All I ever really wanted out of the experience of living in New York City was what you see above. That was imprinted on my cortex pretty early (and until second grade, via a black-and-white TV). When I first moved to the city, my housing situation had a company town feel to it (it was subsidized by my job), and then when I moved in with J to a hundred-year-old building two doors down, there was the gritty griminess of old NYC without much of the charm. (Except for our formal dining room. Ah, that room. It was almost enough to make you forget the mice and roaches.)
When we moved to Brooklyn, and particularly when we had a kid, and then two kids, in Brooklyn, Sesame Street began to happen. It became easier to stop and talk to neighbors, particularly the ones who tended to park themselves on the sidewalk anyway. One of our neighbors is essentially ageless, and we lose track of each other for months at a time. When I see her re-emerge from her building once the weather is good, our reunion is always joyful. When Young J was about two and a half, they ran a race against each other – she pushing her walker and Young J with his doll stroller. (I am pretty sure she won.) She likes to talk about her childhood in Alexandria, Egypt (and then sigh at how much the world has changed for the worse).
My experience of cancer in Brooklyn has also been a bit Sesame Street-like, though I don’t know that they’ve covered that topic on the show. The conversations I’ve had recently, the magic realism of my life here – in this seemingly dire circumstance, yet surrounded by loving and caring neighbors and neighborhood fixtures, practically feels like a ready-made episode… brought to you by the letters M and Q, and also the number 8.
A few weeks ago I tried to insert myself into the planning process of our block’s annual block party. I showed up at a meeting, and was very hopped up on steroids, and thought I could actually get shit done. I didn’t realize how difficult that would be. There was an unbelievable set of competing priorities and people talking over each other and frankly, unchecked discussion of hip surgeries. It was not going to happen. I tried to be helpful via email – also difficult. After designing one flyer that simply disappeared into the ether because I needed an email addresss to put on it, I gave up. One positive change over last year was that the NO PARKING signs went up much earlier in the week. As if by magic, by today we had nearly no cars on the block. So, even if nothing else happened, the kids were going to have a ball, biking and scooting and running amok with no traffic.
Today was the big day. It started rainy, but as the hours went past, the weather improved until it was the most perfect day ever. No humidity, sunlight filtered by the tall trees on our end of the block.
We took the kids for pizza, and discovered another block party happening one block away. They had a bouncy house. We took the kids over there to bounce. It was a little feral in there. And then we let ourselves be distracted by conversation with other parents we knew, and suddenly I saw Young A take a nosedive to the asphalt. After ascertaining that his head had not broken his fall (despite a couple scrapes on it) we left the premises immediately. I was instantly thrilled that our block hadn’t managed to scrape together the money for a bouncy house. Who wants that kind of liability? I was excited for our block’s non-event!
We got back to the block and Young J’s lifelong friend S and her mom came over (they used to live upstairs). After Young A recovered from his fall (with an hour of Netflix) they all went out to take possession of the street. This, to me, is the greatest luxury a parent of a young child in New York City can enjoy – the ability to lose track of your kid for many minutes at a time, and know they are at one end of the block or the other, and they’ll come zooming back by you presently. I know we could move to the country and enjoy this on a regular basis. But I can easily settle for once or twice a year. There were also stoop sales, a little girl selling jumps on her jump rope for a dollar, lemonade stands and bowls of free candy and chips – everything you’d want out of a day like this.
J, in the meantime, got his guitar and joined some guys from the next building over, who he’d found jamming on the sidewalk on Memorial Day. They set things up nicely today, with mics and everything. And they played this Dylan tune that just made my afternoon. (J tells me this isn’t the best version but it’s what I could find.)
Thank you, Sesame Street. Thank you, neighbors. And thank you, cancer, for hopefully buggering off for a while, so I could enjoy it all.