Reporting from New York — Joe and Sabrina: If you're out there, someone wants you to break up so she can date Joe.
And David: Please talk to your mother.
The holidays may be the time to spread good cheer, but the hopes posted on a wall in Times Square show that there's plenty more to wish for in 2011 and that people aren't ashamed to publicize their desires, be they world peace, a cure for cancer or someone else's boyfriend.
The Wishing Wall, tucked inside a visitor center in the heart of Times Square, has proved such a hit that on a recent Sunday, Carolyn Driscoll scrambled to keep pace with people scrawling their wishes on colorful slips of paper and watching her pin them to the board.
In between finding spots for each wish, Driscoll answered curious visitors' questions about the roughly 8-by-10-foot wall, whose contents will be tossed into the sky over Times Square at midnight on New Year's Eve to flutter onto the crowd below.
"Does it cost anything?" one woman asked as she looked at the pens and bowl of different colored papers.
"Oh no. This is all very feel-good," Driscoll replied cheerfully.
"Nothing's free in this world," the woman replied dryly.
Maybe that explains the many "win the lottery" wishes on the wall, which reads like a collage of the latest headlines, various soap opera plots, someone's diary and a marriage counselor's notes. "Soldiers all come home." "I wish for a job." "No more bedbugs!" "That my mother recovers from cancer." " Justin Bieber tickets." "For my husband to get clean."
"It's sort of all of humanity on this little board," said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, which oversees the famous confluence of busy avenues in central Manhattan. The wall is a tiny piece of Times Square's massive and years-long transformation from a center of seediness to a neon mecca of shopping, entertainment and business venues.
"But it's turned out to be the thing that really resonates," Tompkins said.
With wishes flooding in, the wall has to be cleared at least twice a day to make way for new slips of paper. That falls to people like Driscoll, a publicity worker with the alliance, who also quickly scans each wish she is handed before posting it for the world to see. The man who scrawled his sexual desires on a paper was turned away. Most of the wishes, though, pass muster and range from short and impersonal — "Snow!" — to detailed and ambitious.
Megan Hogge, a high school swimmer from Gloucester, Va., wished to break the record in the 100-meter freestyle. Her friends, sisters Morganne, 16, and Helen Roundy, 20, wished to get in better shape, though both already looked every bit the cross-country runners they are. "But I wished for a six-pack," said Morganne, who wrote "abs" in parenthesis to be clear that she seeks muscles, not beer.
Asked if they thought their wishes might come true, Helen said they had a better chance now. "Because writing it down makes you think about it more," she explained as the strains of " New York, New York" blasted through the crowded center.
"I don't even know what to wish for. Pretty sad, eh?" Stacy Borland, a teacher from Toronto said before jotting down a heartfelt wish for all children to be loved and educated, along with an addendum: "P.S. A new Coach purse."
Driscoll has a remarkable memory for the characters behind the wishes. The woman who wished for an end to bedbugs shuffled into the center on Dec. 17, her belongings gathered in a collection of bags, and talked politics for several minutes before delivering her apolitical wish. Written in neat capital letters, it landed at the center of the wall.
There was also the young man who arrived with an entourage of friends, whom he urged to go ahead of him. After they had delivered their wishes and moved on, he quickly scribbled his own: to drum up the nerve to come out as gay to his friends. Driscoll recalled a middle-aged man who scribbled intently on his piece of paper: "I wish my son will enter rehab because he won't last another month."
The woman who urged David to "talk to your mother" is David's aunt. The aunt planned to post a photograph of her wish on her Facebook page in hopes David would see it and be moved to contact his mother.
Tompkins attributes the wall's popularity to the power of rituals: in this case, the ushering in of a new year in the so-called crossroads of the world. Having your New Year's wish shouted out to the world simultaneously adds to the sense that your dream is being heard, Tompkins said.
"People take some kind of comfort in these things that always happen, no matter what," he said. "And this is one of the few rituals which isn't tied into anything controversial," he added.
Try telling that to Sabrina.