I’m not one to heavily plan “must-try” food lists during travel. It destroys spontaneity. It cancels the magic in the margins. But for my first ever trip to New York City, I should’ve done a little better for myself. Truth is, I went with stars in my eyes and that city ate me alive. I don’t actually regret any of my food inclusions as I’m pretty adept at sniffing out that good good. It’s the omissions (in my character as well as food choices) I’m losing sleep over in this afterglow. Somehow I didn’t even eat a hot dog. The city’s brownstone molars and concrete incisors chewed me whole in more ways than one, though.
I think I stand by my decision I to not do a lot of planning. For the five days we were there the plan looked like this: see a performance at David Geffen Hall, see Times Square, see Central Park, and eat good food. That’s it. I mean, sure, I wanted to try this raved-about Red Hook Tavern burger everyone is gushing over. I wanted to get my mind blown and sense of significance pampered in the newish Manhatta Danny Meyer curated experience (we were staying nearby), and what foodie wouldn’t want to pay $250 a meal for some avant-garde tasting menu in the “World’s Greatest City”. I would want to do all those things, but I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s really hard for me to part with that amount of cash. I start looking at menus and into reservations and my wallet tightens up like it just dropped the soap. Besides, I look back at some of the best meals I’ve ever had and none of them were planned or sought-after in a real specific way. I ate the best bahn mi on the planet in Dorchester at Bahn Mi Ba Le after I wanted to get out and walk around in the neighborhood a bit. I noticed a long line out the door of what looked like a Vietnamese corner grocer. It was after lunch a few hours but everyone was in the sandwich line, so I joined. It was the perfect bread. The vegetables were cool and crispy, and the marinated beef still visits me in dreams. I’ve chased this sandwich in every Vietnamese restaurant I’ve visited since, down to Houston even. I haven’t found its stand-in yet. The same thing happened in Santa Fe. I had somehow never heard of The Shed before, but ended up there on a recommendation and developed a chronic longing for Christmas-style red and green chile dishes. I almost feel like shelling out for a $500 meal would be disappointing somehow. There’s a small-town, frugal, and basic sensibility that I can’t suppress for long enough to talk myself into it. This is an exception I should’ve made for New York City. I should’ve made the commitment to eat a world class meal before I found Xi’an Famous Foods in an alley by our hotel. Not only did my dish descend from heaven into their lab-looking white and stainless kitchen, but it only cost like $30 thus validating my hayseed theory of not planning or paying too much for food. These hand ripped noodles may have been New York’s first toothy flex on me, in fact I narrowly escaped and barely lived to fight another day.
New York City is a towering thing and there are far better writers who have written endlessly on the subject and whose writing can articulate for you what that means in a thoughtful way. This is going to be pretty subjective and even gross to those of you who may live in New York or who have spent longer than my paltry five days in New York. Or who have visited more than once to New York or who have read more than I have on New York (to be clear, I’ve only read Catcher In the Rye and partly finished Food City: Four Centuries of Food-Making in New York by Joy Santlofer). So if you’re here to read this just so you can puff your chest about how I got it all wrong, I will go ahead and pause and concede that victory to you.
[I’m pausing while you get lost. Sorry, don’t get lost. I think I’m just hardened now from my time in the concrete jungle.]
