Battered Carnations

by

08/31/2014

Neighborhood: Chinatown

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To say that I am not a morning person is both unimaginative and a gross understatement. Each day I try to avoid the morning, altogether. When I wake up in the afternoon, it takes me multiple cups of water and coffee as well as several scrolls through my Instagram feed to regain my pleasant disposition. So this past October when I woke up to the terrorizing alarm that called for an early morning fire evacuation, I seriously considered going down with the building. Still, my aversion to being burned alive compelled me to slide out of bed and into my black leather flats, which overwhelmed my pastel flannel pajama pants with class. I managed to remember my NYU ID and keys before I left my room and forced myself into the slow-moving traffic of the nearest stairwell. Once the mass exodus reached the street level, the hundreds of us filled the surrounding sidewalks and joined each other in collective misery.

The fire trucks came and went with no sign of actual fire. All at once, we were allowed back into the building and moved like molasses through the front doors and spilled into the elevators. Later that week, the unofficial story was that a boy had pulled the fire alarm after having been, allegedly, tripping on acid. Grave annoyances were silenced when the whole story surfaced and the same boy was known to be in critical condition at the hospital. Although he has my sympathies, this boy demonstrated that the destructive actions of an individual are capable of sending a shockwave through the lives of the nearest thousand people.

Back in my bed after the lapse of an hour, I tried desperately to get more sleep but was fuming for being awake at all. I was unable to relax as the construction on the New York Rescue Mission immediately outside my window commenced for the day. When the sound of a jackhammer became white noise, the staccato of my roommate’s sharp inhales would startle me awake. Maybe I do hate New York, I thought to myself as I rummaged for a pair of earplugs in my desk drawer. My exhaustion overcame me and with the silence materialized by my earplugs, I was lulled back to sleep.

When I woke up again, it was 1:36 PM and the missed calls and texts from my boss reminded me that I was supposed to be at work for 1. It was the first Saturday at my new job and oversleeping on the weekend would generally be an indication of a hangover. The night before I had entertained the idea of going to a party, but I decided to be responsible by going home to rest instead which became futile. For the second time that day, I had to forego my wake-up routine and rush out of the building. With haste, I put on the pair of brown pants I had worn the day before, a green shirt that I didn’t know I had outgrown to reveal an unflattering inch of midriff, and the same black flats. I tried furiously to rub the pervious day’s mascara from under my eyes, but gave up and ran out the door. On the elevator, I began to regret that I didn’t bring my toothbrush with me as I felt the grime of two rude awakenings caked onto my teeth.»

Battered Carnations
Photo by Shawn Han

Knowing that it would take me twenty-eight minutes to walk to work and sixteen to catch the 1 train uptown, I rushed up Lafayette toward Canal Street. I planned to hail the nearest available cab while avoiding the large groups of tourists that emerge on weekends to inspect authentic-looking Michael Kors bags laid out on the sidewalk. I began to speed walk past the neighboring Rescue Mission that was under construction. In an attempt to avoid human contact as I passed through the pedestrian walkway, I moved quickly with my eyes on the ground. As the walkway rejoined the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the Rescue Mission, I ignored a man who was calling my attention, which I had become habituated to do on that corner. I was desensitized to the compliments that verged on sexual harassment that nearly every girl hears daily on the street and hardened enough to ignore the pleas for me to spare a dollar.

The man in front of me held multiple bouquets of battered carnations in his hands. He was an aging black man wearing worn out clothes and sporting an overgrown haircut, but when I lifted my eyes, I was greeted with kindness by his.

“For you,” he said, singling out one bouquet.

“No, thank you,” I smiled and refocused on getting to work. Far too many times had I taken a rose offered to me in Washington Square Park or an amateur mix-tape from someone's outstretched arms and then harassed for money until I gave everything back.

“They’re free,” he insisted, “Here.”

Believing him, I took the flowers. They were autumn-colored carnations in shades of orange and red and, I speculated, must have been a few days old when they were donated to the Rescue Mission. My eyes began to swell, as I was overwhelmed with gratitude for this man’s random act of kindness. I looked back up to thank him and he held out another bouquet.

“For you,” he repeated, “It looks like you need it.”

Eleanor Vigneault is a senior at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study where she is studying writing across different mediums.

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