I rode the rails into Manhattan yesterday and got to experience the good, the bad, and the ugly in the land down under. I have something of a love-hate relationship with the subway, I guess. I love many of its sights and sounds, but hate—really hate—its jostling masses. In other words, I would really enjoy the subway experience without other people on the train.
As they are typically the least crowded cars—on the Number 1 train at least—my riding in the first car downtown and last car uptown is designed to minimize the people crush. But, alas, it’s not a perfect science. When the crowds find their way even there—and turn the cars into proverbial sardine cans—I can’t help but think of all the people who ride and who rode the subways during rush hours. For a quarter of a century, my father worked the four-to-midnight shift at the James A. Farley Post Office Building—the main New York City P.O.—on Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd Streets. It’s where you will find the inscribed post office credo: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” He ventured downtown from the Bronx when the city schools were letting out and came home in the wee small hours of the morning. Raising five kids along the way is apt to lead a man to drink.
Really, it seems like Manhattan is getting more and more gentrified with each passing hour. Due west of where my father toiled to earn a living is a prime example of gentrification in high gear. Luxury high rises appear to be springing up everywhere—apartments that will remarkably find tenants with the financial wherewithal to live in. Who has that kind of money? Some folks, apparently, but none that travel in my circles. In the shadows of these fancy buildings, I encountered two thirty-something women, I'd say, tidying up their pup tent pitched on the sidewalk. I considered snapping a picture of their humble abode, but they didn’t appear the types to appreciate being on Candid Camera, regardless of my motives—Exhibit A in a Tale of Two Cities essay.
Well, it was home, sweet home after that sorry snapshot—on the subway again with my last car uptown strategy a rousing success. All that was yesterday and this is today. Just moments ago in fact, the post office delivered two packages to me—Sunday delivery! Jabbering on his cell phone the whole time while making his appointed rounds, this postal employee literally threw my stuff onto the top step of a front stoop, leaving it exposed to potential poachers. He could have ascended four steps and placed the small packages between a screen door and main door. But that would have distracted him from his animated personal conversation.
Still, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood—a picture perfect day for Palm Sunday. What I remember most about past Palm Sundays was the mass. Courtesy of reading the multi-layered, serious business “Passion,” the mass was excruciatingly long. It was performed, as I recall, like a play. The priest assumed a part, the lecturer, and the lead singer, too. And nobody delivered Judas’s “Surely, not I” villainous line of betrayal than our own songbird Sister Therese. The typical forty-five minute service was closer to an hour-and-a-half on Palm Sunday. And forty-five minutes at mass—from where I sat impatiently writhing—felt like an eternity, let alone double that time.
On a happier note, my paternal grandmother used to prepare a special Palm Sunday homemade pasta dinner. She may have emigrated from Italy, but she embraced the American story with gusto. On this special religious Sunday, my grandmother shaped her macaroni like “cowboy hats and ropes.” Her grandkids often had a hand in shaping them. Imagine orecchiette pasta on steroids for the cowboy hats and five-stick spaghetti for the ropes. But it was delicious—never fail—and went a long way in erasing both the memory of Judas betraying Christ and being bored silly at mass.
(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)