…before the cloudy days of August, there was little reprieve from the sun. Swimming in a body of cool water seemed like a far away memory when biking outside underneath the trees with the hot road stretched out before me. When I arrived home, I usually ran to take a cold shower. I wanted the water icy cold. I thought about lounging in a pool, floating and looking up at the sky. Sometimes I went to a friend’s pool near Esplanade Ave. The pool was behind a small house surrounded by palm trees. There was a lime tree on the side, next to a table and some chairs. Over on the patio near the back door there were some couches. It seemed no one entered the house through the front door, but instead walked to the wooden door in the back and down the path leading to the yard. The pool had several steps to the bottom, and the interior of the pool was a soft sea green. That particular day it was three of us. We swam lazily and talked about what we did during the day, and what we actually wanted to do with our lives. I always felt odd saying I was a writer; it had become on and off, or maybe it was always like that, only now I recognized that my motivation disappeared more often. I swam from one side to the other or floated on my back. Sometimes we congregated near the edge to sip some wine, saying a few things here and there. I went back to floating, letting their voices travel. There were some hues of greens, purples and grays, possibly from the cement tiles. I don’t know where they came from, but there was a orderly wildness about the backyard from the plants in the outer edges, the lime trees, the yellow Dutch shoes left randomly on a table, but yet, purple flowers had fallen from the shrubs and were lazily floating along the pool.
How does rain form after a couple of hours of being incredibly hot? I went outside to buy cereal and I was met with an oven at the lovely hour of 9 in the morning, quickly as the air was denser and lustier, and it crept up to my head. Hours later the sky couldn’t take it anymore and slowly it began drizzling until it rained inconsolably, as if it had exceeded its capacity. As a friend once told me the earth needs to cool itself.
The power went out and it’s raining outside. I’m contemplating putting on my jacket and going outside with my bike to face the thunder. I miss roughing it out during an unexpected rainstorm. The last time I was caught, I biked in the rain through puddles and broken streets. It felt like I was mountain biking through the urban swamp. I realize I’m not in the mood to battle the rain and the potholes, so instead I’ll write about my weekend. I swam in a turquoise pool under palm trees, met some older Nola residents, and ate Indian food after a year of not having any. I also edited some photos. Recently, I’ve been going to through the photos I’ve taken here since I moved last year. I’m sharing them through instagram @portraitofjune. Here’s a small poem about documenting the days with my camera.
I’m at the Cajun festival, sitting on a hill under a tree. I’ve been eating my Acadian catfish and potatoes salad, and counting how many people take a photo of the statue across me. I’m too scared to go back to the stage area. I’m happily cool under the tree. But it’s so hot not even the tree can shield me from the devilish sun that creeps up every minute.
A mom and dad take photos of the statue in question. Then two ladies who appear to be sisters. But do they read the inscription on the floor? Then a black lady tries to take a photo of her daughter, but a lady walks in front of them and makes an emphatic apology. “I’m so sorry,” she says. “I’m not even paying attention—I just walked right in front.” The lady was upset at her own aloofness, but then laughed it off.
One more black lady joins their photograph procedure. She has beautiful long braids and stands under the cornets attached to the statues’ hands. Some Asian tourists idle around awkwardly, snapping photos from the side, while the black ladies stand next to the statue, taking photos. “Come a little closer,” says the subject since the lady with the camera is far away. The Asian tourists are resigned to wait on the side with impatient faces that say, “Can they hurry?” They check over their photos and decide it passes their test. The mother and daughter say, “thanks” to the lady with braids who took their photo.
After the area is devoid of people, I head over to the three-headed statue and read the inscription. I ask a stranger with a book bag to take a photo of me next to a frozen part of jazz history. I’m the subject. He’s the cameraman.
Charles “Buddy” Bolden, Legendary cornet player is often credited as the earliest jazz musician and band leader. He was one of the first to improvise using black blues and hymn vocal style on a horn.
