Sunday, September 10, 2006

Report from the fetid streets of hell

Living in New York, you can have some really bad days. Airplanes fly into buildings, people fall from the skies. the electricity goes off for days, transit strikes add hours to already hellish commutes. There are blizzards, heat waves, rain and wind and hundreds of little hassles. You get on a subway car with no air conditioning or a homeless person who couldn’t smell worse if he were dead. The noise, the smells, the rats, the existential ugliness of the urban landscape and so many of the people who inhabit it. Yes, any time or any day, things can turn very unpleasant very quickly.

But the reverse is true as well. When life is good here it can be very, very good. Sometimes it can be very good in big ways, sometimes in small. Yesterday was one of those small-time good days that make me more comfortable being a member of the human species.

I am not the most social person, to put it mildly, so when my wife informed me that there was a neighborhood block party and it was my chance to meet the neighbors, my response was “why would I possibly want to meet the neighbors?”

Our street was blocked off and people had brought out a lot of lawn and beach chairs and set them down in the middle of the street. Three tables had been set up and were covered with food and board games. A nice lady had a grill hooked up and was making chocolate chip pancakes for the kids.

Several of the nearby businesses had kicked in some money which was used to hire a magician. Everyone brought some kind of pot luck and the Mexican restaurant on the corner provided free roasted corn, hot dogs, and a stream of taco and burrito sampler platters. The fire department sent a truck and let the kids explore it and the firemen opened up a hydrant. Throughout the day there were 20 to 30 kids running up and down the length of the block. We had a few beers. It started at 10 am and there were still a few people left when I went home for the last time a little after 11 pm.

I live in one of the more ethnically diverse neighborhoods in New York, which is saying quite a bit, and our block party was representative. There were white Americans, Germans, Japanese, Africans, African-Americans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, other Latinos, Polish, Russian, Bangladeshi’s, Pakistani’s, Palestinians, and Jews. There were people who owned businesses and people who worked in trades; people with menial jobs, office workers and technical types. There were students and professors, fashion designers, people who work in the print media, movie and television people, and even a couple of hipsters. Everyone got along just great but beyond that it was effortless. I didn’t even give the diversity a thought until I sat down to write about it. I don’t think anyone else did either.

Perhaps there’s a lesson there somewhere, but I don’t know and I don’t really care. We all had a good day and plan to do it again next summer.