It’s morning, for now anyway. Talis and tefillin all around me – Shacharis in 770. The labored breathing of the A/C competes with murmured prayers and chazzans’ voices. Mostly, the A/C wins.
The disgruntled make their rounds. Tzedakah. Guilt. Sorry, no cash. Averted eyes. Guilt. White brick wall, tables and benches caked with 7 layers of peeling Advil-colored paint. Coffee cups, garbage dumps. A hall full of bathroom stalls like a maze; a flush a minute, maybe more. The receding echo of a washing cup being filled, time to say thank you G-d, and isn’t ‘orifice’ a curious word?
The entryway, people coming, people going, tissue throwing with now-dry hands, wet hair from mivka, Israeli banter, 1414 haircuts. Custom minyans: choose your cantor. Partitions, minyan cubicles. The hidden baal korehs amongst us, Torah spies; kohanim too, whose identity is revealed as the need arises. Fans whirring, blowing that 770 air around, spreading that 770 smell so it’s in your clothes, so it’s clinging to your hair. The smell of used books and neglected wood, and people. Some homeless, some cologned, most with stale coffee breath.
Stand as one in sudden kedusha salute, raising heels and answering in unison like a flash mob. Tefillin piles. Books and books. Stacked this way and that. A mound of books, a bag of week-old pastries, someone’s talis. Beard hairs on the floor. Black ones, brown ones, gray ones. Orange ones. White and blond hairs. A distracted habit, these signs of stress are everywhere, everywhere. Follicles, every step I take. Another curious word. Hairs in between the pages. Faded siddur covers bound with duct tape. The hoofbeat of tefillin boxes clapping shut, a cell phone rings. Talis-over-shoulder conversations, closed-eyed meditation. The woodpecker tap-tap-tapping of the bench fixer, fighting the good fight.
The three step shuffle, I’m in the way, have to clear the bench to let someone through. The slap of the folding bench and oh, the shin’s pain from colliding with a bench’s metal frame. Vague rumbles of the 3 train. Just another day in 770.