Rambling and Ranting in New York
Right near my sister's apartment in Manhattan is what I think of as one of New York's saving graces: Riverside Park. The park stretches for some three miles along the Hudson River and offers up some green space for exercise, dog walking, boat watching, and loads of other activities. There's a place somewhere around 86th street where local folks have little patches in a series of lovely flower gardens and every day there are new surprises there. Today as the tulips faded the violet iris were claiming attention. The pastel shades of early flowers were everywhere and it was pretty hard to pull away from these splashes of lilac, pink and purple in their sea of vibrant green to continue my walk.
One of my favorite stops along these Riverside Park walks are the dog runs. I often visit the ones at 87th and 72nd Streets and enjoy watching the dogs at their play. It's pretty amazing how well-socialized these canines are, sharing their toys, enjoying games of tag, and doing the other things dogs do when they're together. I think we humans could learn a lot from the dogs! It's fun to watch the dogs' owners playing their own little games. I'm thoroughly convinced that a single person wanting to meet others in this city would do well to have a dog...one of the easiest ways to start up a conversation with a stranger. Not to mention that beautiful unconditional love one gets as a major benefit of dog ownership. Seems like cats just fuss you when they want something. Dogs adore you regardless. So what's a few messes here and there to scoop up with a baggie, huh?
See I used to be pretty anti-dog. Never could get past the smell of a dog and all that hair to clean up after. But after walking two sets of foxhound pups I am thoroughly over it! Matter of fact, last year when I landed in New York after returning my hounds to the hunt kennels so they could go on and do what they're bred to do (instead of being my cute little pets) it took about a week for me to stop sobbing every time I thought of Gid and Giz. This sounds pretty melodramatic, I know, and let me tell you it took me by surprise. One way I got myself out of the dumps over giving back my heart's delights was to get myself down to the dog runs and just sit in there and enjoy the dogs playing. Sometimes people even talked to me and that was really nice. For all the people who crowd the streets of New York at all hours it can be bloody difficult to initiate a conversation! Everything is whirring by much too quickly. I'm not cut out for this pace. But back to hounds....two songs I can't hardly listen to without getting all choked up..."Old Shep" (it slays me every time) and "Echo Mountain," both about great old hounds. It doesn't get any better.
So today I walked past all those lovely flower beds and paused briefly at the dog walk and then went on down to the marina there somewhere around 79th Street, I reckon. There are always boats to dream about there and I commenced dreaming.
A pair of Canadian geese land, honking, in the Hudson. $350 fine, if caught, mind. They're oblivious. Snatches of conversation float by at the heels of joggers, kids squeal on the playground, the scuff of sneakers on asphalt and grit, above hangs the steady drone of rush hour traffic on the West Side Parkway. Four girls engage in a friendly sort of shouting match all around me, as if I weren't there. The sun reaches across the quiet river from New Jersey. Planes roar above and sirens scream all around; isn't this tranquil? A man with an overbite speeds past on a bike - leading a large shopping cart with his right hand, clattering across the pavement. A girl leans over and spits into the river. The geese float past. A runner thuds by, grunting; a bicycle whirs along. A flat-footed woman slaps away.
Just a few people choose the slow way, ambling alone in ones and twos. Some actually look like they're thinking. Most, though, are engaged in raucous cell phone shouting. Why come to a park to make such a lot of VERBAL LITTER? I HATE IT. (you thought this was gonna be another Pollyanna slice of apple pie, huh?) What did people do to amuse themselves before they had cell phones to shout into? It's pretty difficult to find one in four New Yorkers who don't have a cell phone pressed to one ear whenever they walk up the street - and many of those probably are using earpieces.
I remember 30 years ago when I first came to The City you'd see some nutter on a corner madly ranting about nothing to nobody. People gave them a wide berth and walked on past. Now those crazy-eyed chanters seem a lot more normal than these cell phone obsessed idiots. It's like a plague on the city. Stop it! I mean how many of us really need to be on a cell phone 24/7 to the total exclusion of direct conversation with others and maybe even a few manners (ever get walked over by a cell phone addict?)
As you can probably tell I don't have a cell phone. I hate the things (I do admit they are convenient at times and maybe some people even need them now and then). I'm for freedom, though. I want to be as in control of my time on earth as possible and that means staying away from cell phones. I'll call you when I'm good and ready, okay? If I can find a phone. Has instant gratification communication become that vital to living? Not for this girl.
A girl runs past at a fast clip with her tan dog - and an Ipod. White the sound of traffic is admittedly annoying have we gotten so far removed from Thoreau and Kilvert that we fail to pause and listen to the geese, the gulls, songbirds and kids at play? Do we have to blot it all out with manmade sounds? What's with all the folks crowding Broadway, dozens on every block any time of day, walking along with someone yet ignoring them and ranting into their cell phones at someone else? What gives? Have we lost the art of face-to-face communication? Of connection?
Sitting here on a wooden bench beneath a tree looking out over the mighty Hudson tuning the din of traffic behind me to the white noise channel, I find the gloaming full of revitalizing sounds - the chatter of birds, running feet, the panting of someone's lungs expanding, a sniffle, tires on gravel, a scuff. I walk out onto a huge pier at 72nd Street. I like to visit this place and sit and write. I haven't been here since October, so I'm surprised to see the end section that juts out into the Hudson blocked by "No Trespassing" barriers. I ask a tall man with matching hearing aids and a basketball, "Why?" and he says some man drove off the end of the pier into the Hudson and died six months ago. The suicide was definitely pre-meditated; this isn't the kind of place you could accidentally drive onto.
A chunky blonde skates by in frills and loud orange pants. A bird trills in the distance. The roar goes on, partly masked by a helicopter on a mission. A tugboat doggedly pushes a freighter upstream. This city is always teeming. Barbie in tennis shoes flounces by in red and black. A blonde in white stands at the end of a smaller pier gazing off at the Hudson as if waiting for her sailor to return. At her back white tea roses bloom abundantly spilling their sweetness into the soft night. Gulls swoop and dive above the masts of a gaff-rigged schooner at dock, wheeling in the pinkening sky.
This is actually a 26-acre wood at Nash Court in Wales, but I was thinking after all these words you might like something pretty to look at. These are bluebells and I know the woods of Wales are bursting with them even as I write. How I'd love to see them just now!
Later, walking up Broadway, a bald-headed man in a suit has his umbrella tucked under his arm, pointed forward like some sword. Watch out! A girl clunks behind me in what sounds like her mama's shoes. I duck into Ollie's noodles for some of those lovely cold sesame noodles I've been thinking about for the last six months. One thing about New York: you can sure find great food here. Mmmm, good.
One of the last things I remember my dad telling me is, "One of the greatest joys in life is food." At the time I didn't think much about it, but as I grow my mind turns back to that expression. I must agree.