If I Can Make It There…Who Am I Kidding? (New York City, 2012)

We get to the city late Thursday afternoon, emerging from that tunnel into bright sunshine and car horns. It’s bumper-to-bumper all the way up 9th Avenue, but Manfrengensen’s handling it like a cab driver, darting in and out, pushing down on the brake as people or vehicles edge into our path, almost as if he’s driving with both feet. I look at the people passing by, tourists looking up at the tall buildings, checking out designer knock-offs laid out on overcrowded tables, getting caught up in the hot steams that blow from under the sidewalk. We pass taxis and newsstands, drugstores, galleries, shops of all kinds, scaffolding and posters plastered on raw wooden walls. We’re moving; we’re moving, and then we’re not, some bozo’s double parked in the area just before the valet parking for our hotel. Manfrengensen is full of metropolitan road rage by now, providing color commentary to the bozo’s movements or lack thereof, and the strategies needed to remove the obstacle in our way.

Our room is ready when we check in, so we go up, get settled and unpacked because I hate to live out of a suitcase, even for just a few days. We put our electronics into the room safe, and head out, down the elevator, through the lobby and out into the sunshine.

The city’s busy, doing its usual Thursday afternoon business. Trucks are unloading, people are cycling, walking past; I hear languages of six different nations. We’re hungry because it’s well past our usual suburban lunchtime. We duck into a little cafe; the pastries look nice, and we order two of the lentil soups they’ve got simmering. Manfrengensen likes his. Mine’s too salty, but I am enjoying this tiny bottle of Coke as I drink it through a straw.

We decide to try to find the cool  little store where I bought my business card case the previous Spring, though I can’t remember its name, and begin circling the area where we remember it standing…to no avail. Manfrengensen’s got a new iPhone, so he’s talking to SIRI, and she’s giving us directions here and there. It’s not that hot, but it’s hot enough to make me remember that I always forget to bring extra clothes to the city. Just walking around makes me feel stinky. I can’t wait to get back to the room and shower. I wonder how people live here day-to-day. Sure, it’s exciting, but do they feel the city on their clothing like I do, clinging to their garments like cigarette smoke? We finally give up the search for that store and go home to get ready for dinner and the play.

We’re walking up 8th Avenue at a clip; we pass a guy whose talking to some other guy, and I know him. Where do I know him from? I think. I rack my brain for half a block until I remember: It’s Dave, the student teacher from my year as an instructor at my alma mater. He had the desk next to mine in the clown car of that English office, and I remember him being a lot of laughs. The kids called him Mr. First-Syllable-of-His-Four-Syllable-Last-Name, which was endearing. He wound up getting a job at the school the following year, though not the one left open by my leaving, and I have heard through mutual friends that he has since joined the Peace Corps and is planning to leave for Cambodia later this summer. It’s totally crazy because, though we are friends on the Facebook, I haven’t seen the guy in the two years since anywhere on the streets of our hometown, which is hundreds of miles from here. Crazy. I look back to him, but the light has changed; he’s crossing the street, and I’ve missed the chance to say hello. Later, I will Facebook him a message to confirm that it was, in fact, Dave.

We get back to the room, and I get my shower and change for the show. We have dinner at our usual Italian Steakhouse that’s right near the hotel. I have the spinach lasagna, which is excellent; Manfrengensen has the monkfish. It’s divine.

We head over to the theater, and immediately I am surprised by how small it is. Manfrengensen goes to find our seats while I go across and down to the ladies room. Everyone is smiling and excited. Coming back to our seats, I see Morgan Spurlock talking to some people. He’s tall and he’s wearing a black vest. When I sit, I point him out to Manfrengensen, who again compliments my talent for spotting actors and personalities whom most people wouldn’t know from Coolio.

The lights go down and the stage lights up; the songs are catchy and the play is hilarious. We laugh our heads off. When it’s over, Manfrengensen declares The Book of Mormon his favorite Broadway production ever. We should bring Edison to see it. But what about the language? I ask. The F word? The C-word? True…maybe in a year or two. It will probably take that long to get three tickets together on a weekend anyway.

We walk back to the hotel, dissecting the play, talking about our favorite parts, holding hands. My shoulder brushes against my husband’s arm. We laugh, looking for good dessert. We finally decide to head for the Brooklyn Diner on 57th Street, where we settle into a corner booth, which, if the little brass plaques around the window ledge are to be believed, has also been occupied at various points in time by Gwenyth Paltrow, Kate Hudson, and a certain former Secretary-General of the UN.  Manfrengensen has the cheesecake, and I have a slice of apple pie the size of the Flatiron Building. This life is enchanted, I tell him.

