The store attendant’s manner roused a suspicion in me that bore itself out ten streets south. It was an inexpensive bag I’d bought from him, to stow some books and papers and the barnacles that travel attracts. The fasteners on it were all male—which liberal spirit is unacceptable in a bag and I walked back the distance ignoring the stoplights and cursing tourists and New Yorkers who walked into me, even with their eyes on me. When I opened the door the attendant wasn’t surprised to see me back, and his smile was again so white and welcoming. The same day, at a camera store on 44th and 8th the attendant tried to sell me a battery and explained without knowledge why his battery in its tacky box was superior to Canon's. When I insisted for the real thing he bid me a very good day but communicated—through tone and inflection—the very opposite wish. I went out like I'd paid a lesser-than-twenty-per-cent tip in a restaurant. I walked into the dented streets and muddled pavements of the neat grid. I went to the Rockefeller Center, to the MoMA store there, and bought an Everyman's edition of New York poems. I'm reading the poems and between poems I'm reading Remnick's anthology of New York stories gathered from the New Yorker magazine. Over coffee and sparkling water at English Todd at The Intercontinental, I opened to Woody Allen’s The Whore of Mensa and laughed and lightened as I read it. Then I read In Greenwich, There Are Many Graveled Walks, and committed myself to reading all the stories in the big book—so I might better understand my fickle emotions for New York City.
I spent an afternoon walking in Greenwich Village. It was a gloomy windy afternoon and there were a couple of mild showers and I carried no umbrella. Mostly, I remember toy-dogs from the walk; even men were walking small dogs which they had dressed in barrel-shaped clothing against the chill. One dog peed on a plaque at the foot of a slender tree, a plaque for a Beverly Hill (1937–2007) who was, the plaque said, a “beloved community activist.” Beverly Hill would have been active when Greenwich Village fought off efforts to take it skyward on a grid-base as they had in the part of Manhattan north of 14th Street. The debate hasn't died, it rages in books as recently released as Glaeser's 2011 work, Triumph of the City. Long live the debate, I say, but, as I see it, it is a relief after a bit to come south in New York and see the sky and some short buildings, and curving roads on which they walk small dogs that pee on plaques for people who made all this possible. I checked now on the Internet regarding Beverly Hill. Her struggle was for the better treatment of dogs and cats.
I went to a play on Broadway that is set in 1934 in a basement apartment in Greenwich. Man and Boy, is its title, based on Terence Rattigan’s 1963 drama by the same name, and it is directed by Maria Aitken. The entire play happens in that dour apartment. I wondered in the beginning why I wasn’t getting into the play, and shortly Frank Langella came on stage and took hold of me, and the entire audience, and wiped all the other actors clean into his shadows. Large man, rich and powerful and Romanian, a genius and a fine speaker of English who, when he needed it, sifted words out loud and picked one that had the most dramatic effect and gave him total control of the moment. That was Gregor Antonescu , played by Frank Langella. We were in his thrall until the end; even the other performers were all in his sway. The play was only into its fourth day, and in spite of Frank Langella the house was not full. And the billboards in the corners and side-streets of the theater district were nowhere as many as those for Memphis or Billy Eliot or Jersey Boys.
On the next day, Broadway was busy when I crossed it, but it was under a deluge when I returned. The young people of the Occupy Wall Street movement had taken over the Theater District and the police were struggling to make way for indignant traffic. “Get up, get down, there’s a revolution in town,” the kids chanted. I loved them. I’ve joined revolutions in my time; my revolutions always brought me back to the beginning.
Because Indian food in foreign places sits heavy in my belly, and because I can't stomach cheese which is as salt in Italian cuisine, and also being terribly vegetarian, I seek Chinese when I travel, and I came by a modest joint on 40th near Broadway. "No tip", it said on a dozen sheets pinned to the walls and on the front door and all over the glass facade. The food was all right, about as good as an inexpensive dinner can be, but it was a relief regarding the tip. I've been asking why the Americans, in their wisdom, cannot make a flat rate for a tip and make it mandatory across the nation. It seems now that it might happen, I saw it on television in La Guardia. Waiters have organized themselves last week and demanded a mandatory 25% tip to be added to the bill, and they argue that their claim is justified in the slowed economy. Ah, well. America will always challenge me in its restaurants.