A short stopover in the painful reality of present-day NYC.
I took a little trip last Friday to a little-known place called “outside my apartment.” It was the first time in a long while I left my four walls for something other than work. I just don’t have any reason to go out there these days, but I felt the fresh air would do me some good. What I didn’t realize is just how much I’d see in only thirty of these New York Minutes.
I often lament about how difficult it is living in present-day Manhattan. It’s not as derelict as Conservabros on Twitter will make you believe. I just recently walked a street I’m very familiar with, only to see a gigantic new multi-story hotel in a spot that was empty only a few months ago. Things happen very fast around here, and there’s constant movement despite what the news wants you to think. However, for someone like me who is but a single entity in a sea of millions, nothing that’s “out there” holds much weight anymore. There’s no events scheduled, no plans that require a cab ride. I’m sure there could be if I tried, but it’s entirely unnecessary right now. These are not complaints, it’s just where I am in life. The difficulty lies in actually feeling safe when I choose to partake in the outside, and wanting to know that when it’s time to fly away, the city of my birth is in good hands without me.
The first thing I noticed as I crossed the street were two giant blotches on the walls of my neighborhood park. I stopped in my tracks, flabbergasted by the ugly sight. I’ve seen graffiti around the area before, notably a giant “ARREST BILL CLINTON” sprawled on the windows of a closed-down restaurant, but never in the park. And never something that I couldn’t read right away. This was just ugly black scrawlings that have no meaning to anything. And it honestly broke my heart to see what had arrived.
The park nearby is nothing special. There are nicer ones a few blocks to the west. But this one feels like mine. It’s just a little spot the city carved out where I can sit and write and take in the grid around me. I don’t need to go far in order to get that feeling. Just a walk across the street and I’m there. But the entire flight pattern is changing, and I’m not sure it’s for the better.
Full disclosure: I live near a hotel where the city is housing illegal migrants. You may wish call them something different, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that taxpayer dollars are going to housing those who’ve illegally crossed the border and been bussed here by another state. The luxury digs are now full of families who’ve been placed there, offered not a life but a place to exist. They’re living in a permanent stopover state. And a lot of them spend their time in this park. Now before you write me off as judgmental or a bigot, the only reason I know they are who I say they are is because they all wear placards around their necks. I got a good look at them as a family stood outside my apartment one time. It’s an ID pass with the hotel’s name on it, like they’re college students signaling which dorm they live in. I see everyone wear them, including children, which is what else caught my attention as soon as I sat down.
A group of about seven or eight kids, some of whom I’ve seen frequenting the park before, were all running around, playing in the scant playground area at the back end of the park. A little girl began kicking at a half-empty Arizona Iced Tea, trying to juggle it like a soccer player, but gave up halfway through and walked away. If you’ve been following this blog for a bit, you’ll know my stance on litter. But she was just a kid. I wasn’t about to discipline a child not my own. That’s not my job. I did, however, give her inadvertent looks while staring at the trash on the ground. I got the feeling she knew something was up too, because I caught her staring back at me, as I kept my eyes on the bottle, willing her to throw it out. But the idea never quite took off.
There’s been a lot of anger associated with these new neighbors of mine, considering the pure absurdity of the entire situation. This city designated itself as a Sanctuary City, as did the state, and those at the top were proud to virtue signal about it. Now that the reality is here, their feel-good vibes have completely fallen by the wayside, and they’re left dealing with a humanitarian crisis. These people are welcomed in, called “New New Yorkers” by our “public advocate,” when all in all this seems like one big scheme to aid and abet human trafficking operations. And these people, who were fed lies to get here, are now in debt to the cartels, making this a matter of national security as well. It made me sad to wonder if any of these children I see are ‘unaccompanied minors,’ another persistent problem at our border. It all just leads me to find I have no more recourse to be angry at something so out of my control. And as I saw one of the youngest girls throw her garbage in the nearby can, I felt a slight bit of hope that this absolute chaos would find a way to even itself out.
