Melissa and I met up at the huge fountain on Columbus Circle, the one that marks the entrance to Central Park. A holiday market surrounded it, and we wandered briefly through the stalls before heading into the park. It was not too cold, and the light had the watery, wintery quality I think of as quintessentially December.
After two years of working as a dog-walker, I know the west side of the park like the back of my hand, but the east side is largely terra incognita for me, so Melissa indulged me and we wandered that way. The first notable thing we saw was the ice rink. It was so packed with people it looked like they were in line for something. They still seemed to be having a good time, though. The rail above the rink had become a huge viewing gallery, holding even more people than the rink itself. They seemed to be having fun too.
All in all the park was pretty damn crowded, and we heard all sorts of languages being spoken, from a gazillion tourists. The pedi-cabs and horse-drawn carriages were doing a booming business. At one point there were so many carriages in a row, it looked like a train. I refrained from petting any horsies. They were working. I was pleased to realize that even though there were a gazillion people around us, walking in the way in their usual large, bovine lumps, I didn't feel the desire to get out my electric cattle-prod. Seriously, this is progress for me. It helped not to have an agenda or a destination, of course. Friend Jeff has a recent entry on his blog about the idiotic ways people behave with their umbrellas in this city whenever there is rain. In keeping with his character, Jeff proposed a new discipline for teaching people how not
to be retards with their umbrellas. That might, in fact, be the name of the discipline.
It's a testimony to Jeff that he sees a problem and believes that with just a little self-awareness, practice and discipline, people might learn how better to navigate the pitfalls of urban rain-protection. My reaction is much more fatalistic and punitive. Okay, maybe I no longer feel that whacking strangers with your umbrella should win you a prison term, but I do think there needs to be a change: licensing. Particularly in major urban areas, there needs to be strict rules and regulations for umbrella use, with clear penalties for misuse. One can get a license for an umbrella only after taking a written and practical exam. Among the things studied would be the selection of the correct size canopy and handle length for your height, knowing when and where to open the umbrella (NOT half-way up the stairs in the subway for example), and how to walk with it in rush hour crowds. I am no longer advocating a strict height requirement for umbrella use; I think the problem goes deeper than that, but I stand firm on an age requirement. At least in major urban areas, no one under the age of sixteen is to have an umbrella. Ever. I don't care HOW cute little Mitsy is with her duckie umbrella, nor do I care that she screams bloody murder when she's forced to leave it at home. If you're walking in Times Square, she's under your umbrella (assuming you've earned the appropriate license) she's wrapped in a tarp or she's getting wet. Just as we all agree to look the other way when thirteen year olds run tractors on farms, I'm fine with the youngsters having their brollies when they're far from all other human beings. I still think the laws need to be on the books, however, so if one SINGLE scratch is caused by a wayward bumbershoot, we have the means to press charges. Community service -and revoking of the license for a period no less than six months, or the rainy season, whichever lasts longer- would be an acceptable penalty, at least for the first offense. Recidivism would not be treated kindly, though.
... What was I talking about before? Oh yes, how I'm not as hostile right now as usual. Really, I'm not. We were surrounded by crowds and not once did I imagine myself wielding a cattle-prod. Nope, we sauntered, we ambled, we gallivanted. We saw the performer Thoth (there's an Oscar winning documentary about him, but neither of us has seen it) dancing, stomping rhythmically, playing his violin and singing in his ethereal head-voice which took full advantage of the resonant acoustics in the colonnade. We listened to a guitarist with a gorgeous voice (also taking advantage of the acoustics under a tile bridge), sing a Grateful Dead song I didn't know (which is true for most of them), but liked a lot. Something about roses in her long brown hair? We also heard several saxophone players (whom we began calling cahooters; don't ask), but by far the best musical experience was had at the statue of Alice at the Tea-Party. I'd never even heard of this statue's existence before, so I was pleased to be seeing it. When we arrived, two kids were climbing it. At one point a boy of no more than four, with dark hair and sparkling eyes, having achieved the apex of Alice's head, was suddenly moved to song, and gave us a rousing rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. We suspect he too may have been reveling in the acoustics he had discovered bouncing off of Alice's head. At any rate he sang with gusto, full emotional commitment, and no small amount of volume, ending with a really big finish. At the conclusion, Melissa and I clapped. His mother thanked us for helping his self-confidence. He then gave us an encore, just as good as the first one, and followed this with what I can only assume was the dance-remix. Much faster, peepier, with some wicked syncopations, you know what I mean. We decided to move on at that point; we didn't want him to peak too early.
Once we left the area around Bethesda Fountain and the Great Pond, the crowds thinned considerably. Now we weren't even having to work to be calm, it just happened. The sun was starting to set as we rounded the Great Lawn and looped back down to Columbus Circle. Coming out of the park back into the holiday market started to make both of us a little wiggy, and it was a bit of a relief to have Melissa be the one to break first, as she knocked over three elderly shoppers, two jewelry stands and a cocker spaniel in her bid for freedom*. It meant I didn't have to get out my cattle prod. For those of you who don't know Melissa, she is sunlight and joy personified, and was even more so today in her orange plaid winter coat and turquoise hat (she said herself "I'm a glow stick"), so having her snap before grumpy Uncle Cranky did was gratifying.
We wandered over to rest our sore backs and eat Mexican food at El Centro on 9th ave and 54th street, continuing the good talk that had been going on for the last two hours. Then I came home to find this amazing video Somewhere Joe shot back on this day in 1980, in some of the places Melissa and I had just visited. It felt like a message, even if I'm still figuring out what that message is.
I love this time of year. I love Central Park. I love Melissa. It was a good day.
*No, she didn't. I'd rather die than exaggerate!