Lately, I’ve felt a little restlessness and discomfort at the strictures of life under Covid -19. An unbroken string of days of sameness will make anyone feel that way sooner or later, especially with the sorrowful weight of national division added. (I won’t go into the Job-esque extra burdens I have faced in trying to register the VW van and obtaining the necessary permissions to do minor renovation of our kitchen and bathroom.)
On a positive note, a bright spot in my beleaguered life occurred on E. 125th St in Harlem at 6:41 a.m. yesterday. A man behind thick glass at the New York State Division of Motor Vehicles deemed acceptable my application for a New York Driver License. This may not seem to merit much celebration, but it does. I had tried some weeks earlier and was turned away as unworthy. The validation is thrilling.
I was also delighted by a diversion that came my way last Sunday. Ann heard it first – an odd clanging sound from the street in front of the building. From a living room window, I saw a bit of spirit-lifting New York charm – a worn stepvan with “MIKE’S SHARPENING” displayed in big letters on it’s top. Mike himself was doing the clanging by banging on what looked like a heavy skillet. I gathered our dull cutlery and went down.
Mike was between customers. He had his mask off and was smoking a cigarette.
I handed him two chef’s knives, a boning knife, and large and small paring knives. He gave them a professional once over and pronounced the small paring knife “very good steel.” It made me feel proud. I had thought that knife the best of the lot, too. I showed him a serrated bread knife, thinking it was not a sort of blade that could not be sharpened.
“Can you do anything with this?”
And he did.
On the side of the van a sign read “Family Owned. Since 1941.” I would have enjoyed talking with him, but the motors that ran the several grinding wheels made too much noise to permit conversation. And I would have liked watching him work, but the tight space in the van made that impossible, too.
I read a bit about Mike online, and his story was just about exactly what I had imagined while I waited. He descends from several generations of knife and scissor sharpeners – Italian immigrants early in the twentieth century. In the beginning, they worked in horse-drawn wagons. Mike claims that at one point around twenty of his cousins drove around New York City sharpening knives and scissors.
The moment with Mike and what he represented was a welcome break from the sameness of Covid life. It would have been welcome in any circumstance. There was something reassuring about it.
While I was waiting, a woman approached walking a Clumber spaniel, the only one I had ever seen other than in the Westminster Dog Show. They are comely creatures with soft coats, light coloring, and often with drooping, sleepy-looking eyes and freckle-like spots on their faces. This one welcomed my attention, and the woman was pleased that I recognized the breed and we talked dogs for a few minutes.
My DMV success, Mike the knife sharpener, and the dog and the chat were a welcome change in my routine and from the groaning redundancy of election coverage. Actual news stories are far outweighed by opinion and analysis and talking heads. I do, however, enjoy the occasional sidebar story, especially one a few days ago about 104-year-old Ruth Rosner, who lives nearby. On the morning of the first day voting was permitted, she fired up her walker and exercised her franchise. The photos of her show a woman who was well turned out, even fetching, seemingly dressed to celebrate in a long black coat, large colorful scarf, a groovy-looking hat I haven’t the vocabulary to describe, and spiffy, striped socks.
“I want to vote more than anything … today before I shoot that asshole Trump,” she said. The line of people waiting outside cheered when she emerged from inside the polling place. “Now I can die happy,” she said.
A note to heavily-armed poll watchers, Proud Boys, and other troublemakers: you come to the Upper West Side, you’ll have to deal with our Ruth. It won’t be pretty.