austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

To that Broadway rhythm, writhing, beating, rhythm

So bunny_hugger and I had after all found the Macy's store displays and admired them, along with all manner of curios and attention-grabbing items found within the store. And we had plans to walk up to Rockefeller Center, about a dozen blocks north, to see the Christmas Tree there. But what to do immediately after this?

Macy's, on Herald Square, is just barely away from the Empire State Building. I've been there before, albeit on school field trips decades ago, and suggested that it might be fun to take in our first skyscraper. This was a slightly risky suggestion as bunny_hugger has a modest fear of heights and the Empire State Building height is not at all modest. But I suggested not going up to the Observation Decks and rather going to the lobby and seeing what felt comfortable, along with marking off the building as one of the wonders of the modern world inexplicably not included in Civilization IV's lists that we had seen together. This was a more comfortable feeling.

It turns out that while the night was cold, the public lobby to the building is on the side as far from Macy's as it's possible to get. Also they're in the midst of some kind of renovations and repairs, so that access was through narrower paths and around more scaffolding than I would have expected. I had also forgotten that the entrance lobby is actually fairly small, based around a few shops (all closed at that hour) and shuttling people up the escalator to the second floor where the line for the Observation Deck proper can gather and be glanced at by the ticket-takers. We stayed out of the line, and instead wandered around looking closely at various signs and banners and things like a map of theoretically visible landmarks as seen from on top of the building, and studying various mosaics showing off the building that we were presently in. The entrance decorations aren't as impressive as those in the Chrysler Building lobby, but then we could see the decorations here as we warmed up.

Back downstairs we noticed that the lobby windows showcased various renditions of the Empire State Building, done over in glass or in strips of metal or the like. There was also a display of snow globes, some of them featuring the Empire State Building and others of them representing metropolitan Minnesota or Sydney, Australia, or the like. As we tried to take respectable photographs of this, and of the mosaics above the lobby doors (which promote concepts like Power and Machinery and Electricity) we were approached by people who hoped we could take their pictures. It does appear that I give off ``I can take that picture if you'd like to be in it'' vibes when I travel with other people.

From the Empire State Building we turned north on Fifth Avenue, in the direction I was reasonably confident would take us to Rockefeller Center sooner or later. Sooner, in fact, we reached Lord and Taylor's, which also had a set of window displays set up. These were larger than the Macy's windows, and not tied to any specific event or movie but rather to the vaguely-Victorian Christmas theme. And while the Macy's window featured small animated pieces like people waving their arms, the Lord and Taylor's window had large rotating pieces so that people would pop out of closets and go back in again, or a miniature carousel would make its rounds. I do remember noticing that most of the rotating pieces went the same direction (clockwise, as viewed from above) with just the one exception. What this means I don't know. I believe bunny_hugger liked this better; I think I did too. This one was more personal and less derivative of a specific Christmas idea. They did have pedestrian barricades, though, so it wasn't as easy to simply back up or approach to get the right angle for viewing or photographing, but it did mean you were in less danger of being run into by someone in motion, or walking into someone who'd stopped for the show.

Up to 42nd Street and we got a good look at the Public Library, again closed up for the night and resting behind the modest efforts to rope off stairway access after hours. Just about across the corner is the Chrysler Building; we didn't take the detour for that but did admire its appearance by night.

Finally, though, eventually, we got to Rockefeller Plaza and were able to approach the Christmas Tree from the angle opposite 30 Rockefeller Plaza and from the far side of the ice skating rink. There was a hefty crowd there, even a month after the tree's debut and even though it was 10 pm or so, but the tree was a simply lovely tower surrounded by the warm communal feelings of the crowd present, and we took up a comfortable spot near the southeast corner of the ice skating rink.

