The New York I Know, Day 133
Oh, how sadly I transferred off the impromptu party car of the B train on which I accidentally stumbled this Sunday afternoon coming home from my church job. Without once asking for money or anything else, four men sang some fantastic a capella oldies renditions, meanwhile happily discovering a dapperly-dressed beatboxer in a hat who joined in the casual performance. When I entered the scene at Eighty-sixth Street, the party had already begun in earnest and continued with an enthused audience into Harlem.
After a few more stops on the A train, I arrived at One hundred eighty-forth Street to the sounds of a talented Jewish klezmer band called the Metro Ensemble and the sights of balloons and an open park filled with signs of life and sunshine. Bennett Park on Fort Washington and One hundred eighty-third street hosts a Jewish life street fair today. If you live in the neighborhood, run over and catch a game of human bingo at 2pm, Alan Nechushtan performing at 2:15pm, or the face painting and magic throughout the park until 3pm.
From the viewpoint on the eastern most side of Bennett Park, I make a regular effort to glance down the skyline to remind myself that I can see the Empire State building from my northern Manhattan home in Washington Heights. I accept packages for my neighbors, and I talk with Marcos, who lives on a mattress next to the church on my street, on a fairly regular basis. I dare to purchase items on Craigslist from strangers and on many occasions, I trust good friends and family with the secrets of my heart. This does make me vulnerable, and I admit my somewhat cockeyed optimism sometimes causes problems for me in the end.
Truthfully, one does not always encounter good-natured behavior on the streets of any town, including New York City. Last night at a party, someone told me a story about their daughter for whom a stranger wouldn’t help get a taxi when she’d broken her leg because he was too busy walking his dog. Another party-goer (a new NYC resident from the Midwest) responded bitterly, “New York…” The following tale told of a neighbor who, upon seeing this same injured daughter, offered to carry her to the street and help her find a taxi. To this I responded, “That’s the New York I know.”
Last week, I ran into two friends at Juilliard whom I hadn’t seen in years, and that sort of small town coincidence happens to me all the time in Manhattan. Sure, I listened to a mild rant this morning about the upcoming MTA rate hikes on a crosstown bus, but I’ve also witnessed patient passengers and operators as injured and elderly people attempt to board. Every day presents different challenges and reactions all over the world, and I know heartlessness persists everywhere, including in the Midwest and other places with friendlier reputations than New York.
Still, let’s not fool ourselves. Ugliness and bitterness live alongside beauty and compassion in every corner of existence, and we have the choice which to embrace and how to treat others and ourselves. The New York I know has millions of loving and good people. Before I leave it for several weeks, I think I’ll go meet some and see what they have to teach me.