Kelvin’s subway ride
“Go outside…Afuera!,” she said.
His mother pointed at him with a broom to the apartment door. He couldn’t hear her because a Cardi B song was blasting from the living room but his mother's gestures said more than her words. He picked up his headphones and snuggled nicely over his ears. His mother mouthed the chorus, “Never Give up/We’re almost at the top of the hill now/It took a long time to heal now, ”as she swayed with her head bopping.
There was a street party happening in the evening near their apartment building in Washington Heights. There were street parties happening everywhere in the country but nothing like New York City. New York City had by far the most deaths from the coronavirus. The virus had lasted until the very end of fall and had ravaged the boy’s summer. Winter was coming but for New Yorkers they welcomed the cold, grey and snow like no other year.
The music stopped, his mother had asked Alexa to stop her playlist. He was amazed Alexa could be heard through Cardi. “You sure you don’t want to stay here this weekend. Your daddy will understand and make the switch. Yenny is preparing those tostones you love.”
“Nah Mami, I’m good. I want to spend time with Papi, since I was locked up mostly here.”
His mother was tall and slim with light brown skin and with a dark brown ponytail up, She was cleaning the house before her friends arrived to have their hair done together while enjoying rum and cokes before the block party in the evening.
“Ok….Papi...don’t forget your jacket. Stay out honey. Have fun with your dad.” She then yelled, Alexa! Play!” The music blared and his mother danced with the broom as if it was an ex-lover. He picked up a jacket and put his yankee skully over his headphones. The Cardi chorus roared again as he opened the door now safely secured for the weather, “Never give up…”
The Cardi chorus was replaced slowly by Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No.2, The Age of Anxiety prologue as he pressed on his phone. He would listen to Bernstein’s six piece masterpiece. He walked out and smiled as the music filled both headphones. As he approached the elevator he gave a short wave to the young mother and her toddler as she was reaching out to let the stroller cross first. Months ago he wouldn’t have recognized them and would have easily collided with them as he was distracted by the works of Mahler or Bach on his playlist. But this was a post COVID world. A world where after months of isolation, walking outside seeing other people and smiling at them while sharing an elevator was a treat rather than a burden. Even in the busiest city in the world.
They entered the elevator. The toddler pulled on her winter cap and tossed it on the floor as she laughed. It now showed her beautiful dark braided hair. Her wide eyes looked at him with matching earrings and a necklace she held tightly. Her mother was also dressed on her Sunday best on a Friday afternoon with her hair braided up, heels, designer slacks with a tan coat. He could smell her perfume as he bent down and picked up the toddler's hat. He bent down, paused Berstien and handed the hat to her mother, who thanked him.
“Hey Kelvin, you excited about the party tonight?” I bet you and your friends are going to be up all night?”
“Finally, we are free.” She bent down and tucked the daughter’s hat tightly.
The elevator floor had been marked to only hold one person at a time as a social distance measure to fight the coronavirus. The mother smiled back and slowly shared the middle of the elevator, now being able to defy the rules that tried to keep them safe. He could see the social distancing and coronavirus posters covering part of the elevator. The other side of the elevator was advertising the block party “The ALL NIGHTER.” The party started at dusk and planned to go all weekend. The all nighters were happening all over the five boroughs.
The elevator opened and the baby cooed and reached out to him holding the hat but not dropping it as the stroller zoomed out of the elevator. Kelvin followed slowly behind them. As he opened the door out of the apartment building, he saw Victor with two other boys. He started to sway his head up and down as he paused the best part of the symphony.
“Yo, Kelvin, bring it in!” Victor raised his right hand up and Kelvin brought his left hand in to meet and then joined in a hug. Kelvin could tell Victor needed the hug. Social distancing had been difficult for him.
“How you been?” Kelvin asked.
“Free...brother. Going to meet my girl. Been a long time.” The boys next to him laughed.
“I don’t know Victor, they say girls have gotten used to being alone and seem to have accepted social distancing. I heard it is the new thing.”
“Hell. No. She’s coming tonight. You coming tonight?”
“Nah,” Kelvin shook his head.
“What? Where you going, bro?”
“Borough Park. My dad’s weekend.”
“Jewtown? This weekend?,'' Victor asked, gesturing with his arms raised high with his head nodding with disappointment. Kelvin’s dad lived in Brooklyn, specifically Borough Park, one of the largest concentrations of Orthodox Jewish people in the world, primarily Hasidic Jews.
“You're going to miss the block party. Tell your dad to switch weekends.They got Dj’s and music is going to be wild. Tell your dad to move it to next week,” Victor now gestured as a DJ as the other two boys followed along.
“Can’t. I don’t want to bring any momma daddy drama.”
“Alright,” Victor nodded with his lips tightened.
“Your loss. The last thing I want to do is be in a place with people that don’t even look at you. Borough Park is the original social distancing spot.” The boys next to him laughed.
“What you listen to?”
