Black Friday Notebook (Sketches)

East Ridgewood Avenue, Ridgewood, NJ

Late morning, 27 November 2015 (Black Friday)

Clouds are clearing; fog remains along the avenue. Cool and humid.

Enter at Public Parking Lot, between North Maple Ave and Cottage Place:

The Lexus in front of me is waiting for a prime parking spot, so now my car is in between the avenue and the lot and I am stuck. A woman, tall and striking in sunglasses, crosses in front of my idling car, hurries her adolescent daughter furiously along the sidewalk towards the GAP. The Lexus has not moved. I have nowhere to go.

Headed West (Thumbnails)

A hand-led toddler makes happy, early-word noises to the knees of his parents who look long and seriously into the window of a book shop…

A woman with manicured blonde dreadlocks and an expensive-looking sweater walks a well-behaved Jack Russell terrier, their strides equally kneeless…

In the doorway to Starbucks, a mother and daughter stand side-to-side, working open the lids on their warm drinks, lost for a moment in absolute concentration, before releasing the steam. They look out into the street and take small, leery sips.

A pair of moderately young women wearing similar puffy jackets — one is hooded, fur-lined; the other neck-high — hustle down the hill.

The woman in the hood says, “That’s about as much house as we could afford, you know, based on our salaries…”

The friend lowers her chin to her chest and keeps her eyes down as she walks.

The stores offer sales in their windows: hand-lettered, chalk-paint invitations and announcements: special hours, hashtags, deals. The boutiques here are not quite mom-and-pop. They are fashionable, audience oriented. They seem to be looking for someone specific, trying very clearly to say, with their windows and wares, that they are the kind of store you would open, if you had opened a store. That is, if you were mid-thirties, single- or multi-childed, commercially and image conscious, with ready money. The stores look empty of shoppers and full of goods; only the restaurants have waiting lines.

Outside the post office, a very young girl stands next to a hauntingly lifelike statue of a Postal Worker. The young girl speaks to an older woman dressed in slacks and a golden sweater with a long, black, belted jacket that hangs open. She has a big lipstick smile for the little girl who says, pointing to the statue:

“This is Gerald.”

The old woman nods her head, yes. A tall chubby man with gray bags under his eyes and silver curls sprouting among his sideburns laughs at the young girl and says to her:

“Logan, here, take a picture with your friend.”

In a toy store, a woman in her late fifties, Margeanne, greets me. She has a whisper of a brogue. She is the only person on the sales floor. Two teenage girls stand behind a messy check-out counter, expectantly staring out into the store. I ask Margeanne for a child’s desk set, one with chairs, and she moves towards the wall behind me, and touches her chin as she looks left and right: neon and primary colors exploding upon white boxes stacked in all directions. One of the two register girls has heard my request and she answers me (Yes, to your right, sir). Now Margeanne is in my way, still looking for the desk that I can now see is just in front of her. She hasn’t heard her co-worker.

“Margeanne,” the girl behind the counter impatiently calls. Margeanne turns, sees the aim of my face and the stroller, recognizes that I have my answer, that she has not helped. Margeanne smiles — my grandmothers smile, small teeth, apprehensive, forlorn — and she clasps her fingertips together and puts the flesh of her wrists against her chest and hurriedly says, “Yes,” before she side-steps me and slides back near the register where she nods to the cashier and hangs her head. Margeanne looks at her shoes, her mouth a line of reproach. I exit empty-handed.

Back on the avenue, the sun has begun to burn off the last edges of damp from the early-morning fog. I re-enter the parking lot. Two women walk past, one young and one older. The younger woman wears a dark-blue pleated skirt above black leggings and pilgrim-style shoes (slightly fat heel, buckle near ankle) and a short, silver winter coat. Her hair looks clean and she is indignant:

“I told her that you can probably get by, sure, with you just being management and him, like, working in a restaurant, but, so I asked her, like, don’t you want more than that? What’s wrong with some ambition? And she clearly…”

The older woman listens intently, her head cocked towards the younger woman. There is no discernible affirmation from her, just an air of approval, as if her silence is a permission that has enclosed them both and is, in fact, now, the very thing that comprises their relationship, that allows one to freely judge the absent other.