A man who lives in my building then walked by with his two dogs. He let them pee in the bushes. Unlike other NYC parks, there’s no sign telling dog owners to curb their dogs, or keep the wee-wee off the plants. Part of me wanted to say something, but I knew it wasn’t my place. The standards have fallen, and dogs can pee with impunity all over the city. I mean, there’s really nowhere else for them to go, but do they really have to go in the bushes? The only patch of grass in the whole park, and it’s completely obliterated by urine, both canine and (probably) human. And there’s nothing I can really do about it. The ability to make change is far above my head, and nothing right now is telling me the city actually cares.
It was then I decided I had enough of my spot, and I needed a change in energy. But there were a few things I needed to take care of first. The Arizona Iced Tea was still there, kicked away by another kid, so I walked over to pick it up and throw it away myself. But the top wasn’t on all the way. Whatever was inside spilled down my leg, one of the more grosser things I’ve had happen to me in this city. But I threw it out and hobbled away from the can, squicked out, shaking my leg to try and air things out.
I walked over to the graffiti area and took some photos. I needed it for posterity, just like the millions of photos in my phone of all the Covid testing tents that once littered the streets. I need proof of all this insanity so people may believe me when it’s time to relay these stories. I walked by a group of men sitting nearby and was met with the eyes, though I didn’t look. I heard the grunts of approval, the “mmms” and sharp drawing-in of breath. I’m not stupid. I knew what they were thinking. Because I know what I look like. I know how I carry my body. And I know it’s been more toned than usual. I wear my long-sleeved fleeces on warm days for just this reason. The unwelcome leering from those who are not supposed to be there was something I just had to deal with, though I didn’t want to. Still, I had a mission to complete. I had to snap these photos while pretending like they didn’t exist; Pretending like I couldn’t hear them call for me, saying “bella, bella” over and over again. I never once looked. I couldn’t. I was unprotected that day. My little penknife was still in my apartment. There’s never been a reason for me to ever use it, but I feel better walking the streets with at least some form of protection. My own personal safety check. I didn’t use to need this, but something severely changed in the last three years. Wonder what it was.
I went down to a little apartment courtyard where it’s pretty to sit, as it’s properly maintained with standards. No smoking, no dog allowed in the bushes. Just a nice spot where you can sit for as long as your heart desires. The wind picked up something fierce as I saw a young man pass by in a KN95 mask. I need to watch myself. I’m starting to grouch at people still covering their faces. No one can hear me anyway, they’ve all got their air buds in anyway. I’m certainly not trying to start anything with anybody, but it’s just not nice what I’m feeling. I just don’t get it. Not this late in the game, anyway. But this is where we all are, just taxiing on life’s runway. And those not playing are just going to have to deal with it. For now, at least.
New York City is but a microcosm of American city life. No two cities are alike. They’ve all got their different vibes, different heartbeats to carry them through. It’s its own bubble, which becomes clear to me the more I travel my country. I see how other people live and realize just how different my life is. It’s not a bad thing, it’s in fact a great thing. We can learn a lot from one another once we stop thinking of ourselves as the only way to be.
But through it all, I know this city is hurting. It’s strained. It’s in a lot of pain. Pretty much all the deep blue cities are. However, unlike others, I don’t see my city as a lost cause just yet. There’s a lot of good still here, a lot of gumption left in the leaders who I’m trying not to direct my ire toward anymore. I don’t want this city to fail, therefore I can’t be needlessly angry when things don’t go my way. I’ll be speaking about this more when I begin my third year of June Renew, but I’ve got to contribute to make the cabin a more hospitable place too. Complaining about it won’t do me any good. I just think giving you a snapshot of what I see in just a short amount of time can help generate the ideas and the well-wishes this city so sorely needs.
So goes New York, so goes the world. No matter how many delays and cancellations we go through, the spirit of this city will never die. Not as long as I’m here, anyway. Maybe all any of us need is just one more change of gate to find the perfect path home. For real, this time.