You’ll Never Walk Alone (ok, maybe sometimes..)

The year my dad moved out, my mom gave me one pair of wool pants for Christmas. Of course, being a kid, I was utterly disappointed, but I figured we didn’t have much money. I didn’t want to be ungrateful. We lived in a small, old house on a block with other old houses.  There were only a couple other kids who lived in the neighborhood and since I was too shy to join their games, I played by myself. I had my own bedroom and the bathroom was in the basement, which always seemed very chilly. It had a little square shower. I found it too creepy though, because I saw centipedes there once.  

Being an only child was unusual in the small catholic school I had to attend. I was pretty sure the nuns hated me because I came from a single parent home. Divorce was a sin and my mother the sinner. Thus, I was also.  I admired kids who had two parents. Mary lived on the other side of the tracks, where the professors at the university rented big, beautiful homes. She was one of 7 children and her dad was a successful owner of a foundry. He seemed to be home a lot, reading his paper and actually laughing and conversing with his kids. There were cookies and milk in the kitchen after school and her mom wore one of those crispy aprons with bright red apple designs on it. She was like June Cleever.  I loved going over after school, even though it meant a couple mile walk back home.  My mom wasn’t waiting with cookies when I got home. She left for work at 6 in the morning and got back around 4 and was very tired.  I was alone most of the time. I would pretend I had lots of brothers. We all watched tv and talked and laughed.

Some people avoid being alone, but I’m used to my own company.  I play well with others but I’ve convinced myself that I like being alone just fine, thanks. The art of aloneness is well played here in New York and is normal. Some days, though, I’m convinced everyone in the city is paired up. I saw two rats meandering down the F train rails together yesterday…even the rats here have significant others.  A great irony about living in New York is feeling so distant when there are six million people all around you, like a Hopper painting where lonely, isolated souls seem to search for a sense of connection. Earlier this summer I was walking through Washington Square Park, an urban oasis with street musicians, jugglers, mimes, people spray painted to look like statues.  A saxaphone player and a guy with a small set of drums set up on the edge of a wide sidewalk and started playing. Heads turned. People stopped. Some sat on one of the many benches that line the walk, some talked with each other, with strangers. For a brief time, none of us was alone, we had a community and a connection. After awhile, people wandered off for some other places, new people drawn to the music became a part of the little tribe.

New York has many monikers: Big Apple, The City That Never Sleeps, The City So Nice They Named It Twice. It’s also been called The Lonely City. It can be. But it can also challenge you to look for and accept the many possibilities for connecting with strangers. I’ve been doing this alone thing for a long time.  I’ve discovered this is the perfect city for it.

 

A Halal Christmas

 

Christmas in New York. My first one, and I would be alone, family would be in other parts of the country. But it’s New York – no one is ever alone. In preparation for the big day, I checked out places guaranteed to host a swarm of tourists and fellow New Yorkers where I would pretend to be surrounded by lots of friends. I even prepared myself for a real New York Christmas: Chinese dinner and a movie.

Then I got the call from Minneapolis. My friend, Bill. So nice to hear from him. We hadn’t talked in months. So what are you doing on Christmas? I asked him, knowing he’d be with his family, or a girlfriend. Well, Midge…he paused, I was thinking of coming to New York and spending it with you, if that’s alright. Alright?! Woo-hoo, of course it’s alright, I assured him. What a gift! My Christmas ‘present’ arrived on a Sun Country flight the next day (delayed by fog and diverted to Connecticut.)

I had planned for an alone day, with lots of pointless activities to keep me busy the whole day and into evening, assuring myself that I’d be having tons of fun with hundreds of anonymous strangers. But now I could plan a very special weekend and see for myself what makes Christmas in New York so exceptional.

It was a warm but slightly drizzly evening as we hopped the F train. We went temporarily insane and got off on 50th at Rockefeller Center to ‘see’ the Christmas tree (gridlock on a massive scale but with the added pleasure of umbrellas in your face). I admit I did get my New York Attitude on, advising the out-of-towners on ‘Umbrella Etiquette!’ Fifth Avenue store windows were on the list of All That Is Christmas In New York and they didn’t disappoint. Saks Winter Palace was cold and icy and beautifully designed. Henri Bendel, Harry Winston, all were spectacularly appointed.

We headed up Fifth Avenue to the Plaza Hotel; the Palm Court for Manhattans in Manhattan, of course. Low key and yet slightly magical, the Plaza was decked out in its Christmas finest. Palm trees and Christmas lights. We lingered there for quite awhile and realized we best find someplace for dinner. And since it ’s New York everything would be open. But I was amazed to find many restaurants closed. We headed to a place on Third Avenue that was supposed to be totally overdone and decked out for Christmas. The website said, “Open Today” and in red letters, ‘Christmas May Affect These Hours.’ So does that mean they’re open? you ask? No, it means they’re closed. Trust me on this and remember it for next year when you Google map, “Restaurants Open on Christmas Day.”

Oh well, it was a beautiful evening for walking anyway, and we found a cool Irish bar with sawdust on the floor (I didn’t know they still did that) but the kitchen was closed at 10:00. So we meandered, finding ourselves down by the Flatiron. A vendor on the corner was still selling his fare and the delicious, spicy smells of chicken and lamb drifted our way. We looked at each other, smiling with the same thought. This might be it, he laughed..let’s have a New York Halal Christmas!

Thank you, Bill. I won’t forget it. Let’s have many more.

skaters

No Gifts, Please

I know I’ve said it before but dang, New Yorkers wait in lots of lines. If you move to New York with an attitude that your time is precious, you can give that up. Because it takes an hour just to get where you’re going where you will wait in a line for 20 minutes. But I’ve gotten used to it.  Yes, I embrace it.  Was shopping on 6th Avenue trying to find a gift for a friend who has everything. He’s lived a lot of years and he has a lot of money so what can you get someone like that? I looked online and there was a website suggesting a “Fighter Pilot for a Day certificate” for only $999.  Or a submarine camcorder that lets him check out the underside of a boat. That’s $6,300. I like the guy but that’s above my budget. Frankly, I don’t think I even made that much this year.

Luckily the family is having a no-gift Christmas. Which means you buy gifts anyway because, of course, people got them for you. I don’t know why families have a ‘no gifts!’ decree when nobody actually sticks to the rules.

Going to spend Christmas eve doing something different. Usually I’m with the family back home, but everyone is off to other cities this year and I’ve moved to New York, so I may venture into the City to see all the holiday decorations. Then maybe I’ll go with a friend to a bar in Brooklyn for a Christmas eve music celebration with all the other people who don’t have anyplace to go. I’m actually looking forward to it. This city doesn’t close down like some cities on Christmas eve. And there’s always the traditional ‘Jewish Christmas’ celebration: Chinese food and a movie.