austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

'Cause I'm a star, and I can make you a star

My mother's hopes to come home Saturday, or at least go from the hospital bed to Manhattan and dinner, were foiled; she didn't have a long enough stretch without a fever. This would be pretty disappointing, as the major planned activity for this visit was for my parents and bunny_hugger and I to have dinner with one of my aunts and her husband. She's not biologically my aunt, but is one of my mother's college friends in part of a friendship bond that's strong enough that we just don't see it as not family. So having fewer people bunny_hugger was familiar with around was disappointing, but, it was possible that her brother would be able to come over after work and join.

In early afternoon I asked my father when we were going up, since the hospital was out: did we want to get up a couple hours early and wander around town, assuming that he felt up to it? He's still recovering from the heart surgery, but then he's also walking around three miles daily as part of doctor-ordained exercise. (But then that's also not all at one stretch, and he's frequently interrupted by the cats following along to see what's so very interesting that he's walking around the house over and over for it. Yes, my father is herding cats.) My father apparently hadn't considered going up early, but the idea sounded great to him, and so we left mid-afternoon.

My father didn't drive, though. He didn't feel up to that long drive up to the city and the bus-and-subway was right out. I drove instead, and found that in my determination to try to avoid every pothole on the Turnpike I missed the exit for the Holland Tunnel --- I specifically asked about which exit we wanted, I later determined, immediately after the last possible turn I could have taken to get it --- and we improvised around a path meant to get us through the Lincoln Tunnel. While it was a beautiful precociously-early spring Saturday afternoon, there was eerily little traffic, either at the helix, or through the tunnel, or through most of midtown down to the village. I can't explain it. We found the designated restaurant where we would meet up about 6:30, and though I had directions to some nearby parking garages (and coupons for them), we looked around for street parking and found a great spot just one block down from the restaurant. Excellent.

We were near Washington Square Park, so we wandered over to catch residual episodes of Law and Order being filmed, and also enjoyed the spectacle of a street artist who'd been working since noon on a sand painting. And we walked past a dog park with a great number of frolicking dogs in it, which cheered everybody up, really. Also my father talked about how the park had changed since his day, decades ago, and he realized he'd never walked under the arch. We almost didn't walk under it this time either but we got organized and noticed how, of the many sculptures and other decorative elements around it, no two come from about the same decade.

From the park we wandered into New York University campus territory, in search of somewhere to sit and have coffee (or tea, in my case), which is how we wandered into a bookstore instead. I'd like to note that while I can pretty much always be called on to go to a bookstore, I neither made the motion nor seconded it; I don't want to drag people to every place to buy books in the New York City area against their wills. Visiting the store was fun, of course, but we didn't run into anything that rated as a must-buy book (I'm trying to be harder about what reaches the threshold of must-buy, considering) and we weren't doing well finding anyplace that served coffee or tea either. The coffee shop in NYU we passed had people within, but the food counter was closed and draped-over, with nothing but the eerie silence of people reading iPads in the whole facility.

What we did was wander back towards the restaurant, since we had seen a coffee shop there. Along the way we passed a jazz club my father had often visited in the late 60s, his day, and we took a few pictures of him there for old time's sake. We also met a woman, apparently the mother of one of the young performers who'd be there tonight (the kids were across the street warming up in the convenience store, although it wasn't frightfully cold; it hasn't been frightfully cold since early January), and my father and the woman chatted a while about how everyone who became something played at the club years ago, and how they still have good programs it seems.

At the coffee shop bunny_hugger got bad news: her brother had to cover for someone sick at work, and so wouldn't be able to join us at all. We had coffees and green tea and my father got some gelato which he appreciated. And then we also found out that my aunt and uncle had got into town far ahead of schedule and were waiting at the restaurant. We finished our drinks and hurried over and decided to be vague about how far away we were from them when they called.

As we entered my aunt was enjoying a cosmopolitan and my uncle was talking up the restaurant staff; he does that, even more than my father does. My aunt was delighted in how I looked (making me and bunny_hugger wonder what she meant; she's seen me since my weight loss, so, is it just that this is her first view of me as a man-to-be-married?), and both were delighted to meet bunny_hugger. They were swiftly enchanted by her.

