Sunday, February 1, 2009

Year of the Ox

It is 6:15pm and my roommate Richard and friend Brad are waiting for me to tie my shoes so that we can go to the Chinese New Year activity down at the church. I quickly tie the laces of my black-and-white sneakers, put on my coat, scarf, and gloves and we head out the door. The temperature is cold enough to necessitate a warm coat, but the biting wind makes even a thick coat feel like a tattered rag. And of course the 2/3 train is closed this weekend...grrr... So we wait for the replacement shuttle bus, and we wait, and we wait. Bus arrives and we're off. There's just something different about riding the bus compared to taking the subway. It's nice to be able to see the city as you drive by and have cellphone reception. The subway is nice at times because, you don't have to worry about traffic jams (though there have been instances of "train traffic" which is an unnerving concept, aren't they supposed to prevent that?!).

We arrive at the Lincoln Center chapel and greet the friendly security guard who directs us to the 3rd floor. The elevator gently glides up the floors as everyone in the elevator does everything possible to not make eye contact with each other. It's interesting. I look at people starring at the ceiling of the elevator. There really isn't that much to see, but I imagine them thinking something like "yep, that sure is a nice elevator ceiling, very elevatory...yep, sure is a ceiling elevator, we've arrive, that went by quick..."

When I get off the elevator my face smacks against a wall of aroma. For a minute I feel like I'm walking down the street in China town; the strong smell of Chinese food hanging in the air. We walk into the cultural hall and it is full of people. There are lines of red Chinese lanterns hung in rows on string from the ceiling, and below them are rows of chairs all facing the stage. The choir from the Chinese branch is on the stage singing, while a few other members clear off the remaining empty serving trays, which, consequently, are the only remains suggesting that there was a dinner. I found out later that this particular activity is very popular and if you want any food, you have to show up early.

A group of dancers perform an energy-packed lion dance. When they introduce the number they say that the dance is usually done with a lot of people under a dragon costume (which I've seen in movies) but because the cultural hall is so packed, they will be using the lion costume instead. The colorful lion winds through the crowd to the beat of a drum. Its mouth and eyes opening and closing, with its head darting side to side. Very cool! Now that I've seen that, I'm ready to go and get some Chinese food. I look at my friends and tell them that I want to eat some Chinese food before we go to our friends good-bye party, they are in agreement so we go. Back to the elevator. Same situation. A bunch of people looking everywhere else other than at the person standing next to them thinking "wow, that is a nice elevator ceiling..."

We aren't quite sure where the nearest Chinese restaurant is so we decide to hop on the cross-town bus and stop at the first Chinese restaurant we see. Brilliant. We get on the bus and head down the street smiling at each other thinking "good plan." Richard, speaks up and says "there's one." Ironically, there is a restaurant on the corner where we first got on the bus...sigh... Oh well, there are plenty more where that came from. We head down the street. And, as it usually happens, whenever I am looking for something specific (e.g. restaurant) I don't see any, but when I'm not looking they're everywhere. I think there must be some kind of conspiracy...

I know that there are a lot of places on 2nd avenue so we decide to get off there and just start walking in the direction of our friend's apartment (where the party will be at). I'm pretty sure that the wind is in on the same conspiracy as the Chinese restaurants this point less wind would be the best, so of course, the wind increases. I'm not sure why this is, but the colder it gets the more my nose drips. I don't think that is a very favorable evolutionary development because the way I see it, more drips gives the wind more things to freeze solid. And not to mention, the wind numbs the face so it's almost impossible to know that dripping is happening!

Walking down the street it seems like we are finding every kind of restaurant except for a Chinese one...figures...Faces getting colder, desire to eat Chinese food diminishing, must press forward. We see an awning with Chinese-like characters, but what do we know. Our excitement peaks as we read the menu...nope, Thai food. I want to say yes, so that we can get out of the cold, but a part of me says "onward!" The next restaurant looks promising, we read the menu...nope, Burmese food the next...nope, Indian food; the next...nope Japanese food; the next...nope another Indian food place. I feel like I can hear all of these restaurants laughing at us and we pass window to window.

I pull out my phone to look at Google Maps, why has it taken me so long to think of using the internet on my phone?! I type in "Chinese restaurants, NYC", Google makes a map with all sorts of places. I zoom in on the upper east side, and I click on the it possible, could it be!? "Nancy's Pig Heaven". What the!? I type in "Chinese restaurants, NYC" and I get Nancy's Pig Heaven. I read the results out loud to Brad and Richard, and I immediately start making jokes about the accuracy of Google as I stare down at my phone. I look up for a minute and see the unmistakable shape of Chinese lanterns hanging from an awning. "We have a bogey at 2:00p, roger that." We walk towards the lanterns thinking that it is too good to be true. We walk up to the menu and start reading "Nancy' Pig Heaven"!! No way! Not only is it real, but it they really do serve Chinese food. What trip!

As we walk inside we are greeted by three different smiling hostess who lead us to the back of the dining hall. The walls are all painted pink and were covered in various pig figurines; that's right, Nancy's Pig Heaven was totally decked out in pig decor (go fig). Our table was right in front of the butchery. That's right, right in front of the place where the chef cuts up the meat that we will soon be eating. There is cooked duck hanging (with head still attached) starring at me. There is a pig and slabs of ribs danglingly from various skewers. Nummy (man I wish there was a sarcastic font).

