January 21, 2018

NYC Diary: Summer in the City

I spent a good deal of the summer up in NYC; two weeks in July, almost three in August leaving after Labor Day…“New York is a great place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.” That saying was around before I was a kid but I’ve never understood it. I’ve always believed (and argued vehemently) that the exact opposite is true. When you live in NY you instinctually understand how to survive NY: how to navigate a battalion of pedestrians marching at you, how to calculate whether to take a cab, a bus or a subway to your destination, how to spot scammers and bullies before they spot you. You also acquire an internal database how to enjoy the city: which plays must be seen in previews, the cheapest prices and sales on clothes, electronics and ethnic food, the least crowded times to view a museum, the freebies available in summer months, the spots in Central Park that are great on a Sunday afternoon. When you’re a New Yorker you become PART of the city: its pace becomes your pace, its noise level becomes yours, its structured chaos is the framework of your life and most of the time you don’t even notice how dirty it is (well, I said MOST of the time!). I am a part-time New Yorker now and I’m losing some of that; I see the sweaty crowd advancing against me– typing on blackberries, talking on phones, ignoring everything in their path and I react like I’m seeing the shuffling mob on THE WALKING DEAD. I scan back and forth, back and forth on a street corner anxious about cabdrivers who drive like they’ve never left Karachi. And now that I’m a visitor I realize even more: New York is a better place to live than to visit…There is a new procedure at some bus stops (but not all). You have to use your Metrocard to buy a slip of paper BEFORE you get on the bus and then show the driver a receipt. The bus will not accept your Metrocard. There are no signs telling you this is necessary but there are blue kiosks selling receipts at the bus stop. I was thrown off the bus along with a dozen other tourists. It’s supposed to speed things up but it took minutes to explain to us why we couldn’t ride the bus even though we had Metrocards!… ’NYC Restaurant Week’ expanded to ‘Restaurant Month’ and then ‘Restaurant Summer’ (beginning mid-July and extending until Labor Day!). I had some excellent meals (Fishtail by David Burke, Toaloache in the Theater District) but with a glass of wine and a tip that $35 bargain is never less than $60. Some bargain!…I passed Steve Kroft of ‘60 Minutes’ dining al fresco at Café Boulud by Lincoln Center and our eyes met. He looked at me as if he knew who I was and appeared about to speak to me but I kept walking. Was I imagining it?…Why do tourists take pictures of a) window displays and b) themselves standing in front of store logos like Prada, Gucci and Hollister? Don’t they have stores where they live?…New York Magazine had an ink black cover asking: ‘IS AMERICA DEAD?’ (reminiscent of that famous TIME cover about G-d.) That brightens your day (well, at least “GM IS ALIVE!”)… I was reading the Daily News on a subway platform and an article made me laugh out loud. Two older women behind me asked what in the news could be so funny. I told them a new poll revealed that New Yorkers were more inclined to vote for a Muslim than a ‘Born Again’ Christian. The genial women turned frosty: ‘Well I don’t think that’s funny. I’m a born again Christian!” Oops! ….In Central Park there’s a beautiful line of elms sheltering a lane that leads uptown to the bandshell. Its one of my favorite spots and is called Literary Walk because its studded with statues of authors. Shakespeare is there, two Scottish writers and someone named Fitz-Greene Hallick?!?.


Where are Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Faulkner, Williams, O’Neal, Miller? Wouldn’t it be great to make a Literary Walk a celebration of great American authors? And use it as an environment to inspire kids to read? You could present readings from passages by these authors in the temperate months and perform scenes from our great plays. And you could present the space as a favored place under the trees for readers to spend time with books (and okay, E-readers too!) …Does anyone know if New Yorkers are the only ones who lift up the newspapers and take one from the middle when buying a paper? Do people in other places do this too?….I saw a beautiful Monarch butterfly flitting above the street on Lex and 59th and asked: “Where the hell did you come from?!?!”….I went to The Highline for the first time.


Its an elevated walkway in Chelsea with wildflowers, weeds and a few modern art installations. It was attractive and interesting for a short while and it certainly is preferable to the rusted elevated roadway it was once–but I just don’t see the big deal. As they say ‘Meh’ (Actually does anyone EVER say that or only write it on a computer?) …Overheard on THE HIGHLINE: Young woman in tight shorts: “It’s so incredible. Like I’m learning so much about my relationships now. And I feel like I’m contributing which I never did when I was a bartender!”….The Empire Diner is still open. How many nights did I end up there after clubbing, eating a chili omelet and playing the rickety piano?…I saw some wonderful art exhibitions: 1. Larger than life Richard Avedon portraits of the Chicago 7, the skinny tied and uniformed men of the Vietnam Era Defense Department, Andy Warhol and his naked ‘Factory’ crew 2. An art exhibition inspired by the Marx Brothers with new works relating to them, memorabilia (including Harpo’s wig) and some paintings by Harpo Marx which were better than alright. One of the commentary cards described the Marx Brothers as ‘occupying a form that needs disruption and then destroying it from the inside.’ I can identify with that… 3. Most of all I was fascinated by the Rineke Dijkstra exhibit at the Gugganheim which included a series of pictures of adolescent kids at that moment when they’re as awkward as baby chicks right out of the shell, contorted between childhood and young adulthood. As different parts of the psyche and body grow at different speeds its as if they are wonderous and afraid of what life is doing to them. She photographed them in color in swimwear on the beach highlighting vulnerability, naïve pride, fear and insecurity. Also she shot a month by month series of portraits of a pimply teenager who joined the French Foreign Legion transforming into a hardened soldier. And a video installation of an elementary school class of 12 and 13-year-olds interpreting a Picasso without adult supervision. All quite fascinating and unique…At Columbus Circle in front of the Time/Warner Center a blind man is shouting for help catching the M3 bus. The bus is pulling up and some joker grabs his arm and leads him directly away from the bus. He looks to the crowd smiling at his cleverness and putting a finger across his lips not to warn the blind man what’s happening. I go up, stop it, and try to lead him to the bus stop as the prankster runs off. But we are too late. The bus is pulling away. I ask the blind man if he can take any other bus and he starts screaming at me: ‘No! I want the M3 bus and I want it now. I want what I want when I want it!” No good deed goes unpunished… When you’re tired of NYC you’re tired of life. I know it was said about London but that was centuries ago. I’m not tired of NY. I’m not tired of life. But when one gets older one does get tired more quickly—no matter where you are!…and why are the days so short in Florida?