8:41 AM Tuesday: I am sitting in the Cube drinking an iced coffee: Green Mountain Lake & Lodge blend, with half & half. The taste of this coffee is bringing back associations, random spectral presences that aren’t quite connecting. I have no idea why, but the taste of this coffee reminds me of Brooklyn, and my grandmother’s apartment.
I see windows with keystone arches, laundry on the line and the Verrazano looming over the scene from my bedroom. I remember the glow of vacuum tubes in the TV, blue and orange through the vents in the back of the set. The TV sat on a gold stand that seemed too rickety for it. I remember French doors, glass knobs and a threadbare runner over hardwood floors. I remember grandmother’s diploma and class photo from nursing school, the pole in the closet and more threadbare carpeting. A musty – but very pleasantly so – smell in the bedroom, mingling with the fresh smell of the Narrows. Somehow a box of Ivory laundry detergent plays into the scene. A copy of the NY Times with a photo of Richard Todd – the man who replaced my idol Joe Namath at quarterback for my Jets – celebrating a touchdown throw. Grandmother’s etched-gold Manhattan glass. Planes in the night heading to or from Kennedy, or maybe LaGuardia, and static as they passed over the antenna. And all the lights of the city seemed green and safe.
We’ve returned from somewhere, probably the Museum of Natural History or the Central Park Zoo. I remember driving by the old Brooklyn Gas tanks. I remember the red and white checkerboard pattern at the top of the tanks, and I likely drew them and colored in the squares. There is talk of a gas tank fire, possibly my dad telling of the time he and my mom were stuck on the Jersey Turnpike due to this fire. I’m scared: I don’t like fire, having seen the episode of Little House on the Prairie where Albert burns the church down by leaving a lit pipe in the basement. I’m always afraid our house in Brunswick will get hit by lightning, and all my toys will be lost. And driving into the city in the early ‘80s, the height of the financial crisis in New York, I see burnt out buildings everywhere, and my dad tells me that landlords sometimes burn their own buildings down to get money from insurance companies. I feel unsettled all over again, seeing the scorched shells of buildings and the gentle smell of smoke in the background of these 30 year old memories.
Why are these snippets of memory triggered by the taste of coffee? I was no more than eight when I last stepped foot in that apartment, and certainly not a coffee drinker at the time. This makes no sense. How much is true, and how much is co-opted from multiple experiences, overheard anecdotes and misinterpretations? How much have I imagined or wished for nonexistent narratives to be mine? How much have I invented and re-assigned after the fact?
How strange memory is, and how it presents itself, demanding I revisit and back-fill the story.