Monthly Archives: March 2010

COSMOS

Cosmos making music in front of Red Wing Shoes
“Words like homeless I do not understand. Home is where your heart is.”

On a recent Friday at noon Cosmos sat on a milk crate in front of Red Wing Shoes on Queens Boulevard. Dressed in colorful African garments, he alternated between drums, maracas, the flute and tambourines, creating what he calls “the melting pot sound,” improvisational music inspired by New York’s myriad cultures and street sounds.“Everything is music to me,” he tells me. “The birds, the pace of people’s feet. There’s a certain rhythm pattern in the cars coming to a stop. They sound like the ocean at the seashore.”Cosmos attributes his love of music to the fact that his mom played the mandolin while she was pregnant with him. Born to a family of West Indian immigrants, music permeated every moment of his childhood. Each birthday he would get a new instrument, and home was where he could make music, rather than the physical structure over his head.

“I have an interesting idea of territory,” Cosmos says when asked where he lives. “Words like homeless I do not understand. Home is where your heart is.” And in his heart, he says, he feels a strong connection to Sunnyside, where he has played for 25 years. He suspects “a magnetic current running through Sunnyside that has everybody aligned.” In Sunnyside no one has ever told him to leave. Some people stop just to listen, others to give him a couple of dollars or to tell him that they will be out of town for the weekend  but back in touch when they return.

“Every soul is a valuable asset,” Cosmos says. He avoids “the industries” and rarely records what he plays. He prefers to play in front of a live audience. He tells me that playing for patients at the psychiatric institution on Ward’s Island, where he once worked in food services, led them to open up in ways words alone could never accomplish.

When he gets tired of playing, Cosmos takes a short nap or juggles clear plastic bags adorned with rainbow-colored ribbons, an exercise he invented to enhance his endurance and coordination. His Indian ankle bells jingle as he jumps up to catch the bags in the wind.

Listen to Cosmos’s interview

ORMI

“I am a picky girl. I’m too picky to pick.”

If you find yourself at the supermarket on 43rd Avenue on a gloomy day, with a little bit of luck you might find Ormi cheerfully working the cash register and inquiring about your well-being.

I complained about being tired one recent morning as she rang up the vegetables for my two pet rabbits (who refuse to eat lettuce from any other supermarket in Sunnyside).

“Maybe you just need to do something. Sometimes tiredness goes away once you start moving…”

I felt much better after taking Ormi’s advice and decided to meet with her at Café Aubergine after her evening shift.

A challenge at first, the cashier’s job with its constantly changing prices and codes, its idle times and meager wage—in three years Ormi has worked her way up from $7.25 to $7.75 an hour —is only a temporary solution for her. She has always enjoyed taking care of her younger cousins and nephews and wants to turn her compassion for children into a profession. Hoping to become a social worker one day, she currently studies Human Services at LaGuardia Community College.

Ormi moved to Sunnyside from Bangladesh six years ago. She says that among five siblings she is the shiest and quietest and had the most difficult time adapting to the new culture. She couldn’t speak any English and the first weeks she could barely eat; even the water tasted differently.

While her mom tried to find the unique South Asian vegetables the family was accustomed to, the dishes didn’t taste nearly as fresh as they did in her home country. Worse yet, Ormi couldn’t find any of her favorite fruits—Kathal, Lukluki and Bubi—and she missed the elaborate wedding ceremonies where the women would prepare sweets from these fruits and bring them to the bride’s house.

At age 20, Ormi is still very close to her mom and wants to stay with her until she gets married. But she thinks it will take some years to find a “good-hearted, good-looking, funny and educated gentleman.” She is not interested in an arranged marriage as is still the custom for many young people in Bangladesh.

“What if the guy is the opposite of me? No ‘yes’ to a stranger!” She says, sipping her Coca-Cola at Café Aubergine. “I am a picky girl. I’m too picky to pick.”

But between school, work and the usual hobbies (TV, music, reading the Twilight series), there is little time to think about dating. Besides, before Ormi picks the right guy, she still has to work on her shyness, she says. And with an admirable dollop of self-confidence she adds, “There is no problem with me. Either way, I will be fine.”

* Name has been changed upon request.

Listen to Ormi’s interview