I am writing from New York, a city I love, at the end of a 5-day visit. I lived in Manhattan for 6 years in the 1980’s, and I come back as often as I figure out how. Here are some moments that stay with me from this visit.
I’ve been walking around the apartment where I’ve been staying in short sleeves. I’ve been sleeping with only a light blanket. The windows have been open. The first night I ignored my friend’s advice and closed the window to block of the noise. This resulted in the temperature in the room rising to 80 degrees by morning. Since then I’ve left the window open while the heat is blasting. Talking to another friend, I learn this is common, all around town, in the older buildings. She tells me that because there are fewer cars than anywhere else, and because of the concentration of living spaces, NY actually uses a lot less energy than other cities in the US. Still, knowing the global situation of oil depletion and rising temperatures, I find it unbearable to settle with this widespread leakage of energy. Is there really no solution?
The following are not specific to NY. I have seen and heard similar exchanges elsewhere. In NY much happens in the streets, in public. There are so many people on the streets all the time, everything happens at once, intense, incessant. So all of these I saw within 5 days.
- Two people walk toward me, clearly in a fight. I don’t know what it’s about. The man says something to the woman before I can hear them. As they walk by I hear her say, in a raised voice: “Don’t talk to me like that. I am not your child.” She is saying, and maybe she doesn’t know she is saying it, that it would be OK if she were his child. This statement suggests that talking “like that” to children, whatever it actually was, is acceptable, normal, routine. Why are we collectively assuming it’s OK to treat children in ways that adults would find offensive if directed toward them?
- I am on the subway. A young man sits with an older man and an older woman on both sides, and a back-pack kind of contraption situated between his legs in which a little pre-verbal boy is perched. The adults are all talking adoringly about the boy. Probably father and grandparents. At one point, while talking, the older man reaches into the contraption and arranges something or another. His hands move, pull, push different bits of sweater and straps. The movement strikes me. There is no relating in that movement. The boy is handled, the way an inanimate object would be. Later the boy falls asleep, his head drooping to the side. They reach their destination, and the young man picks up the contraption, swings it, and puts it on his back. How I wished he would touch the boy’s face for a second, smile to him, wake him up gently, tell him what’s happening.
- I am walking with a friend in the Upper West Side. A young girl, no more than 3, probably less, is walking in front of us, crying her heart out. Her mother, I presume, is speaking to her in harsh tones. Then she walks faster and ahead, and the girl’s crying intensifies. From eight feet away mother calls to daughter, raising her voice, telling her that if she wants to be with mother she better stop crying and walk faster. Girl is trying to run, still crying. I cannot continue to talk with my friend, as my own heart is crushed. What would have to happen to a person to get to a place where threatening a little one with leaving seems normal, familiar, common? What makes it possible for at least some adults not to see, feel, hear, experience, the anguish of the small person who knows nothing about continuity of connection unless it’s right there?
I am at the Russian Bathhouse on 10th Street and 1st Ave (if you live in NY and don’t know about it, try it out!). This is a treat I give myself every time I come here. I am sitting with a friend, resting between one form of heating our bodies and another. A man speaks to us, with a big smile. “Ahh, I think I’m done, ready to go home,” he says. And I say: “Did you soak in all you could?” He smiles again and says: “No, I vented it out, all of it. Now I am no longer a NY statistic. I can survive another 24 hours in NY.”