The Audacious Magpie
A Novel in Real-Time
Chapter 6: A Star-Studded Performance
Monday May 26, 2014
Spring and winter held their final boxing match this week. Spring entered with a confident stride and easily landed his first punches, but winter held his own with a strong showing of relentless gusty blows.
New Yorkers clung to umbrellas that were thrashed by winter's determination to finish with a strong showing. Their once-sturdy brollies were transformed into metal bouquets with tremulous nylon petals clinging to offer scant protection.
It was anyone's match throughout the week as sunshine turned to fog and warm breeze turned to cold deluge. The fighters drew on their last dregs of strength until both seasons were so exhausted by Saturday afternoon that they surrendered and the referee called a draw.
As spring and winter were pulled off the mat to their respective corners, summer entered the ring at last, stretching lazily and beaming at the audience with his radiant smile. He was spring's substitute and winter had no choice but to forfeit the fight at long last.
In the middle of the week, while the bout was still raging, I scurried home with the rush-hour crowd as we collectively cursed the incessant downpour.
Old Hydey had been lurking about all week and insisted on walking with me through the torrent. This sort of weather suited him well. He put on stiff rubber boots and trudged with grim determination through deep puddles and overflowing gutters. He jostled the crowds impatiently, fighting to be the first to raise his umbrella when exiting the subway.
We stood together on the corner, frowning as we waited to cross 7th Avenue at 23rd Street. We jumped back just in time to avoid a colossal spray from a bus rushing downtown.
As we recovered from the almost-shower of murky rainwater, I noticed an ancient man in a long fur coat timidly attempting to hail cab across the street. Four lanes of cars streamed past him, as anxious to escape the storm as we pedestrians were. Rain poured down the elderly man's forehead, forming a translucent drip at the end of his nose.
He was frail and unsteady. It wasn't entirely clear how his frame supported the heavy mantle he wore that had once protected an enormous bear from the elements. I shook my head. He was never going to find a free cab during rush hour in this onslaught.
The light turned in our favor and we moved in lock step with the crowd to cross the street. My attention was called away from the elderly gentleman as I noticed two girls a few feet from him frantically vying for westbound cab.
One spotted a free taxi and broke into a grin wide enough to part the clouds. She rushed ahead of her competitor toward its precious lit-up numbers to shepherd the driver back to the corner where she could alight.
Hydey smiled his crooked grin and elbowed me in the ribs. That's classic New York for you, beamed his cynical eyes.
I watched as the first girl opened the back door to her lucky golden ticket and the second girl marched toward her. I braced for a possible confrontation between them as I finished crossing the street.
Then -- in a more delightful plot twist than I could have invented -- the second girl simply held back door open. Instead of entering, the first girl bounded a few steps to approach the white-haired, grizzly-cloaked man. With grace and composure, she gently guided him into the back of the taxi.
I watched open-mouthed at the unexpected turn in this story.
The old man's face lit up with surprise and relief as he settled into his chariot. The girls spoke with the cab driver for a few moments before bidding the gentleman good night.
What amazing friends, I thought as I turned to enter the station.
Just then, I heard the first girl enthusiastically thank the second. "I so much appreciate your help!" she sang above the loud splashing of traffic.
I turned to see the other answer. "Of course! I was happy to," she smiled with gleaming eyes.
I stood at the top of the subway steps and watched them walk away in separate directions.
They had been complete strangers -- a benevolent duo working in a spontaneous tandem act of goodwill.
I stood frozen in a silent standing ovation for their performance. It had been better than Broadway. There on the northwest corner of 7th and 23rd, I had front row seats to the best show in the city that night.
Hydey had skulked off by now. It was on Jekyll's poised and chivalrous elbow that I steadied myself while descending the subway stairs.
The impromptu star performance I witnessed inspired this week's Big Ample gift. It was characters like these that brightened the city's stage and Memorial Day was the perfect time to remember them all.
Using the quirky metal sculptures in the 14th Street subway station as a backdrop, the gift this week was a whimsical reminder to reflect on all who make our lives rich and meaningful. These could be the "characters" from our own unique stories or, as the note instructed:
On this Memorial Day,
perhaps it is a good time to remember the delightful "characters" who make Manhattan amazing:
- the cheerful train conductor
- the enthusiastic street artist
- your favorite delivery guy
It's a nice day to remember, we're all in this together.