The universe has a funny way of putting you exactly where you need to be.” A truer statement has never been said. The weekend before I left to New York, I visited a used bookstore up in Roswell. I didn’t have any specific purchases in mind, but I remembered that J.D. Salinger had recently passed, and I hadn’t the pleasure of reading any of his novels. In honor of his life, I vowed to finally check out The Catcher in the Rye. I was completely unaware of the plot, or any details of the novel, actually. That being said, I found it uncanny how similar Holden Caufield was to me. Admittedly, I am not as socially awkward or psychotic as he is;but I found it hilarious that he considered almost everyone a “phony,” and that most things “depressed” him. Needless to say, it was prime reading material for my travels to and in New York. I feel like I spent half of my vacation in transit, shuffling between Far Rockaway, Saint Albans, Manhattan and the Bronx.
Even our voyage’s to New York were similar. I didn’t really have a plan, and no one was expecting me. Fortunately, I picked the perfect week to visit. Since the schools were on winter break, my cousin was able to pick me up from the airport, along with another cousin and an aunt. It was really nice to see some family that I had not seen in a while. New Yorkers are extremely loud and crazy. After a short car ride, we were in recognizable territory, the turnpike, five towns, and eventually Refern Avenue. I hadn’t been back to Redfern (projects) in seven years. Most things looked the same, except more desolate. There was hardly anyone anywhere, and that could have been because it was freezing cold with snow on the ground; but anyway, the cold had blanched everything, including the buildings. They looked like they had been glazed with soap scum.
Looking back, it was a tad comical. It’s not uncommon for people to yell down the block, at anyone who’ll listen really. My first day there, I spent the majority of my time in my grandmother’s apartment. My grandfather, or Pop Pop, sat in his recliner in front of the cable-less tv for hours, I don’t. think he ever changed the channel Grandma cooked dinner and played her numbers, and a slew of family members were in and out, requesting plates and what not. I can’t even tell you how many times I was asked my flight number in hopes that it would be the winning combination. It was very low key and familiar. I had been warned not to stay in Far Rockaway too much after dark, so when seven our eight hit, my cousin took me to my maternal uncle’s house in Saint Albans. There I used their guest room as the base of my operations, which was really nice. For the most part I was allowed to do what I wanted, with the exception of staying out too late. If I wasn’t going to make it in by my aunt Carol’s bedtime, I had to stay out, some nights my uncle was home, so I didn’t have to worry about a curfew, but I did have to worry about catching my busses before they stopped operating for the night. The next day I was given a key to the house, and instructions on how to lock and unlock the multitude of doors. I made plans to visit my aunt and cousins out in the Bronx. I feel like it had been even longer since I had seen them, but in reality it probably had not been.
My cousin Anthony gave my directions to his side of town. For some reason the MTA and Hopstop websites complicated things. He told me the busses didn’t take dollars anymore so I would have to get change. Fortunately I had three dollars in cash and was able to make change at the corner store across from the bus stop. Unfortunately, while stepping onto the bus, I dropped the keys to my uncle’s house. I realized it right away, but couldn’t afford to get off the bus since I didn’t have anymore cash and almost no place in Queens takes debit cards. So I rode the bus all the way to the Jamaica/Parson’s train station where I purchased a day pass for the metro. I got back on the bus to the stop where I had lost the keys, walked around the block twice and still could not find them. Eventually the first bus I got on made it back around, and the driver still hadn’t seen the keys. I opted to stay at the stop instead of continuing my journey to the Bronx. It was getting later and later. As soon as the bus pulled off, I found the keys in a puddle on the street. I was extremely relieved but my nerves were completely shot. However I did remember to pack the blunt my aunt rolled the night before in my wallet. Immediately I sparked it up, right there at the Q84 bus stop. It wasn’t the best blunt but it definitely did the trick. I was able to relax and again enjoy myself. I actually smoked almost the whole thing before someone walked up to wait on the bus. While me and the lady waited we witnessed a spectacle across the street, New York, there’s truly no place like it.
Across the street, two young women were walking followed by a young man. I could hear their entire conversation since New Yorkers are so damn loud, it went a little something like this:
Boy: So you mean to tell me if your ex text you, you wouldn’t call him back?
Girl: Hell no!
Boy: Man you lying, you stupid. (and I believe he told her to shut up.) Then he tried to make amends and hug her…
Girl: Don’t touch me! (she stopped walking, and starts walking off quickly, her and her friend, but he chases them down and tries to grab her again.)
Boy:N**** you just called me stupid and told me to shut up get the fuck away from me! (She throughs him off of her) Get away from me! (The two girls continue to walk down the street, the boy looks defeated, but is still trying to get his point across)
Girl 2: Shut the fuck up N****
Both me and the lady are watching this scene, I think we were concerned we might have to intervene. Anyway what is already close to a two hour trip, took close to six hours! The Bronx was cool, I didn’t really venture out. Apparently my aunt lives within walking distance of Yankee stadium. I’m thinking I’ll be going back when it gets warmer.
