Perfect Day (2008)

Nita Rao

And this is how one perfect ordinary day unravels: with a tin of peppermints and two black ponytail elastics in my back pocket. Early Friday morning during the month of October smells like buttered toast, Yardley soap, and copper pennies—"In God We Trust." Outside is 51 degrees Fahrenheit and has an apricot-tea varnish. The sky is blushing. Inside an apartment on 237 WEST 11TH STREET, in a bathroom stained the same shade as celery, with floor tiles like shiny white teeth, is a tall man who has just married. His wife is still sleeping. And so behind a closed door, he grinds coffee beans while mashed against the sink, contact lens case displaced to the top of the toilet, left elbow banging a towel rack, all because he does not want to wake her. He is a mathematician, an exalter of theorems, indifferent to asparagus. He recently finished rereading Our Man in Havana (again and again) and seems partial to the word "petticoat." Petticoat. So there it is.

Photograph by Sylvia Plachy
And here, on the corner of West 4th and 11th streets, tilted against the gate next to TARTINE (253 West 11th Street, 229-2611), is a bicycle, painted the green of a Granny Smith apple, with a cherry-red spotted-frog bell hinged to the handlebars like a slightly dotty maraschino. I make an overture—ding, dong, ring—then spool a finger in and out of the fancy fleur-de-lis whorls and butterfly swirls that are the hieroglyphics of somebody else's wrought-iron fence, a corset for their house. A boy walks by, excavating his ear with a Q-tip. "He asked for my number so I wrote it down in lip gloss," says the woman with butterscotch pigtails to her friend who does not think he'll call (he will!). And across the way, a pair of sandstone lions, once imperial, now doddering, stand sentry before a basement door. Their whiskers blunted into parallel caterpillars and necks looped in lavender tulle, the most improbable of ascots. A lady with a Band-Aid on her nose is whistling "Poncho and Lefty," and a bumblebee buzzes. It is the gospel according to Willie Nelson, both vespers and the Psalms. Ring, dong, ding, petticoat. Amen.

And so it is afternoon on West 11th Street, 47 degrees Fahrenheit, and is that Gwyneth Paltrow's window? Gwyneth loves Mr. Knightley. Gwyneth hates Mr. Knightley. I wish I were Gwyneetha Paltrao. Outside MAGNOLIA BAKERY (401 Bleecker Street, 462-2572) is a grasshopper-colored bench where I sit and braid my hair, tying the ends with two black elastics from my back pocket. "Daisy, Daisy give me your answer true," sings a father to his small, prim daughter who is deliberating over cupcakes. She is a spelling-bee champion, a Calvinist, the sole long divider in Mr. Facinoli's first-grade class. All around there are corollaries to dissections, vowels upon vowels. "Grits is a cereal if you put sugar in it, and if you don't, it's porridge," pronounces the Contessa with the crumpled leather skin. "What's an isthmus, anyway?" a vagrant pirate growls into his spittoon. Then this final dispatch from a Coco to her fellow: "Harry, I swear, Ray Mancini the Cat prefers marshmallow fluff." Theirs is not a dalliance.

And so autumn becomes evening and East 9th Street becomes our night. Outside is 41 degrees Fahrenheit and smells like burnt peanut brittle, Vicks VapoRub, and gin. Chandeliers are strung awning to awning, and inside a shop shaped like a shoebox, wedding gowns hang from a rack, rice-pudding pinafores poured over Elizabethan hula hoops. At VESELKA (144 Second Avenue, 228-9682), the man who used to make my sister's heart hurt is eating a tomato sandwich, shearing off the crusts into four precise right angles. Each intersection is slicked with a mayonnaise patina. Observe the skin that skims his wrist, a seven-centimeter acre; it is the pristine gossamer of a milk bubble. He waves. She has moved on. You are who you are through experience, John Locke. "Merlin Olsen was never on Highway to Heaven," sniffs an uppity lipstick christener. Did she baptize "Forward Fig"? Along the way to Avenue A, a girl in a spangled paisley cloche stoops to retie her laces, a wispy Capulet for the ages. It is an inadvertent genuflection, but earnest, and suddenly this seems like enough. Petticoat. Daisy. Gwyneth. The End.


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