Commitment is hard. It is hard enough to make the most basic decisions in one’s day, what to wear, what to do…even at the office, I used to sit, staring, for a while before I figured how to juggle the day’s work, the week’s. Now, with far less structure, it is often overwhelming.
So it was that when I saw my friend and neighbor Victoria, asked her what was new, and she told me that she had an “appointment” with friends, it seemed a strange way to phrase it, but not overly so. It becomes harder and harder, at pace with the outgrowth of exponential forms of communiqué, to actually see others, to commit to doing so, so calling it an appointment seemed apt. But, then, she explained. It wasn’t just verbiage. She and two friends actually were meeting up, had actual “appointments” to get tattoos.
“Yay!” I said. “So…are you getting a …”
She rolled her eyes and nodded yes. “Of course.”
We had talked so often of her dragonfly tattoo, ever since I had gotten mine and she had said she was partial to the same image, had thought about adding it to the one she already had. But she was nervous, still and all, despite the appointment, despite the support of friends.
“I don’t like pain…” she said. And she was still unsure where, exactly, to get it, how big…lots of decisions yet to make before the deed was done, before she even got to the pain.
I gave her a gold star for good luck, for trying, and she put it on her chest. It shone brightly next to the gold dragonfly charm on her necklace.
“It’ll be great,” I said. She had wanted it for so long but, sometimes, I know, right before we get to the goal, we thwart ourselves, we stop short of reaching the final stage we’ve long fantasized about. Cause what then? What’s next? We have to come up with a new goal, something else to satisfy.
Speaking of goals, I had been meaning for a while to make my way through a book I’d bought, Cafe Life New York, An Insider's Guide to the City's Neighborhood Cafes, to make it to the various spots it outlined. I decided, yesterday, to commit. I started, first, with Harlem, a neighborhood I was long overdue in visiting.
I drove up the East River Drive, beautiful, especially when uncrowded, and soon found myself circling around Society Coffee Lounge on Frederick Douglass Blvd and 114th looking for parking.
I finally double parked and walked under the scaffolding, inside. It was a while before anyone wanting to chat sat down at the big square communal table, long after I’d finished my killer shrimp and grits.
The man felt compelled to explain why his phone was speaking out despite having headphones plugged in, something his girl friend (girlfriend?) had pointed out as strange. He had downloaded an application for hands-free listening to text messages, where a voice of his choosing would read out the messages.
“Wow,” I said, “this is getting scary.”
He had nodded, taking off his sunglasses, eager now to discuss technology and its affect on people, on society.
“I’m all about interaction,” he said passionately. “And this…this” he gestured at his device. “This doesn’t work for that, not really.”
I nodded in agreement. “It’s a big topic for me,” I said. “In the end, though, I don’t think it changes things. People still want to love and be loved, they still want this…” and I gestured to them, to us, to people around sitting face to face, talking.
He has been in Harlem ten years, long enough to see the major changes unfold. He shrugged off any naysayers of the gentrification, the influx of whites.
“It’s better that we’re all together…” he said.
I agreed wholeheartedly. “Much harder to hate that way.”
I’m glad I got to Harlem, glad I got to sit with Nigel and Casey, chat live and give them their gold stars. It is a commitment, community, keeping up one’s “appointments” even with strangers. And it’s an important one.