Tragedy and comedy in The City

Once you have lived in New York and made it your home, no place else is good enough. – John Steinbeck

I made it across Central Park yesterday* (cheering, fist pumps.)  It usually swallows me up and I stumble down some dark path into middle earth. From the west side to the east, all those crazy but beautiful, winding paths – they all look alike. And I emerge a few short blocks from where I went in, somehow not making it from one side to the other. Some people like to get lost. Not me. It makes me anxious. But yesterday, on this quiet summer morning, I made it! Fifteen minutes, drifting mindlessly but with direction, enjoying the quiet beauty, from the west side all the way to 5th Avenue!

*(Full and shameful disclosure: I had a knowledgeable partner, a generous guy, who walked with me but I have no doubt I could have done it by myself.)

I stopped off at a tv shoot on the east side of the park. My friend was one of the many staffers and he invited me to the set.  There were TV stars and delicious looking catering carts, but most of the crew wasn’t actually working all that hard. I guess there’s a lot of hanging around, standing, sitting, mostly waiting. The scenes are a few minutes long, then more standing and waiting, additional make up, lighting changes.  New Yorkers, used to averting movie sets, are largely unimpressed by the hubbub. As a fledgling New Yorker I was a bit excited.  Sitting on a stool two feet away from me, looking at a monitor and taking notes, was the creator of the show. She was wearing black converse all stars and cut-off jeans and a cap, looking like an ordinary person you’d see at Fairway.

Sometimes things happen and lives converge and you can’t believe you were in that place at that time. I headed east to Madison and down to 68th for an iced coffee. I sat on a shiny black bench outside and saw a Facebook post from a friend. It was about suicide and her life in the past year, her sadness and joy, ups and downs and the people who were there for her, including her little boy who misses his daddy. Tears rolled down my cheek and onto my white tank top. Big, huge tears like those giant raindrops in October that are actually more like snow. An attractive man my age asked if it was ok to sit down. He probably thought it best to ask, since I was sobbing. Sure, I nodded. He sat down with his raisin scones. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I was reading something very sad.” He nodded. His eyes were sympathetic. Then he said, “I’ll show you sad!” And he took out his phone and showed me a photo. A sidewalk strewn with clothes, and a body covered with a sheet. He pointed at the phone. “This person jumped from the 44th floor of my building this morning.  I tried to walk in the park, but…I can’t..”

We talked. He was born elsewhere, now an American citizen and a very successful real estate broker. For an hour we sat and talked about death and taxes and Donald Trump and real estate and art. And what would cause a person to jump out a window.

His neighbors from the building came by, going to the cafe. The wife was still feeling distress: she saw the person jump from the window.  She saw him crash onto the roof of an adjoining building and fall to the ground.  The husband shook his head. “So sad,” he agreed. Our talk was somber, trying to make sense of this drama. Their friend, an old guy with curly white hair and a gold necklace, was on the phone making a big real estate deal.

I’d been on a nature walk through the park, to a tv shoot to witness the production of a television comedy, to sharing a bench with strangers on 68th and Madison, discussing the tragedy of a suicide they’d just witnessed. And it was only noon.

Thinking and trying to comprehend the eventful morning, yet feeling the need to get on with my day, I walked to the train. A thin young man in bike shorts was in the street, wheeling his bike by the curb and loudly shouting into his cell. “NO! LEAVE ME ALONE!! DON’T CALL ME ANYMORE!  LEAVE! ME! ALONE!!”

“Just hang up!” someone suggested. Everyone hurrying in different directions, yet all sharing a chuckle.

Just another day in The City.

