My mind is a Tetris game right now, as I pack 14 years of work experience in a box. That is 14 years of growth from a young carefree New Yorker to a Brooklyn wife and mother. And that is being packed as well. My home is in need of dire repairs and in order to fix it, we have to pack up our entire apartment. I am stretched and scattered, trying to cover and collect all of my history so nothing gets left behind. It is so hard to move a tree after its roots have been grown deep.
When I began my farewell to SOHO last summer, I was fondly remembering all the special places and landmarks of this neighborhood, obvious and obscure. Every day since of our countdown calendar, I try to enjoy at least one of my favorite things from this neighborhood. I noticed that my love for this area is not just the architecture and establishments, it is the people and history that bring it all to life. The soul, sway, and song of the people here is what makes the difference between just getting a cup of coffee and having a good cup of coffee that comes with a smile. Our doorman Jeff, our super Frankie, Christian from Housing works, Terrence from Hampton Chutney, and all the familiar faces are what make each experience memorable.
One of my favorite things to do is walk home with my friend Leslie when the weather allows. On that recent 60 degree day, we went on our last ceremonial walk from SOHO to Brooklyn before our office moves. We got to a certain point on the bridge where the locks of love adorn the cables of the bridge. I was about to gush with sentiment at the romantic declarations when she said “I hate these stupid locks.”
What?? How is that possible? How can she be mad at people so in love that they inscribe their names on locks, symbolically seal themselves to this spanning structure and throw away the key. At first, I was so taken aback at the affront to romance, but then we started speaking about other possible gestures of love. It got me thinking about how I could show my love for Soho. Chain myself to the front door, take a piece of the office floor, write on a bathroom pipe or stairwell wall? How about my apartment in Brooklyn that has been my safe haven? How could I chip off a piece of the paint as a souvenir?
I found out a few nights ago that a man was shot and killed at 4:30am down the block from my home. His name was Gilbert Kelly and he was homeless. He was remarkable. He lived on the stoops of neighbors for whom he cleaned steps and driveways in exchange for some type of shelter and modest income. His real profession was as our neighborhood guardian angel and he made all my walks down that street feel safe with his song and smile. His home and his life wasn’t defined by walls, so I can’t save a piece of him. And I don’t know how to show him my love.
He had a song just for our block: “It’s the Grand, the greatest place in this divine land/We’re not just a block or a neighborhood, we’re a family. Whether Grand Avenue in Brooklyn or Grand Street in Soho, all I can really do is remember to take with me the whole experience of my time in these sacred spaces. And those memories can’t fit in a box.
Thank you to all the remarkable people who have left behind pieces of themselves here and there for me to hold onto.
For more on Gilbert Kelly, read this article http://gothamist.com/2014/03/15/homeless_mainstay_of_clinton_hill_f.php
To visit another NYC icon bidding farewell to its home, go to the Whitney Biennial http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/2014Biennial
To discover more remarkable people in our neighborhoods, please take a look at Humans of New York – you’re one of them! http://www.humansofnewyork.com