Waiting for Good Eats (#496)

The distance between where we live in suburban central New Jersey and Manhattan is not great and, on a Sunday morning (like this Sunday morning), it takes an hour, give or take, to get from one place to the other. When there is—as there generally is—-traffic, the trip can take anywhere from that one hour to a few.
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We got Charlie up at 7am and drove the black car into Manhattan to meet Kassiane at the hotel and take her to the airport. Charlie usually sits in the middle of the back seat and he did not cede her any room and pulled at a paper bag she had of lollipops. Kassiane offered him a choice of raspberry or orange (Charlie chose the former as it was red). The lines were long and, after standing in one snaking line with Kassiane for a while, a red-coated airlines representative told us to walk to the other side of the check-in area where, lined up like slot machines, were a number of electronic check-in counters. Kassiane got in line again and entered the confirmation number for her reservation.

An error message came up, then came up again when she retyped the number while I read it. A glance at the few humans among the machines revealed a red blazer whose wearer had turned her back away from where Kassiane was standing and another woman (in a navy blue blazer) who mumbled something about “yes it could take half an hour” under her breath. Kassiane kept trying to input her confirmation number, I made mention of how it would be good to get an actual ticket agent helping out, and Jim noticed that, in addition to the turned backs of the red and blue blazered women, people were generally pulling back, or not getting too near. And then suddenly a different blue blazered woman was there who took Kassiane’s printed-out itinerary (without asking, as I recall) and reached around her to press the buttons on the keyboard while asking Kassiane brief questions.

“Is this yours?” were the final words from the navy blue blazered woman: Kassiane had set down her orange water bottle as she retrieved her boarding passes, and the woman handed it right over.

As we searched for the gate for Kassiane’s flight (the numbers were almost obscured due to the security equipment and the architecture), I noted how difficult it was to spot the signs, as they were in either yellow or brown (two colors to be avoided, according to Christopher in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time). Kassiane had noted a certain smell as we rode the light rail from one terminal to another: “Not the best place to smell chicken nuggets,” she said.

She was right: Charlie, who had been waiting in the lines and not getting too panicked at the sight of some small dogs in and out of carriers, was hungry and briefly arched his back over. A quick tour of the airport revealed nothing for him to eat so we hurried back to the car and ended up getting Charlie French fries and a hamburger near where we used to live. Jim and I reminded each other of all the comings and goings for Charlie in the past week, not to mention our unusual absences on Thursday and Friday nights: Something had been strange, not right, not familiar.

I was reminded of how quickly Charlie can become disoriented and even panicking later on in the day when, after a windy bike ride, the three of us drove my two aunts to Queens, where they had gotten a motel room in anticipation of an early Monday moring flight from LaGuardia Airport. And since it was much later in the day, there was plenty of traffic, though we never were at a standstill. Charlie was quiet at first then started to vocalize over and over and, as Jim drove through the concrete jungle of a business park late on a Sunday afternoon, Charlie was in full crying mode. We said good-bye fast and Charlie bucked and writhed in his seat belt, and reached as if to dump my sweater out of the window (Jim locked the windows). We headed west.

Back in Manhattan, Charlie stopped crying and calmed a little at the mention of the word “dinner.” “Let’s go to Hoboken,” said Jim. “Hobo kenn,” said Charlie. “We’ll get something to eat there,” I said. “Sumping too eat,” said Charlie.

We were soon there and I sighted a sign: Ali Baba. Jim dropped me off and I walked quickly towards the restaurant, outside of which a large woman in a white apron was smoking. She answered “Sure” to my query if they did take-out and then “Come in, I’ll show you the menu.” The restaurant smelled of spice and chickpeas and we chatted about another Middle Eastern restaurant in Jersey City that had closed inbetween her answering the phone (“A nice delivery just got called in!” she announced to a young Latino man who was sitting at a nearby table, reading.) Soon I was handing Charlie a steaming container of yellowish rice and another of chicken shish kabob. (I prefer falafel.)

Home is where you know to find the right food—–and where a stranger opens the door to show you something new, and the whole world looks (and smells) different.

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