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Afternoon plans to visit a friend having gone awry, I found myself at Riverside Park with a wonderful bag of books:
a lovely park bench:
and three hours to read and think and perhaps walk until my Elizabeth was free for dinner. I plunged right away into Jacqueline Woodson’s amazing Brown Girl Dreaming, losing myself entirely in its beauty for the next two hours. Then, full of thoughts, I slowly put away the book and contemplated a long walk to let the power of the book sink in and rattle around in my imagination. Before I could move, however, I was drawn into a quintessentially New York City experience – the park bench across from me came alive with tableau after tableau of living city theater:
First, a young man wheeled over an elderly gentleman. They sat on the sunniest side of the bench, and the young man gently fed the older man some yogurt. As he did, he launched into a tirade against his landlord. “He thinks I’m nothing but a cockroach!” he said, “nothing but a New York City cockroach! Imagine that!!” Even though his voice rose and some his language was pretty rough, he was gentle as gentle could be with the man in his care – attentively tucking the blanket around the old man’s knees, adjusting his cap against the wind, softly dabbing at his mouth after every spoonful.
Soon after they had left, two middle school aged kids scootered over to the bench, flung down their backpacks and traded their after school snack – apples for potato chips, juice for a soda. As they munched they plotted about how to get to the next level of their video game, and texted friends for some higher level advice. I loved the ebb and flow of their conversation – two friends, talking easily about video games, the merits of salty potato chips, the best route to scooter back home.
Just as I was ready to gather my books and head over to the restaurant for dinner, a young mother strolled over with two toddlers and a chocolate brown lab in tow. She sank down onto the bench with a deep sigh, the kind that wells up in moms everywhere as dinner time, bath and bed time stories near. “Mommy just needs a minute, okay? Play with Geoffrey for a bit!” Geoffrey, it turned out, was their chocolate lab, and he was just as beat from the day’s activities as Mom. He stretch out by the side of the bench, heaved a sigh of utter exhaustion, and promptly fell asleep. For the next fifteen minutes, Geoffrey’s human siblings tried everything they could to get him to play. The examined his ears, checked out his teeth, poured a bit of their water bottles down his velvety back. No response. They offered him bits of apple and bits of animal crackers. Still no response. They sat on him. Geoffrey shifted his weight, rolling them off without lifting a sleepy eyelid. Finally, Mom had had enough. “Alright guys, let’s go!” she said. And then, finally, Geoffrey slowly rose, stretched, and was ready, too, to be off.
And so was I.