Four and Eleven, Ballet, and Hot Dogs

The following was written in 2005, edited recently. 
    Although instincts had led astray in the past, their candor and edge are, at present, unmistakable. Lincoln Center–yes, that’s it. I’d been there once to see Madame Butterfly. I remember red and gold, but I also recall that my nose actually bled from the altitude of our seats. I’d arrived by subway before, and now could only rely on my feet and compassless sense of direction while wondering if those big white buildings were east of Central Park or west. I was almost sure it was west. A street fair. Dairy-free ice cream? Really? Can they even call it ice cream. It was good, although I questioned how it could taste so cow-like without any dairy.   
    “Excuse me, but I was wondering if you could point me to Lincoln Center.”
    I imagine he’d lived in The City much of his life. Maybe he’s an author, actor or some unknown-to-me celebrity. I instantly profile him as a man who has ridiculous amounts of money stashed away because he eats only oatmeal at all meals with an occasional banana or apple a few times a week—the fruit being an extra special treat that he rarely allows himself to enjoy. Surely the apple or banana would be badly bruised, living on the discount rack—if he was indeed a miser. Why did he become so miserly? Why is he alone? Did his wife die? Or did he never marry? Or partner? Maybe he’s a loner. A rich loner. How sad that a rich loner ambles his way along The City streets, looking for something or someone or somewhere to make him feel alive again. Blame my overactive imagination, but I assume this of nearly every moderately dressed older person when I’m in The City. He is pleasant, at ease, and more than willing to help. Pointing at a hotel sign, he encourages me that I am, indeed, headed in the right direction. Lincoln Center is only a few blocks away. For some reason my mind tells me it is around 61st on the east side. I didn’t want to trust my mind, but now I had reason to doubt my doubts.
    Three buildings coated in semi-white chalkiness. Stanchions of creative energies embodying beauty, strength, and artistry. Posters and brochures. September 27, October, November. But today, where is today? Madame Butterfly, but not again. I want to see bodies flying and twisting. I want to see worship. I want to participate in visual inspiration. I want to go to the bathroom.
    Does Lincoln Center have a public potty?
    Yes, but a few levels down, nestled into the underground parking arena. I wonder if Pavarotti had ‘used’ the public facility there. Why would he when he had his own? Perhaps he parked in the garage below and just couldn’t wait to get to his dressing room. Beverly Sills?  Who else. Renee Flemming? My daydreaming mind shifts me into autopilot until the brick-wall end of my restroom search and I find myself upstairs looking at posters and brochures once again. To no avail. I exhaust my solo efforts at Lincoln Center and decide to ask for help at Information. Two ladies, older than I (much older than I) complain in nasal, east-coast accents about “the bathrooms. What are we suh-post ta dew, pee owr pants?!” She needs an elevator, and there wasn’t one at this location. I feel for her, but also think she might be a spoiled young girl who, after growing up, happened to become an elderly woman. A similarly aged woman in summer hat and thick eyeliner pulls my attention from the pee ladies. Her large blue button tells me she is a volunteer tour guide and hopefully helpful.
    I blurt something about looking for a ballet of some kind and she informs me in a softness that The City hadn’t ruined that “the season starts in a few weeks. Have you tried City Center—the Met and the New York City Ballet used to perform there before they move here—they have lots of dance there. Do you know where that is?” She is almost apologetic—offering her condolences to the death of my hope of seeing ballet at Lincoln Center. “55th and 7th I think. Oh, have you seen Chicago?”  I had. It wasn’t part of the assignment for the day, and I’d already made Movin’ Out a back-up plan if I couldn’t see a traditional ballet. I amble on after thanking her for her suburbia-style help.
    After circling the block a time or two, I realize that I must be slightly askew in my quest to find City Center. I enter a NYC trinket shop, and quickly realize that this is not the place to inquire about directions. Why would a half-tourist ask a tourist directions? Hilariously foolish. I interrupt two women. One of them tells me she thinks it might be between 6th and 7th avenue. Ah. Hadn’t tried that … and there it was moments later. Spanish style almost.  Oddly otherworldly. Billboards filled with tantalizing glimpses of excellent dances to come, but none today.  Movin’ Out wins.
