| June 16, 2011 | Comments (0)


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My week  was book-ended by opposites, opposing poles of  revelry and sadness.

On Sunday we headed for Fifth Avenue and the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. A raucous affair and truth to be told, not an event that show-cased this particular group at its best. Ironic in that the full title of the parade is Puerto Rican Pride.

And interesting sociologically as another example of New York steeling itself for an occasion – and there are many of them these days in Gotham – where opposing cultures clash in the tight confines of the small island of Manhattan. In this case, the very affluent Upper East Side civilization in its Fifth Avenue condos facing down the surge of working-class Puerto Rican revelers who each year trample well-tended hedges, joyfully engage in public urination and generally let it all hang out, if that is not too apt a metaphor for myriad unruly activities accompanied by ear-splitting noisy horns and other racket. Ofcourse , there IS music and some pulsating, hip swinging sounds to be sure, but mainly pure noise.

The snooty denizens of Fifth Avenue have made their feelings about this parade known since its inception over a decade ago, erecting all sorts of barriers along the parade route aimed to protect their property from the various forms of vandalism that inevitably occur. These precautions may have the counter-effect of encouraging more mayhem. The fences, wires and partitions a la Berlin Wall, leave no doubt on the part of  parade participants about the degree of welcome being rolled out for them. Nada! in the welcome mat department. There is no doubt a reaction that says: OK, you wanna erect barriers ? Then we’ll give you something to erect barriers for !

The City of New York seems to have joined the Fifth Avenue snoots this year in a measure that seems incredible in its degree of over-precaution and unfriendliness to parade participants. During the whole afternoon most of Central Park was unnecessarily closed off to the public. Those areas that were open were circumscribed and heavily patrolled by police. Several years ago, intoxicated paraders had engaged in “wilding” that included attempted rape and assault on female park-goers. The crackdown in the park was designed to ensure that there wouldn’t be a repeat of this bestiality.

So it was sad going to a parade that was supposed to be a happy event, indeed a display of “pride” if its title was any indication of its purpose, and finding instead, all parties – Fifth Avenue richies, the City in the form of its police and the paraders –  all displaying various forms of angry, anti-social behavior. Surely, not the sign of a great civilization celebrating its culture of a Sunday.

With the Puerto  Rican parade behind me, so to speak, and I do mean BEHIND me since one parade participant shoved a sharply-pointed  stick bearing a Puerto Rican flag into my backside causing me considerable anal discomfort, I began my weekend in a comforting and uneventful fashion. But this tranquility was not to last.

On Wednesday I received a cell phone call from Bellevue Hospital. The voice was hardly intelligible, but I gathered after listening to several minutes of blurred speech that an Indonesian friend was in hospital and wanted me to visit him.

I had not been to Bellevue for nearly 20 years and could not recognize the place when I arrived at First Avenue and 27th Street. The forbidding old massive stone and iron gate facade reminiscent of Castle Dracula was gone, replaced by a high-tech glass entrance that gave the visitor more of an uplift, a feeling of entering a space-age airport, not a welfare hospital of last resort which is what Bellvue is, or was.

It turns out my friend, Bobby, had been in Bellevue for over a MONTH, immobilized with what appears to have been a stroke. Only 48 and the father of a four year-old daughter who was not allowed to visit him, his left side was mysteriously paralyzed. My friend was unable to tell me exactly what was wrong and not being next of kin, the hospital refused to divulge his medical condition to me. I later learned that he was undergoing therapy and  there was talk of his being released in a few weeks.

Throughout my hour-long visit, Bobby wore a crooked smile, crooked because the left side of  his face was frozen in paralysis. Next to his pillow was a Bible and a CD player. I borrowed the headset for a minute to hear what he was listening to and strains of rather mournful Christian choir music entered my ear.

His suite-mate, a Haitian man surrounded by his rather happily boisterous family, seemed to dominate the room. After exhausting what cheerful repartee I could muster, I said goodbye and turned back once to look at Bobby as I exited the door to the hallway. His head had slumped over and was crushing the small Charlie Brown soft toy I had brought him. Stitched on Charlie Brown’s face was a similarly crooked smile as though this version of the doll had also succumbed to a stroke.

 Penniless and illegal immigrant that he was,  Bobby was smiling in his sleep. In his own pathetic way he seemed happier than the frowning, rich Fifth Avenue fat-cats whose displeasure had rained down  on Puerto Rico’s finest last Sunday during that strangest of parades.

There is another parade coming up later this month and it is also a parade about “pride”, the Gay Pride Parade. With the last week in the month anchored by Gay Pride, I wonder what the other bookend will be. I hope it is not sad or  connected to a hospital.

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