The first time The Child rode the subway

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‘Featuring a darned good “Lutheran Lie”, if I do say so myself’

First thing Monday morning I took part in a nature walk in Central Park. Our little group was listening, rapt, to our leader, an architectural historian no less, when a rat the size of a healthy young chihuahua weaved its way between our collective feet and disappeared under an ornamental shrub.

Me, the morning after my Close Encounter of the Rattus Kind. (Those are actual dogs frolicking in the background)

No one flinched. Though our leader, after a beat, did say, “They’re okay off-leash until 9:00.”

This whole blasé-about-rats thing got me thinking about New Yorkers and how we get used to just about anything. And how sometimes it takes some fresh eyes to, well, see things “fresh”.

Like the time The Child was introduced to the subway.

The Child, subway-ready, tatts and all

She was about three or maybe four years old at the time. Now, I realize that for some of you fellow New Yorkers out there who read my stories (bless you a thousand times), “three or maybe four” may sound rather long in the tooth for a first-time subway rider. After all, I see babes in arms — and in carriers and strollers — all the time “down there”.

But our little family had the advantage of living fairly close to all the stuff The Child needed to get to, like classes (“science” at the 92nd Street Y!) the Central Park Zoo (ahem, “Wildlife Conservation Society”) — even her assorted “playdates” (don’t get me started, but please see my piece “I’m watchin’ him!” for my views on this aspect of Modern-day Child-raising.)

And for the stuff she needed to get to that was too far to walk to, she and I — or she and The Dude, or even she and Our Caregiver — would take the bus. (Little kids love the bus. One can be driven quite mad in Manhattan, at least mid-day when I’m riding, by the chorus of little voices squeaking “The wheels on the bus go round and round” over and over and over.)

No, I don’t have a photo of The Child on a bus. But I do have this one (and the one at the top of this post) — of her on a cable car. Which is perhaps even more fun, depending on whether you’re the Child or the Parent

Also, little kids can look out the windows on the bus. “Look, Honey. There’s a policeman on a horse.” “Look, Sweetie. There’s a lady with a snake around her neck.” “Look, Doll. (Or maybe not.) There’s a man running up Second Avenue wearing only fishnet hose and sneakers.” All actual bus-window sightings, I might add.

Oh, sure. The subway does have windows, but there’s not much to look at except other subways whooshing by. Which actually is pretty cool, come to think of it.

But I digress. Back to The Child and her first subway ride.

I was working in advertising, literally on Madison Avenue, since that’s where DDB/Needham was at the time, when I was invited to a party by one of my colleagues. A party where children were invited. (Trust me, this hardly ever happens in the world of advertising. Or at least not back in the crazy booze-and-controlled-substance-fueled days when I was in it. So how could I refuse?)

This party was to take place down in SoHo. And the best way to get to SoHo from Madison Avenue, or just about anywhere in New York City, actually, unless you happen to be in SoHo already, is by subway.

How New Yorkers get around — to The Village, in this case. Which is equally as subway-a-rific as SoHo to this Upper East Sider

So I get Our Caregiver to bring The Little Cherub (AKA The Child) to my office, where I tell her we’re headed to the subway.

“What’s the subway?” she asked. (Seriously; I guess all her Little Friends walked and bussed everywhere too.) “It’s a train that runs under the ground” I answered. “Under the ground? Doesn’t dirt get in it?” “Well, um, yes. Actually, it does.”

We get to the subway entrance and descend. It really is a “hole in the ground”, as the song “New York New York” would have it. The Child is fascinated — staring with wide little child eyes at everything: the buskers, the panhandlers, the hapless crowds of exhausted commuters. She’s thrilled when I let her put the token in the slot in the turnstile, since this was well before MetroCards. (Gosh, Child, you’ve reached the age when you can do that “way back when I was a kid” thing!)

