I jumped on the A train yesterday after being hit with a brilliant idea. I was going to South Street Seaport. I'd heard there was some nightlife going on down there and I wanted to see it. The sun was low enough to provide shade in the streets, so the heat was no longer an issue.
So I'm riding and people-watching, as I usually do. Standing out noticably to me was a man and his wife. She was pregnant. They were speaking in Spanish. And they seemed like the mainstream twentysomethings of North Manhattan. I couldn't understand anything about their conversation except the body language. The man had long wet hair and clean feet (yes, sandals. I've gone on enough about these peoples' feet). He wore a loose crepe shirt and cargo shorts. She wore a sunny, sleeveless dress the color of a peeled orange. She hung on his every word. She looked in love. Not slavishly devoted or co-dependent, but just admirably in love with the man. The man who had given her the baby she was carrying. The man was animated and spellbinding. Whatever story he was telling made her gasp with surprise. It seemed to have something to do with dancing or performing. I wouldn't call the man attractive, physically, but he was charismatic.
Then the train pulled into 145th and was being held at the station. The 145th stop is where I used to live. And during the 30 seconds of wait, I suddenly bounced out of my seat and dashed out of the subway car.
I wanted to see the "old" neighborhood.
When we last left our hero there, two luxury condo buildings were going up and I had been desirous of maybe getting an apartment there one day. Well, now they are up. They look very nice. One is across the street from the Hamilton. I believe it's called The Ellington, (edit correction: it isn't the Ellington. Or if it is, it doesn't have a website yet) and it borders Jackie Robinson Park. So does the other one, and it's on 147th and Bradhurst. And teeming around the both of them are the innercity culture who are not going anywhere. They will not be priced out and they won't roll over.
My people, my people. Gritty. Urban. Loud. I at once admire them and am a little repulsed by them. But mostly, I feel defensive of them. I love the new buildings. But having been divorced from the area now for two years, I think I'm seeing the place with an outsider's eye. (After all, I only lived there for 1.5 years.)
Those buildings just seem so wrong there. It's an obvious, glaring clash of culture. Am I saying my people don't deserve the finer things? Am I saying they aren't worthy?
No, but I am saying that they aren't rich.
(Edit: I've discovered the buildings at 147th and Bradhurst Ave. are called The Sutton, and they are made for low-income families! Now THAT'S good news. Somebody's got a conscience in housing and development.)
But my curiosity about the neighborhood was really secondary. Primarily, I wanted to see my cousin. She is the mentally ill daughter of the nurturing aunt who died during the last year that I lived there. I had sorely neglected visiting them when my aunt was alive, and then when she died, I stopped altogether. This mentally ill cousin has a daughter who I really was bonding with, (and had even lived up in North Manhattan at one time) but I lost touch with her too. I've lost touch with all of them. and when I say 'lost touch' I mean too phobic to call and visit.
So last night I thought I'd do it. Get it out of the way. After my exploration of the new new, I when to my cousin's apartment foyer and dialed her code so she could buzz me into the building. She answered. I told her who I was and she said "Who?!" just like my mother used to say it.
Then she buzzed me in, and I realized I didn't remember what floor her apartment was on. I re-buzzed her to ask where her apartment was. (The code to dial her does not reveal the floor or apartment address.) She answered again, then buzzed the door again, longer this time, but didn't speak. After all, maybe I wasn't who I said I was.
I called her daughter, (whose number I still have in my phone) only to find it disconnected. I considered calling another cousin (whose number I also have in my phone) but then I realized. I didn't want to do this. I haven't wanted to for the past four years.
I don't know why. It seems my family is the last hurdle to leap before I can consider myself "social" again.
So I left my old stomping grounds, bought some Jamaican food (ox tails--YUM), and headed back north.
I might try again sometime.
I might not.