It doesn't take F. Scott Fitzgerald to capture the essence of Second Avenue on a hot and humid weekday afternoon: the sidewalk reeking of garbage, urine, and vomit (the last two courtesy of some nearby pubs); the air dense with exhaust fumes from the endless traffic jam of crawling buses, delivery trucks, taxi cabs, rusted vans from Queens, and not yet dented SUVs from New Jersey. And all this enveloped by the hazy mist of lukewarm condensate, sprayed from above by countless air conditioners sticking from soot and grime-covered windows like long-neglected and perpetually oozing pimples.
Just the kind of place to have lunch at a sidewalk restaurant.
The restaurant tables were a few feet away from where I was standing in the paltry shade of a typically atrophied Manhattan tree, with a bit of time to kill before my appointment for some unpleasant business that brought me there in the first place. Predictably I did what every smoker does to kill time: I lit up a cigarette. Almost immediately a woman having lunch with her male companion at one of the restaurant tables began to fan her face with her hand - demonstratively, energetically, with painful displeasure written all over her body.
My thoughts became short and fragmented like the speech of a stroke victim: Stench of garbage, urine, and vomit... Suffocating clouds of exhaust fumes... And she is unhappy about the exquisite aroma of top-leaf Virginia tobacco blended with a small amount of Turkish Izmir? You anti-smoking Nazi bitch!!!
I must have completely lost it because I rushed to her table with the intention of delivering my most menacing Fuck you! right to her face on behalf of every harassed smoker, dead or alive, from Einstein and Picasso to David Hockney and Barak Obama. I was only a step away from the table when the woman stopped fanning her face and hoarsely groaned to her companion: This curry is way too spicy!
And then she turned and stared at me.
Like one of those near-orbit asteroids I zipped by her table without slowing down, my facial expression already changed from that of a mean thug from Brighton Beach to something befitting a retarded mutant from Chernobyl. All I could think of was that I should either stop smoking or start wearing glasses.
A few days later I made an appointment with an ophthalmologist.