Like an oracle out of The Matrix, a wise soul — disguised as an ordinary, old woman –appeared out of nowhere to give me an important message today. I will take it to heart. She knows the dreamscape world, as well as the waking one.
“What interests you so much that you are taking photos?” she asked me. I was pointing my cell phone camera above my head, to capture the metal grids of the catwalks gracing 34 Gramercy Park East, Manhattan. The building’s stone facade, elaborate carvings and strong pillars intimidated me — as did its security guard (acting like a doorman, but I knew better) and the police van — parked on the corner in honor of Gramercy Square’s more prominent residents. But, they also fascinated me.
A fenced park comprises the center of Gramercy Square. Although locked, the park hosted several people enjoying its spot of green in this mysterious square sealed by deadend streets. “Guess it’s an exclusive park; only the residents have the key,” said a young woman as she passed by, having also given up on finding a way into the park. We laughed awkwardly as we realized that, in fact, it must be the truth. “A very exclusive park,” we said at the same time, and giggled.
Now someone was asking about my picture-taking. I was relieved it was a resident, not the “”doorman” or the police; I was wary when I took out the camera in post 9/11 Manhattan. “If you see something, say something.” The mantra is still ubiquitous in 2011, understandably. Maybe that is why the resident stopped me, but I earned her trust when I told her the unlikely truth right away.
“I’m taking photos of the grids, the catwalks, because I see them in my dreams,” I answered the old woman. She looked me straight in the eye, with her wisdom and her years in full display. She leaned on her cart as though it were her walker. Her pearl necklace matched her elegant gold and pearl earrings. Her white hair, her make-up: perfect. Me? I was dressed down for the summer sweat in already worn shorts and a purple tank top I realized later was on backwards. Her own only concession to the mugginess was her short-sleeved top and absence of a jacket. I looked back at her, straight in the eye. She must have been more than 80 years old. Her dignity earned my respect immediately.
I was going to tell her about my illustrated, online dream journal but I hesitated. Would she know what I meant? By “online”? But I didn’t get to tell her. She launched right away into her message.
This experienced dreamer said:
You see them in your dreams? Catwalks? No! They are fire escapes! Be careful what you dream. They will come to you.
That is how I came by my antique English Regency desk. I had dreams about the desk for years. A dealer had it, and I kept going back, looking at it. It wasn’t selling. Gradually the price came down and down, until I could afford it.
“Why does a young woman like you want an old desk like this?” asked the dealer.
I dreamed of the desk. I must have it, I told dealer. He didn’t understand. He didn’t need to.
“I still have it, you know,” she said, bringing her attention back to me.
“You gave the desk a good home,” I said. She looked down at her cart, and I followed her gaze. The skin on the inside of her elbow was exposed. Like the rings on a cross-section of an ancient Redwood, the wrinkles of her skin told her true age. I quickly calculated — she might be over 100.
“And I hope someone else will give it a good home, after me,” said the wise dreamer. She looked up at the stone facade. “Some people love those carvings, the stonework. They are surprised when they look out my apartment windows and see them.” She looked wistfully into the distance of the day before us. “The building has been here since 1883,” she said, though I wasn’t clear why. I thanked her for the factoid.
She took her leave, and pushed the cart out in front of her. I watched her make her way down the street.
“Be careful what you dream of. It may just come to you.”
One last photo of the park, and I was on my way, as well.
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Personal essay, © Barbara E. Berger, August 7, 2011