Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Quiet Man

Yo, Brooklyn!

What could be more fun than a family outing from Manhattan to an outer borough via public transportation on a Sunday?  Having toothpicks shoved under my fingernails, for a start! These outings remind me why I haven’t seen my Brooklyn friends in, well, years!

The Quiet ManYesterday, Park Slope held its annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I have never been.  As a child growing up on E. 85th Street and 3rd Avenue, which until recently was the final destination of Manhattan’s mammoth St. P’s Day Parade, I’ve had my fill of bag pipes and boozy, green-haired revelers. However, I thought it would be fun to try something different with the boys, allowing them to celebrate their drop of Irish blood (1/32). Take them out of our habitual ten block corral.

We were off to a late start, but I felt encouraged that, according to HopStop, it would only take one hour to get to Prospect Park from W. 86th St.  That seemed like a long time, but it would still get us where we needed to be to catch the last hour of the parade.  Husband packed lots of snacks and reading materials for the kids.

We descend into the bowels of the city and await the 3 train which comes within two minutes.  The train pulls into the station and we see that it is good and packed. The boys scope out one seat.  Then two.  First leg of the trip is a success. Approximately 35 minutes to 14th street where, according to HopStop, we need to change trains. This is where it gets ugly.

We follow signs for the F train.  We walk, and walk, and walk through the musty , noisy tunnels below ground.  We walk down long corridors, up and down stairs and across platforms, approximately fifteen minutes of fast walking, weaving through crowds of people with the boys at platform’s edge, only to reach a sign at the end of an L train platform telling us that we’ve gone too far and to loop back around to catch the F train.  Clearly, if that sign exists, we are not the first set of fools to have missed our mark.  We turn back and follow the signs and finally, almost by accident, walk up another flight of stairs to the Brooklyn bound F train platform.

We wait, and wait, and wait.  Here comes the D.  The D?  The D train doesn’t run on this track, but here it is.  I quickly ask around if this train goes to Prospect Park and we get a muddled, “I think so” from several gray-winter-faced passengers.

We hop on the train, packed with dour looking Brooklyn-bound folk, the boys already sagging from one subway ride and a lengthy, brisk walk underground.  They slump into the only two available seats, side, by side, where they promptly begin bickering. I need a map. I head down the car, excuse-me and pardon-me-ing my way, to look at a subway map, conveniently located behind the heads of two seated passengers.  I hate reading subway maps.  They’re ridiculously detailed and the print is tiny.  You’re always peering over someone’s head as they either try to ignore you or huff and snort in annoyance, aghast at your stupidity at not having memorized your itinerary and the fact that you are in “their” space.  I don’t know who makes those microscopic maps and places them directly behind where people sit, but I’m not a card-carrying member of their fan club.

My husband takes a second shot at reading the map as I am far from confident about my findings.  He thinks he knows where we need to exit to catch another train to our destination.

The train rumbles on, under the East River out to the other side.  Onward we bump, past the allotted hour of travel time.  My husband decides to check the map again. We’ve gone 4 stops too far!  We have to go back!

Frazzled, we get out of the train at the next stop and look at a map.  At this point, both boys are hungry, grouchy and in full noodle-leg mode where they claim they are in need of being carried (they are seven and nine years old!) as they cannot walk another step.  After examining the map in the station, we determine that we are within walking distance of Prospect Park, or at least that, rather than wait for who knows how long for another train back to catch another train, walking is the better option.

Above ground, blocking our path, is a cemetery.  An enormous cemetery.  That wouldn’t be a problem, in fact, it would have been fun to walk through it to the other side where we needed to be, except for the fact that there was no visible opening in the 8-foot-tall wrought iron gate that surrounded sanctuary.  No option now but to walk around the damn thing. Following is a long walk down a trash-laden sidewalk, through a spectacularly ugly neighborhood where there is nothing but gas stations, a McDonald’s (“we are saved,” cry the boys at the site of the golden arches) and a few shabby florists bound to the cemetery. This wasn’t beautiful Park Slope, but rather some forgotten hinterland, no pedestrian life anywhere. Along the sidewalk, the boys kick up piles of dusty leaves unearthing dog poop and other goodies as the temperature drops and our already paper-thin patience frays.

30 or so minutes later as we rounded the northeastern corner of the cemetery, I feel, like my children, that I can’t walk any further.  This isn’t what we signed up for! Beautiful Park Slope, Brooklyn, a parade, Prospect Park.  I am now tired, hungry (having traveled through lunch) and beyond frustrated.  Seeing as how we were in Brooklyn, and not Manhattan, there is nary a taxi in site and bus after bus passes us either carrying full-loads of Hasidim, or displaying “Out of Service” signs.  Lord knows where any of those busses were going anyway.

Finally, we see Prospect Park, after walking approximately 45 minutes.  Tired, cold and hungry we arrive at the F street station, which should have been our destination, situated right across the street from where the parade had taken place. Now there were police cars and cops where once there were pipers.  We shuffle into a cafe and grab some muffins and a croissant in guise of lunch.  Outside, we sit on benches, our glum faces turned towards a man and woman dumping the remains of their shamrock covered merch and Irish flags into bags, shuttling them into a waiting minivan.  Down the street hundreds gather outside of an Irish pub drinking beer and laughing.

