Christmas Traditions

The Christmas Season in New York City is, as you can imagine, pretty intense; at least it used to be. Our family had the usual Italian tradition of celebrating the holiday on the Eve, not the Day; and there, of course, was the tree trimming as Don wrote about last week, and there were the presents, can’t forget them. But there were a couple of other- out of the house- traditions we partook of as well.

They were touristy ones: a visit to the tree at Rockefeller Center, the Christmas Extravaganza at Radio City Music Hall, and of course the annual pilgrimage to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Thinking of these outings now, I see a progression of meaning, of importance, from the mundane and frequently annoying to the spiritually sublime. Mom and Dad would tackle these events with equal enthusiasm, throwing themselves and us, into the spirit of the season as best they could.

We usually watched the lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree on television and I am told they still televise it today which is kind of amazing in a why bother way. We would usually wait until the weekend before the actual holiday or sometimes oddly wait until after Christmas Day to make the excursion to 50th and 5th Avenue.

Now a confession: as a little kid, I remember always thinking how much I would have preferred sitting on the couch at home, warm and cozy, watching a Holiday special on television, then trudging through the frigid temperatures (we always went at night, of course, to better see the lights) and battling the frenzied crowds. I being a shrimp could hardly see anything anyway, except the lower backs of the grown-ups in front of me. Still, it was one of those things the family did each year and I used to think: “Well if it makes Mom and Dad happy”, it was worth it  (kind of). Personally, one Christmas tree with lights looks a lot like another Christmas tree with lights to me, but the one we went to see did have two advantages: one it was huge, and second, it was in Rockefeller Center, which is a hell of a backdrop for a decoration. Still, the couch wins every time. 

Radio City Music Hall opened in 1932 and it is a beautiful example of Art Deco styling and poise; Terrazo floors, marble walls, brass ticket booths, an exceptional elliptical grand foyer and one of the largest auditoriums in the world. Each year, starting about the day after Thanksgiving, the Great Christmas Extravaganza would start running. They pulled out all the stops for this one. The Rockettes, the world-famous synchronized dance troupe would perform four times a day, each beautiful performer wearing a skimpy Santa outfit and kicking up those highly insured well-groomed legs, as they pranced around the decorated stage to Christmas classics.

And then it got a little surreal. After a not long enough intermission, the show continued with a living Nativity scene, complete with real camels, sheep and cows (at least I think they were cows), costumed actors playing the Magi and Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus; yes a real baby played the starring role, no plastic dolls allowed. 

But now think of this being seen through a young boy’s eyes. For the first part of the show, the Rockettes in their short outfits have been kicking up a storm Can-Can style, and they could have been dancing to Brahm’s Lullaby for all I cared; the music wasn’t the point. So there you are, dazed by this amazing show of dancing talent and female perfection, and then the curtain comes down, and when it goes up again you are looking at a manger in a fake Bethlehem and everyone solemnly re-enacting -for the believers in the audience anyway- an epochal moment in religious history. And ten minutes before you were checking out which girl could kick the highest!! Talk about mixed messages for an impressionable young kid. Was I supposed to be titillated by the dancers, or humbled by the baby Jesus?! Needless to say I was confused and convinced this had to be one of the weirdest shows I had ever seen. To be honest, years later on a lark, I went to see the show again and it hadn’t changed a bit, and I came out just as confused and bewildered by the thing as I had been as a kid.

A short walk down 50th street however, there was no ambiguity at all for that is where you find St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It is a New York landmark that began as a Catholic College in 1810 where it was built miles from where the city stood at the time. Through the years, that plot of land was a school, an orphanage, and a graveyard, before the cornerstone for the Cathedral was laid in 1823; fifteen years later it was completed and it was the largest structure in the city, the second largest in the country; it accommodated over 3000 people and still does and it takes up an entire city block. Its heavy bronze doors and wooden sculpted organs are works of art and to walk into the place is to travel to a different time, a different sensibility, of purpose. If Radio City Music Hall is a palace to showmanship, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a palace to the spirit, an example of what veneration and architecture can do together, resulting in a personal re-examination. You can’t help but feel both insignificant and jubilant, humbled and yet full of righteousness, happy to be a small part of such a grand design. 

I loved it then, and love it now. But as important as it seemed to me, Mom was, easily being the most religious of any of us, moved the most. She was a true believer, and our simple Parish on 14th street was a source of solace and peace to her; imagine the effect something of the scale of St. Patrick’s had on her. She believed in the power of prayer, and when she looked at a statue of a saint, she didn’t see plaster, marble, or paint. 

Outside one of the many chapels inside the Cathedral there was a replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta sculpted in 1906 by William Ordway Patridge; inspired obviously by the original in shape, form and intent. It was oddly three times as large as the one that sits in St. Peters Basilica in Rome, but it inspires the same awe and reverence though not, of course, being equal in terms of artistry. But no matter; Mom approached that statue like it was the real one, her Rosary Beads in one hand saying her prayers under her breath, she would reach out to touch the image of the lifeless Jesus in Mary’s arms, and every time, every year I can remember, there were unmistakable tears that trickled down her face, marring the exquisite make-up she so masterfully applied earlier, in preparation for this visit. 

I shamefully now remember as a teenager making light of the need to touch what was to me just stone, as lifeless as the body it depicted. 

But as a young child, when I saw my Mother crying, touching the body of Jesus, I felt it was right; only she, the most worthy of us, should be the one to reach out and connect with such a symbol of Divinity.

I often like myself better when I remember myself as a kid.

Sometimes we lose something important as we grow up and become full of ourselves and what we know, sometimes we lose that which can make us better human beings; I know when Mom came out of that Church each year, she was rejuvenated; filled with the grace that made her the glorious person she was. 

So there you have it; three Christmas traditions, ranging from the boring to the absurd to the sacred, all experienced in one night in New York City.

Quite an evening; quite a journey. I guess on second thought it was better than the couch.

Merry Christmas.

Rob.

Putting up the Christmas Tree.

One of the biggest nights of the year for my brother and I as kids was the night we purchased and put up the Christmas tree. Dad was pretty consistent in making sure this was done about 2-3 weeks before Christmas. He wanted to be certain we had enough time to enjoy the tree, but not so much time that it would dry up and look like Charley Brown’s tree on Christmas morning. I know there must have been some mild or warm evenings when we did this, but my memory only recalls a nice, cold evening, and if we were extra lucky… some snow!

The ritual started when dad got home from work. We kids waited excitedly for when he would come in the door change clothes and say, “Let’s go pick out the tree”. We could barely contain our excitement. Mom and dad did a great job of creating anticipation. I vividly remember them saying things such as;

“ Only one more week and we put the tree up!”
“ Once the tree is up, only two more weeks until Christmas Eve!”

