At first I saw a huge grin, then looked at what he was waving at me from behind the counter: a New York Public Library Card. “The library,” he said to me. “The library. I see you in the library. Stories.”
I was at a Puerto Rican restaurant on Burnside Avenue, deep in the mid Bronx, picking up chicken, yucca and morro rice to bring home with me. When I go out to the “neighborhoods,” I generally bring home food not found in my way-too-trendy neighborhood in lower Manhattan.
I had just told stories to .. and with… children in the Frances Martin branch library. Scary stories, but not too scary….hobgoblins and skeletons and such. Then the children wanted to tell some too, one 9 year old improvising a story that wove most of the characters, images and themes from the stories I had told in an on-the-spot re-imagining of Little Red Riding Hood. (Lets hear it for Maya!) As I walked along University/MLK Avenue, I was passed by two young guys popping their motorcycles and doing amazing wheelies. When I crossed the street, I was almost hit by a guy on a fast moving bicycle going through the red light. Boys on wheels.
I got to the restaurant and ordered my pollo, yucca (which I pronounce juuca…a habit picked up from 10 years of teaching ESL in Washington Heights) and rice and beans. As I waited, chatting in my lousy Spanish with a young woman so new to selling pollo in NY, she didn’t know the English word “chicken,” this guy…maybe 30 years old, flashes me the smile and the library card.
“Which library? Donde?” And he says, “Fordham.” Ahhh! The Bronx Library Center, which I haven’t been to in a couple of years. He remembered me from telling stories there. We smiled at each other and nodded a lot…universal language. He was so excited. And I was too. I almost cried.
What we do, we itinerant tellers of tales and bringers of joy, imaginative wondering, acknowledgement and …dare I say it?…truth; what we do matters. It really matters.
Thanks Bronx! See you at the library.