Walking In New York With My Mom
“Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.” Rebecca Solnit
I moved in with my mom in my very early twenties because I wanted to save money for traveling. It wasn’t my first choice of places to live but spending summers in Greece was much more appealing to me than paying rent in Manhattan.
Her passion was theatre. There was not a lot of money but she knew every way to get free or discount tickets to the theatre, ballet, symphony and opera in NY. It was pre – internet and a lot harder to find things out. My mother went out six nights and three matinees a week. Theatres in Manhattan are dark on Monday nights. My mom saw the previews, pre closings, dress rehearsals, hits, flops, shows that never opened and shows that ran now and forever. We called it “her ticket business” though she never made any money from it. Most of the time there were many free tickets which she could not let go to waste. Hours were spent calling people. My mother felt that if she was in possession of these tickets, it was her job to bring joy to as many people as possible and fill up the theatres. I found it very annoying but I was twenty-two and everything that wasn’t about me was annoying.
Sometimes we would go to a matinee together. We would walk from East 18th st to West Broadway somewhere in the forties. Those of you familiar with cross town traffic in NY know that walking is usually faster anyway. It was an opportunity to spend time together and learn to relate to each other as adults.
My mother was legally blind from the time she was seventeen so walking with her was always interesting. We walked up Second Ave passed a small NY park (one square block of green). People were shooting up, selling drugs, smoking pot or exposing themselves. ”Aren’t we lucky to have this beautiful bit of green in the midst of all these tall buildings?” she asks. I tell her what she is missing. She laughs and says “Sometimes it’s good not to see.”
We walk up 23rd st near the School Of Visual Arts where the arty kids are hanging out in interesting street wear and hairdos. They are photographing. drawing, and taking notes. We continue passed the many discount stores that used to be there. We called them yoyo stores (because they sold anything they could sell cheaply – from apples to yoyos.) We see a large group of deaf children. They are signing. My mother sighs. “I feel so sorry for deaf people. They can never hear music.” I said,“Don’t worry about them, they feel sorry for you.” She laughs again and tells me I am a rotten kid.
On Third Avenue a boy is playing the violin on the street. She gives him a dollar .“Thank you so much. I love Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E major“. He is so pleased that someone knew what he was playing. I was impressed. I have a hard time remembering the names of classical music. She explained to me that she is now finished with her charity for today.” I put a dollar in my pocket every day and I give it to the first homeless person that asks me. It is my way of helping the homeless in our city”. I wasn’t sure that he was homeless but I did not tell her that.
She stepped off the curb about to cross the street at the red light. I gently hold her back. It always worried me when she would do stuff like that because I don’t know how she got across the street alone. She said that she went with the crowd and was never hit by a car in 91 years so I guess it worked.
My mom was a really good listener. She was my rock who I ran to when I was confused. I talked about whatever problems I was having that week as we walked up to Park Ave. She always knew what the right thing to do was and could sort out my problems and mess of emotions. I stopped to buy a pretzel with mustard from a cart on the street. “If you walk a few more blocks east, there is a woman who sells fresher pretzels.” I don’t ask how she knows this because she doesn’t usually eat pretzels.
At 34th st, we come to the Empire State Building. “You never wanted to go up to the top,” she said. “I still don’t,” I said in my grown up voice. The Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world for forty years. Now it is the fourth tallest building in the world and a cultural icon of New York City. Years later my mother would take my four year old son to the top without me.
We passed the NY Public Library at Fifth Ave and 42nd st. Two stone lions guard the entrance. Though originally named Astor and Lennox (after the library founders) Mayor Fiorello La Guardia renamed them Patience and Fortitude during the Great Depression. The huge Beaux Arts structure opened in 1911 and was the largest library at that time. My mom speaks. “We are so lucky to have this beautiful building in NY. The Rose Reading Room is so lovely. They have a wonderful collection of books on tape and they are so helpful with recommendations. I am reading Deepok Chopra.” I remembered when they didn’t have books on tape. She listened to operas and symphonies a lot. I guess that is how she knows Mendelssohn.
She tells me about the play in preview she has seen the night before. It isn’t going to open because the play needs work but the music was beautiful and the acting was fantastic. My mother could never say anything bad about a “show.”
We get to Rockefeller Center and see the imposing bronze statue of Atlas holding the heavens on Fifth Avenue. We cut through and pass the gold statue of Prometheus bringing fire to mankind, throngs of tourists and fourteen art deco buildings from the 1930’s. We passed Radio City Music Hall built in the 1930s with 6000 seats. It was called Radio City because that is what the complex of NBC and RCA studios that housed the Music Hall was called in the days of radio. The renovated interior is a great example of art deco design.
We are going to the Circle In The Square Theatre on Broadway but first she has to drop off tickets at the Longacre Theatre on 48th st and the Ambassador Theatre on 49th. Her friends are all ages and always waiting for her. “Look for someone in a green coat.” she says to me. I steer her in the right direction. When they see her, they come toward her. She proudly introduces me. I smile. They are all avid theatre goers and are planning what they are going to see that night.
We finally walk into the theatre. She takes out a very large Hershey Bar from her purse and says to the usher,“You looked so tired the last time I was here I thought you might need this.” She asks the usher where her seats are (even though she knew the location of every seat in every theatre in Manhattan). The usher says “I think we can do better.“ She brings us to the excellent house seats. “It’s good to be nice to people,” my mom tells me and takes out her binoculars as the curtain is going up.
Fly safe Mom,
Hi Jayne, Good one – I see every virtually place you mention in my mind. Harv
thanks for commenting:)
I absolutely love this column, Jayne. Seeing New York through your mother’s eyes as we walked to the theater was always such a great pleasure. And later, when we took the bus instead of walking, it was still wonderful. Your mother, my aunt, had a very great influence on me and I carry her memory in my heart.
thanks for commenting Linda, my son who reads my blog every weekend never says a word just texted me with “best blog yet”. We all loved her.
As always, I really enjoy reading your posts. Not only are you a good writer but your knowledge of history is always informative and a pleasure to read. WIsh you a very special day. Lois
thanks so much for commenting. I always appreciate it.
Reblogged this on Bobbi's Blog.
Fabulous Jayne! You have got to get these in a magazine or something!!
thanks fro reading and commenting 🙂
I was the recipient of your mothers’ largesse. She insisted I contact her for theatre tickets. I thought she was amazing. This post came at a fortuitous time. I am having vision issues. I am channeling your mother. If she could manage, so can I. Thank you, Jayne.
Thanks for reading. that was so nice of you tell me. I never thought I was learning anything important from her at the time. i wanted to write about my mom and her theatre stuff for a while but I couldn’t think of how to do it. Then you posted that walking in NY and it all came together for me so thank you. Sorry about your eyes. But yes i did learn from a very young age, that you can choose not to have a disability.
Jayne, I think there is more to this piece. It’s very inspired. Let this be your starting point and layer. I am certain there is much more you would like to say. You should say it. Tenacity, patience, disability, independence, aging… The list goes on. Are you in a writers’ room? I can’t say it enough. Write this, Jayne. And you learned from example. Her strength is yours. Well done.
I hope so – Im going to need some strength. Thanks for the encouraging words. Im feeling the “I remember mama” book coming. 🙂
“Sometimes it’s good not to see.” ;>) Your mother saw a lot, I’m thinking. Loved the affectionate tribute, Jayne!
This piece is just beautiful. What a wonderful tribute to your mom.
thanks so much for reading it.