The Child, “way back when”, on a slide. No, it’s not a slide that goes into “a hole in the ground”, thank goodness

Did I mention that it was Rush Hour? Now Rush Hour in Manhattan is not nearly as bad as those pictures you’ve seen of Rush Hour in Tokyo, where guys in uniforms push people onto the crammed cars with white-gloved hands. But it’s pretty close.

And, speaking of close, that’s how we’re “arranged” on this subway car — once The Child and I squeezed our way onto one, that is. We’re so tightly packed together that you didn’t really need to hang on to a strap (they had those then, too). The mere proximity of your neighbor kept you upright.

But, even though this subway car was packed tighter than Vienna sausages in a can, it was quiet as quiet could be — everyone was in his or her little New York After-Work Bubble, just hanging in there till they could get home already.

Except for this one little baby-duck-like voice that kept piping up. Yup, it was The Child. And she had a lot of questions. “Why isn’t anybody smiling?” “They’re busy thinking, Sweetie.” “Why does it smell so bad?” “Because you can’t open the windows, Bunny.”

And the Best Question of All, asked when she spotted a noisily-snoring man zonked out, covered with newspapers, and occupying four subway seats while everyone gave him as wide a berth as possible — “Why is that man sleeping?

Well. Here’s where that Lutheran Lie comes in. All faces expectantly turned to me as I explained, in best Mommy Fashion, “Well, Sweetheart. It’s been a long day. And people are very tired from working.

No one flinched. But I did get some pretty good smirks.

Is this the face of a Child ready for a lesson on The Homeless? Well, pardon me, but I didn’t think so. Lutheran Lie to the rescue. (If you’d like an explanation, check out “Lutheranliar explained”)

New York City. October 2018

 

A Night at the Opera

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‘Where everyone falls in love with the wrong person, and dies a horrible death in the end’

Maybe you’ve heard this joke. It’s the one about the guy who goes to the ballet and asks, “Why don’t they just get taller girls?”

Sorry. My dad used to tell that one, and I don’t know any opera jokes. I do remember there was an old Bugs Bunny cartoon that was a parody of Wagner, but actual opera jokes? Hmmm.

I wanted to start with a bit of levity because, most of the time, opera is sort of the opposite of humorous. But that’s what I love about it. I mean, what’s not to like about poisonings and sword fights and firing squads? And brutal stabbings with daggers — of bad guys (take that, Scarpia!) and of one’s self (poor Butterfly). Oh, and let’s not forget the jumpings to one’s death off parapets. That’s in Tosca, my very favorite opera. 

Anna Netrebko rocks the house as Tosca. Here she is soaking up her zillionth curtain call after jumping off that parapet

Anyway. I’m not going to get into a lot of Opera Stuff. Except to say that I absolutely love it. Except for maybe exploring the upper reaches of the Amazon, opera is quite possibly the most exciting thing I do. At least with all my clothes on. Opera is even exciting before it starts. Just check out this video taken from the balcony of the Met: Continue reading

The friend who had a nanny for her dog

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‘Way up on the Upper East Side’

One of the many things I enjoy about living in New York City is the, well, mix of people. Where I grew up in the Midwest — at least when I grew up there — a brunette was pretty darned exotic.

But here you get to rub elbows (and sometimes much much more) with a wide variety of folks. Some of whom live on a scale that can take some getting used to. Like, one day The Child came home from nursery school with this to say: “Mommy, Helen’s mommy has a couch in her bathroom!” Me: “How nice for Helen’s mommy!”

And I once shared Safety Patrol duty with a very congenial fellow mommy who, it turned out, had the same last name as a whole wing of the Metropolitan Museum. (No, she wasn’t named after it; it was named after her.)

My mommy friend’s namesake

And you may recall (from my story “Three, and You’re Under the Host”) that when The Child was attending that Quite Distinguished Private All-Girls School, we were invited to some pretty swell parties. (All the parents, not just us, were invited to these parties. But still.) Continue reading

So help me God

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‘The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: jury duty in New York City’

Excuses, excuses. This week I’m late because I have to keep chasing a darned turkey out of my yard. Sorry if some of you out there like turkeys in your yards; not me. They leave too many ‘gifts’, if you get my drift.

