August 13, 2007

Dinosaur Kid

Colin McEnroe has been spending some time in NYC with his son, making memories. Pretty cool. It has got me thinking about my own times in NYC. (also, he links here from his blog, and people have been visiting, so I better write something less mundane than my usual pap)

My father hailed from Long Island. We lived in south central PA (think a bit west of Amish) and so my dad and his family seemed urban and sophisticated. Dad was a NY kind of guy, in my eyes. In hindsite, I think Dad feared and hated the city - our visits to his family always involved the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, as if he were circling as far around Manhattan as he could. For years I assumed that bridge was the gateway to New York. So we would head out to the Island - Rockville Center, Massapequa Park, Wantaugh, Amityville. It was urban and exotic enough for this kid. Mostly, my grandma took us to play bingo, show us off to her friends, and smother us with pride and love.

When my dad died, we became estranged from his family - who conspired to hide from my grandmother that her youngest son had been having heart problems. Don't want to worry mom. Instead, she got to say goodbye to her baby in a funeral home. Mom was furious about that, and the rift never healed - I became the conduit between the families. When grandma fell ill, I was the one to drive out to the island to see her in the nursing home - shrunken, with one leg amputated. Her funeral was a debacle for my family - as we drove in a blinding rainstorm from MA down to Long Island. That may be the last time I saw many of my father's family - 20+ years ago.

I remember my dad taking us into the city to visit Museum of Natural History. I was a Dinosaur Kid. That's not particularly odd or problematic these days; kids are weaned on Barney, parking your kid in front of cable TV dinosaur shows is pretty commonplace, and animated dinosaurs have stuffed the coffers of children's museums everywhere. But back in my day - the 60's - being a Dinosaur Kid was different. One had to be cut from a different cloth to find the handful of books dedicated to the subject, there were few toys or models or peers. Dinosaur kids were the hardcore nerds. One of the instances of childhood bullying drilled into my brain was a chant the kids made up "Russell is a fossil of a dinosaur's d*ck"

So my family (my dad, surely, mom was never much for the urban experience) dragged his young family into the city he feared or hated, so his eldest could see some dinosaurs. In hindite, pretty cool. For years, when NYC was discussed, that was my one cultural touchstone.

As the years tumbled past, I've become more NYC savvy. My first major relationship was to a person who had lived in the city - so there were trips to MoMA, to the Met, to visit old friends, to see some shows. I've worked in the medical field for years, and have been to many of the hospitals strung out along the east side. Later, doing freelance production work during the dot.com era, I've found myself in and out of the city for work - schlepping powerpoint at Joe's Pub, the Rainbow Room, at 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza, at the Harvard Club, at Chelsea Piers, or in the banquet rooms of the old stately hotels. Even back at the Museum of Natural History; at a New School awards dinner, under the whale.

NYC is kind of old hat to me now - I take Metronorth into Grand Central, I jump on the subway. I hum Sondheim's Song and Dance as I wander around Manhattan. "And that drive in the eyes of New York girls; I'd like to be one of them....." I'm perhaps a bit jaded - avoiding the obvious tourist things, not looking up too often, not letting on the delight and surprise to find myself in front of some iconic structure or famous intersection.

But to this day, mention NYC to me, and a small part of my memory flashes back to the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton (long since remounted in line with current theories of the beast). New York is that dinosaur skeleton to me - ancient, held together with wire and bracing, improbable, fearsome.

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