When I was a kid I used to think the Easter parade was an actual parade like the ones on Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. I even imagined a marching band with epaulettes, plumed shakos, and sousaphones. Imagine my disappointment when I realized it was just a bunch of Midtown Manhattanites showing off their spring wardrobe. The adult world had dealt me another harsh blow.
I understand that the Easter parade, like everything else this year, will take place virtually, which is to say that a non parade will be held for crowds of people who will not be there. That makes perfect sense in our post-Corona world in which “social distancing” and “sheltering in place” have become de rigueur.
I have a different take on Corona and Easter, however. Since the parade is really just people strolling up and down Fifth Avenue, I decided to stroll up and down a three-mile radius of my new neighborhood. As a native New Yorker, I walk everywhere. People in California, on the other hand, drive everywhere. So I am accustomed to walking places and hardly meeting anyone except for an occasional jogger or baby stroller. Sometimes a jogger with a baby stroller.
Corona has changed all that. People venture out now. They walk their dogs, converse with a companion, talk on their phones, or even, like me, lug groceries. Almost all of them avoid each other like–this never grows old–the plague. Since I usually don’t do anything other than walk, not being capable of doing two or more things at the same time, I observe. They say that’s what writers do. And what is there to observe with all of that walking but the sidewalk?
Did you know that most sidewalks have signatures; that is, the name or stamp of the company that paved them, and the date? Some consist of a simple name. Others contain a bit of artwork or flair. All are understated, which I find laudable. Art isn’t supposed to draw attention to the artist but to the work. And not even that. It ought to draw attention to the reality behind the art, at least as the artist sees it.
Do I believe Lloyd Newgren or the Polizzi brothers were artists, or that their sidewalks constitute art? I can’t say one way or the other, but I think I know what they were doing when they impressed their stamp in the concrete at the end of the job. They were telling the world that they were there, that they performed their work, and that they were leaving this stretch of concrete as a testament to their existence. In substance, that’s not very different from the Giza Necropolis or Voyager 2.
Speaking of necropolis, these sidewalk markings remind me of tombstones. They fade, chip, become discolored. Grass and weeds sprout up in between the cracks. And, like most tombstones, after a while hardly anybody notices them. In order to notice them, you have to be looking for them. With tombstones, the only person to do that would be a family member or friend. With sidewalks, it’s me.
At least I haven’t seen anybody else stopping every hundred feet or so to take photos of sidewalks on their cellphone. People now have another reason to keep their distance or look away when I catch them staring from their cars.
A few curious souls have asked me what I was doing. When I point out the signatures on the sidewalk and explain how I am collecting data related to people’s need not to be forgotten, they usually smile and say something kind. One woman brought up the right to be forgotten law in Europe. I made the distinction between wanting to be left alone but not forgotten. “You know, like Greta Garbo.” She didn’t get it. A homeless guy wrapped in a moving blanket did. I gave him the sandwich in my book bag.
I see these sidewalk tombstones as fighting against death, calling out from the past so that the people who paved them–the Padias, Tomlinsons, and Bothwells–will live on. Paying attention to them is the least yet most appropriate thing I can do on Easter. So this year I won’t be in a virtual Easter parade after all. Let me get my bonnet.
This post is dedicated to the memory of Rita Clare Dorner, a Sinsinawa Dominican sister. For more, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”