Saturday, December 08, 2007

Sunny Saturday in Central Park

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!


Sooo-this-is-me said...

Thoth, is that not the strange character that was on America's Got Talent, the TV show? I love street preformers, such raw talent with a lot of them. The last time I was down town this cute, chubby little woman with a huge smile pulled out her guitar and the voice that came from her mouth was amazing.
You could kill two birds with one stone and have an umbrella with a cattle-prod built in to it!


Cooper said...

What a wonderful little essay of human love and friendship, Patrick. I love its muted, varied colours.

I love watching street performers, although we rarely get them here. It's too cold ... -29 degrees right now! Too cold to sing, dance, play music outdoors ... and even colder to stand and watch.

I have never owned an umbrella. We hardy Canadians like our rain direct. We don't mind a little wet skin ... or hair ... although I do own a rain jacket.

Last night I saw the movie Enchanted, which was filmed in New York, and had several scenes in Central Park. I think this means that you and I and darling Joe (whose wonderful film I just saw) are meant to meet someday in Central Park and walk and laugh and enjoy, and maybe even weep a little, too. Imagine, eh?

Java said...

I get all hot for a man who can fit "Recidivism" into a post with such grace and style.

somewhere joe said...

Neither you nor Jeff mentioned my favorite foreign word for umbrella. That's OK, now I can do it... parapluie. It's french. I love the word's gallic resistance to haste. You're forced to pronounce each syllable. Parapluie. And you can almost hear the raindrops bouncing on its taut black nylon. But whatever you call it, yes, those pointy spines always seem to find your eye if you're not similarly armed in a crowd. And given that each umbrella increases its user's personal diameter by almost three feet (and people revel in this), border crossings, and outright clashes ensue.

Central Park is one of the few constants in a New Yorker's life, timeless, endless, feature-rich, a park for all seasons. I know just the spot for our picnic, Coopster... it a little plateau atop a granite outcropping off sheep meadow, sheltered by sycamores. We'll snack on your pumpkiny gingery loaf while we watch the boys fly kites on the lawn and listen to Patrick regale us with tales of the city, and laugh and cry...

Patrick said...

Steven: I haven't seen that show, but I would suspect Thoth is indeed the guy you're thinking of. Sings in a falsetto, plays violin and dances at the same time, usually wears his long hair in a topknot with a feather in it? That's the guy.
A combination umbrella/cattle prod! What a great idea! Maybe it could be a cell phone too, or at least a camera, so I could record all the acts of illegal umbrella employment. Right before I zap'em with my cattle prod. (Or right before the authorities take me to the nice quiet rubber room.)

Cooper: I too am fond of the direct experience of rain. Actually there will be lots of times when people will be hustling along under their brollies... and it won't even be raining. It will be misting, perhaps, or a little drippy, but doing that thing where I feel like I can walk between the drops if I have to. After living in London, Dublin, Seattle and here, maybe I just have a different reaction to rain. I like your plan for Central Park a lot.

Java: it was my pleasure, happy to bring another level to this entry for you. Does Superman know about your word fetish? Or is it just the word 'recidivism'?

Joe: you're starting to get a little eerie, in a very good way. I went to see a (fantastic) circus show last night, with, among others, Friend Jeff, and the title of that piece? Au Revoir Parapluie. I kid you not. I've been saying "Good bye my Umbrella" to friends as we part all week, because of this show. Or I call them "my little umbrella". Just 'cause. I can't tell you why that's the title exactly, there was only one tiny umbrella in the whole piece. The program said that another title candidate was "fish-hooks" and that one would have made more sense to me. You kinda have to see it...

And if that weren't enough, that rock outcropping is my favorite place in the Sheep's Meadow. A bunch of us used to go there in the Summers to do partner balancing and acro stuff. I sat on the outcropping as much as I could, both for the scenery (human and natural), and for the shade. Most of my friends are serious sun-worshippers, while I fry like a jelly-fish, even if I'm not actually burning. So I love those Sycamores for a number of reasons. It's a date.

john said...

Wow, what an image of Central Park. It's definitely one of the places that I want to visit if I go to New York.
I'm thinking of applying to New York to train in family medicine. We shall see if I'm worthy enough to get into one of the programs there.

Java said...

Patrick, Superman feeds my word fetish. You should hear him waxing eloquent on the topic du jour. On an off note, the phrase "waxing eloquent" makes me think of waxing elephants. Can you picture that?

Melissa said...

Patrick! I love you too... and look what I found -
it really is one of their most lovely songs...

Note to all - The elderly ladies had it coming, and the cocker spaniel was just to cute to be in my way, he HAD TO GO.

I do think though - really - that the little singing boy is a moment that will stay with me for a very long time - his pleasure with his own accomplishment was so pure!

Jess said...

When I spent every workday in Manhattan, each day of rain brought out a rant about stupid people with their umbrellas. Out here in the suburbs, the same morons are far more dangerous, since the weapon of choice is a motor vehicle. Still, the people with more umbrella than sense drove me nuts!

Patrick said...

John, good luck with the application process. I hope you're taking regular study breaks in Central Park in a few months.

Java, mmm, the expression "waxing eloquent on the topic du jour" gets MY motor racing. I can picture waxing elephants, right after taking them through the carwash.

Melissa, Those old ladies and cocker spaniel were awful mouthy, weren't they. Thanks for the link, I can't wait to hear the original version. I wonder how different it will be from the CP busker's? That little boy does stay in the mind, doesn't he. There was no holding back.

Jess, thanks for providing an important perspective. I should be grateful that many of the folks on the subway here when it rains are there INSTEAD of driving. If they can't handle an umbrella, how would they be with a vehicle. Scary.

Jeff Wills said...

Best. Day. Ever.