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Friday, July 10, 2015

The A La Carte New Yorker

A longtime friend of mine posted that he was about done with New York City.

I can't necessarily say I blame him.  As much as I love the city I grew up in, I've come to appreciate the things that everyone else in the country takes for granted, such as getting what you pay for in housing or the ability to live comfortably on one job.   Well, that last one has been kind of so-so for most since 2008, but the point is New York is a shark tank, and most of its residents are swimming without an air supply and with a cut on their arm.  They may stay afloat for a time.  They may even find rescue.  But very likely they will be eaten alive.

That was a hard thing to admit.  The shark tank that is New York taught me skills that still come in handy today.  I learned how to grind, how to work hard, how to persevere in New York.  I learned that the competition spends eight hours a night sleeping, and if you could somehow function on four, you were ahead of them.  And when I finally left, when I reluctantly accepted defeat, I swore I wasn't done.  Six years after my move west, I still have this fantasy of moving back into the pressure cooker, and doing it right.  I'd  buy one of those overpriced Battery Park City condos I used to doorman for, I'd be able to live well, and make a ton of money doing whatever it is I was going to do.  I'd have a driver's license and maybe even a car to use on the weekends.

Like I said, total fantasy.  It used to be that you could make it work on a decent wage in the city.  Then it used to be that you could grind it out on a really good salary in Brooklyn.  Now?  Not the case.  My brother used to say all the time, "You gotta be rich to be poor in New York," and these days that statement isn't far off.  I remember back in the day telling people what I made in my struggle, and having them look at me like I was nuts and say "That's a lot!". It never felt that way.

However, I still go back every year.  I have to.  The best parts of me I get from the friends I had and the experiences I had in Brooklyn.  I get it from the subway rides and the street meat and Coney Island trips.  I get it from Prospect Park and South Street Seaport (rest in peace) and the old World Trade Center.  I get it from basketball at Marine Park and football on East 21st Street.

That's all stuff I can see in a week.

Don't get me wrong, I still love New York, the same way I love a restaurant menu.  It's just that these days, I pick what I want and take it to-go.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

It Takes A Strong Woman To Raise A Neighborhood

Last night, I had a chat with a patient, like I always do.

Every night I chat with my patients in an effort to keep them calm, comfortable and focused on something other than the time it takes to put so many wires on them for a sleep study.  Usually, I'll talk about them: where they're from, what they do, their family and so on.  Sometimes, I talk about myself: the move from New York to Bellingham, being a Yankee fan in Mariners country, that I'm a writer, or how I got into sleep disorder treatment.

Last night, I talked for half an hour about my family, specifically my grandmother.

My grandmother at her 88th birthday.  She hasn't changed.

My grandmother is 95 years young.  If you've ever met her, young is absolutely the right way to say it.  When we were  kids, she lived with us.  My mom did the single mother thing and while that was an impressive and Herculean undertaking that I can't be grateful enough for, it's nearly impossible to do with seven children without some form of co-parenting.  My grandmother has been directly involved in our growth and raising since well before I was born.  She served as secret-keeper, disciplinarian, security guard, chef.  She told stories, offered guidance, encouraged moral values.  She got us out of bed (usually against our will) and made sure we got to school on time.  She helped guide my six older siblings and me to a strong work ethic and a sense of right and wrong.  And if the story stopped there, I'm sure all of you would be singing her praises.

What if I told you that she didn't stop there?

Starting from my earliest memories in the mid 1980's, my grandmother ran something of an impromptu day-care form our apartment. Flatbush was a working-class, Caribbean immigrant neighborhood back then.  New parents who simply had to return to work to make ends meet would drop children off at our apartment in the morning and come get them after work.  These children were young, some just a few weeks old, and my grandmother would care for them as she cared for us.  They would be in our apartment every day from the time they were little until their first day of school, with my grandmother charging a generously small fee ($50 a week, if I remember correctly).  And after their first day of school, those children would often end up in our apartment until their parents got home from work.

Now, no story is completely happy.  While most of those kids would go on to be normal, functioning members of society, some of them fell victim to the trappings of a bad neighborhood.  Some of them got involved with bad people who did messed-up things.  But they would see my grandmother in the street and they would stand up straight, smile a smile they likely forgot how, and politely say "Good morning, Mama, how are you today?" like they were the kids she remembered them as.  Respect, from people you wouldn't have expected it from.

My grandmother is 95 years young and thankfully still going strong.  While she can't lift children the way she used to and she can't chase around toddlers the way she'd want to, she still loves children.  I think they keep her young.  She's been telling me since my mid-20's that she's waiting around for me to have kids, that she wants to see my kids.  I tell her the same thing every time.

"Keep waiting.  I like having you here."