Step, Step, Turn
When you have lived in New York City long enough, you learn how to walk down a street. In the beginning I often took part in that crazy tourist dance where you blush and lurch to the left and then to the right and then to the left again with an unwitting and pissed off partner who tries desperately to ditch you in the pedestrian traffic. But without your noticing, that awkward dance will one day leave your body, along with the superfluous thank-you’s and a constantly dropped-jaw. With time, you begin to feel the route in advance, in your body, in your feet. Without looking at an approaching person’s face I now know which way to step and turn myself so that we slide by each other without touching. The opposing twist you can do with a stranger where you move your torsos sideways in harmony as you pass, face to face, eyes cast down, touches me in a way that leads me to believe that the person I have just passed is good. No dance-card filled, but our hearts were in such proximity. After a turn like that I walk, relieved that nothing happened--no faulty stepping on my part—on to the next step, step, turn.
How can so many people in such proximity achieve so little touching?
This morning, my friend Brett coaxed me out to Café Regular on 11th Street. (Or is it Café Normal?) This café is his haunt and it is so lovely, small, and dark. Lively with good neighbors, the cafe sits in a New York-typical contrast next to an old-school beauty parlor hung with posters of hairstyles unlikely to be achieved. I sat with Brett’s neighbors and their many dogs outside on some steps with our coffees and breads. We talked about art. We laughed at Brett. I looked through a sculptor’s catalogue of his work. The sculptor seemed like an artist in the way that I like to mock because he is what they base television roles on with his unabashed staring and funny beard-do and connection with his feelings.
When a hearse pulled up to the beauty salon and weeping Puerto Ricans dressed in black and heaped high with brightly dyed flowers spilled onto the street in front of us, I panicked and asked Brett if we could leave.
The artist said, just stay and feel this. Can you feel the vibration? I could mock him here and now, and for the rest of our possible acquaintance, but I did feel it and I had to put my sweater on. The clouds were gathering and I had caught the chill coming up off of a fresh murder/suicide in the beauty salon. These killings were committed in passion or because of passion, or something about that emotion, passion. Whatever it was, their weeping rattled me, made me want to run with my eyes closed, but, because I couldn’t really run while another artist stood so solidly, I made myself stand. I breathed and watched the moaning relatives with their pomades and precise curls, the children in new clothing, laying down crayoned notes upon the sidewalk, the old ladies lighting those useless candles.
I let my raisin roll drop.
How dangerous it feels to be touched.