It’s almost out-of-body walking the deserted streets of Brooklyn on Christmas morning. There is no traffic. The city is silent. Melting snow drops from the trees, the intersections are slushy and icy, and salt crystals on the sidewalk gather in tiny pockets. I’ve got to carefully maneuver Molly so she doesn’t burn her paws. I turn left on State Street and head over to the corner deli. I’m here every day for a Red Bull and a newspaper. I carry Molly in my arms. Lately, we’ve been accosted by a life size dancing Santa who stands in front of the store: “Ho, ho, ho. This is going to be the merriest Christmas ever!” This guy scares me, he seriously does. But the store is gated and locked. No Frankie, no Mario, no Sergio, and no Santa.
I hear nothing but the distant roar of traffic on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. I find a bodega open on Atlantic Avenue, but its cold comfort. I walk Molly home, and decide to go to Teresa’s and treat myself to a big Polish breakfast. But of course it is closed. Once my brother and I decided to have a real Polish feast on Easter Sunday in Greenpoint--- a neighborhood in Brooklyn that is mecca to recent émigrés. We got lost in Williamsburg, but finally found the neighborhood. Every single restaurant and shop was shuttered. We ended up having Mexican. Apparently Polish émigrés do not work on Christmas either.
Then I thought of a Ziggy’s on Henry Street, a whole foods café where the pancakes are likely to be made with buckwheat and millet, served with fresh Vermont maple syrup and organic coffee. I walk south, the looming arch of the Manhattan Bridge before me, the trees bare, the sky still gray, a cold wind coming off the East River. Still no people. A panic attack looms at the edge of my brain. The day doesn’t feel real. I think, “Get yourself a cup of coffee surely the shit diner on Montague is open.” I walk into a deli but the coffee is self-serve and looks a week old. I walk north again and see a minister get out of his black Mercedes in front of the Lutheran Church on Henry. He looks at me oddly--- “What is that woman doing out on the street on Christmas morning?” And I would answer, “Sir. I don’t really know.”
The shit diner is closed. My fall back is Starbucks. It’s open. It’s a corporation. I can at least get a cup of good coffee. But I find another shit diner, shittier than the one on Montague. I remembered a New Year’s morning, five a.m. Cheeseburger and coffee and heartburn after a night’s revel in Manhattan. I walk in the door and immediately feel normal again. The waiter is about eighty years old and half his teeth are missing. Excellent. My sister has just called, but he glares at me, “You ordering?” Yikes. I tell her, “I’ll call you later.” I order bacon, eggs, pancakes and coffee. It arrives 60 seconds later. The bacon is suspicious. As if it was cooked last week and then reconstituted. The pancakes are slightly burnt, and the eggs are runny. But I pour maple syrup over everything and it is delicious.
I don’t believe I have ever been in my neighborhood, in Brooklyn, on Christmas. I am always somewhere else; San Francisco, South Florida, the Midwest, upstate New York or elsewhere in the city--- East Village, Upper East Side, West Village, Chelsea. One Christmas my girlfriends and I wandered into a bar in Soho and flirted with an entire Italian soccer team. Last Christmas Eve, I walked through a redwood forest on the west coast with my pregnant sister. One year I went ice-skating down at Chelsea piers, then had dim sum in Chinatown. This year I opted out. This year I would spend it at home. After breakfast I walk into my foyer and find a Christmas card from my brother; it is a picture of his three sons. Yesterday two packages arrived from my two sisters; both sent me pajamas. Thank you. Gracias. Merci.
Christmas morning in Brooklyn is an island. Time, for the moment, is suspended. It’s almost like jet lag--- I am out of sync with the rest of the world. Even Butch, who sits on the corner stoop, knows everyone, and tells stories about life in Attica to anyone who will listen, is missing. The dog run is deserted. Snow still clings to the roofs of the townhouses, my neighbor has a miniature crèche on her tiny front porch, rows and rows of Christmas trees still line Court Street and Atlantic Avenue. But I am still the only person out on the streets. It’s warmer today. A new year is about to begin.
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