Sat, 22 May 2010 15:03:00 +0000

On the east coast of Manhattan, there are hundreds of street signs that say “Dead End.” This island’s grid system is a lot like a tic-tac-toe board; the street ends are unattached.

So I always wondered why people walked down these roads; it’s not on the way to any place, or a destination for any one. It is, after all, a dead end.

But a few months ago, I walked down a dead-end road, and I found the most peaceful nook in New York City overlooking the river. And, there, I was almost fooled into thinking there weren’t three million other people on this island.

I was addicted. I went back a few times. Until, once, I saw a middle-aged couple having a picnic there. And with that moment, I became sad, and whatever claim I thought I had to that place went away.

I discarded the idea of “my nook.” Instead, I started building a library of several nooks. That way, if one was filled, I could go to another.

For the next few months, I walked up and down the east side of Manhattan, exploring dead-end streets, looking for peace in the most physical way possible: a lack of noise.

During my first adventure, I ended up in a small nook overlooking Brooklyn. Before I even reached the river, a chubby toddler boy charged at me, away from his mother who was in pursuit. She looked at me, almost begging for me to stop this speedy chunk. So I did; tackled him, actually. But, no worries, he just bounced off. In fact, he thought it was funny so he smiled. And in his smile, between his teeny little teeth, was a crushed up yellow crayon.

All I remember is neon drool — oh, so much neon drool.

Not my nook.

Speaking of drool, these dead ends are a favorite for elderly people. It’s quiet, and there’s plenty of shade. Lots of people in wheelchairs end up dozing off to sleep in the same nook, day after day. And several times, I’ve caught them drooling on their shirts. But, once, an old man woke up and caught me staring at his drool. (Side note: Watching a droplet of drool balancing on a lip is like watching two trains about to crash: It’s hard to look away.) Anyway, I tried to make him feel better by saying, “It’s OK. I drool in my sleep all the time,” which is true. He looked at me, as if he was going to charge in his chair and push me into the river. But I realized he was just trying to re-close his eyes. When he did, the drool fell, the excitement was over and it wasn’t one my nooks.

Eventually, I gave up on this idea, as well. Because every nook I visited was not as good as the first. And the first was not as good as I thought.

Still, I continued to adventure down dead-end streets — for exercise, I told myself — and, over time, I found a few more nooks, met a few more people and learned a few more awesome stories. For example, there’s a man in the East 50s who goes to a nook every morning and transforms himself into a woman.

And, quickly, I realized that, what I like about these places is that no one ends up there on accident. It takes effort to find a nook; it requires you to go out of your way — and take time out of your day — to go down a dead-end street. And that means everyone is there for a reason, whether it’s to be contemplative or to play with their kids.

One day, as I watched an Asian man performing tai chi in a nook, I realized why I ended up there — what my reason was.

Thing is, I am the kind of person who mistakes indecision for options, and options for hope. So I stay in the rhythm, too afraid to syncopate, taking refuge no further than the fork in the road.

But when I walk down a dead-end street, it is a rebellious decision that takes away options. And it is so freeing.