My blog posts to date have been about traveling. This one’s different. Time travel, maybe, but not the going-far-away kind. Still, it opened my eyes to something new-ish.
I went back to visit my old neighborhood and, in particular, the apartment building where I lived from age 2 to 15. It’s one of 58 red-brick buildings, 7- and 12-stories high, that form the beautifully-landscaped one-square-mile community called Parkchester. In the Bronx. Yes, it’s true: beautifully landscaped in the Bronx.
The building itself was not noteworthy: functional, yes; graceful or in any way beautiful, no. A hulking rectangular box, sensible as oxford shoes. But what I’d forgotten were the 500+ statues, friezes, and bas-reliefs that graced the walls and walkways throughout Parkchester. They fairly knocked me out.
My eyes grew widest when I saw the pink-clad accordion-playing boy above the entry to my own building. I grew up under his watchful eyes. How is it that I never really noticed him until my decades-later trip?
About 4 feet tall, maybe 5 years old. His pink shirt and shorts scream “childhood,” as does the contrast with the powder-blue backdrop, the white shoes and socks, neat 1940’s hair. His chest is too muscular for his age, too well formed considering the rest of his chubby body. Above his thick neck, his face is curiously bland and inexpressive, his mouth open as if singing along to his simple accordion tune. His terra cotta eyes are vacant and unseeing.
But in the “unseeing eyes” department, I beat him by a long-shot. After all, I saw him with human eyes for 13 years as I went out to ride my bike, to play pingpong or string macaroni into necklaces in the playground. He saw me go to school, violin lessons, and summer camp.
As the corn-flake commercial said, “I saw him again for the first time.” And I loved him. Not just him. There were fishes, swans, birds, bears, and all manner of humans: ice-skating girls, bird-loving girls, bird-protecting men, musicians, and many more, built by the quaintly-named Federal Seaboard Terra Cotta Corporation.
All charming. All whimsical and delightful. All unexpected grace notes to stolid buildings. All saying “Look at me, look at me.” And I yet I didn’t.
So I’m wondering: what’s right in front of me now that I’m not noticing?
[If you’d like to know more about the statues of Parkchester, including some great pictures, you can read this article.]
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