They loved seeing us excited and “ wide-eyed” and they knew every button to push!

“Santa’s probably already getting the sleigh ready!”

As an adult, two weeks is but a blink of an eye…. as a kid, it seemed like an eternity.
Picking out the tree consisted of a rather long walk through the nicely decorated city streets until we came to one of the many places that sold fresh Christmas trees. (For Dad, an artificial tree would have been treason) The walk itself was exciting as we anticipated the fun that awaited when we got home and began decorating. The place that we bought from changed every year: it could be a Christmas tree stand, a grocery store or just a corner fruit and vegetable market that brought in some fresh Christmas trees for the holiday season. I loved the aroma of fresh pine as we strolled through row upon row of possible tree selections. To this day the aroma of a fresh cut pine tree takes me back to this very special night of my childhood.

The tree we picked out was usually no more than 4 feet in height, as at the 290 W. 12th St. apartment, it would be placed on a windowsill and when we moved to 418 W. 17th St., it would be placed on the entertainment center that housed our television set.

Invariably, dad would haggle with the attendant about the price of the tree. If the tree was $15 dad would offer ten, if the tree was $10, dad would offer $8, etc. This went on until the two came to an agreement and dad would hand over some hard-earned cash.

We then would walk home with the Christmas tree in hand: Dad carrying the tree as we kids hurried along to keep up with his quick pace, having a difficult time containing our excitement about the fun that awaited back at the apartment. Dad was pleased with his haggling;

“ We got a nice one this year!! Nice and full!” He would proudly state to mom when we arrived home.

I never recalled a bad one.

Once back, it was dad’s job to place the tree in the stand and get it set up on its resting place on the windowsill or the entertainment center. It was also his job to get the lights strung before the rest of us began to decorate with the ornaments and the tinsel.
The lights were the old-fashioned, large colored bulbs: Red, green, yellow, orange and blue. To us, they were magical and beautiful. We would sit in silent awe, watching, as Dad wrapped our small tree.

After dad finished his task with the lights, we could “have at it” with the ornaments. We never had many ornaments, and none of them really matched, but again, to us, they were breathtaking. Mom and Dad would put the little “ hooks” on the ornaments and Rob and I could place them wherever we wanted on the tree. Mom would gently supervise;

“ I think we have too many on that branch, let’s spread them out a bit.”

“ let’s not put the bigger ones near the top,,,, move those to the bottom”. Dad would take care of all areas Rob and I could not reach.

I also was honored with the job of putting up the manger scene. The manger we had would probably be considered a collector’s item if we still had it today. Beautifully crafted and painted ceramic figures of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, The shepherds, The Wisemen and many different animals including a Camel. We even had real straw to decorate the floor of the manger. This entire tradition may seem like a small thing to many who are reading this, but to me, a small child, it was so very special. It officially began the countdown to Christmas Day.

Once the tree was completed with lights, ornaments (and tinsel thrown somewhat haphazardly on the branches) it was time to enjoy mom’s homemade Zeppoli’s. This was another tradition that stays in my mind to this today. During “breaks” in her supervision duties, mom would be in the kitchen crafting her homemade Italian treats. We would enjoy a bowl of this delectable donut-like pastries with powdered sugar and a cup of coffee. Then we would sit back and admire our handiwork.

However, the evening was not complete until Sinatra’s Holly Jolly Christmas album was playing in the background. Zeppoli’s consumed, tree adorned and all lights off except the tree lights, we would sit silently, lost in our own thoughts admiring the tree. The Chairman of the Board crooned Christmas songs that are as part of Christmas for our family as anything else could possibly be. With The New York skyline as a backdrop, we were transported into a Christmas dream. When he told us about the possibility of being home for Christmas (I’ll be Home for Christmas) or wishing us a Merry Little Christmas(Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas), there were few dry eyes. On one song, he would close with a rousing “Merry Christmas!” to his listeners and to a one, we all declared back: “Merry Christmas, Frank”. Dad would lift a glass of Scotch or wine in a clear “Salute!” to the Chairman and we would sit in silence as Frank completed the album.

To this day, so many years later, I have that exact playlist on my phone…..and to this day, I sit in front of our decorated tree and wish Frank a Merry Christmas… and to this day, when I hear the opening strands of that album, I’m transported to that living room, NY skyline shining through the window, and our family …all together… Home for Christmas. The eyes never remain dry.

 

Don.

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The A&P

It was the only store to shop at. Mom decreed it so, and we fell in line. Others may have been cheaper, maybe some even had more to offer, but like the New York Daily News was the only newspaper that mattered in our home, the A&P was the only supermarket for us. 

It started out as the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company in 1859 and from 1915 to 1975 it was the largest retail grocer in the country.  It was the first Supermarket chain once as iconic as McDonalds or Google, it started in New York City, and grew worldwide,  eventually gobbling up other stores like Farmer Jacks, Waldbaums, and Pathmark. Its marketing technique was studied in business schools across the land, and it was the first in 1936 to become a self-serve store – yes before that you didn’t get to pick out your groceries yourself, you relied on the grocer for that; you just pointed.

I don’t know if Mom knew any of that stuff when we were growing up in the Village; all she knew was the A&P was on Sixth Avenue off of 12th Street, and all good food emanated from it. As a kid, I loved accompanying her on her shopping trips – I still love grocery shopping; when in a new city, one I have never been in before, one of my first trips is to the local Supermarket to check out the shelves. I think I got that love from Mom.  She would make a list in her distinctive cursive handwriting, making little notations as to quantities and flavors. Only when it looked like she had a little novel folded up in her purse, did we venture out to the glory that was a food emporium. She had one of those metal shopping carts with two wheels that you pulled down the street, saving you from lugging bags of groceries the five blocks back home when you were all done.  Her shopping trips were as well planned as an Army operation; nothing was left to chance, and disaster was realized when a product expected to be there on the shelf was missing, as each purchase had a specific and vital purpose in the making of whatever wonderful meal she had planned. 

Of course, going shopping with her around the holidays was the best; the list was longer, the meals planned more elaborate, and the necessary ingredients more precious to be found. It was a treasure hunt with a perfectly cooked turkey, or roast, or lasagna as the prize. Cooking was serious stuff in our house especially if there were guests coming over. And of course, the store itself knew it was a special time and pulled out all the stops to make each department shine with anticipation and delight. There were tasting tables for shoppers to sample a new product – a new practice at the time,  the butchers would line up behind their displays, standing at attention, ready to jump into action should a shopper need a special cut or instructions on how to cook that rack of ribs. The Fish Mongers proudly stood by their fresh catches; you could smell the ocean still, and the ice sparkled underneath the Cod and Trout And the bakery….well the bakers were the stars of the show, filling the entire store with the luscious smells of cinnamon buns, or freshly baked pies.