The sun was still out, and heat permeated through the brownstones heading down Lenox Avenue. Some kids were walking out from the Marcus Garvey Park pool in their bathing suits hidden underneath their clothes with towels hanging on their necks. They looked refreshed, and their hair wet, ready to dry in the cool hours of soon to be evening. Me and my sister were dying of walking and searching for the amphitheater, which happened to be on the other side of the park. We asked a lady with gray dreadlocks for directions and she pointed us the right way. There wasn’t anyone around except for a few attendees. The play was still an hour away so we walked to Harlem Shake for burgers, fries, and a cool lemonade. We planned to come back and still find descent seats at the amphitheater for The Tempest.
We figured Harlem Shake didn’t always have that name. It was a little corner spot from the 1950s. (They got the name from the dance, and made the burger joint to resemble diners from the 1940s.) The walls were a sea green, and the chairs, shiny silver. We approached the front counter and looked up at the lettering on the wall menu: old black letters, that one had to switch by hand or possibly a knob. The place had a red jukebox on the side and old posters on the wall. The bathroom was pale green and had an electrical dryer that turned on when you stepped on the bottom. The bathroom door had a fuzzy window that didn’t completely convinced me it was not transparent. But alas the glass blurred the person inside. I wanted to steal this vintage bathroom for a future memory. The walls were covered with Jet magazine covers from its first publications to recent ones.
We said we’d come back another time, and stay for longer. Now at the amphitheater, it was not crowded, most of the good seats were taken, but for some reason the second row was empty. As it got closer to the start, the rows filled up. The lighting changed, and the sound of fury began. First a storm brewing, a boat on the open sea, and finally a flying spirit that overtook the boat.
I find myself rummaging through old pieces of writing. Here’s one from last summer. The summer I spent on park lawns watching birds eat scraps off the floor, jugglers dancing, and blue sky whirling above me.
Days are blending into each other. It’s suddenly the weekend, and yet the week stares at me, without rest, going on for months and months.
It’s summer. Monday is not the first day of the week, but the first day of eternity. Thursday turns to Friday, and my weekend blends into the working hours—never knowing the separation between the two. The hours of the day all go to the white screen. When I get home, my eyes hardly want to see another screen, so avoid I my laptop and cell phone, and hide my eyes in books, journals or under a blanket.
I miss my free hours when I could roam around my house, and write when I saw fit, look out the window, and watch the birds fly down. If the weather was nice, I’d go out to my hammock, swinging on its own, telling me to give up my chores for the silence of the swaying trees. The real world was out there calling. I paid no attention. Now I’m there, walking to and from— home, train, office, to the city park, back to office, sometimes with the infrequent stops at local lunch spots that mostly leave me unsatisfied.
For lunch I go over to the city park, and try to renew myself for that one lonely hour. Now that the weather is warmer, there’s no reason to wait for a free table, instead, the lawn calls me over.
On many occasions, I was pleasantly surprised. Once it was Shakespeare’s birthday. Actors were running around creating scenes in different corners of the park. Just when I thought: “oh no, not someone fighting,” it was two hamlet-type characters arguing loudly about impending doom. As I ate my lunch, the couple next to be proclaimed their Romeo and Juliet love.
One some days, I saw guys going shirtless, sitting on green chairs without a care, or others meditating under the hot sun. I was pleasantly surprised when I bumped into a friend from my old job. I said, “how I miss that job.” His suit and tie brought me back to reality. He too had an hour, and ate his Indian food without salt in a hurry as our conversation ate time away.
When it rains I stay inside our small office kitchen. Conversations relax me and take me away from the white screen, but it’s mostly silent. On some days, on some Mondays, the quietness consumes all life, and there’s not a single drop of it. Other days people will talk, and laughter will fill the room only temporarily then back to the black hole from where it was first buried. I tell myself “this isn’t so bad.” I’m learning new things, and the people are nice, and sure it could be silent, but that means there’s more to investigate. If everyone shared their thoughts and feelings, wouldn’t it cover the room entirely.
