Archive | Community RSS feed for this section

Durant Station

14 Sep

DSC_0311 (2)

Durant is situated at the intersection of U.S. Highways 69/75 and 70, fifty-two miles east of Ardmore and seventy-six miles southwest of McAlester. Occupation of the townsite began in November 1872 when a wheelless boxcar was placed on the east side of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway tracks. In 1873 Dixon Durant erected the town’s first building, a wooden store, on the east side of the boxcar. Named “Durant Station” for his family, it was shortened to Durant in 1882.    — Oklahoma Historical Society

I tease Amy that she comes from a desert state.  Growing up, that’s what I assumed Oklahoma to be; a vast wasteland of parched earth and the lined faces of those who had tried to farm it.  The truth was more familiar.  Another town that seemed to revolve around the chain stores and fast food restaurants out along the highway, while the once vibrant downtown limped along on the strength of its few remaining businesses.  Another community that no longer wished to commune.

DSC_0319 (2)

Heath doesn’t see it that way.  For one thing, a couple miles down the road is Okie Donuts, where, I kid you not, they make the best donuts in the world.  Heath used to ride out there in the morning with Amy’s dad for coffee and a Boston Creme.  Now I take Heath.  The owner treats him as a special guest, having come all the way from New York.  And then there’s the donuts: light, fluffy, and sweet, but not too sweet.  Good sweet.  The kind of sweet that gets you out of bed at 6 AM, because if you’re too late all the maple will be gone.

dsc_0312-2

After donuts, we drive back to Durant in the early morning light.  The highway’s faster, but we take the back way, just like Amy’s dad.

DSC_0327 (2)

Farmers are talking outside Wright’s Drive-In as we roll into town, sipping coffee in the morning sun.

DSC_0332 (2)

Downtown the buildings still stand, soaking in the light and giving back the warmth and color of their red clay bricks.

DSC_0341 (2)

And somewhere in the past, a button-nosed girl is buying a ham salad sandwich at Durant Drug and stepping into the Plaza Theater for the afternoon showing of Endless Love. As romance blooms onscreen, the streets outside grow humid and warm; humming with footsteps, the laughter of chance meetings and the sound of cars going by.  The sun is low as the movie ends, and the girl and her slightly scandalized mother step outside and make their way home, past friends and neighbors; checking the time and talking about dinner as they go.

dsc_0340-2

The sounds fade, the air grows cooler, and the people disappear.  Heath and I are alone on the cobblestone street.  The drugstore is gone and the Plaza is now an office building.  For the first time Heath grows impatient, so as we walk, I try to paint the picture for him, attempting to bring to life a town I never knew, but which did so much to create his mom.  He listens, he nods, but he’s ready to go.

DSC_0343 (2)

The heart of Durant may be battered and worn, but I don’t think it’s moved out to the highway.  It’s not in the McDonalds drive-thru, and it’s not at the Waffle Shop, and it’s sure as hell not at the Walmart.  No, it’s still downtown, where the old facades continue to glow, beautiful and resilient, like Amy, her family, and so many of those formed by this place.  The heart beats softly these days, forgotten by many, but it’s there:  fifty-two miles east of Ardmore and seventy-six miles southwest of McAlester, just east of the old boxcar, waiting for those with ears to hear.

dsc_0366-2

 

 

 

Proud

11 Dec

candle

It was already dark when Amy and Heath got home.  I had told Hallie we were going for a walk and she already had her shoes on, having struggled into her pink velvet boots, which weren’t the shoes I would have picked, but in Hallie’s world they worked.

When Heath got home, he was excited.  We had told him about the shopkeeper down the street who had been beaten a few days ago by a man shouting “I kill Muslims.”  The Giving Tree, our local yoga studio, had organized a meditation for peace, and we thought we should stop by.

On our way, Amy and I went over the meaning of meditation, leaning heavily on the fact that it would be quiet, and we should do our best to keep it that way.  Heath continued walking, happily bopping along, seemingly oblivious to all I had just said.

“Heath.  Heath.”

“What?”

“Did you hear what I just said?”

“Yeah.”

“What did I say.”

“We have to be quiet.  I got it, I got it.”

