The holiday was quiet; I met up with my Catholic parents and brother for lunch when they returned from St. Patrick’s and, back at Diego’s apartment, gave them the Japanese treats I had brought. There were momiji maple cakes and kibidango rice patties for my sweet-hungry father, hair products plus a fish griller and a slouchy leather belt pouch printed with Engrish for my fashion-conscious brother, as well as a geisha-style red brush-tip liquid liner (which, if I’d bothered to read the label, I’d have seen was actually eyeliner) and calligraphy scrolls for my artist mother. A sumptuous burgundy and gold table cloth from Thailand for my parents rounded out the bunch and my suitcase is now a bit lighter – to make room for all of the shampoo, facial products and gluten-free things I will schlep back to Japan with me.
We took a day trip to Brooklyn, to see the neighborhood my parents lived in when they first emigrated to the United States in 1975. They experienced a sleepy, sweet nostalgia similar to the one I experience now; here – look, this wasn’t here before. This was a Cuban deli and now it’s a Sleepy’s mattress store. How many times did I cross this street on my way home? I cried when I first saw this building, you know – there was a garbage strike and the building was falling apart. Look at it now – they redid the cornices and everything is beautiful. My parents stood with their hands on their hips, eyes full, and remembered the New York whose existence only 70s film can confirm now. Dark, gloomy, spoiled, rough – and yet, worth cleansing.
“Everything,” said my mother, “is new here.” I prepare for a similar sensation when I travel downtown; P-Jay has warned me that several of my beloved old landmarks in the village no longer remain. I shouldn’t be surprised – my return from my 3-month stint in Guatemala yielded similar shocks. I’m only glad that P-Jay warned me about the presence of the owner-less bench that suddenly sprang up on East Houston. True, it’s already been taken down and its creator has come forward but I’m glad I didn’t have to run into that curiosity without warning.
Back at the apartment, there were the usual long-distance holiday calls to Italy and Guatemala. Two of my cousins brought their new significant others to the family party and, far away, I am greedy for news and drama. After marvelous dinner, jet lag claimed me and I fell asleep on my brother’s couch. When I awoke, my parents were gone.
I padded to the kitchen and cut a slice of crostata, already half-finished by my mother. I brought my brother’s tantalizing sesame crackers into the living room, where we were watching Extras on HBO on Demand. Diego, the Neatness Nazi, eyed me warily as I climbed onto the couch with my joy on a plate.
“Don’t you be getting any crumbs on my couch.” he warned. “I’m going to be watching you like a hawk.”
“I won’t,” I promised, my lips trembling as I gazed at the gorgeous crostata before me on the white paper plate. “Ohhhh!” I shuddered, with emotion.
“And don’t you make any stupid noises while eating it, either,” he groused.
“You don’t understand!”
“I don’t care.”
I ate it. I ate the Christmas ravioli, too. Earlier, for lunch at Madison Diner – to prepare for my trangressions – I ordered a spinach salad, which came in a tub large enough for an office party. Small portions in Japan have shrunk my stomach even smaller than it was before I moved; needless to say, I did not finish the spinach forest.
Tomorrow I will go downtown – to my old neighborhoods. I intend to weirdo-watch in Washington Square park, see if The Creative Little Garden on 6th and B still offers free Yoga in the Park, and take reckless turns in the skewed, angled streets of the West Village. I intend to get myself hopelessly lost; so lost that I suspect I’ve somehow skipped the Path Train and ended up in New Jersey, so lost I befriend a whole crowd of strangers to serve as my new pack, never to be seen again once I find my way.