I’m just a normal West Texan so if you can sense a bit of trepidation in my tone and writerly authority, it’s because the city. I had it all wrong and still do. It’s because New York City is a towering thing. It’s a concept. Before even going there to visit it held actual space in my mind. That’s something places like Cedar Falls or even Tokyo, don’t do. New York is Christopher Walken and Robert De Niro. It’s Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, and “Yo, can I cop a loosie?” It’s Mike Tyson’s pigeons on the roof somewhere cooing in Brownsville. It’s Gordon Gekko, Patrick Bateman, Bobby Axelrod, and Logan Roy. It’s Central Perk and the first time you laughed and despaired simultaneously via Louie absurdist dread. It’s Jean Reno hanging upside down with pistols in a doorway and a vengeful Natalie Portman’s bony knees and elbows. It’s Big Poppa, Papaya, and pastrami. It’s the fall. Bronx Bombers and THE Fall when Mr. October gave way and welcomed Mr. November. It’s Belushi and sushi and a soup nazi, what’s up with these combative chefs? It’s Bourdain and Lennon, R.I.P. It’s me at age 15 and John Rocker looping on ESPN every hour on my TV giving me some sense of the boiling tension and bad actors inherent to boiling pots. It’s FDR, AOC, Trump and Giuliani. It’s where were you when the the Towers fell? It’s CBGBs, the Guggenheim and Sonic Youth. It’s Wild Style, Warriors, and Nora Ephron. It’s ruby, ruby, ruby soho; noho, boho, fidi; it’s Reflection Eternal, it’s Flatbush, Brownsville, BedSty, move somethin’! It’s Blood, Bones, and Butter, hey there’s Prune! Pick any other city and I don’t have one sliver of context as I do with New York. Superficial as it may be, my knowledge of it transcends my proximity to it, and because of its towering nature, it likely has yours, too.
It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced. As much as I’d like to be, I’m not a globe-trotting Ricknik, a road-hardened Kerouacian hitcher, or even a pre-cruise control, gas-guzzling muscle car across Route 66 Fieri-like food tripper, but I will draw some basic comparisons for you. New York City makes Boston seem like a quaint seaside fishing village. It makes Austin feel progressive and modern, but in an age twenty-something kind of naive way, detached from the consequences of half-baked radical thought and modern in the sense that they know how to use SnapChat. DFW feels like Lubbock will feel when it gets its first Whole Foods… or second H-E-B. And Houston for all its rich multiculturalism and metropolitan appeal feels like a couple of DFWs strung together with a vigorous squeeze of diversity thanks to its continent-connecting port. Denver is like your monied, altitude sick aunt who you’re not sure is thinking straight, straddling all the continental divides. Between old money and new, between rural and urban, between modern and rustic, between old world religion deposited during manifest destiny and the marketing 101 Protestant off-shoots backfilling all sparsely populated gaps in belief and topography from the apex of the eastern slope clear to the Pacific. Take all that humanity, multiply it tenfold, add some history, add a 400 year-old doorway to the planet’s ambitious, enterprising, rich, tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to be free, and stack all that on top of itself in a tiny 205,000 square acre slice of land and sea and nicknames like “The Capital of the World” start to make sense. I knew this all before I saw New York City, but it still doesn’t begin to describe it. In fact, I might’ve just pissed off all twenty-somethings who may love places and things like Boston, Austin, Lubbock, DFW, Houston, Denver, and shapeshifting modern Protestant religion. It’s not that I don’t love that stuff too, it’s just that New York doesn’t fit in my limited Boston, Austin, Lubbock, DFW, Houston, Denver, and modern Protestant religion framework. I’m telling you, I wanted to taste of the Big Apple, but it ate me whole instead.
I don’t even know where to start. So I’ll start with the hand ripped noodles. This was the first meal we had in NYC. Hours before we’d gotten off the plane and I had a Russian Uber driver wave his hands at me so emphatically I didn’t know if he was mad at me or not over the question: do you want me in the front or back seat? He didn’t understand so I asked him a different way, this time pointing at my chest and the front and back seats of his Camry alternatively. He might’ve understood this time as he yelled, “Yes!” And threw his hands in the air like, of course, you fool! I took him to mean yes to either the front or back, not yes to both the front and back, wherein I’d lay across the center console with my feet in the back, while my torso rests on the armrest under his cigarette smoking, horn-honking hand. I expected New York brashness and an impatient sense of directness, but to be honest I was a little taken aback at the rapidity of which I was found out to be in possession of such stupid questions. This had me reeling mostly because just moments earlier I had to ask a very Wes Andersony sikh uniformed transit authority officer how the private car service garage worked at La Guardia. He, on the other hand, was very patient as he read the four-foot tall sign directly behind me to me which explained the process for calling a car there. Not only was this sign written in my native English, but the officer seemed to be extremely fulfilled in his duties to spoon feed me the already clearly conveyed information. No sooner had I come up with my new theory on New Yorkers, that they must be more patient than I thought, was Dimitri honking at his 4th fellow driver for not driving as he must’ve expected through the construction-laden exit from La Guardia.