It was a carnival of sensation like going to an amusement park, there were so many sights, and smells, flavors to be enveloped and seduced by. I made up my mind early on that I loved food, loved the shapes, the colors, the spices, the textures; I would learn to cook like my Mom, and then we could cook together and make wonderful meals for our family. Not a bad dream at all, at that young age. 

And that was just the produce, meat, fish, and bakery departments! There was more; our cart was a quarter of the way full, now it was time for the dry goods, canned, bagged, packaged. Labels swirling above me, images of painted red tomatoes on a background of the yellow fields of Sicily; the strange sketches of closely packed sardines in those interesting cans that came with a key to open them. Okra, Mushrooms, Collards, Peas, Succotash, you name it, there they sat after their long journey from across the land, finally resting in their colorful cans, on a spotless shelf in our local A&P! And there was a whole side of one aisle dedicated to Campbell’s Soups! And if all that wasn’t enough, there was still the Frozen Food section – to this day my all-time favorite portion of any store – the extent of the variety available frozen far outpaced any other department. There, of course, was the Ice Cream – Mom hardly bought Ice Cream for the family- but there was so much more! Bread dough, pizza dough, layer cakes, cream cakes, pancakes, breaded eggplant cutlets, tamales, pierogies, pizzas,  eel, octopus, shrimp, clams, catfish, Cool Whip, burritos, peas, carrots, broccoli, and my all-time favorite creamed spinach, all neatly stacked, frozen in space and time, just waiting for that moment when you needed them. It was the age of invention in the food industry as I have written about previously, and no spot exemplified that as much as the frozen food section. The legendary names, some still around, take me back: Swanson, Banquet, Birdseye, Gortons, Morton, Stouffers, Van DeKamp, Chun King, Libbys, Mrs. Smith and on and on and gloriously on. Whole dinners, cooked for you, an entre, sides, and dessert all nestled together but neatly separated into their own compartments on that foil tray- a housewife’s dream, a child’s extra special treat! 

I could have stayed all day, but there was cooking to do back home, and the special holiday version of our trip to the A&P had to end sooner or later. That shopping carriage was laden with paper bags full of goodies (no plastic bags back then), and my imagination went into overdrive just thinking about all the wonderful dishes Mom would create out of the ingredients she had gathered. 

Back home, I helped unpack the bags, put away some items, leaving others out as they were on deck for the first dish to be made. Soon the kitchen was humming with the sounds of sizzling olive oil, the divinity that is garlic and onions, the perfection that is the smell of a rich, moist dough, soon to be molded into a stunning Pannetone, the comfort of the aroma of fresh coffee, and the sound of the crisp crunch of the first Biscotti of the afternoon. Mom would let me help, or at least I hope it was helping; she was too sweet of a person to tell me if I wasn’t, and those memories of being in the kitchen with her are indelibly marked in my mind and heart, and I suppose my stomach too!

She had a small Better Homes & Gardens looseleaf binder with recipes that came with the book, and dozens more she had written out herself,  cut to size, punched holes in and secured for posterity; she added to it each year, mostly around the Holidays. There were stains of joy on every page, gravy, jam, tomato sauce…each spot, each stain, an affirmation of love; of sharing. It is falling apart now – yes I still have it – and when I want to feel close to Mom again, and remember those afternoons shopping at the A&P, and cooking side by side in our small kitchen….when I want to remember and yes, cry…I bring it out and flip through it’s brittle pages, reveling in the kodachrome colors of a mushroom meatloaf, or an authentic English fish and chips, or the cursive handwriting of Moms on a torn piece of paper, a piece of her frozen in time, capturing that moment she decided she needed to record yet one more culinary triumph. 

She lovingly made every one of the recipes in that binder, and we gratefully consumed every one, and every one originated in some department of that A&P that still stands if nowhere else but my memory.

That childhood dream still stands as well: to be cooking in that kitchen with Mom by my side, grateful for the bounty that God and the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company bestowed on us.

Mangiare!

 

Rob.

How does a kid with no friends get in trouble in school for talking too much in class?

I asked myself that question quite a few times when I got older and was beyond elementary school. I had no friends, so one would logically think that there would be no danger of me talking during class… who would I talk to? Myself? Thankfully I had not developed the fine art of talking to oneself as yet, so what was the deal. In later years, I believe I had figured it out.

During my elementary school years, there was a reasonable amount of discipline in class, even in the public school system. From third grade on, I clearly remember that one of the rules was: “no talking during class” unless you were called on by the teacher. If you were caught talking to “your neighbor”, as the kids sitting on either side of you were referred to, you were called out and received a “demerit”. If behavior didn’t improve, you would be required to “stay after school” as a punishment and a note would be sent home to your parents. This was the kiss of death. Staying after school was bad enough,
( In retrospect, I believe I logged as many “after school” hours as I did regular school hours), but the note to the parents… well, that was the killer in our family. As I have discussed in other entries, our parents were “old school”, especially Dad. As a child, you were always expected to respect adults. Add to that equation an adult who happened to be a teacher? Well, any sign of disrespect there was a sign of demon possession. The punishments I received at home whenever a “note from the teacher” was received were far worse than staying after school. Staying after school consisted of nothing other than sitting at your desk quietly for an extra hour or two after the other kids went home. Punishment at home was cruel and unusual, such as losing television privileges for a week or more. I know I have relayed in other posts how much I looked forward to “my shows”, different ones every night of the week that I was basically addicted too. Taking away television was Mom and Dad’s most effective tool in disciplining me. It was horrible for me. First-time offense would mean a week without television. I honestly believe I would have preferred a week without food. When my shows were to come on, I was relegated to my room. What made this all the more unbearable for me was that I knew that just down the Hall (see blog on The Hall), mom and dad and, most of the time, that “evil elf” brother of mine, were enjoying the shows. I pleaded,  I cried, I promised it would never happen again…… all to no avail. A note home from the teacher was serious business. As many times as I promised not to talk during school, I would inevitably do it again. Second offense was two weeks of no television. TWO Weeks! It might as well have been a lifetime! In addition, the television restriction was not the only repercussion of getting a note sent home from the teacher. I also had to listen to the disappointment in the voice of Mom, anger in Dads and relentless ridicule with the “evil elf”!

Here is an example of what I am speaking of:

Mom: “Now Donny, you know how much it hurts me when I hear from your teacher that you have been bad!! I thought that I had taught you to always be a good boy? Why would you hurt me like this? Do you want me to get sick? (a traditional tactic of Italian moms everywhere) I’m VERY disappointed! You know better!”

