Around the Corner

  For a play that I claimed not to love, I certainly thought about The Humans for days and weeks after my trip to New York. There is a line that I’m sure I’m butchering in my memory. I’ve probably actually recreated the way the character said it. But at some point, someone said, something like, “You can go through life lonely alone or lonely with someone.” And the way I remember it, the line got a laugh and a bit of a tear. Like, either way, we are all a little lonely. I was a lonely kid, a lonely teen, a lonely adult, and now, as a middle aged man, I am still lonely. And you know, I have a partner, dogs, great friends, but I’m still, like Lenny Kosnowski, a lone wolf

Granted, I like being alone. And maybe I even like being lonely. 

After my friend and I left the play, that Friday night in NYC, we went our separate ways. Michael asked me to go to Joe Allen with him and his college friend, but I wasn’t up for it. Eric was back at the hotel. That morning, he woke up sick, so sick that it threatened to ruin the entire vacation for him.  

We really needed this vacation. Our work lives had been frustrating in the weeks before the trip. There had been health issues with one of our dogs. In a two week period, every day, something bad descended on our little home. A dog bite that became infected. A betrayal from people I thought had been our friends. Money woes. If we could have backed out without the money we spent on plane tickets, we would have.

Anyway, after the play, I took the subway down to the Lower East Side to visit my friend Jon who was bartending. The teeny restaurant  was packed with New Yorkers, young and oldish, all glamorous, enjoying their Friday night. Jon poured me a drink and let me stand off to the side of the bar. His co-workers were all gracious to me, but the whole time, I felt like I was in the way. Also, that if it weren’t for the fact that I was in the way, no one would have even noticed my presence.

I finished my drink and thanked Jon and headed out. Contemplating a bus or a subway, I opted to walk awhile. I walked north, up 1st avenue and turned left onto 6th street. I passed a building that seemed to be the architectural embodiment of what I was feeling. Old, sad, weathered, crowded in by happier buildings all around. Garbage piled in front, on top of the melting snow. Twin porch lights flanking the door way. 

Had I ever walked by this building before? I couldn’t remember, but probably I had. Probably I had passed by and not noticed. 

This time I took a picture. I googled the address hoping to uncover significant history, like maybe Eliza Hamilton died there. (She did not.) I started to Instagram the picture, playing with filters and shadows and saturation but each time, what I captured didn’t seem Instagram-worthy. 

I walked a little further north and grabbed a slice of pizza on 14th street and sat in the corner and charged my phone. After, I got on the 6 which went to Grand Central. I got out at Grand Central and walked through the terminal, then up a couple blocks back to my hotel.

The next morning, miraculously, Eric felt better. I’m glad too, because I didn’t want more nights like the lonely one I’d endured. If my favorite time to explore Manhattan solo is early weekend mornings, late weekend nights, is the worst. As I walked by every crowded bar and restaurant, gay, straight, mixed,  I expected to look through the windows and see 20-something me, standing in a corner, alone, hoping someone would come up to start a conversation. 

Sometimes it seems I spent the first half of my life trying to make friends and then the second half, trying to keep a safe distance from relationships that have asked too much of me. 

As I said, the next morning, Eric felt better, and with our friend Michael, we packed weeks, months, into our few days in New York. Roosevelt Island, Central Park, John’s Pizzeria, The Met, Gramercy Park, Eataly, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Brooklyn Bridge, Staten Island Ferry, Shake Shack, Flaming Saddles. 

Every day, I posted Instagram pictures and went through my phone’s camera roll, deleting certain shots from the trip, #latergramming others. Again and again, I would return to the picture of the loneliest building in all of the lower East Side, maybe the entire isle of Manhattan. I couldn’t bring myself to post it,  nor could I delete it either.

And maybe you get this, maybe you don’t, but every time I look at that picture now, months later, it is a source of joy, no sadness at all. Well, maybe a happy sadness. Like somehow, as if appearing magically, on a crisp January night, when everyone else was light and gay, this lonely old building saw this lonely old soul, turning a corner, lost on his way home and shined the light to guide his way.

