I experienced two very strange, intense moments yesterday walking my dog in Williamsburg.
The first was dark and unpleasant: I was strolling by a concrete schoolyard where some children, between the ages of eight and twelve, were playing baseball. A young, wiry kid bloops an easy pop fly to the third baseman, a fat kid, among the oldest of the players, who takes his time getting beneath it. The ball hangs in the air, and it seems like the fat kid is set to make the catch…
But then, of course, he drops it. Laughter, cheering and taunting ensue from the other kids because hey, cruelty is the currency of youth.
So I’m walking by, shaking my head at the whole grim carnival of childhood, when a voice to my right shrieks out, from inside a ragged, pale-blue mini van, “Yo, Adonis, YOU CATCH LIKE A BITCH.”
Expecting to see some vaguely mustached 17-year-old jerk doing the taunting, I am shocked at the identity of the heckler, a 60-something woman with long silver hair. She continues to yell, and the other kids love it, warming to her single, repeated attack—cries of “Adonis, you catch like a bitch,” echo across the playground. I take one final look back to see Adonis, unfortunately named and overweight, standing in silence as an old woman calls him a “bitch.”
The second moment, though also sad, was at least redemptively so…
I head around the block, away from the schoolyard, still kind of shocked at what I’d heard (and kicking myself for not really knowing how to intervene on Adonis’s behalf). I turn the corner and see an older couple, Latino, fussing with a cardboard box beneath a lamp post. The woman then pulls a candle out of her bag, a tall, cylindrical votive candle, and I realize they are setting up some kind of memorial shrine.
It is at that point that I also notice thick oil stains at the foot of the lamp post, and other evidence of what can only have been a fairly serious accident. The couple is very precise about the set up as they consult with each other on the best way to prop up the cardboard box (an improvised proscenium of sorts, for the shrine), and the ideal height for a picture of the deceased, to be taped to the post. They are matter of fact with each other but seem to have strong opinions, like a couple of uncles trying to start a barbeque. Their fixation on process is, of course, why we have so many rituals around death, those endless distractions that forestall the sharp pain of losing someone forever. Protocols to keep the void at bay.
Eventually (I’m trying not to stare, honest), they finish setting up the impromptu memorial and take a step back. The woman’s shoulders sag, and she leans into the man, the two of them finally seeing what they’ve made.
I tug on the dog’s leash and head for home, hoping my wife will be there.