Homeboy

Do you ever go back to the old neighborhood?

I can rarely resist. It’s like a magnet pulls me in.

I was walking down Second Avenue, past the first apartment I shared with my wife. We have a lot of memories there.

And they’re mostly good, too.

As I approached the intersection of 75th street and Second Avenue – the one I crossed with Clara in my arms on the way home from the hospital; the one we used to tell cab drivers to take us home to – a woman walking in front of me dropped a dollar bill on the sidewalk. She kept walking. She was a little too far away for me to call out, so I picked it up.

It’s just a dollar. She’d never miss it.

I assumed I’d catch up to her at the next corner. When she reached it, though, the light was green and she kept on walking.

A dollar doesn’t even buy a cup of coffee.

This happened at a few street corners. The space between us seemed to grow. Was she speeding up?

She doesn’t need the dollar. If you just let her go, the sky won’t fall.

Maybe she wasn’t speeding up. Maybe I was slowing down?

It belongs to her. Yes, it’s a tiny amount of money, but it’s hers. You should give it back.

I picked up the pace a little bit. Just a little bit.

You can walk faster than this. Come on. Catch up to her. Give her the money.

Then she turned the corner.

Uggh! Now I have to go OUT OF MY WAY to give back this little piece of paper which doesn’t matter to her, doesn’t matter to me, and certainly isn’t worth all of this mental anguish.

I was definitely slowing down.

Not giving it back is going to bother you more than the effort it’ll take to catch up with her.

I broke into a run.

Let’s call it a trot.

I trotted up and tapped her shoulder.  

“Here,” I said, extending the dollar, “you dropped this back there.”

She looks confused.

“Thanks. You’re a good person.”

Say what? I’m a good person?  

Well, now. I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting a thank you, maybe a smile. But I wasn’t expecting that.

How does she know? Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not.

I suddenly felt very good about myself. Like I had done the right thing.

For once.

But it was so unexpected; something more had to be going on. It seemed as if somebody was trying to tell me something.

Hello? I’m right here.

I became convinced that the location was significant, that the whole strange episode had to do with my nearness to the old apartment.

Don’t go overboard. It was just a dollar. You just did what you were supposed to do.

It was just so weird, so cosmically agitating, that to ignore the obvious – where it happened – seemed wrong.

Probably just a coincidence.

Maybe it was a coincidence. But these things always seem to happen when you’re walking around the old neighborhood and feeling nostalgic.

That’s exactly what it was. A nostalgic coincidence. Which incidentally, is the worst kind, because it leaves you thinking that the world is less random than it actually is.

Is it too far out to think that when you’ve lived somewhere for a length of time, you leave your mark behind in a physical, elemental way, that trace amounts of your actual presence linger?

Actually, that is pretty far out. I wouldn’t want to hear you saying that out loud.

Nature, after all, is a place where actions have consequences, where bodies in motion stay in motion, and every force has an equal and opposite number. See what happens when you get up from a matress or a pillow? You leave a mark, an impression, and it sticks around for a while.

This is making me gag.

But nature is a word with dual meanings. There is the nature of our surroundings, that state which exists on its own, exterior to mankind and uncreated by it. And then there is the nature of our interior selves. Not just how we are, but how we are meant to be.

What is this all about? This isn’t like you. You’re a cynic. It’s not in your *ahem* nature to think this way.  

The old neighborhood pulls you in. You can’t resist a look, you said.

I say a lot of things. Most of which, by the way, you ignore.

As a boy, I was mesmerized by refrigerator magnets. I would force the opposite poles together just to feel the push and pull, the invisible resistance, the sudden attraction. They say that magnets can bend light waves. Maybe that’s why the old neighborhood always looks kind of the same, but not quite.

The past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.

And that is why they’re called old haunts. A part of you is actually still there, hanging around.

Like a ghost.

Like a ghost.

So, do you ever go back to the old neighborhood?

It’s like I never left.

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