‘We’re all in this together’

There’s nothing dramatic or extraordinary about these memories from New York City, but the collective theme is so lovely — kindness

WESTMINSTER WEST — Make no mistake, the curtain has been drawn back in the United States - actually, several curtains.

We are in nightmarish times with a nightmare of a president, and that double whammy has had and will have dire consequences for many.

All of Donald Trump's lies, misinformation, delays, obfuscations, contradictions, blame, vindictiveness, goading, and just plain incompetence have resulted in countless, needless deaths. His narcissism and me-me-me priorities are revolting, as are the scheming and sycophantic cowards who surround him. The Orange Oaf doesn't just have blood on his hands, he has blood on his soul.

Thank heaven most of the governors are stepping up to the plate. New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo, has proven his mettle tenfold, and our own governor, Phil Scott, has made caring for the citizens of Vermont his first priority. He has even defied the slow-boat federal rules on unemployment claims in an attempt to get much-needed funds to Vermonters, and he will probably be swift boated by Trump as a result.

And who can't help but admire all the front-line workers of this pandemic - too many to name, if you think about it? We have many heroes and heroines in this country quietly doing their jobs at great risk to their own health and that of their loved ones. It makes the unavailability of personal protective equipment and other supplies all the more infuriating given that those shortages were born out of political power ploys that had nothing to do with the welfare of our country and could have been avoided.

Many are taking a hard look in that proverbial mirror during this pandemic, in terms of both behavior and lifestyle. My moment came when I heard Gov. Scott address people's fears about New Yorkers flooding the state, given the horrifically high numbers of illness and death in New York City. He gave a rather lengthy answer but, for me, it boiled down to one line: “We're all in this together.”

In the early days of this pandemic, I was fearful of people from the big cities coming to Vermont, especially from the Big Apple. But Gov. Scott was correct, and I felt ashamed of my fear.

I was especially chagrined, given that I had lived in New York City in my early 20s and quickly learned that underneath that tough and sometimes rude exterior, many citizens of that great city were kind and helpful.

Let me share with you just four of my many New York City stories.

* * *

1. During my senior year in college, my roommate, “Sarah,” convinced me to move to New York City with her after we graduated. She was a theater major, and I was a theater/English major.

My professors and voice coach urged me to go show my stuff, as one put it. I was good at slapstick and improv and had a decent singing voice. But I just didn't want to live in cities, and I didn't crave the limelight; in fact, it made me uncomfortable. While my friends dreamed of the big time, I dreamed of having a dog and garden.

Even so, I agreed to go.

We planned for Sarah to go to New York City to find us an apartment. But she got sick, I went instead, and that's exactly what happened. It took me forever to find each apartment, and they were usually taken and/or awful, tiny hovels.

One day, I saw an ad in the newspaper from a person claiming that they could help anyone find just the right apartment. Yep, it was a scam - so I lost a big chunk of our deposit money, which Sarah's father had fronted us.

The day before I was to return home, I was on a crowded elevator. I was so fried and overwhelmed, I just burst into tears.

People immediately started asking me what was wrong, and I told them my tale of woe. One man said that most people couldn't afford Manhattan and that I should look in Queens. Everyone agreed. I got off the elevator with calls of “Good luck!” echoing in my ears.

I saw an ad that sounded perfect: an affordable, two-bedroom apartment in a house and within walking distance of the subway. When I called, the woman explained that she had just rented it.

Once again, I burst into tears. I told her my story, and she told me to call her back in 10 minutes - that she might be able to help me.

I called her back, and she said that the apartment was available after all. I suspected that she had called the new renter back and cancelled the deal. I told her that I didn't want to take the apartment away from anyone, and she said the person would be fine, that she lived with her family.

“Mrs. Dee” gave me directions to her home, which I found, eventually, on a tiny street with five houses, surrounded by high rises. She accepted half a deposit payment and, after a cup of tea, I was on my way.

