5 signs of spring in New York City:
1. Red-breasted robins wrestle with worms in the dewy morning grass.
2. Baby pigeons coo from their hidden lairs, as their pigeon parents feed them Cheetos, chicken bones, and gum wrappers.
3. The chattering of squirrels, car radios, and people fills the air.
4. Crocuses break through the dirt, fat tulips stagger, drunk on sunshine, daffodils stomp over the green grass like premature peacocks heading for a fall.
5. Urban campers stretch out on flattened cardboard boxes to sleep off their evening largess beneath the early morning sunrise.
I love spring time in New York.
Wednesday morning, my dog and I wander through the small park. I’m thinking about how theater people are like carnies, but with nicer clothes and louder wishes. How they’re a band of misfits brought together on a desert island of dreams, how the dreams change shape – first, a magical landscape, then a cruel nightmare, a nonsensical journey, or an exhilarating flight of fancy. How what we call “reality,” can make us feel like hollowed stone. And how sometimes, in our darkest hours, the stone will crack open and reveal the secret churning beauty of crystals inside.
And how even though we theater people often love to hate what we’ve become, we wouldn’t want to be anything or anywhere else.
A struggling patch of grass distracts me and I start to worry about my seedlings. Watermelon, sunflowers, and brussel sprouts. I moved them to the roof of my building.
A few feet away from them, against a different wall, a healthy, uniform group of young plants grows, each in their own pot. They are a disciplined group guaranteed the successful fulfillment of their fate.
My seedlings are twisted and turned, jammed into the soil. Last I checked, they were growing. Sideways.
“Are seeds a metaphor for life,” I ask my dog.
She responds with a cocked ear and an innocent wink, answering my question with a question. “Is life a metaphor for life?”
She looks at me. I look at her.
She blinks. I blink.
She digs at the earth with her paw. I kick up a rusted bottle cap and squint into the rising sun.
We stand, side by side in quiet contemplation.
Past where the sun breaks through the trees, the girlish giggling of middle-aged women tickles the morning fog. It pulls my attention away from the rampant machinations of my mind and back into the real world.
Near the women stands The Handsome Man, flanked by his handsome dogs. His blinding smile catches the sun.
Spring has sprung. The Handsome Man has returned.
“Always, a pleasure, Peter,” the women chime in a flirtatious crescendo. The group disperses. The Handsome Man and his dogs step onto the grass.
He’s dressed as if he’s prepared to climb a Himalayan mountain at a moment’s notice, to talk shop with the Sherpas, play dice with a wise man, and then chant away the world’s ills. The grass bends before him. The flowers tilt their heads.
My dog and I are frozen in time and space, two tiny dots in the middle of a park at the top of a teeny planet; the universe lurches by on the five-lane highway of life, crashing through the invisible atmosphere, messing with my hair.
I know his name.
My mouth is dry. My hair is tangled and lists to one side. My pajamas bottoms are twisted under the short skirt I slipped over them, my army green jacket, six sizes to big. My dog, grass up her nose, rolls in a pile of mud.
Peter’s a poetic name. It bounces off the rolling mounds of dirt like a quiet breeze.
Not a silver hair awry, The Handsome Man strolls past me and onto the raised terrace part of the park. Overlooking the fog and traffic of the George Washington Bridge, he starts his morning routine.
Another sign that spring has sprung:
The Handsome Man, Peter, stretches.
My dog and I wander to the rock cliff beneath the terrace. Sometimes, we sit at this high vantage point to watch the comings and goings of squirrels and pigeons. Today, we edge this way to steal a glimpse of The Handsome Man stretching. I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t have anything to say. But, I surrender to the force that pushes me his direction.
As we jump from rock to rock, I see his shoelaces, the worn soles of his hiking boots, the wet hem of his pants. I stand, mesmerized.
And then, once more yanked from the stormy meanderings of my mind, a burly guy runs into the park, hands wrapped like a boxer’s. He takes a tree by surprise, punches it once, twice, roundhouse kick one side, then the next, with primal grunts at each point of contact. His hands meet in prayer in front of his heart. He bows. He thanks the tree. And then he picks a fight with the next tree.
Punch, duck, punch, Kick, howl, kick. Pray, bow, run.
He bounds up the stairs, two my two, and squares off in front of the flag pole. The Handsome Man stretches one graceful arm over his ear and bends to the side.
Punch, howl, punch. Kick, duck, kick. Pray, bow, run.
He bounds down the stairs, and tussles with a bush.
I turn back to the handsome man and shrug.
“That’s one way to start the morning,” he says, his arm now reaching towards the sky. His voice is sultry. And stretchy. And handsome, too.
“I suppose so.”
I see a reflection of myself somewhere in the mist. It’s a hazy abstraction, but the message is clear. I have nothing to say and no way to say it. Small talk evades me and words sometimes fail.
I smile and offer a withering wave as I tug my dog down the rocks. The Handsome Man stretches to the other side.
I have so many questions for him, but no time for answers. I have to get to the theater. I’ve got to get to work.
Some days, I imagine sitting across from him, or you, or someone else, and not talking.
Imagine how lovely life would be if we could simply sit and listen to each other.
And when we’re ready, when the quiet between us is fat and happy, maybe share a story or two.
I look up the meaning of the name Peter when I get home, after my dog is curled up in her spot. It means “rock” or “stone” – those items of incredible strength, wisdom, and patience.
You know what “Amy” means? It means love.
No wonder I’m such a mess.