As we approached our hotel in lower Manhattan, I noticed a couple of things that should seem obvious, but I’m not proud to admit they were details lost on me. I had read that our hotel was new, but was stupidly surprised to see it so close to other buildings and occupying the structure of a 100 year old building. Where I’m from a new hotel is built from scratch out on some big lot of newly developed land and I guess I just never considered it could happen any other way. Similar was the way that I expected to see the water and maybe even the Brooklyn Bridge from our room as it was only a few blocks from waterfront. Lol, how cute. It never registered to me that these few blocks are grids on top of grids of community stacked to the sky in an endless kind of way that makes the horizontal plane of a map app a purely conceptual exercise in processing space and matter. This is one way the city will work you down. Everything seems close, walkable, and within a short hop of a subway train — and it is. If you have the same kind of ADD as me, you will rubberneck your way across the island over the river and back again. We walked about 40 miles in 5 days according to this questionably accurate FitBit I wear. This city uses your own interests against you. Like to people-watch? Your eyes are going to fall out. Like the pace of walking so you can pick up on subtle changes in the visual aesthetic and provincial themes in enclaves of a city’s streets? You’re going to end up in Yonkers, past Hoboken, or somewhere in the Atlantic if that pedestrian spirit isn’t quelled, because New York has all you’ll ever want of it. Do you like perfectly doughy, perfectly dense yet yielding thic curvaceous egg noodles? How about if them plump noods are plopped into a rich and velvety broth of cumin and lamb and some fresh chili paste reminiscent of a beefy chili or Mexican taco stew, a flavor profile that’s both nostalgically familiar and confoundingly exotic at the same time. Back to the hand ripped noodles. This may be the best thing I’ve ever tasted. While the chili paste should have given me strong pause, this city uses your infatuations against you and I ate the entire bowl. The smoldering low heat of the spice was offset by some amazing sweet iced teas I’ve never had or heard of before. There was a chrysanthemum tea that tasted of honey and a Sour Hawberry Tea that’s sweetness did a tango on my tongue with the pucker punch of the unfamiliar berry. I considered going back for these teas every day thereafter. Chilies and I don’t often get along, however I couldn’t be bothered with speculation about how my body would react from this tantalizing dish.
You could’ve told me that I’d combust spontaneously 45 minutes after ingesting and I would’ve thanked you for the warning and hit LegalZoom.com from my mobile to prepare my will. You could have even told me that 24 hours from that very moment I’d be seriously contemplating entering into a Central Park public restroom stall with stomach cramps that could only be indicative of the fact that chilies and I don’t often get along and I would have happily continued to slurp them down. However, the guy in the stall next to me who was just looking for a private place to smoke his extremely fragrant weed would’ve probably tried to talk me out of it. But then again, I would have tried to talk him out of tucking his sweatpants into his combat boots dystopia runway-style. Neither of us would’ve listened. So there I was, staring at his combat boots as he smoked his dank weed in the park’s public restroom. If this wasn’t the moment I realized the city was eating me alive, there behind the graffitied, forest green stall door — it must’ve been about two hours later as it had turned dark, started raining and we were somewhere in the wilds of Central Park, with almost no one else around. I wondered: are tourists supposed to be in these wilds after dark? If I hadn’t been so caught up in that damn drum circle, or trying to get a photo of the roller skater with a Gatorade bottle on his head, maybe I wouldn’t be tired and lost in these wilds right now. But of course it felt way more isolated than it was because a few minutes later a path spit us out at Strawberry Fields where a group of 10-15 thankfully peaceful people stood lighting candles on the mosaic memorial to John Lennon.
