Autumn in New York
When my long-time Swedish friend suggested New York between US conferences two months ago, who knew we’d planned to be here in Manhattan at precisely the time God and Mother Nature designed Frankenstorm?
Arriving late on Friday, we managed to race the weather to engage these attractions:
1. getting to the hotel!
2. finding a late restaurant for a swank little dinner
3. enduring the most violent round of reverse peristalsis and frequent forceful intestinal evacuation of my entire life (How’s that for a description of my first-ever bout with food poisoning?) The marble floor in the bath was chilly, hard, a counter to my sweaty shakes, but coupled with a pillow I’d dragged from the bed, a safer place for everyone than twenty feet away in the comfort of bed.
I was up and weakly at the day’s adventures by 2 pm.
4. We walked all over Times Square and surrounds,
5. ate at Carnegie Deli, where Harry and Sally met for the faking of her orgasm. I don’t know what she had but Annika and I shared a sandwich full of 3/4 pound of dry turkey next to two young Mexican men seated at the same table with us. And cheesecake. We ate the cheesecake. The German family to our left had taught their children never to speak to strangers. Cute kids, but silent children are zero fun.
6. We bought half-price tickets to see the Broadway production of the Mystery of Edwin Drood and cast our votes to choose the villain. My children would have been delighted and embarrassed to see me laugh as hard as I ever do, stomping my feet on the floor (instead of rolling on it,) abs hurting (especially after my workout the night before) my laugh disappearing into my nose, into spasms and wheezing.
7. We walked back to the hotel. It was pretty for a while, but then 38th all the way to Park didn’t feel as good in the dark as it had in the light. We dicided against doing that again without saying a word to one another.
9. Next day, I hailed a cab. I paid for a cab with my credit card. I rode in a cab swerving between cars and zooming through yellow lights. Our cab driver swore at another driver in Yiddish!
No he didn’t. I’m just kidding.
10. At ground zero I suddenly cried, moving through the winding line of the security check, the weight of our pilgrimage palpable and real. We cried more in the mist of the monument. Took pictures we could not smile for, traced with our fingers “Todd Beamer,” So and So “and her unborn child,” various public servants on the lower rung of names across the monument. Every name should be goldened by the touch and thought of so many visitors.
11. We took the subway back to our hotel. Since they were shutting it down, it was my only chance to ride it this trip. I quoted aloud, “You’re not a real New Yorker until you’ve cried on the subway…without giving a damn what anyone thinks.” Annika didn’t know I was quoting anything.
12. We arrived in Grand Central Station.
13. We ate gyros and falafel from a smarmy handsome street vendor I forgot to tip because of the intensity of his black-brown eyes. He asked if we wanted it “to go” and I wondered, what else is there? I intended to walk and eat on the street beside Pershing Square. I was sorry I’d inadvertently made him wrap the end and bag it as I walked away, undoing his work.
14. Craving some amusement after moving hotels further north, we bought Comedy tickets from the least-convincing street hawker of our trip, talking him down from $40 to $15 for two. We took an elevator up an abandoned building and realized on the way up there was a possibility we were not headed into a comedy club.
The funniest thing all night was a girl in the audience saying “nothing else was open.”
15. We ate at Guy’s American Kitchen (Guy Fietti of the Food Network) where Matt offered us a limited menu, had sent workers home so they could be safe before the storm, ended up short-staffed. They were planning to close at three, but people kept coming, needing to be fed. He’d been manning the lower bar and dining room without assistance from about noon.
I ate wings, drank beer, watched the Giants win on three big screens behind the bar, forgot the impending storm, forgot where I was and thanked Matt profusely, tipping him almost 60%.
I told him to read Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” a title he neatly wrote on a coaster and put into his pocket. He said he likes The Fountainhead. We talked about Ayn Rand, trying together to remember the title of that thin little book I’ve taught more than once before posing in a photo his coworker snapped. It didn’t turn out, but I see Matt’s hand is comfortably laced through my hair, pinching a bit of it between his index finger and thumb. Makes me remember the ease of my arm across his back. Anthem! we recalled.
16. Monday, for hours and up to minutes before the predicted landfall of Sandy, we roamed the streets, took pictures, searched for open establishments who might feed us, take our money, add to our checklist of experiences. We went out in the rain. Bought a flimsy umbrella on the sidewalk. We congregated on the hotel steps. We eavesdropped. We shared bits of story with people who answered our gaze.
17. Angelo’s, on 57th, down and across from Carnegie Hall, fed us thin-crusted gourmet caprese pizza. We ate hungrily. I slurped Shiraz. Annika met other Swedes at the table next to us.
A police officer showed up at the door, said something briefly and left. The owner moved his body in front of the door, squared an extra chair across the rest of the entrance. We were trapped by the impending crane disaster, unable to exit until further notice.
I hate feeling trapped.
I get claustrophobic.
I asked friends and family for prayer, kidding about having “wine here but no chocolate.”
Within thirty minutes, police released us in small groups, hastening us away from the crane. I lingered outside the hotel four blocks away, breathing New York air, inhaling second-hand smoke, watching city workers clean up a gas leak, watching the skies darken, the wind pick-up.
Notice I stopped counting.
We watched the crane out our window and on television, started a movie that clipped off when the cable failed, talked about Brad Pitt and movie actors we actually admire, pulled the shades tight, and slept soundly until eleven today.
Today, Tuesday, the day after, Times Square, 5th Avenue, and the streets to Central Park are happily crowded with survivors. Central Park was still closed; we could look but could not touch. It’s hard to explain the joy among strangers, at once common and politely distant, not quite the same unguarded intimacy after the storm as it was before, but a certain comraderie lightened by joy instead of weighted with dread and uncertainty.
A flash-choir congregated on the bleachers at Times Square singing cheesey tunes like “Singin in the Rain” and “The Sun’ll come Out Tomorrow” and “My Favorite Things” to raise money for the Red Cross. I joined my off-Broadway voice, took pictures, donated money.
I wanted to hear Lang Lang and Friends introduced by Alec Baldwin at Carnegie. To eat at Per Se. To see Lady Liberty in the Harbor. I haven’t seen a lick of the Brooklyn Bridge. The MOMA gave me just a glimpse of her promise. The Met went unsung.
Annika’s second conference, scheduled two days from now in the financial district –Evacuation Zone A– is now cancelled. What a surprise. Delta sent me a reminder to confirm tomorrow’s flight home even though we aren’t sure the airlines are, in fact, running. And if they are not, you bet I intend to suck all the marrow from another day or two here. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is reopening for certain. But if Delta flies tomorrow, I am making it out alive.