Ok, so at first I was gonna talk about my expectations, and how I figured and feared really that New York City was gonna be this place of constant buzzing adrenaline dosed up activity, with sirens and rapists and crazy people begging and randomass saxophone players on the sidewalk belting Coltrane lines everywhere I went, including just outside the confines of my very own beloved apartment in brooklyn. I really and truly was scared that the city that never sleeps was not going to let me sleep, either, at least not without some sort of major, major adjustment on my part. I figured I'd get to the point where I was deaf to police cars and fire engines and ambulances, that I could walk by a riot, hell, could walk through a riot, even, without even a hitch in my stride, no slowing my giddyup, no pause in my ipod shuffle. That sort of thing.
Then I was going to tell you that if you had told me there'd be grass going in a rectangle out back my apartment, and that I could walk out to it, and that I could hear birds sing in spring at 4 something in the afternoon on a Tuesday, and go out there and sip tea just as pretty as you please, I would have never believed you. Then I'd tell you how Brooklyn, at least, goes to bed at night, and that on summer nights when the breeze is still cool enough to dry your sweat you can stroll down eastern parkway, the pin oaks and american elms and sycamores and maples that line it in full leaved splendor and rustling, and hear nothing but some occasional traffic, with nobody on the benches except a stray teenage couple or two. Or at least that's how it seems to me. maybe i've adjusted.
I was gonna tell you that if you told me I could walk ten minutes to a botanic garden that's free on tuesdays in April and see more varieties of trees and flowers in bud and bloom than I had ever seen in my life, I would have shook my head no, no, no, sir. That I would stumble last tuesday on the middle of a courtyard--paved, but otherwise wild feeling--of maybe a dozen magnolia trees, and EVERY single one would be in bloom just then, in a perfect snowstorm display of creamy thick white petals, some showering softly down onto the ground, and if you looked right you could see through that blizzard waterfall a small bank packed tight with trumpet daffodils, all yellow and saying don't forget about me, hey, i only last like three hours, LOVE me dammit! And that I would be here this day to show Olivia a single apricot tree by the japanese hill and pond garden near the esplanade of cherry trees that are just, about, ready to blossom here so we can have sakura matsuri, which i had no idea is a very big deal in japan and they also make a very big deal of on the cherry esplanade (if you've ever been to DC, on the mall, around this time of year, you know what i'm describing here--it's like a mini version of that)--anyway, that i would be showing this one crazy apricot tree, with perfect cupped flowers that grow on the spiny branches that shoot out one branch per trunk angle it seems, like a gingko tree, which makes the whole thing look not like it's flowering so much as like it's exfoliating perfect bi-color flowers that smell rank but are beautiful symmetrical patterns of first white then a deep magenta-pinkish color. No way--not in this concrete jungle, man.
But then it happened, a few days ago--can't remember which. I am most definitely NOT strolling on eastern parkway in the cool summer breeze of twilight. Not at all. It's midday, I've got saddlebags of groceries, more than i've taken home at one time in a LONG time, as the farmer's markets are starting to bloom, too, and i'm almost home, and goddamn do i want to be there. I'm maybe a block away, just under it, huffing and puffing on St. John's Place like some asthmatic mule. I've got the Ipod on full blast for inspiration--lately i've been cranking Sly and the Family Stonet to get me the last bit of the way home when I'm tired. So the sun's bright and I'm about done to pieces and sweating, and I'm at that part of the block where just to the right of the sidewalk they've dug the street all up in a little square, and have the dirtpile section off with orange cones and yellow tape. And right there outta the corner my eye, just my peripheral vision, really, I, I dunno how to say it--feel something, I guess.
I look and there's a pile of something just on the other side of the dirtpile and tape and cones, and it looks like it's alive. I drop my bags without even thinking and rip out my ear buds stash em in my pocket and hustle over in one mental motion and swiftness, just to get there and see this old black dude with bushy gray sideburns and the sun reflecting off his massive blue blockers, the whole of him underneath a couple shopping bags and one of those rascal scooters you can get at wal-mart if you're really fat or lazy or medically disabled somehow.
"The motherfucker turned over on me!" I don't know how he saw me--ain't no way that stevie wonder goggle get up he had on his face emitted anything CLOSE to sight--so I'm guessing he heard me walk up.
I try to lift him, but he's bigger than me, and man, bodies are HEAVY, glad I'm not a hitman, especially when said body is pinned under a rascal scoot below you. Son of a bitch if I don't grunt with my hands under his armpits and try to get him upright. About then I realize his legs don't do shit, that I'm not gonna get support there. I also realize I am a weak ass white boy with aristocratically skinny wrists and hands that is NOT gonna get this old black man off his ass, so I look around the block.
And there's nothing. Nobody. Not a fucking car in sight. Then one pulls up, and I couldn't tell you if they said any thing to me, can't remember--I think they rolled the window down. But it was all blank, all numb and silent like I was underwater--just the sun and the street and me and the old man almost in the middle of it. So the car drove away and I bend back over.
"I wuz tryin to get it up offa me." Then I get it--he musta been laying there long enough for the fear and adrenaline to subside and the good sense and reason that could judge the situation and solutions to it for what it was kicked in, because I tell you what, I was nowhere near there yet. But I did listen to him, and grabbed the front handlebar and front wheel stalk thing of the scooter and pulled it out from under him.
Then there was noise. Just a rushing swell of noise from behind me. Next thing there are maybe ten black dudes surrounding me, swarming and talking and moving seemingly in unison, just a crashing wave of instant help that came out of nowhere.
"Hey man we're here we see you we're your guardian angels you lucky man we in the neighborhood come to rescue you" And one of them looking at me and saying, as if to confirm it, "He's a good man, he is."
At this point I'm rendered useless as they get him up, but he does get his right leg stuck on the left side of the scooter once they set him on it, so I do manage to crouch down and move it. It's dead weight--might as well be a sack of flour tied up into that shoe, which is a weird feeling for me since I've never worked in the medical field or had a disabled relative--in short, never moved a useless limb out of the way of the owner of the limb. I mean, I had to point the shoe so it would face forward, otherwise the foot would have just lolled over the side. Weird. I remember he had black sneakers on, with thick thick soles.
"Now you don' t be afraid to call a doctor if you have pain, ya hear?" And just liek that he's gathered up again, got all his parcels hooked and stashed on the scoot and is motoring down the road. And I'm picking up my own groceries off the sidewalk where I've walked to and they lay, plugging back in my ipod, and realizing for the first time that I didnt' have a shred of fear when that mob of young black men rolled up, from behind me no less, that I had a rare occasion for a white boy, or any white person, I would guess: I was jam packed in the middle of a group of black men and felt nothing but a flood of gratitude and goodwill and help. They were unbelievable, never stopping talking the whole time while they helped him up, and I'm not naive to think that in a different situation I would have been scared shitless at the prospect of what i had just witnessed. Then I'm thinking prejudice runs deep, deeper than we want or even know about.
"Hey man," one of them caught me looking at them as my reflecting brought me to the subject of my contemplation, "Thanks, you know. Thanks a lot for stopping."
I can't do anything but shake me head and wave and keep walking, but when the old dude passes me going the same way, still in the street no less, on his moto charged scoot, I can't help but let it loose. I stand there bogged down with those saddlebags and sweating and just laugh, laugh, laugh.