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104 the minnesota review Daniel Brudney Ruthie In the mid 1970s 96th Street and Broadway was a crowded corner. All kinds of people were diere—black, white, brown, yellow, tall, short, fot, diin. They were always rushing uptown or downtown orjust leaning against a lamppost , eyeing the traffic, scraping dieir feet, hanging out. It was a place where odors seemed to collect the way driftwood does on a beach. Walking up Broadway widi youreyes shut and listening to die subway's roar, your shoes feeling die cracks of die sidewalk, you always knew when you'd hit 96di by all die smells heaped there by die city's tides. You knew by die exhaust fumes from the West Side Highway and die smell ofcheap wine in the gutter and of newsprint from crumpled papers; and by die smell of frying food from the McDonald's on the corner and ofhot and sour soup from the Chinese restaurant across Broadway; by die heaped up odors of nylons and leadiers and cottons, and die smoke of a hundred brands ofcigarettes and die dense smell ofperfume on aging skin. I'm a tax law professor at Columbia Law School. I'm sixty-seven years old, almost entirely bald, and as a young man I was a radical. My wife died twelve years ago and I live alone. Recently my back has begun to bother me, a pain in the lower left side as if somebody has gotten hold ofa muscle or tendon and is pulling at it the way you'd pull at a rubber band. I first heard Ruthie in 1976, on the way home from a Heifitz concert at Carnegie Hall. My subway broke down soudi of96th Street and, after an hour of waiting in the dark while people cursed and made the obvious nervous subway jokes about how maybe we'd all died and gone to hell, two conductors arrived, told everyone to be quiet and careful and to watch their step, and led us on foot to the 96th Street Station. There I came up into the restless undertow ofBroadway, felt the need for a cup of coffee before trudging to my 104th Street apartment, and went into McDonald's right before it closed. One ofdie workers was sitting on the counter and as I walked in she had just begun to sing. She was medium height with very long dark hair and I found her voice mesmerizing. Soon I was coming back three and four nights a week. Her voice was simultaneously lulling and exciting, and it was certainly a marvelous break from my casebooks—from precedents, blackletter rules and die reasonable man test. I even came to like the piled up odors of96th Street which, despite coming from auto exhausts, commercial stoves and cigarettes, had at least the smell oflife, preferable to that stench ofink and paper which suffuses a law library. What I came to like most, in feet, about Ruthie's voice was diat it brudney 105 was as soft as a lovely aroma and could carry me as I closed my eyes, carry me away from the law, carry me like atrail ofsteam up and out ofmy legal mind and New York and myself. I would sit at a table directly in front, keep my eyes closed and let her voice lift me in the middle ofmat McDonald's which up front was alwaysjammed, stuffed, packed like a sardine can so mat at times I began to worry whether I could breathe because everyone came to hear Ruthie singpimp , cop, clerk, drug-dealer, garment-bag pusher, waitress, social worker, hooker, high school kid, Columbia student, voodoo store owner, you name it, everyone but the rich people from the East Side—everyone came into McDonald 's as die doors were locked at midnight, the stoves turned offand all me workers except Ruthie got out the brooms and me mops and me pails of water mixed with Lysol. Everyone would stand very quietly wim their hands in meir pockets as Rumie would say hello to me regulars, take off her McDonald's smock and smile nervously at the floor, readying herself like a runner moving into...


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