How to Meet People in New York

Here it is – the key you’ve been waiting for: how to meet people in New York. The city has a reputation for being a huge, forbidding, isolating place, packed with people who, for the most part, seem to want nothing to do with each other. But we know that’s not true. People get lonely. They buy dogs. Men even buy dogs to attract women’s attention in Central Park. This is well known. In my (limited) experience, the people of New York are just like people everywhere else and maybe more so.

Of course, you can often succeed in starting conversations by having a cute animal on a leash. I discovered yesterday that you can also succeed without buying an animal or acting like one. I went for a walk wearing this:

 

I was one of the most popular people in New York City. Here’s how it went down.

I walked from my apartment building near West 59th Street and 9th Avenue to Columbus Circle, across the Circle and into Central Park. It was a glorious spring day with plenty of sun, a light breeze and temperatures in the mid-70s. Doesn’t get much better than that here. I wandered down toward the ball fields, hoping to catch a softball game in progress. I arrived, however, just as the “senior” pitcher was recording his 4th consecutive walk and losing the game. He came off the diamond furious, slamming his glove and screaming about the umpire cheating him on “perfect pitches!” His teammates tried to calm him down as the observers, myself among them, inched away from this guy who was taking a pickup softball game a bit too seriously.

At that moment a youngish man, one of a pair, spoke to me, smiling: “Ha, you wore the wrong shirt.”

“What?” I replied, also smiling. “Why is it the wrong shirt?”

“It should say “I love New York,” laughing. I laughed back and said I loved both Hawai’i and New York. We moved on.

Upon leaving the park back at Columbus Circle, I ventured into the basement of the Time Warner business complex to see if the Whole Foods located there had any smoked salmon for sale. While studying the options in the smoked salmon display, a voice penetrated my awareness: “Youngish fella, I agree which you.”

“What?” I am starting to repeat myself. It took me a second to translate “youngish fella” as related to me. I am looking into the face of a mid-30’s man who is ripping open a box of some kind of food product and obviously works for Whole Foods. “I agree which you. That place is sure better than here.”

Now I understood and smile, mumbling something about how I too agree with him. I departed empty-handed.

I walked back on West 58th toward my apartment and decide to continue on to 10th Avenue; it’s so nice out and the extra steps will do me good. As I approached the corner at 10th, I see an older (even than me) man walking toward me somewhat unsteadily, due to health, I think, and very slowly, carrying some plastic bags. His hair is snow white and bushes out chaotically, matched by a large and equally white beard. As the distance between us narrows, he starts pointing at me. I can’t exactly understand what he’s saying but it sounds like “you, with the red thing on your chest….” I elected not to engage, respond with a nod, a smile and a thumbs-up. As I rounded the corner, he was still hailing me. I ignored him and moved on.

Turning right on West 59th to return to my building, I passed the emergency entrances to Mt. Sinai West Hospital and the bays into which the ambulances deliver their charges at all hours of the day and night. A man in uniform emerged from one of the bays as I approached. He was moving quickly but saw me and spoke, “I love it too.”

Me: “Yeah, it’s great.” I kept moving and chose not to see where he was going.

So, I returned to home ground. The roundtrip took less than two hours, including time sitting on benches in the Park, and four people spoke to me about my shirt. It’s clear the shirt was the key because today I replicated most of that walk, wearing a plain heather colored tee shirt and not a single person spoke to me. What’s that old saying: the clothes make the man? What is not so well known is that Mark Twain said that, followed by “Naked people have little or no influence on society.” I suspect, however, that Twain never made it to the Big Apple. Naked people likely have a big influence here.

And the Audience Went Wild

Saturday night we went to see New York City Ballet in a three-part program entitled “Balanchine Meets Peck.” As admonition/confession up front, I once again state that while an enthusiastic fan of ballet, I am not qualified by experience, study or otherwise to be a critic. But I paid for our tickets and am entitled thereby to speak my mind. So I will.

In truth, I am in thrall of what ballet dancers are able to do. Their physical discipline and skills, musical sensibility and endurance are beyond my ability to relate. I noticed on this particular night that I was actually holding my breath as they began the program. I had to remind myself more than once to breathe while I tried to focus on one or two individual dancers at a time while the action swirled around them.

The first section, entitled Principia, choreographed by Justin Peck, listed in the program as Soloist, Resident Choreographer and Artistic Advisor to NYCB. The name roughly translates to “first principles” and is explained on the composer’s website this way:

“The new ballet is called “Principia,” based on the work of Isaac Newton and inspired by the neo-classical architecture of Étienne-Louis Boullée, who designed Newton’s Cenotaph (though it was never built). We can think on the order of the universe to better understand our role in it. Ballet is a great vehicle for investigating the basic principles of life—of movement, physics, thought, aesthetics, politics, and behavior.  New York City Ballet is a great company to see right now as they undergo big changes and return to form. We live among the chaos and according to the laws of nature (and society). Let us not forget ourselves for what we have become. Let us remember who we are called to be.”https://sufjan.com/

Even after seeing the performance, that description escapes me. Nevertheless, there was both structure and connection between the dancers and the music in the performance and, though I am no fan of “modern music,” the performance captured and held my attention from beginning to end. The audience was enthusiastic in its applause for what had to be challenging for the dancers.

The middle section, Symphony in Three Movements, was a wholly different matter. The music was by Igor Stravinsky who, for reasons I cannot explain, is one of my favorite classical composers. George Balanchine choreographed the dance; there is nothing I can add in that regard that would be worth reading. Everything about this was magnificent and, in my view, the audience reaction was stronger than for Principia.

Then, the show went off the rails. The third installment, The Times Are Racing, performed to music by Dan Deacon and also choreographed by Peck, was for me a total failure. It had little to nothing to do with ballet, as I understand the concepts. The music was a monotonous repetitive electronica beat that sounded like what I would expect to hear in a video game arcade. The dancers wore what looked like street clothes, including tennis-style shoes, and I could detect no unifying concepts in their movements or any real connection to the music, such as it was. It’s obvious, of course, that only highly skilled dancers could have “enacted” this performance, but it was not “ballet.” It would have been quite at home, I think, at Paul Taylor Dance Company.

I have to report, however, that the audience response, that I do not begin to understand, was more enthusiastic for this piece than either of the first two or, perhaps, the first two combined. Such are the mysteries of the arts.

No need to belabor this, but I am concerned that Justin Peck’s vision for New York City Ballet is going to dominate the future of its culture. That would be very unfortunate, because I believe this approach to “ballet” at one of the city’s great art institutions will ultimately cost it a large share of its audience. Experimentation is a good thing in art – recreating classical works only goes so far – but if NYCB is going to be dominated going forward by the type of music and dance exhibited in The Times Are Racing, it is headed for trouble. Just one person’s opinion, but strongly held.