Tragedy and comedy in The City

Once you have lived in New York and made it your home, no place else is good enough. – John Steinbeck

I made it across Central Park yesterday* (cheering, fist pumps.)  It usually swallows me up and I stumble down some dark path into middle earth. From the west side to the east, all those crazy but beautiful, winding paths – they all look alike. And I emerge a few short blocks from where I went in, somehow not making it from one side to the other. Some people like to get lost. Not me. It makes me anxious. But yesterday, on this quiet summer morning, I made it! Fifteen minutes, drifting mindlessly but with direction, enjoying the quiet beauty, from the west side all the way to 5th Avenue!

*(Full and shameful disclosure: I had a knowledgeable partner, a generous guy, who walked with me but I have no doubt I could have done it by myself.)

I stopped off at a tv shoot on the east side of the park. My friend was one of the many staffers and he invited me to the set.  There were TV stars and delicious looking catering carts, but most of the crew wasn’t actually working all that hard. I guess there’s a lot of hanging around, standing, sitting, mostly waiting. The scenes are a few minutes long, then more standing and waiting, additional make up, lighting changes.  New Yorkers, used to averting movie sets, are largely unimpressed by the hubbub. As a fledgling New Yorker I was a bit excited.  Sitting on a stool two feet away from me, looking at a monitor and taking notes, was the creator of the show. She was wearing black converse all stars and cut-off jeans and a cap, looking like an ordinary person you’d see at Fairway.

Sometimes things happen and lives converge and you can’t believe you were in that place at that time. I headed east to Madison and down to 68th for an iced coffee. I sat on a shiny black bench outside and saw a Facebook post from a friend. It was about suicide and her life in the past year, her sadness and joy, ups and downs and the people who were there for her, including her little boy who misses his daddy. Tears rolled down my cheek and onto my white tank top. Big, huge tears like those giant raindrops in October that are actually more like snow. An attractive man my age asked if it was ok to sit down. He probably thought it best to ask, since I was sobbing. Sure, I nodded. He sat down with his raisin scones. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I was reading something very sad.” He nodded. His eyes were sympathetic. Then he said, “I’ll show you sad!” And he took out his phone and showed me a photo. A sidewalk strewn with clothes, and a body covered with a sheet. He pointed at the phone. “This person jumped from the 44th floor of my building this morning.  I tried to walk in the park, but…I can’t..”

We talked. He was born elsewhere, now an American citizen and a very successful real estate broker. For an hour we sat and talked about death and taxes and Donald Trump and real estate and art. And what would cause a person to jump out a window.

His neighbors from the building came by, going to the cafe. The wife was still feeling distress: she saw the person jump from the window.  She saw him crash onto the roof of an adjoining building and fall to the ground.  The husband shook his head. “So sad,” he agreed. Our talk was somber, trying to make sense of this drama. Their friend, an old guy with curly white hair and a gold necklace, was on the phone making a big real estate deal.

I’d been on a nature walk through the park, to a tv shoot to witness the production of a television comedy, to sharing a bench with strangers on 68th and Madison, discussing the tragedy of a suicide they’d just witnessed. And it was only noon.

Thinking and trying to comprehend the eventful morning, yet feeling the need to get on with my day, I walked to the train. A thin young man in bike shorts was in the street, wheeling his bike by the curb and loudly shouting into his cell. “NO! LEAVE ME ALONE!! DON’T CALL ME ANYMORE!  LEAVE! ME! ALONE!!”

“Just hang up!” someone suggested. Everyone hurrying in different directions, yet all sharing a chuckle.

Just another day in The City.

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