Monday, September 08, 2008

Verdi, Vidi, Vici


It’s getting darker in Verdi Square.

I’m trying to ignore the fact that the days are getting shorter and shorter, but as we get deeper into September even I am forced to admit that summer is almost over.

Just a short time ago, I was sitting in this little park on the Upper West Side, people watching and enjoying the beautiful summer weather that I had convinced myself would never end.

I had some time to kill before seeing my shrink and I thought I’d pull up a bench and let the world roll by. Verdi Square is a good place to do it, with people of all races and descriptions, reading, napping, relaxing or yakking on their cell phones.

There was so much activity on this block, so many different stories going on that Verdi could compose an opera about this place alone.

I overhead a man playing tour guide as he told his companion that “this place used to be very dangerous,” which is something you could say about entire sections of this city. In fact, you have said that about the whole town at one time.

I got hung up watching a little Asian girl feeding the pigeons. She was so excited that every time she went to her mother to get some more granola bar crumbs, she’d flap her arms like she was going to take off herself.

She'd throw the crumbs on the ground and then bend down and very obligingly point them out—just in case the pigeons were having trouble seeing them.

A short time later, she discovered her power over nature by rushing toward the pigeons and making them scatter. It was such a pleasant image that I thought if we had more experiences like these in the world, we wouldn’t need shrinks.

I saw Garrison Keillor walk Verdi Square one night—I’m almost certain it was him. I’m not much on celebrity sightings, but when I spotted this very familiar looking man walk by carrying a garment bag, I had to investigate.

I got a few yards ahead of him, pretended to wait at a bus stop and slowly turned around. It was him all right.

I believe in respecting people’s privacy, so I didn’t approach him. What do you say, besides the “I’m-such-a-big-fan” line? And Keillor’s made a career out of his shyness, so it didn’t make much sense to go bum-rushing the guy.

I listened to his radio show a short time later, which was being broadcast on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

“Get out and enjoy it,” he told his listeners, “because the days are going to get shorter after this.”

How right he was.

I didn’t travel at all this summer, didn’t do much in the way of summer stuff, except for getting outside as often as possible.

I did take a boat ride around the Waterfalls exhibit on the Labor Day weekend, the first time I had been on the water all season.

(Note: I wrote "Memorial Day" in an earlier version of this post, so that tells you where my head is at.)

I was on a date with a woman I had met online—yes, I know, I promised I wouldn’t do this anymore--and I wanted to try something other than going out for a drink.

It was a beautiful late summer night and I thought we had a decent time—not undying love at first sight, not instant soul mates, but a nice time together.

I sent Luisa (fake name alert!) an email the next day telling her how much I enjoyed our date and suggesting we do it again. Then I went down to Prospect Park to enjoy Labor Day.

It seemed like every three feet there was a couple, with one resting his or her head in the other's lap, gazing into each others eyes and smiling so sweetly. There were people with kids, playing games and enjoying each other’s company.

It’s enough to make you puke. Well, not really, but it can make you feel a little lonesome if you're going solo.

Now Hear This

When I got home, I saw Luisa had responded to my email:

I had a very nice time too,” she wrote. “You are a very sweet man and I really like you but I just don't feel we are a romantic match. I'm really sorry, I wish could I understand what makes people like each other, in the same way, at the time... but I don't.”

Abandon ship. Walk the plank. Get the hell out of here. I'm think of setting all my rejection letters to music and creating a brokenhearted opera. I'm sure Verdi would be proud.

My shrink suggested I keep Luisa around as a friend, but I rather angrily resisted that notion. Friends, I got, I explained as I roughly tying my shoe. I need a lap to rest my head on when I go to Prospect Park.

I got an email tonight that was entitled “Please bang me, this is no joke,” but I don't think Luisa has changed her mind about me. And while I’m quite flattered by the invitation, this isn't what I'm looking for right now.

Of course, when winter sets in, I might change my mind.

On my lunch hour last week I strolled around City Hall Park and watched couples swirling around the fountain. Shit, I thought, nobody could be that madly in love. But it was some kind of performance art going on.

The cranky geezer in me wants to ask are my taxes paying for this crap, but I’m sure we’ve wasted much more money on much less deserving projects. And the dancers were pretty good.

A man on stilts was walking around the dancers, taking pennies from a bucket and giving them to the lunchtime bystanders. When he reached down to me, he whispered in this child-like voice, “make a wish, make a wish.”

I hurled the coin in the fountain and vaguely hoped for something like a happy life, which probably won’t true now that I’ve told you—or does that rule just apply for birthday wishes?

I sat down on a bench with the intention of enjoying the warm weather, but a young man who could barely speak English sat down next to me and wanted to save my soul.

This seems to happen to me a lot and I'm wondering is it my body language or some look on my face that makes total strangers think they can approach me on my lunch break and preach salvation.

He asked me if I had time to talk and I politely lied—sinner!—said no, and promptly got the hell out of there. I should have gotten the guy on to stilts to come over and kick his ass.

On the way back to the office I heard someone speaking French and looking I spotted a woman going through the trash bins looking for discarded soda cans. She had a set of headphones on and she was speaking…French.

It was a bit of a jolt hearing a homeless French person in New York, though I guess your luck can out anywhere in the world. I made some lame joke to myself about a baguette lady, which I now regret.

I do hope that she was actually speaking to someone on the other end of that phone and it wasn’t something out of her imagination.

I survived Saturday’s hurricane and enjoyed a friend’s fabulous birthday party in Manhattan, but most of the guests--like the birthday girl--were lesbians, so there wasn’t really anyone for me.

Maybe I should have gotten that French bag lady’s phone number.

I was walking around Shore Road on Sunday and I noticed there were fewer people out, now that Labor Day has come and gone.

I went by the Mister Softee truck blaring that obnoxious theme song and I scowled in disgust because that tune goes right through me.

But then I remembered that as the cold weather sets in, the ice cream trucks will fly south for the winter and I’ll actually miss that Mister Softee jingle. Hard to believe.

I stopped at a light near Fort Hamilton High School and looked around, at the Narrows, at the beautiful blue sky.

I thanked God for this day--not because it would be cold soon and this would all be gone or that Monday just around the corner.

I was just thankful for what I had at that moment and it was very comforting. I felt like I was walking on stilts.

This is no joke.

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