I don't know if it was the cold, the walking, or the fact that my potential meal was starring at me, but I felt like I should try something new. I looked at the menu and saw the traditional orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, etc. but this time I figure I can venture out and get something a little more exotic. I'm tentative about the thought, so I share it with my comrades, they are tentative too. We look across the table at each other and incessantly asking "so what are you going to get?" Hoping that one of us will cave in and get something traditional so the rest of us can. Brad sits back and puts on his poker face communicating a message of "I order new stuff all the time, it's what I do." Richard is looking as confused as I am and says "Ooo this one comes with a pancake...I wonder what that is like." And I flip through the menu thinking "safe route, new route, safe route, new route, safe route, new route."

Our waitress comes up to table. She is an older Chinese woman who has dyed her curly hair burgundy. She has a very thick accent and I can immediately tell that communication with her is going to be an adventure. I look up to her and ask if she has any recommendations. She quickly replies in one monotone fast-paced sentence "wii-hav-willy-gued-bar-bi-que-wibs-vewii-femous-or-suckring-pig." "Hmmm, ok. Thanks. I'll need just a minute more." (in my mind) "what on earth am I going to get?" I look over at Brad and he looks as confident as ever with his decision, and Richard is still thinking about the pancake. "So what are you going to get Brad?" "I'm going to get pig butt." That's right, you heard me right, pig butt. And that is exactly how it is listed on the menu "pig butt small or large." Brad was feeling particularly hungry so he says he will order a large pig butt. My mind immediately imagines a steaming, intact butt on a plate. "Hmmm, sounds good" (once again a sarcastic font would be fabulous). "And you Richard?" (need I ask) "I think I'll go with this pancake thing, and you?" They both are picking new things, I'm really feeling the pressure now. "Well, I think that I'll go with the ... um ... suckling pig." I figure that it was a safe, new bet because she said that it was really good, crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside. The other two guys look at me with approval. I must say the possible jokes with Brad ordering pig butt are endless.

The waitress comes back and puts a small plate in the middle of our table and then walks away. It has some moist, shredded cabbage and some slivers of cucumber. What am I suppose to do with this? It looks like something that you would put on some kind of cracker, but there are no crackers to be seen. I ask Richard and Brad. Brad, still with his game face on, says "you eat it," and grabs a few cucumber spears and plops them in his mouth. I'm still totally confused, so when the waitress comes back, I ask her "excuse me, how do we eat this?" In shock, the waitress replies in the same fast-paced monotone voice (this time with a little more gusto) "it's-house-sarad-you-eat-it-its-house-sarad-evwiione-git-it-it's-on-dee-house-fwee-you-don't-pay-house-sarad." Thank you, how silly of me. I take my fork and put a little bit of the salad on it and bring it to my mouth. Yuck!! There is a reason why that salad is free, no one would buy it!

The waitress comes back to take our order and asks if I like the salad. Trying to hold back my "oh man this is nasty" face muscles I politely smiled and mumbled "oh well, it's a... salad...yep, it's fine." She takes our orders and asks Richard if he wants her to prepare his food. What a curious question . . . "Sure", he replies. Before the waitress leaves, Brad jokingly asks "so are you Nancy?" (as in THE Nancy of Nancy's Pig Heaven), to all our surprise she says "no-its-her" and points to one of the women who initially greeted us when we first arrived. What do you know, Nancy herself is here! I wonder if anyone has told her about the salad?

As we wait for our food I notice the chef cutting some meat off the hanging pig and off of another hanging slab of meat. Surely, that isn't the pig that I just ordered (gulp). The waitress brings our food out. Mind you, this is not a cheap restaurant, so I was expecting to have some extras with the meal (e.g. noodles, soup, or something) included in the pricey meal. Well, I am mistaken. Just a little bit of white rice and a slab of pig cut up into little squares. Thanks Nancy.

I notice that there is a small bowl full of barbecue sauce on my plate, which for me is a nice safety net, because if it's gross I'll douse the sucker with BBQ sauce. I take the first piece of meat and bring it to my mouth...drum roll please...and the judges say...they should include this meat with the free house salad! Yuck! My meat tasted like pig, not to be confused with cooked pork, but pig! And I'll be danged if I'm going to waste the small fortune that I just purchased, so I reach for the BBQ sauce.

Brad's butt was surprisingly good (once again using one of the endless Brad pig butt jokes) he shared it will all of use. It's a good thing he got a large butt because otherwise he wouldn't have been able to share. Richard's food came out last. The waitress takes his meat and then portions it out onto tortillas and wraps them for him. That's right, ladies and gentleman, Chinese pancakes are tortillas. I think that would be an interesting debate to have: what came first the pancake or the tortilla.

I choke down the remainder of my food (choke being the closest word I could use to describe my mouth's reflex to the meat). We pay our large bill (surprising that it wasn't on pink paper) and gather our things and left our pig paradise.

We walk a few more blocks and arrive at the party. The party has dual purposes, it's to say good-bye to our dear friend who is moving back home, and to say good-bye to 5W. Apparently, the 5W apartment has been in the ward for a long time (i.e. various people in our ward have lived in it over the years), so it is only appropriate to have an official farewell party for it.

