My daily life is so quiet and local that it doesn't take much to give me an out-on-the-town feeling. I was definitely out-on-the-town all day Saturday. Saturday is ordinarily the day on which I hunker down with the Book Review, reading it and then reviewing it, a job that takes me about five hours of unsteady application. But last Saturday was different, because...
Because Kathleen was in Chicago, attending a memorial service, I suggested to some friends who are in New York only at the weekend that we get together for brunch. We made a date to meet at Cassis, a restaurant at the corner of 70th Street and Columbus Avenue, at eleven. By the time I left the apartment, I had stopped worrying about how I was going to do the Book Review gig, given that I had another date to show up at Carnegie Hall at eight. I was looking forward to meet with Chris and Tony and to hear what's up with them. I walked up 86th Street to the bank. After making a withdrawal, I waited a moment for the crosstown bus.
It came at once. The last of the deboarding passengers was a tiny lady who seemed slightly disoriented. "Downtown?" she asked of no one in particular. I am often asked for directions, and I'm quick to offer them, as well; and I hope that I usually do a better job of it than I did on Saturday. For some utterly dumb reason, I thought that the lady had lost her bearings and didn't know which way downtown was. People often climb out of the subway with no idea of which direction they're facing. So I directed her to Park Avenue, with a swing of my arm to suggest which way she ought to turn when she got there.
The bus driver gave me a funny look, and I certainly deserved it. The lady had just gotten off the crosstown bus at Lexington Avenue. She had not climbed out of the subway in confusion. She wanted to climb down into the subway, and I had sent her in precisely the wrong direction. What a doofus! The driver advanced the bus until he was alongside the puzzled lady. There he opened the door, honked the horn a few times, and got the lady's attention in time to turn her around.
This ought to have been mortifying, but my spirits were too high for more than a moment's slight shame. Presently, something nice happened. When we got to Fifth Avenue, somebody's phone rang, and a woman said nicely but firmly that she was on the bus and couldn't talk at length. We all ought to have cheered her, but of course that would have betrayed our eavesdropping (not that anyone has a choice on the bus).
At Central Park West, an elderly and somewhat infirm gentleman wearing a suit climbed aboard; he got off with me a block later. I don't know how long he'd been waiting for the bus, but he probably could have covered the distance in that time. He had apparently reached a stage at which forces must be marshaled and deployed frugally.
Crossing to the shady side of the street - it was too warm for my windbreaker, but I didn't want to carry it - I headed downtown. I estimated that I'd arrive at Cassis right on time, but I hadn't reckoned on the upscale street fair behind the American Museum of Natural History. For four blocks, the sidewalk was lined with small white tents. The merchandise on offer seemed somewhat more useful and distinctive than the stuff that's stocked by the big, traffic-stopping street fairs, and the many individual pavilions made for a festive air, so I dodged the strollers and the browsers without scowling. Don't ask me why, but I sensed the presence of many suburban matrons.
Just as I was approaching Cassis, Chris called to me from beside a parking meter. Cassis had just changed its Saturday opening hour, pushing it back to noon. Presently Tony appeared, and we agreed that we didn't want to wait an hour to eat. So we strolled up Columbus Avenue to Café Ronda, a Latin American restaurant, and sat outside. I had two bloody marys, a chicken chipotle sandwich with fries proffered in a silver cup, and about ninety minutes of fun. I'm very tempted to repeat the very funny quip that... but no, I won't.
From the restaurant, I walked my friends down to the street where they live, partly for the companionship and partly because I had a vague idea of buying myself a nice new shirt at Rochester, the big-guy store at Sixth Avenue and 52nd Street. The question was, how to get there. Should I walk or hop on the subway? Truth to tell, I was buzzing a bit from the drinks, and I thought that a pit stop might be very nice. I called an old friend who lives in Lincoln Plaza. He was listening, as I expected he would be, to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Rodelinda, and he welcomed me warmly. It took thirty years off me just to be dropping in on someone - to be doing anything so spontaneous. We talked for a while about a death in his family, and then, much restored, I continued on my way. I noted that, while I had entered Lincoln Plaza from the Upper West Side, I left it for midtown. If there is an edge between the two districts, it is the stretch between Lincoln Center and Columbus Circle. The walk along Central Park West is totally dominated by the Time Warner Center, and the fountain at the Circle has been finished (probably ages ago). There was a miscellaneous crowd in the plaza before the Maine monument. I thought of all the people who were either there for a reason (to watch the breakdancing, for example) or just passing through, and how extremely unlikely it was that I would ever cross paths with any of them again. Lately, I often find myself in a somewhat vertiginous state on the subway, brought on by a train heading in the opposite direction, ten cars full of strangers to whom I'll never be so proximate again. All those lives; all that contingency! Passing so many people on the pavement intensified the knowledge that, considering the possibilities, I don't know very many people at all. I felt very atomic, literally.
Broadway carried me in an easterly drift as I continued downtown. Was the store on 53rd or 52nd, I wondered - because I never can remember. Sixth Avenue in the 50's is a parade of boring towers set back on dreary plazas, and there's nothing very memorable about Rochester's location. Midway between Seventh and Sixth on 53rd, however, I saw that it must be on 52nd. Lo, an arcade cutting through the buildings across the street (one of them the curiously-named Flatotel) would save me some steps. The arcade was one of those "public spaces" that don't quite work in New York, even when, as in this case, they're strung with merry light bulbs and endowed with a café. Four men and a woman were having a late brunch at the only occupied table. The way they took me in as I passed by strongly suggested that they were visitors from far away; perhaps it was just the difficulty of imagining New Yorkers dining in a dank, covered space on such a beautiful day.