Kelvin stiffened and was caught off guard. “You know the mix album you sent me.”
“You're still listening to that...I got some new stuff for you.”
“Maybe next weekend, I got go, my dad’s expecting.”
“Alright,” as they embraced again and Kelvin started to walk to the train station. His head bounced feigning hip hop beats that didn’t exist on his playlist. Once he turned to the next block he pressed play on his phone and he continued where he left off on Berstein’s Age of Anxiety. He relaxed and let his focus be on the violins through a crowded sidewalk. He passed a bodega where a couple danced to merengue. The fast paced dance moves were placed in slow motion in Kelvin’s head as they were replaced with strings and trumpets.
New York City started a lockdown in March and was the last major city to fully re-open. The blocks were packed with people everywhere. Friends were getting reacquainted, lovers were kissing and others taking in the cold air with strangers who became friends in the beginning of winter.
As he walked down the steps of the subway, he received a text from his dad:
“Kelv, got some work calls today. Tonight we can’t go out but tommr we have all day. Stay with Mami tonight if u want. I’m cool with it.”
He stopped and looked at the text and continued toward the subway, as he just finished the Prolouge of the Age of Anxiety. Newspapers were loosely scattered. The headlines from the NY Times “NYC opens city among uncertain future” and the New York Post’s “The apocalypse is over...until next week.”
Kelvin passed through the turnstile and walked over to wait for the train. The subway was surprisingly quiet. New Yorkers had planned to get as much sun and planned walks in the sun and open air, what they had been denied by a virus that had traveled across the globe into every borough and neighborhood. He texted his father back as he waited for the train.
“Already on the train. See u soon!”
The trip for Kelvin would take well over an hour, enough to finish most of the Age of Anxiety. Would he have a chance to add Mahler to the playlist? As he waited for the train, he felt melancholy. While others saw isolation as purgatory, he had secretly enjoyed being in his room, watching symphonies on the great work of Bernstein, Mahler, Chopin and Bach on youtube. The months in isolation only created a passion for classical music that was only discovered a year ago when he moved from drums (his mother’s favorite instrument) to the piano at school. He kept his love for Bach and Chopin to himself not because he was ashamed of the music but he didn’t want to explain it for his hip friends or his parents' mix of rap, merengue and classic salsa. Maybe one day.
Kelvin closed his eyes and pictured himself as a conductor of the New York City Symphony as he tucked himself in his seat. He was mid way through Seven Ages of The Age of Anxiety. The train whizzed past the city, entering the borough of Brooklyn. The train had picked a group of people but quickly dropped them off to the next stop. No one wanted to be underground, except for Kelvin.
Kelvin got up as the train made it to his stop. He walked out facing the outdoor platform. He could see people gathered from the top of the platform. He walked down listening to the last stages of the variations of the Seven Ages happy to feel the cold air in his face. As we walked down the street he could see the dark suits of the men and the long dresses of the Hasidic Jews which made most of the neighborhood. His father and his grandmother across the street were the only non-Jews living on the block. He liked this neighborhood he could keep to himself and to walks envisioning himself as a conductor.
There were crowds approaching his father’s building, as the symphony was reaching the end he could see the men with yamchas laughing. He had arrived at mid-day, there was plenty of time for them to be outside until the starting of the Sabbat. Kelvin knew it would be a ghost town on the street after dark.
A large wind blew and a small grey stocking cap had tumbled past the men laughing which they ignored. The small stocking cap stopped in front of Kelvin. He paused his music and bent down to pick up the hat. It was for a baby. There was a stroller passing through and meeting Kelvin. He looked up and a woman with a dark coat and a large hat covering her head approached him with a stroller. The baby in the stroller was cooing. She had light green eyes and grinned at him. She was bundled up except for her head.
“Here you go,” Kelvin passed her mother the stocking cap.
“Thank you very much. Elisa doesn’t like to keep it on her head,” the mother tucked the stocking cap on her baby.
“Your welcome,” Kelvin said.
“Have a good day,” she said.
He continued walking surprised by the exchange. He approached the group of young Hasidic men. Kelvin smiled and said hello. They also smiled and a tall one said to him “We are blessed to be outside again.”
It was the first time Kelvin had a conversation with Hesadic Jews. For the last three years every other weekend plus holidays, he would walk from the train station to his father's house, a ghost to this community.
He walked past them and saw a stocky man with a jacket and a cigar in his mouth.
Kelvin hugged his dad. His dad smoked the cigar and nodded to his neighbors as they smiled back.
“Is it different here?”
His dad took a puff of the cigar. “It is different everywhere. I like this different.”
“Kelvin, do you want to take a walk?”
“What are you listening to?”
Kelvin looked at his dad. “Bernstein, The Age of Anxiety,"
“Classical?” his dad asked with a cigar in his mouth.
“Yeah…you know him”
“No, but let me listen…”
Kelvin pressed a track from his playlist and gave his father the head phones. Father and son started their walk.