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Selected Podpieces



I had occasion to go to New York City recently. It may astonish you to know that, despite my cosmopolitan ways and my literary, epicurean, sociological and artistic sophistication, I had never been there before.

Well, that’s not strictly true. I once visited a boy on Riverside Drive for a weekend. It was cold as the world’s heart, the window shade rattled all night, and every pair of shoes I took with me was wrong. But that was in another century, and that wench is long gone.

This time I wore my hiking boots without shame, since I am of a certain age and I have a bad foot. (Bad foot!) I took the train, which is a thing I love to do, and instead of staying put while the train pulled into and out of New York, I got off. I was a little disappointed by Penn Station; like South Station in Boston, it seemed to be one large food court. But I made my way to an exit and stood in line in the rain for an hour waiting for my turn at a taxi, and I was immersed in New York.

I did a bunch of the New York things a visitor is supposed to do. I rode around New York harbor on a boat, marveling at the architecture and the Statue of Liberty, who was much more impressive than I’d expected her to be. I went into Tiffany’s and gazed at diamonds, I went into Lord & Taylor and touched a dress on sale for $11,000, I rode the bus past the Dakota, which was hidden behind scaffolding. I visited museums of art, natural history, and tenements. I ate chopped chicken liver at Katz’s deli, had an egg cream at Russ and Daughters, and ogled the front door of Café Wha’. I went to the symphony, the opera, and a Broadway play. In Times Square I watched two naked women and a naked cowboy pose for photos with lots of people I assumed were tourists, and I was importuned by an Elvis impersonator to have a picture taken with him. I succumbed, and gave him a dollar to go away.

I met a few actual native New Yorkers, and while they were very erudite, I was astonished to find that I knew things about New York that they didn’t. For instance, some of them did not know that coyotes live in New York City. Some did not know that the little greenish bird catching invisible insects behind the public library was a warbler. And some had never even heard of Pale Male, the red-tailed hawk who lives on Fifth Avenue.

I had long sort of wanted to go to New York, just to see it; and now I have seen it, and I am no longer scared of it, so I can go back whenever I want. But the best part of traveling is coming home again, and New York is no different from anywhere else: the very best part of the trip was stowing my suitcase overhead and sinking into my seat in the Quiet Car as the train started moving out of the station, the first leg of my journey home.

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