NYC, Baby, At Long Last

Autumn is in full swing in New York City. The leaves are all rapidly turning Russet and Golden Brown. This is most in evidence on the escalator of the 34th Street-Hudson Yards subway station where a small man is toting a medium-sized oak tree down to the platform As we roll up, he rolls down. One man and his tree, both leaning backwards against the descent of the long moving stair.

This is New York, baby. I’m finally here.

I’ve wanted to see New York all of my life. It’s been a dream, an aspiration, a bucket-list thing. And I’ve been close a few times. The city streets of Boston seemed to provide an estimation of what the Big Apple might offer. Likewise the hills of San Francisco and the endless suburbs of Los Angeles gave me ample insight into the ways of the American City. But, still, I longed for New York.

And then Paul and Jerry made their wedding plans. New York, baby. I had hoped to go when I was 60 next year but to hell with that. I can be 60 now if I want to be. We booked our hotel; we booked out tickets. A New York wedding of two of the finest people we know, what could be finer? Paul is Patricia’s nephew and he’s my nephew too because I’m married to Patricia and I’m claiming him. Jerry and Paul have been a great solid romantic item for many years now so, sod it, Jerry is my nephew too. I want them both in my squad. We knew the wedding would be eye-popping and loving and romantic and it was all of those things and more. A wonderful time was had by all. But I’m not here to dish on the wedding. Perhaps another day. Today is for New York City, baby, and finally, finally getting there. Although, before moving away from the wedding, I will say that there will be loads of great memories but the community singing of ‘Suddenly Seymour’ by Paul and Jerry’s friends, as they gathered around the piano man late in the evening, is one that will surely remain with me.

We’re staying in Midtown Manhattan and I get up early and walk the blocks in the area, riding the time difference for all it’s worth. I love the streets and avenues, how they stretch endless in each direction, how the sun moves from one to the next, setting it alight. The buildings are not as breath-takingly tall here as I imagined they might be. The Chrysler and the Empire State are high but not quite as high as my mind painted them. Still, they are beautiful and there are other buildings elsewhere in the city that will be astonishingly, earth-shatteringly tall, much higher than my tiny mind could conjure. Besides, tall isn't everything. One early morning wander me takes up 3rd Avenue and into Grand Central Station and the scale of it, the iconic nature of it, makes me sway on my heels.

In between the many wedding gatherings and activities, we have some time to ourselves to wander and look. Macy’s is a time machine that takes you back and back as you ride the escalators up and up, each one more ancient than the last. Christmas has come to the ninth floor early and it’s a world replete with oversized nutcracker soldiers and silver Santa Clauses. We buy one Christmas decoration for the tree, as we do wherever we go.

A good friend who lived here for a time has pointed us in some directions we would never have found by ourselves. A subway to the 59th St Bridge (yes, there is a song) and the transit system cable car over to Roosevelt Island, which is bright and calm on a Sunday morning and where the views of Manhattan are cool. A ride on the East River ferry down below the Brooklyn Bridge and a walk up into Wall Street. A stoic march past ‘that’ person’s building and up past the Stock Exchange. The streets are tightly packed together here and the effect is that of a canyon. The Trade Centre memorial is thoughtful and sad, though people clamour with selfies and coffee. There isn’t much to be done except perhaps pick out one name from the thousands carved there and wonder about that and hope that their curtailed life was good.

Our friend also sent us to the Frick Collection and this is my recommendation to you, for when you next visit New York. I had expected a nice private collection of paintings to wander aimlessly through but was quite unprepared by the quality and impact of the works contained therein. Although the security staff were clearly thinking of soup and glue, there was still a laid-back accessibility about the artwork and the ability to stand in such proximity, without protective glass, to works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck, Turner, Constable and so many others was quite something.

On the street, very early, there is a homeless man with his trolley of early possessions. His pants are down at his ankles as he bends to some unknowable task on the pavement. His rear gleams in the sunlight that leaks up the avenue. He is ignored and passed-by. If he needs some help, it is not forthcoming.

Outside the impressive wedding hotel, in The Bowery, late, there is a melee for taxies among people recently discharged from nearby bars. One sporty young man takes exception to a yellow cab ignoring his fare. He clings to the rear door handle and roars his objections as the cab pulls out and speeds up the street and towards us. The young man clings on still, achieving a velocity that lifts his two feet off the ground. Then he loses his grip and falls and rolls and tumbles multiple times on the tarmac before arriving close to our feet. He springs up without missing a beat and grins broadly at us, “Hey, where you guys from?”

The streets smell faintly of pot and the sirens are always going and the cars are always blaring their horns at each other. When the white light man says ‘Walk’ on the traffic signal, a car can still turn and drive over the pedestrian walkway if their way is clear. That’s why Dustin Hoffman shouts, ‘I’m walkin’ here,’ at the yellow cab. I reckon he was in the right.

That’s at least a little of what New York is. It’s 20th Century history and iconography. History doesn’t have to be old to be great, it just has to be great. New York soaked in the 20th Century like perhaps no other place ever did, and its image is burned clearly on its retina still.

I always wanted to see New York and now I have. I feel like the Jigsaw puzzle that is my mind had been missing an important piece and now it has been slotted into place. And not just a blue sky/cloud piece either. No, it’s a dense colourful piece that makes all the other pieces around it fit a little tighter and a little easier.

If I finally made it there… who knows what could happen next?


Anonymous said...

Sky's the limit now Ken. Have a big Apple and soak up the atmosphere. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Emily said...

How fun! Make the morning last. 🙂

Ken Armstrong said...

Anon - I concur. I'll try to hold the thought.

Emily - We did, and thank you for getting the reference. :)

Roberta Beary said...

So glad to read this! It makes me happy! And you went to my favorite museum growing up…

And the Frick brings to mind Frank O’Hara’s

I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the
portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally
and anyway it’s in the Frick

Ken Armstrong said...

Roberta - The Polish Rider does rock, in fairness :)

Jim Murdoch said...

Most of the big American cities have iconic statuses having been featured on so many TV shows and films broadcast worldwide. We think we know them—IMDB says 753 titles have been filmed in Central Park alone and I have no doubt that figure is now out of date—but we really don’t. When we went to see Carrie’s parents we stopped off in New York so I have seen its airport but that’s it for me. The only big city I got to explore for a day was San Francisco. Surprisingly only 59 films have been set there (way behind Los Angeles’s 543) but I still though I knew the place. The thing is after spending a day there my take was: Feels like Glasgow, the main difference is Glasgow has a pub on every corner whereas San Francisco has an eatery of some sort. I got to see the Golden Gate Bridge and City Lights Books both of which were underwhelming. I mean I had no great expectations but other than people talking in weird accents I could’ve been in Newcastle or Aberdeen. It was just another city. It was like when I visited Dublin and was sitting in the courtyard of Trinity College and wondering if Beckett’s arse had perhaps graced the very bench I was sitting on but nope, his presence was nowhere I could sense. But I’m glad you made it to New York. Don’t let my dourness spoil your fun. I’m just looking at the world through mud-splattered glasses at the moment a bit. It may pass.