Sometimes essays about life in this poetic city write themselves. This past Monday was one of those days.
I woke up happy, having spent the day before at the wedding of two people so delightful and in love that it made one feel the whole world could be a loving and benign place. By late morning, it was time to cross town and take my new granddog Peter the perfect puppy for his midday constitutional. What a pleasure on a day gorgeous as Monday was. As I left home, my block was crowded with movie makers, their trucks, their food tent, and enough black electrical cables to stretch from Broadway, around the moons of Jupiter and back to University Place. The filming was going on in a flower shop, life as usual in this neighborhood where they can shoot in any time period from 1887 till sixteen years from now.
As I started across the street, I heard passerby say to his companion, “There’s a body just lying on the sidewalk.” Ah, I thought, they're making an episode of the latest Law and Order spinoff.
Peter was his usual essence of cuteness and attracted admiration from men, women, children, and other beasts on his walk in the far West Side. On the way back across town to pick up the evening’s dinner ingredients in the Union Square Green Market, I passed three people looking into the window of an optometrist’s shop, pointing at the eyeglass frames and talking about which ones might look great on whichever one of them was in need of new specks. That set me to thinking, as I threaded my way through the throngs on Sixth Avenue and across 15th street: At any given moment in my town there are people buying eyeglasses, falling in love, hammering a nail to hang a picture, making an investment, planning a business trip, having a baby, changing a tire, paying the electric bill. It’s wonderful to feel a part of all of that humanity.
The green market was beautiful in its harvest plenty. Purchases in hand, I then headed down University Place for home and came upon cops and crime scene tape. The movie makers? But no. A dead person, an actual person lay on the sidewalk covered with a blanket, blood beneath the head. A real body.
I have lived in and loved New York for almost fifty years. I had never before seen a dead body on the street.
A small knot of onlookers had gathered outside the yellow tape. I did not join them.
A block and half away, around the corner on my block the shoot in the flower shop was still going on.
A couple of hours later, when I had to go back out for another errand, the police were removing the body. A suicide, a witness who had just been released from interrogation told me. A young girl, maybe twenty.
She dropped from the building. He pointed up. Horror. Horror.
All human experience surrounds us here.
Some of us try to make sense of the senseless by writing stories about it. Some console ourselves by playing with puppies. Or by cooking and sharing good food with our loved ones.
Some are inconsolable.