Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What do PDAs, Little Red Bugs, and R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach Have In Common?

They can all be found in Central Park at the same time.

This afternoon, I fled the madness of Stern in finals season (see below, if you haven’t yet) to my favorite NY haven…Central Park. I love Central Park. I could write hundreds of posts about Central Park. There will probably be future posts about Central Park. But tonight I have a hard final that I haven’t studied for yet (again, see below) and therefore I will limit my words.

I went there today with three of my close friends, ostensibly to study in the park, though of course I knew better. We plunked ourselves down on the sun-dappled grass under the shade of a large tree and took out our notebooks. The grass was patchy, and we hadn’t brought a sheet, and thus I was shortly covered in dirt, weird plant thingies, and teeny tiny little bright red bugs that crawled across my notes uninvited. I tried not to think about where else they might be crawling.

After finding an attempt to read my notes unsuccessful (surprise!), I couldn’t resist lying down on my back and staring up at the sunlight streaming through the spring green leaves and branches of the tree high above me. The beauty of that spectacle was literally breathtaking. I gazed into the vast canopy above me, and felt the hard earth under my head. Now let me tell you, I am certainly no hippie-nature-girl, but at that moment, I communed with nature. It was actually stunning. I could have stayed like that for hours.

But I didn’t, because I felt that I should try to study again. So I did. And naturally, several minutes later, I found myself asleep. Not a deep sleep, but a lovely, breezy, summery doze. Asleep enough to be comfortable, but not too asleep not to notice and awaken with a start when I overheard my friends mention food. The food concerned turned out not to be of interest to me, so instead I took out the gummy worms I happened to be conveniently carrying in my bag and distributed them among the masses (a.k.a. my homies). I try not to go anywhere without sugar. Best to be prepared.

Then I tried to study again. My friends and I, however, were shortly distracted once more by a couple a few yards down the slope on which we camped. This couple was horizontal, and they were engaged in, well, let’s just say…they weren’t quite shomer negiah. My friends and I did our best to ignore them, but 10, 15, 30 minutes later, when they were still similarly employed, it started to grate on our sensitivities, and we couldn’t help but brainstorm imaginative ways to remedy the situation. We could walk up to them and say, “Hope we’re not interrupting anything…but would you mind taking a picture for us?” Or walk by and discreetly cough, “Get a room! Ahem! Get a room!” Or surround them in a ring and sing the shomer negiah song. This last option was shortly ruled out, however, because of kol isha issues.

Eventually, we realized that it was getting late, and if we didn’t leave soon we’d miss the mad rush to dinner at the caf and be left utterly foodless, as we were two nights ago. Stern really needs to learn how to order food during finals. Having hundreds of burned-out-from-studying-Jewish-girls, who stagger into the caf hoping for sustenance to get them through another loooong night of memorizing obscure information, to find that the only remaining food is a few semi-stale bagels and low-fat kugels…well, let’s just say, I feared for my life. I’ve never seen so many people in such a collective bad mood. But I digress…

We picked up camp and walked through the park in the direction of the subway station. Those who have been to Central Park will know that lining the main walkway of the park lurk myriad caricature and portrait artists seeking customers. As testaments to their skills, they display samples of their work, depictions of celebrities of all sorts. (Never mind that they probably spent hours doing those, while the one they will draw of you will take 15 minutes, and therefore will not look remotely like the samples, nor in all likelihood, remotely like you. Trust me, I know from experience.)
As we walked, I was expressing, for the thousand and seventh time my desire to purchase ice cream from the ice cream trucks (I’m a sucker for ice cream, especially the chocolate kind, and especially from trucks), when an unexpected sight caught our collective eyes. There, staring back at us from an easel, was the face of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, in color! A middle aged Asian man sat, intently using pastels to copy a picture of R’ Auerbach clipped to the easel. There was no way we were going to just walk on by, so we stopped to chat. We told him we that we really liked his picture. The man’s English was less than perfect, so we didn’t understand everything he said in response, but we think he told us that he’d been commissioned to do the portrait by someone. Then he asked us if we were from Brooklyn. That was funny. We said no. We asked if he knew the Rabbi’s name, and he said no, and offered us the picture to caption. My friend wrote “Rabbi Auerbach” beneath it. We snapped the artist’s picture, and went on our merry way, marveling at the things one finds in good old NYC.

We had a jolly walk back to the subway station, and I played my favorite game: the Notice Everything Game. As a writer, and a lover of life, this game is important to my very existence. Noticing the funny, touching, quirky, and beautiful things that I pass enhances my appreciation of life, and my ability to describe. One thing we noticed was an “interesting” window display, pictured below.