She was the kindest of landladies, and I so hope that she didn't regret renting to us. We were, after all, young women let loose in the big city. We weren't that wild, but we had our moments.

* * *

2. One morning, while walking to the subway, I saw a dozen or so people clustered on the sidewalk pointing at something. I looked up and saw a poor pigeon all tangled in some fencing, perhaps put up to prevent them from roosting in the eaves.

Two men conferred, then asked a teenager if he'd be willing to let them lift him up so he could cut the fencing with a pocket knife. He said, “Sure.”

The men hoisted him up, and he got to work. People were saying things like “Be careful!” and “Don't hurt the poor pigeon!”

The teenager freed the bird from the fencing, examined him, and then set him free.

The group cheered and clapped.

It was a beautiful moment.

* * *

3. “Nancy” was my first friend from NYC. When we first met, she tried in vain to teach me the big-city ropes, like not looking people in the eye and not smiling at them unless you know them (otherwise, they'd think you're nuts or about to scam them); like walking faster; and like learning to use the f-bomb. (I was reluctant at first, but it did come in handy when I really needed to vent.) She concluded that I was hopeless and would never be a city gal.

Nancy was treating me to a Paul Winter Christmas concert at St. John's cathedral. We were walking there - or at least we thought we were.The neighborhoods started looking really ominous and, when I looked at Nancy, she looked scared. Gulp.

Just then, a cop car pulled over. A cop rolled down the window and asked what was up. I told him that we were heading to St. John's but that we got lost and might miss the concert.

He laughed, said something to his partner, then said they would drive us there! I was very happy and accepted, but Nancy was angry. I think her pride was hurt, but soon the four of us were laughing and chattering away.

“We knew you were either lost or hookers,” one of the cops said.

I was surprised that I wasn't insulted; in fact, his comment made me laugh. I guess it was the way he said it, like it was just part of his usual day. (Maybe it was.)

We made it to the concert safe and sound.

* * *

4. Sometimes, the subway cars were so horribly crowded that people were smashed against one another and couldn't move. During one of those commutes, I thought I felt something move against my butt. It wasn't just someone behind me shifting their weight.

I was furious and disgusted. I couldn't even elbow the guy, but I was determined to stop him. I managed to worm my arm above my head and started waving it then I yelled as loud as I could: “Help me! The man behind me is humping me!”

The people right around me started calling him every name in the book using very colorful language and threatened him in ways both scary and creative.

As word spread, more and more people joined in the yelling. Soon, people started chanting “Shame! Shame!”

When the train arrived at the next station, the man was “helped” out the door. Then it was like I had a dozen new aunts and uncles asking me if I was OK and sympathizing about what had just happened.

One man said at least I'd have something to talk about at the dinner table.

Pure NYC.

* * *

I know there's nothing dramatic or extraordinary about these stories, but the collective theme is so lovely - kindness.

I'll never understand my own species, and this pandemic only adds fuel to that fire. On one hand, you have the hoarders, the scammers, and the me-me-me-ers who take advantage of people and slap any goodwill in the face without a second thought.

On the other hand, you have people who risk their lives to help others and those who practice acts of kindness in a variety of ways. Then there are “leaders” like Trump who personify the worst among us and prove that the cream doesn't always rise to the top.

And my husband wonders why I prefer the company of dogs over humans.

I liken acts of kindness to stars. Stars are always around, day or night, cloudy or clear. Yet most of us notice them only during the darkest of nights, when their brilliance comes shining through our lives.

Kindness is like that as well. There are always small acts of kindness occurring every day, be it rescuing a pigeon or helping a young woman who is learning to take a bite out of the Big Apple.

Then there are the amazing acts of kindness - acts that often include bravery, like those seen during the 9/11 attacks and now in the response to COVID-19. All these acts, large and small, are priceless and greatly needed, especially in these harsh and frightening times.

The kindness that I have experienced and witnessed sometimes leads me to deep waters of thought, and I've concluded that, for most of us, it's not how we die.

It's how we live.

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