There weren't any ice skaters while we were there: the zambonis were running, clearing the ice, instead. We noticed the tree included a set of white lights, which after a few minutes twinkled and faded out so that the feeling of the decorations changed. After a few minutes of relative darkness the white lights turned on again, as well. And a spotlight projected various Christmassy messages and symbols on the surrounding buildings of the plaza. This may not sound like much and I suppose I haven't quite got the words for it, but the moment was tranquil and warm and contented and the sort of thing words have to be invented to express.

We walked around the skating rink, mainly heading towards 30 Rock and the lobby where we could expect to warm up again, but never really quite losing the attention we placed on the tree, and the happiness watching it brought us.

As it was getting late there wasn't anything going on in the 30 Rockefeller Center lobby --- no Saturday Night Live that weekend, prominently --- so we did a bit of window-shopping and I'm fairly sure I pointed out the elevators to the various NBC studios, although they really are just elevators with metal detectors in front of them. We ended up lingering at one of the jewelry stores, forming opinions on tiny crystal figures, on the western side of the building before we plunged back out and looked over the mural showing off the slightly quirky vision of the progress of humanity and the intellect. This progression shows off both positive and negative features of how humans think, in that early 1930s fashion of artwork, and we tried to understand the groupings of various items, as for example how (if I have this right, and I'm not positive I have) dance and music are given wide separations in the Rockefeller Center taxonomy while physics and history are bumping against each other.

We'd been happy there and would have liked to stay longer, but it was past 10 pm by this time and we knew we ought to get home sooner or later, for example, sometime before the buses stopped running for the night. We started walking back, looking at the mosaics on the third floor of Rockefeller Center --- which aren't so easy to see from the ground floor, and would have been very visible from the elevated train, if the elevated train tracks hadn't blocked that level when they were still around --- and some of the publishing buildings down along Sixth Avenue. When we finish our respective next books we'll have to visit there again.

Walking down Sixth Avenue gave us the chance to get to Times Square again, which was quieter now that the protests had wound down and the only yelling between people was the normal sort for the city that time of night. I do know I pointed out the Time Ball, which has for some reason been left as a permanent fixture rather than something that appears and is tucked away for the rest of the year. We also ran across a billboard advertising The (New) Electric Company, which we had never heard of before the New Year's Eve programs, but which we instantly began to dread. (From the reviews I've read of the new show it may have its merits but its not The Electric Company, apart from having the silhouette word-readers on it.) Somewhere in the vicinity I knew --- I'd found the plaque by accident once on a theater-going trip with my parents --- was the location of the Stage Door Canteen, New York City branch, from the Second World War. Easier to locate was the former Paramount theater, since that was prominently located and still had the company logo scrawled against it, and we'd seen it parodied in Fleischer studio cartoons.

Back at the Port Authority we did pause to look at the kinetic sculpture with the billiard balls and the chimes which were such fun to look at outside the Singapore Science Centre, and a duplicate of which is outside the San Jose Tech Center, although the Port Authority's version --- which is not a duplicate of either --- doesn't run. I've never seen it run. Some of its components are hard to understand without seeing the balls rolling around in it. Other components inexplicably have billiard balls stuck in spots it seems like it's impossible they should have fallen or rolled to after it rocked its last. I know the Port Authority has many more things to worry about but I would like to see the sculpture renovated and brought back to life.

We did not, after all, miss the last bus although I do wonder how close we were to the final one. What we did miss was, getting back, the midnight deadline at which my park-and-ride parking space would expire although I was fairly confident the police had better things to do than look for people to bust on 12:35 am parking raps. And with me and bunny_hugger both looking we didn't miss our stop, so that we weren't forced to walk the mile or so back from the next stop in that weather, mercifully.

At this point we could be fairly described as hungry, or maybe more accurately described as starving, since we'd just had the freeze-dried fruit slices to eat since breakfast. The first diner we came across, with a name I could never remember but which stands out because its sign is surrounded in neon pink, was actually one we had tried to go to the night of the 1st but which appeared to be closed then. By Saturday, it ... well, it wasn't so very clear that it was open then either but as we circled it in my car we were pretty sure we thought we saw people inside in one section. They would do well to improve their lighting.