Dad: “Again? Again, with this kid? Again, a note from the teacher? What the hell is the matter with you? (followed by a fairly lengthy tirade of Italian cuss words which I didn’t quite understand.  At one point I believe he was asking God why I was such a “Stunad”) What am I going to do with you? Is it so hard to keep your mouth shut in class and pay attention? You need an education so you don’t have to work in a factory like me!! Why don’t you ever listen? You’re going to mess up your whole life!”

My little Brother (Evil Elf) saying this in the background, of course, while voicing his normal taunting giggle: “ hahahahahaha….. what a dufus!!! You got caught again??? Hahahahahaha.  No television for a week!! And Maverick is gonna’ be great this week? Remember the previews.? what a dufus… you don’t have any friends….. who are you talking too?”

……. And Evil Elf had hit on the daunting question. Who was I talking too when I really did not have any friends? I have shared this in many other posts. I was “that kid” … the one picked on, the one that was made fun of….. the one with no friends. So how was I constantly getting I trouble for talking in class? Who was I talking too? I never really thought much about it at the time, as my time was consumed with worrying about Mom getting sick because I brought disgrace to the family while trying to make sure Dad didn’t totally lose it one night toss me into the Hudson River. I also had to make sure I kept in good graces with my brother so he would at least tell me what I had missed on Maverick.

Years later it dawned on me…. I was set up by the other kids in the class!!! Besides being the dufus that evil elf referred to, I was also the most gullible kid under the sun. You could “punk me” as easy as you could blink an eye. I believed anything and everything. (I believe I was 17 before I realized the Easter Bunny may not be real). The kids that liked to pick on me and make fun of me knew this! They also know that I was not a very suspicious kid, I trusted everyone. So, they would purposely engage me in a conversation in class. I was so excited that another kid was talking to me that I jumped into the conversation with both feet. All they had to do was ask me a simple question; “ hey, did you see Maverick last week?” ….. and off I would go….. running off at the mouth with no concept that the teacher was there watching me. After asking their simple, one-line question, they would sit there as innocent little angels while Dufass Don gave long and extended answers. The teacher obviously sees ”Dufass Don” talking away to a poor, innocent child who is trying to pay attention….. and there you have it. Note home to parents while the others walk away laughing. I can only imagine how they laughed at how gullible I was. 

When I say it was years later before I figured this out, it was a lot of years later. High School to be exact. One of my nemeses from the early years in school went to a rival High School. We actually became casual friends. One day while playing basketball at the park he said: “Boy, it was so fun to see you getting into trouble for talking in class when you had no friends!” Wait…. WHAT?

And there, my readers, is the answer to the question that is the title to this entry.

 

Don.

A Winters Night

It was a wintery night in either 78 or 79. My friend Mike was going to be leaving for the Peace Corps and we all wanted to get together at least one more time before our merry group was broken up by time and circumstance. The core of the group, Jane, Joanie, Elizabeth, Mike and I were good friends and enjoyed each other’s company. The size of our merry band would grow on occasion, and but always revert back to the five of us. 

So we made a date for a Saturday and all met at one of our favorite places in the Village. It had snowed that day, but by the time we got together it had tapered off. We met, enjoyed pitchers of beer, good burgers and fun conversation and then it was time for the evening to end, or so we thought.

Jane, Joanie, and Elizabeth all lived close by in the Village; I was a bit further north at the projects in Chelsea, and Mike who lived in City Island, had driven down and parked his car on the west side. So we all started walking together up West 3rd Street towards Sixth Avenue. I planned on walking Mike to his car at the garage on 14th street and then continue up Ninth Avenue to home. 

The snow was still falling but lightly now but there was a few inches of nicely packed white stuff on the stoops, mailboxes, and parked cars. I noted aloud that it looked like perfect snowball packing snow. That was all it took.

I am not sure who fired the first shot but it was a soft harmless lob, I think from Mike at Joanie. She good-naturedly brushed her blue beret off, stooped down and grabbed some snow, quickly packing it in her mittens. She returned fire. 

I suddenly felt a wet smack to my left cheek and realized Jane had scored a hit from across the street! I rushed to a nearby stoop, grabbed some snow and…Smack! A flank attack!! Elizabeth’s aim was true and now I had been hit on both sides of my head!

I had to get into this fight and damned fast!!

I finally managed to return fire, missing Jane but scoring a beautiful hit on a stop sign. Mike had retreated behind a parked car, taken cover and was throwing a steady stream of snowballs. We were all laughing, thoroughly enjoying ourselves in a splendid winter world of our own. But of course we weren’t alone; this was Greenwich Village after all, and though the streets were a little less crowded due to the day’s snowfall, there were still a good number of pedestrians on the street. The odds of not hitting one were not good. I think it was Jane that drew first blood from a civilian. She sailed a nicely packed ball over Mike’s head, and it continued its graceful arc until it landed right atop an older gentleman wearing a fedora.

Whoops, I thought, time to rein this in and apologize to what looked like a cranky old Italian from the neighborhood, whom I am sure didn’t appreciate having his stylish fedora hat crushed by a well-placed snowball. I started to walk over to the guy, my hands held up in apology. He looked at me with contempt and I hesitated. This guy, I thought, was going to be trouble. But then a miraculous thing happened. I saw the beginnings of a sly smile cross his face. He bent down, grabbed some snow, hastily clumped it together and hit the bullseye he must have seen on my chest. Man, everyone was getting me tonight! Even strangers!! He laughed at my startled expression, but then had to dodge a missile from Mike; the old man ducked behind a parked Chevy and proceeded to re-load. 

I thought it best that I retreat as well. I found my own place of safety as the snowballs flew everywhere. But wait, I thought, this can’t be right. There were way too many snowballs flying in the air for the four of us and one old man to conjure up.

That’s when I heard Joanie giggle; I looked her way in time to see her exchange fire with the guy from the liquor store. I scrambled atop a garbage can and got a better view. There were scores of people, all strangers, laughing, pointing, dodging, throwing snowballs, all the way from Sullivan to Sixth Avenue!! It was a firefight for the ages!! It was like, that night, if you didn’t want in on the crazy wild ass snowball fight happening on Third, then you better stay away, because there was no way you couldn’t be a part of it. Even a cab stopped, its driver deciding to join the fun rather than chase a fare. He ran to a phone booth grabbing snow as he went. Damn! I thought – what a great idea! Why didn’t I think of the phone booth?! Snowballs slammed into the glass, and there was the cab driver, smiling away safely behind it, every once in awhile darting out to fire a round or two.

