Slummy Narnia

***NOTE: I’m taking a break from the “Grateful For” list. I need to write other things, dammit!!

It’s a rainy sunday afternoon, I’d say just about as stereotypical as a rainy Sunday can be. I walked downtown in the general direction of my job and decided to stop and have a late lunch somewhere cheap, like take-out chinese. The amazing thing to me is that even from the outside the yellow and red “King China” looks out of place amongst the gourmet pizzerias, free range fried chicken fronts and salad-ga-lore bodegas that line 14th street on the West Side of Manhattan. Being a savvy New York native, however, I knew that if I didn’t want to wind up coughing up blood for the price of my lunch I would need to get a meal at “King China”.

Here’s where the bizarre paradox begins. The minute I wedge open the semi-jammed door of the entrance to the take out, I feel as if I walked into a Slummy Narnia: except there was nothing magical. The people I was sharing the street with (before the nasty, greasy door of the “wardrobe” was entered) were well dressed women pushing expensive looking strollers; tall, well groomed men, talking on their iPhone 5’s; young, beautiful, blonde women with a steaming cup of coffee flitting about the awnings and secretly admiring themselves in the windows of the store fronts… all of which disappeared as the musty glass of the door banged shut behind me. I was the only white person in the joint; indeed, I felt like I must have been the only white person to have stepped in all day. I took in the homeless man slumped in the corner, the angry looking woman picking her fingers, the young teenager typing on her phone and felt immediately out of place. I got a few glances from the locals before shouting my order to the Chinese lady busily frying french fries and chopping chicken wings up behind the prep counter.

After sitting myself on a dinged-up stool, I looked across the room at the mirror that faced where I was sitting. “Which one of these things is not like the other!?” I sang to myself, taking in the fact that my bright magenta coat and leather boots made me look like the equivalent of Paris Hilton shopping in a Payless Shoe store. I got a sideways glance from a lady who came in and ordered pork fried rice “Well, the food’s cheap, Lady! Probably the same reason you’re here!”

After munching down my chicken/pigeon and broccoli meal I scooted out of the take-out with barely a look back.

I walked down Bleeker street toward my job. And then, I saw the Bakery. Yeah, no dudes slumped in a corner in there. Instead, it was a packed madhouse of salivating, family oriented tourists and locals jamming their way inside to fork over 6 bucks for a cupcake and then throwing out the half they didn’t eat in the overfilled garbage container on the street corner. I stopped for a moment to take in what I was seeing. That is technically where I “belonged” today when deciding on where to get lunch, right? With the blue wool coats, the white fleeces, the red pea coats and the dappled grey pull-overs that made up a crazy town of luxury and privilege. Gross. I paid 6 bucks for my entire lunch in Slummy Narnia.

Then, I saw the old asian lady on her hands and knees digging through garbage for a couple of cans to recycle and felt sick. How is it justifiable to have that happening on the same street that sells cupcakes for 6 bucks and pairs of jeans for 250 dollars? I felt terrible as the middle class guilt ran up my spine and threatened to undo my day. I literally stopped in the street and stared at her for a moment. What do I do? Do I give her some money? Do I help her dig through the garbage to find some good cans for her? Do I ignore all other responsibilities and take her in, feed her a warm meal and then sign over the lease to my apartment to her? Will that help assuage my guilt?

No. It won’t.

Instead, I did nothing. I stopped. Looked. Burped. Shook my head, and then walked on. And as I walked, I imagined Paris Hilton somewhere, maybe the Russian Tea room, eating thousand dollar caviar and complaining about a headache from all the liquor from the night before. I’m just a layer in the food chain of wealth.

December 10, 2012 at 7:16 am by Natalie Allen