I made it back to Mondoville last night around ten, and I’m still seriously jazzed about the whole business. A few things that didn’t make the previous two entries…
I spent the morning of my last day in Brooklyn wandering around the neighborhood a bit. While the hotel where I stayed claims to be in Red Hook, some of the folks to whom I spoke said that wasn’t quite accurate. What I know, however, is that I was about a ten-minute walk from where I had breakfast, at a place called Line Bagels. I got a garlic bagel with cream cheese and a Snapple for about $3.50. Afterward, I just walked around for a bit, eventually finding myself on Clinton Street.
Along the way, I got to see an unexpected bit of what I thought of as “Brooklyn Street Theater” (TM Pending). As I approached an intersection, I saw a guy in a red pickup stop and try to back across the intersection (he had made a right) to grab a parking spot that was now on the left-hand corner behind him. This caused a fair amount of consternation for several other drivers, including one guy piloting a cement mixer.
However, before Pickup Guy completed his mission, some other guy in a clapped-out Chevy sedan whipped into the space in question (not surprising, since he was traveling in the appropriate direction). This incensed Pickup Guy, who gets out of his truck (which is still halfway into the intersection) and starts yelling at the guy who took his intended space. Pickup Guy looked like Beefy Thug #2 from an episode of Law and Order — shaved head, beard, windbreaker — and as I said, he wasn’t pleased.
I couldn’t make out the Chevy driver’s response, but it apparently wasn’t to Pickup Guy’s taste, because he yelled, “You’re a fuckin’ scumbag!” before stalking back to his truck and driving away, to the accompaniment of auto horns, including that of the cement mixer. I glanced at a guy standing on the same corner I was. He shrugged, the universal gesture of “What can you do?” I nodded, and we moved on.
I got another performance at lunch, when I stopped at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese place for some beef lo mein and fried rice. I’m sitting at my table (one of two in the place) when two guys wearing MTA jackets go up to the counter. They place their orders and as they wait, one starts talking to the other:
“Look at that guy back there. Slingin’ fuckin’ rice all day,” he said approvingly. “That guy, he don’t fuck around.” A pause. “Slingin’ fuckin’ rice.” I smiled and kept eating my lo mein. It was really good.
If you were to tell me today that all these people — Pickup Guy, the two MTA guys, the fellow slingin’ fuckin’ rice — that all of them were actually hires from Actors’ Equity who put on vignettes from “Brooklynland” for the benefit of tourists like me, I wouldn’t be surprised. It was that perfect. I can see why people love the place.
Most of my travel around the city was via subway — I was maybe 15 minutes’ walk from a station. As I traveled, I’d see the names of locations, and because I’m who I am, song lyrics and literary references would flash across my mind. We stopped at the Bleecker Street Station:
Later, the next day perhaps, I was on a train that stopped at Astor Place. I saw a Kmart through the window of the subway car, and thought of a different song:
And then a few stops later, it was Simon and Garfunkel again, as we stopped at 59th Street:
When I got off my train and walked to the Met, I crossed Park Avenue. No, I didn’t think of the Green Acres theme (“Dah-ling I love you, but…). Instead, I thought of William Goldman’s The Color of Light, and a scene where the protagonist hears two people talking about apartments, but only using address numbers: “Three-sixty-five” and such. Later, someone explains to him that these are people who would only live on Park Avenue, so the name of a street wasn’t necessary. And the protagonist realizes that no matter how long he lives in New York (and he does for quite some time) that there are worlds in it he’ll never really know.
When I went to the Mysterious Bookshop, I thought of John Lennon’s “New York City”: “Tried to shake our image just a cycling through the Village/ But we found that we had left it back in London.”
(And as I type this, it occurs to me that today is the 36th anniversary of Lennon’s murder. I was fifteen then. Time surprises us all.)
It’s funny how much of my head is filled with places I have never been before.
It’s Finals Week here in Mondoville, and I was back on campus this morning, although I don’t have to give a final until tomorrow. As I ran into friends and colleagues, they told me how much they enjoyed my accounts of the trip, and what I did and what I thought. As I said, I’m still excited, but again, the dominant emotion is gratitude. I’m grateful to Larry and the other writers for putting together a terrific book in which I happen to have a story. I’m grateful to Iris Blasi and Pegasus Books for putting together the launch events, and who brought me the opportunity to participate. I’m grateful to the Whitney Museum and Otto and the Mysterious Bookshop — where I now know they have copies of my book in stock. And I’m grateful to New York City, for the glimpses I received during this brief encounter.
In one of my favorite books, Jim Bouton is talking about being late in his major league career, and how sometimes he doesn’t feel the excitement he felt, say, running onto the field at Yankee Stadium as a rookie. “Sometimes,” he says, “I forget to tingle.” He was thirty when he wrote that.
I’m 51. And I think that perhaps because this part of my life is what’s happening to me now, after the years that Broken Glass Waltzes sat in my desk drawer, after the years in which I didn’t write stories because I was doing other things, after a lot of things — I think this means more to me than it would have if it had happened earlier. I won’t have time to forget to tingle. Thanks for letting me share it with you.