It’s funny what stands out when you’re traveling. You plan a great meal and it’s the walk to the restaurant you remember. You see great art but somebody’s poetry muttered on a street corner is what touches your soul.
Pleasant and pretty (free coffee and biscotti! Free box lunches and wine on the flight!) Porter Airlines brings me gently into Newark; trains and subway slide me into Manhattan. I walk two blocks to catch the Q Train, asking directions along the way. A middle-aged white dude walks me there. In that short time I find out he’s a former pro skateboarder and he prefers “my” sport, hockey, to “his”, baseball. At one point he gestures grandly ahead and says with awe: The. Empire. State. Building.I follow his gaze and there it is, looming above 33rd Street, self-important, retro.
I’m in New York, visiting my niece The Redheaded Busker. She needs some lovin’ up after an illness in December and a grisly encounter with American healthcare. She’s a little skinnier than I like to see her, grey shadows under her eyes. But still with the dazzling smile.
I dump my stuff at her Brooklyn apartment and then we’re off, back into the subways. As we sit on an outdoor bench waiting for the Q Train she points at the tracks flanked by graffitti and crumbling brick and says, I. Love. This. In the summer it’s full off birds.
That day I see a video installation by Omer Fast at The Whitney Museum that plays hard and fast with the protocols of racism, as well as work from Biennials past, glowing iconic pieces by Jasper Johns, Matthew Barney, Barbra Kruger. The Whitney has and continue to be, my alternative art school, a place that has always taken on gender and race by showcasing artists who dare confront taboos.
We walk streets lined with haute fashion and haute art, eat salmon ceviche, talk. It’s all wonderful. But what stands out from that day is a shoe repair shop deep in the bowels of Lexington & 63rd subway, where The Redhead Busker stows her amp between performances. I go with her to pick it up and am proudly introduced as her aunt (full disclosure: we’re not blood relations but I’ve know her most of her life). I shake hands all round, am warmly welcomed to New York.
While I’m waiting for The Busker as she meets and greets, I decide to have a shoeshine. I climb up into the tall chair and a young Latino man spends ten minutes buffing and polishing, putting his heart and soul into it. By the time he’s done my dull brown boots look like patent leather. He smiles shyly but firmly refuses my money, and The Busker tells me not to force the issue: It’s. A. Gift. Because. You’re. My. Aunt. she says.
Later, as we head home I say to her: I. Feel. Like. We. Scammed. Them. I mean, we’re. not really related. The Busker looks genuinely puzzled. She scans my face to see if I really mean it.
But. Marus. she says emphatically It. Wasn’t. A. Scam. We. Are. Family.