M. A. Simonetti

In Astoria

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2011 at 3:36 am

There are many things I could tell you.  I could say what I do for a living or where I grew up.  I could tell you stories about my younger brother, my family or the homes that I’ve lived in.  But, instead you should first only know, the other night I woke to hear a baby crying outside my bedroom window.  Now, I wasn’t dreaming or in some drunken stupor from the evening before.  I know what I heard.  I lay there with the sound droning in my ears for at least a half-hour or so.  I was only half-awaken with the covers pulled over my head.  It was one of those moments when you pause to think, that just five minutes ago you thought you knew what was going on.  In time, you only can second guess.

Something isn’t right.  Something is just a little off.  In the dim light of a pre-dawn in Astoria the crying seemed inhuman, scared and pathetic like a creature that had been left outside far too long.  I stared at my vinyl blinds and in time I heard more sounds, muffled human voices and the loud thud of what I believed to be a ladder.  Shadows crossed my shades.  I crawled to the window and peered out only to see legs between the slits, traveling up the rungs of a dull, metal ladder.  I looked beyond the ladder and saw a handful of people gasping in horror on my porch, but seconds later I saw a flurry of white, a single tail rushing down the steps before me.

Whose cat it was and how it found its way to the roof of my apartment, I never knew.  It was a moment where baby changed into cat and the lapse between the two was a time where I was suspended, or as I like to say-just plain confused.  Children and animals, back and forth visions flashed in my mind like some bad TV reception.  This madness continued for a while until that white tail assured me I wasn’t totally crazy.  Madness is all around me, and almost always it comes from my own mind.  But although this state brings an uncomfortable taste to my mouth, it also always leaves me with an intense happiness and an overwhelming sense of well-being.  I suddenly do not fear death nor care about it.  I only live for that moment, even if it is a certain kind of madness.

And as I like to say, I’m simply living in Astoria.  The suspension of confusion and excitement happens anywhere.  In the light of a Tuesday sun or in the florescent lights of a subway car, this state of mind happens.  But it almost always takes place when I’m home, in Astoria.  At a day’s end, riding the R or N train, voices fade away and my mind looses focus, thinking of calm and of a peaceful place.  Although I feel safe and relaxed, lunacy always finds its way to me again.

I admit I was a bit anxious when I had the thought there was a baby on my roof.  My mind materialized an endless amount of reasons why it was there.  But, that was a pretty odd situation.  Laugh if you want, but my mind also allows me to be in Astoria, in mundane ways like when I go to the post office to buy stamps or on any evening when I leave the subway and proceed home on Broadway.  I think this is because I always see things which remind me of the places I’ve left behind or of people that I’ve left or have left me.  On any evening, I become engulfed by a world which is both past and present at the same time.  These landmarks speak to me and create a tension, madness so strong that suddenly, I am Astoriated.

Sure, I see the usual pizza joint and barber shop.  The Greek restaurants and bakeries make my day as I pass and smell their food.  But, when I walk up Broadway to the point of passing Steinway, I am immediately reminded of my friend Shannon whose dream was to get her very own Steinway piano.  I see visions of her on Steinway searching for just the right one, and suddenly I hear her exact slow songs, her calm jazz.  I take out my cell phone and give her a call.  The incessant rings of my call take over those notes.  Shannon never pays her phone bill and wouldn’t pick up her phone even if she had a working one.

Going further up the street, I pass another place which provokes this awkward Astoria.  I try to look away, but no matter where I look or what I think about as merely a distraction, I almost always notice Doyle’s Corner.  The huge Kelly green shamrock on the sign outside the bar calls to me.  On Saturdays it gives me an attitude and yells out in its manliest voice, “Go Ireland!”  Sometimes when it’s a warm spring day it mocks me saying, “I left you for leprechauns!”  I know, I am horrible and yet somehow pathetic.  But that sign eats away at me without fail every time as I think about one certain past boyfriend.  I’m thinking of taking it down, so if you pass it one day and find it missing you’ll know not to go looking for it.