The crowd was small, forming a circle on the corner in front of the store.  Seven or eight people sat on the sidewalk meditating.  A few dozen others stood around quietly, some holding candles. Hallie was up on my shoulders and I rocked slowly from side to side as she took it all in.  Occasionally she would say, “Wow.”  One of the women on the ground smiled.

For about two minutes it was really nice.  Then Hallie wanted down.  So I ran her around a bit off to the side, where we wouldn’t disturb anyone, and we quietly took the kids inside for a treat.  Cookies, chips and crackers were gathered, and as we were digging around for our money, Heath stepped to the counter and said, “I’m sorry for what happened to you guys.  I hope you’re OK.”

The shopkeeper looked at Heath for a moment, then touched his heart, assured him they were OK, put his palms together and bowed.

Heath then said he couldn’t believe anyone would do something so horrible and started into a rant about the generally shoddy condition of humanity, which confused the man, and Amy had to step in.  But for a moment there, he had really nailed it.

Walking home, I told him I was proud.

“Why?”

“Because you spoke eloquently, and you spoke from the heart.”

He thought about that for a moment, and then said “Oh.  OK,”  before moving on, heading towards home, seemingly oblivious to all I had just said.

 

DSC_0134 (2)

Love Fatima Food Mart

Astoria Gathers to Support Fatima Owner After Anti-Muslim Attack

The Giving Tree

A Christmas Walk

24 Dec

new-amsterdam-pg-reproductions

“It is required of every man,” the ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide…”
― Charles Dickens,  A Christmas Carol

Late in the afternoon, from the 61st floor, I stop to look out  over Manhattan, past the shoulders of the Empire State Building and the slowly rising World Trade Center, down into the late-afternoon gleam of the waters that bathe this archipelago, engulfing the Statue of Liberty and swirling quicksilver past Jersey City and Staten Island, before flowing beneath the Verrazano Bridge, and out into the Atlantic.  Returning to the city itself, my vision hovers over the streets I’ve wandered for the past thirteen years, especially those narrow pathways laid down by the Dutch West India Company at the southern tip of the island over three centuries ago, engulfed now in the buildings and people that followed them, and where, despite everything, late on a quiet afternoon, I can still feel the age of the place, catching the scent of wood smoke on the air before stepping off Pearl Street into a tavern to sip a beer one floor below the room where George Washington said farewell to his officers.

I grew up in Ohio, surrounded by cornfields.  Sometimes, I would wade into them, just for the hell of it, and then, feeling silly, push my way back, scratching through the dusty stalks, to stand for a moment on the side of the road, trying to make something of the experience.  I was looking for a deeper knowledge of the place, something less linear and road based than the world around me. I wanted more dimensions.

Cities are great for this. They just keep giving, every corner you turn, every face you see, every crack in the sidewalk is another dimension, another small accretion in your rapidly growing knowledge of a place. The older the street, the more intricate it’s development, the more there is to be found; more layers of people’s lives, painted one upon the other, and then worn away through the decades, a little bit of each showing through.

My grandmother left  home young, fleeing a small town in Indiana that is now little more than a name on a map; the homes, businesses and the tavern where she would wait for her father, alone in the snow, long faded to lonely roads and empty fields.  My father moved away from the home she created, and I from his, heading east, against the tide, retracing the steps of my immigrant forebears, back to this city they merely passed through as they traveled west in search of new lives.  I roam the streets that must have bewildered them, finding comfort in the knowledge they never had time to acquire.

Darkness falling, I cross the river to my quiet neighborhood, and walk its streets in the misty Christmas rain, marveling at how effortlessly I’ve traveled back in time.  Brought up in a swirl of pre-fab housing and six lanes to the shopping center, I live now in a world I thought lost to me.  A place of diners, bakeries, hardware stores and corner taverns, mixed right in with the houses.  A place where at certain times, when the light is right, I expect to see my grandfather among the men in their coveralls walking up the hill at end of the day. And a place where two young boys are playing ball on the sidewalk while their sister and mother watch from the porch, conversing in Spanish, their front door open and their Christmas lights blinking, enjoying the unusual warmth of the season.  A place of comfort, wrapped in a sense of wonder.  A home of sorts.  And a place that I, and so many others, continue to make our own.