You always hear about what a blight tourists are to the experience of the city’s inhabitants. We walk too slow, talk too slow, and generally can’t stay out of the way. But I am shocked at how kind and willing to engage everyone I encountered was. This was even true for Dimitri, our Uber driver, who entertained our questions once I got over the fact that maybe he was mad at me for asking if I should sit in the front or back seat. There’s a stark contrast between the concept of personal space and privacy where I live in Lubbock vs. that of New York City. For instance, if you’re in a public place here at home and your on line to order donuts, there is a tendency to stand back from the counter several paces until a free register opens, there is a tendency to stand back from the person who’s in front of you —all in the name of giving someone a little space. What’s interesting about New York is that big backyard with 8-ft. privacy fence mentality doesn’t exist. In fact, it seems like the opposite. On subways, people sit all over each other. People bump into you, press into your appendages, and some of them may even look you in the eye and greet you before they do it (and, no, nobody stole my wallet or anything like that). The longer I rode the subways the more it seemed like a violation of some unwritten code to not scrunch in next to people, especially when the doors open at stops. It seemed rude to give someone space, because really you’re just giving yourself space in doing that and there are a lot of people trying to go places, too. It’s a kind of math of multitudes: to make room for new people to access you need to subtract it from yourself and others who already have access. It’s a kind of greater good ethic that’s hard to understand where I live. I noticed the contrast much quicker when I returned. I went to Shipley’s Do-nuts on Sunday morning and hand to God the family on line in front of me had a no less than 10 foot buffer of empty space between the register and themselves. I asked, “Is this the line?” Hoping they would say no or at least mosey forward after seeing two people standing outside in the exterior doorway holding it open just to be able to stand in this queue with all its personal space. I think this lack of personal space in NYC allows a kind of openness or at least it removes a barrier of proximity to overcome in pursuit of some kind of human contact. No one gave us one word answers to shoo us off or demean our curiosities, and everyone seemed interested to engage.
In one instance, as we were waiting for an Uber with suitcases in hand, a suit and tie guy came out of the office lobby we were loitering in front of, my wife and I assumed he was going to ask us to leave, but what ensued was a chat about what they don’t tell you when booking a cruise and the current nor easter responsible for the current temperature swing. Asking another Uber driver where she was from lead to what my West Texan sensibilities would call a genuine outpouring of American patriotism. She explained that she was from Egypt and that we, “Cannot understand how bad that country is right now.” Her mom is still there, in fact. When we told her we were from Texas she said she didn’t know if she should tell us or not, but admitted that she lived in Texas first for a year. She cried every day and hated it. Looking at her neatly tied Al-Amira veil, I could see how life in San Antonio would be quite an adjustment for a newly immigrated Egyptian woman. After spending a few days in NYC I could also see why she claimed the city as “her home country” now, too. It’s a place where everyone fits in, even an opportunistic and ambitious Uber driver, whose driving rather sucked and made us nauseous. We left her with an open invite to look us up anytime she was back in Texas. She laughed and probably loved her city more at the thought of it.
Nobody flipped us off, stink-eyed, side-eyed, or eye-rolled us before passing us on the sidewalk, no one even ignored us in stores too hip for us in Williamsburg. In fact, I met Zac, a photographer and uber trendy thread-slinger at Buck Mason who actually lived in Lubbock for several years. He explained how he’d moved away and back again to NYC three times now, that there was just something that kept him in its orbit (I think it’s the noodles). He gave us some great insider knowledge on places to hit. Domino Park and a Mediterraean restaurant with killer hummus, hummus that would instill in us the knowledge of good and bad hummus, causing us to feel melancholic and pensive about mass marketed hummus like Sabra for the remainder of our days. But alas, the city foiled me again. I ended up gawking around Williamsburg too long that night and my wife and I were cold and indolent from empty-stomachs when we saw Jaunchi’s Burgers.
I thought I’d sniffed something secret out, an even better find than the hummus haven. Jaunchi’s turned out to be a franchise with three locations worldwide. I ended up taking us to a chain restaurant despite the local’s recommendation. Did I mention that margins for spontaneous magic also mean margins for mistakes of various scale? It was a great burger, and later that night some magic was conjured. The sweet tooth of my pregnant wife led us to Martha’s Country Bakery later. It was pre-ordained earlier in the day when we walked passed it and she noted, “Martha’s is calling my name.” We must’ve passed it around high-noon earlier that day because whatever pulled us in at 10PM that night was mercilessly deflected by day-lightened will power earlier that day. The will power to avoid sweet treats in bakery window cases tracks parallel to the sun’s daily east-west arc. But that night, I walked in like a kid in a C.S. Lewis novel closing the door of the wardrobe behind me.
