Another brush with enlightenment


A few Saturdays ago I bicycled from home on Manhattan’s well-publicised Upper West Side across the 59th Street Bridge (the one people in Queens call the Queensboro Bridge,) along the southern edge of Long Island City, through Woodside and up 37th Avenue into Jackson Heights’ dynamic Indian/Bangladeshi community.  Carnegie Hall sponsors a series of Neighborhood Concerts, free musical events held throughout the boroughs, featuring extraordinary musicians from essentially everywhere.  Samita Sinha, a multilingual (Hindi, Urdu, Chinese, English…) singer, accompanied by congas, tablas and keyboard was to perform at the Jackson Heights branch of the Queens Public Library.  Never having heard or heard of her, I was ready.

The library’s meeting room was filled to capacity.  At 3:15, a polite 15 minutes after the posted starting time the City Council member responsible for funding the event spoke briefly as did representatives of both the library and the concert series.  Ms. Sinha lives 3 blocks from the library, she told us when she took the stage.  She was at home and wanted us to feel the same way.  Hmm…Queens quaint, I thought.

Others, however, took her words more seriously.  Two women, appearing to be in their 80’s, sat behind me.  Their pre-program conversation had been no more to me than undistinguished sounds in the general and appropriate din.  Things became different, however, when the music started and they showed no inclination to stop.  Both were hard of hearing and eager to let everyone know that.  One flipped loudly through the newspaper insert for a local market.  The other developed a catch phrase, “I don’t like this music!” and repeated it with metronome-like regularity.  Thus provoked and eager to establish silence, I turned to them and glared wordlessly for a beat before returning my attention to the stage.  As I turned  back and before I could congratulate myself on silencing them, I heard one say to the other, “What’s he looking at?”  to which the other responded, “I don’t like this music!”

Their page-flipping and conversation continued as did my anger.  Being a good Manhattanite and respecter of performers and,  Hey, dammit!   I’m a registered senior citizen and don’t appreciate anyone in my age demographic misrepresenting the rest of us!  I fell to grimacing and twitching, silently selecting and rehearsing the devastating comments I’d make to them when the current tune ended.  Pissed was hardly the word for it.

Now here’s where it gets interesting.  The man sitting next to me, a man in his perhaps 40’s, looking like he might be from the Subcontinent, turned in my direction and smiled.  Clearly he was hearing all I was hearing, clearly he was aware of my feelings–yeah, like I’m trying to disguise them– yet he smiled.   And get this, it was a real smile.  No irony, no sympathy, no meaning.  Just a smile.   He smiled and, just so,  my hostility vanished!  As if that weren’t enough, I was then somehow  propelled through an instant of embarrassment–me demanding that two old friends at a neighborhood event in their neighborhood in their library act as I  wanted them to act–puleeze!–and just as quickly  back to the wonder of the music with all of  the foregoing forgotten.

Midway through the music the women stood and grumbled their way out of the room.  Another smile from the man to my left.  I smiled back–just a smile, no more than that.

Life lessons, I suspect, abound in Jackson Heights.


Published in: on July 15, 2009 at 9:47 pm  Comments (6)