Happiness (More Less)

January 31st, 2007

I woke up on the East Side this morning.

I stepped onto First Avene just before sunrise. The sky was pink and blue. The air was crisp. I hailed a cab, and searched my iPod for a cross town soundtrack. I settled on The Verve’s “Lucky Man,” I thought of Casey Shea and my Open Center performance of the song, and wondered if we should record it again, then stared out the window and let my mind wander…

Pedestrians were scarce. 79th Street was still in shadow. The street were slick from snow. Delivery trucks were double parked, their flannel-clad drivers wheeling pushcarts of produce, office supplies, and cases of beer. Central Park was blanketed in white, its trees bare. A jogger ran over the transverse. I unconsciously reached for my knee.

At 81st and Columbus (“Near right, please”), I tipped my cabbie $1.50, and walked into the cold air. I crossed Columbus, and stepped into Starbucks. Just inside the door, a piece of trash — an insert — lay in front of the cream and sugar. i reached down, picked it up, and tossed it in the trash.

“G’morning,” the young barista said.

“Hey, man. How are you this morning?”

“Good,” he answered. “You?”

“Well I’m just fine,” I answered, then followed quickly, “Vente mild, please.”

He turned to fill my cup. I fumbled for my Starbucks card, and worried that I’d rudely dismissed our pleasentries too soon. He placed my cup on the counter and smiled. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, waving off my payment.

I paused, confused. Had he noticed my clean streak? Did he think I was cute? Was he rewarding my daily habit? I flashed back to my days behind the counter at Uncommon Ground, and remembered the small joy of derived from the gesture of giving away a cup of coffee.

“Well jeez,” I said. “Thanks a lot.”

Back home, one of my neighbors turned down the steps as I began my five flight ascent.

“Oh, sorry,” she said.

“Not at all,” I replied, stepping aside and gesturing. “After you.”

She passed, and thanked me sheepishly.

“No problem. Have a lovely day.”

Upstairs in my apartment, I sat a while and read Linda Ellerbee’s recent memoire “Take Big Bites.”

“I was much younger then” she writes. “Though we never know it at the time.”

I looked out the window as I undressed to shower. The buildings were warm with the morning light. Above them, the sky was clear, bright blue, and nearly cloudless.