October 22, 2009


I’m sitting at my desk, in my office, thinking about the big tree, in front of the white house, down the block from our apartment. Come autumn, its leaves turn brilliant saffron orange, fade to a banana yellow, then fall to the street to make an urban blanket. We love that house. It’s huge, with a wrap around porch, a long driveway, and a green roof. The owners, “the hippies” as we’ve come to label them, are very rarely seen. They seem to occupy the top floor exclusively, and the amount of times we’ve seen them in the flesh can be counted on our hands.

We’ve come up with all sorts of scenarios to explain away their reclusive tendencies. In the beginning, we called them ghosts, because for almost the entire first year we lived on the block, we never saw them; only the light from the top floor could be seen from behind the blinds. Then, I saw the husband (I assume they’re married, but having decided they’re hippies, they could very well just be partners, lovers, or like totally attached man). He’s a small skinny guy with a mop of messy gray hair, who seems to always be wearing shorts, sandals, and a band t-shirt. He screams American Lit. Professor to me.

When his wife (again, could be just be common law by now), made an appearance, her long straggly once-black hair, band shirt, and black peasant skirt, solidified the hippy status to us. She too could easily be the adjunct Women’s Studies Professor at Columbia, but she never leaves the house. Oh wait! Not true. Mrs. Women’s Studies lets the cat out every now and again. Magically, this big, fat, white Brooklyn cat always finds his way back home.

We covet that damn house. It has a garage, and a wicker archway leading the backyard, and it’s just perfect. It kills me that they only ever use the top floor. I have no idea what the interior is like, but it my mind it’s all original wood floors, and archways - crown molding and tall ceilings. There’s a large gracious kitchen and dining room that seat 20.

That tree in front of their house calls to me. I love fall, it’s my favorite time of the year. Fall in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn means the stunning trees around us become animated with colors, the two Italian-American families across the street battle it out for Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations (and later Christmas), and I can break out the cast iron cookware.

I find very little use for my Le Creuset in spring and summer, and nothing makes me happier than something bubbling away on the stove in my Le Creuset. I can smell something with wine, herbs, and butter right now. I can see the table set, a trivet in the middle ready for the now hot pot. Bottles of open Malbec, fresh mini-lamb sausage and Pecorino Romano cheese chips on the table for nibbling from our butcher, Frank & Eddie’s.

People will come in, take off their shoes, hang their coats, and sit on our bright orange couch. They’ll look out our curtain-free and blind-less windows to the decoration competition below, and exhale. Our neighborhood does that to people. The exhaling I mean. Of course you know you’re still in New York, but the quiet streets, tall strong trees, and lack of honking, music, and trucks rumbling by, somehow make you slide a little deeper into your seat… come in, sit, get comfy.

The kindly old gentleman who I see almost every morning on my way to work, he’s been here since forever. He remembers when the building he lived in had bellhops, a pool, and children’s day care center on the ground floor. He walks with two canes, but never fails to stop, tip his hat, say hello, tell me to stay healthy and be careful, and then finishes with a “goodbye dear.”

The Super’s wife has put up the Halloween décor in the lobby. Spider webs, ghosts and ghouls hanging from the ceiling, and a kooky decapitated head in a crystal ball that laughs and cackles anytime someone passes. By this time next month, there will be garlands of fake orange and red leaves, a huge stuffed black chicken on the table (yes, a chicken, NOT a turkey), and orange lights blinking happily.

The polish Restaurant around the corner not to be outdone by the Super’s wife I assume, has already put up their blinking orange lights and hung their fake leaves. The diner on 3rd Avenue (who still make all their ice cream from scratch, the cinnamon milkshake is not to be believed by the way), is in on the decorating game as well. I wonder where they all get their blinking orange lights anyway?

This weekend my parents will be coming by to take it all in. My Father, the Grand Duke himself, has requested a carb-fest since he’s decided to go off his diet. So, I’ll oblige. I’ll go to Cangiano’s to get some fresh baked Italian bread, and pick up two fresh mozzarella’s still warm from the water they pulled it out of a few minutes ago. The rest of the meal is immaterial since we all know he’s coming for the fresh cheese and warm bread. I’ll set the table with my vintage turquoise plates that my husband hates but I just can’t let go of, and we’ll sit and eat and breathe in the crisp air.

The New York City Marathon comes through our ‘hood. The Verrazano Bridge is only blocks away, and we are lucky enough to see the runners as they start their brave journey, full of energy and hope. Bay Ridge comes out en force to cheer them on. We hoop and holler and slap people’s hands as they rush past. It’s a Billy Joel, “New York State of Mind” moment.

I’m thinking about dried cranberries and pears. I’m thinking that it’s almost cold enough for Bread Pudding and Brandy-spiked Hot Chocolate. I’m thinking I’m hungry and thankfully, it’s lunchtime. I’m thinking I can’t wait to walk down 3rd Avenue and see who else has put up their orange blinking lights. I wonder what new witch or tombstone our neighbors have put in their front yards. I’m thinking I’m glad the leaves have turned saffron.

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