Mrs. By Justin Fox, whom some of you know as Allison Downing, is deeply involved in the fundraising operation at Manhattan’s P.S. 163, the fine educational establishment where The Boy attends second grade.
One of the many P.S. 163 fundraising efforts involves selling books in front of the school on Fridays, when the 97th Street sidewalk is also host to a wonderful farmers’ market. Friday of the week before last was an especially beautiful day. Many books were sold. And the niece of a recently deceased resident of a nearby apartment building stopped by, wondering if she could offload some of his books. She was in from Illinois, and was more than a little daunted by the prospect of clearing out her uncle’s cluttered apartment in a city with which she was entirely unfamiliar.
By the end of the day, several loads of books had been hauled down to the sale, and another P.S. 163 parent had effectively become co-executor of the man’s estate. Allison was up in the apartment a week later, helping clear things out. While there, she found a first-edition copy of E.B. White’s Here Is New York, a book I’ve been meaning to give to her ever since we first moved here in 1996, but which has a nasty habit of disappearing from stores around Christmastime.
The oft-quoted thumbnail sketch of New York is, of course: “It’s a wonderful place, but I’d hate to live there.” I have an idea that people from villages and small towns, people accustomed to the convenience and friendliness of neighborhood over-the-fence living, are unaware that life in New York follows the neighborhood pattern. The city is literally a composite of tens of thousands of tiny neighborhood units.
We’ve been living in this particular tiny neighborhood unit for a bit less than three years now. At the farmer’s market last Friday I saw at least three people I know (not counting the people selling stuff, whom I feel like I know although I’m sure we customers are all just a blur to them), and talked one of them into buying a couple of porgies (it’s a kind of fish) to be baked later in a bed of kosher salt. Allison sold books much of the day, when she wasn’t helping clean out that apartment. Over the weekend we went to The Boy’s soccer game in Central Park, which I coached, attended a college football game (Columbia vs. Princeton) where we met up with friends, went to two (!) church services, had lunch with friends, and went out for a drinks with other friends who also happen to be our neighbors. That we didn’t have anybody over for dinner was mainly a product of Saturday night being our 11th wedding anniversary.
I’m familiar with the whole “Bowling Alone” argument, that we Americans have been loosening the bonds that tie us together and thus squandering precious social capital, or something like that. But I think that’s a trend that played itself out a few years back, a product of suburbanization, both spouses going to work (which isn’t a bad thing in itself, but leaves less time for bowling leagues), idiotic urban “redevelopment” efforts, and the economic pressures that have left American livelihoods less secure (even if, on average, far more bounteous) than they were before the 1970s. New York in 2006 seems headed in the opposite direction. I don’t bowl, but if I did, I don’t think I’d be able to get away with doing it alone.