I make a casual v-line to the kitchen hoping to find something delicious to wash the Pig Heaven taste out of my mouth. Chocolate-chip cookies, perfect! I pack in a few cookies, and the pig taste is suppressed (sigh of relief). I'm sure if someone watched me eat those cookies they would have thought I was practicing for some kind of cold medicine commercial, you know, the part when the previously stuffy-congested person is liberated from the muck of mucous and they take a deep breath in with their eyes closed. That is pretty much how I must have looked when I put those cookies in my mouth. I always thought the actors in those commercials were faking it, but that relief is a real phenomenon.

I enjoy the rest of the party. There is the typical talking, eating, laughing, etc. etc. Towards the end of the party a small dance floor opens up in the apartment and a few of us decide to get "jiggywith it." At this point Brad and Richard have connected with other people in the party, so me and Briana and Jordan decide that it is time to go home. We all live near each other so we figure that we will walk with each other.

We get to about 104th street and Briana sees a dance club called SpaHa Lounge and asks if we can go inside. Jordan is a pretty reserved person, but is willing. I was a little hesitant, but supportive just because I'm not sure if I have enough energy left. We walk in and see people sitting around the bar, sitting around the small tables around the walls of the room laughing with their friends, the DJ is tucked in the corner with huge speakers surrounding him, there is a large guy standing in front of the door (aka security), and a small group of people has formed on the small dance floor. We stick out like a sore thumb because we are the only packets of white sugar in the lounge. It feels like every one's eyes are resting on us watching our every move.

We take our coats off and put them down on one of the benches lining the wall. Jordan sits down and makes himself at home and Briana and I jump up and claim our chunk of the dance floor. I really like to dance and so does Briana, so we let the rhythm lead. Everyone watching us starts to smile and whisper to the people sitting next to them. We're not sure what they're saying, but their attention just fuels our tanks. Before we know it the small dance group opens up and asks us to dance in the middle of the circle. Without hesitation, Briana and I both take our turns. The music is pounding, the people are cheering, and we are just loving it.

We made friends with some of the people and they ask us periodically to dance in the middle of the circle. One of the girls says "we want to see the white girl dance" needless to say, they were amazed! Briana and I just keep on dancing, soaking up the fun atmosphere as Jordan sits watching the flat-screen televisions hanging on the wall. At one point, we decide to leave, but the DJ put on some great music so we stuck around even longer. After hearing a few rounds of karaoke, we decide to call it a night. It is really late, so we walk our friend Briana to her apartment.

This New Year's Eve was great (Chinese New Year)!!! What a great way to start the year of the ox.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I had some fun New York moments yesterday. It was Saturday and it was snowing a bit outside so I decided to sleep in. What a great decision :). I didn't have any timetables to follow, no plans, so I just took my time getting ready. I had a beautiful experience with my scripture study, it was one of those moments that felt like Father was speaking to me. Those words may have been written 1,000's of years ago, but it felt like they were placed there just for me. After I was done reading my scriptures I got ready to go to the rec center to do some exercise.

Unfortunately there have been several locker break-in's at the rec center, so now they require you to bring a master lock with key. I have a master lock, but it's a combination lock; when I arrived I saw a sign posted on the door saying that if you had a luggage lock or a combination lock that the center wouldn't allow you in. The thing is, earlier that week one of the security guards had told me to get a lock with a key, I should have bought one earlier that week, but I kept thinking that they were just recommending it and that I would still be able to go into the gym. After all, my lock was sturdy; I really couldn't see how anyone could break into my locker unless they brought in a saw or welder. I was feeling pretty confident in not buying a lock. Well, that all changed when I saw the sign posted on the door. Turns out that the combination locks are easier to break into than I thought, the rec center wanted to help keep everyone's personal belongings safe so they started requiring people to have better locks (mind you it was for the good of the patrons that they were doing this).

I totally could be going out on a limb with this one, but it seems that life has moments like that. Where Heavenly Father tells us to do something because He knows it will keep us safer and happier. At the moment it may not make sense to us, and we may brush it off thinking that we are just fine doing things the way we have always done them. Then later on down the road we realize that we are stuck at a door. We could complain, throw a temper tantrum on how unfair life is, but the reality is Father told us earlier how to avoid getting stuck. By the time I had got back to the apartment to borrow my roommates lock it was too late to go to the rec center . This time I'm going to learn my lesson and get a lock so that I can make it passed the door.

After the rec center fiasco (or lack or rec center), I went down to the laundry room. I was looking for some machines, and being Saturday, it became a difficult task. One woman saw me looking at told me that her clothes were almost done and I could use her machines. The timing was perfect. She pointed out the machines that were the best bang for my buck, and as she saw me load my clothes she gave me some pointers on how to improve the wash.

She and I got to talking as we waited for our laundry. Her name is Val and she is an elementary school teacher. She also has her Masters in Public Administration and a Masters in Business Administration. A very bright woman, but so connected to the human experience. She told me about what it is like during the Spring time near the park, and all of the different activities that are available. She loves this city and you can tell.

