Thanks for joining me this morning.
I can’t imagine not being with you. But you’re welcome.
You’re back on Traces after — what? — eight months. Want to tell us what you’ve been up to?
Okay, Jim, glad to. I’ve been writing a book. Plus, you know, we had six more weeks living in Manhattan after I put Traces on hold, then the holidays in Georgia, followed by getting settled back at home …
Why don’t you tell us a bit about the rest of your stay in New York City? From your earlier posts, the first few weeks seemed satisfying. Highlights from the last six weeks?
Absolutely. There were a couple of special experiences that I write about in the book, so I’ll skip those for now. In no particular order, here are some others:
(1) One rainy night my wife and I stepped into an off-Broadway theater called Soho Rep., which had been done over as a kitchen in a South African township, complete with dirt floor, scrap metal on the walls, and mismatched chairs and benches for the audience. The short, one-act play by Debbie Tucker Green, Generations, was deeply moving. Three generations of one family repeating the same lines of dialogue from one “movement” of the play to the next, with chorus members seated here and there among the audience singing intermittently in Zulu. Here’s part of what Hilton Als wrote in The New Yorker about the play:
No family is perfect, even as they long for perfection, and Green has examined that lack of shared imperfection by giving her characters the language one associates with lore: everything is remembered and reported, but each telling of meeting and being together shifts in accuracy as the characters shift and grow and grow old.
(2) And then there was our night at Carnegie Hall. We went because, you know, Carnegie Hall! The concert by the New York Pops was in no way noteworthy. But there was a very amusing incident with a couple from Long Island who were sitting in our box. It involved a cell phone call from their adult son during the concert, an argument between husband and wife about whether to call him back immediately, the unwrapping and eating of a large burrito, and the item-by-item emptying of a pocketbook onto the ledge overhanging the main sections of seats.
(3) One day I had a classic Manhattan stroll up the Hudson River Greenway as far as the West Harlem Piers and then back through Riverside Park, Columbia University, and Central Park to a pub on Amsterdam Avenue that I came to like called George Keeley. You know what I won’t forget? Just watching parents with their young children in one of the Riverside Park playgrounds, stopping on their way home from school to enjoy the sunlight and cool air. (On a later day, I returned to Columbia to meet my brother, who was in town to give a talk there — hanging out with him on campus made for another great memory.)
(4) In the category of “only in New York,” a piano recital at the cavernous Park Avenue Armory called “tears become … streams become …” We sat in darkness for, well, a really long time, while the floor of the Armory filled slowly slowly slowly with a sheet of reflective water. Then in almost total darkness, we heard the splish-splash of the pianist wading to her piano. Finally, music.
(5) In a different category entirely, I’ll mention the experience of being in Manhattan as the days grew shorter and shorter under frequently leaden skies. A complete and total change from the gorgeous fall weather and breathtaking autumnal light of the first half of our visit. Not a good memory, exactly. It made for some low moments. But part of the whole.
Overall, Jim, would you say that you’re glad to have done it?
Twenty years from now, what memory do you think will stay with you?
Oh, that’s easy. Taking the LIRR train back into Manhattan on Tuesday evenings, after I had spent those wonderful afternoons playing with (and ostensibly supervising the completion of homework by) my niece. And then walking back down Ninth Avenue to our apartment in Chelsea.
Why that memory?
Because of all my New York experiences, it was the strangest. The anonymity of it. Sensing the presence out there in the darkness, beyond my illuminated train car, of eight million people whose lives I would never know anything about. I can tell you that when I got back to our apartment and opened the door, I was very, very glad to see my wife’s face. You understand me?