$55 :: food, tickets
Rowland insists on giving me $30, arguing that it is for his own vicarious enjoyment of the city. Ok, ok. He drops me at the train station and heads to work.
I’m back in the position of not knowing how things work. I have 4 tickets, 2 for now and 2 for the return trip, I assume. Everyone else has a different sort of ticket in a holder on the seat. I put my 2 tickets in my holder. Instantly the conductor runs by, grabs them, chops them up, and is gone. I spend the rest of the ride wondering if I needed that other ticket.
I make it to the last stop, a huge underground spread of trains and gates. Up one floor is a confused jumble of construction, milling people, and ticket counters. All I can discern is that I just got off of a New Jersey Transit train. Up one more flight of steps I find myself on the corner of 31st street and 8th ave. I head east, into the sun. The city is quieter here than the daytime Chicago loop, my familiar basis of comparison. On Madison Avenue I learn that New York buses don’t accept bills and I have to borrow a nickel. The driver and a few ladies on the bus are interested in my trip and gracefully avoid treating me like a dumb tourist. I transfer to the bus I should have taken and watch the ritzy garment shops go by, almost continuously for 70 blocks it seems.
The northern part of Central Park on 5th avenue is sleepy and quiet. I pass the Museum of the City of New York with exhibits on Broadway theatre history, life in the barrio, toys, and others. The conservatory gardens provide a peaceful place to eat my sandwich, look over many flowers, plants, and trees I can’t identify. I use the men’s bathroom. The stalls there have no doors, and one guy makes a real show of it – gripping the sidewalls, grunting, moaning, twisting around like he’s trying to attract attention. Maybe it’s a fetish of his to be watched.
Strolling down 5th Ave, a man looks out at me from a square hole in a plaza wall where he’s having coffee, a donut, and a smoke. I haven’t missed smoking at all, I notice, since throwing away the rest of my tobacco in my hotel room in Cornwall.
The Guggenheim! The big, swirly, creamy white building buzzes with excitement. I buy my $12 ticket, check my bag, and ride the elevator all the way up. Looking out and down that big spiral is something you have to experience. Light comes at you from everywhere. It seems impossible to guage the distance to the crowded floor below. The rail feels solid but somehow amorphous and unsteady. Turning around, your attention snaps onto the art, and you can almost forget about your body while it absorbs you.
The main exhibition is Francesco Clemente. I don’t really care to decode his intense plungings into primal places in the mind, using symbols like sky, sun, moon, head, skull, sweat, scissors, and lots of genitalia, fingers, and orifices. I see awakening in death represented, a wondering about the source of sexual urges, and provocative representations of the desire to alter oneself. But I’m far more interested in the side galleries with their little, personal spaces holding a wealth of Picasso, Kandinsky, Monet, even a Van Gogh or two. These are the paintings that draw me in, to places my mind loves to go.
Back out on 5th Ave I pass more incredibly wealthy dwellings, a tabernacle, petting zoo, and the Fiske collection. Then I come to the Trump Tower area at lunchtime, the sidewalks an endless sea of bobbing heads. I find the library, and walk through the upheaving Gothic arches that surround the skybent, shadowy nave and towering stained glass of St. Patrick’s cathedral. At 49th St I head west, past Radio City music hall, where they’re loading equipment. I peek in at the long golden rows of seats and unearthly lighted stage. Later, Rowland tells me these are much-anticipated renovations that I’ve caught a lucky glimpse of. Further west kids from the high school of graphic arts flood the streets, reflecting the arrays of color and style they must work with daily. Then there’s an industrial area near the docks. I work my way past the aircraft carrier Intrepid to the Circle Line, where I just make the 3 pm boat.
On this 3 hour ride I see all the big buildings, go over all the tunnels and under all the bridges, and learn many factoids about Manhattan. There were once over 100 ferry lines between New Jersey and Manhattan. Dutch immigrants landed in 1926 and were unsuccessful in attracting more people to the island. Forty percent of all Americans are related to someone processed at Ellis Island. Fifth Ave apartments rent for $12 to $35 thousand dollars a month and sell for millions. Manhattan sewage is condensed into sludge and sent to Pennsylvania farms for fertilizer. The Staten Island Landfill is the 2nd-largest manmade structure in the world, next to the great wall of China.
Starving when I get off the boat, I head up 42nd St, eat eggplant pizza, then watch Times Square light up as it gets dark. Now the crowds are looking for fun, the pulse is fiery.
Remember where the train station is? I don’t. I head to 6th Ave & 31st St and look around. Things look a little familiar, but no Penn station. I go west again, recognize more stores, and find the corner on 8th and 31st where I arrived. Down into the chaos with me. I find a New Jersey transit monitor. I know from the schedule that came with my ticket that there should be a 6:45 pm train. It’s now 6:49, but the Dover train scheduled for 6:45 is on standby. I get on, the train leaves. I’m happy when I hear Maplewood among the listed stops.
Walking back up Barnet St I run into Rowland heading for an 8 pm play, “Below the Belt.” I still have some steam, so I go with him. It turns out to be a very well done, poorly attended, funny 3-person play. Set in a department of a Kafka-esque factory, the characters represent Bitter Honesty, Jealous Incompetence, and Hapless Congeniality as they wrestle with the issues of work, love, friendship, and death. Great fun. Afterward I buy Rowland an ice cream and quickly poop out when we get back to his house.