In Plain Sight

Neighborhood Walk

“To a surprising extent, time spent going to and fro…is unremembered. It is forgotten not because nothing of interest happens. It is forgotten because we failed to pay attention to the journey to begin with.” From the chapter Amateur Eyes in the book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz

A stray black cat eats the bread crumbs that someone left for the birds. A bag of green molding bread sits unattended a few feet away in the grass, waiting.

Here I am in this tiny triangle of trees and park benches spotted with pigeon poop. A few men congregate on the benches. Cars race by on every side toward traffic lights. Across the street are attached brick homes, a Chinese restaurant, industrial looking buildings with ambiguous names like “Axel”, a moving truck rental place and a church. This triangle of green space is not big enough to be called a park. It’s one of the few green spaces in this part of Queens, NYC. It’s a place people mostly pass through or around.

But today, I’m spending time and not just passing through. After a busy week, I have come to find some rest. But overhead I hear the piercing plane sounds as they come in for a landing at Laguardia. I’m sitting in the flight path. I can feel the rumble of the subway train running below on its way to a stop a few blocks from here. The faint tremors felt through the park bench. This is not a place of escape. I begin to realize that I had been romanticizing spending time in nature. The idea of nature and not the messy reality of shared public space.

A sight at once sad and somehow beautiful breaks through my view. Bright bouquets of cut flowers are fixed with packing tape to a lightpole. A single white carnation weeps shriveled from an empty Corona bottle. Goya candles with depictions of the sacred heart of Jesus are lit in vigil. The flowers and candles crowd a corner of the triangle near the intersection spilling onto the sidewalk.

Recently a 19 year old boy was killed here in a hit and run car accident. The boy was walking, crossing the street with a friend, in the account given in the local papers. The friend crossed and then turned around and the boy was gone, only to be found lying on the ground. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital a short time later. There was a press conference. A call for safer streets. The driver, never found. A huge electric sign flashes the number to call the police with information.

A light post nearby with a fresh coat of white paint is signed in black sharpie all up and down. It looks like a cast of a kid who broke a leg playing basketball. Rulled yellow notebook paper is stapled to bouquets. What once might have held the week’s shopping list has been put to a different use this week. Last words that never got spoken.

“R.I.P. I can’t believe you actually Gone all of this doesn’t seem real you had so much going for yourself. I wish it wasn’t you. Love you forever Bro. – Terrance”

“R.I.P. You left us too soon Luis. You may be gone but you will never be forgotten. Love you and miss you. – Stacy”

“RIP Baby. I love you so much and I hope you knew that until your final breath.”

“Mi Corazon Tu madre”

It was these last words printed in gold on a white ribbon that really got me. The tears started flowing. My Spanish isn’t the greatest, but I knew what it meant. I knew who it was from. “My heart Your mother.” A woman passing by with her daughter in a stroller and son on a scooter stopped to look. She asked me what happened. Asked if I knew him. I didn’t. But I cried anyway.

“we miss the world making itself available to be observed. And we miss the possibility of being surprised by what is hidden in plain sight right in front of us.” From the chapter Amateur Eyes in the book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz

As I walk my neighborhood, there is green around me in the trees that recount our shared history. Sometimes, the bird songs break through the honking horns. Every once in awhile I can even make out a star or two. If I look up. If I pay attention. There are things that nature can’t erase. Hurts that cannot be undone. But I hold onto the hope that it can heal. Unless we erase its place in the city. Unless the streets swallow the last crumbs of leafy solitude that were meant for the birds.

“We see, but we do not see: we use our eyes, but our gaze is glancing, frivolously considering its object. We see the signs, but not their meanings. We are not blinded, but we have blinders.” From the chapter Amateur Eyes in the book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz


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