Sunday morning in Central Park, chilly September: I stood, hungry, packed shoulder to shoulder with strangers, feeling like one of the huddled, shivering Antarctic penguins I’d observed, over Burmese takeout, on a nature show. Their life seemed futile, like mine: eat, shit, molt, mate. The Dalai Lama — Emperor Penguin, if you will — a dot on the distant stage, chuckled sporadically through the sputtering sound system. I needed to pee, but Tibetan men blocked the Porta-Johns. I felt shy at the thought of marching through them (“Excuse me please”), all Caucasian, anxious and huffy. I was certain that on Monday I would be fired, yet again. I had no idea how to get my supervisor to like me. I wanted a sesame bagel with cream cheese, a husband, a kitten, hope that life would hold out more for me than, oh goody, the monthly TransitCheks in my pay envelope, the bonus that just covered credit-card bills from the previous year, then a spot on an X-ray and a doctor’s voice on the phone and then pluck, finally, and a brave front while I would grow sicker and weaker until death and the floating and the bright light out of which Grandma and Grandpa, who never liked me very much, would take form — he in his flannel shirt and she in her housecoat — and start to berate me, picking up right where they’d left off.