Every day I walk to work. I have time to think, to hear the sounds around me, to notice changing seasons and changes in the area. I walk a block, turn left and walk three blocks followed by a right turn. With that turn I’m on the street with the coffee club. Four blocks before I arrive at the coffee club, I pass a white stucco building on the opposite side of the street. The building has plate glass windows now boarded up. A sign in a window offers the building as “for sale or lease.” It’s a corner building with parking on the street and behind it. I haven’t talked to Ms. Anne about the possibilities for this place. I’m usually whistling or humming some jazz or the Armenian liturgy at this point in my walk.
I haven’t been inside the building in decades, but I know it well. My father grew up in that building, in a back room of what was then a grocery store that his family operated. Theirs was a classic immigrant story that began with recognition of basic human needs and how to profit from those needs. My father was born in the old world, but he seemed to live his life in that building. When he died, another immigrant family bought the business and lived in the back rooms. They’ve moved up the economic scale and the building sits and waits for a new immigrant wave to see the opportunities it offers.
I always feel glad that I’m on the opposite side of the street for fear that if I get too close to the building, my father’s ghost will pull me inside. Irrational, yes, but the nature of fear tends toward the irrational.
I haven’t seen it in years, but I remember the interior. The walls are a muted dull shade of gray-green, something my father called “boarding-house paint.” In my memory I see freezers and refrigerators, a butcher’s block, a checkout counter with an old adding machine and an even older cash register with a handle to crank it open. I see shelves of canned goods, displays of paper products and cleaning supplies, wine and beer and candy and cigarettes. Potato chips are near the checkout counter, and in the back near the meat counter is an old soda case with cold water chilling the bottles. I see my father with a cigar in his mouth or maybe a Pall Mall cigarette hanging there as he talks with a customer. Maybe someone has come by to pay rent on one of his houses. Maybe he is talking to yet another person to go on the roof with some tar to patch still another leak in the flat roof. And I see myself sweeping the floor, cleaning the meat-cutting equipment, rotating new canned goods behind older ones.
And the ghost has pulled me in again.