Monday, October 03, 2005

Park to Park through time

---Central Park begins with Washington Square Park. As a road to elsewhere; as an appetizer for city-nature to come, as a barometer of weather and the amount of clothes people will be wearing. It can predict crowd density. I pass through, scanning the circle, somehow still assuming that someday, someone will call out my name, some long lost friend or acquaintance. someone from high school. an old teacher, a relative perhaps.
---Passing through.. faces.. faces. bodies and faces. and babies. Babies in strollers with mothers on cell phones who pause to listen to the punch line of an "oh my god, did you hear?". I pass on walkways that have carried and carry history. history and more. People. People who've known their slight slivers of history, though never as well as we imagine they could have. People with no written reference to the march of time, or.. those with reference - how many of the same exact steps have I traced that P.T. Barnum walked first? He'd be my neighbor if time wasn't so linear. Living at the end of Washington Place, he and his family would indubitably say "excuse me" as they caused me to pause on my exiting the building. On to the park. And through. The fountain's circle has moved slightly since then. It's moving again, or so they say - "they" meaning the city powers that be, "say" meaning 'force'. A few paths in the park have never changed though. I walk on these. Through. On up to the Astor Place # 6 subway stop - the East side's lone arterial friend. I love the walk there. I love it, except for the fact that it's still Summer. just barely. Summer sweat. Oh how Summer trains us to love good ol' subway A/C. When the trains come, that is. It always seems like cars won’t come until you give up on hoping for quick relief. Train to train. local, express. Your stop comes in a flash when you've got an engaging book. 86th Street. Over to Central Park East. I pass the overflow and afterflow of a Germany parade. ...trying to recall ....if I've ever seen so much lederhosen. And earth tones. Green. clothes, they're just clothes of course - but now they're costumes. proud badges of national identities. The older folk amongst them, I understand. The days of parades and dress up seem naturally ingrained for those of 'their' time. It's the young in costume I'm trying to get. Hasn't anyone taught them that a prerequisite to coolness is being overly-self-conscious? I pass one group of happy Germans then two more groups, three, five, eight then... and then I pass... a civil war regiment of Union soldiers. Muskets in felt sheaths, walking and talking with easy weekend abandon. I blink a few times. Look away, look back. There's no sign from them or anyone else on the street that they are the square pegs meandering down round street. Blues and grays, muskets and field caps, followed immediately by... yes, more happy Germans. I haven't passed a quote-unquote-New-Yorker in a block or two. I love this city. Turn onto Central Park East, oompah-pah bands give way to a bagpipes' amazing grace. In. Into the park. Past the Met. Past joggers carelessly enjoying carless park roads. Past more babies in strollers. Leading lazy mothers for their daily walkabout. And finally....
---the volleyball courts. What's this? 7 people. 4 vs. 3. Well that's just asking for me to start my weekend fun, now isn't it? I get on. I play. I play remarkably well. As I've mentioned, volleyball is a constant battle against embarrassing yourself. It's a game of self-fulfilling prophecy. You do well, you'll be fed the ball often and with trust. Start out bad? Forget it, pariah. You may as well leave, now that you've sullied your good name. So I play well and keep playing well but here come.. [insert suspenseful music here]...the gay Spanish speakers. Not that they speak gay-spanish. Frankly, I dont know what that is. No, they're gay and they're spanish speakers and if you've never been around a group of them, you are missing out. Normally they're really fun to play against (in that amusing talk-to-the-hand-/-head-rolling-sassy-"No-you-di'nt!" kinda way) - unfortunately they are anything but fun to play vollebayll with. Forming a rich stew of nationalities: Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican and probably Spain-spanish, Mexican-Spanish, Central American Spanish, you name it, this is New York after all - they are truly and sadly the most insular, self-focused, self-serving, self important pillars of everything to be hated about competitive volleyball. I curse the bad timing of their arrival that landed me on their team and try to weigh my desire to keep playing longer with the misfortunate comedy of errors that playing with them will surely descend into. We play a few games but.. As predicted, despite my excellent play, I quickly realize that I might as well be invisible. Despite my consistency and reliability, I reap no praise. Despite my being in the obvious "right spot" for the ball to be set to, the setters go out of their way to make a harder set to a less skilled player. This is when I need to be careful. Showing anger or displeasure just intensifies the invisibility. Annnd.. there it is. My first mistake ... a bump pass that sails far wide of my intended target. Eyes roll. Someone says something. Something in Spanish. It starts with "Ayyyye..." and in my mind, ends with a finger snap and more rolled eyes. I am dying to say something to the effect of "you're right! my one bad pass this game must mean that I suck! and all your bad passes were... just you goofing around I guess!" but I don’t. The game continues. I grow more & more invisible. More frustrated. I just want it to end. I make a blocking error. Now something in English. I say something back - Something innocuous but with a tone and look on my face that conveys the following: "I am five words away from killing you and eating your liver. right here. right now. you'll want to watch what you say". No one expected that. Hey, I didn't expect that. I get a little giddy at how well that shut him up. And.. interesting... I gain a little bit of respect from the rest of the team for it, but I've obviously made an enemy, at least for the rest of the game. And so it goes. A few more points. more frustration. I'm just taking up space on the court at this point. And then it's over. I change shoes, grab my bag and head for
---the Great Lawn. I walk out into the middle. Normally, this would be the outfield's for up to any three softball fields, but maybe everyone's season is over? Balls and frisbees, footballs fly and... so... do parrots. Parrots? Two African parrots, full plumage spread wide, chasing each other in wide circles. Around the center of the field - sometimes exploring the outer fringes and treetops. People watch. mouth's agape. Parrots. for real. Parrots in the city, flying free. I sit. How often do you see parrots stretching wings fully to fly, to chase each other? Playing. I'll tell you - never. Not even at the zoo. They land and test the grass. Talons to nature. I watch them watch their talons pierce the ground. The setting sun turning red plumage orange as the light hits their heads and the leading edges of wings. Photos. People take photos. Parents keep short invisible leashes on their waddling offspring. Tiny hands. Hands outstretched, eyes locked on nothing but these park anomalies. "No touching, Caleb". "Uh-uh Karen, we don’t touch the pretty birdies". And then, as if to give the parents relief, the birds take flight again.---And here I am. Sitting on a blanket, watching forest birds pretend they're free, volleyball behind me, soreness ahead. Anything is possible. I could do anything right now. Anything but write more. I cant believe this was the only way to write, for years. Years and years. My writing hand as had its fill.

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