Merry Christmas.

01christmas2003steinway

September 11, 2009

11 Sep

It’s a rainy day here in New York City, and my neighbors are walking gently, as they always do on this day.

Eight years ago on a clear, blue sky morning I walked up Second Avenue toward Twenty Third Street.  At 19th street a loud crash made me turn around, thinking I’d heard a car accident.  Nothing was there.  As I approached 20th Street sirens sounded and cars began to pour out of the Police Academy.  At the 23rd Street post office I overheard a man saying that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.  I asked him to repeat this and he did, pointing to the smoke, now visible through the high windows .  By the time I got to work the first building had fallen, and before long the second had come down as well.  I left to look for my wife.

Heading west across Manhattan, the views down the Avenues abruptly vanished into a wall of floating debris.  The first survivor passed me, a man about my age, his thinning blond hair, eyelashes and the shoulders of his blue suit covered in dust.  Others soon followed, shaken and bleary in their dirty clothes.  “I ran down eighty flights,”  one said.  A woman who spoke little English asked me what was going on and I did my best to explain.

I found Amy, we made our way to a friend’s apartment, and from her 12th Street roof we watched as long lines of people made their way out of the cloud that now engulfed the tip of Manhattan.  A few hours later, when the L train returned to service, we made our way home.

To me September 11 will always be New York City’s day.  Most of the world watched it, while we, to wildly varying degrees, lived it.  And while, in the days following, the country seemed to slowly lose it’s mind in some misbegotten quest for retribution, my people were kind.  We dealt with each other gently and helped where we could.  For a short time we opened ourselves to the fragility of life, and it brought out the best in us.  Every year when this day rolls around I do my best to remember that.  The city often helps.

On the first anniversary Amy and I got up very early and walked to work, crossing the Williamsburg Bridge before making our way uptown.  Somewhere on the hushed morning streets of the Lower East Side we passed a young man quietly going about his business.  He just so happened to be dressed as the Statue of Liberty.  He was also painted blue from head to toe.

The following year I went for a drink in the East Village.  It was a sunny afternoon and to get into the bar I had to step over the ugliest bulldog I had ever seen.  He was warming himself in the doorway and, oblivious to my presence, was not inclined to move.  His name was Buckshot.  The neighborhood police had found him tied to a fence, shot and left for dead.  Outraged, they had nursed him back to health before entrusting him to the care of the woman sitting next to me.  As we talked, Buckshot swaggered his way back into the bar, leaving a generous trail of saliva in his wake.  I could see the scars that peppered his hide as he loudly snuffled and nudged his way beneath my stool, damn near tipping me over in the process.  In his mind he owned that bar.  After everything he’d been through, no one was arguing.

And this morning we took Heath to his first full day of  Kindergarten.  This little person whose existence I could not even imagine eight years ago is already starting school.  His equally unimaginable sister has built herself up to a solid three word vocabulary, the most recent addition being, of course, “Heath.”  They know little of that day eight years ago, and yet, for me, they embody its spirit.  Maddening, mercurial, and totally unpredictable, they are my daily, hour by hour, minute by minute reminder that I am always at my best when I slow down, open my eyes, and approach the world gently, helping out whenever I can.  A good lesson easily forgotten.

Luckily, the kids keep me honest.

 

 

Hallie’s First Year

12 Jun

In memory it seems a time of fire.  The blood red sun sinking into the darkness of the city, the brutal heatwave that arrived with Hallie’s birth, the heat-dusted Hell’s Kitchen pavements I walked the days following, and the track fire on the N Line that forced us all to find a different way home. 

This June has been different, the mornings wet and cool and the days pleasingly warm.  We celebrated Hallie’s birthday with our friends in Astoria Park, dappled with shade and cooled by an East River breeze.  We ate, we made ice cream, and, as Hallie was passed from arms to loving arms, my friend Ben talked of how amazing our neighborhood is.  And he’s right.  I have never in my adult life felt such a sense of community.  I would have to go back to my childhood in the suburbs of Detroit where almost every house had a pack of kids, our dad’s all worked for the car companies, and our mothers drank their coffee and chatted while watching us play, to find anything even close.  And yet here it is, not in some idyllic small town, as I always supposed, but smack dab in the middle of New York City, where the park, diners, library and bakeries of any thriving small town have combined with a diversity, density and immigrant spirit to create a place where the streets dance with friends and acquaintances and where, in this busiest of cities, I always have time to talk with my neighbors.