Have a Great New York Week…

3109783051_a8973ac6ce_o-760x576I had a fun drunky, New York moment a few weeks ago. After dinner at Eataly and drinks at Gramercy Park hotel, Eric and I walked our friend Sue, also in town for a visit, to her Union Square hotel. Sue had wanted to extend the party and find a karaoke bar, but Eric, curmudgeonly or pragmatically, refused, “Absolutely not. No karaoke.” Sue and I consoled ourselves by singing I’ve Never Been to Me as we walked around Gramercy Park.

But I interrupted our duet to tell Sue about this walking tour of Gramercy Park that I’d just listened to on the flight from Los Angeles to New York. I tried to tell the story of the lady with connections to Croton Resevoir who attained Egyptian artifacts when they tore down the resevoir. I tried to tell Sue about Edwin Booth and The Players Club. Did I get all the details correct? Unlikely. But still it was a sweet moment and it was enriched by this new discovery I’d made, this wonderful Bowery Boys Podcast.
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Like I said, I only discovered the podcast, by chance, really, a few days before our most recent New York trip. I downloaded a few episodes, and listened to them on the plane and during the trip. But I must say, the real love affair began when I came home. For the last three weeks I have binge listened to over 40 episodes. Driving to and from work or walking the dogs or while I do dishes, The Bowery Boys Podcast has been an almost constant presence.

If you are a history buff or a New Yorkophile, you will love this podcast. You can download episodes for free on Itunes and there are 177 episodes. If you thought it was fun to binge listen to those measly 13 episodes of Serial, you’re in for a treat with The Bowery Boys.
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The hosts, Greg Young and Tom Meyers, are funny, punny, smart, curious Midwesterners who moved to New York around the same time that I did. In what I believe is the Gramercy Park episode, one of them told a story about working at a video store in the ’90s and delivering videos to famous Gramercy Park residents like Julia Roberts. When I lived in New York, any time I was in the area between 14th and 23th, 5th Avenue to Lexington, I always had my eyes peeled for a Julia Roberts sighting. Her sister worked at a restaurant named Zip City (I think) and I would always stare in when I passed hoping to catch a glimpse of either sister.

But I digress. And I admit, it is not unusual for my memory to wander off into my own memories when I listen to The Bowery Boys. Just yesterday, I listened to a recent Little Italy episode, and when they talked about Ferrara Bakery on Mulberry, I couldn’t help but remember my first visit to New York when my BEST FRIEND AB and I ate cannollis from there. And that bakery became a stop I introduced every visitor to when they came to see me. That bakery, even still, is a must every time I’m in town myself. So, basically, I am a part of Little Italy history too.

That’s what I love best about this The Bowery Boys, how when I listen, I feel like New York is still mine, that somehow I am part of her history.

Also, while I was in New York, my friend Eboni and I had brunch at a restaurant, on 7th Avenue, not far from where I used to live. “What restaurant used to be here?” I asked the bartender. He replied that he had no idea, but he asked the manager who was standing right there. “Uh, we’ve been here for a LONG time, since 2002.” And let me say, of course, I get it, 13 years is a long time for a restaurant in the ever changing Manhattan business landscape, but you know this town did exist, for a few years, before the year 2002. It was kind of like this bartender and this manager thought that Manhattan was created the moment their airplane landed or their Greyhound pulled into Port Authority. I probably thought the same thing when I was that age.

Anyway, all of this is a rather lengthy invitation to check out my new favorite thing. Here is the link to the website. http://www.boweryboyshistory.com/ The website is a great companion to the episodes because they often post pictures that complement the content of the podcast. As I said earlier, most episodes are free, but I am sure ordering a t-shirt or donating a little money to their paypal account would be greatly appreciated too.

177 episodes, and counting. If I’ve listened to about 25% of them so far, that means there is a lot of New York to still uncover, still discover. I am driving to San Francisco tomorrow and I know what I’ll be listening to the whole time.

When I listen, I imagine different Bowery Boys fanatics throughout the world, people who live in New York or used to live in New York or maybe folks who always dreamed of it, but have yet to set foot on the island. I’m not the only wistful NewYorkophile, pining from under my palm tree. But when I listen to these guys, I am there. Graciously, Tom and Greg close each episode with “Have a great New York week, whether you live here or not.” And, you know, because of them, I do.