On Sunday we were stranded in Ozone Park after coming back from Jones Beach. All that time in the water, hanging by the sand and playing volleyball left us dehydrated. We decided to head for a small Peruvian spot in this part of Queens. If you looked on the surface, it was a descent neighborhood. If you took your time, there were various signs of dilapidation: the paint on the houses were falling off, a couple of sneakers hung on wires, and the street corners had piles of scarcely laid out, garbage, broken glass, and other items not discernible. I had slipped into a mild version of the 80s.
The restaurant had tasty ceviche. The place was small, well-lit, clean, and with many customers. After a glass of sangria and some seafood, I felt rested from the beach. The lemon in the mixed seafood revived me and brought me back into the living world. I was still covered in sand and sunblock, but at least I wasn’t hungry.
On the way back home, while sitting in the car, a man said something to Mig as he was about to open the door. I got out and walked by the front wheel. It was deflated. At first I thought someone purposely stabbed the car, since I didn’t see anything pointy on the floor. The car wasn’t particular new; it was an old van. Upon close inspection, I noticed plenty of broken items on the floor near the left side. It was likely something sharp poked wheel. The wheel was old anyway, and would need to be changed soon. I knew nothing about cars, but I assured myself it would be solved quickly.
Time wasn’t on our side. It was about 8 pm and most of the mechanic shops had closed, at least the ones nearby. We had a spare wheel and no instrument to lift. Mig had an old jack, but it was the last thing he wanted to use. It was too small to lift the weight of a giant van. My naïve expectation of a quick solution was met with the realization of a long tiresome wait in the august wind. It was to be a lazy end to summer. I called tire companies to ask if they could drive out here, but none answered. Later, a resident pointed us to an open mechanic shop a couple blocks away. Mig drove the battered van with the wheel scratching the floor. We dropped to the level of the street, driving turtle slow as the night kept growing.
We stopped at the end of the block. Mig went into the mechanic shop, only to be told they didn’t have a jack. The car was now on the side of a 711. There we waited for something to happen. At that moment, I wished to be Wonder Woman. I could only help by handing Mig some tools, or telling him to drive the car this way or that way. Mig decided to drive the car to the edge, so the left wheel would be exposed in the air, and he could easily take it out. I thought it was a great idea but the wheel was still too close to the bottom floor, and there was no way to lift it further with the small tool. While struggling and debating what to do, cars and people went by, looking, not asking anything, just looking. A big brown van stranded on the curve. It was nothing more than changing a wheel; a simple car fix they thought as they glanced at Mig, crouched down to maneuver the wheel out, and me standing on the side, watching.
A biker passed by and stopped. He didn’t say anything, just looked at the wheel intently. I thought he would keep riding down. He was investigating, assessing the situation. He talked to Mig, asking him about the wheel. Mig told him he was trying to remove it. “ It was punctured.” The guy advised him to move his car a little more on the higher ground, and to continue trying to loosen the large nails. Jose was his name. He tried to help, soon realizing there was no way around it. He was riding a jet-black bike, now standing by a tree. He said he’d have to go to his car to retrieve his jack. It was far away, near his house. He wasn’t sure it would work, since it wasn’t that much bigger, but it was sturdy and new.
We sat there waiting, not knowing if he would come back. He was quiet and calm, not overly forward; he could have changed his mind. Here and there we went back out to try again to no avail. Jose came back and tried adjusting the wheel on the new jack. It worked. As he was unscrewing the large nails of the wheel, he told Mig that in Guatemala, he used to fix trucks, often helping stranded drivers. He said his father told him then, never leave a person helpless on the road. Jose now worked as a manager in a nearby supermarket, and before meeting us on this corner, he had punched out and was heading home. After he finished putting the new wheel, Mig in an impatient gesture offered to repay him. Jose didn’t accept, instead told him to pass it on when he met someone else on the road. Mig shook his hand and left him with a warm smile. “Gracias hermano*.”