On Your Call Being Forwarded to the Automated Voice-Messaging System

We meet at a bench in front of the Indian deli located below the street. We order two small chai teas, made behind the counter from scratch. Add nothing to mine, cream and sugar for his. We return to our bench. I like that the hot beverage cups are decorated as classically Greek, with patterns and columns. Greece and India are very far apart, but I suppose in Manhattan they're very near each other.

We both agree it has been a long day. It is night, we have each come from work, it is black outside beyond the horizon of our views. I'm too tired for emoting but want to converse. The chai is helping, l'chaim or placebo. Caffeine or cardamom seeds. Is it raining out here still? I'm too drained to tell. Every person passing us is possibly someone I'll recognize, but without my glasses and with trying to pay attention to him I can't identify any of the people walking past our bench towards the bridge, to Brooklyn.

And is it raining still?

We talk about seafood and working on ships.
To be a cook for the crew is exactly what I want, I say.

Know if anyone's hiring?
He is surprised.

Doesn't it sound ideal?
He says maybe, one time.

Eventually we move, tossing our empty Indo-Greco paper cups into a trash bin on a corner. We mosey, talking about addiction. We stop at a bar to use the bathroom. Once inside, head to the back of the room. There is a door to the left, through which a hallway leads to your right, and on your left you will pass by a Ukrainian restaurant full of diners at tables with white tablecloths. In the restaurant there are no windows except for the glass we are looking through as we pass by, me trying not to stare. We are all indoors. Next to the hidden restaurant is a staircase going down a flight, at the bottom of which is another hallway and then another staircase that is not lit, going back up, but to where? It is tempting to find out as I enter the women's room before the mysterious stairs, but tonight is not for adventures.

The door to the bathroom remains open while I'm peeing.

We leave through the hallway that leads to the backroom restaurant and I realize the barroom will never see us again after entering.

We wait for the light at an intersection to buy a pack of cigarettes for him. A man comes up to us asking for money and I blush, because he says he does not want to disturb my companion on a night with a beautiful lady. I am not his girlfriend and this is not a date. After receiving a dollar the man gives us his blessing.

We find another bench in another park and pull books out of our bags. Is it raining still? We discuss the ethics of letter-writing and the expectations of correspondence. Is technology really making this easier? We talk about oblivion.

I do not open his book on my way home, from the subway where we headed to different trains going in opposite directions. I am wondering how coherently I talked about correspondence. I wonder what he meant when he had written a post-script asking about our allusions. I wonder when I will finish his book, and also when I will start it. I had pointed out that today assumes immediacy, a sort of always-open mindset once you have somebody's contact info, thanks to the well-worn assumption of smart phones and mobile devices. Anyone can always be contacted. But what about before the smart era of instant information, when the way to reach someone was to write it out by hand, write a copy for yourself, send it off by carrier and assume the position of waiting repose for days, weeks, possibly months at a time. To reach out to someone knowing that the reaching would be far and slow and take a long unknown amount of time, to know that waiting is built into receiving an answer, if at all. Was it more comforting then? Was it more agreeable?

If read receipts are turned on and turned off.
If your call is forwarded to the automated voice-messaging system.
If the letter gets lost in the mail.
If the messenger aborts delivery.

In my hands I hold oblivion and I don't know when I'll get to it.