Sunday, February 12, 2006
Who Sings to You?
There's really nothing worse than getting sick while trying to celebrate an early birthday in Manhattan. I really felt like hell when I woke up this morning, and so I allowed myself to exist horizontally for a few more hours by watching a movie. But the sun was shining, the weather was enchanting, and I knew that I wasn't too sick to go for a slow run along the river. I drank a bunch of tea, took my vitamins, eventually put on my running shoes, and dragged myself outside. The run was deliberately slow, but I still made it as far as I usually do when I run here, so this was good. Along the way, though, I encountered so many incredible slices of the human condition, that I couldn't help my wonder if my fever was actually a little higher than the electronic thermometer in my friend's medicine cabinet had indicated.
Heading towards the park, I passed a woman on a bench with a large cage. There were 6 small parakeets inside. I noticed this right away because I have a violent psychological aversion to caged birds, and it struck me as profoundly (and disgustingly) surreal that she was sitting with her face pressed up against the cage. I'm already very phobic about this avian bird flu pandemic, which seems like the "Coming Soon" feature of the season, so I tried keeping my distance while passing by. My first thought was that that maybe the birds were sick and she was taking them to the vet, or maybe to a store to sell them? She was completely engrossed by the things, and definitely seemed a little crazy. Of course, I didn't stop to ask what her opinion might be of the avian bird flu. As I ran by, I had to suppress a small shudder of revulsion towards her feathered reptile pets.
I love New York for the people, and one reason I particularly love the Upper West Side is because it is full of kids and young families. During the workday, however, the neighborhood is a bustle of dark-skinned women absent-mindedly pushing the strollers of very well-dressed and well-fed white children who are not yet old enough to be in school. I collectively call them the "stoic children of the Upper West Side" because they all appear to be sedated for some reason. Maybe this is because they are very well fed, I wonder. Although, today I couldn't help but think that they may be depressed little people who have no source of stimulation during the day? Surely they are properly cared for, but are they loved? Does anyone sing to them? Maybe they really are sedated.
And speaking of sedation, today was the first day I have ever witnessed so many octogenarians out and about on the Upper West Side. I discovered that these men and women also come equipped with darker-skinned caretakers who either pushed them along in their wheelchairs or sat next them on the park benches with sour looks on their faces, looking at their watches, or talking on their cell phones. It was such a profound contrast between young and old, coupled with the observation that these caretakers were making money for their time and labor, which is clearly done for monetary benefit and not out of familial love or devotion. Surely, the grandparents and great-grandparents of the Upper West Side are also very well cared for. But does anyone sing to them as well?
Earlier in my run, I passed a gentleman bumping along in his wheelchair as his handler talked on her cell phone while pushing him along. He looked directly at me as small children sometimes do. I smiled and consciously tried to direct as much positive energy to him as I could by focusing on him. He smiled back. Once upon a time, he was someone's small child, I bemused. I thought even if no one sings to him, at least a pretty girl smiled at him on this beautiful fall day.
On my circle back, I approached a basketball court with boys playing. Suddenly one school-aged little boy let out a blood-curdling yelp. As I got closer, he was holding the side of his head, and a guy about my age was walking off the court with him. The maternal side of me looked around to see that there was no parent, let alone a nanny to comfort him. I almost stopped to see if he needed help, but the mid-twenties guy already had him by the hand. What was interesting to me was the sight of the man taking the boy by the hand and calming him. I gathered that he was a teacher at the boy's school. I deliberately stopped running for a few minutes to walk behind him, just to hear what he was saying. The boy was crying his eyes out, and the guy asked him if he could breathe through his mouth. "Show me," he said. The boy did. Clearly, the boy had to stop crying in order to show that he could breathe. "Can you breathe through your nose?", he then asked. The boy said yes, and took another few big breaths. Instant calm. "Ok," the guy said, "We're going to go back to school, and tomorrow during recess you and I are going to practice our lay-ups. How does that sound?" The kid snuffled a little bit and said, "Ok, I guess." Then the guy said, "Tell you what, let's sing a song until we get back to school." Seeing that everything was ok, I started running again. For the remainder of the block I could hear their boisterous, off-pitch version of the Beatles "Yellow Submarine" as they walked hand-in-hand.
Finally, feeling much better from the accomplishment of my long, albeit very slow, run, I felt happy that I was taking in the day and not curled around a pot of tea and a tissue box. Two blocks from my friend's apartment, I made a sharp right hand turn. I suddenly had to stop short, for I nearly ran into a large cage at my feet. Apparently, the woman from the park bench had moved. She was now sitting directly upon the sidewalk with the cage angled towards the afternoon sun. I stopped on my toes, and somehow managed not to collide with the metal box. And even though I passionately hate birds, and melodramitcally fear the airborne spread of flu, I bent over a little and looked inside her cage. She looked up at me and beamed from the attention. I said, "I hope your friends are having a nice day." She said, "Yes, they like the sun a lot". "Good for them!," I smiled. "Yeah, I love them a lot. They make me happy." she said. "I bet you do," I replied. And then I asked her if she sings to them. "Oh, no," she said. "They sing to me."