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The Lost Boys

August 21, 2013

Prospect Park, 6:30 a.m.

The park is unusually quiet this morning. I can hear, somewhere, an operatic voice. After I turn left at the playground, I see an enormous man headed my way, singing, in a rich bass voice, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” He doesn’t notice me at first, but when he does, he stops. As we pass each other, he says hello in that way that black men sometimes say hello to white women in deserted parts of the city, as if they feel the need to reassure them. “Don’t stop,” I say. “It’s beautiful. His face broke out in a grin and as he passed, he started singing louder than before. “band of angels, comin’ after me…”

There is a group of four friends that I see every morning. They are maybe a little older than I, although I tend to have a skewed view of such things these days and maybe they are my age (I am still recovering from the news that I am the same age as our summer intern’s mother.). They walk four abreast, covering the width of the sidewalk. I always do an inward eyeroll as I approach them, dreading the interaction that will surely follow as I attempt to get by — New Yorkers do not want to cede their bit of sidewalk for all the tea in China, pouring into these moments of street conflict a righteous indignation for all the injustices that have been dealt to them for living in a tiny island packed with so many people we have to keep building taller buildings. But every day I am surprised that as I approach, the group, magically and without looking at me, contracts to one side and spreads out again after I pass, like a supermarket door. And as with supermarket doors, I kind of want to go back and try it again, just to see how it works.

Last week, a man hanged himself with his belt on a tree near the waterfall. It’s one of my favorite places in the park and the path that leads to the spot intersects with my morning running route. The police tape is gone now, but the woods are still haunted. Every day when I pass, I think about him, what brought him to this place, how he lost himself, and have a personal moment of silence. Today, a flock of birds bursts through the parting of the trees.

The elderly Russian couple is back. They’ve been gone for a few days. Last week the were walking silently, which had me a bit worried for their welfare. Today, though, they were talking animatedly. Every day when I pass, I run through the list of Russian greetings remembered from college, considering whether I say something. But my fear of having to continue a conversation I cannot understand keeps my mouth shut.

The sun-worshiping man has been gone for a week, but the older Chinese woman is doing her daily tai chi facing the morning sun. In the field beyond, an athletic young woman is playing a game with her black lab. She hurls a tennis ball as far as she can. While the dog runs to get it, she holds a yoga pose — warrior 1, tree, warrior 2. It is my kind of game. The dog’s too, apparently. His ears are flapping in the breeze.

Anita the dog is not there today, but her friend Lloyd, a bichon frise, is waiting mournfully by the water fountain where they usually meet. After a while, he gives up and starts rolling around in the dirt, much to his owner’s chagrin.

Heading home, I stand waiting to cross the street and see a Peter Pan bus approaching. I have great nostalgia for the Peter Pan buses. It’s how I used to get around when I was in college and wanted to visit friends in New York or Boston. But I’ve never seen one in Brooklyn before, at least not my part of Brooklyn. They usually go to Port Authority. More and more buses come here, bringing more and more tourists with them. Brooklyn used to be a borough you rolled up during the day so visitors didn’t have to see it. Where was this bus going? The museum? Williamsburg? I check the destination sign and all becomes clear: NEVER NEVER LAND.

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