Monday, June 24, 2013

Alone in NYC

Henri Regnault, 1870, Salome,  MMOA
She looks rather smug, doesn't she?

Certain aspects of life most people take for granted are foreign to me.  Take vacations, for example.  A single mom who worked six nights a week every week raised me.  We never went anywhere.  In college I met people who had camped out on family vacations or where they’d been shipped off to Europe to study French.  Imagine my delight when my grad school boyfriend asked me if I wanted to go camping.  Hell, yes!  Imagine my further joy when my future husband claimed to enjoy camping.  Turns out he meant sleeping in the back of the minivan, but that’s a story for another day.  Let’s just be clear, I had a bucket list in my 20’s and on it were all the things I hadn’t had the opportunity to experience.

"New York me parece horrible pero por eso mismo me voy alli."
Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca: Poet in New York
New York Public Library 

At twenty-nine, my business generated enough income for me to consider travel.  My clients were educated at Ivy League schools (which I knew had to be great from reading Mary McCarthy’s The Group). Going to NYC moved to the top of my list.  In New York that first time I stayed at the Plaza and walked along 5th Avenue completely bedazzled.  A visit to the Algonquin for an avid reader was mandatory; if you’re a Dorothy Parker fan you’ll know why.

Back then, I did what I thought you were supposed to do: went to a lot of bars, had lunch at the 21 Club, tea in the Palm Court, saw shows on Broadway and plays off Broadway. Most important, I squeezed in a magical visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Subsequent trips to the city were for business and theater, dining, and art.  Once for a client’s marriage, and this time to attend a book awards program in which I was a finalist.

First, I stopped in New England for what I expected to be a sedate visit with my friend Susan.  I promised myself I’d keep my rebellious, iconoclastic, and sometimes scandalous thoughts from leaping to my lips, and rein-in my proclivity for foul language.  My plan was to censor just about everything about myself and be nice.             

Graffiti in Brooklyn
That sounded like it might be difficult so I reduced my time in New England to three days and increased my time in NYC to four days.  Big mistake.  Here’s what I learned about myself:  I am nice . . . enough. Susan laughed at my one-liners, and she outdid me in the wry observation category.  We laughed long and hard every day, and we had our quiet times, too.  It was easy and pleasant.
My age-day wasn't complete yet: the word ‘pleasant’ along with ‘nice’ always seemed bland to me, like the word ‘interesting’ which people say when they have no opinions, don’t want to commit or be challenged.  But I’d changed, only I didn’t know it yet.  Does that mean I am now bland?  Don’t think so, but I’ve embraced my quieter side.  While my wild side may be somewhat more practiced than Susan’s, she’s the one living out in the sticks alone and without a gun. Bears rub their butts on her 20 ft. high birdhouse (which I fixed because its tilt was disturbing the pastoral symmetry outside her kitchen window.)

Teenaged joggers in Central Park

At one time, I feared my propensity for aloneness, for solitude, and thought it meant I was strange.  I didn’t understand that it was a choice.  It’s what makes it possible for me to write for hours.  People who live with their own thoughts successfully have found peace within themselves.

My social plans this time around were vague, built on an invisible platform of my own devise, a loner's version of whatever wherein I wallowed in being an onlooker.  But here’s the thing, I slept well and improvised.  The two threads of continuity were the awards program on May 30, my efforts to engage New Yorkers by getting them to laugh, and my attempts to arrange a visit to the Museum of Morbid Anatomy in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn.  A Brooklyn native described the area as next to a canal that was a mob dumping ground.

On my happy-go-lucky way to the Museum of Morbid Anatomy I paused on the Union Street Bridge to snap this pic of the milky water in the canal.  Is the water that color to camouflage the bodies, or hasten their decomposition?

Turned the corner and entered this lonely alley.

Retreated when a man entered from the far end of the alley near the red truck.  He wore a WWII German overcoat festooned with various medals.  But for the tattoos and piercings, I might have mistaken him for someone on his way to a military reenactment.  I tried to exit the alley at a leisurely pace.  In other words, I tried not to run.

"Can I help you?" he asked.

I looked up into the friendly, and kind eyes of a teenager.  He knew I was frightened, but he was courteous and relayed no aggression.  We were at the corner by now, and while there was no traffic, I felt less creeped out.  Plus, I felt sorry for the kid. He looked something like this:

He showed me where to enter and rushed off on some urgent business.  I waited in the lobby of the Proteus Gowanus Gallery for Laetitia Barbier, who is a contributor to Atlas Obscura and the Head Libarian at Morbid Anatomy Library.  She'd generously rearranged her schedule to meet me at the Museum of Morbid Anatomy, a private museum in Brooklyn which "is committed to celebrating and providing materials dedicated to the places where death and beauty intersect."  Laetitia is a beautiful European art historian who fell in love with an American artist and lives here now. She also introduced me to the work of  Joe Coleman. She's writing her dissertation on him and his art.

I love the back of Laetitia's knees!

The next night was the International Latino Book Awards and I won in both categories in which I was a finalist.  Astonishment is a good word to describe my emotions that night.  I'd prepared myself for disappointment, not a double-win.  A happy face in this picture, but my sympathies were totally with the people who didn't win.  I wanted to go out drinking with them.  Maybe go salsa dancing.  I said nothing and left early . . . alone.

Back in my room, I quickly changed into more comfortable clothes and went for a walk passing Irish bars the concierge was sure I would enjoy.  They were crowded and the laughter poured out into the streets.  A couple of men raised their mugs to me.  I walked as fast as I could in my beloved flip-flops, doubled back, passing more nightspots, and decided on a French Restaurant across the street from my hotel.

Cultural diversity is apparent at every turn of the head in NYC, and this bar was no different.  The place was empty except for two tables in the back, and the four blondes at the bar.  Three of them were part of the same Polish family: mother, who must have been 12 when she gave birth to daughter, a tall gorgeous young woman with what appeared to be real double-D's.  And her brother who was immensely nondescript.

I ordered a Margarita and the bartender, another tall blond, asked me what Tequila I preferred.  Anejo with a dash of Triple sec and a squeeze of lime, on the rocks with salt.  She was good friends with the Polish family.  I took out my teeny notepad and made notes.

"Where are you from?" I ask the bartender.
"Serbia." She leans across the bar challenging me to make something of it.
"Oh, I thought Danish."  That made the Polish family laugh. 
"Her boyfriend is half French and half Indian," one of them says.
"I need to stop drinking and get back to my writing," the beautiful, and now even more luscious blond says.
"Ha!" the bartender says, "her writing!"  
The gorgeous writer's family ostracize her in a friendly way.  They talk about men they're seeing, or, at least, the ones the writer is seeing, has seen, when she's not drinking or writing or working. I  order another Margarita.
The writer asks the bartender if she's checked out Apparently she is also a bartender at this restaurant, but has the night off.  Free drinks for her family?
An older man with a massive stomach encased in a nice suit comes in. He knows both bartenders.  They treat him like shit and the one behind the bar makes a crack about older men going after younger women.  Her face is contorted with disgust.  The man looks confused. He really doesn't get it. All this time the younger women glance at me.  Finally we stare openly at one another.  The man ignores me; I'm too old for him. I order another drink and flex my triceps. 

Why do I feel like crying? Because these women seem so vulnerable.  

The last of the tables is cleared and the Mexican waiter collapses on a chair, disgusted with his tips, and orders a double Vodka. I scribble a note and take out my business card, give it to the succulent blond writerling who has braces on her bottom teeth:  Keep Writing!!!