I was crouched behind a Ford, Mike to my left a few yards away was behind an Impala. As a barrage of snowballs splattered the cars, he looked over at me and shouted:

“Do you believe this??!!”

I popped my head up and took another look. There had to have been thirty people involved now, men, women, kids, heck even the beat Cop was busy hurling some our way. I turned back to Mike to answer and Smack!; took another hit to the head. I ducked, too late of course, and shouted back:

“No way! This is un-real…..where did they all come from??”

Mike shrugged.

“Who knows?!…. Crazy man Crazy!”

It’s like everyone had been holding their childhood inside and spontaneously saw a chance to re-capture it. They had literally walked into an opportunity to, for a few moments, at least, be carefree and engage in that most revered of contests: the Snowball Fight. It was like no one wanted to stop playing and go home.

But all wonderful things must end and eventually the snowballs flew less frequently, and the echoed sounds of laughter died away. The cab had driven off, its driver hopefully happier than he had been at the start of his shift. The Liquor store’s neon lights went black; the door shut and shuttered, the Cop continued on his beat. And it was suddenly silent. 

I can’t remember how long we were out there that night, but at the end of it, we were all soaking wet with snow; some of us had bruises, all of us were freezing. But that was a small price to pay for witnessing and being a part of a spontaneous combustion of pure joy, a sharing with strangers of a few precious moments of camaraderie; a wet reminder of the serendipity of living in the city.  

It may not have made the Daily News the next day, but it was nice knowing that we would share that memory with people we didn’t even know, and maybe for them, like us, it would become something to remember fondly, tell the family about, to laugh over.

That’s what I remember most about that night; the laughter of all those people bouncing off the brownstones on a snowy night in a long-gone Greenwich Village.

Nothing quite matches the sound of happiness.

 

Rob.

 

Getting Glasses

It was during my 4th-grade year at P.S 41 that it was determined that I could not see very clearly. I remember that I sat somewhere in the middle of the classroom, so not a great distance from the front of the room and the blackboard. Mrs. Clipper would often write a sentence on the board and ask kids to read what she had written. It went kinda’ like this when I was called upon;

Mrs. Clipper: “Donald, can you read what I just wrote on the blackboard?”

Me: “What blackboard?”

(Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but not by much. ) As I would squint, and try to move forward in my seat… but, could in no way see what she wrote. Mrs. Clipper clearly noticed my distress said it would be fine if I moved closer to the board to see. It was when I left my desk and moved to within six inches of the blackboard that my concerned teacher thought it was time to talk to mom. After school that day Mrs. Clipper walked me out of the school on to 11th street where my mom was dutifully waiting for me to come out. She had probably been there for two hours, you know, “just in case”. That was mom. Anyway, when she saw Mrs. Clipper accompanying me out of the building her normal smile turned to a frown. When we reached her, her first words were addressed to me.

Mom; “what did you do?? Are you in trouble? Were you talking in class”?

Me: looking blank and stupid because I had no idea why Mrs. Clipper was walking with me.

Mom( now addressing Mrs. Clipper; ) “ what did he do? Was he talking in class again? There will be no television for him for two weeks… !!”

Me: “ what? What did I do? I didn’t do anything.”

Now I’m looking pleadingly at Mrs. Clipper, wondering what I had done wrong. I had a tendency to do things wrong and then figure out what it was after I was punished, and taking television away for two whole weeks was the worst possible punishment. Mrs. Clipper smiled at mom and said; “No, no he didn’t do anything. He has actually been pretty good this week”.

What a relief I felt! In addition, I had almost received a compliment!. I may even get to stay up late tonight and watch an extra show!

Mrs. Clipper continued; “however, I do think Donald may need glasses”.

Wait … what? Glasses!! That can’t be. No way … that can’t happen! As Mrs. Clipper went on to explain the blackboard situation to mom, Their conversation became just a blur to my ears… all I was thinking was; “Glasses?’ This can’t be…I don’t want to wear glasses!”

Please consider a number of things that elicited this response. I was already “that kid” who was picked on/ bullied by the other, “cool” kids. I was called a “Mommas Boy”, a doofus and some other nastier things. Now, add glasses? Remember, This was “another time”. Kids with glasses were mercilessly made fun of and called “four eyes”. This is all I needed to be added to my already stunning resume’. I protested vehemently that I could see just fine as I gracefully walked into a fire hydrant that materialized out of nowhere. Mom gave me that “ poor Donny” look that I had seen many times previously, and it was then I knew … I was getting glasses.

The next day it was off to the optometrist on 14 street near Union Square. Obviously, they had to examine my eyes to determine the strength of the lenses that I would need. I’m sure most reading this knows the process well: during the exam, the doctor puts an instrument called a phoropter in front of your eyes and then he begins to ask which of the lenses in each of the many choices looks clearer. This damned instrument was as big as my head. I felt as if I were wearing some kind of Space mask similar to those I had seen in some of the cartoons I enjoyed watching. It didn’t start out well.

Dr.; “Ok, son before I start trying the lenses, can you tell me which of the lines on the chart in front of you looks clearest.”

Me; “ what chart?”( perhaps I did have a slight vision problem)

Doctor and mom exchange these pitiful glances that one would perhaps expect to see at a funeral home… NOT AT THE OPTOMETRIST! So for the next hour, we try different lenses that bring the wall chart into focus and actually allow me to read the letters on the next to the lowest line. My prescription is decided upon and now all we have to do is pick out the frames. This is the part that had me panicked; those ugly, large frames. Nothing close to fashionable, as are available today. I looked upon the selection with dread….. I was going to look stupid and my new name would be “ four eyes”, no doubt. It was here that mom comes up with one of the most blatant lies in history, yet I, a gullible 4th grader actually bought into it. She tells me, now get this, she actually tells me, that if I pick out a frame of a neutral color, no one will really notice them on my face. (If I had been older, I would have noticed the Optometrist quickly turn toward the window and look out unto 14th.)I bought the story hook, line, and sinker and picked out ugly, light tan colored frames. They felt as large as the Space mask I wore during the exam. All the while, mom assuring me the light tan color was almost the same color as skin so no one would really notice. The Optometrist never looked me in the eye again.

