Sunday, April 27, 2008

Walk, Don't Race

"I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy—myself."
---A Warrior’s Prayer by Chief Redcloud

I watched a rat race the other day.

That’s not a figure of speech about the daily, soul-destroying grind of the average working stiff.

I mean I actually saw two rats having a race.

I was standing on the platform of the R station at 36th Street, as part of my daily, soul-destroying grind to the office when I looked down on the tracks and saw one rat being chased by another.

I guess they were racing, or playing tag. Or maybe they were going to do the wild thing, the little rat fuck bastards.

Whatever they were doing, I'm pretty certain they were having more fun than I was.

I finished my second week at the new job and let’s just say that I need to do some mental adjustments to keep from running away to join the circus.

I don’t want to say that I’ve been depressed, but the other day I was walking down Sixth Avenue after a numbing day at the office and a homeless man hanging out on the corner told me to cheer up.

I know that sounds like a Henry Youngman line, but it really did happen. A man clutching a Styrofoam cup and hustling for change on the mean streets of New York saw how miserable I was.

"Smile, man," he said. "it's not so bad."

It took me a few seconds to realize he was speaking to me and not some hallucination. Then I grinned, turned around and gave him all the change in my pocket. I felt much better.

I got into a real rat race years ago while jogging down the bike path on the Narrows and one cold and very dark morning when a rat came out of the shadows and crossed my path.

This particular rodent freaked when he saw and instead of running away, he started running in front of me. We looked like we were competing in some kind of inter-species track meet.

“Get out of here!” I screamed and he finally bolted.

That's one of the many reasons I prefer working out at the gym.

I’m taking the express in Manhattan every day now that I’m working in Soho. I get a few minutes outdoors as D train travels over the bridge and then it’s back underground.

Unlike my previous commute to Wall Street, I never get a seat on the D. But it’s nice being in Soho, away from the financial district after almost those years of slogging around the stock market.

I always try to look out the window when the train goes over the bridge, like a tourist, even though I’ve lived here most of my life. I like to take a look at the outside world for a minute or so before pulling into Grand Street.

The other morning I looked out the window and saw this young guy on bike pedaling along the footpath. From my angle, all I could see was the biker with his head down, his legs pumping steadily, and the water below.

A Bridge Too Far

It could have been anywhere in the world and I found myself remembering the time I rented a bike in San Francisco about 10 years ago while visiting my brother and his family.

I biked over the Golden Gate Bridge from the Embarcadero to Sausalito, where I took the ferry back. The young guy who had rented the bike to me noticed the cap I wore that said Brooklyn. He advised me to chain the bike up whenever I got off of it.

“You’re from Brooklyn so you know what that’s about,” he said.

I kept thinking about that bike ride over the Pacific as I watched this man on the Manhattan Bridge.

I imagined that the bike rider was free, traveling on this beautiful day without a care in the world. It seemed that way for the 30 or so seconds that I saw of him.

My train kept an even pace with him and then his path took him up into the sunlight and ours took us back into the rat hole.

He took the high road and we took the low road. I don’t know who got to Scotland afore who, but I’d really like to be in San Francisco right now.

At Grand Street, the conductor had a message for us.

"Thank you ladies and gentlemen for your eyes and ears," he said. "Because of you we are able to continue our trip."

I'm not sure what he meant by that. Was it some kind of variation of the Homeland Security message I hear most days--"if you see something, say something" line? Maybe a passenger had just given him a hot tip about some terrorists wielding Metrocards.

I’ll have to settle for Soho, but not for too long, apparently. It seems I can't escape the gravitational pull of Wall Street.

My new company is going to be leaving its Houston Street-area location sometime between September and December and moving downtown to, yep, the financial district.

I’m feel like Al Pacino in “The Godfather Part III” when he roars, “I keep trying to get out of the business, but the business keeps pulling me back in!”

It’ll be easier for me in many ways, but easy isn’t always the best way, especially if you get locked in a comfort zone where you do things that are familiar only because they’re familiar.

But once we’re downtown, I’ll have a ride to work and I’ll be closer to my favorite gym and my church, Trinity.

I had recently wrote to one of the priests there, telling him how much I missed the place, and how I used to go from his service and right to my gym half-a-block away.

This priest, Rev. Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones, gives out copies of a poem after each service and the last one I got from him was “The Warrior’s Prayer” by Chief Red Cloud.

I had stuffed it into my wallet as I left the service--I thought it was my last one there--and forgot all about it, until I discovered it last week when I needed to write down a phone number.

It is a very moving piece of work and the timing was excellent, since I was feeling pretty fragile in my new surroundings.

Rev. Bozzuti-Jones He answered my e-mail last week, addressing me as “Rob of God,” which is unquestionably a first in my lifetime.

“I wanted to let you know that I miss having you here at Trinity,” he wrote, “even if you went to gym afterwards. Hope you are settling well into the new job and I hope you will keep in touch.”

I told him I'd be back in the fall and he responded by saying “That’s why I never say goodbye.”

Some days the rat race doesn't seem so bad after all.


Brenda from Flatbush said...

Just caught up with this post. You really can take the intersection of Bleak and Spit-Take Funny into a new dimension, old chap. Kick a rat for me today, Rob of God!

Rob K said...

Consider it done, oh Queen of Prospect Park.