Friday, January 10, 2014

Where They Take You: NYC, 1/7/14

 I have a friend in Maine who raised three sons who all played ice hockey.

Those of you who fit that description ... parent of a hockey player ... know what that involves.  Dawn practices, gear bags which emit unspeakable odors, the heart-in-the-throat moments when someone delivers them a hard check into the boards.  Conrad and I were more than pleased that our two played basketball.  Warm gyms are nice places in the Maine winter ....

Anyway, my friend:  a Jersey girl, like me, who grew up in a family of sisters.  One morning (or was it still night?  Does five a.m. in January, the black sky still studded with stars and the mercury hovering at 7 degrees count as morning?) she was in the icy men's locker room at Bowdoin College's Dayton Arena (before it was razed and turned into a fine parking lot) tying skates on her young son's foot and marveling at the unexpected places parenthood takes you.

I remember how impressed I was by her buoyant attitude.  I would have been a complete piss-ant in that moment, no doubt yearning for coffee.  Instead, she was Mother Philosopher, taking the long, wise view.

Parenthood has taken me places I wish I'd missed:  a few I would gladly swap for a year's worth of pre-dawn mornings at Dayton Arena.  It's also taken me to emotional ... and actual ... peaks and valleys of pure joy impossible to imagine without the little darlings.  This is probably the subject of a book, or at the very least a long psychiatric journal article, and not a blog post, so I'll get to the point:  earlier this week parenthood brought me to the winter tunnels of New York City.

You think it's cold in Maine?  Think again.  Yeah, I'm sure there are places and seasons in the Pine Tree State where you spit and it freezes before it hits the ground.  But nothing gets you like the frozen, damp wind off the Hudson River when it picks up speed along the luge-like avenues between the gray skyscrapers.  I'm going to guess that the morning my son and I arrived in The Big Apple, the wind chill hit its low for 2014.

It was also the morning he'd scheduled for a new head shot.  A soon-to-be-graduated college student and aspiring actor, he's in the thick of all those things you do to prepare for employment in the Real World.  For an actor, that means obtaining a realio trulio professional photograph of yourself so you have something to hand out at auditions and mail off with your resumes.  Our son had found Xanthe Elbrick, an actress and photographer who specializes in using natural light for her headshot work.

I know what you're thinking, and yes:  outside.  Wind chill at 20-below.  And not just outside:  the Boat Basin, at the intersection of West 79th and Riverside.  My mother claims it's the coldest spot in the City.

We met the delightful Xanthe in this sort of grotto which, thankfully, shielded our lad from the wind.  And he needed shielding:  while the rest of us were protected by multiple layers and serious mittens (Xanthe had a parka Prince Harry would have coveted during his recent Walking with the Wounded trek to the South Pole), The Dude had several "costume" changes, all of which involved little more than a light sweater and tee shirt.

It was his best performance ever:  he played "warm."

Somehow, Xanthe succeeded in taking some great photos, after which The Dude and I cabbed it to our hotel, where he spent some time massaging his feet and restoring circulation to his toes.  We had time to kill before our show that night:  we had tickets to see Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart in "Waiting for Godot."

I can't imagine anyone I'd rather go with to see a play, especially if it's something along the lines of "Godot."  I'm not smart enough for Beckett, whereas my theater-major son has studied it or read it or seen it more times than he remembers, and he can coax me along.  It's one of the unexpected places he's taken me: plays I wouldn't have chosen to see, sometimes in surprising venues.  Thanks to The Dude, I've attended "Julius Caesar" in a grimy college basement, as well as "Twelfth Night" in London.

But before the show we had time, so we wandered out again and within a few short blocks discovered an amazing exhibit at the New York Public Library: "The ABC of it: Why Children's Books Matter."

I found myself listening to a recording of E.B. White reading the opening to "Charlotte's Web."  We saw the actual stuffed animals which inspired "Winnie the Pooh."  Eeyore was a naturally bent donkey: of course A. A. Milne made him dour!

The original Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga, Roo and Pooh. With a photo of A. A. Milne and his son, the inspiration for Christopher Robin.

There were the books I loved as a child ("A Wrinkle in Time") and the books I loved reading to my children.  For some reason, as a child I never read Robert McCloskey. But I read all of his to my kids, especially:
"Make Way for Ducklings" original edition.
Two of my kids' favorite "city" books were on display:
"The House on East 88th Street" and "Eloise."
And as an author, I was knocked out by this tower of titles which have all been banned at some point. Some of my favorite books are here!  Actually, most of my favorite books are here ....
Tower of banned titles

Close up of some of the banned titles.  Really?  "Little House on the Prarie"???
Another friend (whose children do NOT play hockey) found herself at an orphanage in Africa, volunteering with her daughter.  Yet another friend found herself celebrating Christmas in Istanbul thanks to her son.  Another found herself hauling a Thanksgiving turkey into the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital with her daughter.

Exploring New York in the extreme cold is fairly mundane in comparison, but surprising nonetheless.  I'm looking forward to seeing where else they'll take me.    

1 comment:

  1. Best of luck to the dude and to the exciting new places you'll go to see him on stage. I'm heading to Fryeburg next week as a parent volunteer for my daughter's Nordic Ski Race. I'll swap you for Sir Ian on Broadway!