Well, in two weeks my “invisible “ glasses were ready to be picked up. Mom and I trekked back to Union Square to make sure they were adjusted properly and felt “ good” on my face. When I put them on, they offered me a mirror to see “how they looked”. It was a bit of a shock to notice that the huge frames and thick lenses did not at all seem “invisible“ to me. They looked awful! Mom quickly and assuringly told me it was because “I know they are there”. The Optometrist dropped his pen and never resurfaced. I bought into it again. On the walk home, I was amazed at how clearly I could see everything: the street lights, the store windows, the bustling traffic, the sky… everything had a new and wonderful clarity. I made sure I looked at the people we passed on the way home. Not one of them glanced my way or smirked as I walked by. Perhaps Mom was right! No one could see the light tan colored frames on my face! This may work out! I was ready for school in the morning… this was not bad at all! I was a bit nervous the next morning as mom walked me to school, but again, as the previous night, people passed me on the street without giving me a second glance. My confidence built. Mom walked me to the school entrance and I proceeded to the 4th-grade line where the other kids in my class were gathering. As I got closer, Adam B called out to the other kids;“ HEY LOOK! Donald has FOUR EYES!!!”Other kids joining in; “ FOUR EYES, FOUR EYES!!”Crap. I turned back to look at Mom, but apparently, she had dropped her pen…….

 

Don.

Image (2)

Cheers!

To say New York City is a great drinking town would be stating the obvious. There are hundreds of places to go to enjoy a cocktail before dinner or get hammered on game day. At the very least you are assured of getting an ice-cold Bud.

But the other thing that New York is, is old; as in like over 400 years old. Now there aren’t too many taverns that can lay claim to that kind of heritage, but there are some that come close.

Growing up, of course, the bar scene was non-existent for us. Famously Dad would have a sip of a glass of wine or a cocktail at a holiday dinner, and push the glass aside, satisfied with that one sip, not wanting to slip down that slope into liquid debauchery. Mom was much the same though she might take two sips and then giggle for the rest of the evening. We didn’t even have beer in the house growing up; alcohol was a stranger to us.

That all changed with the coming of age of course. The High School and College years were ones that saw a strong push to make up for lost time, and I and my classmates became well acquainted with dozens of bar stools in Manhattan.

As I said, there were hundreds of places to drink; but only a few that had stood the test of time, and saw whole generations of patrons come and go. These special few watched as whole graduating classes were shipped off to war –The Spanish American, World War 1, World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam. Parties to say goodbye were held in these saloons, parties to welcome sons and daughters back home were as well, and yes, when a loved one didn’t return home, a funeral luncheon was held instead. You walk amongst ghosts when you enter these hallowed spots.

A few of them have a special place in my memory and heart for they allowed for a few moments of truth, of compassion, of awakening.

Moments like the one at The Old Town, a beautiful place on East 18 Street, dating from 1892, with a bar made of mahogany and marble measuring 55 feet long. And I remember gazing at that bar from a booth I sat at, as a regular, someone I saw every single time I can into the place, sat on one of the high stools, swaying. He was a big, jolly fellow, balding, large glasses slipping down his nose, always laughing saying hello to everyone who passed. But you see, the thing was this poor guy got that way after like two Miller Lites. I mean he would act like he had been downing them since noon, and all he had had was two not very real beers. I would watch as he would come in stone sober, sit at the bar, order his first, and I would just wait, and sure enough, within moments he was swaying this way and that. Obviously, the guy shouldn’t have been drinking at all, but I always got a sense he was kind of lonely and needed to be surrounded by what passed for friends.

One night I came in, and he was there in his normal state of inebriation. I went to my usual booth, and no sooner had I opened my book, that I heard a loud crash – one too many sways by that big body, and he had hit the floor, splintering the chair into pieces. The bartender came rushing around, I jumped up and went to help along with a few others. The guy was big and heavy and we managed to get him up on another barstool, where he hung his head and started to cry. I had seen this guy a hundred times but didn’t really know him at all, and yet at that moment, all I could do was hold him up and tell him everything would be ok. I knew I was probably lying. I asked the bartender to call a cab, at which point the guy starts shaking his head, muttering he lived nearby and could walk home- yea right, sure you can pal. Anyway, the cab came, and the bartender and I walked him out. I had managed to get his address out of him and told it to the cab driver, who being a veteran of the New York streets, had seen it all before.

“Take him home,” I said tossing the driver my last two twenties “And make sure he gets inside safely alright?”

I tried to sound like I would somehow know if he didn’t but who knows if it worked or not. He sat in the back seat, not crying anymore, just shaking his head and trying to say something. It wasn’t until I watched the cab pull away that I realized he was saying “God Bless You”.

Then I wanted to cry.

The bartender and I headed back in, and as we did he turned back to me:

“Next one is on the house ” which was good because now I was broke.

But I didn’t feel broke, I felt whole for the first time in a while.

 ***

The White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street was founded in 1880 and holds another soft spot in my heart. I had been there many times before it earned that spot. It had always had killer cheeseburgers and great taps, but it became a place of solace and comfort for me when, just a couple of blocks away, Dad was living in the Village Nursing Home, his last stop in his long noble journey  through life. I would take the train from Philly every other week, just to sit with him, assure him that I had found a good parking spot (repeatedly), and just watch him watch me both of us worrying about the other.

After each visit, I certainly needed a beer and there was The White Horse. I would walk in, nod in the direction of the increasingly familiar bartender, and sit sipping a cold one while watching the Mets on the small black and white television above the bar. Eventually, I would order one of those heavenly burgers. At first, it was just a good and necessary place to decompress after seeing my Dad grow further and further away from reality. But after a while, the bartender, like all good ones, struck up a conversation, probably sensing my mood. He asked:

“You doing ok today pal?”

How much did I want to share with what was just another stranger in a city full of them? But I wanted to – needed to – talk.

“Been to see my Dad” I answered “He’s in the Nursing Home….it’s hard”.

He didn’t miss a beat.

“Oh boy, that is tough” he said and I thought that would be the end of the conversation.

“Went through that with my old man” he continued “Strange isn’t it, or is it just stupid how we waste so much time being angry at stuff, all the time forgetting what you’re blessed with?”

We were both silent for a moment. He reached for a fresh glass, saying:

“Like my old man…we used to really go at it…but geez I miss him now”.

With that, he tipped the tap and filled his glass halfway with beer. He raised it, looked at me and said:

“To your Dad. I’m sure he knows how much you love him, and I bet he’s damn proud of the son he raised”.

Fighting back tears, I could only raise my glass in response.

“That’s good of you to say” I managed to croak out. He smiled, said:

“Hey, nothing but the truth spoken here” and he winked “Here let me get your food”.

That may have been the best cheeseburger I ever had. I was still sad about Dad, but didn’t feel so alone anymore.

That’s what a good bar does.

