Marion Whitley: Waiting for the Uptown M15

 

Marion Whitley

 

 

At the 14th Street Crosstown bus stop... I navigated the pedestrian traffic, dodging the McDonalds crowd and the ice cream truck ... made it safe to the sheltered Uptown bench, and a vacant seat! (A woman on one end, a man on the other. Busy as the area was, why an empty seat? What's wrong with it?) Nothing I can see at a glance, so I take it. You can sit or stand at that corner, and from the density of the standing crowd and their downcast faces you know they've waited long past the stated schedule. So, breathe deep, be grateful for that in-between seat. The woman on my left, elderly, you'd say but with an upstanding air ... it's her posture, but she's talking to herself. Or me? That happens sometimes. I hope not now... I don't feel like hearing complaints about the bus.  

 

The hunched man on my right maintains his rounded, slumped posture with the help of a cane, snoring and righting himself before he topples.  

 

A gaggle of teenagers giggle past dropping a cheese cracker onto the sidewalk; a sparrow is upon it in a nanosecond.  

 

"Ah, good for you... just what you were waiting for? Just nibble on it... take your time. Enjoy."  

 

(Good, she's not talking to me. I relax. Another sparrow! There's a tiny bird squabble.)  

 

"Don't be like that... there's enough for two. (She turns a bit toward me.) Sparrows don't eat much... just what they can get, whatever falls on the sidewalk... not like hawks. They have to go kill something in Central Park to survive."  

 

"You're a 'Birder'?" 

 

"I know a hawk from a sparrow. Manhattan's got hawks. One's got a nest up on Fifth Avenue. I know that much... read it in the Times."  

 

"Would that be 'Pale Male'?" 

 

"You remember that? Yes, that was the name. 'Pale Male,' you're right. I saw the nest, took the bus up Madison Avenue and walked over. Crowd of folks, Birders I guess, but just folks, too... Gawking at the hawk nest... I saw the nest, but couldn't wait around for the hawk. Didn't somebody make a movie about that? Like a documentary?"  

 

"Wouldn't surprise me, hard as it is to find a place to live in Manhattan. 'Hawks Nesting on the Window Ledge,' (but in the poshest part of town)."  

 

"Excuse me, but you don't sound like a New Yorker. Where do you come from?"  

 

"Mississippi."  

 

"Oh, my goodness! Why?"  

 

"Same reason everybody comes here. What about you?"  

 

"Me? Brooklyn, Don't think I ever went above 34th Street... Oh yes I did! That time I went to see that red tail hawk. But Mississippi? I just saw a movie about Mississippi... on that late night movie channel... 'Mississippi Burning'... with that fine actor...what's his name... I ought to remember, it was a rerun just last week."  

 

"Ummm, I know who you mean... I'm getting so bad with names. Was it..."  

 

Four sparrows swoop down to devour the cheese crumbs; yellow dust is all that's left.  

 

"You left Mississippi... for New York?"  

 

"And I'm still here... not going anywhere."  

 

"I come from Brooklyn. What's that? Across the river, Ha! worked as a seamstress in the Garment District... sewed collars on men's shirts for... Why can't I think of that actor's name... Did you work here?"  

 

"Oh sure. Had a job my second day off the train, two weeks after college. Had the good luck to live in a college town...No student loans to worry about."  

 

"Oh, a college town? You went? I guess that explains it... I never went to college, got into sewing, same as all my family... But what is that fellow's name... It'll come to me in the middle of the night. Something French? Oh, but that policeman! Don't get me started ... I'll start trying to think of his name. Always chewing, chewing, his chewing gum. What's with the gum, you think!"  

 

"I think you have a remarkable memory for detail. I don't remember the gum ..."  

 

"Remembering the gum but not that actor's name? What's remarkable about such a memory? I still think it's something French."  

 

(The crowd is growing along with annoyance for the lateness of the M15. The drowsing man beside me... Will he struggle up and onto it when it gets here? Maybe he'll let it go, wait till the crowd thins out...maybe he'll spend the night here... when two chatty ladies vacate the bench so he can stretch out.)  

 

The light changes, the knot of standees tightens as the Uptown M15 pulls to a stop. Pushers and Polite alike inch toward the doors, then stand aside for an exiting wheelchair. I glance back to spot my bench companion, but somewhere in the mash I've lost her. Pushers and Polite surge in. Being a polite pusher I'm among the first to board. I'd swung to the elevated seat immediately behind the driver...often overlooked because of the step up.  

 

A boarding passenger close behind leans toward me... "Excuse me, you're from Mississippi?" I blinked.  

 

"Some lady back there said tell you it's Sidney Poitier."  

 

NOTE: Back in 2004, a nest of red tail hawks was discovered on the side of a Fifth Avenue apartment building, behind a decorative arch above a window facing Central Park. The idea of a hawk nesting there, with eggs and chicks, in such a precarious space became a subject of avid interest in local news.  

 

Marion Whitley lives in Manhattan where she reads, writes and remembers. Her email address is [email protected]

 

 

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