In Beirut, there’s a shovel-faced gremlin sitting in front of the whorehouse. I’m just passing by, and he eyes me from his perch on a coffee can, where he rocks back and forth, opening and closing his fists, one bloodshot fish-eye firmly closed, the other spinning wildly. He barks out suddenly, a sharp noise like the backfire of an old Mercedes, and I turn to see his massive feet slap the pavement in black sneakers, his chest splattered in wet cigarette ash. Checking my watch, I still have ample time before I meet Marilyn Hacker, the eminent poet, who’s agreed to an audience with my class of elderly writing students. The gremlin smacks his lips, the size and shape of small fish, and I’m happy to be rounding a corner.
Down the block, I see the lantern-jawed doorman with the scarf, patrolling his stretch of sidewalk. He’s got the chiseled chin, the squinting, seen-it-all eyes, and the mane of hair of an Arab George Clooney. Yet for all his confidence, I’ve never seen the guy do anything but smoke, smile, and gesture admiringly at some cool car and—today—the shapely form of a woman’s rear end.
On the next block, the bellhop is a puppy dog in a gray tux. Months ago, he told me he’d have a new uniform. Another day he smoothed his collar and tousled my hair. Later still, he blew me a kiss, and on another day he pretended not to see me, then yelled out my name, which I had not realized he knew. I spied him at a local grocery store, wearing a T-shirt and jeans, and in his basket was only tea and chocolate. Today he is busy. Read More