The Pristine Highline

The Highline is a park in New York. It’s built on an old elevated train track. It’s new; it’s pristine. Everything around it is pristine, too — the restaurants, the apartments and even the people.

There’s also a fancy hotel under the Highline. It’s also pristine. So are the tables and chairs near the hotel.

The other day, I was sitting there with friends. I was out of place; I am not pristine. But I wanted to watch the rich people with hat boxes. I wanted to feel the air conditioning from the stretch limos. I wanted to sneak into the stunning hotel. I wanted the pristine to rub off on me.

But then came a man who was even more out of place.

He was maybe homeless. Maybe just poor. He was black. He was selling red roses.

He approached us, and charmingly asked if we wanted roses. We said no. He was polite. Then he went to the next table and then the next. I assumed these were public tables. Most everyone else did, too. So, while he was out of place, he was not out of line.

But then some pristine people came up to him and said he had to leave. I can’t imagine they gave a reason because that would be like asking permission to wipe bird poop off a window. If they did give a reason, I imagine they said something about a law. I imagine, if this was Tompkins Square Park or Central Park or even Washington Square Park, those laws (if they exist) would be quietly ignored.

The man left quietly. The park was fully pristine again.

The Highline is pristine. Sometimes, kids will be loud or run around in the park. The Highline staff will walk over and talk to them. The kids will calm down, and stop being kids.

The Highline is pristine. It is serene. It takes work to keep something pristine and serene.

I enjoy the Highline.

***

A friend visited me in New York a few years ago. As we were walking outside, we passed by a section on the street with several panhandlers. I said, “Sorry about that. They’re always here. It’s really gotten bad.” I tried to hurry along, but he kneeled down in front of them. He asked their names and wished them good luck.

I thought to myself: “I used to do that.”

I arrived in New York as an 18-year-old and did not know what “pristine” was to me. But this city quickly teaches you what Pristine is; it teaches you what you’re supposed to want it to look like — what it’s like ‘untainted.’ And as the city becomes home, the masses of anonymous people become statues in our garden. When there are unsightly statues — ones ruining our pristine home — we decide we don’t want them here. Worse off, we ignore them.

***

The world is just a whole bunch of atoms flying around. The idea of “pristine” is just a way of arranging those atoms — of caring meticulously for some of them. Maybe that’s why we can have nice things. But then sometimes I wonder if we’re caring meticulously for the wrong ones.

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