The secret ingredient in all this is,  of course, the kids.  Heath lives to introduce himself to people, often complete strangers, almost always winning a smile, if not a full blown converstaion.  Hallie is more subtle, drawing people in with her beauty, her wave, and her pale blue eyes.  For Hallie seems to have a great capacity for joy, and it’s a gift she freely shares with others.  Any sadness or regret I felt at the time of her birth is certainly gone,  seemingly burned away in those first few days, and the gentle happiness of having her in our lives has brushed away any remaining ashes.

Last night Hallie had a fever,  which brought neither joy nor sleep to anyone.  Amy and I took turns holding her until, finally,  she fell asleep.   Restless and warm, she kicked her way through the night, but when morning broke, gray and foggy, her fever had subsided.  We arose, showered, dressed, and after a quick breakfast I kissed her goodbye, testing for the heat that was no longer there.  Then I was out the door and into the mist, feeling the moisture on my clean morning face.

 

 

Mad Men

6 Feb

The Mad Men were out this clear, cold afternoon on Park Avenue.  They moved with a certain grace for ones so old, and in their trenchcoats and fedoras they maintained an air of courtly, no nonsense elegance that their younger colleagues cannot begin to match.

Any vestige of old New York is a joy to stumble upon.  So much so that I, never a fan of businessmen or their mode of dress, was warmed by the site of these guys.  In a city that buries it’s history with the glee of a child at the beach, any continuity, any connection to what came before is both a comfort and a balm.   

As was Monday’s warmth.  Granting an unexpected reprieve from the winter’s chill, the sun appeared and drove the temperature well into the fifties, creating a glorious day that drew everyone to Steinway Park.  Friends that Heath, Hallie and I had not seen in months reappeared, escaping their apartments to bask in the spring-like warmth.  Heath and his buddies, John Peter and Max, crashed into and piled on top of each other like the puppies they are and, despite all the little boy bumps and bangs, nobody cried, which may be a first.

Hallie sat in the sun and played with her brother’s trains, then rested in my arms and finally laid her head on my shoulder and went to sleep.  With one eye on Heath, I held my daughter and talked with Asja, Sonia and especially Jenny, who did so much for us during Hallie’s first days, and who never fails to make me laugh.  It was one of the nicest afternoons of my life.

I love my neighborhood.  I love the bakeries and the bars, the delis and the diners, the library and the parks.  But most of all I love the people,  the friends and acquaintances who share our little patch of Astoria, and whose paths cross ours every day.  This tightly woven tapestry of lives is another remnant of old New York, one that struggles on despite the TVs, computers and busy schedules that contrive to keep us isolated from one and other.  And never is the vibrance of this tapestry more evident than on those days when the weather, and the kids and everybody’s mood combines to create a gentle party, where we all slow down, love our kids and enjoy our friends.

With little warning the sun began to fade and after a short time it was gone.  Snow clouds arose in the west and their approach brought cooling air and a desire for home.  And so we all departed, pulling our reluctant offspring in various directions, making our way down the familiar streets, racing the cold.

As we crossed Steinway and headed down 23rd Avenue I spotted Jenny’s husband Pete crossing the street a block up.

“Look,”  I said, “It’s Pete.”

“Where?”  Heath said, looking at the sidewalk.

“There!” I said, getting down to his level so he could follow the direction of my finger.

“Where?” He asked again, looking up at the clouds.

“THERE!” I said, turning his head with both my hands.

“Where?” he replied, staring off into some vague middle distance.

As this was going on Pete, a tall thin man with very long arms, standing on a street corner, progressed from a mere wave to something akin to jumping jacks in an attempt to draw Heath’s attention. 

Heath never saw him, but I did, and it made me smile all the way home.