I wake up late on Friday morning, while Manfrengensen is on his run in Central Park. I putz around the room, get ready for the day and lock everything back up in the safe. He comes back, gets showered, and I realize that I have left his Kindle out of the safe, but when I punch in our little code, it gives me an error message and won’t open. Manfrengensen is sure that I have punched in the wrong code, and he could be right, given my previous evidence  of  mathematical dyslexia, but I am sure that I saw the correct numbers there earlier. He says we’ll deal with it later, and we go down for breakfast.

As we approach the lobby area of the hotel, I notice this unbelievably tall, gray-haired man standing near the center table. Two little girls are in orbit around him, perhaps  his daughters. He turns his face our way, and we know him: it’s David Gregory, host of NBC’s Meet The Press. Man, he’s tall.

We turn into the restaurant for a table, and when the hostess asks me our room number, I start, “Two…?” even though there isn’t a two in our room number, and we are, in fact, staying on the ninth floor. Manfrengensen uses this as further evidence that I have botched the safe code. “Ah-HAH!” he taunts.

We are seated and order breakfast, swapping sections of the Times as we wait. Manfrengensen teases me for ordering the orange juice because it is outrageously priced, this is a trait he’s inherited from his father, who would never order fresh-squeezed orange juice at a fancy hotel out of economic principle, even though he loves fresh-squeezed orange juice. The juice comes to the table, and it is delicious. I offer him a taste, but  he’s not even going to taste it, so I drink it all. Best orange juice of my life, I tell him, and he jokes that “It better be.”

The food comes and it’s great. We eat our matching eggs and toast, talking about the previous night, laughing a lot. At time I try to catch snippets of conversation from the large party next to us because at one point I overheard something about a marketing campaign in my home state. The leader of the group, apparently, is on the phone, and the others are just waiting for him to pick up wherever he was with them before it rang.

When we finish, we sit for a bit, drinking our coffee and finishing the paper, occasionally looking up to say something to the other. Manfrengensen reminds me of some funny part of the play the night before, and I agree and then say that I loved the part where Elder Cunningham does the Matrix move during “Man Up”, but Manfrengensen kind of cocks his head like he doesn’t remember, so I imitate Elder Cunningham (imitating Keanu Reeves) sitting there in my posh leather dining chair, but as I fling my arm back, I smack the porcelain pot of hot water than an unsuspecting (and thankfully quick-reflexed) waiter is carrying as he passes behind me. Naturally, the waiter is startled beyond measure, because, after all, who expects a restaurant patron to swing her arm back like an Olympic swimmer going for gold in the back stroke? Near-disaster, surely, and I apologize profusely.

After breakfast, we go back to the room to gather up for the day. I try the safe again, but nothing doing. Manfrengensen thinks we are going to have to call security, but I don’t want to do that. I’ve already been enough of an idiot today, and it’s not even 10:30. We leave it, and head up to Broadway, where everyone is brushing elbows.

We take the subway downtown to the Village, and on the subway there’s a black lady in her mid-fifties reading Fifty Shades of Grey, and I wonder what that’s like, to read such explicitness while surrounded by other people.

We get off the subway near Washington Square Park, and by then, we both really have to pee. We find a public restroom, and it is bar-none the second-dirtiest restroom I have ever seen (the first being at the first available gas station on the 4-hr-ride-with-no-other-available-stops between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and which wins by a slight margin only  because of  the variety of insects). I tip-toe in and out, and we bathe ourselves to the arms afterwards with hand sanitizer like medics scrubbing up for battlefield surgery.

We wander around the Village looking for a store called The Little Lebowski, on Thompson Street. I love the Dude, and the movie is one of my favorites, so I have been wanting to go there for a while. The store is really small, selling mostly T-shirts, and it is cute, but we don’t end up buying anything.

When it’s time for lunch, Manfrengensen asks SIRI for a burger recommendation, and she gives us Bareburger, which is only a few blocks away. We are seated quickly at an outside table and enjoy some of the tastiest burgers (mine: beef, his:veggie) we have ever experienced, which is saying something.

After that, we wander around, pausing in front of Peanut Butter and Company on Sullivan Street. While we are standing there, a guy walks into the shop, comes back out, and I think I know him. Turns out he’s an actor who was in Dazed and Confused, Twister, and Rent, Anthony Rapp. Manfrengensen again compliments my esoteric knowledge.

