Monday, June 12, 2006
It Happened On Thompson Street
When I was a kid, my father always used to brag about his "unerring sense of direction."
Time after time, when we were on vacation, or out for a daytrip, my father would find shortcuts to our destination, getting us around traffic, construction sites, natural disasters and other obstacles.
And always, as we emerged from some tiny sideroad, a few miles away from wherever we were going, he would sit tall in the driver's seat and say, "once again, my unerring sense of direction has found the way."
No, he's not a modest man and his boasting about his sense of direction got to be annoying as well as unerring.
It did seem impressive, though, at least to a child. My father appeared to have some kind of sixth sense or radar to guide him through unknown territory.
There are some aspects of my father's personality that I don't want or would like to get rid of, but one thing I know I did not inherit and could sorely use today is--yes, that's right--his unerring sense of direction.
I don't know where the hell I'm going; ask me for directions you won't either. I should take that bumper sticker that says "Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost" and plaster it across my forehead.
I take after my mother. Whenever she tried to figure where we were, my father would shake his head wearily and say, "Gloria, if ever there's a war, and I'm a general, you won't be a scout!"
Growing up, my heart would sink as people would call me over to their cars and ask me for directions. Why me, I would think, all these people on street and you decide I'm the one to lead you salvation? Do I look like I know where I'm going?
But rather than just say "I don't know," and keep going, I'd walk over to the car, feeling compelled to blurt something, so I wouldn't look stupid.
The strange things is that, at the time, I always thought I was giving the correct directions. Then, as the car pulled away and the hapless driver disappeared from my vision, and probably from the face of the earth, it would suddenly come to me. No, not that way, go the other way. But by then it was too late.
I used to joke that the Missing Persons Bureau must have a whole division working to find the people who took my directions. I remember one time, I was about 13, I guess, and this car load of people from the midwest--Kansas, Missouri, somewhere like that--waved me over to ask for directions.
These people looked and sounded so out of place in Brooklyn it bordered on parody. They were looking for the Staten Island ferry, but since we were in Bay Ridge, with the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge a few miles down the road, I suggested they forget the ferry and head over the bridge if they were so hot to get to Staten Island.
Can't Get There From Here
Later, I realized maybe they had specific reasons to get to the ferry and that I probably sent them off on a colossal detour and huge waste of time and gas.
I'm not much better with landlubbers. My family will ask me where a particular store is and often I can't name the street. I'm like a bat, I just hone in on the place.
It happened again, sort of, the other night, when I saw this couple, obviously tourists, sitting on the R train and looking at a subway map with some confusion as we pulled into Lawrence Street. Dummy that I am, I asked where they were going and they told me Chambers Street.
"Chambers Street?" I asked. "You're going the wrong way. You're in Brooklyn now. You should get off here and head back to Manhattan."
I was in the clear and I should have kept my mouth shut, but I suggested they get off at Whitehall Street. They thanked me and as I watched the subway doors close, I knew something was wrong. I ran halfway down the car, consulted the map on the wall and realized they should go to City Hall.
But by then, naturally, it was too late. I pictured this nice middle-aged couple walking around the Staten Island Ferry Terminal cursing me in German. Mein Gott, why couldn't I mind my own damn business like every other New Yorker?
I've gotten better over the years, in spite of that little setback. I realize it's better to admit I don't know where a particular location is then to spew out bad directions in a desperate desire to be liked by total strangers.
One time I was walking along Houston Street when a guy pulled up to me and wanted to know how to get to the Westside Highway. Well, I don't drive in Manhattan and while I had a vague idea of where he had to go, I didn't want to screw him up.
So I grabbed another pedestrian and asked him if he knew how to get to the Westside Highway. He did, so I introduced him to the first guy. The driver got his directions, the other pedestrian got to feel like a good citizen and I didn't send someone to the side of a milk carton.
I had a similar incident recently after a meet and greet with an online dating partner went south. We had IM'd, talked over the phone and seemed to be getting along, so we set up a date.
Big mistake. Whatever this woman and I had going, it could not survive a flesh-and-blood meeting. The weather worked against us, as a driving rain shut down the 4 and 5 train lines, forcing my date to take the subway downtown to the Starbuck's in Astor Place where I sat reading a piece of the Times.
When she finally did show up, she was wet and uncomfortable. I did my best to put her at her ease, but nothing was working. We had so little in common, I could have leaned over to any other neighboring table and started a higher quality conversation in 10 words or less.
After about 30 excrutiating minutes, she announced that she was leaving. I walked her to the subway station, tried to give her a peck on the cheek--nothing fresh, honestly--and got a piece of her collar.
On The Town
All right, free at last. It's 7 o'clock on a Friday night in the Big Apple. There's got to be something going on. I called my best bud on the cell and asked him where he was.
"I'm in sitting in my apartment in my underwear," he informed me.
Okay. Scratch that. I looked through the film listings, but I don't like going to the movies by myself, not the way I used to. It's just too depressing and it's unlikely I'll meet anyone in the dark.
Well, I wondered around the Village looking for something to do. I swung by the Angelika, but there was nothing I wanted to see and now I was getting hungry. I was walking down Houston Street--yes, there again--when a woman driving by honker her horn.
"Do you know where Thompson Street is?" she asked.
Yikes. It was one of those situations where I did, but I didn't. I should know where Thompson Street is, I know I've been there a million times, and I know, I know in my heart that it's right around here. But I had no idea where.
Salvation came in the form of a man with a huge green umbrella. I flagged him down and tried the Westside Highway routine. Once again, I got lucky, as this man knew exactly where Thompson Street was.
I hung around rather uselessly listening as the umbrella man enlightened the lady in the car. When he was done, everyone thanked each other and we went in three different directions.
By this time, I was wet and tired myself and I began looking around for some place to eat. Nothing was grabbing me and I didn't want to eat alone in a regular restaurant because it screams "loser!" to everyone on the Eastern Seaboard.
I found this little Thai place, where the only customers were two young women, one of whom was blabbing loudly away into her cell phone. Thankfully they left and I had to the place to my self. I had dumplings and pad kee mao and enjoyed every morsel.
I decided to throw in the towel and head home. But first I got the restaurant's business card, so I could actually people the name of the place that I liked so much and then I decided, damn it, I'm going to get the address right, so I marched up to the corner to read the street sign.
I was so proud of myself. Here I was, getting the facts, not reallying on memory, or voodoo, or rock formations. I may not have an unerring sense of direction, but I have enough brains to remember my surroundings.
I stopped at the corner, looked up and read the sign. I was on Thompson Street.