Sunday, September 12, 2010

Big Apple Feelings

Hudson River View from Ami & Bruce’s Balcony

Dear George,

My first experience of New York City occurred when I moved there for an Antioch coop job in 1957. I’d spent almost all of my life in Menominee which, despite being the third largest town (pop. 10,000) in the Upper Peninsula, was still a pretty small place. You can’t imagine how unbelievably exciting the metropolis was. While that love at first sight has mellowed somewhat over time, going to New York still gives me an emotional boost. Katja and I recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary there with her sister and brother-in-law, Ami and Bruce. Back home for a couple of weeks now, I’m still struggling with “re-entry” problems. Probably my state of disorientation is due to our trip arousing so many emotions -- all those feelings are still bouncing around my mind.

As you know, airplane travel is sort of unreal these days. We knew we couldn’t get by for a week with only carry-on bags, so we packed one large suitcase to check through for a painful $50 extra. When we arrived at the airport, the Delta official said we were six pounds over the 50-lb. limit, and the suitcase would cost an additional $90. We hurriedly jammed stuff into our already full carry-on bags, and we barely squeaked under the limit. Going through the security line, the guy had me put my hands inside some kind of folding towel. I asked what that was, and he said he was checking for explosive residue. I joked that I didn’t usually have any, but he didn’t seem to have much sense of humor. One of my friends had forewarned me that they might be using a “naked machine” at airport security (i.e., an X-ray full-body scanner that sees right through your clothes), and, sure enough, they did. The guy administering it confided in me that somebody would probably take me out of the line at the next step because I was wearing cargo pants. Apparently these are the trouser style preferred by terrorists. His prediction proved wrong though, and I got through without a full interrogation. Katja, meanwhile, set off all the bells and whistles because of her titanium knee. As always, she was taken to a separate area for a full-body search by a woman who looked like a prison guard.

Arrival at LaGuardia Airport

We were thrilled to be in the city. Ami and Bruce have a beautiful penthouse condo on the Upper West Side, and we were felt completely at home. On our second day Ami took us to Chelsea to one of the finer photography galleries in the city. Ten years ago Katja had been there and seen a photograph of a horse rolling on its back, and it’s been on her mind ever since. She and Ami asked the salesman, a young Ivy league type, whether they still have horse pictures by that photographer. The salesman, whose first name was Walker, pulled out a large portfolio and started going through it. Katja’s photo was there, along with a bunch of others by the same photographer, and Walker set aside all those that Katja found appealing. She liked three of them the most, and Walker said they cost $2,150 apiece. They were 22 by 26 inches. There were also 28 by 33 inch versions available for $3500. and large 46 by 53 inch prints cost $5000 each. Ami commented that it might be best to get a matching pair. Walker explained that Katja could either get 3 small prints, 2 medium-sized, or one $5000 large print. He wondered which option Katja was leaning toward. I was feeling increasingly nauseous and propped myself up against a doorframe, overcome by a mixture of intense anxiety and pain. Katja told Walker she’d need some time to think over her choice, so they exchanged e-mails, and he said he would send her electronic images of the three horses. After we left, Ami observed that I was looking very pale. Katja frowned and said she wasn’t about to buy the photographs on the spot. When I sputtered out some sort of garbled protest, Ami asked if I didn’t love the photos. I said that I didn’t even like them, that they looked like blurry out-of-focus pictures of horses to me. I added that I thought it was insane that you can blow up a photo to a larger size and then charge $3000 more. Ami seemed irritated. I think she thought that I was lacking in aesthetic sensitivity.

Walker Shows Horses to Ami & Katja

A few days later we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and there were a lot of sidewalk vendors selling photos, reproductions of paintings, and other artsy stuff. Katja’s attention was drawn to some framed prints of Chinese horses. They reminded her of a horse print we’d owned when we were first married, and she loved them. The guy was charging 3 for $10. Katja seemed to be every bit as enthused as she’d been about the $3500 photos at the Chelsea gallery. I wasn’t encouraging about buying these horses either, thinking that we would have to lug them around for the rest of the day. Later it occurred to me that I would have been smart to have bought the 3 Chinese horse prints for Katja (which would have hopefully fulfilled her horse needs for a while).

Friday we went to the Brooklyn Promenade and then took the subway back to Manhattan and went to Ground Zero. We hadn’t been there in previous visits, and it was a silent, sobering experience. Then we walked a couple of blocks over to the potential mosque site that has been the spotlight of so much media and political controversy in recent weeks. There were numerous activists outside with signs urging tolerance, religious freedom, respect, reconciliation, etc. When you’re in New York, there’s such a powerful sense of ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity that it’s hard to even conceive of the bigotry toward the Muslim community is so widespread across the nation.

At the Potential Mosque Site

Saturday was our 50th wedding anniversary, and I bought a dozen red roses at the corner vegetable shop. They were deep red, and Katja seemed very pleased. We celebrated that night by going out to one of the city’s premier restaurants, Jean Georges on Central Park West. I’d offered to treat for this special occasion. The restaurant was elegant, the service was impeccable, the food was excellent, and we had a lot of laughs, talking about marriage and life experiences. At the end of the meal when I looked at the bill and took out my credit card, Bruce asked me if I was all right. Apparently I’d gotten very pale again. It was nothing – just that the bill for dinner approached the price of our two airplane tickets. I showed the receipt to Katja later, and she nonchalantly said we’d paid more on other occasions. What those occasions were, I couldn’t imagine, but I took her word for it. Later a friend reminded me that you only have one fiftieth anniversary in your entire lifetime, and that made me feel better. When we awoke the next morning, the dozen red roses on the dining room table had wilted and were all drooping straight downward. I decided I shouldn’t have relied on a produce vendor for our anniversary flowers. I felt it might be a bad omen, but Ami said the drooping flowers still were pretty.

Anniversary Roses

Katja’s friends and colleagues at work had bought us matching sparkly gold baseball caps for our anniversary, and we wore them all around the city. One day I went to Greenwich Village to take some photos, and my gold cap was a big hit. One guy about my age approached and asked me why I was conservatively dressed but wearing a gold cap that made me look like Elton John. I explained about my golden anniversary, and he remarked that his wife was out of town so he wasn’t wearing his wedding ring either. Then two other guys came up, and one said he wanted to know where to buy a cap like mine for his boyfriend. I advised him to check e-Bay. Then somebody started whistling behind me, and another guy was calling out to me, “Gold! Gold!” Some other guy yelled, “Hey, Gold Cap!” It was nice. I’ve always had difficulty striking up acquaintances in public places, and now I find out all you need to do is wear a gold cap.

Gold Cap Tourists in Brooklyn

There were, of course, many other exciting sights and experiences. Broadway musicals, art museums, shops and galleries, traveling around with our Metro passes, Chinatown and Soho, Rockefeller Center, Times Square (where Katja enjoyed seeing the Naked Cowboy again), lunches and dinners and New York pizza. I can understand why, as a 20-year-old, I was ecstatic about the city. I still am.



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