Queens Walking: VIII

The eight in my series of walking meditations on various neighborhoods in Queens.

Flushing

The intersection of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue is a swarming hive. People on every inch of pavement. Loud blocks of color honking at the cars from the storefronts. Anything written in English is an afterthought, a courtesy. I won’t see another white person on these streets for the entirety of my walk. Build some skyscrapers and it could be Shanghai.

I don’t have as much time here as I would have liked; my Manhattan schedule gets in the way. But somehow it seems fitting that my time in Flushing is brief. It keeps a brisk pace, so I should follow suit. The people in the open air markets know exactly what they are shopping for, fingering fruits with a nimble dexterity. Pedestrians dart in between cars at the crosswalks, pouring through traffic like a waterfall eroding its cliff. Babbling men shove papers in my face with quick jabs, makeshift massage parlors and nail salons grasping for the next customer. It’s an assault on my personhood, just to be on this street. I feel like an atom tossed around in one pulsing molecule; do I matter, (me), or am I only as important as the force with which I slam into those around me?

A left turn onto a quiet side street: Prince. The gentle tinkle of a bell as I open the door to Fu Run Restaurant. It’s almost empty on this Saturday afternoon, and the only sounds come from the table of giggling teenagers in college sweatshirts and the Chinese soap opera playing on the flat screen in the front. I’m seated next to another single customer, shrouded in a baseball cap and loneliness as he picks at his plate of lamb. His wire-rimmed glasses are fogged with the steam from his food, but I can still make out his furtive glances towards me as I ordered my lunch. The absurd nature of eating in a family-style Dongbei restaurant alone magnetizes us. He tries a piece of my crispy white fish, spilling cumin seeds on the floor between us; he offers a bite of his lamb, I accept, but then he packs it up without giving me a piece. He’s a Jet Blue pilot on a layover at LaGuardia. I can’t remember his name or where he was headed. But I know he is stationed out of Ft. Lauderdale, that he loves Asian food, and that he was going to get a Peking duck bun from one of those cheap food trucks before he went back to the airport. A snack for the plane, he said. I imagine his hands slipping over the controls as he steers his wards through the night sky, dripping duck fat and frying oil all over the 747. As he licks his fingers clean, he turns to his co-pilot, shrugs, and says, “I couldn’t leave Flushing without a duck bun.”

Just one more minute on the streets before descending into the mosh pit of the 7 train. I stop at a cart where a diminutive woman is shouting at the crowd in percussive barks. She is selling chestnuts, $1.50/bag. I stand mesmerized by the cart: a basin brimming with whole chestnuts, churning among a sea of black seeds that I can’t identify. It looks as if someone took blackberries and plucked each individual bulb off the center of the berry, and tossed them in with these chestnuts. The concoction swirls to its own rhythm, steady as a heartbeat. I can feel the heat emanating off the chestnut cart and I stand, calm for the first time in Flushing, to let it warm me.