Watching the world go by

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Watching the trains head south into New York City from above Park Avenue Rail Tunnel on 97th Street. Photo: JH.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024. Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny Presidents’ Day in New York. With the temps warming up to the low 50s, bringing neighbors out for walks.

In my neighborhood near the Mayor’s Mansion and Carl Schurz Park overlooking the East River, many neighbors were out and about, many walking their dogs, lots of young families. Do I know any of them aside from the acquaintanceship of longtime building neighbors? Rarely. But because my apartment overlooks the avenue, I have the pleasure of watching the street.

Coincidentally, JH took this pic of the Little Prince, by French sculpture Jean-Marc de Pas, also watching the world go by, sitting at the foot of the garden of the Villa Albertine, the former Payne Whitney Mansion.

From my windows or terrace on the fifth floor, I have a good view of the entirely residential neighborhood. Low enough to the sidewalks and the road that I can see everything and everyone within two blocks north and south; whoever is passing by, clearly enough for physical details such as height, size, weight, but also posture, gait and stride (if it’s someone I know, I will recognize that person by their movement and gait). I’m watching a personality, a being whose life is private and yet uniquely exhibited by the way he or she moves across a pavement.

My view is high enough so that I cannot make out the details of their faces. I can determine gender easily and sometimes racial differences. Although what I often cannot determine, or even have an inkling of, is their states of mind as they pass.

You’re looking at a real person; you don’t know them except for their unintended presence. And if you are naturally imaginative you can probably build a whole, albeit brief portrait of that person. (Although you might be entirely off-base).

The watching/observant habit that comes from little David. I sometimes think I get it from my mother although my connection to my professional life comes directly from my father who in his youth (1920s/30s), when he was happiest, was a private chauffeur here in New York. For example, by sunrise (and I’m rarely ever Up by, or shortly after, sunrise) the first movement on the otherwise sidewalks are people walking their dogs, although just quickly enough so the dogs won’t leave a mess when home alone. It’s that hour where the dog-walker may be impatient but also still coming into consciousness after a short night’s sleep.

I always love watching people walk their dogs because you get to see a “real” person with that/those canines. At least for that moment. You will at times also get to see how most of the dogs in my area are small. Some are even tiny. I have three, adopted all; originally meant to be Shih Tzus but Mother Nature had some other types on her mind at the time. Two boys and one girl. Guess who the boss is. The dogs/the animals, as you know, are good for us and for our mental health. And learning a little self-discipline here and there; reminding us that we are not the only ones on the planet.

My current troupe: Tobey (ex-Bide-a-Wee), Llttle Willy, and Rosemary (the boss) from the Humane Society.

What interests me most when watching from the window or the terrace is the dog’s movement and “curiosity” and leg-lifting. I’m always impressed to see the dog (or dogs) keeping in stride with their walkers. My three rarely strut along because the two boys stop sometimes every inch of the way to “sniff” and maybe lifta-leg or not. The lady of the house does not “sniff” and/or “lifta.” When she’s ready, she stops, squats and goes and is finished; now move along, she says. She sits and waits as if to say she’s not moving until. So I tell the two boys that’s it for the sniffing.

My window-terrace-watching is always a break from my work at the keyboard and thereabouts. I’m not nosey but I am curious, specifically about personal behavior.  

The upside of this habitual history of observing, knowing from only watching/observing, is “there’s hope.”  Or so we like to think. I know my dogs go through this state of mind every day wondering if I’m going to remember to feed them their dinner.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.”

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