 

 

Best Cup of Coffee

4 Aug

It was beautiful this morning.  Early sunrise, cool breeze and the sound of leaves dancing.  Not quite enough to get me out of bed for a run, but enough to make me thoroughly enjoy Hallie cuddling against my chest after her 6 am feeding and the both of us crawling back into bed with Amy for a little more sleep.  Heath stumbled in a few minutes later and as all four of us lay in the early morning light things seemed just about perfect.

The city has moods.  I notice this most on days when the mood is dark.  But today the city was serene, it’s people calm and polite, as if all New York had enjoyed a good night’s sleep.  And it probably had, the heat and humidity having broke with Saturday’s storms, leaving the days comfortable and the nights cool.  My dreams, lately a jumbled mass of high school reunions and old girlfriends, grew quiet, and last night I simply slept.  But, having a newborn in the house, I did not sleep enough.

And so I needed coffee, which I picked up from my favorite cart at the corner of Lexington & 52nd.  I don’t know her name, but I love the woman who runs this cart.  She has taken wonderful care of me these past few weeks as I stumble sleep deprived into the city for another day of temping. 

I discovered her one morning when the nearest Starbucks locked it’s outside door.  You see, I know it’s crazy, but I had actually made peace with popping the five dollars for a Venti Decaf Mocha with skim milk and no whipped cream.  In my defense, I had a rule.  No more than once a week, with exceptions for days when it’s raining (as it was on this particular morning).  But the street door I always used was locked.  I could see customers inside, but the door wouldn’t budge.  Then I saw the little sign.  For security reasons I was required to enter from inside the building.  Which meant going through security.  Metal detector, bag check, the whole nine yards.  Ten minutes before I’m supposed to be at work.  For the privilege of paying FIVE DOLLARS FOR A CUP OF COFFEE!  No. Absolutely not!  I stood out in the rain as people hurried past and I scanned the horizon for a coffee cart until BAM!  I saw one directly across Lexington.  I ran across the street and bought a cup of coffee for one dollar!  And it was goooooooood!  And the woman was nice!  We chatted, we laughed, we became, in a small way, friends.  For whatever reason, she was wearing a head scarf, and somehow that made it even better.  Completely restored my faith in humanity.

This morning the prices had gone up.  That medium coffee is now $1.25.  But despite its having been a couple weeks, my newfound coffee friend remembered that I like skim milk and two sugars.  I gave her two singles and she pushed one back. 

“Just give me a quarter next time.” 

“Are you sure?”, I asked.

“Yes, it’s so much easier.” 

And so it is. 

I walked up toward Park Avenue, smiling in the morning sun, breathing in the air of a happy, well rested city.

 

 

Kind Words

15 Jul

I have never really trusted kind words. Fearing false emotion and cheap platitudes, I shrugged them off as politely as possible and moved on, never giving them their due.

I was wrong.

Not to avoid cheap emotion, please… God save us from Oprah’s couch. But I was wrong not to listen. Not to hear. Not to recognize the truth that is almost always there.

The responses to my first post, Gifts from My Daughter, have been an amazing lesson in the power of a kind word at a difficult time. Such words, I have learned, do not lose, but rather gain with repetition the power to comfort, attaining a warm glow, the softness of a favorite blanket, the smell of woodsmoke. I cannot hear them enough.

Surprisingly many of these words have come from old friends, people I really didn’t expect to hear much from again. And yet here they are, sharing their own lives and stories as if the time and distance that separates us does not exist.

Why did I ever let such amazing friends drift away?.

The answer, I know, is mostly geography. When you pick up and move every decade or so, you cut a lot of ties. Hell, in my youth I thought this was healthy, something everyone should do. As if uprooting all the trees in a forest every ten years and moving them all around could somehow be good land management.

Idiocy.

I should never have let it happen. These people are too valuable. I should have brought them with me. Forcibly if necessary. And we should all now live within blocks of each other, having coffee in the morning, beers at night, and barbecues on the weekend. Our children and grandchildren should all be the best of friends and have the run of each others houses. We should be there for each other all the time, sharing the seasons of our lives.

Idiocy as well, I suppose. But, understandable idiocy, which is usually the best I can plead.

So, I throw myself upon the mercy of my friends. And be they in Perrysburg, Chicago, New York, or Steamboat Springs, I have no doubt they will catch me. Most likely with a kind word at a difficult time. Which I will value above gold.