Urban Chronicles: A Friendly Bushwick Barter

I was walking to meet up with some friends in Bushwick when I passed by a man in a black hoodie, smoking a cigarette outside of an apartment building. Another man walked up the sidewalk towards me, carrying a 12-pack of Tecate in one hand. I watched as he glanced up at the man with the cigarette, slowed down and approached him. He asked to bum one.

“I’ll give you a beer for a cigarette,” he said. “A friendly Bushwick barter…”

The man quickly agreed. He pulled a fresh cigarette out as the second man ripped open the cardboard box and, just like that, a conversation was born. They began to swap stories of their past spontaneous street trades. As their voices faded away behind me, I realized that I’d witnessed one of those fantastic interactions that make Bushwick so special. Two strangers meeting unexpectedly and sharing a moment. Three, if you count my observation.

I glanced back one last time and saw a different, more familiar, tableau – two old friends taking a quick smoking break on a brisk evening – and I smiled.

Photo via Flickr

Trying to Stay Positive…When You’re a Control Freak

Last week I touched on one side effect of my poor-ish upbringing. Thinking about that made me realize that my “realist” outlook wasn’t the only side effect, not by a long shot, and there is in fact something else that constantly invades my thoughts, something that seems almost counterintuitive, yet really goes hand in hand.

And I’m stalling because it kills me to admit it. It so goes against everything I believe about the world, but it’s time to own up and face what I already know about myself…

I’m kind of a control freak.

Usually it’s social. You might not see it at first because I try to act like I’m chill, down to earth, unruffled, but there are certain things that drive me absolutely batshit crazy in human behavior.

Let’s say you’re in a group with people who can’t make a plan for the evening. Ideas fly but no commitment is made, plans change several times and they remain tentative. Exasperated, I find myself stepping in, doing research, organizing an activity. I think to myself, “If I don’t do it, who will?” Then I stress the whole time about whether or not people are having fun. What was supposed to be a carefree night on the town (or whatever) ends up feeling like a chore and it makes me miserable.

Yet, there remains an innate, unrelenting, unquenchable need for control. I crave security. I want my relationships to be neat, reliable and defined because I want my life to be neat, reliable and defined. But you can’t control people any more than you can control what life throws at you. Some people will always be disorganized and five minutes late to everything. You can’t force someone to think and act the way you want.

That said, I’ve learned the hard way that you have to recognize when it’s time to bow out. If you feel a constant imbalance in a relationship, that you’re putting in more than you’re receiving, then you may want to reconsider the value of giving that person a space in your life. However, if you do feel that the relationship is worth the work, try not to let the minor grievances get to you.

Just because someone isn’t as much of a control freak as you doesn’t mean they’re not worth your time or energy. Some of my most fulfilling relationships have been with people who really are chill, down to earth, unruffled. They balance me out with their calm energy, make me more willing to take social risks. Oftentimes, they end up being the people who push me to learn more about myself.

I’m learning to stifle that urge to control social situations, to take a backseat once in a while and give myself a break. Sometimes you have to let other people take the reins and just enjoy the ride.

Image credit: File folders via Flickr

Urban Chronicles: Crying in Public

After an excruciatingly long and hot day filled with work and errands, I dragged myself onto the third subway of the evening, the final leg of my commute home. I grabbed a seat towards the end of the car, facing inwards. I plugged my headphones in and did what every NYC resident does to cope – I turned my music up and tuned the world out. Then I glanced up and something caught my eye. The woman sitting directly across from me was crying.

It was the kind of crying that anyone who has lived here for any length of time has done before. Eyes red and staring into space, hands brushing away tears, body heaving ever so slightly. It was the silent cry. A cry reserved for the worst of life’s offenses, the kinds of things you can’t ignore, push down, or hold in; they are made of family illnesses and breakups and financial crises.

I saw this woman and I knew. I saw the embarrassment, shame, loneliness, vulnerability and all the pain. I recognized it on her face, that feeling that the world is collapsing around you but you can’t escape. The battle to keep going, keep working, keep moving rips you apart slowly until you are sitting on the subway at 6PM and you just can’t do it anymore. It overflows and there are tears on your fingers and ringing in your ears and stinging in your eyes and every part of your body hurts.

All the while, you can feel people watching.

There is nothing quite like having to cry in public. And in the city that never sleeps, admitting your humanity is the ultimate sacrifice.

It is a dangerous game, wearing your
vulnerability on the outside.

I saw this woman crying and I wanted so desperately to get up, to tell her, “It’s impossible to understand how now, but it will pass. Someday you will look back and you will realize that you don’t hurt anymore, not like this. You are a woman, you are unbreakable and you are loved. I believe in you because I believe in me. When we stick together, when we love and support one another, we are invincible. We women are stronger than we can ever know.”

I wanted to be the one to hug her, in case there was no one else who would. I wanted to remind her that she is not alone.

I did nothing. I regretted it.

NYC subway via Flickr