Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Suzanne and Bob sit across the table from me in the cramped coffee shop booth – anywhere else they’d give you a few more inches, but this is Manhattan and every inch is worth money. It’s a gray day and we have walked the two or three blocks north from their apartment, up Second Avenue, past the cable cars at 59th Street. I have no idea what time it is. It is Sunday and I am not thinking about things like time.

“Did you see the cable car that got stuck up there a few years ago?” I ask, out of the blue, suddenly remembering that story. “Yes,” they say. They’d been out late rehearsing, had stopped for pizza, heard about the stuck cable car that had been hanging suspended all day, and went to look. “Were the people waving?” I ask. “Were they looking out the windows? Was there like a whole crowd down here?” Suzanne and Bob point to where the car had been. “No,” says Suzanne. “They were pretty grim, pretty serious actually. They were being taken one by one with a crane by then.”

I had been the first one up. I’d gone out, borrowing a black polar fleece jacket that was hanging by the front door and an umbrella that opened at the touch of the button, the umbrella so clearly more expensive and much better made than the ones I usually end up with that I vow to only buy expensive umbrellas from now on. There is something so satisfying and strong about this umbrella. It feels almost permanent.

Yes, it is raining and it is cold and I walk back to the Starbucks we passed last night at about midnight, Fred and I walking across town from the theater where we have both been so deeply moved, and I so deeply inspired. We walked slowly last night, no schedule to keep and after the circus of Times Square the city quieted and it felt like we were going back in time. Up Fifth Avenue a few blocks, then up a few more on Madison. Not many people on the sidewalks. Most of the stores darkened so that my eye did not stay at the usual eye level of shop windows and crowds, but looked higher at the outline of the buildings against the sky. “These are still the original buildings,” I commented to Fred, thinking how there is always so much talk of how different New York is, how it has changed, and I always feel out of step with common wisdom because for me New York never changes – just like a person you know well for years and years never changes – and for the first time there was actually some concrete evidence to back me up, the old-fashioned rectangular buildings lining the avenues, clearly the same ones that had to have been there when I was eighteen, I thought, and then I thought again, the same ones that must have been here when my father thought of this place as his city.

We come to Park Avenue and tonight it looks magnificent to me, this double boulevard. I pretend I am from another country and imagine seeing it for the first time. Park Avenue has never been much more to me than a rich person’s place, a street that takes twice as much time to cross as all the others, a place you just have to get through on your way to somewhere else. But tonight I am innocent and Park Avenue impresses me for the first time.

“I love this city so much,” I say to Fred. It is not a new feeling, but it is new to feel it this acutely, like a lover that I can be afraid of losing.

The Starbucks we noted last night is still here in the morning, more or less where I remembered it, a relief because now Fred will be pleased. I stand in line and order and walk back with my cardboard tray with two cups and one croissant. I will have the leftover raisin nut loaf I brought from Woodstock. I pass a woman in a party dress. She is middle-aged. The dress – I imagine her dressing up the night before. There must have been anticipation. She is alone now. It looks like it didn’t work out. Her face is worn with cigarettes and some kind of hard living. She is standing still, trying to make a phone call on a cell phone.

While Fred bathes and enjoys his coffee I sit in the living room at the glass coffee table. Suzanne and Bob got in late. I don’t know what time. I didn’t hear them come in. I have no idea how long it will take them to wake and come down. I start to read the bright green brand new paperback I have noticed on the table, a play.

I am so comfortable here. I keep noticing that. I keep thinking of thirty years ago when I’d be with Jeffrey and two or three of his friends and I would be on edge every moment, always feeling that every word I said was the wrong one. I keep thinking how if then was now I wouldn’t be able to drink this tea and read this book and curl up in the big leather chair and get the afghan to make myself warmer. Somehow all these things are easy now. How hard it used to be to be with other people, harder still to sleep in their houses.

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