I did venture out to the Upper East Side to visit an old roommate, Carrie. Come to think of it, Carrie was my first roommate. COLLEGE! I will never forget that night. I think everyone must, when they first meet Carrie, assume she is quiet and shy. I know my other two roommates and I did at least. Quite ironic considering carrie was getting visitors as soon as move in settled down. The last visitors were a mob of boys around eleven p.m. They were all yelling college and carried her off. I don’t even know what happened that night…anyhow. We ended up having drinks at Genesis. Neither of us had any idea what it was, but the drinks were decent and the music was exceptional. I tend to think most places in New York have better music playing, but that’s neither here nor there. I trekked back to Queens on the express train, in all I think the commute was about two and a half hours. I will tell you, thank the Lord for The Catcher in the Rye and my ipod nano. The next day I trekked back to Manhattan, this time to Grand Central Station, also ironic given Holden’s visits to 42nd street.
After going to the Museum of Modern Art, we strolled over to Central Park. It’s not all that shocking, but even though I’m from to New York, I had never been to any of these places. Sure I’d been to Manhattan, or the Bronx, and various Museums, somehow I had never made it to the Moma or the Park. I did get a few small souvenirs: an I ❤ NY magnent, and a post card from the museum gift shop. I also bought a Starbucks: New York mug for Emily. I could get lost dancing or rollerblading in that park, that is if I were a better rollerblader.
That evening I headed to the Bronx to visit my aunt Lydia and my cousins Anthony and Kawaun again. The next day I made the ridiculously long trek from the Bronx to Far Rockaway for the second time. One bus two trains, but literally an eternity, the route does become quite scenic at a certain point, once you’re out of the tunnels. But it bothers my that the train shakes so much crossing the bay. And really that’s not the only thing that bothered me. It seemed like as soon as you started walking in the direction of the A train, the stations became ten times dirtier eventually leading you to the garbage dump of a train station at Mott Avenue. The trains were older and dirtier, and clearly so were the tracks. It depressed me every time. On the brighter side, the weather was nice. In February, forty degrees is nice up there, any day you can see the sun actually. At times I was wearing two to three layers, and I was still cold. My grandmother had cooked up a feast: baked chicken, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, rice, cornbread, and pork shoulder. And I think it’s funny that everyone up there drinks juice or soda. It doesn’t really matter what kind.
Another thing I found amusing is watching people wait for the bus or train. Everyone walks up to the curb or yellow line and looks in the direction the bus or train is coming from. In fact, it was like watching synchronized swimming, minus the water and smiles. It really cracked me up inside. I certainly think that is a detail that gets overlooked when people write or make films about New York. Food is also dirt cheap in new york. Sandwiches loaded with meat cost two to four dollars, you can’t beat those prices.
My last two days there were very drear, the weather went from sunny with a chill to overcast, cold, with a mixture of rain and snow. I spent my last day saying my goodbyes to my family across the city. By this time my trip had become quite heart breaking. I was on the 113 going down Bayview when I thought to get off at the Browns’s house. I wasn’t sure if they were still living there or not. Then I feared one or both might not be around anymore. I looked up the number on my cell phone and called once I got to my grandparents place. Sure enough, I spoke with Mr. Brown, he said he was still living there, but Mrs. Brown was in a plot in the ground. My heart literally sank. I am happy however that I did get a chance to see him and his daughter. It brought back so many memories seeing their old house. Mr. Brown was even wearing a hunting cap like Holden. I think he is going through the first stages of dementia, or some similar ailment, but overall he was still there. He asked me what brought me back to see him after all these years. Looking back, I should’ve simply said love. It’s amazing what love can do. He told me that before she passed, she asked him to hold her hand. She told him she was leaving him. It’s truly amazing that sixth sense we as humans have. In that very moment I broke down. I can still remember picking peas, and “running away” to their house with frozen vegetables and snacks in a bookbag. They always took me in. What I did tell him was that you never forget what people do for you. Their daughter, Terry, wanted me to have something of Mrs. Brown’s. I asked her if she had any of her crochet, she always tried to teach me how. I was twice as impatient as a kid so it never stuck, but I thought with her needles, I might try to learn. What I got was even better. She gave me a beautiful blanket Mrs. Brown had made along with: the picture they had of me on their table, a family portrait and the obituary.
Mr. Brown, when hearing the sadness in my voice put it simply, life still goes on, time still goes on. But as I told Carrie, after she found out her boss was killed in a tragic hit and run Sunday night, at the age of 22, death is life’s hardest pill to swallow. It’s just unexplainable.
When people ask me about my trip, I don’t know what to tell them really. Overall I would say it was a success, I didn’t witness or fall victim to any crimes. In a couple of instances, I even got lucky. Only in New York can you connect through your neighbor or a guy downstairs at the bodega. The bus driver from the day I lost my keys remembered me and asked if I had found them, and also gave me a bus transfer so I didn’t have to pay another 2.25 to get to Laguardia. But some parts of my trip made me extremely sad. It depresses me to know that some people will never strive to do better for themselves and others. Some people can live in the projects all their lives, not visit anywhere else, barely go out of their homes, and still somehow be satisfied. While I can see the beauty in it, I mostly feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for those less fortunate than me. Who didn’t have anyone to encourage or believe in them, to teach and show them how much more there is in life. My trip made me extremely grateful for all of those who have helped me along my way. My mother, my Nana, aunts, uncles, the Browns. So in the end it was bittersweet. A bittersweet symphony, that is life.
And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff–I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them…I’d just be the catcher in the rye…
to all my catchers, Thank you.