My son John and his wife, after ten years of marriage and two daughters, recently became the happy parents of a little boy. The baby was five days old, and I was invited to visit Manhattan to, in John’s words, “see him while he’s fresh." As you may imagine, it is a busy household. Very early in the morning John was off to the World Financial Center, the girls left for school, my daughter-in-law and the beautiful baby went out the door to the “lactation specialist”( I don’t know what that is, either), the nanny was doing whatever nannies do, and I sensed that I needed to amuse myself.
A few blocks away on Broadway there is a wonderful Asian bagel shop. About 10:30 a.m. I told the nanny that I was “going out to get a bagel." Fortified with the most delicious, unadulterated fare--a bagel not heated, grilled or toasted, but plain with cream cheese, as God intended--I began to explore the neighborhood. Not much had changed since previous visits. There were flower shops, newsstands, a bakery, a drugstore, a small market. Not a great deal was happening on the upper West side.
A trek into midtown seemed a good plan, but, being unfamiliar with the New York transit system, I decided to stand back against a wall and survey the passing scene. Along came a lovely, professional looking woman, apparently harmless and carrying a briefcase. I stepped out and asked for her help. In a charming British accent she said, “Oh, you’ve chosen a wonderful location to get on the train. From here every one goes straight into midtown. Just be sure to get off at 50th St. You don’t have to worry about choosing a train. They all go in the same direction.”
“Lovely", I thought, feeling a bit British myself after this brief exchange. Following her instructions, soon I was on 50th St. and within sight of the spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Never before had I so thoroughly explored every nook and cranny of the Cathedral. I visited each of the eighteen altars and shrines, took particular notice of the altar of St. Louis and St. Michael designed by Tiffany and Company, and admired the artistry of the Stations of the Cross which won first prize at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. I read every plaque, examined each sculpture and sat and absorbed the serenity and beauty of the Lady Chapel. Upon leaving the grand old church, I stepped across the street to the next corner and into the earthly pleasures of Saks.
I was greeted by what seemed like hordes of young men in black suits bustling about, spraying the air, themselves and me with fragrance. This was quite wonderful so I opened a charge account and treated myself to a $120 bottle of French perfume. I got on and off elevators throughout the store, examined the merchandise on every floor, tried on coats and shoes and ended my tour on the 8th floor in Café SFA feeling elegant indeed, while enjoying afternoon tea and chocolate cake. How good it all seemed. What a fine time. What a country!
Feeling content and satisfied with myself now, I looked at my watch and was surprised to see that it was 3:30 pm. “Best I amble home," I thought and began to retrace my steps to the subway. Before heading to West End Avenue, I decided to pick up something for dinner at the bakery and was standing on the island in the middle of Broadway when I heard a shout, “Ann! Ann!”
“ Well", I thought, “certainly no one is calling me," so I paid no attention. Then my heart skipped a beat as someone hollered, even more loudly, “Nana Ann!”
“Oh, oh! There can’t be another Nana Ann in the middle of Broadway." I turned around and saw my daughter-in-law, the new mother, racing across the street, cellphone to her ear screaming, “I got her! I got her! She’s here! I found her!” I was dumbfounded.
“What is going on?” I said. “What are you doing?”
Breathless, she gasped, “I was going to the bagel shop to find out if they had seen you." My brain began to go “clickety-clack” and, quite beside the point, I said, “What were you going to say? ‘Did you see a woman with a fur collar on her coat?'"
“No," said Kim. “I brought a picture of you.”
Oh, no. The enormity of it began to bubble to the surface. I had the sense that this was big. Apparently Stacey, the nanny, had reported that I left at 10:30 am. Kim called John about noon to report my “disappearance”. John called my older son, Jim, also in the city.
“Have you heard from Mom? Do you know where she is?”
“No, but don’t worry. I know just where she is. She’s walking around Fifth Ave.”
“No. She wouldn’t go down there alone.”
“Trust me. She would.”
After an hour or so later Jim began to have second thoughts about his assumption and called John. “Have you heard from Mom yet?” Now he was worried. For the third time that day, one of the editors came into his office crying, because her cat was lost.
“I’m really sorry about your cat,” Jim said, "but I just can’t get worked up about it, because my mother is missing.” I had slipped into the "missing" category.
Calls between Kim and John went back and forth. Calls were made to the NYPD-twice. Calls were made to hospitals--three of them. Finally John cancelled a department meeting so that he could go to the police station to begin the process of filing a missing person report. It was at this point that Kim and I discovered each other on Broadway.
I kept a very low profile after that. For a while I was not a Favorite Person. When John came home he sat down beside me on the sofa, took my hand and gave me The Word.
“Do you know what we thought? We thought you stepped off of a curb and had been hit by a car or a bus and were in the hospital or worse. We never go anywhere in the city without keeping in touch with each other at all times. You know how you are. You will talk to anybody. You look right at people. It’s clear to anyone that you don’t live here.”
Oh, it was torture to keep a straight face, but it was clear that they were beside themselves with worry, and I was sorry to have been the cause. It was clear, too, that love was all around me, and, while I was desperate not to laugh, suddenly, in an instant my eyes filled with tears as I caught a glimpse into the future. When John saw this he hugged me and burst into laughter himself, “Oh, Mom don’t cry!” but I had seen for a brief moment that the role of Mom was changed forever.
The tale of my day in the city could end here, but I can’t resist a postscript or two.
The next day, Saturday, we went to Central Park to see The Gates (see photo above). They were to be dismantled the following day. We took the subway from the same station where the English woman had directed me. As we waited on the platform, a train came along and we didn’t get on it. I said nothing. A second train came. We didn’t make a move. My brain was doing the “clickety-clack” thing again, and I thought, “If she said to get on any train, why are we standing here?” I attempted what I thought was a casual inquiry. My son, with a look that told me he knew exactly what I was thinking, said evenly, “If the train has a 1 or a 9 on the front, it means it’s an express train, and it goes straight into the Bronx or Brooklyn.”
“Well,” I thought, “in that case, so much for getting off at 50th….. But Brooklyn, now that could have been fun.”
As for the girl in Jim’s office who lost her cat--when she left for the weekend, she said to him, “Now Jim, I don’t care what time of the day or night it is when you get some word on your mother, call me. I won’t be able to function until I hear.” Oh, high anxiety levels abound.
Although I have navigated successfully the major capitals of the world, I am quite thankful to live happily in Rye where my most compelling issues are:
Is it high tide or low tide?
Are the deer eating my holly?
And no, I don’t want a cellphone.
July 7, 2005
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