First I want to note that on Sunday Shelley and I celebrated the 12th anniversary of our first date.
We don’t get each other big expensive gifts anymore. What we do now, in essence, is pause along the path we walk together just long enough to note the moment with a wink. ‘Cause for us these days, it’s all good. And as I leave the house a few days earlier for my annual city walkabout. she gives me a big hug and a bigger smile, even though I choose to do this walk alone. And her face and voice leave me feeling that, whereas I may be like some thick forest, all layered and verdant and overgrown in places, she’s like a mountain stream that ripples through it, all fresh and refreshing. Together we form a rich eco-system.
So yes, every year lately I take a day off and devote it to walking in the Urb. Friday’s the best time to do this, as the city slowly takes on a charged air of anticipation and relief.
This day, I start in Brooklyn at Church and MacDonald, an area we almost moved to, and which seems to be especially full of the kind of salt of the earthy Brooklynite that pulls me in. There a shop owner (see the photo of his shop) explains to me this particular corner of Kensington is the center of the city’s Bangladesh community (although there are many more populations around here as well). On Sunday, August 26, he tells me, they’re having a huge street fair, expecting 100,000 people! We’ll be going.
Then I take the F to York Street and find my way to the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. Pete Hamill noted long ago that this is the quintessential New Yorker journey, crossing the river from where so many of us live to where so many of us go to build our dreams.
I like to put on some great old rock on my iPod and bounce to the beat over the bridge.
And there we all are, hundreds of us crossing over together, entering our destination like so many spermatozoa injecting themselves into the spread-open limbs of Lady Gotham. And I start to think, as I regard this seemingly eternal harbor, this majestic expanse of skyline and cement skin spread out before me, that maybe, just maybe, I don’t know jack.
Maybe this city, and nation, will last. Maybe the capital that built it and the capitalism that perpetuates it work just fine. Maybe the nation will bounce back just like this town did, as we here old enough to remember witnessed just a few short decades ago, when it suffered a Near Death Experience, only to be followed by a stunning rebirth.
And maybe the left-leaning, counter-cultural, new age, post-modern and radical humanistic lens I’ve peered through all these years is nothing more than just that: Merely one of so many lenses, all with their own blind spots and blinders.
And maybe I cling to these glasses I so proudly wear simply as a way of organizing what I see, lest the cacophonous crescendo of information cascading daily down upon us drown me in its chaos. Maybe it’s just a way to organize and make sense of my world, and extract meaning from it, as I find something to hold onto and believe in — a belief that could turn out to be about as true and as lasting as an image of a clown one spots in a cloud.
Or maybe not.
“We are meaning making machines!” they taught us in The Forum.
Like with these “Love Locks” on this bridge…
Couples from all over the world have recently started bringing padlocks, sometimes emblazoned with their names or initials, to lock onto the bridge. Then they take the key and throw it into the East River below.
Meaning making machines is what we are.
The walk over the bridge is once again superb, and I find myself by City Hall Park.
The boomer at the foot of the park, painting for a crowd of tourists, is playing music on his old boom box: A Change Is Gonna Come, by Sam Cooke, and Imagine. Yeah, I think — boomers carry the news.
I walk through China Town (where I find a pharmacy that actually carries some Ma Huang) and then east onto the Lower East Side.
Then up Essex onto Avenue A.
By this time I’m humid and it’s tired, so I catch a bus to Union Square. As we pass 11th Street, I crane my neck to catch just a glimpse of 434, with its top floor that housed Pad Six. It’s as if at this moment that building and I exchange a furtive smile, the past our shared little secret, that time when I, as a wide eyed, bearded babe in the woods, had found a brief and wondrous heaven made up of other people and the East Village’s fading glory.
And then, Union Square. I want to end my walk in this place because, what I’d been noticing on my lunch breaks (I work a block away) was that it’s all here: History. Mystery. Hormones and moaning whores. Krishnas. Occupiers. Young couples and cruising losers. Street performers and skate boarding sidewalk-hoarders. The punky, the funky and the junkie. Not to mention a kiddy park, a dog run, a farmer’s market, and statues of Lincoln, Washington, Lafayette, and Gandhi. You want to know what New York is about? Spend some time here and you’ll find out.
Today, this place that was a center of popular protest back in the ’30s, and of mourning after 9/11, is truly the people’s park. It’s a good place for me to end my annual walkabout through the city, a city you can never fully know, for once you think you do, it’s changed.