“Spinning class, brought to you by Citi Bike!” (courtesy of the talented Maria Chang)
Nobody should be dressed in the full white plastic body armor of a Federation stormtrooper on a steamy July day. After all, It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. but there he was, leaning against a garbage can on 42nd street , shoulders slumped. He looked too tired for the indignity of begging tourists to take photos with him and give him a tip. What a painful way of making a living, I thought. But then I think the same of all the Elmos, Minnie Mouses, gold-painted Statues of Liberty, Spidermen, the Naked Cowboy and his new competitor, the Naked Indian, and other characters who roam Times Square, hoping for a buck or two from the one out of 100 or more who pass by with indifference or mild curiosity, jostling with the vast crowds that pour through the area. I feel poignant wonder at what leads a person to that kind of thankless, excruciating job. I wonder—what is that man’s story? And that is why I love New York. Because it is filled with wonder and stories and questions. That very plump family sitting next to me at Mickie D’s where I’m having a very large and icy diet Coke and finishing my$%@#$ captions for my bee book sounds as if they’re speaking French, but it’s not really French—is it even Indo-European? Are the two black men who have their arms around each others’ shoulders brothers or lovers? What is the story of the large statue at a park on 33rd Street of Minerva presiding over two bell ringers and a massive bell that says “New York.” (I read on—the statue once actually worked like a clock on the New York Herald Building back in the day, the two brawny bronze workers actually hammering the giant bell once an hour). Now, the park is guarded by fierce owl statues on pedestals, symbols of Minerva). Why Minerva? I can’t remember what she has to do with bell ringing. I see rows of Citibikes, my husband’ s new passion, and see Citibike riders in the new bike lanes of the much-improved city since the dark days of the 80s. Everywhere, busy walkers weave up and down the streets, creating new tableaus of color and expression.
I had gotten to Penn Station at 12:44 and started walking east from 7th Ave. Old men talk with big hand gestures by the side of the road, next to rusty chained up bikes, with those ubiquitous old man flat caps. A monk in a long white robe and short white cape struggles along with his cape, long string of rosary beads dangling from his belt and carrying a small black pocketbook, or, I guess the kindest thing I can call it is a Murse. Where is he going? How does he keep that robe so white? I’d have Nutella stains on it in two seconds.
“Que calor!,” says one middle-aged woman to another, fanning her face with her hand. A guy has cut his hair so the top looks like a pencil eraser. A Korean guy wear a button down shirt in an eye-popping tangerine.Has he been in this country long? I have seen so many young Korean immigrant men slowly change their bright, imaginative wardrobes to the duller, more subdued American style of dressing. It seems a pity, as if we clip the wings of their creativity so they can fit in.
“Job jobs jobs, 10 to eighteen dollars an hour” calls one man.
A tour guide tries to yell over him, “Affordable prices, guys, check it out. Affordable prices.”
I pass through the garment district and its wholesale clothes— “Al por Mayor.” Affair Lady Evening Gowns, Fashion 5, Alamoda, Janique—sparkly gowns, ridiculous hats with gauze and feathers, “fascinators” with stiff spiral ribbon-covered whirls—who buys that stuff? And who thought “Affair Lady Evening Gowns” was a good name? Not a native speaker, I’m guessing. And the furs!! I am dripping with sweat and my feet burn. The air feels thick enough to eat with a spoon.
“Anywhere special you want to go?” asks tourist Mom.
“The Diamond District!” says teen daughter. I wonder what they’ll think of the street of sparkling gems and the little shops of Chasidim and Indian merchants–merchants from everywhere.
Old and new buildings mix together. The details on Art Deco buildings are full of symbolic meaning. One I love is a doorway framed with elegantly carved peacocks, and one stern word carved in Roman style capitals. “FREIGHT” it says—from a time when work and workers were honored. . .
Oh, so much more to say about New York City, its secrets and its iconic places. Everyone knows what New York is like, but it never runs out of surprises. It is unoriginal to love it, and yet it is filled with such originality. It is so sad, so sweet. And being there feels like a fresh breeze on your back, even on a day hot and moist enough to stew your flesh.
Writing Prompt #6: What’s a place you love? What does it feel like to be there?