    “It’s better to get them here. At TKTS you’ll pay about the same because all seats are $55 today. I can get you orchestra 13th row center section.” I pay with my credit card, and wait for him to hand me a pen to sign, but he is unwilling to relinquish his pen. The tattooed slender man points sharply to my pen outside the thick, Alcatraz imported glass. I sign, only mildly ashamed from not seeing the pen two inches from my hand. “Three o-clock,” he blurts, and hands me my receipt. I have about one and a half-hours, and the respite of Central Park calls me back via the subway.  
    Searching for a spot, the spot, I see a statue performer in white making her living. How often does she do this? Does she make her entire living standing still, then moving only a few mimed inches? She looks like she is making a meal or stirring a potion, but who would she be making it for dressed like that—maybe it’s flowers—cutting and arranging flowers. I stand upstage left of her. I want to be a voyeur, not any part of the action, and locate the respite that would house my book and me for the next forty-five minutes.
    A green bench adjacent to a field of Frisbee players invites me to enjoy The City with my book. Temperate. Cool. Soothing words massaging my restlessness, taking me to yet another place within the park:  a mind journey–a city within The City. Seeing and smelling the reality, but feeling and sensing the fiction simultaneously causes the voices to bow to mingling, making a “present and past” soup in my head. With pieces of the author’s mind, cheers from the nearby baseball game, and fragments of conversation from the painter to my right, I find the stories blending into one. I allow myself to fall immersed into the puddle of scripts emanating from the surroundings; the conglomeration inviting, not overwhelming.  
    “I like this one best.”
    “Why? What do you like about it?”
    “The colors . . . I just do. It’s appealing.”
    I think I heard one of them say ‘Ansel.’  I wonder if this man and his friend/wife/lover/sister/co-worker should be sitting in a park relaxing. I surmise that they should be in a gallery. I think they know people I might never know. They’re fascinating in their simplicity, and so covertly inviting that I pretend to listen to music whilst eavesdropping. Thanks ear buds. It feels like a permissible sin. No names of the victims, and no ill effects, regrets, or severe intrusions; they speak freely and closely. I listen.  
    He shows her his works. At least, I presume they are his works; originals bright and thick with voluptuous acrylics. Her admiration of him and his work is amply apparent, but refreshingly simple. I think they might want me to notice.
    Book in bag and bag on back, I grab the cell phone. As I search for a bus to take me back downtown I invite a friend, via voice mail, into my day. He’d recommended the book I was reading, A Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, and I want to congratulate him on an excellent suggestion. Not well versed in the art of the MTA in The City, I think I should take a risk and hop on a bus—these only go one direction, I convince myself.  So I jump on the 110, or is it the 104 or 210.  At any rate, I hop on a bus with an even number, crossing my fingers. While on the bus, I notice the riders look comfortable–no reason to complain.  But American’s usually find a reason to complain—unfortunately, it’s become a hallmark for us.  
    “Too much ketchup on my cheeseburger—I hate this.”  
    “This line is forever.”
    “My computer sucks.” All common phrases.  
    Unfortunately for us, myself included, we’ve spoiled ourselves into hating the things much of the world considers luxuries. The only complaining on this bus, however, surfaces in the form of a ho-hum glance from the woman sitting next to me. She’s reviewing some type of script—a student probably. Again the peeper, her paper told of a tower falling and a second falling shortly thereafter. We stop again and I feel I should rise and give my seat to anyone else, a woman, a senior, a tourist less tourist-like than myself. Chivalry, often seen only in the form of an occasional door being held open by someone who feels compelled to do so, is near death—it’s time I started performing CPR. So I stand. Unfortunately, in my zeal to treat others well, I position my backpack right in script-lady’s face. I imagine it was there for a good while until I notice and apologize. The ho-hum glance turns to a scowl on her face. Rightfully so, I think, but perhaps an “ ‘s OK,” or something to make me think I hadn’t ruined her day–or her entire life. Maybe she let me ruin her day. Sorry script lady on the bus headed downtown.  
My shrouded chivalry is communicable! A man holds the door for a severely dawdling child. The mother exits the side door with her infant in hand, but Timmy (maybe his real name?–I’ll never know) decides to take his time. He was about to be left behind, yet a man stood in the gap, affording the toddler and mother to reunite after only six seconds of separation.  I am relieved.  I stop myself from applauding–might be a bit dramatic.
