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  • A small side door, to the left side of the wine shop on Seventh Avenue at Twenty-eighth Street, had no signage. There were no buzzers or labels at the doorjamb. A passerby would do just that, hurry by and perhaps look into the plate glass window full of wood crates with black stamped lettering and row upon row of bottles receding into the long and narrow store.

    We bought wine from the bargain basket, dusty bottles of five-dollar French or Italian plank. The wine was chosen by the graphics, as if the vintner would also select a good font.
    After making our purchase we proceeded to the pay telephone on the corner. In the late 1980’s many public phones were available, and some were in working order. We stepped into the small, three-sided phone booth, placed a dime into a metal slot above a plastic handset mounted on a metal holder, and connected by a long curlicue of wire. This was how we made a phone call to our friends on the third floor; above the wine store, and the Viennese Furrier’s shop.

    Moments later a window opened, a hand emerged, and a string came down with a key at the end. The string and key traveled sideways in the breeze as it descended. It swept, like a pendulum across the Furriers window. The worn gold, and black gothic script announced, “We store furs,” and “Muffs, wraps, hats and stoles for sale.”
    The string reached us and we untied the key. It was cold to the touch but responded quickly to the warmth of a hand. A tug on the string and it returned upward, now flying like an escaped kite caught in a downdraft. We looked over our shoulders and walked up to the side door, onto the single step, unlocked the door and went inside.
    Our friend came down the stairs to meet us. He unlocked the gate that stretched across the hall between the second and third floors. The gate squeaked open like a rusty accordion. We came up the steps, in single file, through the profound odor of mothballs and the small door to the furrier’s, and then stepped through the threshold of the gate.

    The gate was closed and locked behind us and we proceeded to the next floor.
    Our voices echoed flatly in the narrow hallway, the sound absorbed by the thick brick and plaster walls. Words came out and seemed to fall away. Our footsteps made little noise. Even the thundering taxis on the Avenue were silenced by the protective charms of the hall.
    The hall was dim, minimally lit by bare bulbs, and so the shadows were as real as the solid world they mimicked. We walked through them like cobwebs and then, one by one entered the small four-paneled door that had a loose, brass doorknob.

    We entered the loft and arrived into the world of color.
    The wood floor was painted a pale peach, like poached salmon. The oil paint had a mellow sheen, neither gloss nor satin, and it reflected light. The tin ceiling panels were embossed with geometric and floral patterns that had been softened by accumulations of paint. The off-white color was not out of a can; it had been arrived at by time.
    The sleeping and eating area was small and intimate, made charming by antique furniture and lace curtains. The refrigerator was small enough to fit underneath a worn and stained marble counter. The stove had two burners and seemed incidental, except for the amount and the quality of the food that it produced. There was always a feast waiting when we arrived.
    Dusty wine and chipped crystal glasses made their rounds, passing from hand to hand until we all were settled, all were toasted, and all was well.

    Later, after a meal, we proceeded through the salvaged French doors with lace panels that veiled what was on the other side, but allowed light to penetrate the next room.
    We entered the studio.

    The walls were filled with color. Each canvas and panel containing a story, a portal to a world of myth, cryptic geometries, and arabesques. The work was symbolic but not in an explicit manner. It alluded to ancient stories and symbols but had no dogma. No point of view was for sale. One side of the room was a space for the husband, the other side for the wife. Their paintings lined the walls and held dialogues with each other. It was thirty-year conversation that was eternal. The dialogue contained all of the past and opened up the possibility for a future a well.
    There the evenings passed well, and the years went by.
    The neighborhood and the world outside shifted. The furrier’s widow closed shop when the owner died at the advanced age of ninety. A Radio Shack replaced the wine store. Telephone booths disappeared and door buzzers were installed.

    One evening we arrived and saw a billboard, as large as the plate glass window of the studio, and at eye level with the studio; mounted on top of the building across the street.
    A giant green frog puppet and an apple glowed on the billboard above multiple spotlights. There was already a bite taken from the apple. The taste of forbidden fruit had already occurred, off camera. The command to “Think different” written under the apple symbol seemed like a garish joke. The biblical snake was converted to a friendly frog. Was this a continued conspiracy of amphibians and reptiles against mankind? The apple symbol itself, first biblical, then a recording label for a rock group (more famous than the savior) was converted to a new technology. And the slogan was a generic, mass media command to be unique. This was not the first, or last time a puppet would tell us what to do.

    “This must be why Mark Rothko committed suicide,” my friend said gently as she gestured toward the billboard. Rothko, the famous painter, a member of the New York School had once lived and worked nearby. “They probably put one of these signs outside his window and he could not sleep anymore.” She said.

    Our friends moved away, not just like that, but it was time. They moved to the color and the history and the heat and the sounds of a Colonial town in Mexico.
    And in time, not long after, our landlord mounted a billboard to the side of our building, and we moved away too. To a world that is quiet, half the year and white with snow.

    Into the quiet come the memories, falling like silent snowflakes from an indifferent sky. I reach out my hands, and open my mouth, hoping to catch them as they fall. One lands on my tongue, cold at first, as sacred as a communion wafer.
    Then it melts; ice to water, water to wine, wine to blood and becomes a part of me again.
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