Walking our way through NYC

Savannah Morning News column

April 10, 2015

Distance. It’s a wonderful thing to have when you visit another city, when you don’t know the players in city hall, when you don’t have to choose up sides and you don’t have a dog in a fight, any fight, pick a fight. You just walk and laugh and take what comes.

At least that’s the way it is in New York City, the ultimate walking city where there’s no such thing as getting lost, where no one will even give you a chance to get lost. Anyone who sees you studying a subway map, holding the folded and wrinkled outline of the city every which way, will stop and ask where you’re trying to go, and that’s before someone else stops by to offer an opinion and give you a better way.

It pays to travel light (and not just because of hauling your luggage up and down the multitude of knee-challenging, concrete subway steps) because nothing you could want is too far away. Colder than you thought it would be? Stop along the way, pop into a shop and buy a hat in the shape of a mohawk. Five dollars. Forget your sunglasses? (And it can be bright in New York.) Stop, look around, pick out a new pair of shades. Six dollars, the vendor says. But will you take five, you ask. Sure. Fi’ dolla, no holla.

Hungry along the way but you don’t want to stop because it’s a beautiful (bright) day with the bluest sky possible? Aha. There’s a food cart on the corner selling pickles and olives stored in barrels. Garlic-stuffed pickles, new pickles, old pickles, sour pickles, horseradish pickles, black olives, green olives, blue-cheese olives, brine olives. Five dollars. What a concept: food vendors with posted licenses, permits and photo ID badges. You can eat while you walk or you wait to find a pocket park with benches.

And when you exit the Met Breuer building (the old Whitney Museum of Art) at Madison and 75th and you think, “I’m in the mood for a knish,” bingo, there it is, right in front of you, a stand selling knishes. With mustard, of course.

Then, when you’re about to go to a showing of “City of Gold,” a sumptuous movie at the IFC Center about a prolific and daring food critic in Los Angeles, Jonathan Gold, well, you know you’re going to need a wee bit of a snack because dinner at the Pearl Oyster Bar on Cornelia Street is hours away. That’s when you stumble into Faicco’s on Bleeker Street, where one dollar buys you a fried risotto ball, maybe the best (okay, the only) one you’ve ever had in your life. In fact, you wake up the next morning thinking of this risotto ball because it’s got that “morish” taste, as in “I need more.” And that’s when you have your first NYC dilemma: to cross 6th Avenue to the Waverly Restaurant, the quintessential 24-hour diner that has the same trio of venerable indoor potted plants in its window (avocado, Easter lily and spathiphyllum) that it had last year and the year before and the same reliable service – or return to Faicco’s on Bleeker Street for that risotto ball.

Except then you remember you are meeting friends at Tom’s in Brooklyn. Tom’s is another old-timey corner restaurant from 1936. It sits a few blocks from the Brooklyn Museum, which houses Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” (an epic piece of feminist art) and the Brooklyn Botanical Museum, boasting bonsai plants that are hundreds of years old.

Tom’s is the kind of restaurant that calls you back. Maybe it’s the freshly cut sections of orange the waiter was passing around. It never hurts to be nice to your customers (why don’t other restaurants know this?) or the hand-cut crispy hash browns or the leisurely way they let you stay at your table to talk, café-style.

But NYC is like that. It lets you talk. It encourages you to talk. People sit up and take notice. Even the d.j. at Henrietta Hudson, a cool West Village dance bar where a friend of mine bartends. When the d.j. saw us dancing she left her post to join in. Age be damned.

It’s noisy (the whining warning those trucks make when backing up: oy; enough already). Housing is expensive (more than I could wrap my arms – or my wallet – around). It’s competitive (there’s a writer and an actor every five feet). But it’s alive (even the plastic bags caught and flying in the trees have a certain beauty) and it’s unpredictable (like that facial I got at the JFK airport; perfect timing). New York is a hoot.