After a brief, uneventful walk (purely motivated by the principle that we hadn’t gone through all of this for nothing) around the tip of the park, cold and disappointed, we shuffle over to the F subway station, down the stairs, paying our fares.  When we arrive at the platform we discover that there are no Manhattan bound F trains!  We would have to catch a train headed somewhere deeper into Brooklyn and then change trains to whatever train might lead us back to Manhattan.

At this point my nerves are pped raw.  We forfeit our fares and exit the station. Above ground we hear the sound of pipes and drums coming from that Irish bar. We hurry towards it arriving just as they finish playing. A block away, I see a lime-green inter-borough taxi with its light on.  Like a desert wanderer towards an oasis, I race across the street to the driver begging him to take us back into Manhattan.  He agrees.  As I sit in the back seat, after strapping the boys in, I utter the word, “uncle.” Brooklyn, you kicked my arse.

Approximately $50 and 20 minutes of Bollywood hits (some of it pretty cool – including a tune that sounded bizarrely like Celtic Mouth Music, where the singer was riffing, words spilling rapid-fire, up and down some groovy, five-tone scale) later, we were back home.

My husband had left corned beef stewing in a slow cooker all day.  We returned to the fragrant aroma of cabbage and the promise of a cold, dark beer and our annual screening of “The Quiet Man.”  All was not lost.

HopStop, you lie.  MTA, you are mean.  Brooklyn, you are far. Let’s face it.  This round was Brooklyn one, me zero. You win.  Perhaps I will try again, in a few years.

Today, after picking up our boys from school – I’m on Spring Break – yay! – we will stop by the parade on 5th Avenue.  We’ll be jostled by the boozy, green-haired crowd, hear some pipes and drums and, conveniently, walk back home.

Home, sweet home.




Red Balloon

New York City is beautiful.

Red Balloon on W 86th Street

I gave myself a challenge this afternoon.  My mission was to step outside of my building and find something beautiful, right there.  Then write about it.  I lucked out!  Stepping outside of my building, I looked to the right and this red balloon was tethered to a pole a few paces away. Translucent, evocative beauty, isn’t she?

However, when I gave myself this assignment, I kind of knew, going into this experiment, that I would find something.  This is New York City after all.  There’s always something interesting to see. You simply need to look.

All my life I’ve fielded comments and questions about growing up in New York City. Like most New Yorkers, I’ve taken my fair share of NYC bashing.  People, sometimes even family members, who live elsewhere in other cities, towns or suburbs have said to me, “How on earth can you live in a place like New York City?  It’s dirty and noisy and so crowded.  I would hate living there.”

Imagine for a moment that I would turn to that person and say, “Gee, I don’t understand how you could possibly live in ______.  There’s nothing going on there and you must be bored out of your mind.”  That person would probably be incensed.  Outraged and downright insulted. Rightly so.  It’s rude and presumptuous to say such things about where a person has chosen to live, and yet, people permit themselves to make these comments to New Yorkers all the time.

I’m married to a Frenchman, so we get this in spades.  Admit it.  You’ve done it.  You like to make fun of the French. Hey, I’m a huge fan of Peter Sellers and his fabulous Chief Inspector Clouseau. It’s hilarious. “Fraunch Fries, Fraunch Toast, Pepe le pew (puer means stink in French in case you didn’t know that).  Gay or French!”  However, once again, imagine substituting French with Chinese, Russian, Egyptian, Chilean… Unthinkable to make fun of other ethnic groups with such impunity without incurring the PC-police’s wrath.

I’m not saying people are wrong.  New York is dirty, noisy and crowded.  French people are… French. But what gives? What do New York City and the French have in common?  Why is it ok to rip apart someone’s choice to live in NYC and why on earth is it so acceptable to poke fun at French people?

This was so not where I was going with this post, but it’s where I am now!

I’m not sure how I got onto this subject, but I suspect it has something to do with that red balloon.  You probably remember that lovely French film, no? And who else loves New York City; the French! : )

Anyway, here’s my quick 2 cent, super-overly-simplistic theory.  New York is awesome. We know it’s awesome. A bajillion tourists come here every day to visit this noisy, dirty, crowded place and millions more dream of coming one day.  France is awesome.  A bajillion tourists go there every day and millions more dream of going there one day, so the French must be doing something very right.  My mom used to tell me that when people were mean to me it was because they were jealous.  That was crap to make me feel better, I know.  However, in this particular instance, she would have been right.  Well, not really.  Jealous is perhaps the wrong word. The word, envious, might be a better choice.

I think of the little French boy in the film “The Red Balloon” and how the bullies envy him his prize balloon.  Remember how that balloon has a mind of its own?  Its own personality and agenda. The bullies destroy the red balloon, but in the end a posse of balloons comes to the little boy’s rescue and takes him on an extraordinary flight above Paris.

I chose to live in New York City.  In spite of the loud, filthy mobs of people, I love this city. Yes, my boys and my husband and I live in a one bedroom apartment.  Yes, just like in those 70s movies, I sleep in a Murphy/wall bed.  We do not own a car, in fact I barely know how to drive.  We jump through flaming hoops to keep our children in a wonderful school that we can’t afford, but where they are exposed to so many interesting people and learning experiences daily.  We know far too much about our neighbors’ intimate lives and they ours.  It’s not for everyone, but I love it and it’s home!

Don’t burst my balloon.  Enjoy it for what it is.  Enjoy that you don’t have to live here if you don’t want to! Look around your home and see what is beautiful right outside your doorstep. Beauty is here. It’s there.  Like Savoir Faire, “It’s everywhere!” Remember this? –

Happy longer days of Spring.