Today I logged off work a minute early, because daylight is still precious, and I wanted to get out into it. I also wanted to walk by the Ukrainian Church which I have written about before, and which I can see from my living room window and which has been, if you get right down to it, most of my world view for the past two years. I face my monitor eight hours a day (not counting what I write when I write because I must write). If I turn my face to the right, I see the little altar of candles I have created to keep my spirits up. If I turn my face to the left, I see through the window the Ukrainian Church – that is, a little sliver of some magnificent stained glass window on the far left and then three stories of indifferent taupe brick and many many dull dormitory-like windows that I realized only during the pandemic were actually windows for a dormitory, for the monks who live there.
Yesterday I thought of visiting the church when I logged off work to set a candle in front of the locked gates. Remember after 9/11 all the makeshift altars in the neighborhood for all the cops and firemen who were then our neighbors? Remember our neighbor Joe the Fireman? I still remember cooking dinner on a Friday evening, on what must have been the 14th of September because the 11th was a Tuesday, and hearing a car door slam and Joe’s deep voice saying “Thanks.” He was thanking someone, probably a fellow fireman, for the ride home. He had been at “the pile” – remember that they called it “the pile”? – since Tuesday. His house had lost either 12 or 17 guys. I don’t remember. I remember calling down to him from my kitchen window, “Thank God you’re alright!” and I remember the absolute exhaustion in his voice as he stared up at a voice just as I was shouting down to a shadow.
Anyway, David, two other people had had my same idea, because there were two candles in jars in front of the gates. Unlit, because it was raining, and not inside the gates, because I have never seen those gates open, except when expelling a congregation, not open even during the Ukrainian Festival which shuts down that whole block of 31st Avenue so that beribboned braided girls can clog on wooden platforms while their counterparts, stiff, solemn boys in short vests, wait their turn to click and leap.
So, not the warmest church, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, no tentpole revival meetings or pancake breakfasts, but this is Astoria, after all, and the Greek Orthodox folks aren’t welcoming to outsiders, either. I walked on a block to see Con Ed soldering some metal plate over some hole they had dug up. They have been doing this for months, tearing holes into the street and then patching up, only to tear and patch again. I have theorized – since there is no one to talk to – that they are doing this because of the number of free-standing houses they are tearing down so that real estate developers can erect high skinny buildings where the shabby faux-Victorian houses used to be. Perhaps a greater strain on the Con Ed grid has inspired all this manic drilling and patching and ca-thunk-ing as traffic drives across the metal plates at night?
Anyway, someone was sealing a metal plate over a hole of the crew’s own making, and I watching the arc of the sparks, as one will watch arcs of sparks. A man in goggles saw me and shook his finger at me. He pointed two fingers to his own eyes, then to me. I walked away from him, a few steps before one of his begoggled colleagues shouted, “Don’t look at that! It’s bad for the eyes!”
You said, David, the last time I wrote about this church (see post “Saint Behind the Glass”) that you had never noticed the church, despite living so close to it for so many years.
Four years ago, before I left my terrible job, a fireman died on the set of a movie in the Bronx. His funeral was at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and attracted hundreds, if not thousands. Firemen and policemen, on motorbikes and on foot, filled Fifth Avenue, 57th Street, and other feeder roads. I was working in the GM Building at the time, at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, and was coming into the GM Building from an appointment. I rode the elevator with a Young Turk of Private Equity who tapped both his foot and his phone.
“Is that the funeral for the fireman who died on the set of the Ed Norton movie?” I asked.
“Is what what?” he responded.
I explained: the roads shut down, the hundreds of uniformed men everywhere you looked, the absence of traffic, the sound of tolling bells.
“Huh,” he said, his thumbs still on his phone. “I didn’t notice.”
“Huh,” I responded. “And still there are so many people everywhere.”
“Isn’t it funny how I didn’t notice?”
“Funny is one word for it,” I said, and stepped off the elevator.
I wish this made me a hero, but of course I’m not a hero, and he no doubt dismissed me, as all the young people in my former and current department do, as some weird old dame (if they even use the word “dame”!) But that is a topic for another discourse.
I guess this topic is what to look at, whether or not it is bad for the eyes.
Longer letter later, as we used to say —