Washington Square Park on an April day.
Washington Square Park on an April day.
Bryant Park sunny lunch.
I liked this gentleman at the cafe. He was by himself with a carafe of wine. Was he waiting for his wife? Perhaps meeting someone from an online dating site? Was he/she late? Of course, he could have just been in town for business, relaxing after a big meeting.
I met a friend for lunch the other day. Well not really a friend, I had only met her once before. So when I arrived at the restaurant I wasn’t sure if she was the one at a table in the far corner. Reading the menu, her face was down. The hostess smiled at me as I perused the place. Just then the woman at the table in the corner looked up and waved. It was her. I smiled and waved as if, of course I recognized her and had just that minute walked in, arranging my scarf from the outside breeze.
We had met the week before at an art gallery; she and her husband were looking at a 19th century landscape and the husband started speaking about the provenance and how much it fetched at auction last year. He owned one by this artist but wasn’t sure of it’s authenticity, tho nonetheless, he liked his painting. We continued talking about the show and the art scene in New York in general They used to own a gallery and had much of their inventory hanging on the walls of their apartment, they said. Come over for drinks, they said.
I love checking out [judging] people’s apartments so I said I’d love to. The next week on an unusually warm evening, I headed uptown to their apartment, a large and unassuming white brick high-rise. I arrived a tad after 6:30 (arriving on time, apparently, is something only old people do.) The doorman announced my arrival and sent me up to the apartment in the elevator. The door opened and they welcomed me into their small living space/art gallery, every wall covered with beautifully framed masterpieces. We hugged (obligatory these days.) The apartment was illuminated by a row of windows with early evening views of the city. I had to just stand there and take it all in. Save for the hundreds of thousands of dollars of art on the walls and a New York skyline view, it was quite modest. Aside from the unseen bedroom and bath, the place could be taken in with one glance. Paintings were everywhere, displayed in rows, one piece on top of another, all with little gold plaques indicating title and artist. We talked a bit and the husband poured us all a glass of Italian wine (the vineyard which they had visited, of course), and we noshed on cheeses and crackers and other interesting snacks from beautifully arranged plates. The man was excited for me to savor each piece in their collection, as we visited each one and he revealed the cost and current price and how they were acquired. We all picked our favorites. It was a lovely New York evening and she and I agreed to meet for lunch soon.
The next week at lunch, splitting a turkey club sandwich, she and I talked as if we’d been friends forever. She and her husband had a solid marriage and enjoyed each other. I envied her status: upper east side apartment, lots of money, traveling all over to buy and sell art, investing in beautiful objects, collecting fine wines. How happy and satisfied she must be, I thought. She has it all. Over the next hour, tho, I learned her life was far more complicated, far less perfect. It really threw me and I realized I totally (mis)judged her life by her fabulous possessions. She had tears in her eyes and thanked me for being there and listening. I told her I’d be here if she needed to talk.
I think we all mistakenly think everyone is more successful, has more, makes more. We walk among the crowds of people, good looking, well dressed, smiling, ..they must be happy, right? For many, their reality is dark, and sadly, only they live in this darkness. It’s such a harsh world, a lot of hate out there lately. Time to be kind, ask people how they’re feeling and listen fully. That cranky bodega guy may have a lot on his mind, and people rush in and out of his shop without a word. A few kind words and a smile can’t really change lives but it’s a start.
A late summer day in Central Park, New York City.
Roberto’s Auto Repair on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn seemed so happy. Yellow! And the pink building behind it. I think this scene is great.
The noise machine plays static, what they call “Rain” tho it sounds more like a dripping faucet. I used it last night but I don’t really need it much anymore. It’s quiet here, very quiet until the early morning when the neighborhood starts to wake and an occasional car zooms past. Three years ago, I lived in an apartment that had no windows in the bedroom. There was a giant sliding barn door closing it off from the light of the oversized windows in the next room. I’d never seen a bedroom with no windows. But as I got used to the total darkness I really liked it. It was the silence that was foreign to me. The loft was on a cul de sac and even though it was completely urban there were no sounds. It was so quiet I needed a noise machine just to cut through that strange silence. From that silent haven I moved to a lovely neighborhood in Brooklyn, where my bedroom windows were just a short distance from honking and horn blasting and semi downshifting on the expressway. Despite the noise, I liked my little apartment, except for the occasional giant water bug that would come from nowhere and suddenly be at my feet.
