Tag Archives: cats

Morning Glory

6 Sep

photoI don’t have an air conditioner. On purpose. Leaving the windows open, strategically placed fans circulating air front to back across my long, floor-through brownstone apartment, keeps me connected to the real temperature of my surroundings. I know the weather as well as I know my neighbors’ business, and they know when it will rain and what time I picked up my paper off the stoop this morning. When I step outside, we wave to each other, caught up on everyone’s everything, and the heat and humidity are not a shock to my system.

I am among that most privileged class of New Yorker. I know my neighbors and I have access to outdoor space with a garden. I write to you, dear reader,  while perched on my wooden deck. Below, in my neighbors’ beautiful green expanse of flowers and trees, three cats twitch their ears and flick their tails at every passing insect and shimmer of sunlight. Next door, my neighbors are starting early with preparations for today’s barbecue. The fence between us and the rails of my deck are lined with winding morning glory vines that tangle and weave our spaces together.

The benefits of my connection to the outside world don’t only arise from this bucolic setting. On the other end of my apartment is a large picture window with a view of the bustling street and populated stoops of Crown Heights. It’s actually never quiet out there, and this is something I much appreciate. When very late one recent night there seemed to be a strange tension in the crowd of teenagers that makes the sidewalk their living room, I felt safe because my neighbors across the street were on the stoop, watching over the block. And all day long, I see each passing person, across demographics young and old, raise a hand in greeting to Charlie. “Chan, Charlie Chan is what they’ve  called me my whole life,” he says from his stoop. His chair is seldom empty.

My building is connected by ownership to three others, one adjoining and two across the street. No, the properties are not owned by some faceless condo developer. They’re owned by three brothers, natives of Brooklyn who make their own wine and live on the same block as their mother in Sunset Park. They bought these properties thirty years ago, when they were just finishing high school. They owned them through riots and now into the new wave of gentrification. We’re all hoping that this is the first neighborhood where communities merge rather than displace one another, and I have to say, so far it appears to be working.

The hipsterization of every part of life has brought good food to new restaurants that are populated by people from each sector of the neighborhood. The cool, new Berg’n beer joint and food emporium down the street from me is not full of apathetic indie rockers, but rather an array of construction workers and the people who have lived through each chapter of this neighborhood.

This fabric sustains us all. Even on a day when I choose to stay close to home, alone, and read my books, I speak with many whenever I run out to do an errand or weed my herb garden. I am never alone, and every breath I take is a privilege. One I am very well aware that my mother no longer enjoys. And so I collect each sensation and connect with every conversation in dedication to this loving and gentle woman, who was confined to the indoors most of her life, and loved me endlessly even while she seemed to abhor her place in the world. Her neighbors were her imagined enemies, and the television was sometimes her only window. But even she, when she had the opportunity, loved to sit on her deck or grill up some dinner with my brother.

I know full well that I am living an extension of the life she built for herself and for me. I am taking each happy element and adding to it a carefully tended sense of wellbeing that I share with every wave, smile, and wink with the people I meet each day. In meditation, it’s called compassion. In life, it might be called purpose.

Lost Cause

4 Nov

Sometimes sit-coms lay it all out there for you. Steeping in the fabulous malaise that has plagued me since I returned from a certain coastal village near a valley of silicon, I was preparing a salad while the misguided aesthetes of Frasier kept me company. I was just about to toss the pecans and parmigiano reggiano with my arugula (ahem, see aforementioned mention of misguided aesthetes) when I heard Frasier Crane utter what should probably be a tattoo winding its way around my heart so that anyone who dare enter that terrain has fair warning:

“You know how it is with strong women. Sometimes their strength masks their vulnerability.”

I put down my Cooks-Illustrated-recommended knife (ahem) and replayed the comment. Then I sighed. Why isn’t this common knowledge? Anytime a woman seems impervious to the neglect with which you are presenting her, please know that really she is quaking with the fear that this one rejection could knock her over and permanently render her unable to do her major job, complete her extensive travel plans, decorate her chic apartment, maintain her rigorous fitness regimen, cultivate a vibrant social life, and continue assembling slimming salads.

It is with a fierce dedication to hiding this fear, this vulnerability, that I cross my arms across my chest and deliver all my entertainingly observant comments in a casual and cavalier tone. But the truth is, while I might be perched in a physically standoffish pose at one end of your sofa, I am actually more similar to the cat which is curled up appealingly on the other end. Every time you pass that cat and bury your face in her fur and sing a bunch of sweet comments between kisses, I wither just a bit more and lock myself into a stronger pose of resilience.

Get to know me. I’m about one thousand percent more cuddly than you think. But where a cat can bluntly present her neediness, mewling constantly for more food and affection, I have to do the exact opposite in order to maintain your interest. So if I scare you, trust me, it’s only because I’m eight million times more scared of you.

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