You’ll Never Walk Alone (ok, maybe sometimes..)

The year my dad moved out, my mom gave me one pair of wool pants for Christmas. Of course, being a kid, I was utterly disappointed, but I figured we didn’t have much money. I didn’t want to be ungrateful. We lived in a small, old house on a block with other old houses.  There were only a couple other kids who lived in the neighborhood and since I was too shy to join their games, I played by myself. I had my own bedroom and the bathroom was in the basement, which always seemed very chilly. It had a little square shower. I found it too creepy though, because I saw centipedes there once.  

Being an only child was unusual in the small catholic school I had to attend. I was pretty sure the nuns hated me because I came from a single parent home. Divorce was a sin and my mother the sinner. Thus, I was also.  I admired kids who had two parents. Mary lived on the other side of the tracks, where the professors at the university rented big, beautiful homes. She was one of 7 children and her dad was a successful owner of a foundry. He seemed to be home a lot, reading his paper and actually laughing and conversing with his kids. There were cookies and milk in the kitchen after school and her mom wore one of those crispy aprons with bright red apple designs on it. She was like June Cleever.  I loved going over after school, even though it meant a couple mile walk back home.  My mom wasn’t waiting with cookies when I got home. She left for work at 6 in the morning and got back around 4 and was very tired.  I was alone most of the time. I would pretend I had lots of brothers. We all watched tv and talked and laughed.

Some people avoid being alone, but I’m used to my own company.  I play well with others but I’ve convinced myself that I like being alone just fine, thanks. The art of aloneness is well played here in New York and is normal. Some days, though, I’m convinced everyone in the city is paired up. I saw two rats meandering down the F train rails together yesterday…even the rats here have significant others.  A great irony about living in New York is feeling so distant when there are six million people all around you, like a Hopper painting where lonely, isolated souls seem to search for a sense of connection. Earlier this summer I was walking through Washington Square Park, an urban oasis with street musicians, jugglers, mimes, people spray painted to look like statues.  A saxaphone player and a guy with a small set of drums set up on the edge of a wide sidewalk and started playing. Heads turned. People stopped. Some sat on one of the many benches that line the walk, some talked with each other, with strangers. For a brief time, none of us was alone, we had a community and a connection. After awhile, people wandered off for some other places, new people drawn to the music became a part of the little tribe.

New York has many monikers: Big Apple, The City That Never Sleeps, The City So Nice They Named It Twice. It’s also been called The Lonely City. It can be. But it can also challenge you to look for and accept the many possibilities for connecting with strangers. I’ve been doing this alone thing for a long time.  I’ve discovered this is the perfect city for it.

 

New York Nice

I have a friend who, while not all that nice, is really a good writer. Everything he writes makes me laugh out loud. Extremely insightful and, frankly, he and I complain, I mean write, about many of the same things. Reading his blog is like reading my own ideas. But getting an email announcement about his latest post sets me off. What the!? I haven’t started a new one yet and he’s got two more out there. I hate that. And they’re always wonderful, of course. I may have to block his emails from now on so I don’t feel so bad about slacking off. It’s hard to come up with ideas sometimes. Many posts just present themselves (I wish they’d also write themselves). But if I haven’t seen anything worth writing about — vomit on a subway platform or SUV stroller wars on a Brooklyn Heights sidewalk — then I anguish. I have anxiety. Because my aim here is to please my devoted readers.

You’ve heard of Minnesota Nice. It’s kind of true, though sometimes it’s just passive-aggressive posing as nice. We aim to please, sometimes at the expense of our own pleasure. Lately I’ve been thinking that I shouldn’t worry so much about being nice — I mean, if someone isn’t happy with me, that’s their problem, right? This morning I butted in a line. Yes, really. I was late and couldn’t wait for the exceedingly large gentleman in front of me to move along. I did make eye contact as I shoved him out of my way. With big Keane eyes and upturned eyebrows, I begged forgiveness, “I’m sorry..!” I mouthed, with all my teeth showing, and I moved along quickly. Hostile yet smiling broadly, scurrying away like the infamous Pizza Rat, avoiding confrontation. I thought about it the rest of the day. I felt bad. I wasn’t nice.

When I was a little girl, my father left. I never knew why, it wasn’t talked about, though in my young mind, it was likely because I wasn’t a nice enough daughter. I did see him several weeks after he left one day when I was outside playing in my front yard. His car drove slowly by, with the window rolled down, and he looked at me. Didn’t wave or stop. I stood there, watching the car as it drove away. You’d cry if you saw it in a movie. Years after as an adult, I made contact and met him at his house. I met his new wife and we all drove down to West Des Moines to visit my step brother, Gene, who I had never heard of and never saw again. I remember he was very nice and I wondered why he lived in West Des Moines.

Of course we’re all formed by good and bad events in our childhood. Maybe I try really hard so people won’t leave me. I’ll continue dispensing tales of my nice and not-so-nice accounts of the city. But I can’t stress about it. I’m going to spend less energy seeking to please strangers (except you, my faithful blog followers.) This is New York…there’s no pleasing it. It doesn’t care about me anyway. This city can make me feel bad, but I know, even if I’m not so nice, it will never leave me.