An afternoon afoot

Spontaneous community organization is now an artifact, something scholars, journalists and society marvel at.

Look at all the people playing field hockey in Tompkins Square Park!
Look at the families actually bringing their kids to the playground!
Look at the people picking herbs and tomatoes in the gardens!
Look at the neighbors watching baseball together on TV!

At some point, the wonder becomes incredulous.

The mind wearies of constant analysis: what this community activity means for society, or what neighborhood markets mean for farmers. Journalists by nature are “always looking for a story.” Especially after taking an introductory marketing class, I can never look at an environment without analyzing its market potential, or see an advertisement without picking apart who the company is targeting and how they induce awe in the viewer, who ideally becomes a customer.

In this mess of life every move seems as if it must be meaningful, that it must contribute towards some resume bullet point or some greater purpose. Those who do build their lives this way are very successful, but living becomes very stressful. We were not meant to live in calculated paths in which designated input produced the desired output. Sometimes that output can come in a more round-about way, such as taking a walk.

Admittedly I was on a school assignment this afternoon to look at casitas in the East Village. I am the one guilty of overanalyzing. But weaving through the streets of Alphabet City, I found countless little community gardens that were more refreshing than any movie or dinner.

Greenery definitely had a role, but the pleasantness of the fall afternoon brought back the pleasures of gardening from the years before college, the joy of feeling pure dirt beneath my feet and seeing a jumble of sunflowers, tomatoes and other plants growing without the manicured look of Central Park.

The people were also un-manicured, not in the sense that they were messy but that they didn’t strive for any particular trend. They just were. None of the shops sold overpriced juices, arrays of health bars or advertised for rumba. No one was trying too hard for that trendy or retro look. They just lived, had their families, went to work, and enjoyed weekends in the park. In the casitas they barbecued food, watched baseball on television and played games. Others just talked or worked on maintaining the garden. I felt like a high schooler cleaning up the garden after the summer. Life was good again.

Not that I want to hark about being “real,” which is flung around to define the amorphous. I don’t want to say anything about being “natural” either, because is trendiness “unnatural”?

This afternoon was carefree, because no one cared whether you looked this way or dressed that way or would stand on ridiculously long lines to flaunt Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods paper bags, or would buy artisanal ground Turkey patties: overpriced, free range and hormone-free, at the Union Square market. No one was trying to play the part of a cool street hoodlum or be a classy Manhattan urbanite. Perhaps I generalize, and overlook the few who were trying to fit in, but perhaps the best way to sum up everything — the gardens, the people, the atmosphere — was that it was unpretentious. Things were what they were. No one was pretending to be anything they weren’t.

Don’t think too much, don’t analyze too much, don’t even try to extract meaning out of everything (so why would people gather in these houses in these gardens; oh, because that’s how it was in their hometown; oh, do you see how many Puerto Rican flags there are in the windows, that’s representative of the community, and so on).

I know by writing and analyzing this very thought I contradict my entire premise, but in the end we must accept that we are rational beings, and are bound to thoughts. As Rene Descartes famously said, I think, therefore, I am.

Think, but not too hard.


Individuals take responsibility for different plots in a community garden at 9th Ave. and C. (Evelyn Cheng)


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