Saturday, April 24, 2010

Our Stoop

I have a terrible habit of always being early.

Blame it on my obsessive mother who, even now in her empty nest, jolts out of bed before the sun as if there are still four lunch boxes to pack and school traffic to beat. Growing up, she made me painfully early to, flights, boy-girl dance parties at Marlene Russo's house. I was never fashionably late. I got there when the lights were still on and parents were still snapping photos.

It's a habit I can't shake. Now, I often get to work when the office lights are still off. I get to my gate before a flight with enough time to finish the book I brought for the trip. I'm even the first by about 15 minutes to my 6:45am spinning class.

Naturally, I was 45 minutes early to my writing class on Tuesday. Walking from the subway stop, I decided to weave aimlessly around the streets near the YMCA on the Bowery where we borrow a classroom. After some exploring I found an attractive wide set of steps outside a boarded up building. I took a seat, pulled out my Blackberry and beep bopped some texts and emails. I called a close friend who's getting married in a couple weeks. We gabbed about her seating chart and centerpieces. I was perfectly content on that step, enjoying the sunny spring weather, people watching, shooting the shit for thirty solid minutes. When it was finally time for class, I left the steps.

Three hours later I retraced the same path back to the subway station. It was dark now and colder without the sun. The spring air was brisk. I pulled my coat shut and tucked my face into the collar. When I approached the same stoop I had occupied before class, I noticed a homeless man laying there sprawled under a tattered wind breaker. His eyes were open, starring blankly ahead, tugging the small jacket around his shoulder each time the wind picked up. I starred at him longer than I should have.

A few hours ago, that was my comfortable stoop, a delightful spot to waste time and have a conversation about nothing. Now, it's his hard, cold bed.

After two years in New York, I'm accustomed to passing bums on the street. The sight rarely inspires a second look. They're built into the landscape here like the skyscrapers and Ray's pizza places. But something about sharing the step with him that night tied my stomach in knots.

I was hesitant to write this post. That moment and any mess of sympathy and introspection it inspired feels self-indulgent. Maybe he enjoyed that step as much as I did.

The streets of this city are teeming with reminders that my little world and what happens or matters to me are just blips in this universe. I like the reminder.

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