“What is this place?”
Rows and rows of pastries, cakes, pies, and cookies baked that day sat lined in refrigerated cases spanning two full sides of the huge-for-Williamsburg shop. So dreamlike was my approach to the case that it wouldn’t have surprised me to hear the aproned staff say, “Go ahead sir, take anything you like, this is all courtesy of the City, The Greatest City in the World.” The cases are so tall and fully stacked, you have to search an open area between cookie jars, multi-tiered cakes, and platformed pies, to speak to the staff taking your order. After a bout of indecision over apple pies (Apple Cream, Apple Crumble, or Caramel Apple) we decided on a plow disc of a chocolate toffee cookie, an apple muffin for morning, and a slice of Apple Crumble Pie, which maintained it’s crunchy layered top coat to the sweetly tart last bite. Martha’s is pure magic.
Despite one pizza strikeout (or foul maybe) after a concert wherein we made the poor decision of navigating back to the Financial District to find something to eat past 10PM on a Saturday night. I’d read FiDi “shuts down” on the weekends, but did not comprehend this after spending the afternoon there. What it means is that most places where you’d want to sit and eat or maybe shop… did you know there’s a shopping mall at the World Trade Center? I see it as a ballsy move at reclaiming Ground Zero in the most commercialized, free-market, and American way possible. If they hate us for our freedom and way of life, let’s put a subversively underground mall there.
After all, Christendom has its Renaissance basilicas and gothic cathedrals as homage. Unfortunately it was all closed when we got off the subway there, as were several pizza places and other eateries we were interested in. We had the dreaded red font of doom on Yelp: Closes in 9 minutes. While this wasn’t the best pizza we had I wouldn’t beat it up too bad. It just didn’t live up to the New York pizza hype that was in my mind. But they delivered as my feet were mostly unresponsive by then. The Margherita pizza from Pomodoro Pizza that night didn’t so much scratch an itch for Italian food and pizza in New York as it did ignite a slow burning desire to find more, to find better. It’s crust had that NYC chew and the sauce had a runny kind of basicness that honestly fit it well and allowed the toppings and cheese to stand out a bit more. But it didn’t blow my mind. Joe’s Pizza got closer to doing that.
We had this a few days later on the corner with garbage can bees buzzing our heads as the sun ignited any scrap of sky Brooklyn’s buildings didn’t gobble. We saved our jackets for the shade. We didn’t have the original Joe’s or even the Joe’s from Barstool Sports where Bam Bam Baklava ranked it a ten before a swift shaming forced a recension and a more deliberative eight-point something. However, the Joe’s we had filled the NYC slice sized holes in our souls and dammit that was all we wanted. On another night we trekked into NoLita (north of Little Italy) for house made pastas at Rubirosa. It was Mulberry Street, so I’m thinking it’s as authentic as it gets.
The walk was as enchanting as all the rest as the unfurling pavement served up oddities like a sidewalk street show complete with a fire-swallowing act, counterfeit everything shops on Canal St., and finally Old St. Patrick’s Cathederal on “Play Street”. A plaque commemorates this location as Little Italy’s prime spot for street games like stickball between 1940 and 1980. To us it was so much more. It was the pathway to hand made pasta and the rickety bench on which we sat waiting for a table in the rain. It was the street on which we thought, damn… we’re a long way from the hotel right now, should we call an Uber or just continue to let this city eat us alive, chafed thighs and all? Let’s just walk and let it have its way with us.
