Friday, September 08, 2006
The Year of Heroes and Villans
September is filled with a great deal of emotion for this old girl... This time of year is filled to the brim with memory. And yesterday September 10th is a big day for me, as that is the last time I saw my best friend. He flew here from New York City to be a part of my daughter's first day of school. He came to my country to be a part of our family moment. A family that he loved. It was his first voyage to a foreign country since his kidney surgery. A surgery that left him minus a rib, his adrenal glands and both kidneys. He came to my country with a sense of hope for the future. He came to my country in a great deal of pain.
He came to my country to grab his independence back. To realize that the machines that sustained him would not bind him. He was determined to travel again. But just for brief stints as he did love his city so, and New York was home.
I sit on my porch and there under my welcome matt,is the deliable imprint on my bestfriend's shoeprint from that maiden voyage. My husband painstakenly paints around it every two years... But there is a footprint stays on my front porch as a reminder of his last visit in September 2001. A print that always has me sigh, laugh and cry all at the same time, as I recall him stepping on the newly painted porch and all of our laughter at the folly at the time.
My dear friend, that passed away was the embodiment of New York. He was born in New York. He was raised in New York. He grew up with his family on the upper east side in a beautiful brownstone house that housed the last greenhouse ever to be built in a home in Manhattan. Central Park was his playground and the city restaurants were his cafeteria.He loved theatre, he loved art, he loved culture and ethnic diversity. He could have all of it in his great city.
He was jaded and rough, at the same time, having the refined witt and grace of an educated socialite.He grew up on the upper east side but had the edge of being an outcast as he was gay and grew up in a time when he was ostracized by his family and society itself.
He stuck with his fair city through thick and thin, in good times and in bad. He was in New York for the Stonewall Riots and would cry as he would relay all that happened on that day. He would relay in full account of the abuse he faced in the riots all due to what he was. He could cry for what New York did to him and his friends on that day. But through his tears there was forgiveness.
When New York was going broke, he invested. He adored his fair city with the warts and the tinsel. He knew that New York would rise again. He never abandoned hope for his city.
We would walk through Central Park and he would show me where he would sled as a child, or where he would have boat races with his three older brothers. He would show with some twisted sense of pride where he was first beat up as a kid, or how he was robbed at gun point at the age of 20, only having the Guardian Angels rescue him. He would show me murals from graffitti artists that he would enjoy, or go to the MET and marvel at an extraordinary new addition to the walls.
All street corners and stoops had stories.He would recall when he lived in the Dakota how he would have tea with his neighbour Lenny... Or to all of us, this man would have been Mr.Leonard Bernstien. He would relay stories of Dakota and all its legends and ghosts that wandered its halls. I remember entering the lobby of the Dakota and he said 'And this is where John Lennon died.Right here. The three consierges here tried to save him.They tried with all their might. But he died in their arms. Right here, in the fourth stair'
He was a playwright and always used his fair city as a reference.
He was also business suavy and as a result he invested and made his own money. He knew the business world and could manuever around his finances with great ease.He was a New Yorker that believed in knowing your banker and where his fair city had instabanks, he never trusted them. He would always go to his branch, deal face to face with his banker. He felt that you always had to have a face and respect for money. So every time he went abroad he would take out an extrodinary amount of money to last him his vacation. And he would always have a budget for all that he did.
He could take me on walks and show me with great delight the oldest bar in New York and know the whole history of the place. He could tell you how the bar was actually saved by Jackie Kennedy, as it was one of the Irish bars that Jack adored. He could tell you about Jane Mansfield living two doors down from his house. He would talk of his mother sending Ms. Mansfield a letter written on linen stationary scented with roses.The letter addressed to Ms. Mansfield was not a fan letter but a letter to remind the young starlit to pick up after her dog.
He would talk about the great performers of Central Park. The amazing puppetteers that come out every Sunday and give some of the best performances that New York has to offer and all they want is a small donation in their cap. Whenever my daughter and I were with him he would always discreetly put in at least 100 dollar as he knew what it was like to go hungry. To be poor and give art to the mases is never easy. And he never wanted New Yorkers to miss out on such talent. Street performers were part of the fabric of his city and he felt accessible art helped bind his fellow man.
Outside his place on Sundays or Monday nights there would be homelessmen, and these men would set up televisions ouside my friend's home, along with lazyboy chairs, popcorn and beer and have a long wire running from my friend's place as they pirated his cable and his electricity so they could watch their football games. They would always nodd, call him by his name and let him know the score, later on in life they would also tell me if my daughter was up to mischief in the house...Always referring to my daughter as the Wee Miss...
He would not suffer fools lightly and it would not matter if we were in a play or in a cab, if the person did not know their trade his tongue could be ever so wicked. I remember a few plays where he got up and just threw his insult as we left. Sad to say,it would also happen in restaurants as well. And coming from a city where we are all polite and manners it would just send me into manic spasms.
He would take me to endless restaurants and simply go to different planets when he tasted something delicious. He would bang his spoon down and cry with delight exclaiming that he could just lick the plate. He would boast how restaurants were now the biggest tourist attraction in New York. He would take me to all the great restaurants and cute greasy spoons he found through his 57 years of living in New York. He would just love to dress for dinner. And would always gasp in delight, whenever his chosen family entered a room. He would marvel at how we,his family, could clean up for dinner.
And the way he could hail a New York cab was a thing of beauty to bestow. The hand discreetly up like that of Nuryev or Barishnikov. My daughter has since perfected the stance and I enjoy thinking of how he would have loved to see her now.
He was an excellent host. And when in his fair city you knew anything could happen.
That is, until the impossible did.
I remember watching in dismay as I saw the World Trade Center on fire.How my stomach ached when I saw the plane hit the tower. I automatically called my friend. The phone lines were down and panic filled my heart. When the towers crashed. I had to talk with him. I had to hear his voice. I had to hear hope. I had to touch New York.
The phone lines were jammed for close to three hours on September 11th. I heard from my dear friend at 12:18pm. I sighed and cried.
He scolded me.
He asked me 'how I could think that he would be down in the financial district?He hadn't been down that way for close to 15 years'
And I asked 'what were the chances of two planes hitting the WorldTrade Center?'
I had been there, with my daughter in the mornings. And it is not an odd phenomena to be down to visit the World Trade Center.
The odd thing was he was grappling to be that logical New Yorker. He was hurt and angry. He did not know where to turn. New York a city filled with hope. Filled with tinsel and now the air was filled with dust and debris. You could taste the residue from the buildings and the airplanes in the air. He could not get thetaste out of his mouth. He could not breath. The smell was overpowering. The smell was suffocating him. The smell was filled with dispair.
He had been to my house for close to ten days and had just returned to his city. On September 11th, He was on his way to the bank when to second plane hit.He went to a bank to withdraw money and was informed that the banks had closed.He was informed that the subways were closed. He was informed that New York was closed. Closed.
He, as New Yorkers are, are prized fighters. Nothing was going to get them down. Clean themselves up, put on a brave face and do not let them see your tears. The show must go on...
He wanted to grab something that was normal. Something to prove that New York would go on. And on September 11th there was no hope.
It was so overwhelming that New York stopped. And New Yorkers cried. As did the world.
It seems very fitting that my best friend died in the year of heros and villans.He died on December 20, 2001.My husband said it was kind of him to pass on the eve of winter solstice so that we would have the darkest day of the year to mourn him...
But I reminded him, that the darkest day already passed.
So as the anniversary of September 11th approaches. I am on my porch and thinking of the last time I saw my dear friend. I think of all that was lost in my heart in 2001 and the wonderful careless footprint under my welcome matt on my front porch.