I used to walk past The City Mission every day. Scary homeless guys hung around outside, smoking cigarettes and catcalling. I put my head down and kept my periphery vision on high alert for sudden movements. Past that gauntlet, I waded through the monthly line at the Welfare office. Sometimes fat women with too many kids would yell at me about how I didn’t deserve the luck of having a job. That was the price I paid for 50 cents/day parking in the big city. If I had been more lucky, I would’ve paid $15/day and avoided seeing that side of life.
Once I was at work, I looked out my 13th floor window at the ornate capitals of the columns on the next building over. I listened to my old guys talking about the good old days, and I ate lunch at the Old Arcade or Terminal Tower. It was a time of urban renewal, and I enjoyed watching craftspeople restoring long-neglected architecture. When my work was done, I often drank with my coworkers in The Flats. It was mostly a good time in life.
Given the opportunity, I jumped ship and took a job in the boonies which is my natural environment. Whenever I had to wait for geese to cross the road so I could get to work, I thanked God I wasn’t driving in the big city any more. If a goose made a mess on my windshield, I turned on the windshield wipers and felt grateful I wasn’t watching a homeless guy taking a leak on the street – but sometimes I missed the fun of the city.
Years went by and I ended up working at another urban place, but without the charms or entertainment. The drive was longer, the traffic was meaner, and the roads were in worse shape. I didn’t want to go out drinking with my coworkers. I wanted to get home where I could listen to birds sing. Sometimes I felt nostalgic for street festivals and eating at the Old Arcade.
My boss gave me a project for graduation. I gave him a graduation cap. No, no, no… something more personal. Why don’t you paint a building? I screwed up my face. Why I would draw a building for graduation? My originally from NYC boss started talking about buildings like they were people. In fact, I’m pretty sure Manny loved New York buildings more than he loved any humans. I was pretty sure he was crazy, but okay, I painted buildings. I guess the client thought he was crazy too because we didn’t sell that job.
Sometimes I think of Manny when I just don’t understand another person’s point of view. What I think is obviously the only right way to think about certain things. For instance, my heart bleeds when somebody cuts down a tree. I had another boss who thought Ohioans are way too fond of trees, which he thought should be clear cut so you could have a better view of houses.
It isn’t just trees vs. buildings. Sometimes I have to think of Manny when confronted with any foreign thought which runs opposite to my understanding of the universe. Of course they’re still wrong, and I’m still right, but sometimes I can slow down a little and appreciate some of the things they value. All that remains is for me to figure out a way to make these people value trees.