Monday, March 6, 2017

March Madness

Since that seventy-degrees—no jacket required—day last week, we here in New York City experienced the coldest weather of the winter. It was fourteen degrees the night before last. But if that’s the worst that Winter 2017 has to throw at us, we’ve got nothing to complain about.

When I was walking through Van Cortlandt Park a couple of mornings ago, it was in fact glove-wearing cold. The park was pretty desolate as a result. I passed a couple of hardy folks jogging, both of whom said hello to me. That sort of thing is the exception to the more familiar silence is golden rule that most of us practice. You know: Don't talk to strangers. One of the joggers—a young fellow—actually said, “Good morning, Sir"—the Bronx equivalent, I suppose, of being knighted. It’s also indicative that I’m perceived as an old guy now—an old guy strolling through the park on a cold winter’s morn. Old Guy Me couldn’t resist snapping a picture across the Van Cortlandt Park flats of the Russian Mission Residency in the nearby neighborhood of Riverdale. The Bronx White House, I call it.

Once upon a time, the month of March embodied hope and renewal for me: sprouting spring flowers, baseball players gearing up in Florida, and the slow but sure winding down of a grueling school year. But when I spied a few daffodils flowering in the park the other day, I didn’t envision happier things—like playing stickball, or getting out the baseball mitt to have a catch, or preparing to watch the Mets’ opening day. Instead, nothing! Life has become a monotonous grind. The seasons change as per the calendar, but the grind merely changes its hues.

Grind notwithstanding, at least there’s good pizza around me—walking distance always. I’ve been patronizing a place of late that has had the same family running it for half a century. Italian-Americans running a pizza parlor—now that’s a novelty! I hadn’t been in their establishment in years, but I remembered the guys from my college days—father and sons. Longstanding family businesses like theirs are increasingly hard to come by in New York City.

I guess I should include one more comforting constant vis-à-vis my college days. Manhattan College students still have a penchant for beer—cheap beer specifically. For some reason unbeknownst to me—they’ve got plenty of dorm space—the college leases several area private homes for its students. The telltale indicators of them in the houses are empty cans of Natural Light—or Natty Lights as they are affectionately called—in the garbage and outside the garbage, too. When I began my four years at that very college, the legal drinking age in New York State was eighteen; the year I graduated, 1984, it turned twenty-one. The fake ID industry thereafter flourished.

Recently, a humorous YouTube video made the rounds, playing off the fact that New York City subway conductors are required to point at a hanging black-and-white striped  zebra board when their trains come to a stop in a station. They must perform this Uncle Sam Wants You gesture before they open the train doors. I had noticed the boards in the past and speculated on their purpose, but I never observed a single conductor pointing at one. And so my mission yesterday was to stand in close proximity to a zebra board and see for myself. You are there! Mission accomplished. Missions like this are important when life becomes a slog.

I will embark on other such missions in the city where virtually every delicatessen feels it has to brand itself gourmet. Now, I’ve seen a lot of the men and women who work in these places, and Graham Kerr-types they are not. Perhaps my next mission will be to find a Graham Kerr in a New York City gourmet deli.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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