jolie laide

jolie laide

I started this when I lived in Brooklyn and struggled for grace in a city that grants moments of beauty and ugliness breathtakingly close to one another. Now I live in a place where things are a different kind of ugly and the beauty is pedestrian. I struggle with that.


He is the mayor of this patch of cracked cement. In the gated apron that fronts a beaten grimy tenement, he presides from a dented folding chair. There is an elaborately dilapidated shed housing the building's garbage and sometimes he is a magician inside, incanting, waving his hands, conjuring. On those days I pass wordlessly.

And how many days have I passed him? Hundreds. We are both creatures of our habits, and after the first hundred times I start to acknowledge this with the smallest nod of my head, on my way to the train in the evening. He may see me, bob his head back, or he may be hollering at ghosts moving down the street, or have his eyes rolled wide and staring at the dusty trees and filthy cornices.

After the second or third hundred times I ventured a sharp head nod and a "Howdy." That made him laugh, open his mouth in mirth, show dentition of infrequency and erraticism, a gold color good in raw honey but bad in teeth. But he said howdy back, in a way both delighted and mocking, and now we agree on each other.

Today he is sitting in his usual spot. He is barking at the sky, snapping his yellow tooth stumps at the sun. He pauses long enough for us to exchange our greeting, then, perhaps to commemorate our sixth hundred time, he adds a new layer, "Always a pleasure."


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