When we moved to New York, my husband, Chris, picked a corner of the city to own. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which commemorates those who died in the American Civil War, is a templelike structure surrounded by formal paved terraces. It’s also a hangout for vagrants and skateboarding teens. Broken bottles, crack vials and newspapers routinely settle into its nooks and crannies.
It’s almost Thanksgiving, and soon my church in New York City will be serving turkey with all the trimmings to over 400 people. I play a major role in this volunteer effort and sometimes I feel quite virtuous. At last, I tell myself, I’m learning how to feel useful during a holiday that is emotionally fraught for many. But sometimes the annual meal looks less like a joyful act of holiday giving than a thinly disguised act of “slumming.” Those of us serving the meal will be almost uniformly white, after all, while those being served will be mostly black and Hispanic. After the meal is over, the “out-of-towners” will go home and eat healthier, more gourmet Thanksgiving meals.
When Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was built by German immigrants 100 years ago, it stood alone on the block; now luxury condominiums are boxing us in. A preservationist says it will cost $8 million to repair our church, give or take a million. The stained glass windows have already been removed because of the danger of breakage during the construction next door. The steeple alone, leaning to one side, will cost over a million to repair. “It’s a substantial building,” the preservationist said when he delivered the news. Sometimes I curse this substantial building as an albatross, a black hole, a money pit. And yet . . .
Every week day, as I walk my son to school through Central Park, I pass a man in a yellow coat. His face, burnished by the sun, is the same smooth-and-taut coppery brown. Next to him sit a large rolling suitcase and assorted smaller bags. A bright yellow cloth neatly covers his belongings and is anchored in place by two apples, each nestled in a paper coffee cup. The yellow cloth and the yellow coat—along with other items, including a plastic yellow banana and a cardboard yellow taxicab—are the reason I took to calling him