We wander into a few galleries, and in one we enjoy the work of Pierre Marie Brisson, and one of the dealers there spends a bit of time there trying to sell us as if we actually have 10 grand to spend on a painting. We humor her, and when we leave we come up with numbers we would be willing to spend on art (significantly less than what that painting cost) and my number is double Manfrengensen’s number, which makes him laugh.

When we get back to the room to change for dinner and the show we are seeing that night, Clybourne Park, it’s time to face the music about the safe. I ask Manfrengensen to call, but he refuses, telling me that I don’t have to admit to anything to the front desk, I just need to tell them that we are having trouble with the safe. So I call, and I try to say that we are having some trouble with our safe, but I don’t know, maybe it was the soft tone of the woman’s voice on the other end of the phone, but I cracked. I can’t lie. I just said, “Okay, I did it! I punched in the wrong numbers, and we can’t get it open.” More laughter from Manfrengensen.

The security guy comes up, and he’s very nice. He says I didn’t put the code in wrong, that I just didn’t close the door all the way, and that caused the error code. After he leaves, Manfrengensen says he thinks the guy was just being nice, that in light of all other evidence…

Clybourne Park turns out to be wonderful. Funny in spots, but also very moving. I wasn’t sobbing during the play, but my cheeks are wet as we exit the theatre. We head away from Broadway, stopping to pick up some cake at Magnolia Bakery near Rockefeller Center, but when we eat it in our room later, it’s disappointing. Manfrengensen says that the cakes I make him at home have ruined all others for him.

In the morning, we have breakfast downstairs again, and this time I order the buffet so that I can have all the orange juice I want. Afterward, we get the car, which takes forever because of some miscommunication with the valet. Time’s a wasting because the kids are at the beach with my parents, and we want to get down there to  relieve them (even though they claim there’s no rush and everybody’s having a good time) but first we have to stop at the American Girl store to get a T-shirt for The Princess, because we had gotten shirts for the boys at the Nintendo store. The traffic, though, is beastly. Nothing at all is moving up Fifth Avenue. After about twenty minutes, Manfrengensen tells me to get out of the car and run up the four blocks to the store, where he will meet me.

I jump out, and the cars then move, and he gets a block ahead of me before I realise that I have left my phone on the center console in the car. So now, we are separated in New York City, with no means of communication. More fodder for the teasing, if and when we see each other again. Plus, I’m even more worried now, because I am stuck on a street corner, where a movie crew is directing people to stay put because Ben Stiller’s filming on the street, and they are trying to get the shot.

Finally, I think, screw Ben Stiller, I’ve got to get out of town, so I cross the other way, over Fifth, and then keep walking to American Girl. Inside the store, I’m really turned off. First of all, okay, I admit I have a thing about dolls. One time before we were married, I spent the night in my future sister-in-law’s room, where there was a whole wall filled with her doll collection. I had a hard time sleeping, visions of one of them coming to life and killing me dancing in my dreams all night. In short, dolls like that give me the creeps.

But even more than that is the wanton capitalism that surrounds the whole American Girl culture. I don’t mean to seem the wet blanket, but I’m standing in the store rubbing elbows with the 1%, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there is an excitement there that I just couldn’t share. Excitement over all these things, and we’re all there to get more things, all these expensive little pieces of what turns out to mean nothing in the end. I don’t  know, I guess I was just a little overwhelmed to be surrounded by the dolls and the lights and the plastic air. And the whole time I’m in line with my T-shirt, every customer is being asked to give an address, phone number and email address because “it makes it easier to return things” the sales associate says, but that’s just crap. They want to lasso all of us for marketing purposes.

Don’t get me wrong, one American Girl doll is a great thing for a privileged child to own. Maybe a few of the accessories. Multiple dolls, and chairs for those dolls, and bikes for those dolls and pets for those dolls, dresses, shoes, makeovers, beds, salon chairs and stations, baby grand pianos, etc. for the dolls…It makes me dizzy. In line I keep thinking, I’m in a hurry, I’m not giving my address, but then when I check out, I’m too exhausted to argue with the saleslady. Whatever. They already know where I live. We get the catalogs every season.

I emerge from the store, thankful for the real air of the city, though a bit panicked about where I might again meet up with Manfrengensen. As I head back up to Fifth, I see him walking toward me. He’s parked the car so that we can have lunch before leaving town. Thank God at least one of us can keep his wits about. He takes my hand and we turn up the street.

We walk down to Ninth Avenue for lunch on SIRI’s recommendation, and then go get the car. We sit in one more traffic jam, which causes us to advance four blocks an hour toward the tunnel. And when we come out on the other side, we head down the freeway and back to our family.