Of course there’s an allure to NYC. There’s something there for a writer (as indicated in pages of books with titles like Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York, and Goodbye to All of That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York), for an observer, for an ambitious opportunist, for the huddled and teeming masses. I wasn’t surprised with its intrinsic star-striking qualities. I expected to be spellbound. But if this essay is anything, I want it to be a record I can come and be reminded of all the specific ways I was spellbound. I went and I saw, and I want this to be my lousy t-shirt. Not only did it chew me up in all the embarrassing ways I’ve outlined here — it fed me forbidden fruits and chilies from east-Asia, it preyed on my attention deficits by offering an endless array of sensory overloads. Like a foie gras-ed duck I plumped under the feeding tube-like subway system that serves as a constant conveyor to stimuli held throughout Burroughs like grain bins augering out new experiences. NYC made a fool of me to my wife because all the little bits of color and context gleaned over the years congealed into incorrect facts and faulty tidbits upon recall, pretty soon I was Googling everything before rattling off such foolhardy statements like, hey I think this is Elaine’s apartment, because inevitably it was not. I was also terrible at estimating the time it would take to walk common distances displayed on Apple Maps. I found it utterly impossible to account for the time I’d spend grabbing photos, window shopping, shop browsing, putting on and taking off my raincoat, sitting on benches, stoops, and window ledges to people-watch, and wasting MetroCard fares by entering the uptown tunnel instead of the downtown tunnel a block away. These constant miscalculations chipped away at my sense of proficiency, and I think that’s why I loved it so much. There is the possibility in New York City to relearn your place in the world. Locationally speaking, you can experience this by moving or visiting any place new, but what I think makes NYC different is the potential it offers to learn your place in humanity at large. It gets up in your face and demands to know what flavor you will impart to the melting pot. You question your sense of significance. People are similarly moved by the wilderness, ocean, or other vast swathes of nature. There is a palpable sense of our ephemeral selves at the foot of great peaks. The same is to be grappled with in the midst of so many different kinds of people and stories and desires and fears. While there is pure eye-swelling beauty in the solitude of nature, NYC makes me think that earth and its environment is just the canvas, a delivery mechanism. Sure it’s perfectly stretched, of the finest linen and artfully gessoed. But this city makes me feel like the truly creative and dynamite organic work of art in the universe is the madman alchemy mixture of its people.
I would move there in a minute. Sure I’d be scared of a few things like not being able to afford a livable apartment, like my rose colored glasses shattering as soon as I returned the U-Haul, like living in Food City and not being able to afford any of it, but chiefly I’d be afraid of losing a degree of sensitivity and conscientiousness for others. This innate concern and care for the emotional state of the people around me has served me well and saved me in life. Initially I assumed the city required me to relinquish this bit of myself if I were to receive its secret enchantments. Embarrassingly, I was eager to part with it as I assumed most people around me already had. I noticed these stakes with the homeless population. The nature of the city requires you to be constantly confronted by people in desperate need. It’s something that we can’t understand in West Texas, or more often, is obtusely identified as the cause and effect results of policy. The reality is, that in West Texas, we don’t walk miles on sidewalks in our cities, nor am I advocating we do. We also don’t ride busses or trains together everywhere or anywhere. We rarely have to leave our cozy and protected personal space. We don’t have to roll the windows down to beggars at intersections. But in NYC you sit next to them on the subway. Car glass cannot save you from interaction as you’re on the way to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra that you paid steeply for. The first two days, I had singles ready and accessible to give when asked. But by the third and fourth day, my eyes were glazing over at the requests. It’s literally a dollar they were asking for but I couldn’t be bothered. One guy held his newly minted housing permit up along with a proof of employment letter and thanked his fellow tax-payers in the car because he had been homeless for 3 years after falling ill with cancer. He’d worked at a uniform company before that, but lost everything along the way. He was one week away from his first paycheck, but $23 short of being able to pay some licensing fee for his public housing. He had brought along the official documents and was eager to show everyone so they could understand the small crack he was about to fall between. Could we please just float him for the next few days. Or so the story went, of course I thought this could be complete bullshit, and ran through in my own mind the GoFundMe I received three years ago when I found out I had cancer. How the kindness of the multitudes had floated me and kept me from falling between a crack. And I stared right passed this guy and his documents, and his pacing through the car retelling of his story. I thought, this story could be true, and I wondered how devastating it must be to be saying all this to a completely unmoved group of fifty some odd men, women, and children. I stared right passed him like everyone else.