My friend Mary was doing her laundry as well and she invited me to go with her and Christine to the opera. I think that I have only been to the Opera once before and I thought that it was a good experience, so I figured why not. We finished our laundry, got ready to go, and we were out the door. Sadly, the opera was sold out. We stood there for a bit trying to figure out what to do and Christine recommended that we go to a jazz club called Dizzy's.

They had a show going on that evening and we had to wait in the stand-by line, but we were able to get a table. The atmosphere in the club was so New York. There were small candle-lit tables dotting the floor, with a long bar that wrapped around the walls of the room. The back wall was a series of large windows, and looking through them you could see all of these beautiful skyscrapers all lit up with evening life. The platform for the band was right in front of the windows. There were stage lights aimed at the small platform, and the lighting was perfect. The band was from Brazil and they were wonderful, the music just made me want to dance. During the show I just sat back in my chair and soaked in the moment: wonderful jazz music playing, New York skyline in the background, delicious food, great company...what a beautiful moment.

After the show they had After hours. All three of us had had such a great time that we didn't really want to go, so we lingered. The next band set up and was introduced. It was a poet with a jazz band accompanying him. I wish that you could have been there. I had such a hard time holding my laughter in. The poet stood up to the mic and in a deep gruff voice started saying "listen, listen, listen" as the music played. Occasionally, he would erupt into these improv dance gigs, and then he would look at the piano player who was just as into the music as the poet was. The poet reminded me of Mike Meyers in "So I Married an Ax Murder" when he recite poetry in the club. It was a hoot!

We stuck around for awhile, politely laughing to ourselves and then decided to head back home. It had snowed that day so the sidewalks weren't all clear. All three of us walked down the snowy sidewalks lit by street lamps laughing and repeating our favorite quotes of the evening. Such a beautiful New York moment.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks Giving

6:30a music starts playing on my alarm . . . too early, hit snooze . . . ten minutes later, better get up. I go through my regular routine, but this time in an empty apartment; all the roommates have gone to family or friends homes for Thanksgiving. Should I wear my winter coat? Step outside on the balcony, take a deep breath; no, I think I can wear a lighter coat today. I finished getting ready and head on out. Two of my neighbors wish me a good morning and a Happy Thanksgiving on the elevator and I walk out of the building onto a basically empty street with a smile on my face. I decide to walk on the park-side of the street and soak up the autumn feel of the park. There is one or two dedicated early morning joggers; exercising against the backdrop of a crystal still pond and scores of trees which have shed the majority of their colorful much peace.

As I ride in the subway towards the parade I tell myself that there are going to be huge crowds (news estimated 3.5 million people), and chances were that I wasn’t going to get a good view. I say a little prayer to Father asking him to give me a good place to stand for the parade. I reach 72nd and walk up the stairs swimming upstream with the rest of the crowd. Sure enough, the street was packed. I thought of walking around to see if there was a better spot somewhere further down the parade route, but I told a friend that I would wait for her on 72nd street, so I waited.

Time passed on and the crowd started to fill in behind me and I slowly realized that I wasn’t going to be connecting with my friend; the once river of people had turned into a wall of ice, quite impenetrable. 45 minutes until the parade reached us. Started looking around to soak in my surroundings, is this the place that I was praying for? Father probably smiled because I was about to find out that it was.

My parade people. In front of me was a married couple; the husband had their littler daughter in a baby-buggy-backpack contraption, and the wife had the backpack full of treats, wipes, food, cameras, etc. You could tell that it had already been a long morning for the wife because she was cussing her husband up one side and down another. The wife would interrupt her husband chew out session, with a pleasant-toned check-in with her daughter who was looking down at the pre-parade mayhem. Why was mom so mad? To my left was a young couple that were very much in love with each other, and boy did they show it! I was getting a little nervous because it took them awhile to come up for air between their full on make out sessions. Talk about a preshow! To my right was a very tall man who had brought his daughter back to his home town (New York) from Puerto Rico so that she could see the parade. This guy was probably about 6’2” and his little girl was a pretty healthy girl herself. He had made his way up to me, and a woman behind him started throwing a fit because he was so tall and she couldn’t see. She said “all I can see is a big, tall wall of black” (he was wearing a black coat), and in that New York style, he replied right back “well, that’s something you’ll have to talk to my parents about.” His daughter was bundled up like the kid on a “Christmas Story” because she was accustomed to the weather in Puerto Rico. She kept asking her dad to put her back on his shoulders and he would reply (in Spanish) “I’ll put you back on my shoulders when the parade starts. You weigh a lot.” Straight behind me was a delightful woman and her two daughters. Her attitude was contagious. As people would weasel their way to the front of the line they would try to fake people out by pretending someone was waiting for them, or by just being polite “good morning, excuse me, etc.” It got a lot of people irritated, but this woman would just laugh it off and say “next year, I know how I’m gettin’ to the front. You gotta have a plan when you come heah.” When people got disgusted by the young couple making out, she would just laugh and say “it’s like there’s no one else around!” Then there was another couple, he has lived in New York his whole life and has never come to the parade. It was a good day for him. He and his wife were light-hearted, you could tell that they just loved being around each other and sharing the adventure.

