Monday, September 12, 2005

New York is The City

New York is The City. Nowhere else I know has such a mix of people; the high and the low, the meek and the mighty, the rich and the poor. All in such close proximity. Just sit still and the world passes you by in a matter of minutes. Every style, every nuance, just parades by on the street. It never stops happening, even if you shut your eyes. The smells and sounds just keep on coming.

Now I know where all the iPods are being sold. It seems like everybody has them. And cell phones; nobody goes without the necessities. It’s a connection thing. You have to be connected or you’re on the fringe. Maybe you’re connected to the fringe itself. Either way, you’re connected. It’s the internet in the flesh. Nobody is just a spectator. We’re all part of the show. That’s the way of it and that’s the fact. It’s impossible to stand still for longer than a meal or a train ride. Standing still stands out. Go with the flow, or be noticed in a way that feels wrong. Watch where you’re going or get in the way. No time to get your bearings, just let them spin. Join the dance, or stop and sing, but don’t just stop.

A couple on a train, junkies moving in slow, slow motion, but still moving, blending, unmolested. It’s hard not to notice in this modern, scarred city. They watch out for each other, and they seem so fragile. But they survive, don’t they? They are still, after all, part of the scene. Nobody winces or smirks, the pain is a known quantity, just varying degrees, and everybody feels some. How many silent prayers were said in just a moment of notice, of empathy unbidden but given anyway?

What if God was one of us, just trying to get back home? Just a stranger on the bus, never really alone. In a city like this, somebody sees everything, though no one sees it all. Riding the ‘R’ train I kept wanting to take pictures, but I didn’t want to intrude. The mind’s eye records so much more. No time to aim and shoot, I might miss something more important still. Old and young, thick and thin, round and angular, blocky and ethereal; the kaleidoscope keeps transitting the shards of color and light, sound and silence, while the wheels squeal a shrill staccato beat to support the dance.

A young woman with a Boston Terrier rides the ‘6’ downtown. The puppy lies down on the cool deck, sighs and rides it out. He’s up quickly when his mistress begins to move again. Not a boot came near him, not a foot brushes too close.

People in New York are more aware of each other. They don’t stare, but they don’t just look away. Eyes meet, glances are exchanged. The occasional nod of acknowledgement is almost to subtle to catch, but it’s there. These are people who have had a deep experience, and the knowledge that something big and bad could always happen keeps the civility and concern at a higher level than before. A bump and a jostle gets a “Pardon me” or a “Sorry” when it used to get derision or simply ignored. Not any more. We’re all people now, not just strangers, not just figures in a tableau. We are knitted together by our mutual pain and fear and hope. Eyes sweep under the chairs and benches, check the corners for suspicious articles left behind. We are wary, but we are engaged. We are all on watch from now on.

It’s a better city, it’s a community now. It’s one big neighborhood and everybody counts. There are no bystanders, innocent or otherwise. We watch each other’s backs, because we need our own backs watched. When the going gets tough, the tough get sensitive. We’re ready for the worst, but that makes it better. The uniforms are just another reminder. The uniforms are friends and protectors. Everybody gets the respect they deserve. Everybody gets by.

The City is not as loud as it used to be. There is still chatter, and laughter, but it’s more low key, more contained. It’s a new attitude. I don’t know what to call it. It’s what’s fitting, that’s all.

Janet and I text each other messages throughout the day. “Miss you.” “Love you.” Wish you were here.” She sent me a picture of Cosmo that almost made me cry. She says he misses me. At night, he jumps at every car going by, at every noise from outside. He wants it to be me coming home. I’ll be very glad when it is.

Tomorrow, the U.N. General Assembly celebrates its 60th anniversary. There will be street closings and traffic jams. Heightened security will slow things down. Just another day in The City. Everybody gets by, eventually.

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