Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Good city, bad city, good

I know I'm lucky to keep myself in comfortable enough circumstances to enjoy living and working in New York City. And, when I have free time and free range enough, to really love living here. I had such a moment a few weeks ago when I got out of a doctor's appointment early and had time to enjoy a good sit-down lunch at a Greek restaurant I'd wanted to try, Kellari's Parea. I took a table facing the street and while I enjoyed my kolokithokeftedes and lamb meatballs I watched the street scene opposite, as a waiter came out of the Russian restaurant (Mari Vanna, very interesting place) across the street and proceeded to undecorate the Valentine's day frippery on a small Christmas tree standing on the street just in front of the restaurant's main window. Although it was a raw day, barely over freezing with sparse flurries of large wet white snowflakes, the man stood outside in a t-shirt and jeans and apron worked comfortably for at least fifteen minutes without showing any signs of chilling – shoulders relaxed, workpace leisurely. I sipped my glass of red wine and watched him unravel the red sparkly garland and maroon foil hearts from the tree and deposit them in a wicker basket at his feet. His skin was pale and his hair black, the coloring my mother had, a Slavic contrast built for low sunlight, in my unscientific opinion. Suddenly he shivered slightly and picked up his pace, and soon was rushing back inside, the tree bare again in the falling snow.

Wine with lunch, especially after fasting for a blood test, makes me quite happy. I received three small delicious Greek pastries for dessert – each the size of a quarter – and decided since I had a little more time before I had to be back at work that I would walk up to Madison Square Park and stroll around a bit. I love the feeling of a cool snowy day when I am all bundled up and well fed. Even though the snow was coming down a bit more insistently I did not put up my umbrella and walked along letting the cool flakes hit my warm face and melt there. At Madison Square Park I noticed that the Shake Shack was open and that one of their frozen custard flavors of the day was Bananas Foster. I walked to the line, which consisted of two people, and was waiting only a moment before I had my treat in hand. "You know, you have an umbrella in your backpack," a young man behind me noted. I turned to him and grinned. "I love this weather," I said, turning my face up to the soft grey skies. It was cool enough to keep the ice cream frozen in its cup inside my backpack, and I enjoyed it thoroughly back in the office, late in the afternoon after I'd caught up with my work and wanted a break. The bananas foster flavor was delicious, although sweeter than I would have liked.

However, a few days later I had an experience on the subway that reminded me of how awful it can be to live in New York City. We are so crowded here; in the 2000 census, Manhattan was estimated to have 9,999.9 people per square mile. (The national average is 79.6 people per square mile.) So, here we all are, and of course, some of us are crazy. Some of us are dangerous. Some of us are both. One of the latter popped up at the end of my car of the N train as it left the Atlantic-Pacific station in Brooklyn; a not totally disreputable lump of an older woman sitting with a few plastic shopping bags suddenly stood up and yelled, "I need to clean! I need two thousand dollars!" Her accent was difficult to place but her tone of voice was definitely insane. People moved away from her end of the car and she upended one of her bags onto the floor there; a water bottle rolled away from her. Evidence of some kindness and care were among her belongings – she had some kleenex in a packet, and a nutrition bar. She kept yelling off and on: "Molesters! You molested me! Give me two thousand dollars!!" She did not accost anyone in particular but the force of her voice pushed the crowd of people in the train back one by one. I didn't move at first. Then she opened a bottle of rubbing alcohol and started to throw that around. As fumes of isopropyl stung my nostrils I decided that was the most discomfort I was willing to accommodate from this lady and I abandoned my seat to stand in the middle of the train. I thought the daylight coming through the train as we went over the Manhattan Bridge might soothe her – or at least produce some change in her behavior – but she raved on just the same, now throwing objects with some force, haphazardly. By the time we got to Union Square I felt something needed to be done to help this woman and protect the people around her, so I ran along the platform to the conductor's car – along with several other riders from my car – and we all said the same thing: "There's a lady throwing things." Or, "She needs help." One man said nervously, "She's throwing a bottle of alcohol around!" The conductor assured us he'd radio the police and they'd deal with it at the next stop, Penn Station. I hope they did.

The next night was my not-really-Orthodox-Christmas dinner at my dad's. My cousin and her godparents came, and I cooked a white bean cassoulet. Larissa called us from the street, very upset, because she'd left behind her purse in the subway. She called around everyone she could think of – the city's 311 information line, etc. – but to no avail. She was heading to our house when the subway station attendant called her and said someone had turned in her bag! She picked it up and the purse was fine, all its contents present and accounted for. She came to dinner smiling and bearing a beautiful poached pear dessert and told her story, giving us a reason to believe there's good in Gotham after all.

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