last, when it had finally passed and she had become a snapshot in some forgotten album, he had that first violent argument with his wife and had gone out to the garage and drove all the way from Oyster Bay back into the city, back to Bensonhurst, back to Eighteenth Avenue, hoping he would find someone who knew where she was.
But Hirsch didn’t say anything. He just sat there swallowing hard, groping for words, until she lifted her hand off his and glanced at her watch.
“I’ve got to go to work,” she said.
“Yeah. Well, okay, Helen, sure.”
“It’s just down the block.”
They rose together, Hirsch reaching clumsily past her for their coats. He held her coat and she shifted gracefully to slide her arms into the sleeves. From the side the waitress placed the check on the table and Hirsch fumbled for his money clip, looking in one pocket and then the other before finding it. He tucked a dollar under his coffee cup, then stood aside to let Helen walk before him through the empty coffee shop to the door. The rain was still pounding down. Hirsch handed the check and a five-dollar bill to the cashier, and his change made a clacking sound as it fell into the round metal tray at the base of the register. Then he pushed open the door to the vestibule and Helen began to open her umbrella for the final dash through the drowned streets.
“Well, it was sure nice to see you, Hirsch,” she said.
“Yeah. It was. It was.”
“I have to run,” she said.
She turned, pushed at the door. And then Hirsch touched her arm.
“Listen, uh, I, uh, listen: Would you like to have dinner tonight?”
“And maybe go see a show tomorrow night?”
“Yes, Hirsch.” She smiled. “Yes. Yes.”