Recently my mom and I were walking through the East Village and my mom said, “When I first came here, it was all Puerto Ricans. Now it’s all gringos. I’m the only Puerto Rican here!”
On the sound walk Passing Stranger by Pejk Malinovski, I felt very aware of my New York heritage–how many places are there in America where a Puerto Rican lady and a Brooklyn Jew can meet at a labor union and fall in love? It sounds like the set up for a joke. For my mom, the punchline is probably that the gringos have nipped the budding romances of the next generation of Jews and Boricuas.
I thought it was clever how I was cued to walk to a new location by hearing footsteps, along with a “make your way down 12th street.” I liked how there were some musical cues as well, like a wire brush on a drum set that is so reminiscent of shuffle steps. This was effective right off the bat, when I heard the recorded sound of footsteps on the winding stairwell in the church, though I could not hear my own. It was oddly comforting to be reminded of all the people who had tread there before. Still I wonder, what gives footsteps so much power in the context of an empty church?
People talk about how the city used to be so dangerous, but the crack and gangs and broken windows are completely foreign to me. I liked the moment in the sound walk where the car fire was described–breaking it down for parts and filling it with trash and setting it aflame, until a firetruck would lazily roll up and the whole block would cheer. I love the idea of a neighborhood united by a garbage fire. I looked at an empty parking space and imagined a bright burning car. It was an anchor for me. The trouble I had with the sound walk was an abundance of stimuli. There was the city bustle, music, poetry and placards. Sometimes it felt like I was hearing and seeing nothing at all, like a kind of static.
My favorite moment was when I stopped in front of PS 61, a school I substitute teach at all the time! Listening to the kids recite their “I wish” poems was amazing. “I wish a was a chocolate-covered flying horse,” and “I wish I was a bird so I could tell the other birds to be quiet.” Adults have so many pretensions and insecurities, but children are natural fucking poets. I remember a kid named Oliver in one of my sub classes at PS 61 wrote about what happened when he got cold: “My legs were clicking together like rain.” Of course earlier in the day he leapt up during morning meeting, bent over and shouted “SPANK ME,” a poem not nearly as sophisticated. But a poem in its own right.