And we were enchanted by the back room, into which we were brought. It had once upon a time been an open-air patio, but it's had greenhouse-glass covers put over so that it could be a pleasant garden-y room. It's also a restaurant room we've eaten in before, several times, including one time I'd forgotten about until my aunt and uncle started talking about it --- a trip years ago in which I was brought, among other things, to the Daily News building where I formed a powerful impression of their large globe. Maps have always been a good way to wow me.

Besides the usual sharing of latest medical news --- my mother was reported on, of course, and this was the first chance my aunt had to see my father since his surgery, and they have their own problems too --- a healthy dose of family lore was spilled out all over bunny_hugger, who kept her head above the onrushing tide of anecdote. There won't be a quiz. My aunt and uncle have the rapid-fire snappy-exchange banter of a vaudeville team when they're on, and they were on that night. The talk threatened to get a bit political, with the potential for disaster that afforded, towards the end as my uncle started talking about the corrupt politicians and they all are, but we were able to bring things to less controversial material when I remembered that well into the 19th century Rhode Island rotated its capital regularly among five cities, and kept alternating capitals until 1900. I'd forgot which cities it was, although they wouldn't be too hard to guess --- Providence, Newport, East Greenwich, South Kingston, and Bristol, since does the state even have other cities? --- but quirks of New England states are usually safe conversational territory.

(I note also joint capitals weren't that rare among the Colonies, especially those like New Jersey or Connecticut or Rhode Island which were formed or re-formed by merger of smaller colonies.)

I should mention too that afterwards, my father took to telling of what a controlling and domineering horror my uncle could be. I admit he can be domineering to the point of obnoxious, and I think all my other aunts and uncles --- though not my mother --- have stopped talking to him for different intervals because of what we can kindly call his strong-willed nature. But I haven't ever found him stop-talking-to-him bad, and if there was any point to building up horror stories before or after I'm not sure what it was. I confirmed the stories I have witnessed, though I probably should have tried moving the conversation on instead, possibly using my familiarity with the history of Bleeker Street. But that pretty much ends at knowing that Bleeker Street was around the 1850s the dividing line separating Uppertendom-and-professional classes from the common man, with those above Bleeker Street being able to enjoy luxuries like indoor plumbing, gas lighting, and Croton aqueduct water (and those who couldn't really afford Bleeker living way uptown and commuting).

We spent many hours sharing family lore, mine and bunny_hugger's, and my aunt and uncle found bunny_hugger to be as charming and lovely as my parents, and the other aunt and uncle she's met, did. There's just the one more aunt to meet, as well. (bunny_hugger has met that aunt's husband, but doesn't distinctly remember him.) For a moment it looked like the coat check wouldn't be able to find our coats, but with some guidance and my clear memory of my father's jacket we were able to track them down.

We got back to the car and found that something had smashed the trunk. It was a high, off-center smash, as if an SUV or modest truck had crashed into it. However, a barricade in the street a bit over one car's length seemed to make it impossible such a car could have possibly got close enough to hit the car, at least at that angle. Uncharacteristically, there was no note.

On the way home, we ended up going up Sixth Avenue to the Lincoln Tunnel. Along the way there was no traffic. I don't mean no traffic compared to the usual four-hour traffic jam going through the Lincoln Tunnel; I mean, no traffic at all. My father was proud of my inexplicable powers to drive through Manhattan as if that were a rational thing for people to do.

Trivia: On preparing his armies for the campaign in Autumn 1805, leading to the battle of Austerlitz, Napoleon ordered 500,000 biscuit rations to be prepared in cities along the Rhine, and that each corps was to live off the country to its left, requisitioning suplies and issuing receipts along the way. Source: An Edible History of Humanity, Tom Standage.

Currently Reading: Airlift 1870: The Balloons And Pigeons In The Siege Of Paris, John Fisher.


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