Last week, at the corner café, a woman in a perky straw hat and a draped red dress came up next to me to order her café au lait. "Nice dress," I said, smiling. "I like your shirt," she said back. I was wearing a leopard print blouse, since I was planning a visit to my cousin, who loves animal prints. "I don't usually wear this kind of thing," I shrugged. "Oh," said the woman, "you should wear that often, and more!"
"In fact," she went on, "you should channel your inner Janis Joplin. People will love you!! Go get some vests; you could wear a little fur here, there." She touched me lightly on the shoulder. "I hope you don't mind," she went on. "I am a designer and a little psychic. Really, you could go a little wild. We all should. "
How people will love me if I start to party (or at least dress) as if it is 1969 is quite puzzling, but I have been thinking about this all week. Would my inner Janis like lavender today? Dare I add a belt or a crocheted jacket over my dress? I am not sure if I can "channel" fur vests; I didn't wear them when I was a teenager and doubt if I will start now. I am not even sure if I have an inner Joplin; I was always more of Joni Mitchell fan. Then again, I was never a Marcie in a coat of flowers, nor did I dress in leather and lace. My hippy days were filled with peasant blouses and long skirts, bell-bottom jeans and vintage cashmere sweaters from my mother's closet. The thought of going completely retro so "people will love me" is both amusing and a reminder of how far I have traveled from the 16 year old, passionate folkie I used to be.
City life is filled with odd interactions like this, especially in New York. A glancing smile elicits a nugget from someone's life, a random philosophy or unsolicited advice from a stranger. A terminally ill psychology professor stands in the middle of a room full of people and states that, since nothing exists except this precious moment, he is actually not dying. Maybe tomorrow, who knows? The man next to me asks him if is he talking about positive thinking, and when the professor says there is no difference between him or me or illness or life or death, the man, a Jewish cantor, folds his arms across his chest and closes his eyes. I think the speaker is referring to Being, as in completely present, awake with each person and every interaction. He says his cancer is the biggest gift he's ever received in his life.
It is raining, and a flock of birds wheels by, swooping over the rooftop of the next building. A green parakeet with a bright red head hops on a rounded tile edge, cheeping loudly. It looks up at the other birds, then flies off in to the west, towards the river.