Photos, words, memories

Savannah Morning News

Dec. 6, 2015

It used to be words, scribbled here, scratched there. That’s how we (or shall I say I?) would remember things. That’s how we would communicate. It worked pretty well, that word thing, until it didn’t, until there were just so many words coming at us – texts, emails, facebook messages, facebook posts, snail mail, reminder flyers, poem-a-day sites, evites – that we just couldn’t keep up, we couldn’t find them, we couldn’t file them (remember filing?).

Now there are photos. On our phone. But will we know what they mean three or four years from now? Will they translate to anything meaningful, assuming we take the time to move them from the phone to some place more permanent? Most are not even dated.

When I returned from a Thanksgiving trip to Eureka Springs, Ar., my former home in the Ozark Mountains, I flashed through the camera roll on my phone. The first one? A photo of a notebook that reads, “Personal internet address and password logbook.”

Ah, yes, that morning in Lucilla’s brightly lit kitchen down from the Crescent Hotel and with Christ of the Ozarks in full view when someone called Elizabeth, Lucilla’s NYC-based daughter, about finding a notebook in front of the post office on Spring Street. Did she know anyone named Beth. Elizabeth’s name and number were in the book.

“Beth,” we shrieked in unison. “How can you put those important numbers in a notebook that screams, ‘IMPORTANT PASSWORD NUMBERS’?”

Beth, nonchalant, shrugged it off. “I wasn’t worried,” she said, placing the retrieved notebook in her purse.

Next photo: my vintage wallet with “Jane” stitched on it, maybe by an earnest Girl Scout working on a badge years ago? Or a prisoner in a crafts class? When I transferred planes in Charlotte, I went to buy a snack, some hummus, before realizing I didn’t have my wallet. I raced back to the gate and told the stewardess. She, bless her heart, went to the plane and retrieved it. Nonchalant? Me? Decidedly not.

Then there’s a shot of some liner notes from a CD. It listed my old pal drummer Alex Hahn’s name on a tune with Don Henly and Mick Jagger (now that’s cool); a book I started reading and need to finish (“The Man Who Made Lists, Love, Death, Madness and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus”), a book I borrowed and finished (“Just Kids”) and a book someone recommended: “The Secret Chord” by Geraldine Brooks.

But that photo of liver sausage and Triscuits?

“She still eats them,” Alex said of his mom, Rae.

The bowl of pine needles?

“I’ve started making a tea out of them,” said John, who lives in the country near plenty of pine trees. “Try it.”

Then there was Becca and me sitting on a concrete bench by one of Eureka’s springs, chitchatting, discussing the future, the present, the past, as we are wont to do.

Then there was La Luna’s, a Salvadorian restaurant in nearby Berryville “with the best puposas on the planet,” says Billy (except it was closed), a sign with the price of gas ($1.84), the sign in Garfield (population: 502), where I mailed a post card, and the sign for Fly Shoes in downtown Eureka, just one of many high-end shops that have hit this formerly sleepy Victorian town.

The rest I will have to remember on my own.

“Meet me on Douglas Street,” Billy texted. “I’m painting a porch.”

“Can you remind me where Douglas Street is,” I ask the librarian at the iconic Carnegie Public Library.

“It’s behind the food bank,” she answers to someone who hasn’t lived there in 25 years.

“You mean where Joyce English and Danny used to live?” I asked. Blank stare. “Near East Mountain that led up to Dick and Jack’s house?” Another blank stare.

Things change. The town, still under 3,000, gets a dog park, a skate park and a transit system. New people move in. Old friends move away. Real estate goes up. Cancer strikes in indiscriminate ways. Children of friends now live in Oakland, Ca., Dallas, New York City, Kalamazoo, Mi., Denver and Cameroon, as in Africa. Memories of people who passed on start to fade away in spite of our best efforts to keep them alive through photos, stories and toasts. But we try anyway.

“To Mannie and Vernon,” Dina said at Thanksgiving, raising a glass of Champagne, son Favio and grandson Isaiah nearby, “who started these gatherings so many years ago. May we always remember and keep them in our hearts.”