No job too big or too small

Saturday was moving day. I can’t drive and had never moved house by myself before so I hired a sketchy man-with-van outfit. Conscious of the $65 hourly charge, I schlepped all my boxes down to the curb under the gaze of the upstairs neighbors. The Ecuadorian drivers parked at the end of the street, strapped on weight-lifting belts and we began to load the rickety truck. The load looked pathetically small when we’d finished.
   ’You sure this is it, lady?’

I begged them to let me ride in the truck with them to Queens. I was too cheap to spring for car service and certain they would never find my sister’s house otherwise. There were only two seats, but finally they gave in and we squeezed in. We chatted about the World Cup. They asked where I’d learned my prissy Castilian lisped Cs and Zs.
    ‘Irlanda? Del sur o del norte?’
    ‘De la republica. Del sur.’
Gravely, they congratulated me on Ireland’s victory draw against Germany. I wished them luck against Mexico.

In Astoria, we parked at the end of the road again and began to unload. They humored me as I gasped under tiny loads and overtook me carrying four times as much.
   ’These boxes are all books? You read too much,’ said Carlos wiping away sweat.

In forty five minutes, everything I owned was in Claire’s apartment. Carlos looked around as he totted up the bill.
   ’Well,’ he said in Spanish and shook his head. ‘You had a beautiful apartment before, but I hope you will be happy here.’

The one that got away

At Brighton Beach, a fisherman caught a huge striped bass. I’m a poor judge of fish weight, but it was the length of his thigh and it glinted silver from a hundred yards away. A knot of rubberneckers gathered to gawp at the body. From down the beach, a tall pink man in small black Speedos strolled towards the crowd, blowing a whistle and waving. People got edgy. Were they were allowed to be out on the spit? He started talking to the Hmong fisherman, who spoke no English. The fish was handed over and the fisherman backed away. Something was off. Where, I wondered, did this cop keep his badge in his ridiculous banana hammock? His breath smelled of vodka, and the crowd slowly sussed him out for the drunk Russian bully that he was.

Indignation knows no national boundaries. The bully was routed. He gave the bass back to the little fisherman, and swaggered back to his backpack down the beach. He stood there, drinking from a brown-bagged bottle. With two naked fingers, he fired idly at the dwindling crowd.

Paging Martha Gellhorn

The charming Rem Reynolds gives me the address of his friend Porter, who has a gig writing for Cambodia Daily in Pnomh Penh. I write to ask his advice on my upcoming trip, and include a link to this site. His reply is filled with Southern tact:

‘I checked out your web site. Seems like you’re
having a time figuring out what to bring. I’d
recommend visiting an Army-Navy surplus store. The
gear is cheaper and less flashy, making you less of a
mark for harassment (not serious harassment, just
would-be guides, drivers, salesmen, etc). Just a
thought, probably too late.’

I’m cringing. Shoe-shopping is a tic, a form self-medication more benign than bourbon. The grail: a sexy summer shoe that doesn’t create blisters like puff adders and that makes me feel like a cross between Audrey Hepburn and Amelia Earhart. It’s just a distraction from the bureaucracy of trip planning, and from my current perch here on this glamorous little rock, it seems entirely forgiveable. But yes, it must seem utterly daft to the likes of Porter, writing from a town where people have nothing.


– Virginia Woolf to her sister
My mother went to St. Camillus’s hospital for a week in 1978. She brought home Claire.

At the time, the change in the dinner routine excited me more than the mewling bundle in the maternity ward. In the months beforehand, Mum had cooked individual dinner portions and frozen them in little tinfoil containers with paper lids. ‘Stew’. ‘Shepherds Pie’. ‘Chops’. Every day Mum was away, Dad defrosted two of these meals and heated them in the oven. I was almost six and had never eaten take-away food; this was close enough to be an adventure.

Not as much of an adventure as getting to know my sister Claire turned out to be. She’s two elegant inches taller than me, and twice as well put-together. I preen shamelessly when people ask if we’re sisters. She makes me snort coffee through my nose at least once a week with her sly emails and take-offs of our Limerick neighbors. And she calls to say ‘How are you?’ twice as often as duty demands, and I’m always glad.

She’ll be twenty four tomorrow. Happy birthday, sis.