I’m in a new place now, with no bugs. The neighborhood is quieter, there is a different kind of of culture. Things are cheaper, I don’t spend $4.00 on an avocado. There are some hipsters here, and people who look like me, but mostly the neighborhood has held onto its identity and it is still eastern European. There are bakeries who’s names have lots of consonants, markets with wooden fruit bins outside, and, like many New York neighborhoods, a non-homogeneous population. I like it. I am a minority here, a native English speaker. I live on a lovely block of 3-story brick Renaissance Revival row houses with bay windows. It is a designated historic district so I guess no one can build some crazy structure on the outside of their home or brick up the windows or anything. They all look pretty similar and sometimes walking back from the train, I can’t tell which one is mine right away.
Across the back patio there is a 6-story apartment building about 50 yards beyond, mushroom color painted over the brick. The fire escapes have some peeling paint and little trails of rust stains on the bricks make it look a little seedy. At night some of the windows have a warm, yellow glow. There are no window coverings at this time of the evening, twilight. That will come later. But for now we all enjoy a furtive glimpse of one another, yet there is no voyeurism. We feel connected, safe in our own space yet present to the daily rituals of our neighbors. There is the woman and her husband on the floor above mine, every night cooking dinner and having animated conversation. Her blonde hair reminds me of one of those cigarette ads in the old Life magazines. I imagine she is wearing pedal pushers. Her waist is tiny and she always wears a little belt. She frequently looks out the window at me, with a cocktail in her hand. I’m having a cocktail too, and glance up briefly. Above their apartment, there is harsh light from an old, round florescent ceiling fixture and the windows have sheer polka dot curtains. A kitty lives here and likes to sit on the sill in the sunshine. In the early evenings, the building has the look of an Edward Hopper painting. His dark underpainting and flat colors illuminate the stark beauty and highlight urban loneliness. Someone once said about Hopper’s work that ‘even a buzzing city doesn’t remedy isolation, but heightens it.’
We moved to this house only a month ago. There will soon be a grandchild here. I’m curious about the sex, but the parents don’t seem concerned. So we will just have to wait. Never dreaming of being a grandmother, I’ve arrived at this place with unexpected delight. I’ve already checked out the toddler activities at the library 2 blocks away. There will be challenges for the parents, raising a child in New York. Carrying a stroller down the subway stairs, for one thing. E.B. White wrote in his book Here is New York, “the city is uncomfortable and inconvenient; but New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience – if they did they would live elsewhere.” A New York childhood –less grass, the constant chaos of traffic. but growing up in one of the most diverse cities on earth, she will learn to be inclusive and tenacious. She will learn to live closely with others who come from very different backgrounds. I’m looking forward to all the good things. And I won’t wake when the baby cries in the middle of the night. I will be two floors away with my noise machine.
I love the views from my apartment, especially the morning shadows. This kitty loves to sit in the window.
I wasn’t sure if this guy was homeless, but he had a lot of clothes and other items inside some of his plastic paint buckets. Being homeless didn’t stop him from showing up every day, carrying all his stuff, and making music.
Another cozy, romantic New York bar bites the dust.
I came across these two well-dressed gentlemen several times during an evening of gallery hopping called “Just off Madison” (billed as an Open House of American Art at Private Art Dealers) on the Upper East Side.
Couldn’t resist this cute place. Just as I snapped the pic, this guy walked by. He was perfect for this illustration.
Washington Square Park usually has some kind of music. These guys set up on the path one summer day and played a long set.
I love New York!
Especially the subways. The train stations are so varied, some scary and filthy, others bright and white with beautiful mosaic work. And that distinct New York City station smell; the dormant, putrid concoction, intensified by excessive and oppressive heat. What is it? Piss, vomit, mold, rotting vermin corpses? But each trip on the train promises new people, new adventures, singers, panhandlers; who knows what awaits me today! Nothing spectacular, just humanity, a connection in a way – superficial, of course, but so satisfying. The rumble of the incoming train makes a plump rat scurry to safety amid the plastic bottles and wrappers. I get on the train, a small part of this amazing crush of humanity. I settle in for my ride….. We’re still here…why aren’t we moving?
Geez I hate this city.
The trains can be so challenging. My F train inexplicably turned into a G train. F’ers get off and wait for the next train. When it arrives, we hurry in, cramming into each nook and cranny of the crowded train. We wait for the doors to close. It’s too long a wait…the doors are still open. I know that’s a bad sign. The conductor soon announces this train is suddenly going Express for reasons not shared with us. My stop will be skipped. We empty out, like a clown car, a hundred people piling out of the train. But these New Yorkers are not grumbling. It’s just the way it is. I’m from Minneapolis so I am grumbling (inwardly so no one suspects I’m not from here) and I decide to head outside to do who knows what. I just know I’m frustrated!! Now it’s raining lightly, I’ve been at this station for 15 minutes. I stand outside in the rain. The day is dark, even though it’s late morning, and I’m annoyed. I’m talking to myself, gesturing and muttering. I will no longer judge those scary looking people in Union Square, mumbling and muttering aloud. They may be F train riders. I soon realize that I have no options. I go back down (and pay another fare) and wait for another train.