We sardined ourselves onto the packed subway and finally arrived at our destination—in time, you will be glad to hear, for me to procure a piece of slimy chicken, some mediocre french fries, and a cup of utterly flat cherry coke. Gotta love caf food. Anyway, that was my afternoon.

Wow, I can’t help but a feel a little bit like friend and fellow blogger, Chana, who can’t seem to restrain herself from writing incredibly lengthy posts, and who happened to record a slightly similar park experience just a few weeks ago. Hmm.

Other notes on life…

On the subway earlier this morning, a family (mom, dad, pre-pubescent son) sat down near me. The father was clad in a peach polo shirt and khaki shorts displaying hairy legs, and also sported a large gray mustache. These people were tourists. How do I know? When someone all the way across the subway car sneezed, I was abruptly awakened from my half-doze when the father said loudly, “Bless you!” My first thought was, “What? You just don’t do that. Who does that?” I mean, it was a little weird. The sneezer wasn’t even in our line of vision! But after that immediate reaction, I smiled to myself. Ah, how I love out-of-towners. And from now on, I resolve to bless subway sneezers!

And…graduations make me tear up—even if I’m not graduating, and even if I don’t know the people graduating. Something about seeing all the relatives there, beaming with pride, cameras in hand, makes me emotional. It’s nice, in a funny way. Though transitions from one stage to another are always interesting, achieving a goal is something to be proud of. It’s good to take some time simply to be glad before having to move on to whatever challenges lie ahead. So hooray for my grads, and mazal tov!

Now I should probably start studying for my final…


the apple said...

Hilarious! BTW, for another funny gadol hador story, a certain someone (she was on that little excursion with you) had a thumbnail picture of Rav Pam that she wanted to delete and replace with a larger one. Well, when she deleted it, a window popped up and said, and I quote,

"Are you sure you want to send rav_pam to the recycle bin?"

It was SO FUNNY!

Don't worry, your days of slimy caf food are soon over . . . for about three month, at any rate!

Have a great summer!

Moshe said...

I see, another day in Central Park procrastinating from finals. Hmmm…seems to me like a recurring theme. When did I last hear/see/do that? Oh right.

Great description of a day in the park. It wasn’t until I had been in NY for 4 years that I visited Central Park for the first time. Now, I’m obsessed. It’s like a little city in NYC: the zoo, the pond, the people, the baseball fields, and the acres of green. Love it!!

The good news for you, as the apple pointed out, is that you get a break from the Stern caf for a while. Lucky you! Personally, I enjoyed the caf’s food…the limited number of times I ate it. I guess as a snack every once in a while it’s not too bad, but to eat it on a daily basis, well that’s another story.

Keep noticing everything – that’s a great game. Just as important, keep writing about them!! Especially in little orange notebooks. Congrats on completing your second year in Stern! Woohoo for you.

Scraps said...

I love Central Park! I'm tempted to go looking for your Asian man for myself, that's just so cool. :)

Mmmm, yummy slimy caf food. I lost weight my last year in Stern because I couldn't bring myself to eat it anymore.

Anonymous said...

Ok: Apple- I laughed out loud at your comment! Almost as much as at your "Harry Potter" shtick

SJ- I laughed out loud when you wrote that the Asian man asked if you were from Brooklyn!!

Moshe- the orange notebook is super cute!

SJ- When you said, or when anyone says- "pretty please with chocolate ice cream on top" what does that mean? What are you putting chocolate ice cream on top of?

jackie said...

I'm commenting for SJ, because I do love her. I also love central park. I walked all the way there yesterday to chill out for ten minutes and then walk back. It was beautious.

Ezzie said...

Just wanted to say that this post made me smile at work today. That's good, because I didn't do that much otherwise. :)

Erachet said...

Haha, that's awesome. I hope your final went well!

Northern Light said...

What I love about this post is how intimate it is...your spring happiness is contageous! I wish I could lie there under the tree, and help think up distractions for the couple, and see the Rav Auerbach artist...but I almost DID with your vivid prose. Is life about finals or about soaking it all in like a sponge? I vote for the latter...oops, gotta go--deadline!!

the apple said...

BTW, now everytime I see a sketch artist or someone selling photographs on the streets of NYC, I look to see if a vendor is unwittingly selling a picture of a gadol hador. No sightings as of yet. (Maybe yours was Eliyahu Hanavi.)

If you're reading this before Shavuos, have a chag sameach!

that girl said...

Ok, kids, guess who this is...

After promising myself never to have anything to do with blogging, I find myself compelled to address the apple and SJ by saying that if certain people would visit certain rooms more often, they would already know the R' Pam story. :)

SJ, that excursion was definitely an interesting ending to a most interesting year. Glad I decided to come.

the apple said...

We miss you SJ! Post soon!