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187th Street and Pinehurst Avenue

Change

New Yorkers are highly susceptible to the change bug that always seems to be going around. Someone will catch it, simply, like a cold, change their lifestyle, or maybe just their hair, and then everyone else will follow the example.

Helene Greene caught it. She used to own a coffee shop with the best brownies around. Everyone went there; it was the friendly, neighborhood coffee place. In the winter, you went for your steaming, frothy cappuccino, and in the summer it was the iced tea headquarters. They sold Beanie Babies also, and if I was good, I got one as a treat from my mother. But Helene caught the bug and switched the coffee shop to an artsy gift store. They sold scented candles, beaded jewelry, hand-painted mugs, and perfume-smelling lotions. Then it became a dance studio, whih only lasted for four months. That was alright for a while, but when the bug came along again she was hopeless. Helene's is now a spa, complete with pedicures, massages, and facials.

Down the block from Helene's, there are so many awnings proclaiming store titles on 187th street! Stien-Perry Real Estate; the modern nail salon; the contrastingly old-fashioned hair salon, whose only cusomers are bright lipstick wearing, aging, wrinkly women over sixty; 107 West, and American food restaurant; and Frank's Market. Frank's used to be a hole-in-the-wall butcher's shop with one aisle. Now it's a huge, expensive market with everything -- cold cuts, beer, chips, fruits and vegetables, muffins and croissants, cat food, deodorant -- evrything. You name it, they have it.

Further down the block is Angela's, the Greek diner with delicious chicken souvlaki, my favorite. Turn the corner and you find Kismat Indian Restaurant, Monarch Cleaner's, and GeoMart Hardware. On rainy days, I go to GeoMart to browse through all the uniquely wonderful things that nobody buys.

On the next block is the Associated; Hilltop Pharmacy (which is on the bottom of the hill); Fivo's Pizza; Bleu (a ritzy restaurant with bad food); Gideon's (the Jewish bakery); Launderiffic (the laundry-by-the-pound-or-piece place); a newsstand; Ahn's Fruit and Vegetable (the Korean green grocer); China Wok (the take-out Chinese food place); Simone Song Properties; snd Hernandez Grocery store that sells sour milk. So little space, so many stores.

There are lots of people, too. A middle-aged man in gray sweatpants and hair the same color, jogging; a teen in jeans, a hoddie sweatshirt, and a navy blue hat, carrying a basketball; and two toddlers running down the block as their mom scolds and runs to catch up. Here, it smells of cigarette smoke, curry, cold cuts, and nail polish.

I peer through the frosted white windows of Helene's spa. A blonde woman with perfect makeup is doing the nails of another woman. Down the hall, doors open as customers walk in for massages. Helene is behind the counter, talking on the phone. She takes off her black-rimmed glasses to settle down for the conversation. Green eyes glance at the clock, and frizzy brown hair crusted in hair spray bounces. She was a little pudgy when the coffee shop closed, but she's lost some weight.

I turn back onto the sidewalk. A worn bumper sticker on a green mud-splattered Toyota reads: pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.

The story was posted on 2004-03-26