Anyway. On to this week’s story. Which is about jury duty in New York. Now before you start yawning, let me assure you that it can be pretty darned fascinating. For one thing, they changed the rules a few years ago so that nobody — and I do mean nobody — gets out of serving. So it’s quite possible that you can find yourself killing time doing the crossword in a big ole waiting room with the likes of Madonna or Sir Paul or maybe even The Donald back when he lived in New York (But wait; He still does live in New York. But I don’t think he does the crossword.)

Used to be that you could get out of serving if you had a little kid at home, were a doctor, or owned your own business. (Check all three boxes for The Dude; now that those exceptions have been eliminated, he has to serve and it drives him nuts. He thinks up all kinds of “you may be excused” answers to their questions, like “Yes” to “Do you believe that everyone who is tried in this court is implicitly guilty?” and it just makes the lawyers love him all the more. He almost always gets picked.) Continue reading

It’s lonely at the top of the Coliseum

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‘The time we went to Rome and no one was home’

They say that comedy is tragedy plus time. It’s been thirty years since the Chernobyl disaster, so I guess it’s safe to tell a somewhat-amusing story about it. After all, New York Times Journeys is selling tours to the Chernobyl site. The group is ‘departing’ (nice choice of words, Times writer) May 27, so there’s still time to sign up. If you’ve got $5,495 and a hazmat suit.

I think I’ll skip this, tempting though it may sound to stay in ‘the only hotel in the town of Chernobyl’

So what could Chernobyl possibly have to do with a nice thirty-something couple in New York? Well. The Dude was a freshly-minted doctor at the time and was preparing to give his first big lecture at his first big medical meeting. This meeting, of ophthalmologists from around the world, was to be held in Rome — a city that sounded darned nice to visit, meeting or no meeting.

So The Dude got his notes and slides all prepped and polished and I found us some nice cheap plane tickets and a nice cheap hotel. (These were the days when we were living ‘Barefoot in the Park’-style in that fish-bowl ground-floor apartment, remember, and the Hassler was not in our budget. Still isn’t, actually.) Continue reading

Signs of Spring (Fever)

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‘An it’s-too-nice-out-to-be-chained-to-a-computer story featuring funny signs, though not necessarily about Spring’

Okay okay. I have a zillion ideas for stories that should amuse the bejeepers out of you. I’ve got trip stories, like the one about when we went to Rome right after Chernobyl and nobody was there. Or the one where we left The Child by the side of the road next to a pueblo.

I’ve got ad-biz stories, like the one where we went to South Africa for a diaper shoot and the baby wrangler would only eat foods that started with ‘C’. Or the one where I got lost finding my office in the new Ogilvy digs at Worldwide Plaza and wound up in a British documentary.

And of course I still have plenty of fuel left in the family-story tank — plus major holdings indeed in the growing-up-in-a-small-town memory bank.

But. It is Spring. And Spring is distracting. I’ve been so distracted that the photo at the top of this post was mistakenly snapped by my iPhone-clutching hand while strolling along checking out Spring in New York City. (Actually, I was in a rush to deliver some crutches to The Child, who had just sprained her ankle badly in a fall from a climbing wall — but that’s, ahem, another story.)

Photo taken while wandering lonely as a cloud. If one can ‘wander’ while on a bike

And then this weekend, while on a bike ride out in Amagansett, hoping to clear my head and focus — focus, already — on a story, I found signs of Spring springing out at me from every which way. Continue reading

Please don’t play it again, Sam

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‘Living in harmony with the Piano Man’

Even the most wonderfully wacky honeymoon — spent driving around Portugal and Spain checking out caves (well, make that one cave) and mooching off Malcolm Forbes in Morocco — has to end sometime. And then you have to get back to Real Life.

Which The Dude and I did. We lived, as we do now, in an apartment here in New York City. Not the same apartment as now, though. This one was on the ground floor of the building right next door, which is an oddity I won’t get into right now, for lack of space (mine) and patience (yours).

