Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fish out of Water

Way back in college, I remember reading a poem with a line "I wish I didn't miss the city in the country." And so do I. Here I am in suburban Cincinnati missing the City, my city.

I feel something crossing the Triborough Bridge, now the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, as I'm leaving the island of Manhattan. I keep wanting to turn around and look back. I feel as if I'm going to miss something while I'm gone.

I know there's lots to recommend life west of the Hudson, but I still miss the city in the country.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Same Time, Next Month

One of the great things about New York is that despite thousands of stores and restaurants you can go to, you can also have just about anything delivered right to your doorstep. But it's not just things, it's services too. Cleaning people, dog walkers, gardeners, cat sitters -- and in my case, I have a totally self-indulgent service. I have a mobile spa which comes once a month and I get a manicure, pedicure and waxing right in the comfort of my own home.

But this is not just any ordinary spa. The business is called Green Spa on the Go (check out their website at Did you ever think about the chemicals in nail polish remover? Well, this mobile spa uses only organic products -- even for remover and polish. Everything the manicurist uses smells of something wonderful -- lavender, green tea, roses, figs, mango. You can see why I am totally spoiled.

The business is owned by Marianella and she has come to me for more than a year now, once a month, and I think about how you get to know someone a few hours at a time. We end up talking about everything -- family, weather, business, faith, gossip, world events. She is Venezuelan and we talk about customs, holidays and today how native speakers can tell which Spanish-speaking country someone is from listening to them speak. How a chuleta is a pork chop in Mexico and Venezuela, but not in Argentina.

I have a friend, Barbara, who I have lunch with once a month. We've done this for 17 years, and I believe in that time, we've missed two months. Rarely do I talk to her between our lunches, except maybe the day before to confirm the lunch is still on our calendars, but I know the lunches are important to both of us. It's the best way we know to make it a priority to stay connected.

In all those years, only a few of our lunches stand out. One was the lunch we had planned on September 14, 2001 -- the Friday after 9/11. I remember talking to her on the phone. Should we still do our lunch? Nobody knew the rules any more -- are you allowed to be social in these dark days?

The energy in the city was different then -- so subdued. The rhythm, that natural buzz of the city wasn't there, and it took months for it to return. We did meet, and I remember after lunch, we walked out on Broadway and 86th Street and there was a convoy of huge bulldozers and other equipment on tractor trailers coming down Broadway and people stood there, watching, and applauded. I'm not quite sure what we were applauding.

In the cab on the way home, the radio announcer made a call for "vets" to go to Ground Zero and, at first, I thought vets meant military personnel, but he meant vets as in animal doctors. It turned out that many of the rescue dogs on site had burned paws from walking on hot metal. It's hard to not cry when I think about that.

I have told non-New Yorkers that there are two 9/11s in my mind. One is the made-for-tv movie politicized media event that I have no interest in. The other is the very personal one where memories of bulldozers and dogs with burned paws are as poignant today as they were that Friday.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Late Night Penn Station

I was not looking forward to arriving at Penn Station after midnight. I was thinking it may be even more depressing than late night airports. Is there anything more lonely than an airport when yours is the last flight in? Everything is closed, and one sad guy is buffing the floor mindlessly. Even restrooms are closed. It's like the energy has been sucked out of the place.

Penn Station is not a place where you want to spend more than a New York Minute, but I had a lovely experience. The escalator was turned off so I faced the prospect of hauling a suitcase up a non-working escalator. I know there are people who can pick up a roller board bigger than mine, with a back pack to boot and cheerfully trot up the stairs, but not me.

I asked if there were an elevator and there was. As I approached it, I saw a man in it looking at me expectantly as I drew closer. I admit that it's often "every man for himself" in New York, but this man had overheard me asking about an elevator and was actually holding the elevator for me. Let's hear it for the kindness of strangers. No way did he have to do that for me.

When I got to the main level, I was surprised to see that the trains run all night, unlike the airport. Trains were scheduled to leave 2 am, 3 am... all night long.

I got in a cab and at 12:45 on a Sunday night, the city was fairly quiet. We took 8th Avenue then crosstown to Third Avenue and uptown. Nothing was open, except for big bank ATM places, and it wasn't until the high 60s where there was an all-night drug store. Farther uptown, more drug stores, some delis, some bars. The city may never sleep, but it does seem to take some beauty naps.