In Which I Take Pictures and Talk to Strange Men

Yesterday was heaven with its cool, strong breezes and I was outdoors—with time before my physical therapy session. I was in the sweet zone of the Upper East Side – the 70’s. For you non-New Yorkers that’s a section of streets, not an age. I lived there a long time ago with my mother and new step-father, after  I’d dropped  out of college. I was miserable, floundering all over the place. One thing that helped was walking over to Madison Ave  to the Soupburg, a tiny hole-in-wall with the best burgers in town.  It was lively in a grown-up way (are you with me?) — I’d even made friends with one of the counter guys, who’d taught me 2 or 3 phrases in Greek that I still remember.

The Soupburg isn’t there. I didn’t really expect it to be. New York City flips over every few decades and on the new side are the “impatient” stores where servers and sales folk are young, white, pleasant, fast-moving. But my body remembered where the old place had been.  There was a tiny coffee shop with a bench outside. On it, a man in his early 70s in a newsboy cap was contentedly drinking coffee. He looked like a certain type of older Manhattan guy: satisfied in his own skin, fitting in, ready to talk (not listen).  I asked about the Soupburg I’d known 55 years earlier, and he knew exactly what I was talking about. He corrected me about where it had been and told me it had closed not long ago. He filled me in on some other neighborhood-y stuff and I walked off, happy to have had a chat about an unhappy part of my youthful past with a cheerful  stranger.

As I crossed the avenue, there was a beautiful church I didn’t remember ever seeing. That’s the thing about Manhattan — it’s only 13-1/2 miles long and maybe 2-1/2 miles wide, but just when you think you know everything about it, you see something great you’ve never seen before. It was cream-colored, with lots of turrets and towers and designs and as I looked up, I saw an amazing configuration of buildings — one of those special city sights we often miss when we don’t look up. I took some photos with my cellphone.

Only I realized after a few that I really didn’t know what I was doing. I just don’t use the phone much, didn’t know the icons and couldn’t make out the words on my screen in the daylight. What images I could see there seemed to be in reverse!

I kept walking, and on the corner of Park Ave, I spotted a young, red-haired guy on his device and gently asked if he could help me.  I told him about the reverse thing and that I couldn’t even see the home page words. “Sure,” he said, “I can fix both those problems.”  And he did.  And he took his time — no hurry up about him.

We chatted a bit and laughed … it was one of those moments — I’m sure you’ve had them — that shows you what’s really important. The hustle of the city disappeared and we stood there with a gusty, cool breeze, reveling in this first day after a bad heat wave, somehow transported into a slightly different perspective.

Me: 70’s (age) lady. him: 20’s guy. Both of us happy in our slo-mo moment … real in the midst of a fast New York end-of-summer Friday.  We said goodbye, smiled, walked off.My physical therapy went fine.

But how could it miss, when the view I had while wobbling on the balance machine was way over the tops of Manhattan to the quiet NJ Palisades, and a sliver of blue Hudson River with white clouds drifting above in slo-mo.

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