As I stumbled out of my building, arms wrapped around my enormous TV, the bleak gray wetness of the scene struck me as appallingly sad. I lurched toward the curb. The gutter was a river, rushing with such insistence that for a moment I considered letting myself topple in.
I cradled my old friend—the idiot box—against my chest, murmuring senselessly:
“Perhaps it’s better to die together than live alone.”
I have always had trouble saying goodbye.
Fortunately, my super, George, was on the curb, taking out the day’s trash. I couldn’t let this hardy old man see me giving up like that.
George worked every day at the Polish meat market on the ground floor, as he had for decades, and every evening he tidied up the building’s vestibule. He was in his 60s, with large glasses, a mouth full of gold teeth, and a backstory that was likely more difficult than mine would ever be. Nowadays, he collected the rent, signed for tenants’ packages when they weren’t home, and shooed away the homeless kids from St. Mark’s Place who sometimes snuck into the building and slept under the stairs.
George would climb five steep marble flights to unclog a toilet with less grunting and complaining than most people half his age (or younger).
Me, on the other hand—I spent most of my nights upstairs watching television and trolling the seedier recess of the Internet, perhaps writing an occasional story, and always worrying that time was passing too quickly for my life to be properly enjoyed.
But however appealing it might have seemed, collapsing into the river on Second Avenue and letting the television drag me to a watery grave was out of the question—at least as long as George was standing there. So instead, I waddled up to the curb and grunted hello.
George was making sure the stacks of recycled cardboard in front of him were tied tightly enough, the cords cutting white lines into his thick, red fingers. He barely even looked up.
As the rain continued to fall, I clutched the television closer to my chest. It was a hulking old thing that had already been old-fashioned when a co-worker had given it to me several years earlier. I thought about all those evenings we’d spent together since, as the tube soothingly pumped me full of information about the Kardashian sisters, the sex lives of Snooki and JWoww, the latest Real World conflict. Was I really going to just leave it there to be crushed to pieces in the back of a garbage truck?
I stared at George, so focused on his task, impervious to the rain.
“Is this OK?” I asked, as if to confirm that abandoning the TV on the curb was actually permissible.
At some point in the proceeding weeks, I had decided to lay the blame for my creative delays neatly on the television’s broad, square shoulders, to regard it as a source of distraction rather than entertainment, as an adversary rather than a friend.
But for some reason, now, when I visualized my TV spending its last few hours in the rain, I experienced none of the sadistic thrill I had anticipated. I wanted to relish its death, take delight in the thought that its last hours on earth, before it was obliterated in the back of an enormous, smelly truck, had been spent in the cold, monotonous rain. It was the least it deserved after having stymied my writing for all these years!
And yet, I had to admit, that wasn’t the real story. I had only come to regard the thing as a distraction lately.
The feeling that time was something that could be wasted was new to me. When I was younger, I scoffed at the idea. The way people raced around frantically, trying to fill every moment “productively” baffled me. I’d been happy—proud even, at times, especially when someone tried to lecture me about the evils of television—to lie on my couch gazing at that square panel of glass and circuitry for hours, days at a time, if necessary. And now I was going to just throw it away?
Until this moment, some part of me had believed that this wasn’t really the end. Perhaps a passerby might claim the television set, rescue it from the garbage pile and give it new life (as I had when I inherited it from my co-worker). Perhaps I would change my mind, rush back downstairs in a few hours and rescue the thing, take it back inside and apologize.
The rain eliminated that possibility …
“Is this OK?” I said again. George didn’t seem to have heard me the first time. He looked up, squinting through his glasses and the rain.
A Leonardo da Vinci quote I’d read recently drifted through my mind:
“Nothing flows faster than the years, daughters of time.”
My chest felt tight. I wanted to embrace George and implore him to tell me the story of his life. Instead, I clung stupidly to the television set, like there was still some monumental decision to be made.
“Yes, it’s garbage day.” George frowned at me before turning and shuffling back toward the building.
I released the television as gently as I could and nestled it up against the other bags on the curb. Free of the weight, my arms lifted involuntarily, a strange sensation that, like dizziness, will always remind me of childhood. I thought about the afternoon in elementary school when I tried to spin in circles for the entire walk home and got so disoriented that I almost fell into traffic. As I closed my eyes and listened to the cars whooshing down Second Avenue, I was careful to stand very still.