After sixteen straight days of 90-degree heat and very high humidity, the weather broke for a few days and dropped into the 80s. I had an errand to do in Harlem, and after visiting a once-elegant, stiflingly hot, broken down building, I walked down to Central Park all the way to 35th Street with sweat rolling down the valley of my spine.
It got darker and there were a few muffled thunder rolls, and a few drops of rain fell without cooling anything. It got muggier, and I felt dirty, like I needed a shower badly.
The rain started to drip steadily, and I took a bus because I was carrying a valuable package. The bus was air-conditioned. At 14th Street the driver came to the rear of the bus and went through an elaborate procedure to lift a man in a wheelchair into the bus. It took about ten minutes. It took less time to let the man off at Houston and Allen Streets in the famous Lower East Side.
The next bus that came along could not work the elaborate wheelchair lift to get the poor man into the bus. The man would move his lower legs and boost the chair, but he couldn't get up, and he could not talk intelligibly. Strange sounds came from his mouth as he tried to talk.
The driver was a very nice man, calm and thorough, but he couldn't make the lift work. He made a call on his radio, and soon a Transit Authority Jeep 4x4 showed up, and a striking blond-haired woman with extremely long red-lacquered nails boarded the bus with a handsome young man. They were both impeccably tailored in Transit Authority uniforms.
It was very hot and many people walked about in shorts. For the most part, this was one of the less esthetically-pleasing sights. One realizes how fat and ugly most New Yorkers are.
They all tried to make the lift work and it almost did, but it didn't. The time dragged on as all the passengers took an agonizing interest in the folding and unfolding of the stairs, and the opening and closing of the doors, and the "shisst-shissht-shh" of the hydraulic cylinders.
During situations like this, New Yorkers break the rules about looking at and speaking to strangers. An impassive person will look at you and you soon see the body language of disgust and suffering: the eyes roll, the shoulders go up ever so little, and maybe the head nods up and down several times. Eyes meet yours and slowly close, "Great, great, just great," comes a low voice over the "shi-sht, shisht clunk-clunk-bang!"
What can you do? You wrinkle your brow, you hunch your shoulders and you open your hands outward while muttering "eech!" It's genetic, I suppose.
A very powerfully-built young man jumps up and stomps to the door and starts yelling at the crippled man in the wheelchair who can't talk but is now smiling at the thought of getting into the bus out of the dirty rain.
"No, no, no!" scream the three Transit employees. The body language of the passengers reflects impatience and disgust. Many go rigid and stare into space and shake the head. (This means, "Let's get out of here!")
The blond tells the driver,"Write it up," and we leave. Everyone settles into their virtual reality.
Everybody talks about the new statistics which show that crime in the Big City, especially murder, is down. Usually New Yorkers talk about how bad things are, but in this case they mention the so-called good news in order to say they don't believe that it is true, thus showing that they are ready for whatever bad news fate and the tabloid front pages have in store.
Actually, it is very hard to believe. Every day, I get up early and go to the bakery for hard-seeded rolls, ice crumb buns and a few crullers. Then I get the News, the Post and the New York Times. (See the movie "Smoke" to learn what every New York newspaper/cigar/candy store looks like.)
The daily mayhem and murder report is overwhelming. Parents killing their children, children killing their parents Ñ boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives. Of course, the feeling that life is one big slaughterhouse is exaggerated by sensational reports of killings and executions from all over the states. When you read this sort of thing, you realize you don't have it so bad. "I may be living in a neighborhood filled with zombie drug addicts and winos where the crack pipes are always lit, in a sauna-like apartment, but no one hacked me up with a cleaver or shot me today. Not so bad, this life, is it?"
Immigrants are a touchy subject. Officially they are good, but unofficially, you get that look Ñ a sidelong glance and a hesitation before speaking. It's hard to understand many people you meet. If you see a kid in gang-type attire, you can usually be sure he or she is indigenous. You can't really be sure of anyone else.
You have to read between the lines in order to tell what the word means in a newspaper article. It can mean an undocumented (illegal) foreign national, or a foreign national with a visa and work permit or a naturalized, foreign-born immigrant.
There was an interesting story in the N.Y. Times Ñ "Immigrants Fight Residency Rules" Ñ about Salvadorians and Mexicans who live in Heampstead Long Island and the difficult time they were having getting their children into the local elementary school. They were being asked for copies of their leases, pay stubs, mortgage certificates and other proof of residency. What was interesting is that it was mostly an African-American school district.
Then there was what the Newark Star Ledger called "The Russian Crime Network" which was bilking State and Federal government out of billions of dollars in fuel tax revenues. Here, Russian citizens with or without visas, permits, etc., and naturalized American citizens of Russian descent were called "immigrants." The New York Times, for some reason, called this quaint group "Russian emigres."
The scam, which has been going on for many years now, involves selling home heating fuel, on which there is no transportation tax, for diesel fuel and pocketing the tax money.
Many of these immigrants apparently claimed to be Jewish in order to get out of Russia, but then came to the U.S. rather than Israel where life is harder.
One often reads about immigrants in Israel, the "settlers," American Jews who have been occupying and building settlements in Judea and Samaria, otherwise known as the West Bank (of the Jordan). This group of immigrant/settlers from America has been making things difficult for the Israeli government by occupying hilltops and passively resisting eviction by the police and army, protesting, and broadcasting on pirate radio stations. When the Puerto Ricans flooded to New York in the '50s and '60s, no one called them immigrants Ñ but that's what Dominicans who come from the next big island are called. Cubans, of course, were always "refugees." The Mexicans, the most workaholic of all immigrant people, are now evident and moving in to enjoy the wonderful freedom to eat fairly regularly.
It really is a melting pot Ñ especially when it's hot.