"Under the city lies a heart made of ground", said Jo, as she opened the door of the bookshop.
I followed close behind, keeping her cloak from catching in the doorway. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"I'm not entirely certain". Jo grabbed a random book off the shelf and sat down at a table by the window. "But I heard the song and wondered if they were right. So that's the assignment I chose for this week. Find the Heart of New York."
I sat down across from her. "Surely you'd find it in a bar? Or maybe in Grand Central Terminal? or maybe it's something we all carry inside -- "
"Oh, I'm not talking about the PEOPLE of the city!" Jo rolled her eyes. "I'm talking about an actual, beating heart. Bum-bum, bum-bum." She smacked her sternum for emphasis. "Although I imagine its beat would be much slower."
"And yet, you told me last week that we create the magic of the city from our own life energy. You know how fast people move in this city. Why wouldn't the heart beat like a rabbit's? Or an engine, come to think of it? Maybe you should look for a big engine."
"Oh, yeah. Find a specific big engine in New York City. Maybe you should find a leaf in a forest." She paused. "Then again, engines have serial numbers...you know, that's actually an excellent idea. I'll start looking in the registries. Now, I suppose you're wondering why I brought you in here."
I suddenly discovered a desire to closely inspect my fingernails.
"Pat, look," said Jo, lowering her voice, "I've had plenty of friends become shamans -- "
I glared at her. "Oh, don't give me THAT line. Do you have any idea how many times ihave to hear "some of my best friends are Black" from Nonni?"
"Pat, that's not what I'm -- "
"And now I have to hear it from you! I really thought better of you, Jo."
"Oh yeah?" Jo slammed the book shut. "Well, I thought better of you! Every friend of mine who's become a shaman suddenly went cynical and mean and then they stopped talking to me! They became the city, Pat! That's what I tried to warn you about last week and you didn't listen! Are you listening now? Do you get why I'm worried? I DON'T WANT TO LOSE YOU!"
There was a sudden silence where a low murmer had been. Chatter ceased. The cash register stopped ringing. The coffee-maker stopped bubbling.
The street was cold, misty, and wet. Cars made a mighty hiss as they passed over damp asphalt.
"I'm sorry", said Jo, body bowed, cloak wrapped tight around her. "I didn't mean to get us thrown out of your favorite bookstore."
"Oh, no apology necessary," I said. "I think your reaction to my calling is appropriate. I mean, if every one of us shamans becomes a jerk, maybe the gig is dangerous. Maybe I'm going to become an old grump and tell cashiers to shove their nice days up where the sun never shines. Maybe I'm -- GASP! maybe I'll become an ADULT."
"Naw," said Jo, "Adults do things like file taxes and manage companies. I can't see you being manager of a Drill factory."
"Adults also do things like making money and providing for family", said a familiar voice. A figure appeared in the fog. It would have been tall, if not for being stooped over a cane. "Adults are reliable and responsible and skilled and savvy. I have seen you grow into those last four." The figure coughed. "Though the part about making money would work better if you went and got a summer job for once."
"Nonni", I said. "How do you always find me?"
"The pigeons know more than you realize, Pat." He stepped forward out of the mist. His remaining hair clung damply to the top of his head where he had combed it over, and his round glasses were covered in droplets of water. "You just have to pledge yourself to protecting their nests, and they tell you what is happening in the city."
"I can just cast a spell on a truck mirror for that kind of knowledge," said Jo. "Hello, Signor Adriano. Nice to see you again."
"You," said Nonni, glaring at Jo, "somehow bought your way into wizarding with bottlecaps. I will never forgive you."
Jo stamped and said, "How many times do i have to tell you? That was just a symbol of my dedication! Have you never spoken to my master?"
"Look, Nonni," I said, "I know what employment was like when you were young, but the laws are stricter now. This is the first year I can actually get a formal job. I'm going to become a Shaman and make tons of money, trust me."
"A Shaman, eh? Well, I know a few shamans. Why, some of my best friends are -- "
"SIGNOR ADRIANO!" said Jo.
"What? It's perfectly true. I've got a bunch of friends who are shamans. Excellent people, all of them."
"They're...excellent people?" Jo's eyes glazed over. I could practically hear the gears grinding in her head.
"Funny," I said, "Jo just told me that every other one of her Shaman friends became an uncommunicative jerk. I didn't detect any nervousness from her or shame, so I'm guessing she wasn't lying. And You're not lying. So what's the deal? Do old shamans become nice?"
