Monday, April 21, 2008

Lost Cause

"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief.
--Bob Dylan

I had wrapped up my first week at my new job on Friday when one of my co-workers gave me some great advice.

“Go get lost,” she said.

That wasn’t as harsh as it sounds.

After working in the financial district for the last seven or so years, I am now doing my business within walking distance of the West Village--a nice location indeed.

My co-worker was merely suggesting that I take a walk around the neighborhood to get a feel for the place.

Actually, I had been getting lost all week at the job. Every time I got up from a desk in my new office and walked a few feet away, I could not find my way back.

I mean, I really couldn’t do it, under the threat of torture, even if you played “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods over and over, I still couldn't tell you where my desk was.

Now that is seriously lost.

I’ve never been in an office so strangely configured. You turn one corner and you’re instantly MIA. I swear somebody rearranges the place every night after I go home, like some vast Rubik’s Cube.

Captain Cook could have buried all his treasure in this place with no fear of it ever being discovered. Making a map of the place would have been a different story.

If I don’t get this squared away soon I’ll have to hire a Sherpa guide to help me find the men’s room.

People in the office have been helpful, though. One woman helped me find my way back to my desk twice in the same afternoon.

“I’d be lost without you,” I told her. And I meant it.

I try to help people out when they seem lost. Last week, I was standing at the Bay Ridge Avenue station of the R train when this Mexican guy came up to me and showed me a piece of paper with an address on it.

It was on 18th Avenue, which meant he had to go one stop, get off at 59th Street, cross over to the other side and catch the N train.

That’s simple enough, but when the person you’re talking to can’t speak English, it puts a different spin on the situation.

As I gestured and pointed and tried to explain myself, I thought about the various cable TV hate mongers, these alleged "patriots", who are make a career of ripping into a guy like this.

While I have no proof, I suspect that he's here illegally. I don't know what to do about the problem of illegal immigrants, but I know fostering hatred is not going to help any.

This was just a guy who was lost—as I have been at various times of my life.

I indicated that he should wait for the train and he immediately took a position right next to me on the platform, like we were some kind of musical act.

Oy, I thought, I’ve made a friend.

No quite, but I was glad to help. At 59th Street I pointed to where he should go and wished him luck, though I doubt if he understood me.

I once had an immigrant double-header at Prince Street when this elderly Russian couple asked me for directions on the R train.

Which Way Did I Go?

They, too, spoke very little English, and I had to explain to them that they were heading the wrong way and the only thing they could do at this particular station was go a few stops up to Union Square and come back downtown.

I launch into this pantomime and it must have looked like I was guiding planes on the runway at JFK. I was waving my arms, pointing my fingers, all I needed was a tuxedo and I could have been conducting the Boston Pops.

And in the middle of my routine, I notice this woman starting at me. I assumed she didn’t approve of my directions and was about to say, “don’t listen to this bastard, do this instead.” This is New York, after all.

“How am I doing?” I asked her.

“I'm just listening,” she said in a lovely French accent. "I need directions, too."

“Where are you going?”

“Times Square.”

“Okay," I said, "follow the Russians. Only don’t get off at Union Square…”

I'll often help tourists who are wandering around with vacant looks on their faces; the ones clutching the tourist maps are usually the ones who are really lost.

Riding home on the train the other night, I watched as an elderly woman tried to ask a young man across from her where she should get off to get to Ovington Avenue.

Unfortunately this guy was hooked up to his Ipod and so he just kept staring off into space while the woman waved her hand and chanted "woo-hoo!" to get his attention. Finally, I stepped in and told her to get off at Bay Ridge Avenue.

Now on Friday night I wandered around and found a lovely Episcopal church, St. Luke of the Fields, on Hudson Street. I still miss Trinity Church, where I went while working at my old job, but I’m too far away now.

I went inside and found a woman setting up candles in the chapel behind the altar.

“We celebrating the Eucharist in a few minutes,” she told me. “You can join us if you like.”

Oh, great, just how I want to start the weekend—going to church. I told her that I might just do that and then left. It was lovely spring night, it was Friday for God’s sake—oops!—did I really want to spend it praying?

Well, after a walk down to the river and then back up Christopher Street, I decided I did want to do just that, and I hustled back to St. Luke’s.

When I got to the chapel I found the lady who had told me about the service and the priest…and that’s all. No other people had showed up.

It’s funny how the mind works—or fails to work, as the case may be.

As I stood in there in the chapel, I thought this is pathetic, three people having a service in this nearly empty church while the rest of the world is going out of its TGIF-ing mind. What am I doing here?

But as the service went on, I started to think that it was pretty cool, being in this select group. It felt good praying with these people and I experienced real comfort when I received communion.

This just shows you how important your perception of things really is. You can make anything awful if you put your mind to it; no one’s going to stop it.

But if you ignore those ugly voices bouncing around your head, you might be able to find something good to take home with you.

The service was so short and with three people, exchanging the sign of peace went by pretty quickly.

It was all over in under a half-hour and then I was back out on the street, wandering through the village. I was lost, but now I was found, as the song says.

Now all have to do is make that happen at the office.


Anne said...

is that the church with the really nice garden adjacent? I love that garden!

Rob K said...

Yes, it is, and it's quite beautiful.