Monday, April 27, 2009


I was walking through the long passage under 14th Street that connects 6th and 7th Avenues, the L and 1 trains. A single refrain kept echoing through my head in time with my footsteps.

"Na na na na-na na na na, Sheets of Egyptian cotton!"

I made my way down the stairs to the 1 train platform and there was an old black man in a threadbare white t-shirt playing the violin, classical melody echoing joyfully on late-night concrete. I smiled as I passed. He smiled back.

I found a bench and sat, attempting to read my nearly-finished book through a faint haze of alcohol, but the melody of the violin kept breaking through. I broke my own cardinal rule and fumbled in my bag to find my wallet--momentarily fearing it lost until it emerged from the depths of debris that is my daily life--and made my way back down the platform to drop a dollar in the violinist's case.

He thanked me and stopped playing, looking down at my feet.

"Those are some beautiful boots!" He said, admiring my beloved white cowboy boots.

"Thanks," I responded, instinctively posing as if to model. "I got them a few years ago."

"Here? In this country?" He had an accent that I could not place.

"Yeah, on ebay. They're Frye," as if the name might hold some significance.

"Here," he said, thrusting his violin in my direction. "You try, just for a minute."

"You mean to play your violin?"


"Well, I used to play the cello..." Memories of attempting to trade instruments with my friends years ago flitted through my mind as he smiled and continued holding the instrument expectantly toward me.

I took it and placed it gingerly under my chin, tentatively bowing a few notes that were not at all what I'd had in mind. I tried again, and once again failed miserably, but even my poorly squawked notes echoed sweetly through the underground chamber. It was a fine instrument.

I smiled sheepishly, returning the violin.

"I thought I'd play Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, but I was never very good at the violin..." As if I genuinely need an excuse for my failure.

"Oh!" He said, unperturbed, "Twinkle, Twinkle, it is like this... One, two... One, two..." He patiently demonstrated the fingering as one would for a child, then handed the instrument to me once more.

After a few abortive attempts I managed to feebly pluck out the melody, and he laughed happily. I returned the instrument, smiling.

"Thank you," I offered, "Have a good night."

"You too. Thank you," he replied, returning the instrument to his shoulder. I turned away and moments later music once again filled the late night air.

I walked back to my seat, a smile blooming across my face as I offered a silent pledge.

This, New York, is why I will never leave you.


Penny said...

That is such a feel good story.Makes me so happy to know that random people can still talk to each other without fearing the other will kill or maim them.I wish more encounters like that would happen.

Jude said...

That's why I LOVE NY! I don't live there unfortunately but the first time I set foot on New York Land, I was sold. I miss it every single day and I hope to move to this beloved city in the very near future. Fantastic story, fantastic writing.

Therapeutic Ramblings said...

That is one of the reasons I considered moving to NYC....but it wasn't in the cards. I hope to find culture and the arts where I'm going. TBD.

ps. Sorry about the really late texts last week or so, as you probably were sleeping.