12 March 2006

Look What I Found!

This is not the newest post. In the bowels of Blogger I found the birthday post that disappeared from the lists. It is now five weeks old, so it will be out of date, but I wanted to make sure it was ion the postings mix. My little bit of Felix Ungar at work. Scroll down past this one for the more recent one - On the the real meaning of the "ports" controversy. Not an expose, but a what I think is a unique analysis.

Winter is threatening to return, as I suppose it must, being winter and all. It has been a relief to have warmer temps this month, above freezing that is, which saves a lot on heat and snow shoveling and so on. But that is all about to change.

What has happened since we spoke? Not much. While in New York I actually went to an audition one afternoon, thanks to a friend who thinks I should be considered for some cable program she is helping to cast. That morning I had breakfast at Balthazar, a famously famous place for dinner where the famous go to be seen by other famous people and then be written about for having been there. At breakfast no one famous was there, at least no one I know. But everyone looked like they could be, which I noted to my breakfast companion who then observed that they were thinking the same thing about us. Cool.

My friend is a dialect coach who when we met in November was busy working with some famously Swedish actress (I can’t recall the name now) to help her make passable American sounds. This time she was between clients, but when I mentioned the Taymor production of Magic Flute (which I described in another entry) confirmed my opinion through personal experience. She has worked with Ms Taymor some time ago, before she was famous as it were, and agrees with me about her over-the-top intensity.

A quintessential New York experience, then, to sit in a notable bistro and talk with familiarity about the glitterati. Every New Yorker cherishes their proximity to the rich and famous. We are all but one or two people away, two degrees of separation; whereas most of those between the coasts are relegated to five and six degrees. How do they bear it?

I met cousins for dinner and drinks that evening, having spent the entire day in SOHO which is very easy to do. I stepped into some galleries, one of which had several Chagalls, Warhols, and a Picasso on sale. Unwilling to sell my house, I left empty handed. Only in New York can you drop in somewhere and find that, though. I also saw some perfectly goofy ideas of art as well, which was amusing and also part of the ne plus ultra bohemian aspect of the area.

My cousins are distant but close. We met by accident. I was standing in the elevator of my son’s school, along with other parents. Someone in the elevator asked another person about their recent trip home. “Where did you go,” “Maryland,” she said. My ears picked up. That’s my home state. “Where in Maryland?” “A little town you would not know.” “Well, what’s the name of it?” “Woodensburg.”

Aside: Yes, there is a town in Maryland named Woodensburg. And yes it is named for my ancestors. But I should instantly add that it is very small, a crossroads; the name of the town is printed on both sides of the road sign…. The next nearest town is Boring. Yes, that’s it its name. And it’s bigger

I now jumped into the conversation. Consulting my father the genealogist, I found that we were officially fourth cousins, having a common great great great grandfather. But as his two sons had married sisters, we were double cousins, genetically closer to third cousins. For those doing the math that means we had somewhere between one 16th and one 32nd common DNA.

Well, to bring us to today, we got acquainted, met the distaff members of each family (they were two sisters with one daughter each) and began to enjoy each other’s company. They even joined my church and remain part of that community even now. While it is bad manners to visit former members of one’s church too soon after leaving, these were family I brought in so I gave myself permission.

We ate at a place we discovered some time ago, which name I will not tell you so it will remain our place. Suffice it to say that it is a genuine old Irish bar with tin ceiling and old wood booths. They have acceptable chili and Killian and Guinness on tap.

We had a fine visit, she and her husband and me. He has had a moderately successful acting career, with several stage roles in town and an occasional showing on L&O and other locally made TV shows. I finished our visit with a cup of decaf, which I think was not, because I had a terrible night’s sleep that evening.

I dragged through the next day. The weather was sharply colder so walking was harder. I did end up in Chinatown, having lunch at a place that boasted of its Bay Ridge Brooklyn connection in a sign in the foyer. How could I not eat there? Then I walked up Mulberry past the Italian places with their side show barkers inviting me to eat; past the old St. Patrick’s cathedral when this was midtown, with its Hollywood cemetery gates of aging leaning strap metal. I finally swung around Houston at the Puck building, wandered up through NYUville, before catching a train back to warm up and go to the Met.

The show that night was Cyrano, a second string piece from Francisco Alfano, colleague of Puccini. Not a great piece but one favored by Placido, who was the reason I went. Guess who called in sick? I left at intermission, sleepy and cranky. Slept somewhat better, emphasize somewhat, and grabbed a cab at 730 to get to LaGuardia in time. Got there way early, but that’s better than the heart attack of being late.

My life since then has been lots of work, not difficult as much as abundant. I keep forgetting to find a dentist, as I am due for a cleaning. We all are, actually. And as I wait for the sun to come up this morning, I am watching my last moments of being 52 slip away. At 1150 I shall complete another year of planetary presence and must enter a new age on all the forms we are ever filling – 53. Good god.

Nothing like age to make one feel inadequate. For the first 20 you are too young to do anything, unless you’re a prodigy of some kind. The next 20 years you can pretend to be young and promising; that nice young man was what people called me until I got to Brooklyn. Then in one decade you go from promising to past tense, from young to AARP. Amazing.

Measured internally, by the sense that I ought to have written a book by now, or a symphony, or done something with all this potential Miss Howard, my sixth grade teacher, put upon me, I am an abject failure. But when I measure more rationally, by my career, my children, my wife, my good fortune and good nature, I am a spectacular success.

How odd that even when we get all we want it is not what we wanted. The child in us, crystallized at some moment in youth, decided some thing or some place would be our destination. Then, no matter how many wonderful places we go and things we do or get, until we get that thing or to that destination, we are not content. Truly, the child is father of the man, but now the man must be the majority stock holder. Sounds easy, I know. It is not. I daily wrestle the infant or the school boy for possession of my soul.

You did not expect such an elegiac soliloquy early in the morning did you? I am prone to such things, and less happy for being so prone. Melancholy comes easily to me, the Victorian melancholy that looks out of old photos holding a cherished memento and looking off into the distance with a sigh. But now the birth pangs begin again, and the new person who has resisted leaving the comfortable womb of habit is now pressing elbows and knees against his own psychic womb. And like actual birth, the outcome is by no means certain. But time contracts the present around the future, squeezing the heart and mind until they either burst or get shot out into a new world. Hardly a melodious metaphor, I am sorry.

Must turn back to my task of turning 53 and composing a sermon, and to remind myself to live by courage not cunning. This does not come easily, but since when did any of us want to grow up?

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