The F train arrives at last. It’s packed, but all is well..my ride into The City is quick, quiet and uneventful, normal. I arrive on 23rd and Sixth Avenue and it’s now raining steadily and seems even darker. Headlights are on, umbrellas up, heads down, braced against the blustery wind. It violently flips umbrellas inside out. (At least those poor, unfortunate souls with cheap, CVS umbrellas. Don’t ask me how I know this. ) I duck into a store, away from the wind, trying to salvage my umbrella.
My errands completed, I walk to the train to head back to Brooklyn. This trip would have taken 45 minutes in Minneapolis, back home in less than an hour, parking in my building’s climate-controlled garage. Ahh, Minneapolis – it’s so easy. They should use that as the state motto.
One block to go, swapping my heavy bag from one shoulder to the other while trying to steady my umbrella, the rain is slowing to a spittle. The wind that once affronted now shoos the low hanging clouds quickly away. Brilliant sunlight emerges, blue sky, the rain refreshed the city. Umbrellas come down. Cabs begin to honk, headlights go off, we are all alive again, bustling here and there. It’s dazzling! And that smell… that evocative, fresh, earthy rain on the pavement.
What a beautiful day. What a beautiful city!
Working as a background extra in New York City is really glamorous.
Last week, for example, I had to get to midtown at 5 am to catch a charter bus to Long Island. It’s amazing how much activity is around at that hour of the morning. We will be shooting some scenes for a tv series.
50 minutes later we are in a quiet, residential area with very large lawns and brick fences. We check in to the holding tent, get our wardrobe, report to hair and makeup, and then hang around in this big, hot tent for the next 4 hours. (Bonus: tons of free food and drink!!) After awhile some of us head to set, which today is the front lawn of a mansion. The house sits back from the water and a huge lawn leads down to the bay. A few sailboats drift slowly by. It’s very picturesque, tho we are not allowed to take any photos. The morning is beautiful but already very hot. In the 80s and it’s only 10:00. A large white wedding tent is set up on the lawn. There are white tables with white tablecloths and ‘champagne’ flowing from little fountains. The Production Assistant eventually assigns our starting point, a makeup artist rushes to refresh hair, droopy in the 80 degree heat. The show’s stars are cooled with battery fans and protected by umbrellas so nary a sweat mark will be seen. We are all in our places, dressed for another era, a previous century where they wore powder blue polyester.
“Background! First positions,” the P.A. calls. My ‘husband’ and I stroll slowly, arm in arm, among the partygoers, silently greeting our guests. We walk to the other side of the tent, and head back to the beginning. “Cut! Ok..regroup at first position.” We stroll, smiling, nodding, along our same path. “Cut! Regroup at first position.” We stroll, we smile, we wave, we raise our glasses. “Cut!”….
I could go on, but you get the picture.
I’m wearing a polyester pantsuit and shoes with teeny heels that sink in the grass. I step and sink. I have to pick grass and dirt off the little heels. We are all very, very hot. The temperature is now in the 90s and we are wearing clothes that stick to our skin. But we’re all happy to be here.
Many hours of strolling and smiling later, of hanging out and eating huge amounts of carbs, the light is quickly fading and we hear those three little words, “That’s a wrap!” We head back to holding, our tent away from home. We’ve had a 10 hour day. We are all happy with the day, chatty and full of energy. But mostly, we are so excited to put away [burn on a giant pyre] the polyester suits we’ve lived in for the past two days.
We wait in line to check out, get forms signed for our lavish paycheck, and return our clothes to Wardrobe. Street clothes on, our space cleaned up, (grab some last-minute snacks), we eventually get on the bus for a quiet evening ride back to the city. The chatter and gaiety of today behind us, we retreat back into the 21st century, our phones, into our own spaces. It’s dark outside and peaceful and quiet in the bus. Perhaps many of us will see each other again – maybe in some other era, some other century.
So what makes this worthwhile? The enormous minimum wage ‘background talent’ get for a 10+ hour day? Maybe it’s the remarkable allure of being a tiny part of ‘show business.’ I think what makes it worthwhile is what we all give to it. We show up – sometimes at 5 am – knowing we may be thoroughly bored for hours, the day might be long and tedious at times, but we will also meet interesting people and enjoy a day filled with fun, food and surprises. Most of all, we all have a great time. I gotta go now, I have to get up at 4 am to do it all over again.