You Had Me at ‘Welcome to New York—Have a Cookie’

We are leaving New York City. This is the final post in this blog. I write this with profound mixed feelings, but the move is necessary and, ultimately, will be beneficial. More about that in a minute.

I never expected to live here. It was always an interesting place to visit but …. cliché. My first “encounter” with the city this time occurred when I arrived to get the keys to our apartment. I decided to grab a couple of slices (pizza, for the uninitiated) at Fluffies, a rather inelegant “restaurant/cafe” at the corner of Ninth Avenue and West 58th Street [since closed by the pandemic]. Fluffies had pizzas arrayed in glass cases, already baked and ready to be reheated briefly, so little waiting while you sat at one of the remarkably small tables on a remarkably uncomfortable plastic chair. The pizza was middling quality but good enough, as I perused diagrams of how we planned to set up our furniture.

A largish man, whom I later understood was the owner, approached with my Coke and, to my amazement, asked if I lived around there. I said I was about to move into the towers at One Columbus Place. He nodded and went to pursue other duties. As I finished my pizza and prepared to get up, the owner appeared again, slapped a large Black & White cookie [] on the table and said “Welcome to New York!”

Now, that’s a New York story, if ever I heard one. The city reputed for its hostile environment, for rudeness in that special New York style, and then “have a cookie on us.”

It took about two weeks to complete my rapture with this place. True enough, it was noisy (there are noise ordinances but like many other “rules” they are not enforced), crowded, rushed, dirty in some places, often in shadow, windy … and more. It was also New York City  that should be a Wonder of the World.

Here I fell in love with ballet after seeing and photographing the Continuum Contemporary/Ballet company in a free (yes, free and a front row seat) performance at Bryant Park. See  before it’s too late. This led to many extraordinary evenings at Lincoln Center, a short walk from our apartment, where we reveled in the stunning, often super-human, performance of many classics of the genre. I still can see the stage when the curtain rose and the audience spontaneously roared over the spectacular colors for the amazing Jewels. We bought a membership in New York City Ballet and were able to attend rehearsals of the orchestra and dress rehearsals of major performance which were, for all practical purposes, the actual performances. Breathtaking in every way.

And so it went. Jazz clubs (Jazz at Lincoln Center just a short walk away, the Vanguard and others), Broadway shows, museums, endless stores selling anything and everything, restaurants of every imaginable and unimaginable type, concerts, Central Park – OMG, Central Park where we walked and walked and watched birds and people and dogs and  … rats … and jazz bands and the end of the New York City Marathon and so much more – poetry clubs. New York City has it all. Over 200 languages are spoken here and on any given outing you can expect to hear several of them.

Getting around requires some basic understanding of the subway system as well as how to hail a taxi, how to summon an Uber/Lyft. New Yorkers tend to be ‘New Yorkish’ in their dealings with people they don’t know, but if you don’t take it personally, you find most of them are helpful if asked politely. Sometimes they will ask you for directions or other information. They won’t often say “thank you,” not, I think because they want to be rude, but because they don’t want to waste time and it’s a give-and-take situation that they’ll be on the other side of soon enough. It all balances out without wasting time with too many niceties. They want information, not a relationship.

The pandemic and the response to the murder of George Floyd ripped the heart out of New York City in a way that was and still is hard to grasp. The place that had some of the largest marches for women’s’ and minorities’ rights, and in which we participated numerous times, the city with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the Fifth Avenue Christmas lights and Rockefeller Center’s tree and all the rest, was laid waste. As we prepare to depart, Times Square is an empty and sullen place. The virus is resurgent, and humanity is in retreat yet again as we confront the consequences of people refusing to accept the science. The vaccines are arriving as we depart, but so many people say they will not be vaccinated.

One is led to believe that Americans have grown soft. Our consumerist economy and culture have left us with millions of countrymen whining about being unable to go to a bar whenever they want, or unable to work out in their gym like they could in the Before Times. This is the same country that survived the Great Depression and defeated the Japanese and the Nazis in a global two-front war that lasted four years and saw rationing of food and a multitude of other “necessities.” People worked around the clock, seven days a week to support the war effort. Women took up jobs conceived for men who went off to war. Women too fought and died in the war. Now we have millions of people unwilling to be inconvenienced in order to stamp out a virus that has killed more than 300,000 Americans so far and is raging out of control across the country.

I digress, but I am struck every day by how Americans seem to have changed. This is not a political blog – I have for that and will have more to say there about what I believe has happened to us. For now, suffice to note that we leave this extraordinary place with heavy but hopeful hearts. We lost a family member to COVID recently and that still weighs on us. But my wife is returning to school, to a Georgetown University program in non-profit management which will lead to other interesting challenges soon enough. Our departing New York City is, in the end, a new beginning and not a true ending.

And this great metropolis will never end. The city is such a remarkable place –it must rebound, and I believe it will do so in time. America is not the same without it. Indeed, the world is not the same without it. New York City is testament to all that we can be and much that we must strive to avoid. Like all of this nation, it aspires to heights that cannot always be achieved but in the reaching, in the breadth of it is its greatness. When it is safe to do so one fine day, we will return here, again and again, to re-experience everything that only a place like New York City could ever begin to deliver, a theme-park of human culture and diversity, truly a Wonder of the World. Believe.

2 thoughts on “You Had Me at ‘Welcome to New York—Have a Cookie’

  1. Hi Paul. I loved reading this. Your photos of Bryant Park are glorious. I didn’t realize you were a new balletomane. I’m even happier that we got to see the NYCB with you and Dina. See you in DC ASAP!

    Liked by 1 person

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