***

Besides Fraunces Tavern, McSorleys is the oldest bar in the city, dating from 1854. It has sawdust on the floor and two kinds of ale they used to make in the basement, light and dark; don’t dare ask for beer – they make ale, not beer. The small kitchen makes thick liverwurst sandwiches with slabs of onion and spicy mustard unlike any other found in the city. There are two signs hanging, one “We Were Here Before You Were Born”, and they are right for everyone that walks in, and the other “Be Good or Be Gone”, and that too was the truth; they made sure of it. The walls and ceilings were adorned with bits of the past, it’s past, the city’s past, the nation’s past–Houdini’s handcuffs hung on a wall, wishbones heavy with dust, hang from a pipe, undisturbed since the Doughboys that went off to fight in World War One left them there – the idea was when they came back from the war, they would take back the wishbone, as their wish of making it home safely having come true.

All the ones that remain are still waiting for their owners to come home.

There is a pot-bellied stove, scarred tables, and chairs. Lincoln, as a young lawyer, drank there. Ulysses S Grant, as an old battle-scarred General was a regular.

In 1970 the court ordered that McSorleys had to allow women through their doors, and they did, though they didn’t build a Ladies Room until ten years later.

It is a time capsule, sitting quietly on East 7th Street; it is everything an American bar should be, and there isn’t a television to be found in it. It is a place to come, eat, drink and talk. In college, my friends Mike, Ted, Dan, Joe and I all made sure our classes ended at noon on Fridays so we could pile into the D Train and hurry downtown to spend the rest of the day and all of the evening doing just that.

One time, during a nasty winter, a blizzard raged outside the windows as my friends and I sat around the pot-bellied stove absorbing it’s warmth, not wanting to budge, not caring if we got snowed in. Where else would be better than where we were? As the day aged, we found ourselves the only patrons left in the place. Two bartenders and the cook were all the staff left.

“Don’t worry boys” one of the bartenders said, “You put two of those chairs together and you have a pretty comfy bed.”

We looked at each other wondering if he was putting us on.

“Oh” he continued “and the next couple of rounds are on the house!”

Well, that settled it; snow be damned; we weren’t going anywhere. And we didn’t.

And he was right about the chairs.

Three bars, three special memories; three times when I was reminded we are all in this thing called life together; sure we are strangers to each other, but that doesn’t mean we can’t share a beer together, lend a hand or offer a kind word at the very moment it is needed most.

Something to ponder next time you take a seat at the bar.

Cheers.

Rob.

In the Spirit ( no pun) of Halloween

In the spirit of Halloween, I would like to talk about horror movies for a bit. For whatever reason, I have always been a fan of horror movies. Even as a very “frightened of my own shadow” kid, I was attracted to these crazy movies! I guess I was, and in many ways still am, a glutton for punishment!

I would like to talk about two things; the movie itself and then the musical score that went with the movie. If you are like me, just a few notes from one of these movie scores can stand your hair on edge! I would love your thoughts and feedback as well!

The first horror movie that I remember that created continuing nightmares ( glutton for punishment) was Hitchcock’s Physco. ( The Original) I had seen the classics as a very young child( Frankenstein, The Wolf Man Dracula), and they scared me, but not with the lasting effect of Physco. Hitchcock was a master at creating suspense and catching a viewer quite unawares. I jumped out of my seat a few times during my first viewing of this movie. There was not really much of a musical score to the original, but those high pitched, pulsating notes that accompanied the frenzied moments of the movie are unforgettable. Do you remember that sound? Just a brief second of hearing those notes, and I’m back at the Bates Motel looking at that freakin house on the hill. I swear that after viewing that movie, I became a huge fan and supporter of taking nice long, baths, not showers, and, l if perchance I did take a shower, I found myself peaking out of the shower curtain every few seconds to make sure that the shadow I was certain I saw, was nothing.

Another horror movie that had a lasting effect on me was The Exorcist. This one hit particularly close to home because the scene in which Father Karras listens to the tapes of Regan’s dialogue was filmed in the basement of Keating Hall at Fordham University in the Bronx, which is where I went to college. In addition, William O’Malley, who plays Father Joseph Dyer in the movie was a real-life assistant professor of theology at Fordham at the time. The movie was loosely based on real events, which made it even more frightening to me. The iconic scene where Father Merrin, the elderly priest, steps out of a cab and stands silhouetted in a misty streetlamp’s glow and stares up at a beam of light from the bedroom window,  still sends a shiver or two down my spine!.. and what about the unworldly score of this movie! If you have seen the Exorcist you know the haunting, “Tubular Bells”. Even now, if I hear this… I get uneasy… I’m looking up at that beam of light from the bedroom window…. “shudder!”

How can we speak of “Halloween Spirit” without highlighting Wes Craven’s masterpiece, “Halloween”. I find it hard to believe that the original was released 41( almost 42) years ago. It still resonates with me as one of the very best horror movies made. The plot, the camera angles, the ominous atmosphere, and the nerve-racking suspense make this a classic. Michael Meyers and his iconic mask have reached the level of movie legend. Haddonfield will be forever, where Michael Meyers will eventually return. The very first time I saw this movie, From the opening credits ( with the sinister Jack-o-Lantern on the screen), I was properly frightened. Just as important ( perhaps more so) as the plot, camera angles, atmosphere etc, was the unforgettable soundtrack. Unbelievably, it only took John Carpenter three days to write this musical score. Made up of a bone-chilling piano motif with contrasting base notes, the score itself still has me expecting to see Michael Meyers staring at me at the end of a deserted street. Every Halloween since my first viewing of this classic, when I see a lit Jack-o-Lantern….. I hear that ominous music. No matter how many times I see this movie, it will always be required viewing for the holiday for which it’s named. I could ramble on for quite a while about my favorite Horror movies, but I will spare you the potential boredom. However, there are a few others that I want to give an honorable mention to.

The Ring: this movie was just eerie from the opening scene. Long black hair that covers the face is definitely forever a no-no and the scene when the girl crawls out of the television set? Lights out for me!

Blair Witch Project; the “ feel” of this movie simply creeped me out. The use of the camera was outstanding, simulating a handheld video that gives the impression of reality and the action happening in real-time. The final scene, with Michael standing in the corner, was simply haunting for me. No more “ walks in the woods “ for this New York kid. I hear very varied reviews of this movie, but it did its job of scaring the crap out of me!

The Shining: Perhaps the most graphic of scenes in The Shining was the little boy, Danny, innocently riding his bike along one of the long, narrow and terribly claustrophobic hallways of the hotel when he is stopped dead in his tracks by the untimely appearance of two twin girls. The camera is from Danny’s vantage point and the sudden appearance of these two young girls, in the already frightening hall, stood my hair straight up! I now compare all hotel hallways to those in this movie. If the hallway is deserted….it’s back to the lobby for me.

Paranormal Activity. I have seen this “security-cam” horror movie many times and it still sends chills. This movie about possession (that launched a paranormal franchise ) still leaves a mark. That last scene… on the security camera? I almost fell out of my chair. We have a security camera at my house today… the problem is….. I’m afraid to check it. ..and if I DO check it, and it happens to catch a shadow ( usually of a raccoon or something), I am jumping for cover! I had better stop here.

