More people pass through Grand Central Station in a single day than live in the state of Alaska. For perspective, each Alaskan has 1.26 square miles to roam around in each year, New Yorkers at Grand Central have 2.7 square feet to roam in each day. Are there too many people in New York? Alaskans might think so.
I was not brought up in Alaska, but in Southern California. Some city planner claimed that my home was within the LA city limits, but compared to NYC it was hardly city living. Three families carved out house plots on a large hill at the end of a fire road covered with sagebrush in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. We were 1/5 mile apart and our nearest neighbors were another mile or so across a gully on a ridge. When I looked for play friends as a boy, I hiked down into the gully or sometimes when the mustard weed had been cleared as a fire break from the top of the hill, slid half way down on large pieces of cardboard only to slide face first into the sagebrushy prickles.Then I’d go pile rocks as ammunition in case another boy, a prospective friend, might challenge my position. So I feel pretty spiritually close to the 1.26 square miles Alaskans bask in.
The first big city I ever experienced was Disneyland–the crowds, the waiting in lines for things, the myriad people watching. It trained me for what I might find when I moved away from home to a real city–Chicago. How different life was with people as witnesses. How the people had to behave differently because they were always always being seen by other people. It was a house of mirrors.
It must have satisfied though, some part of it at least, because for the next 40 years I have lived in cities, and never returned to my cowboy and indian roots, meeting friends by throwing rocks in the canyon.
So it is somehow otherworldly, but in other ways completely natural that I now share Grand Central Station with 750,000 other people each day. And each day I disembark from my train and walk from 42nd Street to 19th Street where I work, passing 900 people just on the sidewalk I’m on. ( I counted.) I’m not even talking about the people walking on the other side of the street.
In my rock-throwing canyon I could watch another boy approach my position from a mile away. They tended to leave their backyards that spilled over the hills into the canyon, so you could see them as they skittered down their side of the hill. And with the binoculars that I kept hidden in a metal box dug into the dirt at Eagle Rock, I could see who they were long before I had to decide whether they were friend or foe.
This is different. It’s like viewing 900 photographs in 15 minutes. Some stick with you, most are a blur. But they are a blur of something human. If you saw 900 porcupines walking downtown it would be remarkable. Somehow this isn’t. And yet 900 arms, 900 noggins, 1800 eyelids–it all adds up so fast, and, it is completely indigestible. There is no time to size anyone up and see if you have enough rocks. Instead you have this too up close and personal view of nose hairs and elbows as they flash past. It takes some getting used to. Any one of them could be a serial kiler. Or more likely, your second cousin, future dishwasher, life of the party, lunky linebacker, someone’s friend from China. They all seem to pass the test for correct number of body parts. But what do they want? They whiz past like bullets.
My Buddhist practice says that we are all connected. But to my naked eye, it sure doesn’t seem that way. On the other hand, take a moment to stand on the mezzanine above the main floor of Grand Central station. From here you can see the big picture: bodies in motion. At this time of the morning there must be roughly a thousand different bodies all going which way. Here comes a big, aggressive late-trainer, he’s moving at a speed 2.4 times faster than anyone else. And the other bodies move around him, make way for him without even really noticing he is there. This is a rock thrown in a pond. This is physics. This is the Buddhist principal of dependent origination.
Nothing exists independently of other things. If this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist.
Hence this morning’s experiment. I am donning my guerrilla mask and going to walk at an even pace across the entire floor length to watch interconnectivity at work. What am I proving? Nothing. I’m just having fun. I’ve already told you I believe in dependent origination, so what more is there to say. Besides, it’s almost Halloween.
Probably though, I am also proving to myself that the reason I don’t live in Alaska is that it is much harder to be connected to the herd there. You have to assume that other people exist and care about you there. Here in New York, you know they exist and you know they don’t care about you. So what do they want? Why are they here? Is it just the safety of the herd?
The tattoos may explain it. New York City has some definite over achievers in the tattoo, hair color process, look-at-me-I’m-different attention getting department. There are more tattoos per square body inch here than in Alaska, I guarantee it. Roses on butt-cheeks, hashtag Jesus on neck napes, the Loch Ness Monster swallowing entire arm wings. They came here to be part of the herd and then to prove they were different. Like me, they gave up their rocks for the expression of themselves as art. Take that Alaska.
Moreover, in moving here, my pile of rocks has been bronzed and sits on my desk as a paperweight. My new weapon, retardation. Bullets would be happier metals if they slowed down to a point where they can’t hurt anyone; that they dribble, retardedly, out the end of a gun and wobble across to their target and give it a little kiss.
So it is with the interconnectivity of people. Retard my friends, retard. Decelerate.
Alaska may be an extreme but so is Grand Central Station. Get out of there. Go to Starbucks. Or better yet, to the corner diner. Smile. Say hello. She’s nice. He’s a great guy. Are you reading Dickens? I am too! How about those Mets? Let’s take a selfie with everybody here.
Women understand this. But sometimes when they’re dressed for business they forget. Heart to heart. Whether we like it or not, we want to be connected, we are connected.