January 29, 2010: New York City Story #1

[I’ve been in Brooklyn for the part 3 1/2 weeks tending grandchildren. Here’s the first of 11 stories, most of them having to do with race, from my NYC experience.]

January 7th, Park Slope, Brooklyn, about 9am:

It’s really, really cold, I’m staying in a wonderful apartment with iffy lighting and I’ve lost my gloves. So while buying light bulbs at the CVS on 9th Street, I think: “CVS sells everything. I’ll bet they have cheap, warm gloves.” But where?

I see a young man of color in his early twenties, maybe, stocking shelves. One glance at his rounded, doughy, vacant face and I decide: “Don’t ask him.”

“Hey,” I scold myself. “Don’t be so quick to judge. Give the kid a chance.”

So I ask him where to find gloves.

“Follow me,” he says authoritatively. But where does he lead me? To the large, open area at the front of the store in front of the cash registers where five or six people wait to be served. Standing a good ten feet from the cash register counter, behind the waiting people, he yells over their heads, “Where  the gloves at?”

“What kind?” shouts one of the cashiers. Also young. Hispanic, perhaps. (Whether or not Spanish is her first language has nothing to do with this story, BTW; but since, in these stories, I’m talking about race and my own interactions around this charged subject, feel as though I am obligated to identify everyone’s ethnicity.)

At first I wonder why the hell she’s asking what kind. Later I wonder if she had been thinking I might need rubber gloves.

“Warm,” I shout, feeling very, very silly. Exposed. “Cheap.”

“Naw,” she shouts. “We ain’t got none.”

All the waiting customers turn to look at me. One older white woman says, “There’s a discount store at the end of this block. You’ll find just what you need.”

And she was right.

Wearing my new warm, cheap gloves, I walk back up 9th Street passing the CVS on my way. An older white man calls to me: “Dja get your gloves?”

I beam back at him, wiggle my snuggly-warm fingers.

Lessons:

1. New Yorkers sometimes do act like friendly villagers and, I suspect, yearn for little, pleasant interactions with other people—just like the rest of us.

2. I also suspect that young CVS shelf stocker is developmentally delayed. But I, so very, very yearning for, ya know, Truth, Beauty, World Peace, Racial Justice et al, was not able to act upon what my first instinct was telling me. Oh, no. “We thought she was just another guilty white woman,” Reverend Owen Cardwell once said of me. Sometimes I still am.

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