Hanging on the Upper West Side

It’s been a month since I’ve put pen to paper (so to speak). I have a really good excuse for not writing lately: I’ve been spending a lot of time on the Upper West Side.
It’s clean. People don’t pee on the streets. Cavalier Spaniels do. I noticed it a few mornings ago, downtown in one of my favorite neighborhoods between the east village and the west village, around Lafayette Street, I smelled that New York smell: urine, grease, cheese, rotten food, perspiration, coffee.  The traffic whizzed by, horns honked. It was steamy and hot. I loved it, made me feel alive!
Of course I feel quite alive up on the UWS. But I don’t get that smacked in the face New York feeling. It’s very homey, restful, expansive, pleasant to walk around, especially at night, just not as stimulating as walking down Grand Street in the lower east side but it has its own excitement. Lots of celebrities live on the Upper West Side, more than any other neighborhood in New York City. When it was on the air, there was an 80% chance of coming home to a Law & Order episode being filmed on your block. I’m pretty sure I saw Joel Grey the other day. He walked out of a store right in front of me. He’s very small.
You are probably wondering why this is an excuse…so here goes…it’s too nice up here.
My senses are not assaulted every minute.  Possibly I have run out of things to talk about, sitting at a clean, upscale coffee shop on 84th and Columbus. I need to get back to Union Square and find some material.
I’m not saying it’s dull, just a different kind of feel. The proximity to both parks (and the river) is a real plus. Nice streets like West End, Riverside Drive..even Broadway up here is a beautiful, wide street. The train stations are pretty clean, the sidewalks are pretty clean. There are a few tourists, not like Midtown, but busloads will come to Zabar’s every once in awhile. Lincoln Center is close, and walking to the NY Philharmonic is really a thrill. It feels like I’m on vacation up here.  There are not as many odd characters, no hari krishnas, and no one shouting at you to save yourself before it’s too late.  One thing I have noticed that seems out of place, is a lot of homeless people. On church steps, on the street. Some are on the same corner every morning. I imagine since there is more money up here, it’s a pretty decent place for handouts.
I just read that there are lots of rats that hang out in toney Riverside Park, especially at night. It’s a nice park, right on the Hudson River. I’ve enjoyed walking around there at night, but after reading that article, I may think again about doing that.
Meanwhile, I’m going to head to the train and down to Washington Square Park to my favorite coffeehouse. And perhaps some fodder for my next blog entry.

Being a real New Yorker

I changed my Facebook ‘Lives In’ city to Brooklyn. I’m feeling like a real New Yorker. Had lunch in Chelsea with a friend and he, upper west side resident, remarked on my nascent noteworthy grasp of neighborhoods, train stops, landmarks, etc. I told him I like the challenge and discovering something new every day. Not that interested in the Statue of Liberty (except from the outdoor patio at Fairway) or popular tourist spots, I’m really more drawn to exploring interesting neighborhoods, architecture, pocket parks.  Had a picnic on the grass in Central Park last week, a trio of jazz musicians played close by. You just can’t find that everywhere! Nature, architecture, music, good company, outrageously expensive lunch from Whole Foods…

Being a real New Yorker means taking the good with the bad. The sublime with the irritating. Irritating: my refrigerator leaks. And, on a similar note, my door buzzer randomly goes off and it seems to be attached to the refrigerator somehow. It’s gone off several times today, startlingly long and loud, and reverberating through the refrigerator.  I’m serious.  It’s 10:00 in the morning, I’ve had nothing stronger than coffee (Dunn Brothers brew, sent from Minneapolis by a wonderful friend…I can’t find coffee like that here. New York has everything except Dunn Brothers.)  So, anyway – YIKES!! – just jumped out of my chair..buzzer, refrigerator thing.

Also irritating, I threw my back out yesterday morning. Ready to attend a film, I got up from my couch and something went pop. I know it’s related to the whole coughing thing from last month because I am out of align and my back is messed up. This did not prevent me from attending a party last night and Ubering back home through new streets and neighborhoods, ripe for exploring sometime soon.  I’m feeling very positive about my new city and my decision to come here, despite not having a job yet, or creating any worthwhile art, the buzzing and leaking…these are temporary irritations. Tomorrow, something sublime will come my way.