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Thursday, July 8

The Mayor of Strawberry Fields and me

The day after the reunion, we ventured into the city. Russell and Max headed for MoMA, Walter (Russ' brother) and I took Quincy to Central Park.

It was a long, hot walk to the park, especially trying to constrain Q who was overwhelmed by the numbers of people and new smells. We settled on a bench to cool down and rest my trick knee that cooperates with me as long as I respect its limitations. I told Walter I'd like to visit Strawberry Fields. I usually do whenever I'm in Central Park. John Lennon holds a special place in my psyche, growing up with his music as I did. But it wasn't just the usual pilgrimage. I wanted to try to catch the Mayor of Strawberry Fields.

Last year we went to the premier of a documentary that had been done by local film makers. It was all about this homeless man who had carved a career of sorts, entertaining the visitors to the Lennon memorial. His story was compelling to me and I wanted to see him for myself. I knew the odds were long that he would be there, but off we went. Many blocks up, traversing across the park to Central Park West, keeping the towers of The Dakota in view as a sort of North Star navigation tool. As we rounded the curving walk to the mosaic, I heard chatter and, sure enough, there he was, giving his lecture, spreading his flower petals, working the crowd.

Walter was bemused by my fangirliness, I think, but he humored me while I took pictures and video. At one point, Gary offered a rosebud to a young girl who refused it. Probably a little afraid of the grubby man, even in a crowd. So he gave it to me.

We spent a peaceful half hour there, watching the show, resting Quincy who made a lot of friends as he pretended to be a good dog. Walter and I talked about finding your way in this world, carving out your little niche and finding joy there. Gary is most likely still a homeless man, but he seems clean and fed and healthy and happy in this little corner of the city. I watched the people watching him. Some were smiling, some were dismissive. A few registered scorn.

I saw freedom. Happiness. I heard Lennon "imagine all the people living for today" and I think he would approve of Gary. Living for today with his roses and broken petals, making beauty, connecting with strangers, collecting the dollars and quarters that would keep him going a little longer.

I'm not romanticizing homelessness, but I do respect Gary's clear-headed decision to live the way he chooses.

We wished him well as we left. He was still perfecting his design. He took a picture with me, a big hug around my shoulders, both of us flashing peace signs.

Russell picked us up across from the Dakota. Max said "We saw Christina's World!" I said "I saw the Mayor!"

It was a good day.

1 comment:

Terry said...

You guys know how to spend you time. B and I are jealous.. T