I’m jealous of other people’s communities. I’m sometimes even annoyed that they have them and I don’t. My first Spanish class of the season started a couple of weeks ago and I was happy to see someone, a guy, who’d been in my earlier classes and I think he was happy to see me. We talked a little and then went in and sat down, did the introductions in class, and so on. Another guy from an earlier class even walked in a little later. I didn’t know him as well but he was also a familiar face.
After we did the little interviews—I got with the guy I knew—we were continuing with the class and then later he was talking to the guy on his other side, who happened to be from Vietnam. He turned to me and said, “It turns out I know him. I’ve seen him around at a few places. He’s part of the community.” The gay community. He had a community and I didn’t. You could go anywhere and feel that kind of connection. You even looked for it.
One of my colleagues at school is also gay. She was speaking of one of the students in the hall between classes one day and said to me, “I think he’s family. Do you know the term?”
“No. Yes,” I said. I did when I thought about it for half a second. Community. Then I went to my cousin’s and she was going to a Rosh Hashanah event at her synagogue. She’s even on the board. Community. People have communities everywhere they go and when they don’t have them they invent them. The YMCA. Community. Public school. Community. And there are even communities within the community. The community of people who swim at the Y as opposed to those who lift weights. I swim at the Y. I work at a school and my son attends one. But I don’t feel that sense of connection you’d call community. In fact when I swim at the Y I ditch in and ditch out. I don’t go out with my colleagues after work on Fridays and it’s not just because I have to go pick up my son. I like everyone but I’m not very social and I don’t drink anymore and I’m private. I went to parent meetings at my son’s school in the early years and they did nothing but drive me crazy. I guess I don’t want to feel attached to any group. I don’t want to join anything. And yet I want to feel that sense of community. So where do you go with a blatant contradiction like that?
Then one day I set out for a haircut appointment on my bike. I have one of those folding bikes that my neighbor had given me about five years ago. He lent it to me and ended up letting me keep it. Usually I go biking on the path by the Hudson River with my son, that harrowing urban speedway that appropriately runs parallel to the West Side highway. But today I took off blasting down the sidewalk and then weaving in and out of the bike lanes on the street when available. My son is 10 now and he’s old enough to stay home while I do a few things now and then.
God knows I love Mayor Bloomberg’s new bike lanes. I reel down the one on 8th Avenue all the time, often going the wrong way if need be and nobody seems to care. On this particular day I was blasting back after an especially satisfying haircut on 9th Street in the East Village. It was a beautiful, sunny, late-morning in September and I had stopped by the farmer’s market to get my son a donut. Then I was coming back on 19th just past 6th Avenue and some construction was blocking a good part of the street. I took a look behind me and swung out into the fairly narrow, only-open part of the street. Another guy on a bike rode in from the other side and together we commandeered the only passable part of the street, both of us speeding intently and once in awhile checking behind. The cars in this case would just have to wait.
We gave each other a partner-in-crime kind of smile and sailed off in opposite directions at the end of the block. And then it hit me. That’s my community. Spontaneous, random, urban, slightly subversive, even anarchic, momentary and undefined. That’s exactly what I need. Street-level. No joiner’s fee. There is a bike club, even a movement, called Critical Mass, and I know there are others. But that’s not what I’m after. I’m after that motion, and sense of chance, that’s so part of NYC. Precarious. Harrowing. MY community. The streets of NYC.