Spontaneous acts of grief and love

Last weekend I experienced a rare bout of freedom for a couple of nights. Nicole and Arlo went up to her folks’ place in western Massachusetts, and I was alone — by myself, single, etc. — for two nights in a row.

What to do with myself? Friday night I stopped by at the local bar and had a whiskey and a beer with some friends before heading into the city for a friend’s going away party.

(He was “going away” in the sense that he was leaving his East Village apartment that he shared with roommates to live in another East Village apartment with his boyfriend. But the big, old, tub-in-the-kitchen apartment he was living in has been in my circle of friends since the mid-90s, and I was very, very sad to see it leave his hands. Also, any excuse for a party.)

It was fun to be out in Manhattan on a Friday night, knowing that I hadn’t left the family at home. I could stay out late, I could drink a bit more than usual, and I didn’t have to feel guilty about anything.

On Saturday I decided to do what I had done for most warm-weather weekends pre-Arlo: I walked. I walked up to Prospect Park and along one of the many wonderful footpaths there, away from the bikes, and made my way up old crumbling stairs and through the leafless overhang over to Park Slope.

As I approached the rotary at 15th Street and Prospect Park Southwest, I noticed a memorial set up around the entrance to the park. This is a spot where, any time after 3pm or so, you’ll find a bunch of high-school age skateboarders hanging around, make lewd comments to each other and passerby and trying and failing any number of skating tricks. The Prospect Pavilion movie theatre sits right across the street, and on most nights hundreds respectable Brooklynites — perfect targets for the skate crew — are flowing in and out of there. I’ve never been too bothered by that group, though imagine some moviegoers are, and when I pass them by on my bike late at night I try to envision ways that they can knock me off and annoy me. I usually avoid them.

The memorial was set up for a member of this crew — we’ll call him Khalid. About a dozen bunches of flowers were laid around one of the poles blocking cars from entering the park, above which were photographs of Khalid and dozens of notes to him. Every writable surface featured a scratched out message to him as well, usually to the tune of “We miss you.” To the left of the main memorial was another, smaller memorial. Here, a beat up baseball hat was hung on a pole above more bunches of flowers, notes, and photographs. There were a few candles as well.

The whole scene was so striking that those passing by were compelled to stop and stare for a few moments. As with most roadside memorials, there was no information about how this young kid had died, or how old he was when whatever happened happened (he looked about 15 in the photos). That lack of information made the scene even more harrowing.

I hung around and did my best to soak in the spontaneous displays of grief and love. Even though I didn’t know this guy, I could see that we was a member of the annoying skate crew. What had happened here? Was he hit by a car? A random act of violence? Maybe it didn’t happen here, but this was his stomping ground, so it was here that the memorial sprung up.

In any event, I had to keep up my momentum. I spent another 30 seconds or so staring at the memorial and was off. The day was young.

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