oonaballoona by marcy harriell | sleepwalking

Last night, I fell asleep walking through my Nan's apartment. I loved my Nan's apartment. I can see it clearly in my head, though I can't remember if the color of the two family house was yellow or green. It may very well have been blue or beige, but I lean towards yella in my head, because it was her favorite color

The entryway boasted three locking doors, which it had no business doing in such a tiny amount of space. There was a main front door, and once through, you could reach out and smack Nan's door to your right, or walk headfirst into another locking door protecting the staircase that led to the second story apartment. This was easy to do, since the tiny entryway was always in shadows. (This could also be a misremembrance. I might have put that third door there in my mind to keep Nan's space separate from the quiet, but unknown to me, strangers upstairs.)

Each time Nan's personal front door closed, the enormous spindly room divider in the living room would wobble in response, as would all of the pictures and keepsakes displayed on the open shelves. The questionable unit looked like it was made out of old thin table legs, with three large cabinets at the bottom to anchor it. A mini stereo system held pride of place in the center spot. She played Engelbert Humperdinck and Billy Ocean.

A growing collection of stuffed animals and dolls sat on one end of the amber hued, floral couch, several of us having found out in later years that Nan loved stuffed animals and dolls. You mean, all this time, we could have been buying her dolls?! We made up for missed opportunities at every chance, and our seating options suffered for it. The only other perchable spot in the room was a dusty blue recliner, right in front of the small TV stand, and that was Nan's captain's chair. 

We had several small TV trays for tiny spaghetti and meatballs, or cut-up-hot-dogs and beans, or yes, those special frozen dinners with the brownie dessert in the upper right-hand corner. We could eat those kinds of meals in front of the TV, but we always ate real dinners and any kind of lunch in the kitchen, at an old solid table that took no shit. You know the kind of table? You'd get a bruise the size of a baseball if you knocked into it. That thing didn't budge.

The floor of Nan's kitchen shucked and jived all over the place, like a ski slope. The vinyl tiling on the floor made this highly enjoyable, especially in socks. The sink took up about half of the kitchen, along one long wall, a big old set-in ceramic sink, with never a dish in it. I think she magicked the dishes away. Or maybe I was just unconcerned with the housekeeping details, as I ate my ham salad sandwich. Or maybe Nan did the dishes while my eyes were fixed on the basement door, which faced my spot at the kitchen table, and needed CONSTANT guarding. Though really, the steps leading down into that darkness were so creaky, our ears would have alerted us long before any visual evidence of monsters. 

The fridge was always stocked with jello, fruit suspended in the middle, and orange juice, which I would only drink for Nan.

A teeny bathroom barely existed at the far end of the kitchen. It was enough space to turn around on yourself. Even for a kid, it was ridiculously small. A shower somehow appeared when needed, through some kind of rip in time. I don't even know where Nan found room for her favorite (and only) tube of lipstick, but she did, because she'd always emerge with her color on. 

(When I grew to adult height, I spied the tube tucked away on top of the old, rusted medicine cabinet, which, like everything else in her house, was ridiculously clean, even if rusted shut and no longer useful.)

Although the solitary postage stamp sized bathroom made this next fact ridiculous: two bedrooms stood at the back of the house. One was a revolving room for uncles and cousins, always available for days, months, or even years when needed. My brother and I never slept in the second bedroom when we stayed over, even if it was empty, because it really wasn't an overnight guest room, it was a room ready for family to live. The room felt more substantial than a sleepover. There was a small antique drafting desk, a metal standing double door locker, a bed, a heavy chair which was lugged out to the kitchen table when needed. Also, the second bedroom housed another locking door, which led to an outside staircase that wailed at a steep psychotic angle down to the super creepy, wild backyard. No one ever used this staircase. If you didn't die on the staircase, you probably would in the backyard. 

So we slept in the living room on the sofa bed, opening our eyes on Easter to giant baskets, or in the middle of the night to thoughts of the creaky stairs leading up to the basement door. 

Come to think of it, every room in that house, except for Nan's bedroom, had a locking door leading to foreboding stairs. Could easily have been a kid's nightmare factory, but Nan overruled the cliches. 

Nan's bedroom was a magnificent shade of blue that was so deep it seemed like you'd never be able to sleep for the color radiating off the walls. Little shuttered green porch doors, the kind that ask for fingers to get caught in, kept her room mostly hidden. She had a bed, and a dresser. Maybe a night stand. Once, I spent the night there with her--no idea why I wasn't on the sofa, maybe my brother and I had grown too old to share the sofa? But I remember being transfixed by that blue. It was impossible to close my eyes. Another time, the louvered doors were slid to one side while Nan chose a scarf for an impromptu trip "up the street." She had a small array of silk-like scarves behind the door of her dresser, and always tied one around her neck when we went out, which was pretty much every time I visited. They were part of her armor. You have to get up in the morning, take a shower, do your hair, and be ready to do something every day, even if you're not. That's whatcha gotta do.

Today is her birthday. I'm not sure of how old she would have been, much as I'm not sure of most of the facts in this story, except that all of them are true because the creaky stairs and beaten cabinets and vinyl floors of that first floor apartment were made different by her presence. This sleepwalk might not be for anyone but me and the people who loved the woman who lived in it, but I'm positive that on her birthday, the most important thing on her mind would be wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day--as do I. 

And now I gotta go do my hair, and tie on a scarf.


a new york minute

A teenager rolled onto the train with his bike, a subway accessory that puts most New Yorkers into an immediately irritable state of mind. The doors were closing as a woman pushed through the turnstiles, struggling with several bags. As she gathered herself on the platform, the teenager noticed her, and used his free arm to hold the door open. She casually strolled onto the train without even a glance in his direction. As the doors closed and we pulled away, a fellow rider caught his eye and quietly said: Hey, good job. The teenager sort of shyly shrugged. No really, she didn't say it, so I'm saying it. Good job, he repeated in a warm, but matter of fact manner.

The local train plodded on, and a voice made its way down the car, asking for any little bit of help, I'm down on my luck, please, anything you can spare. Shy Teenager opened up the bag strapped to his bike and pulled out what looked like a completely untouched sack of to-go food. Down On His Luck gratefully accepted the bag. Hey, yeah! My wife will eat this, I'll eat this, what she doesn't eat the cat will eat. 

The doors closed again. You're a good kid, said the Thank You Man. Shy Teenager shrugged again. No. You're a Good. Kid. Thank You Man reaffirmed, and got out at the next stop with one last approving nod.

Shy teenager straddled his bike, put his headphones on, put his head down, and enjoyed the rest of his ride with small smiles aimed at him from every direction.

(Best guesses at races involved this story, simply because, as a mixed chick, it's something I'm always aware of, and heartened by, in instances like this... Shy Teenager: Mixed, maybe Hispanic/Indian. Thank You Man: White, maybe Irish/German. Strolling Woman: Asian, maybe Korean. Down On His Luck Guy: White, maybe Mediterranean. I adore the great big melting pot of the subway.)

Heading into the weekend, I'd like to thank you for your comments on my last post. I started to reply to each and every one, but because the thing I wanted to say most was thank you, for being good people, and being good to one another, I'm going to say it en masse here. Thank you. The sentiment is not specific to my personal situation as much as it is specific to the world's shared situation. Your good words and actions are always appreciated by someone, and I'd like you to always know that.