Anyway. I mention the Ground Floor Thing because it meant that any pedestrian striding by on his or her way to work or class (hospital down the street, school across it) had a clear view through our windows of anything we happened to be doing. I remember getting our living room ready for moving in — this was before our blinds were installed — and feeling, you know, watched. I glanced up to see a whole Peanut Gallery checking out my floor-polishing technique. So we pretty much had to keep those blinds shut. Which made the apartment feel rather like that cave we visited on our honeymoon. Continue reading

Laughter is the best medicine. Well, except for maybe a manhattan.

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‘Waking up to Mo(u)rning in America. Trumped’

When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. But what do you do when life (or, er, almost half of your fellow Americans) hands you a Big Ole Orange? Well, you can weep or rage or march. You can tear at your clothing or hair. You can move to Canada or even threaten to secede from the Union. (Bye, California, including Oldest Younger Brother Scott in Petaluma; just don’t take Mom with you.)

And sure, you can look for a way to try to squeeze a little orangeade out of that Big Ole Orange. Here’s a way that involves squeezing a trigger. (No, no. Do not call the Secret Service; this is perfectly-harmless-yet-remarkably-satisfying paintball, folks. And, yes, The Child approves the use of this message.)

paintball-wizzard

Caption to this pic on The Child’s Instagram feed: ‘Good way to let off steam after a tough week #stillanastywoman’

And of course you can indeed toss off a few Manhattans. I chose this other favorite beverage this time because I’ve already ‘done’ Martinis. You can read about my cocktail adventures in ‘Three, and you’re under the host’, in case you missed it or just want to bail already on this Trump post and skip right to drinking. Reading about it, anyway. Continue reading

Yachts: many many boats

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‘A few salty sallies from the pages of New York Magazine.’

Last week’s post was sort of a Reader’s Digest of amusing Metropolitan Diary entries written by, um, me. Since you Readers seemed to get a kick out of it, I thought I’d regale you this week with a few examples of stuff of mine that got into New York Magazine. (If I ever get anything into the New Yorker, like my pal Ken, you’ll never hear from me again.)

Remember when I told you that Ad Folks are the funniest people ever? This famous New Yorker Cartoonist used to work at Ogilvy. And I actually KNOW him!

Remember when I told you that Ad Folks are the funniest people ever? This famous New Yorker Cartoonist used to work at Ogilvy. And I actually know him. Fun fact: he also wears blue glasses (!)

To be honest, I’m really doing this stuff-from-New-York-Magazine thing because I played hooky away from my computer all weekend. I was on a birdwatching trip (honest) to Cape May, New Jersey, and it was kind of hard to think about my blog while I was trying to concentrate on warbler wing bars. (I promise to share wacky birding stories soon; stay tuned for my views on how “birders” are practically sexually indistinguishable — and much much more!) Continue reading

Walking the goldfish

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‘And other Dear (Metropolitan) Diary entries’

A couple of weeks ago, my story (‘The time I had a blind date with an eye doctor‘) came by way of a suggestion by my friend Mary Ann. (Thanks again, Mary Ann!) This week’s is thanks to an idea from another friend, Jim. (Who writes a very cool blog called ‘Forged in Buffalo’. Plug plug plug.)

Jim reminded me that my stories used to appear fairly regularly in the New York Times. Honest. There is this column that appears on Mondays called The Metropolitan Diary. As the Times website puts it, ‘Since 1976, Metropolitan Diary has been a place for New Yorkers, past and present, to share odd fleeting moments at Bloomingdale’s, at the deli around the corner, in the elevator or at the movies.’

You can well imagine that I’ve overheard my fair share of ‘odd fleeting moments’ (emphasis on ‘odd’), and that I haven’t been shy about sharing them. Only now I share them with dozens of followers of my blog rather than with thousands of readers of the New York Times.

Hmmmm. Continue reading