As the parade started people shifted, squeezed forward, some people left, and a small army of children saddled their parent’s shoulders making the perfect barrier between me and the parade. I just had to laugh. In all honesty, the parade is more for them so I didn’t get too worked up about it. It was fun to look around me at the various people who were getting irritated because they couldn’t see, the crowd was too big, etc, etc; something magic would happen when people would make eye contact with another person. Even though they were in the peak of their irritability, looking at another person having the same struggles made it seem better. They would be able to look at each, laugh about the situation, and then get back to the reality of the parade. I think that’s kind of like life. We need those times when we can connect with another human being sharing our journey, laugh a little, and then get back to work.

The floats and balloons were great! I couldn’t see anything that wasn’t elevated off the ground, but I’m sure that it was great too. Those large balloons would come down the street and cheers would explode from the crowd. It was great! I could tell that the end of the parade was nearing because people started to file away slowly, which meant that I got to get closer and closer. I really wanted to see Santa. I looked up into the rich apartment building lining the street and I could see a kid sitting in the window watching the parade. Arguably, he had the best seat in the house, but something about his look seemed to say that he wished her were on the shoulders of someone laughing and cheering. He needed to see Santa too. I kept checking my clock because I had to be uptown to start my shift at the soup kitchen and I didn’t want to be late. Hurry Santa, hurry!

Then he finally arrived, sleigh and all. It probably sounds childish, but I got so excited to see Santa. And this Santa was so good! He was so happy and when he would wave at the crowd it felt like he was pulling you in. Right behind his sleigh was a huge green star-shaped balloon, and in the middle written in gold cursive lettering was the word “Believe.” I could tell that he believed. I do too. I believe in the Spirit of what that Santa was projecting out to world. The sun was shining and it felt like it was warming my body and my soul.

The crowd started slipping away, but this time with a lot more smiles on their faces. I said good-bye to my new friends. It turned out that guy who was making out is moving to Utah to go to school for awhile; he asked if I was Mormon, and when I told him I was he said that he was too, but that he was inactive. I wonder what his journey will hold. I also said good-bye to the couple who had been quarrelling earlier. Don’t worry, the storm had passed and they were both smiling again. Storms happen sometimes; but storms pass.

Looking back on my spot on 72nd street today I realize that Father answered my prayer. He gave me a great place to stand for the parade; I got to see the Macy’s day parade, and more importantly a parade of daily life.

I saw that the subway station was packed so I took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and started walking uptown. I saw all sorts of people running into the street markets getting their last Thanksgiving dinner items. I got on the subway at the next station and headed towards the Presbyterian Church on Broadway.

Before I walked in I said a prayer asking Father to change me as a result of the experience I was going to have. I wanted to leave that church a different person. When I got there I was guided down stairs to join with the rest of the volunteers. I walked into the large room and saw tables and chairs set up everywhere filling the large gym hall floor. Volunteers from the morning shift were finishing up the meal preparations that they had begun and the next shift of volunteers filled out their name tags and put on their aprons. Mr. Lenny was the organizer of the event. He was gentle with people, you could tell that his heart was in the work he did. We were given our assignments. I was asked to be a waiter. The way that it was going to work is the people would come in and be seated, one of the waiters/waitresses would get the person’s order and then go to the back of the gym hall where all the serving tables were and have the food servers dish up the plate. In my eyes, that old church gym hall had transformed into a five star restaurant serving a fine Thanksgiving cuisine.

There were five other people that worked in the section with me. Michele and Rich were the first two that I met. It was so comfortable being around them. We had only just met, but it felt like we had been friends for a long time. They told me about the upcoming trip to London there were going on, adventures with work, etc. Before they left, we exchanged information so that we could hang out another time, what great people. Melissa, Claudia and Seth were the other three. Seth is at Columbia’s law school, Claudia his wife is a psychology intern at St. Lukes, and Melissa is an intern as well.

The first three guests that were seated in our section only spoke Spanish. None of the members on my team could speak Spanish and they started to look at each other saying “what do we do now?” I walked up to the three men and welcomed them in Spanish and asked them if they would like to start with some drinks. The stress of not being able to communicate melted off the face of my teammates and the faces of these three gentlemen.

The shift time passed quickly. People came and went, got food, smiled, and laughed. Volunteers who had never met before forged bonds of friendship. It was beautiful.

A thin woman sat down in my section and I had the privilege of serving her. She went down the menu and selected out all the food that she wanted. I had to get some help from Melissa and Claudia because I couldn’t carry all the plates. When we put them down in front of her, with surprise in her voice said, “are these all for me?” She ate all the food on those plates except for some of the soup that she couldn’t finish. She stayed in the hall talking with some of her friends for awhile. I was busy working and she stopped me before she left, she looked me in the eye and said “thanks Cole.” I could feel the thanks she was giving.

There was another woman who sat down and ordered her meal. She would finish one portion of it and ask me if I could bring her some more. Then she would look at the menu and try out other things she had never tasted before. She stayed talking with some of her friends too. She stopped me too. She gently grabbed my arm and in her German accent said “thank you. I hope that you will receive blessings for your work here, all the blessings.” I don’t think she realized, but she was the blessing. I received the thanks she was giving.

I walked with an elderly man from Africa down the serving line with a make-shift plate I had made out of tinfoil. He would select the food he would want and we would pile it on the “plate.” He sure loved turkey. I wrapped up his plate and gave it to him. I looked into his thick cataract eyes, and he smiled and said “thank you very much.” I received the thanks he was giving.

