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Urban Druid: Living in the Real New York

I do not eat McDonalds, but last week on the funky gentrified Upper West Side of Manhattan, I sat with a large black coffee… an energy boost before heading into the gym several doors away. Typing an email to an old mentor…with my head down… trying to recall for him the last time I’d felt as though I was in the ‘right place at the right time’. Seems a long while.

A sweet voice interrupts me: “This is an awesome place.”

Upper_West_Side_2007

Upper West Side and Central Park

I look up from under the bill of my ball cap: She’d invited herself to sit at my tiny ‘two seater’ table. A beautiful face tracing back to the African Ivory Coast perhaps, judging by the eyes and high cheekbones. Her hair perfectly braided. She must have been 6 or 7 years old.

I was wearing ear buds plugged into nothing. It keeps people from bothering me. I took out the left ear bud, pretending I hadn’t heard what she’d said.

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

She repeated: “This is an awesome place.”

I looked around at the mother feeding her little boy French fries. The homeless people (who’d slipped through the cracks after the money mongers took over NYC) seated in the corner with their belongings and no place to go. The two drug addicts arguing over who was first in line for the restroom.

She stared straight into my soul waiting for my response:

“Do you really think so?” I asked.

She nodded her head and said, “Yes.” Then she got up and joined her mother and siblings who were holding the exit door open…waiting for her.

I looked up toward the ceiling and said, “Thank you.” The Universe reminding me that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Realizing… yes, I am in an awesome place.

Little Italy

The world is better in some ways. It is not all bad, as the media would have us believe.

In NYC, for example, things have changed. When I was a young boy in the Bronx, I walked east on Fordham Road and kept on going.  Uncharted territory. Having lost my way… I stood frozen at a handball court. The entire handball wall painted in three sections of red, white and green (The colors of the Italian flag). In the middle section (the white section of the flag) was painted a green map of the USA, and painted down through the center of the USA map, in red, was painted the map of Italy.

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Little Italy handball court today.

I was paralyzed. Terrified. My breathing became shallow…or did it stop altogether? I had walked smack into the center of “Little Italy”. (The same neighborhood captured on film in Chazz Palminteri’s “Bronx Tale”). I was certain the Italians were going to kill me. Not the kids…the men.

Looking down at the sidewalk…hiding blue eyes and concealing freckles dotting the map of Ireland across my face…I back-tracked slowly out of the neighborhood to ‘safety’. We were all so culturally compartmentalized, in those days. Conditioned by the things we were told about other ethnic groups.

I thought of this today, walking past a homeless man on the Upper West Side.  He was drinking a bottle of cheap wine and singing a Jimmy Buffet song…in broken Spanish/English…something I might never have witnessed as a boy. As bad as the media tells us it is, the cultures are far closer today. They want us to be separate…But I don’t watch mainstream media. I watch the world around me…

Kevin Patrick Dowling

Kevin Patrick Dowling is a native New Yorker living amongst the masses. Observing from the trenches. A former sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, who had cut his teeth in the brutal 1970s Bronx. Currently working on a novel, he is an actor and playwright. A former stagehand, bookie, restaurant manager, construction worker, security officer.

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4 Responses

  1. Karl says:

    Love the imagery. Can feel the frightened boy inside… we all have found ourselves in a place we feel we do not belong.

  2. maura says:

    Wonderful Kevin. So very proud. Akways was, even as kids on Fordham!!

  3. Ginny says:

    Fantastic insight and very up lifting. You can feel NYC through your words.

  4. Teresasan says:

    Hey Kevin, this is great stuff – you brought back some memories quite vividly. Best of luck and looking forward to my next read!

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