"Phantom" was the hot show then, playing alongside established shows like Miss Saigon and Les Miserables and Cats. Aaron saw the ads on TV for months, knew we had seen it, knew some of his friends had seen it, and developed a desire to go. So we found a midweek matinee, perhaps even took him out of school early (I think that's where he missed multiplication tables) and went off.
Going to the show was the goal. But seeing Times Square up close was also part of it. And eating out. I had heard about Lindy's even before becoming a New Yorker, found out it was not far from the theater and so we headed there first. I told him it was a famous deli with famous New York sandwiches where even broadway stars ate sometimes.
Was I dissappointed, though. It was a bit dedraggled with harried waiters all over sixty. There was a slight film of grease on the formice surfaces, a clientele that favored VO5 and Brylcream, and a laminated menu with tired looking pictures of food at preposterous prices. The walls were filled with celebrity pictures, as I expected, but none of them were likely in attendance here. The prices, though, prevented us buying two whole sandwiches. We shared one, and a piece of cheesecake after. That's what I remember.
I felt ashamed for having brought my son here, it being far from exciting and far too expensive, but I kept my smile and pointed out the pictures of former and deceased celebrities. Aaron actually knew a couple of them - he somehow developed an officionado's knowledge of George and Gracie Allen through some casette tapes that ended up under three christmas tree - and his eyes were agog with pleasure, which I pumped up in the hope that he would not see it for what it was.
He did not. More than once in the years following he remembered out loud how great it was to go to that splendid place that glittered with fame and fortune. I would smile with deep gladness that he treasured this moment. But I also felt a profound sorrow at the same time, which as I stood there last week came and siezed me so hard that I almost wept.
It was not the sorrow of time gone, or childhood's end, or innocence remembered, though there was something of that. There was something else, something deeper of which even that experience ten years ago was an evocation.
I thought about the Christmas a few years before that lunch, when he was seven or eight and desired a real robot as a toy. Not a particular toy so much as something he imagined must exist. We searched and found something that walked and lifted its arm and made robotic noises. It was rather pitiful actually, in construction and performance. The magic he beheld that morning faded quickly.
I felt it for sure a few years after eating at Lindy's, this time with my younger son when he was about ten and desperately wanted a pet. Our apartment building did not allow dogs and we had so little room that anything more than a goldfish would be a punishment to both owner and creature. So when he saw the robotic dog - Tekno - we could not deny him. It was fun for a while, but also far from an actual dog and ultimately not much of a toy.
Each of these moments when we gave them these dearly desired but truly inadequate gifts were and are sharp pains. I remember wanting to say "No, you will not like this. It isn't what you think and truly not what you expect or want." Their wanting and loving something that was so unworthy of their hope was what broke my heart.
I wanted them not to want it, to crave the real not the phony, the deep not the shallow, the true not the false. But in their lovely, young and naive hearts the glittery, shiny, alluring thing that seems real always won. And when I gave it to them, I felt bad for giving it even as they thanked me.