When I lived in New York City (1970-’77) Central Park was the center of my universe.  I still consider it sacred space.  An environment God would be proud of, for physical and spiritual re-creation of a mass society, that was consciously created by a person, is sacred.

Hosting Megan Wood Heldman on her first visit was like seeing the Park for the first time.

Central Park

The physical beauty is just the beginning.  Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of American landscape architecture, folded so many distinct environments and recreation options into a rectangle five miles long and 3/4-mile wide.  It can be used by nearly a million people at a time and not feel crowded. There are places in the park where  you can’t tell you’re in the middle of a vast, overcrowded, concrete city.

Central Park Waterfall


But it’s the people in the Park who make it a wonder of the world. On spring weekends, all the Manhattan cliff dwellers come out of their caves and recreate, alongside visitors from all over the world.

I love showing “my Park” to people who’ve never seen it.  Megan Wood Heldman is so open to new things and experiences that being part of her first visit was like seeing it for the first time.

Megan Wood Heldman (left) with Central Park carriage horse

“Would you mind taking our picture?” “Of course. Would you take one of us?”

Street Performers Every Spring Weekend

The Afro-Bats

The “Afro-Bats” were three African American tumblers, break dancers, and acrobats.

We came upon them late in their set, attracted by the sound of an enthusiastic crowd.

They were dancing upside down on their hands to recorded music.  Then, they did some tumbling, and began setting up their finale.

While choosing three people for the final trick, they asked a lot of people in the crowd where they were from: Holland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Sweden, Brooklyn.  They had an ethnic joke for each one, punctuated by dozens more about being black.

They scared their volunteers by telling them not to be scared. “Last time, a guy moved, and…”

When it looked like they were ready, they said, “We won’t do it till we’re paid.  If we do it, you’ll walk away and leave us nothing.”  They got the crowd built up for the climax, interrupted themselves, and passed the hat three times.

“Not a dollar.  We’re not strippers.  Hey, there’s $5.  There’s a ten! Hey, money from black folks!”

Finally, they did their trick.

The finale: Vaulting over three volunteers

You’ll find unique live-entertainment experiences in the Park every warm weekend.  This weekend wasn’t even warm.

A few feet away, in a tunnel to take advantage of the acoustics, a young woman sang a capella in a voice too clear and beautiful to describe — very difficult modern music, with a wide range, effortlessly.  She was backed up by three young men.


Fascinating singer


Megan and I were fascinated. She can’t wait to come back to the park with her children on a warmer day.

Megan was fascinated by the fascinating singer

Our time was very limited.  We had little interaction with the local indigenous personnel.


Mr. Toad's Wild Ride?

She did have her first ride in a New York City taxicab.  She was scared to death.  He changed lanes every few seconds, speeding up instead of slowing down and signaling.  Cars going even faster blew by on our left and right. She said it felt like Mr. Toad’s wild ride.

I explained that New York drivers, especially cab drivers, are very safe.  They follow the rules, but the rules of New York City driving are different from everywhere else.

Boston drivers are dangerous because they never know where they’re going.  The street layout makes no sense, and the signs are misleading, inaccurate, or non-existent.

Out-of-towners following out-of-town rules of safe driving can also be a menace on New York streets. Most don’t try.

The cab ride, and the chaos at the Carnegie Delicatessen, the world’s best Jewish restaurant, convinced Megan that New York was a nice place to visit but she could never live there.  I couldn’t either after being gone 35 years.  It’s too stressful.

The Carnegie Delicatessen

Megan eats very little, and thinks about food even less.  But I had to take her to the Carnegie Delicatessen because I had to go there myself, to load up on Jewish food to take home. The nearest good Jewish restaurant to Concord NH is Rein’s, outside Hartford, Conn.

The Carnegie Delicatessen

As the world’s best Jewish restaurant, the Carnegie is also sacred space in its own ridiculous way.  gro

Carnegie Wall of Fame

Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose is set in the Carnegie.  A group of Jewish comedians sit around a table at the Carnegie at 4 a.m., after work, swapping yarns about hapless, unsuccessful, colorful and lovable comedian-turned-agent Broadway Danny Rose (played by Woody Allen).

Generations of real-life New York actors and comedians have sat around tables at the Carnegie after work telling stories and “topping’ one another, including Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, Adam Sandler, Jerry Stiller and Danny Kaye and George Burns in previous generations.  Their autographed pictures are all framed on a wall that runs the length of the building.

We didn’t have time for a sit-down meal at the Carnegie.  The waiters used to be Jewish characters and kibbitzers, part of the experience.  Now the waiters are Latino. We ordered take-out to eat on the bus ride home.

Megan, who eats very little red meat and no fish, ordered perfectly: blintzes, light, fresh-made crepes filled with three kinds of fruit compote.

I  was so stressed and confused by the chaos in the restaurant that I ordered way too much smoked cow. I wanted to order smoked fish on a bagel to eat on the bus,  and smoked cow for my refrigerator. It took  me two days to eat my pastrami and tongue on rye sandwich.

I was really proud of Megan for getting a bite of my pickled beef tongue  past her brain and into her mouth.  It’s a naturally sweet, tender meat that melts in your mouth.  She tasted it, then took a whole mouthful.

Carnegie's world-famous corned beef and pastrami sandwich.

The chaos at the take-out counter did me in.  When the ATM in the cash-only business was broken, all I could think about was being short of cash for our meal that was already being made, and running down the street looking for another ATM.

As people have said about New York longer than I’ve been alive, as Megan said on her first visit, “It’s a nice place to visit, but I’d never want to live there.”

1 Comment for this entry

  • David Braiterman says:

    As a country boy now living in Concord, New Hampshire, I always seek out the more serene and naturally beautiful places in cities like New York. Central Park is and always has been my favorite place in New York also.

    City parks well done are in fact more attractive to me than plain, “natural” places. They are manicured with rarer and often more expensive plants than may naturally occur. Human attention given to creating “natural” effects like waterfalls, stone retaining walls, hillsides, and the like are both beautiful to the eye and compelling to imagine the creativity and hard work of humankind to “create” the special environment.

    I dabble at landscaping as a hobby for these very reasons. It is my artistic outlet. Every once in a while, a creative impulse comes over me, I completely immerse myself in creating a special landscape sometimes working through pouring rain or until the last twinge of light allows me to see what I am doing. And then I step back and admire my work My “admiring time” is usually spent looking and remembering the work that went into what I did, watching the evolution of the project as plants grow up in the season and then die down in fall, and then miraculously re-emerge in spring even bigger and stronger than they were the prior year.

    Once in a while something dies over the winter. Something in all of us dies each winter, and usually we come back. But for the occasional one or two that don’t there’s a spadeful funeral ceremony, maybe a tear or just a welling behind the eyes imperceptible to anyone other than me as I remove the once great plant I placed, and then some replacement to it or moving something else I grew that is now too big or too crowded where I originally planted it.

    Playing God would overstate the satisfaction from all of this. For what I do is not god like, it is man like. It is hard work and the human application of skill and labor to make something beautiful. It uses creative forces indiginous to living things and to me, but the act is inherently not like creating in God’s way. God would have done it differently, he/she/it/they would have done it God’s way. Like Frank before me would say, “I did it my way!!!” And given who and what I am, that is what I do. And I like that.

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