Nonni chuckled. "Oh, the shamans I know have been good people for a long time. Not necessarily nice -- clever, and quick to defend their kith and kin, and lion-hearted. Tough and forward-looking. Like new York in the 1940s. You know? Back when this place was still on the make. And then...everything got rotten, and I lost track of those brave fellows. Why have they come back now?" He gazed above my head, into the mist. "Now that everything is all sunshine and rainbows and digital billboards? What happened? They don't want to tell me." He looked into my eyes. "And you want to become a Shaman too, do you? Tell me, what's the mood of this city now?"
I stared back without blinking. So, he wanted me to tap into the whole city, did he? If Jo's testimony was accurate, trying to read the whole city would be dangerous. But how could I disappoint Nonni?
"I hope you understand", I said, "that if I try to read the emotions of the entire city, I could get swamped."
"Ha!" said Nonni. "You already know a little bit about Shamaning. That's excellent. Now, you should find yourself a tribe to lead, of some kind, and get a few musical instruments, and maybe some mush -- "
"Wait, just like that? Don't I have to go to Shaman College and pass a bar exam or something?"
"Oh no," said Jo, "That's what Wizards do after apprenticeship."
"So what's my training?"
"Sink or Swim!" said Nonni. "Do or die! You get it or you don't!"
"Oh, lovely." I sighed. That sounded like the New York I knew.
"You're going places!" said Nonni. "I'm proud of you, kid, never forget that! Also stay out of Harlem." With that, he vanished back into the mist.
Jo and I stood on the shore at Battery Park, looking out at what would have been Staten Island, if it were visible.
"Pat..." said Jo. "What's going to happen to you?"
"Happen? I'm going to become a Shaman. I'm going to communicate with the spirits of the city and pray to her soul for guidance. That's what I plan to do."
"But all the other Shamans..."
"Were overwhelmed. They let it happen. They though they were supposed to go with the flow. Ha!" I stopped, picked up a rock, and threw it as far as i could over the water. "This is AMERICA! We don't go with the flow! We DIRECT it! We stop it with dams! We fill it in and pave it over and...ruin it. Yeah, I see why the Shamans would want to avoid tapping into that spirit. But Dammit, I have a say in my own life, and that's more than those other clowns ever said!"
"Woah, now," said Jo, "What happened to respecting your elders?"
"They didn't speak to my Nonni for years, DURING the worst years of this city. They failed him and then came back when Giuliani painted over the broken windows with smiles and rainbows. They lost my respect." I sat down in the wet grass.
Jo sat down with me. "But your parents and grandparents, you still respect them?"
"They treat me right. Mostly. As much as i can expect growing up in a too-small apartment with little money to spare, anyway."
"What about the mundane rulers of the city?"
"Let me put it this way: Big Chief went berserk when he heard that Mayor Bloomberg was going to maintain the Broken Windows policy."
"Oh yeah...I figured you'd be concerned about that too."
I picked at a patch of weeds. "What, because I'm a Black kid?"
"Well what? Spit it out."
"I just figured it was a personal subject for you. You know? Like, the police are targeting your people -- "
"That's the second phrase you've recycled from clueless '60s white people today."
"What can I say?" Jo stared out over the water. "I inherited their wealth and status. It stands to reason I'd inherit some of their good-natured fumbling as well."
"Look, I'm also Italian. I'm adrift between two worlds. I don't have a My People, i have a My Family. And I have you."
Jo turned to me. "Will I have you, though? Will you become like the city, and smolder with resentment and fear? Will I lose the wild and free Pat that I know, as you begin to burn out? What will happen to us?"
"What do you WANT to happen to us?"
"I..." Jo frowned. "Is it that easy? I just tell you what I want our relationship to be and you wave your hands and it happens?"
"No, silly." I grinned. "Relationships take work, and mutual interest in something. Tell me, what do you want to happen between us?"
"I want us to remain best friends," said Jo. "I want you to tell me what you are learning about Shamaning, and I will tell you what I have learned of Wizardry, and we shall pool our knowledge and search for secrets and treasure and we shall be a greater duo than ever before. THAT is what I want. I want to be sure that the word "Shaman" is not another cause of broken relationships. I want to know that this fate is possible to defy. Tell me, what do You want?"
"Well...I'm worried that Wizard College will take you away from me. All I want is for you to find one in the city so that we can get together after class. But, that's a few years ahead. For now? I would love to remain best friends. I want us to defy fate together."
"Hmmm..." said Jo. "That sounds like America to me."