    A slight, but very real nervousness tells me the bus will stop nowhere near the theater and that I’d spent too much time in Central Park.
    Unfounded fear allayed.
    Movin’ Out superbly satisfies the ballet need.  The stage colored by superhumans soaring above ordinary jumping heights, vocals floating into every crevice thanks to an over-zealous audio operator, and classical training applied to modern compliments of Twyla Tharp. Oddly enough, there’s nothing else to say about the show. The City has more to offer today. I’d always wanted to go to Coney Island.  
My grandfather spoke so cherishingly of the glory of a coney island. He’d wanted to open his own coney island stand in the new New York: Vero Beach, Florida. (Aside: go there. Take a bike ride through a retirement village. It’s like being in New York only it’s sunnier, smells like oranges and salt water, and their color palate is made up entirely of pastels and gold/silver shoes. Aside done.) 
Grandpa and Grandma. Lotsa love.
Grandpa assured us all that it would be an instant incredible addiction to all the easterners now living in Florida.  “ ‘S nothing like it!  You can’t even call them chili dogs, because that’s really not what it is.”  He was adamant that magic was the main ingredient in an authentic coney island hot dog. My father, though not the son of the grandfather who worshipped the coney island, holds a similar fascination with missile shaped food products.  
I expect the subway ride would take about a half-hour, and it does.  Approaching the stop, I realize Coney Island has more than fancy hot dogs. I expected water, but somehow did not realize the water would be the ocean. So close to The City? What was I thinking–apparently not very much. Even though I’d seen its location on maps, until I smelled the salt air I didn’t believe. Sunshine. At nearly six PM, its rosy orange rays make the water, the rides, the side shows, and even the hot dogs shimmer with the soft, natural glamour of a summertime sprinkler soaked child. Passing the rides and food stands, the ocean’s cadence invites me forward, drawing me into it’s gentle churning. I sit, rest, and listen.
    The surf lapping with strength and calm; ever changing but constant. Pulling with unseen energy that was as new as every breath. I wish for a hammock and a blanket, to rest at the shore’s side, letting its power and rolling rhythm lull and relax me into it’s arms. But I rise from the shore and do the ‘I don’t want to get sand in my shoes’ walk that makes me waddle like a human bird. After a few steps, I feel I should sit down again.
    I soak.
    Kites and a clear sun-setting sky make me want to stay and breathe in the air, breathe in the voice I feel guiding me, breathe in the life—the openness so converse to the concrete-country subway ride. The sun slowly sinks and begins it’s goodnight kisses on us all. I wait, wanting all the love the sun cared to give. Waiting with the kites. As they soar, responding so well to what is handed to them. Diving and soaring. Sometimes falling. There is a story in the wind today that reaches into the moment I was born, whispering in a supernatural language, reassuring me in places I was unaware I needed security and certainty.
    I buy a hot dog.  I am hungry, but I buy it to have a coney island on Coney Island.  I eat it for Grandpa … and for dad. Perhaps I buy it to have with Grandpa?
    Though the coney island is for Grandpa and dad, the dream of ice cream was for no one but myself. Numerous stands offer ice cream, but none seem right. I trudge back to Manhattan. While searching for the subway hole that would take me to Port Authority for the nine PM bus back to Pennsylvania., I see them, though they were gone. I wonder about attractions in the city on this day, as I’d seen relatively few except a street fair uptown. Searchlights? But they weren’t moving. Ghosts of towers from four years and eleven hours ago. I try to capture the moment on my camera phone, but the phone refuses to take the beams into its eye like a vampire in a mirror, they vanish from sight. I take several pictures, yet none realize the shadow towers. The hunger for ice cream intensifies, but suddenly dwindles when I see Canal Street is one of the stops. Gelato. Yes! A taste of Italy! Authentic. Creamy.  Ice cream-like.
    Most of Canal Street is like any other Manhattan concourse, but it connects several worlds—worlds of food.  As I stroll, the shining garland and lights signal my arrival on Mulberry Street. Like Coney Island, and the streets in Florence, choices for creamy pleasures abound. I ask several times which is Italian ice and which is gelato before settling on a medium sized portion of vanilla loveliness.  The more I eat, the more the medium grew to a large—an odd happening when consuming something so extraordinary. It is more than enough. Indeed.
    I have everything I need. I have more than enough. Is this gelato talking to me.

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