The Society of the Red Beads
I'm starting an organization.
It's called the Society of the Red Beads.
Last week, I was on the corner of 8th Avenue and 42nd Street, looking for the next M42 bus to come along. I was next in the queue, right behind a jolly-looking old man wearing a worn fedora, leaning heavily on a wooden cane. He smiled at me as I walked up to him and I smiled back, thinking he had a kind face. I parked myself next to him (close, but not too close) and opened my book. I like to distract myself by reading, so I don't have to pay attention to what's going on around me until the bus arrives.
"Nice day, isn't it?"
I looked up from my book to see the old man staring at me. I smile at him and nod, adding "mm hmm".
I started to look back down at my book when he piped up again. Too late. I was hooked and I had to interact with him. Drat. This sort of interacting with strangers is exactly what I dislike doing and why I bring a book along. The book is a good filter. Unfortunately, not good enough that day.
"So, where are you from?"
I always get confused when I get asked this question. Is the person inquiring about where I live now? (Montclair) Where my family is from? (Philippines) I decided it was the former question, but I didn't want to reveal where I really lived now to a complete stranger that day at that time. Plus, answering the latter question typically sparks a conversation about history or the Philippines, which I wasn't in the mood to do, despite the pleasant day.
"Nutley", I fib a little. I didn't recognize him from the bus in from Montclair and the smaller population base of Nutley means that there are fewer conversation threads of the "oh yeah? I live there too!" variety.
"Oh yes, I'm from Montclair. Nutley's nice."
I smile at him. He was beginning to seem not all that bad. "Montclair is nice too."
"Yes. Yes it is."
I don't want to stare at him so I let my eyes wander. I notice a string of red Mardi Gras beads draped in the lone tree planted near the bus stop. The tree is pathetic-looking: no leaves this time of year and the construction last fall forced the workers to prune it back heavily. I would be surprised if it showed evidence of life this year. The red beads made the tree look even more barren and stunted. Like a woman who has no natural beauty and has to dress it up with jewelry or makeup. A pathetic attempt at glamour.
He noticed it too.
"Why, look at that. Someone left their beads on the tree." He pointed a shaking arm up to the beads. "Wonder why they did that."
I shrugged as a I tried to visualize how they got there. A group of teenagers having fun? Someone dropped it by accident and a passerby decided to hang it up on the tree just in case they came back to look for it? An attempt at leaving a mark? Maybe someone else found the stunted tree sad and decided it needed a dressing up? I took out my camera and took a photograph of it. One for the vaults. Just to remember.
The bus pulled up, I climbed in and forgot about the beads.
Today, I was in the queue for the bus. I looked up at the tree and noticed that the beads were gone. That made me sad, for a moment, a source of amusement was gone. I looked around and noticed that it wasn't gone: it had just moved. From the sad tree to the "No Standing Anytime" sign. It was harder to spot, the red beads against the red sign. Someone had spotted the beads on the tree and decided to move it. It made me laugh outloud and I smiled. I pictured this anonymous person moving the beads, wondering if anyone would notice, letting out a mischievious little chuckle. It was like a joke that only a few people get, the few of us laughing while everyone else just doesn't see it, or ignores it.
It amused me. The anonymous person noticed the red beads. I noticed. The old man noticed. I wonder who else noticed. In a city like New York, such small entertainments typically go disregarded. We're a little coven, the band of red bead noticers. We look at things, tiny insignificant things and wonder if anyone else looked up or down and saw it too.
Notice anything lately?