Puddles and Snow and Fathers and Music

Walking on Saint Nicolas towards the bank on 125th Street this morning. I hear a man say, under his breath, “I’m sick of this gentrification shit!” This is obviously directed at me, and it makes me feel terrible. I want to stop him and say “Hey, I can’t afford to buy a new condo in Harlem, either! I don’t represent whatever group it is you fear will displace you.” But maybe I do, with my white face peeking out from underneath this ridiculous hat — a big fluffy looking tower of fake fur. If I’m in the wrong place (and by the way, I’m not saying I’m in the wrong place — I’ve met many people in my neighborhood who’ve become friends. I’ve been welcomed to my block like I’ve never been welcomed anywhere), then where is it I’m supposed to be? I don’t belong to the baby carriage set or the students rushing across Morningside Park to Columbia.

Friends say, “Move to Brooklyn.”  But if I did, would I feel at home? I’ve looked in Brooklyn many times, when considering a move, and it’s very nice, but I don’t feel at home in Brooklyn. I’m a New Yorker. I’ve lived in every neighborhood in Manhattan. I love Central Park and getting around by subway. I know all the lines. I know the whole city well. I don’t know Brooklyn. Would it feel like home if I moved to Brooklyn? Would I find all the hidden people who are like me? I like Queens. My parents were born in Queens. I was born in Queens, in fact. Would I find all the people like me in Queens? And who are the people like me? How much like anyone is anyone? How do I find this group to which I’d belong?

I might belong best to the group who feels they belong to no group. But even that group would probably seem too radical, or exclusive.

Love has made me feel like I belong. Briefly and on occasion to the “we” that love makes.

Certain friendships, long-lasting, with shared experiences make the world make sense. I belong to my friends and they to me.

Doe belongs to me. The cats are mine. We are a family of sorts. But, of course that makes me a crazy cat lady with a dog! I don’t want to belong to this maligned group.

I’m a musician. I have a special relationship to music and other people who make it. But we are spread out and washed away by the new economy and the demise of the music business. We teach in universities far away. We live in the woods. We make music for ourselves. Or we’ve stopped making music because it’s too hard.

Maybe I should have told the guy on the street this morning that I’m a musician and that Harlem has long been home to musicians like me, or maybe not so much like me, but musicians. Yes. Would he have backed down? Would he have seen me differently?

I had another impulse for some mysterious reason. I wanted to tell him that my father had died this year. Maybe because it’s true and I feel so affected by my father’s death, but also because maybe he could identify with having a father, with losing a loved one. Loss is something we all share.

After I had that thought, I thought about how dark my thoughts get. But then I noticed the way the sun was shining so brightly today. I looked down at the deep puddles and felt happy for my big waterproof boots.

Human feeling, of all kinds, is what we share, and puddles and snow and fathers and music.

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4 Responses to Puddles and Snow and Fathers and Music

  1. LT says:

    Yours is the best approach, I think. There are no words to refute fear or perceptions of loss no matter how we sometimes struggle to find them. He may have been feeling the same thing you are, only no longer feeling at home where home used to be. It’s amazing the peace we find in the present moment. It seems to come to you naturally.

  2. PE says:

    I think that for many there is a strong tribal impulse, a need to find a group who share values or skin color or whatever. The fervor of the tea party protesters goes well beyond their individual beliefs about politics; it’s an identification, an opportunity to get together with like minded people and chant and sing. The man was probably nervous about his neighborhood changing into a group to which he didn’t belong.

    For whatever reason, I don’t have that tribal impulse. I have good friends, but I can feel outside a group of outsiders if they start thinking as a group instead of individuals. What love can provide is that deep knowing that another individual can provide and through that deep knowing comes the potential for affirmation.

  3. alison says:

    Somthing like that happened to me twice, when I first moved to Manhattan, fresh out of college in 1975. There was a lot of stress and anger then. Once, in a cool bar, a bitter looking woman next to me remarked loudly that people were moving in and taking jobs New Yorkers couldn’t find (it was another era of 10% unemployment, and I had a job.) The other moment was when I was in line at a sandwich place, wearing one of my mother’s old tweed blazers, and an old guy behind the counter remarked loudly that women were taking everything from men, even their clothes. Both of these people had their own reasons to feel bitter and angry and threatened, but it had nothing to do with me – though it did make me feel kind of terrible.

  4. Em says:

    Man does that resonate. Although I grew up in Manhattan and (during my teen years) Brooklyn, my schools, jobs and friends were located mostly in Manhattan. But they’re almost all gone now, at least the creative types. Meanwhile, I see fewer and fewer black folks in Manhattan, and that feels to me very similar. So I don’t blame black residents of Harlem for mistaking white (but real NYC artistic folks) New Yorkers as mere gentrifiers.

    Brooklyn’s got tons of personality, Queens is for me the most livable borough. But I’d love to see the creative world keep some kind of toehold in Manhattan…

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