My mother used to send me little laminated clippings from magazines and such in care packages when I was in college, and I would stick them around my dorm room or whatever. They were really pretty cool images: things like students in Paris rioting in '69 and a human egg being artifically inseminated. One of my favorites was an image of Ollie North on a television with the Oscar Wylde quote, "we're all lying in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars," superimposed over the top.
As I traversed the city in the beautiful weather this past fine Sunday I began to regain some of my lost affinity for my fellow man. Occasional smiles from strangers picked me up in little ways, and the cosmopolitan heart of New York pumped strong loving blood, a lone saxaphone playing man on 5th and 43rd echoed soothing basanova through the hollow canyons of midtown. In front of the central park bandshell capable people were playing games with gravity. A band of unicyclists occupied one corner, while another was controlled by young men performing personal cicular acrobatics with tricked out BMX bikes. There were plenty of regular people too, rolerbladers and dog-walkers and dudes playing catch. All around were freindly, beautiful, open faces of many ages and colors. I watched it all, conversations and acrobatics, people being people, and I thought to myself, yes, this is America.
A little closer to the lush closed off green of the sheep meadow -- still off limits so the sodding process can fully take -- there was a band of dreadlocked men in outlandish garb and loudspeakers playing some world beat fusion with a crowd of uninhibited people, smiling people, dancing in an unconscious and gleefully unorganized way. I thought that, yes, this too was America.
Then on my bike again to Grand Central I had another thought about how I'd seen so many clean, fit people with nice clothes and nice toys -- the fashionable long-haired woman with the acoustic guitar she couldn't really play; "just a prop," she said to her friend -- and I realized with more than a trace of bitterness how much I missed hanging around friendly affluent liberal people. They'd abounded in college, coloring the atmosphere with freewheeling funloving optimism and an earnest, if inexperienced, progressive consciousness. In the years since graduation I've lived in more austere company, class lines and parental cutoffs reducing my social sphere to that of people more in line with my means, and for a moment I feel a sense of regret and longing, to be a part of the soft pretty world that so often comes bundled with a lack of material concerns.
On my way out of the park I passed a man trying, poorly, to teach his daughter the finer points of riding a bicycle in busy surroundings. "Main road," he kept saying to her in a disconcertingly passive-aggressive tone as she drifted toward an exit spur, prompted in part by my lead. "Main road." She clearly didn't understand and was upset that she was upsetting her father, and I remarked to my self on how easy it is to fall into a pattern of forcing things.
Walking into grand central there's a skinny young National Guardsman with a black military baret and a high and tight haircut cracking jokes with a African-American female NYPD officer. More America, in all its spelendor, right under my nose.
And so I begin to feel a little better about everything. I don't need to have parties all the time, but I do need to help people join the 21st century. In spite of all their flag-flying, my neighbors are to my mind kind of unamerican. With that realization it occurs to me that it's up for debate; the nature of this country. My thought on the train, an optimistic one, as I rolled north past 125th St and the sun set over Harlem, was that America is this -- all the beautiful things I've seen and a helping loving hand outstretched to the ugly and maligned -- but only if we want it to be. If we want it to be and we will work for it, it is. Because it's the truth. Equality. Love. Justice. These are the truth, and they always feel better.