Thumbing through my journals has unleashed a torrent of lost and, in some cases, intentionally forgotten memories. But it’s been almost 20 years to the day and I didn’t need any prompting to remember this cab ride.
March 10, 1993
I had an interesting cab ride home tonight. The driver was French, which was unusual in and of itself. We started chatting and he asked me how I liked living in a slum. This isn’t a slum! Is it?
[Note: At that time, the neighborhood was crawling with junkies and their suppliers. There were a few abandoned, boarded-up buildings but it wasn’t a slum. The irony is that thanks to gentrification, I couldn’t afford to move back into my old apartment even if I wanted to.]
He said he grew up outside of Paris, lived in Morocco for several years and has been in New York for the past 15. He said everywhere he’s been it’s the same; the slums are filled with blacks and Puerto Ricans. They’ve always been there and they’ll always be there. He said they don’t have the wherewithal to pull themselves out.
He said, “People like you and me have The Panic in us. It’s The Panic that makes us get out of bed and go to work in the morning. But those people don’t have The Panic in them and because of that, they’ll always live in ghettos. It’s in their blood.” I couldn’t believe it.
He said the difference between us and them (he actually said “us and them”) is that if someone gave him $50,000 and gave me $50,000 and gave someone in “the slum” $50,000, he and I would start a business and invest in our future but the slum person would just blow it. He doesn’t know me very well, does he?
I wonder if he was serious about this stuff? He sure sounded sincere. I have a suspicion that he was one of those nutty out-of-work actors doing a Stanislavsky exercise. You know, inhabiting a character for a day. But he was kind of old to be an out-of-work actor. Old, white, French racist. I stiffed him on the tip just in case he was serious and for being a dickhead if he wasn’t.
As long as I’m being dreary today, here’s a more contemporary example of how humanity is a disappointment.
I had to run a mid-day errand. I always like to walk through Rockefeller Center and stop to watch the tourists on the ice skating rink. They’re all on vacation and in a good mood. I like to see people enjoying New York City. It makes me feel strangely vindicated for my choices in life. I know how that sounds. Don’t judge me.
I stumbled across a living Currier and Ives print. A mother and her sweet little daughter gracefully gliding around the rink, hand in hand. What a beautiful moment, and one I’m sure the little girl will cherish for years to come.
That lasted for about a half a lap. Mom’s cell phone rang and she spent the remainder of their time together on the ice yammering into her phone. It must have been a pretty important call.
The little girl would occasionally slip on the ice and mom would just yank her up onto her feet again. She wouldn’t even interrupt her conversation to help her. I wanted to climb down onto the ice and cross check her into the boards. But that would have been crazy, right? Yes dear, mother loves spending time with you, but what’s coming out of that phone is far more interesting than what you have to offer.
What a terrible, lost opportunity. Teach your children well, indeed.