Thursday, June 21, 2012
Running Up the White Flag
It's brutally hot here in northern Appalachia, but I hear that it is in New York City too. I think back upon those brutally hot days in New York, on every one of which you have to descend into the subway, whose platforms are ten degrees hotter than above ground. On days like these, the weight of your heavy backpack (in which you have to stuff all the things you need for the day because no one lives near their errands, university, work, or appointments unless they're rich, so it's not like you can swing by home to put down some things and pick up others) is more tiring, and its smell more noxious. And if you have a small child, you're schlepping not only the twenty-pound backpack, but also your child(ren) and stroller, up and down the subway stairs and bus steps in the roiling heat, and no one helps you because everyone feels insulted at some deep personal level by the weather, and so they hate you. And you hate them, too. I never realized how demoralizing this all was until I was no longer living it.
I met the mother of a first-grader at a massive end-of-the-school-year playdate yesterday who migrated here from another, deeper, part of Appalachia for her husband's work. She still owns and runs a business, however -- a boutique -- in her former town, and is going back there for the summer. In the course of our conversation, I realized that this is the same town in which my friend and fellow poetry-lover Rodak lives, and I was able to confirm that he knows my new friend's shop and has even been there with his daughters. This got me thinking about Rodak, about how he lived not at all far away from me back in the Bronx, but at a different time, a storied time, in fact, when New York was at the cusp of many things, when it wasn't what it has become today, which is, in most parts, a real-estate-porn set, a playground for people with a lot of money, a refuge for materialists who believe that being hip is about what you wear (and also about what you eat and drink and where you procure it from).
This mother's son is also mainstreamed with high-functioning autism, like my just-finished-kindergarten son. If every year could be like my son's kindergarten year, I would be overjoyed. Our neighborhood school is, quite simply, great, in spite of the fact that it's in an urban area and serves a diverse population and half of the students in the district are below the poverty level and all those other things that strike terror-about-public-school into the hearts of middle-class parents, but which are pretty much all the things I grew up with. I have been absolutely delighted with my son's classroom, teachers, and the various supports he has gotten because of his diagnosis, and he left kindergarten at the top of his class academically. He loves school, and says he wants to be a principal when he grows up, which has got to be a first.
The other day I was picking up shoes at the shoe repairman, and I couldn't find my ticket. I apologized profusely, to the point that the shoe repairman was a little nonplussed by my extreme contrition. I explained by telling him about a time when I lost a shoe repair ticket in New York, and the shop owner, rather than berating me, looked through dozens of boxes of fixed shoes while casting looks of such scorn and disgust at me, and telling me mournfully that people like me were the reason he wanted to close down his shop, that I was relieved when he actually did. "So you're a New Yorker?" the local shoe repairman asked. "Sort of," I said. I walked out of the shop scolding myself. Sort of? What did that mean? Had my allegiance flagged? Had I betrayed my beautiful city?
All of this is to say that I'm glad to be here now. And I guess I'm not really a New Yorker anymore.
(The video above is a popular, and extremely excellent, track from my youth. Be forewarned that it contains the b-word and the n-word if you're sensitive about things like that.)