Dancing Down Lenox

A little while ago, I was asked to rewrite a piece about NYC using a different voice entirely.  I thought that this was a completely impossible feat.  That’s like asking Mickey Mouse to butch up his voice!  But, I did as I was told and am in the midst of writing a portrait of my neighborhood.  Check it out…


As I stare out of the window of my fourth floor room, looking toward the Northern tip of Central Park, I watch the lights turn from green-green-red to red-green-green, and then green-green-red again.  There are yellow signs on every corner, indicating children crossing.  Primary colors engulf my view.  More green takes up most of what I see in the horizon, with the buildings fifty blocks south, on 5th Avenue, jutting out from atop the trees.


I walk out of my Harlem apartment and the winds off the park kick up.  My face feels like  it’s freezing for a moment and I walk in the opposite direction: uptown.  


I am a visitor here.  I am not permanent.


I feel like sometimes I don’t belong.  Like sometimes the people who inhabit this neighborhood don’t want me here.  I don’t eat fried chicken and I don’t go to the laundromat, but I do enjoy the scent of fresh clothing that emanates from it.  It’s somehow different than my own.  I have a front-loading washer and dryer. 


I walk past 116th Street and smile at the kebab vendors, the people selling chunks of pineapple on sticks, snow cones, an array of cocoa or shea butter lotions,  the people selling pirated DVD’s.  I buy nothing.


Lenox Avenue, sometimes also known as Reverend John P. Ladson Place, sometimes also known as Malcolm X Boulevard, other times known as just the place I live, has a culture that I was never privy to growing up.  I am finally seeing how the other half lives.   I remember watching from my window in November, as people were dancing down Lenox after the election. 


A yellow taxi cab rushes by and I look East.  The other side of Harlem is there.  The Hispanic side.  I like churros, but I’ve never really been over there for anything else.  I do enjoy the Duke Ellington statue though, on the corner of 5th Avenue and 110th Street.  I really like jazz.


To the west, all the way west, is Riverside.  I work there as a nanny, taking care of children for Columbia professors.  Morningside Heights used to be like Harlem, they say.  But now it’s an area for intellectuals and not crack viles.  I like to spend time during sunset by the river.  


People walk up and down the river’s edge, as it is darkening below, and they are moving quickly or slowly, like a waltz without music.  Across the way, the sun is setting; casting shadows upon the river and closer yet, becoming the backdrop of the city skyline.  Shades of purples and baby blues as soft as the clouds resting upon them are underlined by skyscrapers puncturing the backdrop of the horizon.  The last light of the evening is being pulled down into the water, choking as it drowns, quietly, in the ether, like the probable thousands of unknown bodies resting at the bottom, waving back and forth in the mud with the currents drawn in by the winds.  The sunset observes the scene; distant clouds bleed pastel paint, a myriad of oranges and pinks are now created by the hands of man.  The emblematic post-card beauty is created by ugly burnt coal.  Twilight advances and everything is still.


It’s never still on Lenox.  People are always moving, always buying, always selling, dancing, talking, yelling really, shaking hands, making plans, hustling.  Every weekend, there are cook-outs and BBQ’s on the corner of 112th.  When summer comes, the kids eat watermelon and play with hoses in the street. 


I’ve never felt like more of an outsider.


Walking up through the low 120’s, there are beautiful brownstones that no one seems to inhabit.  The quietest blocks in the neighborhood on Lenox are here.  No one is ever in the street.  This, of course, changes once one approaches 125th Street.  Suddenly, the street is bursting with people, things, smells, sights.  Sensory overload.  More cocoa butter than one could imagine!  Statues of prominent people reside in front of an important government building.  The Apollo is here, boasting amateur comedy every Wednesday and across the street is The Baller Store.  Naturally, with the neighborhood changing, I also have found an American Apparel, a MAC Cosmetics store, Old Navy, and an H&M nestled in between the other storefronts.  But they’re less important now.


4 Responses

  1. i miss new york. thank you for sharing such a beautifully arranged portrait of your neighborhood.

  2. Excellent. But it reminds me that we never made it to the Apollo..

  3. nice sara.. you’ve definitely matured in your writing, depth and tone. great read.

  4. Nice piece of writing! Are you sure you don’t eat fried chicken?

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