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Sue Hess

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The Stroll
By Sue Hess
Thursday, June 13, 2002

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a writer's look at the city where she lives

 ‘Take a walk with me,’ he said, grabbing my hand, ‘there’s things I need to show you.’
Running down the stairs, two at a time, dragging me behind him like a ship in tow, he barreled out into the city streets. The heat pounded us back like something solid, causing him to stop abruptly, pushing his hair back out of his eyes. Slower now, still dragging me behind, he started walking toward the corner of our block.

‘Where are we going?’ I could never follow meekly without question. It isn’t in my nature and he knew it. Looking back at me, he winked and said’ you told me you have nothing interesting to write about. Look around you, girl, open your eyes.’
Intrigued now, I caught up with him and started looking around. On the stoop in front of us, a young, underfed mother sat breast feeding an infant, a toddler about 18 months tied to a rope connected around her waist and allowed him to crawl up and down the stairs. With boundless energy he crawled…up two steps, down two, occasionally tugging to test the strength of his bonds. The young mother smiled tiredly at him and brushed her hair back from her face with roughened hands. A bruise in the shape of a man’s hand covered her inner arm above the elbow. Sensing my stare, she lowered her arm and glared at me to mind my own business, patting the infant’s back listlessly. I hurried on.

On the corner near the small candy store, a group of teenagers pushed and shoved one another, laughing louder than necessary, cursing with no animosity, flirting with each other with no passion. An older boy dominated the group, a little taller, a little louder and a little brasher; he flirted with a pretty dark eyed girl in white shorts. She flirted back while ignoring the attention she was getting from a boy standing to her right, looking at her with a hunger that was painful to see. As he watched her flirt, his desire so open, another girl sat atop a mailbox a foot or so from him, watching him as if she could eat him alive, her admiration so intent and so unnoticed. Occasionally she threw the girl in white shorts a petulant look, which was also ignored, if even noticed. And in and out of this small drama, a thin black teenager danced, to a tune only he could hear, in perfect rhythm, stopping once in a while in front of one of the group to dance silently for a moment. He might as well be invisible for all the attention they paid him. Undaunted, he danced on.

I was so intent on this group, I ran into the back of my friend, who had stopped and was patting his pocket for his wallet. Satisfied that it was there, he pulled me into the tiny store, where tinny Mexican music came from a dusty a.m. radio on a shelf near the window. In the store, an old man and woman worked wordlessly, in perfect harmony, she dusting, he arranging cans on a shelf, each ignoring the other completely, but so synchronized were their movements, I felt like a ballet was taking place in front of me. My friend asked for two fruit drinks and two hotdogs in his perfect Spanish, picked up somewhere in the last year or so. Even though we had been together for that entire time, I had never seen him take a lesson or study in any way, he just seemed to absorb knowledge through his pores and I was constantly amazed. The old man and woman, without a spoken word, went to their separate tasks, him drawing our drinks and she fixing the hotdogs, wrapping them in pieces of wax paper and handing them to us over his arm, while he handed the sodas without looking her way. Never once during this operation did either look at the other, even a casual glance and yet they never touched, crossing each others paths like sentries trained over the years to perfect harmony. Having paid for our purchases, we wandered out onto the hot street to eat.

Across the street and up several houses, an old Italian woman was leaning out the second story window, berating two old men who sat on the stoop, playing checkers and drinking what appeared to be homemade wine. Strident voice loud, even on the noisy street, she yelled in her native language, which the old men answered occasionally with many hand gestures and open- mouthed cackles. Never once did either take their eyes off their game or discuss the old woman’s complaints among themselves, they obviously had done this many times and had their strategy down perfectly. Two moves, a sip, three or four words yelled toward the upper window, along with appropriate hand gestures and then repeat. I had never before noticed the rhythm of the city I had lived in all my life, never stopped to watch the dramas and parodies playing out in front of my eyes.

Ever the gentleman, my friend tossed our trash, including my half eaten hotdog,into a bin and began to stroll back toward home. Skipping to catch up, I looked at him with new respect. He had always seemed so oblivious to it all, skimming through life without effort, touching where he wanted to touch, ignoring the extraneous, and I realized for the first time that he was comfortable because he had adapted to this wonderful harmony I had just witnessed. He felt the breath of the city and he breathed it in with contentment, whereas I had fought it, complained of the stifling atmosphere, the boredom, the lack of stimulus, never seeing the parade of life going on in front of my face. I couldn’t wait to get back to my PC and to start writing. This time, it was I who took the stairs two at a time.

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Reviewed by Robert Fullerton 1/24/2005
It is so nice to have someone to point all life's little dramas and comedies...Sadly, I lost my pointer...
Thanks .....Bob
Reviewed by Roxanne Smolen 4/17/2004
This should be a lesson to us all. Thank you for sharing it.
Reviewed by Sanjay Sonawani 6/14/2002
Wonderful write.
Reviewed by Ed Lupinacci 6/13/2002
It is amazing the things you miss every day
wrapped up in your own little world. I use to go to NYC and walk the streets just to watch life it was always a bittersweet experience. I wanted so much to help all those who had less than i and envied those with more. this is what helped me remmeber that how ever tough it gets I'm still somewhere in the middle. and that not so bad

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