I went into the City on Thursday to meet up with a friend who was in town from Portland. It's been ages and I'm so glad we had the chance to catch up. Her 9 year-old son was with her and I was telling them one of my favorite New York stories about my son.
Will has always been a dreamy kid as my mom puts it, just happy to be wherever he is at the moment. I remember that we were standing outside of Serendipity. It's the famous ice cream place where all the tourists go and have huge sundaes or whatever ice cream creation you want. Will was staring up at the sky or wandering or something and he got in this older lady's way. So she whacked him with her cane. And kept going. Not a hard whack, but it was odd. It was a first, even for New York.
So I asked Will if he was okay, and then I said, "Will, you've got to be a slippery fish in the City. You've got to weave in and out of the crowds of people looking for gaps where you can slide through and keep moving ahead. You have to pay attention to where you're going, watch for bike messengers. You can't just wander around."
You can always spot a City kid. They're still. They stand serenely on street corners holding their nanny's hand waiting for the light to change. They know the dangers of city streets unlike suburban kids who wander around looking up at the tall buildings touching every single filthy surface possible. City kids glide, kids from suburbia flail.
I met my friend and her son at Grand Central and by that time he was tired from walking -- there's so much walking in the City. I told him the story of the slippery fish. "You've got to be a slippery fish," I said. And my friend and I were laughing about that old lady whacking Will with her cane. And then this happened.
I was walking back to Grand Central to catch my train home. The sidewalk on 44th was a mess with scaffolding dividing the passage into two sides. On the right side, pedestrians were walking east and the left west. Well there were a lot of people walking east, so I decided to jump sides and walk in the opposite direction. There were a few people I had to dodge, but mostly I made it through well ahead of all those other poor people on the right. Until the very end.
At the very end of the block sat an older homeless woman who seemed to be directing traffic in that section of sidewalk. When she saw me walking on the left, she whacked me on the butt with her hand and said, "Get on over to the right side." Not a hard whack -- like the way your grandma might whack you to get in the house because it's getting late.
I must be slowing down, because I never saw that whack coming. I used to be a slippery fish.