I don’t know what I thought I’d find here. Might I already have found it? There’s a nice thought. If I haven’t found it, here’s hoping I find it somewhere else, because I have just a few weeks left living in this neighborhood.
Last weekend, walking home from a birthday party, I passed a group of guys about my age. One of them approached me.
“You got a dollar?” he asked.
No, I said.
He looked me over, skeptical. “You don’t have one dollar?”
He had point. I did have a dollar. I meant “No” the way someone who says “Let’s get together soon” means that seeing you again is not worth planning. What I actually meant was, “I do have a dollar, but not for you.”
“I do have a dollar, but not for you,” I said. He said, “Man, this is the hood. We help each other out here. You don’t have one dollar for me so I can get a blunt?”
This pissed me off, I think because I didn’t like being told how we do things here. Here is the South Bronx, where I live, and how we do things here depends minutely on how I do them. I don’t believe I owe a stranger a dollar just because he asks.
“I don’t know you,” I said. I didn’t mean that we’d just met. I meant that our differences were vast and possibly fundamental, that we were likely never to understand each any more deeply than parsing the few sentences we had left to exchange.
He understood, I guess, and the number of sentences we had left to exchange was zero. We parted ways without another word, headed for the safety of our respective communities.
Which communities? E.B. White, in “Here Is New York”, distinguishes between New York of the native and New York of “the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something.” White means Manhattan, but one can just as well go the Bronx in quest of something.
That’s what I’ve done. Whereas the kid I was talking to last weekend is, I suspect, a Bronx native, and should he go in quest of something, he’ll probably go questing somewhere else.
I’ll never know what it’s like to be from the Bronx. I’ll never know what it’s like to be from anywhere but Ithaca, in fact, and this has limited how and with whom I make friends.
There are the friends I grew up with, who I know uniquely, in a way that I imagine is similar to the way this kid knows his friends in the Bronx.
My own friends in New York are like me: they came here looking for something.
My friends in New York are mostly old friends now. We’ve lived in the city nearly five years, enough time to build a community and start calling it home. We’ve done just that — building mostly in Brooklyn, progressing each year.
But by “we” I mostly mean “they”, at least since college. Since college I’ve been in the Bronx, which, it turns out, is further from Brooklyn than it looks on a map. Did I come here to build a community? From scratch? In a place where people don’t come questing and don’t, when they can help it, come visit?
What could possibly have made that seem like a good idea?
I don’t know what I was thinking. What I’ve been thinking thinking lately, though, is straightforward:
I miss my friends.