An Afternoon’s UWS Walk

Wrote this back in May in a kind of stream-of-conscious style, okay, stop laughing, and posted on Google + and got exactly what I deserved in that venue, which is to say, crickets. So I’m resurrecting it here, in hopes that some of you might enjoy it — since at least a few of you hardy souls enjoyed the 71st St. thing — and because I really enjoyed writing it (which at least hints at a sort of validation that it’s worth reading):

So, 11 days now past my last birthday — six years older than my grandfather when he collapsed & died less than a year after HIS retirement — and I’m slowly idling up Broadway to one of my French cafes for lunch, yes, discreetly following a nice behind or two, en route to 104th St. I’m a flaneur nowadays, I guess, an unofficial flaneur, though, since I’m sure there must be an official Flaneur group here in NYC that I’m unaware of & of which I am not, therefore, a member.

The diners here are typically atypical for an afternoon in the UWS — typically-atypical being one of the reasons you end up loving the UWS. There’re two groups of three: three “ladies who lunch” but who, unlike their counterparts on the UES, order LARGE meals, all w/ fries, and who eat only the fries, and drink them down with wine, and then dessert, & then more wine, no coffee or espresso, and take their steaks & sandwiches home in doggy bags (for their husbands?). They talk theater & graduations — this is Columbia & Barnard grad time.

The second threesome is two middle-aged ladies & a middle-aged male companion; they actually EAT their appetizer lunches while conversing about MOTHER, who donated to this, & MOTHER who gave money that, & how abysmal the Republican field is turning out to be, how Jeb is just embarrassing, worse in his own flabby way than Dubya, & Marco is beyond the pale. I must admit I kind of admire them –[this is pre-Trump, and I wonder now what they’d be saying about THAT] — old NYC-style Republicans, disparagingly contrasting their alternatives w/ the long-dead Rockefeller, Javits, & Lindsey — & Bloomberg, too, for that matter. But, God love ’em, they will hold their noses & vote for Jeb or Marco or Scott nonetheless, much like the faithful American Communists of the 50s & 60s who held on & continued to canvass despite all the proof that their dream had become a miserable & embarrassing &, worse, irrelevant posture. (Not to mention, dangerous.)

There’s also a very strange bird, a white-haired old Hippie girl — or a Mennonite transported unawares to the UWS? She’s dressed in a flowered blouse tightly tied at the neck, under a light brown sweater buttoned-up just under the blouse-tie, & a long, & I mean long, down to the tips of her LL Bean boots, dark brown leather skirt. After examining her menu for a good 10 minutes or so — not exaggerating, the waitress had to come by at least two or three times before finally getting an order — she ordered a couple of dishes, & sat & stared at them for another few minutes, before ever-so tentatively tasting a few bites of her pate & cornichons & smoked salmon (i think it was?). Staring uncomprehendingly at her food, moving almost robotically, she reminded me of Jeff Bridges, the alien in what was it, Starchild,  Starman? — the confusion, wonder, of life here in the strange new world. I could have watched her for another hour, I think, but I had reached the end of a long chapter in the latest Knausgaard & also the last dregs of my espresso, so it was time for me to go. I wonder if I appear anywhere near as interesting or curious to my companion diners as they are to me, an old white-bearded guy w/ the iconoclastic choice of Merquez & Couscous, sweat-stained Google cap, eyes (mostly) buried in his, what, Kindle, every once in a while a smirk or smile on his face? (With Knausgaard you inevitably smirk and smile, alternatively.) But, no, I’m pretty sure I sat unnoticed, unremarkable, all the while. Which is okay.

Okay, let’s go flaneur-ing, up to 106th & across to the CPW old Cancer Hospital, now an elegant carve-up of apartments for, I’m assuming, I’m guessing, the children of the UES rich who’re too cool to live anywhere on the UES but for whom the UWS — above 100th St.! — & in an old Cancer Hospital, for God’s sake, maybe where Grandma met her Maker, is just cool enough. What an irony: What had once been the last place on earth any old rich Mummy or Dad-Dad wanted to end up is now a collection of unique ritzy apartments for their grandchildren.

Hey, I’d give my eyeteeth to live there.

Or at the truly idiosyncratic Level Club, oh yeah, go 73rd St.

Strolling south, 414 Central Park West, home to all kinds of jazz musicians (Teddy Wilson) & lyricists (Yip Harburg) & proudly advertising that w/ a corner plaque. Then, all of a sudden, it’s black cars all over the place, Chevy Suburbans, Cadillac Escalades, Ford Explorers (I think that’s right, the Ford model, I’m long past up on car makes), yep, it’s 3:15, time for the kids from Columbia Grammar & Prep (or Prep & Grammar), & Dwight, & Trevor Day (formerly Walden, then Walden Lincoln, then the Day School, now the current incarnation, Trevor Day School, my son’s Alma Mater) to be picked up & driven safely home. They didn’t have black cars or Ubers when my kid went to Walden & its several incarnations. Sure, there were rich kids there (at least one Rockefeller) & kids of famous parents (a Harrison Ford kid, for instance, & a niece or nephew or some relation to Julia Roberts) but if there were pick-ups then, when it was one hell of a lot more dicey than it is now, it was much more discreet. (I remember my son explaining to me, one rare morning when I walked him to school, that all these tiny glass things all over the ground were crack vials — Oh. Oh, and see NOTE below.)

But the Columbians & the Dwights & the Trevors have nothing to be afeared-of nowadays, for the dark kids, the African-Americans & Hispanic public school kids, they’re a world away, one & two & three blocks away, over on Columbus & Amsterdam & Broadway, congregating both inside & outside Mickey D’s & a multitude of pizza places, & too engaged w/ junk food & one another to even be aware that their privileged counterparts, just blocks down the street, are being silently motored home.

Well, got to get back home myself, the kids are in fact getting a little bit too noisy & rambunctious & bothersome for me, & puppy Sadie is waiting patiently in her crate — can’t get used to crating a dog even though everyone assures us that the crate is a dog’s home, a safe & homey & happy place (a den!) for her & NOTTATALL (to use an O’Hara-ism, actually a Maryland-ism, too) — rather than the backyard exile of MY childhood remembrance. Yeah, right.

NOTE: My son reminds me that the Day School kids said that Dwight stood for Dumb White Idiots Getting High Together… Such is wit and rivalry among prep school kids.

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