At Rochester, I fell in love with a shirt bearing the label of Ermenegildo Zegna. But I did not buy it. I have paid over two hundred dollars for a shirt on two occasions; the shirts are beautiful and I have them dry cleaned. But I'm not ready yet to pay over three hundred dollars for one shirt. I wound up with two Polos and a Cutter & Buck, each of which cost less than a hundred. I also bought some blue chinos and a seersucker jacket to wear as a blazer this summer. I would break both of these in later the same day, when I went to Carnegie Hall.
The trek home was uneventful. For some strange reason, I expected to find the IRT just one block beyond Fifth, although that would be Madison Avenue and the "Lexington Avenue Line" runs beneath Lexington Avenue. It gave me quite a start to see the stately Villard Houses more or less where I expected to find the sinuous Metropolitan Hotel. When I did get on the subway, at 51st Street, it was packed, but at least half the passengers got off at 68th Street. I'll never know why.
This feels like a wry pendant to the foregoing.
At least it all happened in one day.
About a month ago, I got a notice warning me that my subscription to Norton AntiVirus was going to expire in thirty days. I renewed right away, and bought and downloaded Norton AntiVirus 2006. But I couldn't install it. Nor could I really think about it. Mańana thinking took over until the expiration dropped into the single digits. Over the weekend, I promised myself that I would take care of it on Tuesday, but Kathleen stayed home on Tuesday, and I knew that she'd need the fast connection at some point. She also needed to be protected from the installation procedure, which something told me was not going to be fun. So I wrote a few things instead, to relieve myself of publishing pressure yesterday.
I couldn't even tell the first young Indian gent what the problem was. He told me that I should have to delete Norton AntiVirus 2004, and he sent me a list of instructions, which sounded good but turned out to be somewhat trivial. If I'd been advised to delete the software before, I'd clearly missed it. And of course relying on the "Add/Remove" software feature of the Control Panel was inadequate too. Three much longer calls later, I discovered that I had always needed something called the Windows Installer CleanUp Utility ("msicuu2.exe" in code), freely available from the Micosoft site. Only then would the heavy-duty deletions work. This involved trips to the computer's registry and several reboots in safe mode, both activities that I would unfavorably compare to white-water rafting from as regards frayed nerves. When I had to type in the particulars to set up a Norton account, I had to concentrate on calming the tremors in my left hand.
I didn't think that it was going to work on the fourth pass, but it did. The "Internet worm protection" scan failed, so I still have business in the Subcontinent. But the security is in place. (I think - what do I know?) The mess ended shortly past five. That gave me a little time to finish the Times and to read The New Yorker. I had a concert at eight.
Before reading, I got the ticket out of the ticket drawer and looked at it, but my mind was still pretty poached, and the plain black-and-white - or black-and-blue, this being a ticket for Weill Recital Hall - didn't penetrate with sufficient impact to correct my impression that the concert would begin at eight. Right?
Which just shows how unfamiliar I am with Weill. I ought to have known, from MTC experience, that the smaller halls in arts complexes always open early, to ease the human traffic. And I'd already learned this the hard way at Carnegie's other small hall, Zankel Hall in the basement. But I am condemned to learn from mistakes that I seem to make more or less constantly. I got dressed in plenty of time to leave the house at a quarter past seven, which is ample time to reach Carnegie Hall on the subway. At seven, therefore, when I ought to have been ought the door, I was sitting at my desk reading a long letter. And answering it - although briefly. It was only when I checked to make sure that I had my ticket that I looked at it closely.
Do you want to hear about the cab ride? The driver was a Morgan Freeman type who thought I was pretty nutsy to want to cross the Park and then head downtown. He made sure that I'd agree - by taking Columbus Avenue, not Central Park South. It took three lights just to make the left turn onto Columbus. I simmered in the back seat. Finally, at Broadway and 64th Street, now backed up by Columbus Circle, I got out, figuring that since I'd missed the seven-thirty start by five minutes, I might as well stop paying for transportation. I'd like to say that I power-walked to Carnegie Hall in fifteen minutes (passing the Maine monument in spirits rather different from Saturday's), but it was more like eighteen or nineteen.
Stepping off the elevator into the foyer of Weill Recital Hall, I was met by an usher who told me that I'd just have to wait seven minutes before being seated, but as she was speaking I was learning that it didn't matter. The television over the bar told me nothing, but even the crappy speakers rendered Tom Meglioranza's voice unmistakable. Even over the crappy speakers, I could hear him spin beauty from Milton Babbitt's somewhat disjointed lines. The instrumentalists accompanying him just sounded foolish, as if performing a modern-music skit on The Carol Burnett Show; the crappy speakers didn't do them any favors. When the applause began and the doors were thrown open, I scooted down the aisle just to applaud.
I was, of course, drenched. The foyer was stuffy, and the minute I stopped moving I began to sweat. The idea of sitting down was itself unpleasant. The idea of soaking through more Milton Babbitt was not one whose time had come. Longing to be outdoors again, I took the elevator to the street level. Just about an hour after I'd left the apartment, I was walking down 86th Street on my way home.
Tonight, we have Shining City at the Biltmore. Eight o'clock I can do. And tomorrow is another day.
Copyright (c) 2006 Pourover Press