I will begin with some mundane but nevertheless august thoughts. I was on the shores of New York Harbor this past Saturday. Never forget that the Bronx is up but the Battery’s down. It was the ideal August day to be there: overcast, breezy, and no-jacket-required cool. There were tourists aplenty in the vicinity. Spanning the entire age spectrum, many of them appeared fixated on capturing every single moment of their New York experience on their smartphones. They weren’t quite living in the moment, I thought, but were instead captive to these ubiquitous hand-held devices. But what’s the point of pointing that out? Yada…yada…yada.
Once upon a time, I enjoyed riding the Staten Island Ferry, which departs from the Battery, the lower tip of Manhattan. The ferry has always been a bargain—it’s free to ride now. But for me it was never about traveling to Staten Island, which is one of the city’s five boroughs. I took the ferry for the ride—period and end of story. With the exception of the ferry terminal on Staten Island, I’ve never actually set foot in the borough. It’s hard to get around the place without a car and hard to get there—and expensive—with one. The short ferry trips supplied vivid panoramas, especially the return trips to Manhattan. The last time I was on the ferry, the Twin Towers were what loomed like colossi on the approach.
In the environs of Battery Park City, I saw people boarding boats to the Statue of Liberty. I was on Liberty Island once, but that was a long time ago—when Richard Nixon was the president. I watched the passengers getting on and disembarking the boats—navigating the unsteady gangplank, or whatever it’s called—and concluded my seafaring days are over.
I began this journey into Manhattan at the Van Cortlandt Park station—the first and last stop of the Number 1 train. I am always assured a seat and opt to sit in the lead car going downtown, which is typically the least crowded on southbound trains. Moments before take-off, I was alone in the car. But just before the buzzer sounded—and one actually does before the doors close—a fellow passenger materialized and chose a seat not too far from me. He had his breakfast with him—a sandwich—and proceeded to consume his morning repast. Its aroma wafted my way. I’ve smelled worse in the subway—a lot worse. Recently, I read where the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) was considering banning eating on the trains. I don’t see how that edict could be enforced, but—it cannot be denied—malodorous fare in cramped and closed quarters can be awfully nauseating. I won’t hold my breath on that one.
Permit me to switch gears now and offer one last august thought. Nowadays, there are all-too-many ridiculous memes floating around Facebook and elsewhere in the virtual ether. This week’s winner, in my opinion, declares: “President Trump says he’ll be encouraging stores to say ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holiday’ this Christmas. Do you support that?” The ridiculousness of this…well…let me count the ways. For starters, it’s the middle of August. And, too, there are certainly more pressing concerns on the president’s plate at the moment. Finally, my mother had a “Happy Holiday” banner on our front door in the early 1960s.
Composer Irving Berlin was the wind beneath the wings of “Happy Holiday,” which was first sung by crooner Bing Crosby in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. Since Christmas music is now played on the radio the day after Halloween, I would wager that an awful lot of men, women, and children have heard Perry Como’s version of the song. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for saying, “Merry Christmas” when you feel like saying, “Merry Christmas.” However, I’m more concerned in the dog days of summer of a possible nuclear winter.
(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)