Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Moveable Plan

I am not in the practice, typically, of awarding gold stars to inanimate objects. But, walking around the West Village yesterday, before wandering into Grey Dog's Coffee on Bleecker, I saw this sign in the window of an antiques store and I thought it (and the person behind it) deserved a BIG gold star.

I loved this sign for its refreshing honesty and humor, for its heart. We try to pin everything down to specifics, specific times, specific places, specific tasks. Everyone wants to know exactly when, how, who. Wouldn't it be nice sometimes just to be flexible and slightly vague? To open when you felt like it, when you really felt excited about being in the shop, when you were really mentally there? Wouldn't it be nice not to have to be there when you didn't really feel like being there?

The sign made me laugh and I instantly liked the person who put it there. Would that I might catch them sometime actually in the shop!

I had given my first gold star of the day to a Dad I knew in the neighborhood, a writer, who had shaken his head in sheer frustration when I saw him on the train platform.

"I knew it wasn't going to be a good day when the dog pooped in the house, when I spilled my coffee," he said. "Aaah, Mondays."

I gave him the biggest gold star I had and he did seem to brighten a bit as he put it on his hand. But, maybe, just maybe, if he had such a sign to put up in the window of his office, maybe if he had the out not to go when the stars weren't aligned, to crawl back into bed and go later if at all...

The perfect thing, really, is a basic plan with built-in flexibility. I made a new friend at Grey Dog's, a man whose great task it is to put on big events like the city's Halloween Parade and the Family Reunion after the New York City Marathon. Lewis Siris, president of PublicWorks, Inc., knows well the nature of having to try to run things like clockwork but, also, how to step back and cede control to the universe.

Talking to him about this idea, for which I gave him a gold star, I quoted a friend who said recently, "You can plan the picnic, but you can't control the rain..."

He just stared at me, hard. "Oh, right!" I said, laughing. "You know that all too well!"

He shrugged. "People still show up, with umbrellas," he said. "There's nothing you can do."

I laughed. "Woodstock was a big washout, wasn't it?"

He nodded, lost then in a moment of nostalgia. "I was there..."

My mother always uses the line, "Man proposes, God disposes." Whether you believe in God or not, it is sheer hubris (or folly to non-believers) to think you will always know what will happen or where you will be when. You just have to relax and roll with it.

I said to Lewis how I always pictured the model Petra Nemcova during the tsunami, clinging to a tree.

"All you can really do is hold on," I said.

Lewis laughed. "Write about that," he said. 

And so I did.

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