every weekday morning, i walk nolan a very short five blocks to school. our feet hit the sidewalk on our street (bleecker) and then cross over 6th ave and then we veer left down downing street and then take a right on bedford street (not to be confused with bedford ave in williamsburg) and then take bedford all the way down to his school which is on hudson and christopher.
it's a quick walk, depending on how pokey nolan is that morning. on a quick day, i'm usually one footstep ahead with nolan behind me dodging morning dog walkers and street sign posts while musing maniacally about sonic the hedgehog. on a pokey day, i'll be walking and talking and i'll turn around and realize that i've been having a conversation with myself. nolan would be half a block behind me plucking at his jacket zipper/marveling at a pigeon on the sidewalk/dragging his heels dramatically. but usually? he's right next to me and we have a nice walk to school most mornings.
the best and worst part about our route to school is the smells. smelly smell smells. anyone who live(d)(s) in or visited new york city knows that its an olfactory carnival ride. we've got everything here! hot dumpster garbage, ginkgo tree berries (oh man, those STINK), fishy puddles, car exhaust, vomit, human pee and other such unsavory human waste. land sakes!
but then there's the pleasant smells. the kind of smells that tickle your memory, smells that make your body swoon.
across the street from our apartment is a fabulous coffee store that sells every kind of coffee bean you could dream up. unfortunately, it's never open when we leave for school, but if the owner is there early enough, he's got the door open so he can sweep the floor. and wow. how heavenly.
at the half-way point (as we wait to cross 7th avenue) there's always the warming scent of chicken soup in the air coming from at least one of the many restaurants lining the avenue. i often imagine that there's a giant black cauldron in one of the kitchens bubbling full of vegetables, chicken and one cartoonishly large bay leaf. one day i might sit down to eat lunch at one of these places and find out (to my absolute delight) that i found the source!
after chicken soup, there is the bleachy/fabric softy smelling laundromat that is sneakily tucked behind a canopy of trees on the other side of 7th ave. it's run by an asian family and you can often find them chit-chatting to each other as they fold white underpants on a narrow table facing the street. if we're lucky, we get brushed by draft of warm fabric softener as we pass the open door.
once we've rounded the corner onto hudson, we pass a bodega on the east side of the street that sells the usual sundry foodstuffs like newspapers, snacks and beverages. its tiny, unassuming and blends right into the landscape. but in the morning? it's splashy cologne of choice is crispy, smoky, salty BACON. yes, it's bolded, underlined AND italicized. it smells THAT good. funny ...there's an ever-so-conveniently located exhaust fan near the door that pushes the scent out onto the sidewalk. this clandestine operation is both effective and comedic because they routinely veer morning commuters off their path, floating in looney tunes-style to get their bacon fix. someday i will walk in and high-five the purveyor and walk right out without saying a word. he'll know exactly what i meant by it.
i don't know how it happens, but as soon as we cross the street, we suddenly find ourselves paddling clumsily into a splashy pool of parents and children. we have no choice but to move along as they roll over each other to get in through the tiny doors at the main entrance. once we're in, we stop quickly to hug each other good bye. and so, my friends, it's at that one particular moment when i get to inhale the one scent that i know is special only to me... and it's nolan's muppet like head full of hair. yes, it's due for a haircut (well, back in august would have been ideal) and yes nine year old boys stink no matter how often they visit the bathtub. but that aside, there's hints of that ridiculous kids fruity-tooty shampoo he picked out at target last month and the remnants of our 8 minute walk. the smell reminds me of the days i carried his wriggly infant self around in one of those expensive and confusing baby holding contraptions. i'd be shuffling around our old neighborhood with him tethered to my front and i remember ducking my head now and then to sniff at his sweet little baby-head.
what a joyful memory. it's a syrupy little cocktail of nostalgia that always tips me over the edge me every time i give the kid a hug.
on my brisk walk back home (bacon, fabric softener, chicken soup, coffee beans) i am happy that i am on the olfactory carnival ride that is new york city. that is, until i accidentally step in a pile of steaming uncurbed dog doo.