Friday, January 05, 2007

That Other New York

Weekend Assignment #146: New York -- America's largest and most important city. What are your thoughts about it? We're not all from New York, of course, but the city looms large in our collective consciousness. It's that whole "if you can make it there" thing. So share some of your thoughts about New York, whether it's an opinion about the city, a memory of a visit there, a screed on why you hate it and everything it stands for (if you're a Red Sox fan) -- anything, as long as New York, New York is the subject.

Extra Credit:
New York Yankees: Love em or hate em?

I don't have a single photo taken in New York City, but here are a couple of purchases I made there, over thirty years ago. Yes, of course there's a story behind them.

The blue trade paperback of Thurber's Dogs was one of two Thurber books I bought on my "senior trip" to New York City in 1973 or 1974. I was actually a high school junior at the time, but the school let a few juniors come along to fill out the roster. Good thing, too, because they didn't organize a senior trip to New York when I was actually a senior.

It was a great trip - not always pleasant or interesting, but perversely interesting even when things got a little boring or unpleasant. We stayed at a run down hotel somewhere near Lincoln Center; it hay have been called Hotel Lincoln Square or something like that. The image that sticks in my memory is that someone had painted the ceiling and fixtures white - including the bare lightbulb in the overhead light.

In case you're wondering, Manlius was about a five or six hour drive from New York, down the New York State Thruway. Or you could take the train from East Syracuse - which we did.

The trip's chaperons were members of the English and Music departments at Fayetteville-Manlius High School‎, so naturally there was a lot of culture on the itinerary. We saw The Tempest (one of my three favorite Shakespeare plays) at Lincoln Center, with young Carol Kane, fresh from her Dr. Pepper commercial, as Miranda. We visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Cloisters, the place with the Unicorn Tapestries. We visited Grand Central Station (the train from Syracuse went into Penn Station), went up the elevator in one of the towers of the World Trade Center, and walked through Central Park. We saw Carol Channing as Lorelei in Lorelei, a Broadway sequel to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. We all agreed (including and especially the teachers) that it was terrible, Channing at her past-her-prime worst.

Back at Lincoln Center, we trooped up to the balcony, or possibly the mezzanine, to see Madame Butterfly. And here is where the books come in: Thurber's Dogs and the other book I bought that day, Thurber Country. Truth is, I hated Madame Butterfly. I didn't understand the language, didn't care for the music, and thought Butterfly was a pathetic victim who should have stood up for herself and gotten on with her life. Rather than pay full attention to something that bored and annoyed me so much, I sat in the balcony and squinted at Thurber's Dogs in the darkened Metropolitan Opera House. All these years later, that still amuses me. I don't regret it one bit.

That wasn't my first trip to New York City, or my last, but it was one of the most memorable. I'd previously been to the City a few times with my family when I was much younger, but all I remember from that was standing outside a hotel where my maternal grandmother was staying. My dad's family lived over in Little Ferry and Denville, New Jersey, but I think we pretty much bypassed Manhattan when we went to Jersey.

The other really memorable trip to NYC was in February, 1975, when several members of STAR Syracuse took the train down to the second-ever (or thereabouts) Star Trek Convention, held at the Commodore Hotel adjacent to Grand Central. For three days I practically lived on hot donuts I'd watched being fried, right around the corner from where the hotel emptied into the train station. (This was before my digestive system started punishing me for every donut I ate.) I met David Gerrold, who was one of my favorite writers at the time, and was kissed by Isaac Asimov, apparently one of his favorite activities at conventions at the time. I had chosen to praise his TV Guide articles to distinguish myself from the crowd. I think that amused him.

During that trip I made one solo journey away from the hotel and station to go see John Wood in William Gillette's play Sherlock Holmes. Foolishly, I carried my plastic bag from the Star Trek convention with faces of the cast on it, and I went alone: young, innocent and completely unarmed. I took a cab down, confidently asking the driver for "the Broadhurst Theater, please," only to be asked for the address. The play was a lot of fun, but I had a little trouble hearing the dialogue from the mezzanine. On the way back, I couldn't find a cab, because I needed to be one block over and didn't know it. So I took the subway back. The worst thing that happened was that a few people kindly berated me for taking chances, taking the subway alone like that. But it made me feel good, because people were actually looking out for me, a stranger, rather than trying to rip me off.

