The DNA of the New York in which I grew up was that of a diaspora. It was a place for the pieces that didn't fit with other puzzles.
Except, of course, for the City.
On the bus to school I would take a world tour and the only thing that demarcated the borders was the shifting language on the awnings for the bodegas. They were all bodegas. The tongue didn't matter. You could drape a flag on anyone's shoulders but in they end they all pledged allegiance to the Empire.
Even the lowest rung have their own outcasts. These were the characters in the storyboard of my youth. The homeless, the drugged, the unique. When Disney took hold some of them became attractions and others receded to the cracks. They are New York through and through. The City holds its own and spits out those that don't belong. I've seen it - a brief foray into urban entropy only to become the backwash in cul-de-sac slowing decaying corners of America. Characters remained part of the girder and rebar fabric.
It was these characters that were the extras in my childhood and for one day I got a bit part in their film.
Three weeks before my wedding I bought fifty prepaid MetroCards. The next week the fares went up. In order to make sure the guests from the corners had ways to get to one of the events associated with my nuptials, I had to find a way to add twenty-five cents to each card. A mere $12.50.
On a Wednesday that was so cold it could have snowed but rained instead I retreated underground with my father. He was in so many layers that he resembled a Jewish turtle. I was a hare, tightly wound 120 hours before the start of the rest of my life.
There was no guarantee that this scheme would succeed. MetroCards are fickle things and flexible, not like the tokens of yore. Carefully I unwrapped the plastic and went to the machine. I hesitated a second before plunking down a quarter. Cling. Clang.
So there we stood, soaking up most of an hour. My fingers slowly turned raw from tearing open so many wrappers and pinching for change. At some point I stopped reading instructions and simply let my fingers dance. This time in Spanish. Now French. I could have done this in Polish at the Greenpoint stations and it would not have mattered. Then the turtle chuckled and muttered:
"I'm surprised that attendant hasn't called the cops yet. I would. We look weird."
Which we did.
But no one looked. We had simply blended into the background and become the scenery in their New York stories.
So I stood at the precipice of one of the signs of adulthood and remembered being a child.