After my angst passes and I’ve gone past Doyle’s Corner, I look back to see the faded Pittsburgh Paints sign on an old brick building.  It reminds me of the place that I’ve come from and also of a place that continues to call me to its safety.  Literally.  As if the ten phone calls from home each day are not enough, I always have these strange “urgent messages” left for me.  My father leaves these messages for me repetitively.  One by one, day by day I listen.

Message One, Urgent Message, “Hey Missy, it’s a cold one today…make sure to wear your hat.

Message Two, Urgent Message, “Hey Missy….Its going to snow today.  Or Urgent Message, “Oreo says Hello!”

I cannot be there, but am tempted to go back to the city where urgent messages are weather reports and greetings from the family dog.  That is my comfortable place.

But Broadway can be different and is.  Not always triggered by tired confusion or the past, my madness is caused by things which are dark.  The other evening, after I left the subway station, I walked down the steps, off the platform and onto Broadway.  It was the usual routine until I had passed Steinway.  At this point I saw a white van covered by blood.  It had looked as if the streets were covered by a red rain or as if someone took a hose and sprayed the van with a thick red sludge.  I was in panic.  I walked past the intersection and noticed on the cement that sprays of blood were heartbeats apart.  I changed my mind and immediately I thought this was something bigger like a massacre, a gang shooting.

I walked further past Doyle’s Bar and across the street was the Chinese takeout place, all taped off.  A drunken guy at Doyle’s told me some Black Mexican went inside for a beer.  The owner wouldn’t serve him anything because he doesn’t serve alcohol at all.  The guy called him racist and was angry thinking the situation was spawned from hate.  The guy punched the glass door in with both fists and pulled out.  Shocked by the amount of blood and pain, the man ran down the street screaming, “You Racist!!” with wrists severed, spraying people and buildings.  Ironically, the man ran to Rite Aid for bandages but didn’t make it.  He collapsed on the white van outside.  The cops said he probably didn’t live.

Just knowing that death was around me and that I was living caused such an awkward fear and such a rush of excitement, that once again I was living in Astoria.  Seeing the reddened buildings, sidewalks and signs caused such horror that I immediately was thankful for the life around me.  But at the same time, I still had some sick, twisted humor that caused me to find the idea of people getting spraying with blood somewhat funny.  People walking in their going out clothes, looking good, feeling confident to be only sprayed by someone’s DNA.  A whole night ruined.  I was alive and that was all that mattered.  These people around me were alive and that was all that mattered.  Slowly, the blood wore away after the next rain, the tape was removed, the glass door replaced.

Yes, it is true that this was one horrific day.  The whole of Astoria changed with just one white van and some red.  In one instance, madness took over.  But, my neighborhood is calmed and returns to its normal state, until something else changes it again.  Not cats or signs which exasperate memory but holiday lights on row houses, snow and huge plastic figurines.  The dullness and dirty sidewalks go away for the time being and things become just one beautiful dream.

In this beautiful dream is the Astoria.  You are caught alone, something in the air changes and you notice it slowly like a newly decorated room.  You are in it, on quiet, snowy nights when your lease is up and you are wandering the streets in search for a place to call home.  You hope the next place will be better, fighting the uncertainty.  On Sunday nights, when you are doing laundry and dreading work, you enjoy the moment when you only have to fold clothes.  And other times, you are in Astoria just walking around after lunch or dinner for no particular reason.  You find a certain kind of peace in the gaudy reindeer set that is inside the front window of one storefront.  The red and green bulbs fade as you wonder why it is that you continue to struggle, when all you search for is simplicity.

Living in Astoria, this suspended madness, is not easy.  I am waiting for the confusion to end, when it never does.  I am looking for old places when new ones are found.  I search for the things that I love most, when they are not near.  Sometimes confronted by death, I face fear.  But life seems ever so much more vivid.  There is clarity from the madness and because of this I continue to walk down Broadway to my home.  Finding happiness out of the sad and a sense of calm from the chaos is what keeps me going.  Because of this, I pass the row houses, my one neighbor’s menacing dog only to see my house.  From a distance I can always count on that beach blue painted vestibule, which my brother says reminds him of a tanning salon.  A beacon of safety, I continue to my door, open it, only to start the Astoria again tomorrow.


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