There was a moment, on that trip or the previous one, when someone tried to grab my purse in front of a store. They didn't get it. I held on too hard, and the guy kept going.

It was on this Star Trek trip that Chris D. and I saw the 59th Street Bridge, immortalized by Simon and Garfunkel, and that I bought The Wonderful O. On the train ride back, I amused Chris by reading passages from the Thurber fairy tale, so rich in wordplay:

"I don't like it, I don't like it," squawked the parrot, and Black squcked his thrug till all he could whipple was geep.

"Geep," whuppled the parrot.

It's fitting that I should remember New York City fondly in connection with books and writers. New York is the center of the publishing world, at least in the United States. Most of the major publishing houses are based there, although some of them are owned by overseas conglomerates these days. James Thurber worked for The New Yorker for many years. Madeleine L'Engle was born in NYC and lived there at least part time as an adult. And of course John Scalzi is there now, conducting business with his editors and publishers. Someday I hope to do the same, perhaps in the very same building. To that end, I sent off my follow-up letter to Tor today, in preparation for which I wasted an envelope, sending it through my printer-scanner twice to determine the right way to insert it. Answer: face up, with the flap underneath to the left.

Come to think of it, I did once meet with my editor and publisher in New York City - somewhere in the vicinity, anyway. Les and Toni from Relix Magazine, which published my first professional articles, took John and me to lunch in Chinatown in 1981.

You may have noticed that I'm careful to always say New York City or NYC, never simply New York. Growing up in Manlius NY and later attending college in Syracuse, I was painfully aware that vast numbers of Americans, including people from New York City and environs, assume that "New York" consists of the five boroughs, or just Manhattan, or, at most, a metropolitan area that includes places like New Rochelle, but nothing much farther than that. Syracuse, located smack dab in the middle of the state of New York, at the crossroads of I-90 (the Thruway) and Interstate Route 81, is dismissively referred to as "Upstate." No, no, no. Upstate is Watertown. Syracuse and Manlius are in Central New York. I'll never win that battle, but I'll never stop trying, either.

Still, aside from the nomenclature problem, I quite like New York City, and would gladly go there again. And maybe I will.

As for the Yankees, I don't actually have strong feelings about them one way or another. I kinda lie Joe Torre, and the Yankees are certainly rich in baseball history. But I don't care. The Diamondbacks beat them that one glorious year. That's good enough for me.


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deslily said...

at some point in time (the date isn't jumping into my head) I too went to a con in NY for ST. Maybe I should write about it? hmmm. Like you, I got to talk to one of my favorite authors along with a fun filled time watching DeForest and Ron Perlman among others. But I'm not a lover of NY even though I spent alot of time in Greenich Village when I was young..

Bea said...

I have only seen New York City from a distance as we drove through on the interstate. I've been to upstate New York, around Lake Eerie. But not NYC... New York is a beautiful state, no doubt. I enjoy watching movies and tv shows that are about people living in New York City... seems like such an exciting place to be if you are young and adventurous. I would love to attend at least one Broadway show there. I think I could love being a visitor in New York for a day or two. I saw the movie Gangs of New York, that DeCaprio movie with Daniel Day Lewis... I thought, what a violent start to this landmark of a city. Have a good week! Bea

Anonymous said...

Questions like this really burn me. Yankees, love 'em or hate 'em? Like NYC doesn't have any other baseball team. Sheesh. The Yankees are floundering, tho maybe they'll rebound now that they've dumped that over the hill Randy Johnson, but the Mets are moving up, not to mention better looking.

Anonymous said...

Me, again.

"Growing up in Manlius NY and later attending college in Syracuse, I was painfully aware that vast numbers of Americans, including people from New York City and environs, assume that "New York" consists of the five boroughs, or just Manhattan, or, at most, a metropolitan area that includes places like New Rochelle, but nothing much farther than that."

When I was growing up in NYC (Queens), we always called Manhattan "the city." Now I use NY or New York or the city to mean NYC. I only specify New York City when I'm speaking to someone who won't know I mean the city vs the state. Unless, of course, I want to confuse them.

I rooted for the D-backs that year, btw. And you're welcome to have Randy back. NY was not a good fit for him and his sour puss. Tho it was fun watching him help the Yankees lose games, being that I dislike the Yankees.