My mother grew up in New York; my grandma lived in the same house in Forest Hills since the 40's.
So I’ve been making trips to NYC ever since I can remember.
And then a year after I graduated from college, I moved there…living first with my grandma, then with a boyfriend who joined me from California, always in Queens.
Grandma was pretty bummed when I moved back to California 4 years later, so I always knew I’d be going back to visit pretty often. In just the year or so following my departure my grandmother’s 12-year companion died, and her severe rheumatoid arthritis conquered her, putting her in bed for what turned out to be the last 10 years of her life! Can you imagine?
The first few years when I went back East, Grandma could handle me spending about 1/2 the week with her out in Queens and 1/2 the week in the City with my friends, going out and seeing theatre and the like.
But as the years wore on, and as her mortality must have been more obvious to us both, and as more of her friends moved to Florida or even died…it was clear she cherished every second with any of her family, and that stealing away to the City was stealing time from her which could be the last time.
I still went to NYC every year, sometimes more than once, but now I day-tripped into Manhattan for a matinee and dinner with a friend or two, but stayed the whole time in Queens with Grandma.
And at some point, I have to admit, it wasn’t really vacation time anymore. I really wanted to engage and entertain her because I knew she was so bored and lonely most of the rest of the time. But meanwhile, as her hearing degraded, there were lots of distractions. The ever-present TV at deafening levels; the necessity to repeat everything…first because she didn’t hear it, then because she would ask the same questions repeatedly.
And it was depressing to see someone who used to be so active and vital and plugged in become so, well, old. Old not in age, but in connection to the world. Even after years in bed Grandma was still totally into the stock market, talking to her broker brother several times a day. But after he died, even that connection to the outside world got more difficult to maintain.
In February of 2001I was in Europe on business when there was a strike at the Budapest Airport. The airlines wanted me to spend the night in Budapest and try again in the morning, but I said “how far West can you get me by nightfall?” Turns out they could get me to NYC. And hopefully even early enough to cab it over to my grandmother’s and spend the night.
Unfortunately, various delays put us into JFK just too late. I spent the night in an airport hotel. I wasn’t too concerned. After all, Grandma was turning 90 in April, so I knew I’d be heading back for that big event.
She didn’t seem to like the idea of that big event though. She kept saying “90, I don’t like the sound of it. Now that sounds really old.”
As it turns out, my late flight into JFK made me miss my last chance to see my Grandma alive. Sometimes I think she really just didn’t like the sound of 90. Sometimes I think the f&*^ing Dr. who came to her house because she had a cold and missed that it was really pneumonia should have been sued for malpractice.
I was back in NYC sooner than I expected, right after Valentine’s Day, for her funeral.
I had no big plans to return. No big reason.
Until my MarCom Manager came and said that our PR firm had gotten me a speaking slot at the NAMIC (National Assn. of Minorities in Comunications) Conference during Diversity Week. (Big annual event in NYC for the cable industry.)
Well, I am never one to turn down either a) a speaking slot nor b) a paid trip to a fun place where I know people, so of course I said “sure.”
And for once, for once I planned in some personal time tacked on to the business trip.
I flew in Friday evening and had the entire weekend for myself, before the Monday speaking slot.
I saw friends; I saw cousins, and I don’t know how many times you’ve probably heard this, but the weather was just impossibly gorgeous.
New York has 3 weeks of spring and 3 weeks of fall…during those weeks it is like the perfect Bay Area day. Dry. Clear. Warm, but not hot or muggy. Well, this was fall.
I took myself to “The Lion King.” (Paying full price and being a single ticket usually ensures you of a damn good seat.)
And I had my requisite NYC brush with fame on Saturday evening. It was Mary Louise Parker’s penultimate performance in her Tony-winning role in the play “Proof.” It was packed, and the first act was amazing. She was amazing.
And as I shuffled with the crowd to exit during intermission, I noticed that the rather short, unassuming guy in a skull cap shuffling next to me was none other than Michael Stipe, lead singer of R.E.M.
We poured out onto the sidewalk outside the theatre right next to each other, and I was thinking…which would Mr. Stipe appreciate more. Truth is I’m a huge REM fan, have most of their CDs, have seen them live, have Automatic for the People on my list of Desert Island Discs…even if you cut me down to bringing only 5!
However, perhaps he would prefer his anonymity, to be treated like a regular guy. I mean he must have tons of gushing fans approach him all the time.
So, I decide to play it cool, and say “What do you think?” gesturing toward the theatre. “I really like it” he replies in a perfectly normal, friendly manner, “who wrote it?”
Not having any independent clue about who wrote it, I quickly see the show poster up on the theatre wall and point to it, saying “that guy…David Auburn.”
Mike, my buddy Mike, at this point pulls out a pack of cigarettes. Now at the time I was one of those non-smokers who bums a smoke every chance given. So, without shame, I said, “can I bum one?” He shows me his empty pack and say, “this is my last one.” (He actually showed me the empty pack! LIke, please don’t think I’m some selfish lying celebrity.)
I thought Mikey was alone, but apparently he was there with two friends, who showed up at this point. A very handsome and very young man, and a not so handsome and not so young woman.
Then MS actually asks his young man-friend for a cigarette for me! What a gentleman, huh?
But then the friends did this whole circle-the-wagons thing. The man-friend lit my cigarette, and then the man-friend and the hanger-on woman stood between me and the Mike-ster and turned their backs on me! How totally wack!
Hey, he asked me who wrote it, and I figured it out for him, ‘kay over protective hangers-on. What? Afraid you’ll be replaced as his toadying entourage?
But I’m not bitter about it to this day or anything.
So three years ago today, on Sunday September 9th, I was thinking, “Wow, I haven’t had this nice a trip to NYC in years. How nice to be fancy free and financially sound for a weekend in Manhattan!”
All I had to do was speak on Monday afternoon and fly out on Tuesday morning.
Piece of cake.
Note: I first wrote this series of posts back in 2004, three years post-09/11. I shared them first on a personal blog platform that went away. Then posted them on BlogHer.com, which was ported to SheKnows.com and then those links, too, were broken. So now I’m trying again to find a home for my annual remembrances. I have not reviewed and updated them in any way. This is what I wrote in 2004.