The servers helped me make a plate of food for myself and I sat down with some of the other restaurant patrons to eat my Thanksgiving dinner. This particular dinner filled my soul.

We started to clean up the gym hall, folded up chairs, and tables, started putting away the food, and closing up the restaurant (I think restaurant has a nice ring to itJ). There was a young couple sitting in some chairs and as I slipped by them I said “howdy!” The young man started to laugh and asked me if I was from New York. I told him that I was from Utah, and he said that he could tell that I was from somewhere else because of my accent. I sat down and started to have a conversation with him and the young lady sitting next to him. I asked him where he was from and he said originally from Arkansas. I asked the young lady and she said “I don’t know.” I thought that maybe she didn’t feel safe telling me, and I didn’t want to force her or make an issue of it so I just said “that’s ok, sometimes it’s hard to know.” Little did I know how true that was.

My new friend Benjamin started to tell me their story. He and Charlence are married and currently sleeping on the streets. He recently found out that he was adopted. His adoptive parents didn’t want him to find out, and when he did, they became very cold towards him. Their coldness had increased to frigidness and a few months back they kicked him out of the house. Charlence was also adopted. When she told me that she didn’t know where she was from, she didn’t mean it in a flippant way, she really doesn’t know where she is from. Her adoptive parents kicked her out too. Now this young couple spends their day figuring out how they can survive. They have one rolling suitcase with all of their earthly possessions in it. A social work team that works with the homeless gave them some sleeping bags because it had been getting really cold at night. They have a little spot by a church where they sleep.

Though, the details of their story were so heavy, this young couple had been able to maintain a positive outlook and a light heart. At times we all found ourselves laughing with each other and we joked about life. I started to tell them about some of the programs available to help them, but they had been taken advantage of before by a program they stayed at and I could tell they hadn’t healed yet from that experience; they weren’t ready to possibly get hurt again. I asked them how they survived, and they said “because of kind hearted people.” I asked them if there was something I could do for them; they said there really isn’t anything that I could do. I told them that I wished that I could do something and Charlence in her meek voice said “you already have, you made us laugh.” Benjamin smiled. I received the thanks they were giving.

It’s moments like these that remind that crying and laughing are like siblings, they are so closely related. Just writing down their words brings tears to my eyes. I want so badly to help them; I want to pull them off the street and make their life better; I want to kick down the door of their family’s house and ask them why? why them?; I want to march into the adoption agency office and ask them why these kids don’t have a right to know who their birth parents are, to know where they come from.

I gathered my things to go and I saw Benjamin waving to me. He asked me if I could get them a drink. I walked over to the older woman who was ladeling out the remains of the grape juice and asked for two glasses. She smiled and filed the two up. I took them to Benjamin and Charlence and with smiles on their faces they said “thanks.”

I walked down the street to the subway station watching people scurry around with food in their hands as they headed off to their Thanksgiving dinners. Father answered my prayer; I am not the same person that I was. I don’t think you can walk away from that kind of experience and not be changed.

I met up with a friend of mine later. He and I were among the few people in our ward who had stayed in the city. We decided that we would go out to a restaurant to celebrate Thanksgiving. For those who know me, I’m always down for second helpings of food J. He and I headed downtown on the train and got out in Little Italy. We walked down the streets of that culturally rich village and took a look at the menus of the restaurants that were open. One of the hosts of a restaurant came outside when he saw us looking at the posted menu; his friendliness sealed the deal. We went in and had our Italian Thanksgiving dinner. Ha ha!

And now I’m sitting alone in my room watching one letter follow the next as I try to put into words the spectrum of emotion that I experienced today. I went from a crowded street full of people who, at times (not all the time and not all the people), could feel a great deal of irritation because they couldn’t see all of the floats, to a old crowded gym hall where people ate as much as they could because they didn’t know when a meal like that would come again. At both ends of the day I met some wonderful people that greatly touched my heart. There are years when I have celebrated Thanksgiving, but today, I feel like I have received the gift of Thanks Giving.

11:12p time to go to bed. A day that I will never forget.

Macy's Parade

Lonley kid

Make out man

Woman in bottom right corner was so awesome during the parade! "You gotta have a plan when you come here"

Just look at how annoyed the woman in the sunglasses is. Read "Thanks Giving" entry about what she said.

A lovely crowd for the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Yuan Yuan Yang

Last night was so fun. We had some people over to our apartment for a movie night. Brandon made arrepas (Venezuelan food) and Cate made a fruit pizza, so good!! Cate and Brandon brought a friend of theirs from school her name was Yuan Yuan. She was a very fun loving person and had a contagious laugh and so much energy. I was watching Cate make the fruit pizza, she had a bowl of frosting she had just made, and then there was an open tub of butter that Brandon had been using for the arrepas. Yuan Yuan comes bouncing into the kitchen with big smile on her face and looks at the fruit pizza and in a quick, energy-filled movement dips here finger mistakenly into the tub of butter and brings it right up into her mouth while saying “yum is this the frosting?” Cate didn’t have time to respond as she saw the event unrolling because it happened so quickly. So, just as Yuan Yuan put her finger in her eager mouth, Cate warning trailed off “wait, that’s the…butter.” Yuan Yuan didn’t have to be told at that point because her finger had already made its way into her mouth and her previously enthusiastic face melted into one of minor disgust. Cate and I started to laugh, and as Yuan Yuan slowly pulled the once eager finger out of her mouth her face warmed back up to its enthusiastic glow and she started laughing.