Despite our not being really sure if the place was open, it was a pleasant enough diner featuring booth juke boxes that gave us that wonderful fanfold of album titles and tracks to flip around as we figured out what to eat or waited for our orders to arrive. My own order was something I hadn't had before, fried macaroni and cheese, which I had figured on being more of a macaroni and cheese dish and not so much lumps of macaroni and cheese breaded and then fried. I'm not sure how to specify just what it was I was expecting. But this was tasty and, more important, very warm. That's what I had really hoped for.

The diner's vestibule also featured a solitary video game machine, but one that presented a selection of classic games such as Galaga and Space Invaders. While we didn't play it we did admire its classic set of amusements and the old stylings of video games, in which you had the diverse options for moving your avatar within the game --- not just left-and-right, but also clockwise-and-anticlockwise --- and I'm fairly sure we had an opinion about some of the specific games there. However, it was late and we were tired and I don't remember just what it was. It was time to get bunny_hugger back to her hotel room, and me to get to bed. And this was in total a day that was exhausting yet wonderful.

And yet ...

As I got to bed I realized we had missed an opportunity for something.

In the late 1910s, Elzie Segar was a cartoonist for the New York Journal, working from somewhere out in lower Manhattan. (He also spent time in Chicago.) The Journal is long gone, as are its successor newspapers. But his Popeye lives on, more or less, and it even respects the original 1919 title Thimble Theater in the panels that announce the start of a new story in its weekday (rerun) sequences.

Now, in about 1915, a new theater, one of the many theaters out there, opened in Manhattan, on the second floor of the building at Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue, for owner Charles Edison and Guido Bruno. Its striking name: The Little Thimble Theater. (It only had a hundred seats.)

I don't know whether Segar ever went there. I don't even know if he passed the area, although it wasn't far from his workplace even though I don't know just where the Journal was headquartered then and have no idea where he lived, by the Manhattan metric, and he may easily have overheard the name. It seems at least possible that one of the great comic strips of all time might have had a name inspired by a particular spot in Manhattan. Maybe.

Some sources (on the web) say the Little Thimble Theater lasted only one season; another reports it as a going concern in 1924. I can't even get unanimous agreement about whether `Little' was part of its name is just an adjective attached to it so long people think it belongs there. But it's not as though 'Thimble' is an unlikely word to stumble across if you want a slightly comical and yet alliterative word to go with 'Theater'. I can dig out a reference to a Thimble Theater at Cornell in 1919. And yet ...

Oh, I know it would have been an unreasonably great diversion from where we were to see a spot where a long-vanished theater in a building that's almost certainly not there anymore and which might possibly have been a minor influence on something we both like had been. But I had wanted to mention it, to suggest it as something we might see if the Empire State Building turned out to be unappealing or something like that, and it had just evaporated from my mind in the activity and the feeling of the day.

I suppose that it is good to have a bit of unfinished business, though, even if the Little Thimble Theater spot would be a tiny bit indeed. It's something to think of for the next time we see Manhattan together, and to have a new and different day.

Trivia: On Christmas Day, 1936, Omero C Catan became the first customer to skate at the Rockefeller Center Skating Rink. Catan had also been the first person to buy a token when the Eighth Avenue Subway opened; the first man to pay a toll in the Lincoln Tunnel's center tube; the first passenger to land at Idlewild Airport; the first person to put a coin in a New York City parking meter; and the first person to drive across the Tappan Zee Bridge. Source: Great Fortune: The Epic Of Rockefeller Center, Daniel Okrent.

Currently Reading: The Age Of Gold: The California Gold Rush And The New American Dream, H W Brands. And I come to a half-chapter about Archy Lee, a slave brought to California after it had adopted the antislavery constitution, and we get to why I don't read more history about California. The state has an infuriating habit of combining abundant opportunity and freedom for people with an attitude toward the civil rights of minorities that makes Texas state legislators look professional.


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