To draw a finer point on this rapid and shameful desensitization I experienced, a couple of days later I had rounded up one of these famed New York bagels in one of these new-fangled food halls (I feel like these are the open-concept offices of the food world. Sure everyone loves them now, as some enhanced and trendy communal enrichment design, but give them a few years and they’ll be seen for the shopping mall food court minus shopping malls they really are.) when a blind patron caught my eye. After noticing all the details of my Greenberg’s Bagel sandwich, not too big, crisp yet chewy, all as advertised, I began noticing the details of this sightless man’s challenges. The food hall interior was wide open with several sections made intimate by way of furniture arrangement. There were a few community table sections and a section with a couch, coffee table, and end tables. There was a section with a coffee table and several chairs around it. There was a also section including several small tables with 3 and four chairs loosely placed around them. Additionally, there was a TV and several lamps with extension cords running to outlets in the floor between a few of these sections. In the midst of this was this guy doing his best impersonation of a Roomba, going back and forth to find the perimeters, and hitting nearly every chair leg and end table in the place. I thought, I wonder if he needs help with this.
There were two girls sprawled out on the couch and he had somehow made his way to the tiny sliver of concrete between their couch and the coffee table, when both of them looked up from their text books and picked their feet up off the floor, exactly as if a vacuum was making its way by. He continued knocking his way around them and I wondered if people help people struggling like this around here. I’m not sure why the question struck me like that, but I think I almost wondered if it would be considered demeaning in some way to walk up and touch his shoulder to ask if he wanted assistance.
As his stick was continuing its swing-swing-knock near the floor outlets and extension cords that I may’ve never noticed until I noticed someone puzzling over their mushy give and tone when whacked with a stick, a man from across the building who’d been sleeping with his head on the table while his phone charged for the last twenty minutes, jumped up, rushed over and asked the man, “Where do you want to go?” Relieved the man replied, “The restroom.” I hid my shame in voracious bagel chomping. I had it in my power to help someone five feet away, but froze up in the analysis of what it means for the context. Blind people don’t walk down streets unassisted (except en masse on Slide Rd in front of PetSmart for some reason) and into obstacle laden food halls while I’m admiring the tug-to-tear-point ratio of a bagel in my city. Me and the seven other people nearby either justified or ignored our total lack of response to this real-live human’s need. This was probably the turning point for me. Every time after where I noticed a young guy with normal clothes sleeping on the street in broad daylight as people stepped over him I vowed to not look past him. If someone asked me for money I would give it to them or at least look them in the eye to notice their personhood when I told them I didn’t have any. I don’t want it to stop affecting me as it seemingly has everyone else here. I don’t want to walk faster so New Yorkers aren’t annoyed by me, the tourist. I want to drink it all in slowly like it’s the very first time because there’s nothing like this anywhere else, don’t they get that?
I left the city committing only one more egregious error against myself and all humanity. If you knew that I ate a breakfast burrito at La Guardia before my departure, you might assume that’s what I’m talking about. Was it a weird burrito from terminal B’s La Chula? Was it odd to have guacamole and sour cream combined with chorizo at 9AM? Yes to all, and given all other options in the terminal it was probably the worst thing I could’ve eaten. Forgive me, I’m on a little bit of a burrito kick as of late.
After committing what I consider to be my only food fail in New York City, I noticed another blind guy banging a white cane around, and again, I don’t see no Braille. This time he was gingerly stepping off an escalator with his cell phone held up, maybe listening to directions or something. In my mind he offered me the chance at redemption. A chance to leave NYC a better person having had my ethics and standards of conduct buttressed and re-enforced in a strange land. I made a b-line for him as if to somehow save him an extra few knocks of his cane or shuffles of step would be a testament to my nose for humanity in need. I did everything right this time. I gently touched his shoulder on approach, I asked him, “Can I help you get somewhere?” To which he whipped around with exasperated rage and said, “Hey! I’m on the phone here!”