Then we were sitting in the living room getting acquainted and Brandon asked Yuan Yuan how much she thought we spent to furnish our living room. She was sitting on the couch next to Emily, and went piece by piece to create the best estimate possible, and figured that we had spent about $2,000 on furniture. Brandon smiled and held up his hand in the form of a “0”. Without warning, Yuan Yuan turned to Emily and squealed like a pre-teen girl sitting at the front of a stage of a David Archuleta performance. It was like watching two girls scream over a guy they had a huge crush on. Except Emily wasn’t expecting the scream; she was startled and her face was one of immediate panic. So in one big blur, Yuan Yuan turns to Emily and starts squealing out of unexplainable joy, and Emily starts to squeal out of fear. From where I was standing I saw Emily’s face and the back of Yuan Yuan’s head as she turned to join with Emily in celebrating our living room. It all happened at once, which made for such a wonderful moment!! I laughed so hard.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Live the Adventure, Now

I was reminded of an important lesson recently. I had some friends from Utah that came to New York on vacation; they only had one full day to spend in the city before they headed to Connecticut. There is so much to do here, but they realized that their time was brief, so they decided they would limit their activities to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and then end the day by going to the Met Museum. They invited me to go and I looked at my schedule and I had a few things that I needed to get done, but I decided that I would go with them. To be honest, part of me thought that I should focus on my to-do list and go to those places another day; after all, I’m going to be in the city for several more months. But the part of me that wanted to go won and I headed down to Battery Park.

It was such a beautiful day! The sun was out, there was a light breeze coming in from the water, there was a smell of honey-roasted nuts floating around the park (from the street vendors), there was a collage of people walking around, and a symphony of different languages and accents dancing through the air. Before I met up with my friends I just had to stand and soak up the day.
My friends had arrived at Battery Park before me and bought my ticket for the ferry ride. I found them in the long line that was stretching through the park. As we progressed down the long line, I made some friends with people standing next to us. There were two delightful women from England. Their names were Beryl and Janet. They were so much fun!! I never figured out if they were sisters or just close friends, but whatever their relationship was, you could tell that they were close. They told me that they were on a little adventure together; they listed off the places that they had been to in the past and laughed between themselves as they recounted some of their experiences. There was another guy that I met in line. He was Greek and he told all sorts of things about his life in Greece. He told me that the parties there are great ha ha! I busted up laughing at one point when he was talking because Janet looked at me with a smile on her face, and in her thick English accent said ‘you can tell this guy is fond of the drink’ ha ha!

When we went through security they made Beryl and Janet take off of their jewelry and belts to go through the scanners. My two friends were very well dressed and it took them awhile to take off all of their accessories. When they cleared through the scanners, they just grabbed their things and walked up the ramp into the boat. Beryl got her shoes, belts, etc on pretty quickly, but Janet was having a time of it. The boat was rocking so she was having a hard time keeping her balance. Beryl and Janet were laughing so hard. Janet stopped dressing for a second and started looking for something in her purse; between gasping for air between her laughs Beryl told me ‘she’s lookin’ fo anotha tablet!’ Janet gets motion sick so she was fishing through her purse for another pill, ha ha! As Janet stood there hobbling around with one shoe on, two belts in her one hand, and a handful of jewelry in the other, bags in both, laughing to herself, another woman standing next to her starred at Janet. This woman’s face looked like it was saying “what is this lady doing!” Janet looked up and saw the lady, so she started talking her. She had a very thick accent and her laughter was very contagious, but this other woman wouldn’t crack a smile. It didn’t bother Janet, she was on a mission to get herself put together. She was cinching her belt on and the woman who was starring turned to her husband and started speaking in a different language. Beryl died laughing! Janet had been trying to have a conversation with a woman that didn’t speak any English; Beryl laughed out loud saying ‘that woman is a foreigner’. I had such a great time with them!

These two wonderful women loved life, they went on adventures together, and enjoyed the human experience. I asked them what their families at home thought of their adventures and they told me that their husbands, children, grandchildren thought that it was great. I totally agree.

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island was great I’ll have to write more about that experience in another post. When we were done with the islands we went uptown and ate at a great pizza place “Pie by the Pound”. We sat on a table that was on the sidewalk and I just looked down the street at all the tall buildings. Great food, a nice view, and good company.

My friends decided to go to the Museum for a little bit before they headed back to their hotel for the evening. The bulk of our time was spent at the island, so I said my good-byes and went home to finish my to-dos before it got too late.

The lesson that I was reminded of from my dear friends Beryl and Janet is the importance of having adventures and doing them now. I have been in the city for a few months now, and I’ve loved it, but I really haven’t done a lot of things that people come to New York for. I keep telling myself that I will get to them, but the days seem to slip by. I couldn’t help but think of my Utah friends’ situation; if I only had one day what would I do? I wonder how many of those days we have let slip by. The funny thing is that all of the “to-dos” that almost kept me from going all got done. I think that the “to-do” side of us worries that we won’t get things accomplished if we take time to feed the adventure part of our souls. I’m discovering that is not the case.

