It all started Thursday night when I uttered an embittered - "Oh, fuck me" - in the laundry room. I anticipated toasty clean clothes, but found only drenched ones. It dawned on me that after paying for the dryer an hour earlier, I had forgotten to hit the start button - hence the cursing.
I have absolutely no shame (reference my tattoo, that time I went to a singles event at Babeland in the name of journalism, etc.) and vented my pent up frustration in front of a fellow midnight laundry-doer. To my surprise, she asked me what was wrong. I told her. To my even greater surprise, she swiped her card and paid for my dryer. My astonishment left me to stutter out a thank you with a longer delay than a live TV appearance by Russell Brand.
I'm not the I've-always-relied-on-the-kindness-of-strangers type, but cynicism isn't necessarily preferable to naivety when it comes to an outlook on humanity. Downtown Manhattan certainly hammered that point home during a enchanted Friday afternoon. My new prescription for fighting big city blues in New York is to amble through supple West Village streets or loiter around divine parks with a soccer ball in hand or by foot. I promise, magical things will happen.
The afternoon started on a very isolated note. At East River Park, with my soccer ball, I took 17 penalties in a row - aiming for the right side netting of the goal every time. It was my way of disciplining myself for moments when nerves tend to get the better of me. A group of twenty-somethings borrowed my pump for their American football. I bantered with the man who made my lunch about the indifferent attitude Americans have towards the beautiful game. I played a pick-up game of soccer with some Mexican guys at the John Walker Park in the West Village, until a platoon of 9-year-old's ousted us with parents and permits. I watched on with delight as four middle school kids at Sugar Sweet Sunshine played cards and ate cupcakes. Bouncing the ball as I waited to cross Chrystie Street, a truck cruised by and the driver yelled out to me - "I'll play with you!" - I smiled and gave him a thumbs up. I played a passing game on the First Avenue sidewalk as I chatted to some eastern Europeans. Walking along the periphery of StuyTown, I saw a construction worker with an array of tools beside him and an open bottle of Yuengling.
All afternoon, as I roamed between 18th and Canal from the West Side Highway to the FDR Drive, people would shoot me a puzzled smile and ask, "Soccer ball?" as if I were holding a mystical creature previously thought to be extinct. I garnered many a longing gaze from the profusion of young children scampering out of schools.
I've always considered this city a playground, but in a strictly adult way. There is an anonymity about partying in New York that allows people to freely indulge in public intoxication, fornication and pupil dilation. But Friday afternoon's slice of spring showed me a softer side of New York that encouraged me to relax the guarded stance I've adopted as of late. How easily I found playmates made me feel like a small kid. No worries apart from the embarrassment of a miskick; no pain apart from sore legs; no fears apart from goal tending next. All this liberation because of a soccer ball.
That night, I stood on the deck of the Staten Island Ferry with two of my best friends as we drifted from the tip of Manhattan. The Statue of Liberty flanked us on the left, the Financial District illuminated our view ahead and ruffled water marked the path we'd taken. My mind shut out unpleasant thoughts and focused fully on the splendor in front of me. That's the way I hope it stays.
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