I could go on and on…and I am leaving so many out. I realize this is a very subjective list, but I would love to hear about your top picks. I’m certain that we will agree on many.
Until then, stay away from any Cabins in the woods. Enjoy your Halloween

Candy Man.

Starry, starry night.

When we first moved in together, Les and I lived in a loft at the corner of West Broadway and Canal Street. It was a fun, interesting place to live at it was way before the gentrification of the area, and it had its own special brand of funky. There was a luncheonette on the ground floor of the building that provided many a much-needed breakfast after a long night of clubbing. Canal Street itself was a wonderful mixture of army surplus stores, jewelry outlets, greasy spoons, Asian restaurants, and dive bars. The street itself was kind of a boundary; to its north was “the Village”, to its south, well it wasn’t quite known as Tribeca (Triangle Below Canal) at the time but it did have some crazy clothing stores, a few pretty good reasonable restaurants, and bars maybe one level above “dive” status. At its western nexus, near us, Canal met the entrance to the Holland Tunnel and New Jersey beyond.  It continued clear across Manhattan until it met up with the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge that would take you to Brooklyn. There was constant commercial traffic all day and all night. We would at the tall windows in the loft and just watch the flow of business and humanity; it was a comforting sight; we were not alone, but part of a huge crowded Metropolis.

There were lots of vendors on Canal Street, whose wares spilled out onto the sidewalks in cardboard boxes, or used plastic milk crates. You could score anything from an Army Surplus machete (I still have mine) to a fake Rolex. Can you imagine selling machetes out of a cardboard box on the streets of New York now? Or anywhere for that matter? It was a strange and wonderful time. All the items being sold were clearly priced, pieces of torn paper taped to the outside of the box telling you how much that boomerang cost. And you knew, just as the seller did, that you weren’t paying that price. It was understood there was a time-honored process to be played out.

“Whaddaya get for the coffee urn?”

“Twenty-Five”

“I’ll give ya fifteen”.

A pause.

“Alright gimme twenty and it’s yours”.

It was virtually impossible to take a walk along Canal and not find something you wanted; not something you needed but something you wanted.

“How about that meat slicer?”

“Fifty”

“Fifty?! Are you outta yer mind – Ill give ya thirty”.

And on it went day and night; the street that never slept. Always crowded, always vibrant, with enough colorful characters to staff Disney Studios.

We loved our time there and never found another neighborhood like it. It was strange, years later to come back to pay a visit, a week after 9/11; a painful pilgrimage to see everything covered in dust – mailboxes, cars that hadn’t moved, hydrants, the sidewalks themselves; the streets deserted, except for some lost souls like ourselves trying to recognize our beloved city again.

But that lay ahead, in the future; when we lived there, those towers stood tall on the horizon and there was hustle and bustle all around us.

We, of course, didn’t have a car, a totally unnecessary luxury when we had the subway. While cars were stuck in traffic, the A train zoomed uptown; when bad weather made the streets treacherous, the rails of the D train stayed dry and firm. It was, for all of its faults, a miraculous system. The Canal street station was a hub for a number of lines, with many pedestrian tunnels leading to different lines, and even with the signs, there were days when you would find yourself back at your starting point when you swore you had followed the signs for the AA line perfectly. I always suspected that the MTA did that on purpose and watched on cameras laughing, as people went round and round in endless circles vainly trying to find their connection.

One memorable night, we sat in the loft and watched Canal Street become blanketed with snow. It was a major storm; even the city buses couldn’t get around. It was rare to hear a silence in the streets of Manhattan, but that is what the snow was doing that night, hushing everything up. The neighborhood looked different. It was warm and cozy in our home, as the storm intensified outside. So of course, Les had an idea:

“You know what we should do?”

“What’s that?

“Go to Central Park.”

The first stop (of course) was to the liquor store around the block. A pint of Jim Beam for Les, a pint of Jack Daniels for myself, and off we went trudging through the snow to the subway. Life goes on in a city the size of New York, despite snow, strikes, and crime. The subway was packed with people, some making their way home from work, others on their way to work. I didn’t think too many were on their way for a stroll through Central Park. The trip to Columbus Circle was about twenty minutes, and when we climbed the stairs to street level, we were greeted by even more, heavier snow. Even there, a confluence of streets usually clogged with traffic, most everything was empty. An intrepid taxi fishtailed its way down Broadway, a couple of trucks still were making deliveries, and a city bus crept along, its interior lit up to reveal the faces of tired New Yorkers just getting through another day. 

The temperature had dropped, and the wind had picked up and I was having doubts about the plan. But Les was game and if she was in, I was too, and on we mushed. We entered the park and made our way too the Zoo, all buttoned up for the night, but its near Gothic architecture, and now strange-looking statures made a surreal backdrop to the ice accumulating on top of the snow. We went on towards the Great Meadow. After a while we couldn’t tell if we were on a path or not, it was all just snow. Visibility was limited but I was able to tell we were rising, climbing up on one of the many bridges that allowed vehicular traffic to transverse the park. I could make out the outline of the roads below. The wind thankfully started to die down a bit, and our spirits were keeping us warm. We reached the summit of the bridge, at about the same time there came a break in the clouds and a bit of clear night sky peaked through, stars bright.

And then we looked down to the expanse of the Meadow below, soft, white, peaceful, framed by the dark shadows of hundred-year-old trees, and beyond them, the hotels and apartment houses that lined the park, their lights twinkling in the dark sky. 

I don’t think I had ever seen the city look so beautiful, and we were the only ones to witness that beauty in that particular way, in that particular spot on that snowy night. I took another sip of Jack and reached out to take Leslie’s gloved hand. We just stood in awe; no words were needed. I remember thinking ‘well my son, don’t ever fear death, cause I have a feeling it has already happened – how else to explain this walk, this night, this glimpse of Heaven?’ I stood holding the hand of the person I loved, looking out over the city I adored. There was no place on earth at that moment I would have rather been. It was like some unseen benevolent force had led us to this one spot, this one moment, as if to say “Look, look at this, remember this time, and how you feel….you only see this once in a lifetime….savor it.”

That was a long time ago. Now when I see snow, I have to shovel it. It’s not as much fun living in the suburbs – actually, nothing is.

Every once in awhile, as I am straining my back in the darkness of the night, cursing at the weather, I  will look up into the night sky, gaze at the stars through the falling snow, and I will remember. And when I look over at Les and find her looking back at me smiling, I know she is remembering too.

There have been many great nights in my life, but that one……that one was special.

 

Rob.