The only time Park Avenue smells like Manila is on summer mornings when trucks deliver produce to the restaurants in the vicinity. A sack of onions beginning to cook in the sun atop the concrete skillet of the sidewalk builds an odor that reminds of wet markets and street vendors when mixed with the smog of passing vehicles. The cars do not stop for anything other than the red light at the end of the block and the people rushing to cross the street. After a few minutes the food deliveries are carried in and the cops begin ticketing the idling trucks. The sidewalk is cleared of produce, and men scrub the walkways with heavy brushes and power hoses, washing away the dirt and smell, as well as any accompanying illusions, down the drain.
I imagine sometimes that this water flows down and ends up on the other side of the world where my images belong. The soapy water would accumulate above an obstructed drain in a city street where an old woman would be selling sweet potatoes in a woven basin, shooing flies away using plastic strips fastened to the end of a makeshift swatting stick. The road would be caked with mud, the sidewalks discolored and cracked, a missing manhole cover the evidence that not only has the government never seen a personal injury lawsuit, but that a huge gaping hole in a city street may remain that way for years before someone gets together the leadership to fix it.
Meanwhile life goes on in that road of zipping tricycles squeezing their way in between jeepneys and dirty trucks.
My work is in a forty-storey building on Madison and 57th, the Tourneau building with clocks telling time from different parts of the world. There is no clock for Manila, but Toyko and New York have the same time but on the opposite ends of the day. At the service center down the stairs of the watch store is a middle-aged Filipina lady who appears wary of socializing with me, as if I’d ask her to steal a Rolex in exchange for a Tupperware of homemade pancit.
Please. I wouldn’t share my noodles. I cook them with a kind of skill only the displaced are forced to learn because they want to replicate memories.