On a bigger scale: if you only had one life, what would you do? I’ve heard people say that we should live each day as if it were our last. I’m beginning to understand what that means. I don’t think it means that we should push off every responsibility we have and just go on adventures everyday (though that it is important to do sometimesJ); rather, I think it is saying that we make our everyday life an adventure. Take a different route to work, meet someone new, stop by the desk of the person you pass every day, really look at the flowers, breath, soak up the sun, walk, laugh out loud . . . live in the moment.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Beginning

One of my favorite things to do here in New York City is to wander. I love walking around without a particular destination in mind, no time frame to follow, no schedule to keep, just wandering. Looking, feeling, admiring, being. I also love talking to people. Living near Central Park has been a huge blessing because I can wander and I can talk to people.

During one of my first wandering sessions in Central Park I was walking on one of the main paths and I saw an elderly woman in a lawn chair holding an umbrella sitting next to her cart. I felt like sitting down and having a chat with her so I sat down on the bench next to her and said "you sure have the right idea sitting here in the shade." In a soft voice with a thick New York accent she tilted her head up and looked at me through her large tinted glasses and said "yeah, it's too hat out heah" [it's too hot out here]. What then pursued was a lovely conversation. She told me that she had lived in New York her entire life. She told me about her children and grandchildren, how the city had changed, and that I should be careful and "never let anyone in yur house except for yur family." When I told her that I was from Utah her eyes opened wide and with surprise said "are yu Mormon!" smiling I replied "yes" and without breaking eye contact she said "ah, Mormons are very poor." I had to laugh a little and I matter-of-factly said "well, some are doing alright." She asked for my name and when I asked for hers she introduced herself as Mrs. Rivera.

She told me that she was waiting for her husband; just as she was saying that I saw an elderly gentleman walking with a cane slowly creeping up behind her with a big smile on his face. As he approached he said with his equally thick New York accent in a tone of accomplishment "I just wolked from 104th street in da sun!" Mr. Rivera came and sat down next to me. He was wearing some kacki shorts a polo shirt, and saddles with white socks that came up to his knees. Mrs. Rivera introduced me to him and said "this is Cole, he is a Mormon." She then announced to both of us that she was feeling cold and that she wanted to go sit in the sun, Mr. Rivera told her to go ahead because he had walked plenty and wanted to rest a bit and talk with me.

Mr. Rivera's soul smiled and it poured out of his eyes. He told me about his family moving from Puerto Rico to NYC and how he has worked as a waiter his entire life. He told me about his successful children (one is judge, another a executive in a financial firm) and how his grandchildren are now studying to be a doctor and a lawyer. He shared with me that he has always loved learning, particularly languages. He never graduated from High School and wasn't able to go to college, so he would go down to the public library and check-out books, take them home, and study them during the evenings when he would return from work. His native language was Spanish, he quickly learned English when he moved to the NYC, and from his personal studies he taught himself how to speak French, Italian, Portuguese, and Japanese. As he spoke I could picture him sitting down around a small kitchen table with one light illuminating the pages of the most recent book he had borrowed and around the corner I could see his children seeing their father's love of learning. During our conversation he would go off speaking in different languages, and several times small groups of Japanese speaking people would pass by and he would greet them warmly. There were several elders being pushed in wheelchairs and when they would hear Mr. Rivera greet them in their language their faces would light up. While we were talking I think that he extended a warm greeting to pretty much everyone that passed us. Towards the end of our conversation his eyes landed on his wife who was then sitting in her chair at the end of the long bench soaking in the sun watching people pass her by. Smiling he told me that they had been married for over sixty years. He paused and just smiled at her. His eyes told stories of sixty + years of learning, growing, laughing, and loving. "I taught my boyz to treat women with respect and care. That's how we have lasted so long." He paused again and he panned around the park soaking in all the sights and sounds, and smiling said "it sure has been a great story." Mrs. Rivera came walking up at that point and said that she was done for the day and that they should go and buy some milk. Mr. Rivera pulled himself up with his cane and laughing says "I hope you brought some money!" and she quickly replied "well, all I got is a few dollah's" with the same level of animation he said "well dat bettah be enough for a gallon a milk." I sat there for a bit and I saw them walk down the path; she was pushing her cart and he was walking with his cane.

I spent almost two hours talking with Mr. and Mrs. Rivera in Central Park. I sure learned a lot. Mr. Rivera taught me that learning doesn't just happen in schools, it is a life-long journey. If we want to learn something, we can. Through his learning experience, he also taught me that as a future parent I need to live the kind of life that I want my children to live. If I want them to love learning, I have to love learning; if I want them to be kind to others, I need to be kind to others. Mr. Rivera also showed me that he cared about people. He learned their language, he greeted people with a smile, he complimented others, he laughed, he smiled. He didn't spend very much time telling me how I should treat my future wife, but I could tell by the way he looked at her that he really cared. And finally, I loved how he looked at his life like "a great story," because that's what it really is. We are all in the processes of a great story. There are ups and downs, good times and bad times, heros and villians, joy and pain, laughter and tears, big events and everday to-do's..... and when all is said and done it becomes a great story. This blog is just a little attempt to share some of my story with you.