Investigating New Territory Through The World of Writing
We had been lugging our suitcases on wheels behind us all over New York City that day. Most of the week we hung out on the upper east side of Manhattan, bumping into people like Katie Couric and Gloria Steinem at hip vegan restaurants. Now we were making our way back through the subway to catch ride to the airport from an old friend.
Since we had not spent any time in Greenwich village and it was on the way, Mark and I came up from the dark tunnels for lunch in a diner, a walk around NYU and quick rest in Washington Square. On the upper east side children were having parties at the Lily Pulitzer store. Here, the kids splashed in the fountain in their underwear while hung-over drunks snoozed on park benches. Some families picnicked on the lawn. Cone flowers and lilies adorned the gardens with construction going on just feet away. After a break we headed back to the subway, stopping briefly to watch a pick up game of basketball with some other onlookers. Slowly we descended back into the humid smelly tunnels, carrying our luggage down the broken escalators with beads of sweat dripping down our backs.
Riding on the subway all the way to the end of the line to the Rockaways in Brooklyn could not have been more of a contrast to my daily life in Michigan. Looking out the window as the cars swayed back and forth shanties speckled the natural natural reserve. Most of the people on the train were headed to the beach. Middle class teenagers stood in their cool sunglasses texting friends. Some families with coolers, frisbees and big radios chatted excitedly. It was even too hot to go to the beach in the middle of the day. It had been in the mid 90s with high humidity. All that heat with all that concrete made me feel like an egg about to be fried.
When we reached the end of the subway line there was still a train to take. It was at least a half hour of waiting outside with all the beach people. The kids were staring at our suitcases wondering why we had not gotten off at the JFK stop. Finally a girl of about 14 leaned over to me and said, “Did you guys need to get off at the airport?” I laughed and told her “no, but we figured you were all thinking we weren’t in the right place.” She giggled with me sharing a smile then went back to her conversation with her friends. Finally, the train came and after a short trip above the row houses of irish and jewish middle class neighborhoods we got to the end. All of the beach goers streamed off the train, onto the sidewalk and past all the shops on the way to the beach. I could hear some people playing their radios as we all walked toward the water along with the endless sound of those wheels on my damn suitcase jumping at each crack in the sidewalk.
When we got to the boardwalk, Mark and I stopped to take in the view. On our right was a memorial for a plane crash that had occurred some years before. We talked about seeing the devastation on the Today Show, knowing it was just blocks away from The Home. In front of us was the ocean. Waves crashed against the shore and dogs played with their owners. We made a left to roll our suitcases down the boardwalk where we would come to the Boys Home. In the distance I could hear loud music bouncing against the tall buildings and concrete.
It had been over 15 years since Mark had been back to the Boy’s Home, a place where he volunteered with Marianist Catholic services for a year after he graduated from college. It wasn’t an orphanage. Back in the 1990s there were several apartments with counselors. Boys who could not be placed in foster care or lost parents before they became able to take care of themselves needed a place to stay and go to school. St. John’s home for Boys had both. The school was right across the parking lot. On the day we came back to visit, they were having their annual picnic with a DJ, t-shirts and bar-b-que. My idea of a picnic is in a park or at a beach. But, in New York City, there’s just a lot of pavement. They were just breaking down the tent when we arrived. Most of the people were gone. Just a few kids played basketball and the DJ they hired blasted music across the big empty black top.
We saw him right away. Brother Tom was wearing his green St. John’s tee shirt talking to a family. We rolled over to say hello and catch up on all that had changed in 15 years. Most of the home had lost funding in the Madoff scandal. There were only two apartments left. Brother Tom walked us through the home. Mark mentioned how good everything looked, how there was no graffiti Bother Tom had to paint over. Most of the Ethiopian refugees that were so prevalent in the 1990s were no longer coming as often. One of these men who was at the home. . . (To be continued tomorrow)