August 19, 7:16 p.m.
N Train – Times Square to Atlantic Ave.
An orthodox Jew smiles, then gently squeezes the over-alled belly of his baby grand daughter. She’s sitting in her stroller, pigtails flying above her still pudgy face; he’s dressed bowler to shoe in black.
Her eyes are bouncing between three people: grandpa, mom on the left, and on the right, a bald stranger, tinkering with his Blackberry. It’s the stranger she’s most interested in, aside from a gigantic baby-blue balloon she’s holding by an orange string. Text on the balloon reads, in bold serifed font, “Prato Fine Men’s Wear Outlet,” which has locations in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey. Her mom, not a day over 27, is pretty in an English grad student sort of way. The world outside is far from pretty, as the East River has combined the worst of Waterworld and I Am Legend with a not-so-gentle fog settling over strangely strong waves.
Mom stares at her child for a while, then laughs: the girl has created her own game as Grandpa’s attention is distracted by his Torah. She pulls the orange string downward like a spring, then suddenly let’s the balloon – large enough to hold her more comfortably than her stroller – fly up in the air, hitting the brim of grandpa’s hat, then coming back down to rest, for a split second, on her face.