“An Afternoon in Central Park’s North End” by Ron Singer
An Afternoon in Central Park’s North End
In the Conservatory Garden:
(A cheerful young woman): “Did you see those e-mails!”
(A businessman with a heavy Spanish accent): “People should have the right to…”
Surprisingly for October, several buds stand up boldly on a low branch of a still-leafy tree. Then, I see more buds, on other branches. When leaves fall off a limb, the tree substitutes new buds, which will wait until spring to flower.
Although I think of the figures in the storied fountain as “The Three Gracies,” or “Flying Buttresses,” the actual title of this lifelike sculpture is “Three Dancing Maidens.” A kitsch artifact from the pre-World War One era (1910), it was created by a German named Walter Schott. Cavorting through the water, the maidens flash their diaphanously clad bottoms. Could they be playing “Ring around the Rosie”? With the fountain shooting positive ions, and the Maidens “stirring dull roots,” how could a passerby fail to be moved?
Alongside the fountain, a middle-aged, middle-class Hispanic woman and her granddaughter are, in fact, playing “Ring around the Rosie,” but a more decorous version. Tunelessly, the grandmother chants the rhyme, and with each “fall down,” instead of allowing the hems of their expensive-looking garments to touch the ground, they do a little dip.
“Would you mind taking a picture of my granddaughter and me?” the woman asks a distinguished-looking old man, handing him her phone. Fussily posing and re-posing his subjects beside the fountain, he finally hits the button, and then displays the results. What must these two “maidens” think of their three co-stars?
Four German tourists materialize, two substantial couples in their sixties or seventies. In accordance with Garden regulations, they wheel their sturdy blue rental bikes. After resting for a minute or two in single-sex pairs on a double bench below the fountain, they resume their peregrinations. As soon as they reach a designated bicycle path, they will (presumably) re-mount and ride on. Have I stereotyped these good people?
Seated alongside the Fountain, a very old man holds forth to a very old woman. Both look intelligent and well educated; both wear garments made from natural fabrics.
“You’re right,” he says, “we can’t just forget the things that make us angry. But we can’t let them take over our lives, either. We shouldn’t let the bad spoil the good” (e.g. this sun-lit autumnal scene).
After a few more exchanges, and a pause to snap The Gracies, the old couple disappear behind a tall hedge. Since the holistic psychiatrist could just as well have been talking to me, will he be double-billing for the fountain-side homily? Are we still on the clock?
Photos, photos, everywhere! The spectacular display on the Central Park website just won’t do! In 2009, there were 2.22 million visitors to the North End and, I bet, 6.7 million photos. Memo: Henceforth, all promotional materials for the Conservatory Garden to include a count of these countless photographs.
Using a monocular, another ancient woman gazes down at clusters of pink and white anemones. Later, when I tell my wife about this woman and her gadget, we speculate: “Too stiff to bend” (I). “Near-sighted” (she). Septuagenarians both, we are projecting.
From the Garden to the Harlem Meer:
A young Slavic woman sits beside her father (I presume), she, on a bench, he, in a wheelchair. They sit in a nook behind a tall hedge that blocks the fountain. On his lap, he holds an unopened can of Coke. Later, I see her pushing him along the path on the east shore of the Meer. They are conversing in what sounds like Polish, and she is drinking the Coke, which I had assumed was meant for him.
At the Meer:
Another wheelchair-bound man, this one scruffy and middle-aged, tosses Cheerios toward the ducks in the water. Most of them ignore the offering, but a youngish female, I think, waddles around the rim and snaps up a single Cheerio. “Clack, clack, clack” goes her bill, a blur, fast as a machine gun, as she struggles to swallow the morsel.
At a bench just north of me, young women of all shapes, hues and sizes are gathering. Having fast-walked, jogged or sprinted around the west side of the Meer, they reach the south end, turn north up the East shore, and gradually re-assemble. Three, four, ten, they keep coming, until there seem to be dozens.
Although their number includes a sprinkling of jumbos, most of the young women are tall and fit, or semi-fit. They wear designer jeans or sweat pants, and the backs of their T-shirts read, “GIRLS RULE!” After a huge, cheering scrum, they stroll past me, laughing and chatting away. A century having transpired since the advent of the Three Dancing Maidens, these young women are a counterpoint, of sorts, a new breed of athletic feminism. Women’s sana in corpore sano.
Stories by Ron Singer (www.ronsinger.net) have previously appeared, e.g., in The Brooklyn Rail, diagram, Evergreen Review, The Journal of Microliterature, Mad Hatters’ Review, and Word Riot. His eighth book, Uhuru Revisited: Interviews with African Pro-Democracy Leaders (2015), is available in about 100 libraries across the U.S., and beyond. His most recent books are Betty & Estelle/A Voice for My Grandmother, a double memoir (2016); and the thriller/travelogue, Geistmann in Africa (January 2017).