The Big City V. Barnaby

Today was his first ride on a subway, and first stroll down Madison Avenue. Now I don’t know if he just caught on to how much I love the city, or if he has the same absurd sense of liberation that I have, but he was wandering down the upper east side kicking his stroller and clapping his hands.

We met his mom who took lil’ Barno to her office, where he charmed the pants off people that Jordana sorta loathes, and then I met up with them and brought him home.

Let me tell you, I’ve done stupid things in my life, but I don’t think jaywalking across 42nd street to avoid the rain was one of them.

Anyway, we got to Queensboro Plaza and the N/W was super slow because of signal problems. That’s okay, I thought, I know it’s raining a little bit, but there’s a bus on 21st street that I’ve taken a couple of times and it let’s us off at Ditmars. See?

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So we negotiated the streets down and turned the corner.

Nobody who reads this is familiar with the intersection except for maybe Jordana, but suffice it to say, 21st street has a bunch of large puddles lining the sides of the road. As we rounded 21st and started walking toward the bus stop, a driver who was trying to beat the other traffic flew through the empty parking spots and completely drenched both me and Barnaby.

I mean my *HAT* was soaking wet. It was like a cliche. The water hit me and took my breath away, and then, I couldn’t inhale when the second wave hit and went over my head.

Barnaby was drenched from head to toe, his entire stroller had been hit with a wall of water. He had been asleep, and I pulled up to the bus stop and turned him around.

He was just staring up at me, blinking. He wasn’t happy, certainly, but he wasn’t particularly miserable. He was just totally and completely wet. I expected him to be screaming, but he didn’t know down from up, he was just stunned.

Now, it might be that he had loved the subway, which he was crazy about, or that he had gotten to spend a couple of hours with his mom in her big city law firm. Or maybe he had just needed the eleven minute nap, but he was pretty much cool with the whole thing. He looked shocked and confused, but not really pissed off.

And I wasn’t either. Whoever did this was an asshole, but he was just doing his little bit to try to get ahead, and I’m sure he will feel terrible about it later. Plus, I’m sure I’ve inadvertently caused some problems for people in the past with my driving. I know I’ve been in the car with my mom and my father in law when lives were narrowly saved by smart drivers in other cars. But Barnaby was okay with it, and if a ten month old can put up with the wet and cold, then I sure as hell am not gonna bitch.

When the bus stopped, the driver didn’t seem pleased to let on a couple soaked to the bone, and he told me I had to fold up the stroller. Here’s the thing, I never got a chance to. The entire bus saw a wet baby and his stupid wet dad, and they all became doctors and nurses. They made room, they switched seats, they took the baby and the stroller and talked to him and cooed… it’s crazy.

New York is like this, that’s what outsiders don’t know. It’s what even some New Yorkers will never know. On the buses and in the subways, on the streets, everyone is grumbling and shoving and trying to win these little battles, but as soon as something IMPORTANT happens, even if it’s only marginally important, everyone is on board. If you take a cab from your penthouse to your job, you don’t know what New York is. If you’re a car service from your job in midtown back to Park Slope or New Jersey, you’ve probably missed the real New York.

People shove and push on the stairs, but if an old woman loses her balance there are usually five guys trying to catch her. Everyone wants to cut to the front of the line at the deli, but if you’ve got a crying baby, they always let you go first. People set their shoulders when they walk on the sidewalk, but if someone faints, there are ten cellphones calling 911 before he or she hits the ground.

And Barnaby was in heaven. We got a seat by the back door and he sat on my soaking lap and smacked his flat hand on the window while everyone talked to him. He watched people get off and spun his head around to catch them once they were on the street. And the woman who helped us the most got off right before our stop, he held his raised fist to her as she left in the only greeting he’s learned, the black power salute. She laughed hard, either at the kid or my red face.

He was born in the shadow of Lincoln Center, and he’s played every day under the Triboro Bridge. There’s a part of me that’s almost jealous that he gets to call this place home, this place that’s adopted me. I’m a New Yorker by choice, but he gets to be one by birth. I feel like it is one of the most important gifts we’ve given him.