For no particularly good reason that I can think of, I was invited to go to New York for a day of sifting through scholarship applications.
This is the view from my hotel floor (24th). Here in midtown Manhattan, a quite small but luxurious room goes for over $300 a night, which I personally did not have to spend so enjoyed a great deal.
I lived here in New York City when I was a middle-schooler, and everything about the place delights me. I had thought about going to a show or play, but finally decided just to get a little lost. Not VERY lost–just a little. Getting a little lost in New York means coming across the Japanese diner, where the waitresses speak Korean in tiny feminine voices while the silent men cook on the long steel kitchen bar a couple of feet away, where the handsome Indian businessmen do a deal in perfect but accented English, where the sandy-haired American next to me can’t fathom a place where you are not supposed to leave a tip and apologizes shamefacedly after trying to do so. It involves studying a menu I can’t quite understand, eating something with creamy tofu, seaweed, and tiny brown beans, and falling back with relief on a perfect miso soup.
It means finding the swathed figure of a bulky little man in an overcoat lying on his side on the street corner, his plastic bag a few inches out of his hand. He didn’t seem upset at all, and he wasn’t trying to get up. He was just lying there on his side. The rain was misting down lightly on him. After contemplating him for some seconds, I bent over to put my hand under his arm to help him up, and another woman tentatively approached to get him from the other side, and by the time we got him up on his pegs, mumbling, it was clear that a) he was drunk (though not dirty) and b) he was (probably) a Spanish speaker. A third woman said she would call 911, and I leaned him up against a wall so at least he would have something at his back. It was like handling a tree log. There didn’t seem much else to do. So I went on. I walked down the street a block, crossed the avenue, came back on the other side, and peeked under my hood. He was still there, still on his feet with his back to the marble wall, looking nowhere.
It means entering Grand Central Station to case the joint for tomorrow’s roughly 5 a.m. departure for Newark. Every time I see Grand Central (now called Terminal, not Station, apparently), I think of Ozymandias, of the ruins of giants–except that it is in beautiful shape these days, renovated, refurbished, glorious, a center of Empire.
The little stores in the wings of the station hold the wares of leather-workers and glass-workers and knitters and jewelry-makers, all lovely stuff that makes you want to tear through the place and rob all of them, like seeing a banquet on laden tables and wanting to cram everything into one’s mouth for sheer gluttony.
As I figured out where I need to be tomorrow morning, I walked back toward the Lexington entrance and found three women singing Christmas carols: the banner behind them said “Train’d Singers” — get it? In a train station? The vast marble space tossed their voices around in itself, softening them, weaving them, crystalizing them, and then poured the songs out like honey. They saw me taking a video and smiled, and I put some money in their box; they asked if I wanted to sing with them, so I put on a low alto harmony for “Silent Night” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” I wished nothing more at that moment than to stay lost in New York and sing with these women forever.
That’s what it means to get a little lost, just a little, in midtown Manhattan on an early winter’s evening.