Monday, February 6, 2012

Ten Days in New York for Christmas with Two Children and a Working-Actor Husband: Part the Second

Days 2 & 3: Rockefeller Center and NYFD

It seems my days leading up to Christmas were a delicate balance between enjoying the very adult New York I remembered while searching desperately for the kid-friendly New York that would keep my children from throwing themselves in front of subway trains. Now, I'm not saying there isn't anything for little ones to do in the Big Apple, but when I typed children's activities NYC (or some similar prompt) in the Google search box it seemed as if the same ten things kept popping up, most of which were seasonal, and I was in the wrong season. 

The tree at the Americana in Glendale, CA
with 15,000 twinkling lights, 10,000
ornaments and a superimposed Kringle
Sebastian and Maxwell may have bah humbugged the Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Museum (refer to last entry), but it was a new day, the sky had cleared and I was determined to impress my kids with the Christmas tree of all Christmas trees. That's right, the stunner at Rockefeller Center, which was a mere two city blocks from our hotel.

Then a disquieting thought descended. Shortly after Thanksgiving I took my little ones to the Americana (an outdoor, Disneyesque shopping mall in Glendale, California) where a mammoth Christmas tree was being pieced together. And on a sign was the bold declaration that this tree was taller then the one at 30 Rock. (I did some research and found that Travel and Leisure supported this claim: in 2010, of the top ten tallest Christmas trees in the nation, the Americana's was number five at a 100 feet, while Rockefeller Center's was at number ten at a measly 74 feet.) My little canker sores had already laid witness to a tree that dwarfs Rockefeller Plaza's. What if the iconic gem of NYC yuletide fails to impress?

We walked Michael to the subway, and the second he disappeared down the hole, I was faced with my children's anticipating eyes.

But before I could utter a word, Sebastian immediately started in with a familiar refrain, "I want to go to a fire station!" I whipped out my smart phone and deduced that the nearest fire station was at 48th and 8th, which reminds me of another of my Big Apple stories...

Shortly after moving to New York in the late eighties, I got an apartment in Hell's Kitchen and worked for the Schubert Organization as a Broadway usher. I was quickly attached to The Royal Theatre, which has since been renamed the Bernard B Jacobs Theater, and the first show I ushered at the Royale was David Mamet's Speed the Plow with Joe Mantegna, Ron Silver (Tony winner), and drum roll please Madonna. The stories surrounding this show could fill books. But I will sum up my experience with...it was a small show in a big house that everybody, I repeat, everybody!, came to see. Besides the fanatic fans who wore Like a Virgin sweatshirts covered in Madonna pins expecting the Material Girl to sing in act two, I handed programs to Sean Penn (the ex-husband) and Warren Beatty (the at-the-time present beau), Barbra, Faye, Goldie, Jackie O, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst (who were performing Long Day's Journey into Night at the Neil Simon Theatre), an unbelievably statuesque Iman, pocket-sized Tom Cruise, MTM with her smile, Charlene Tilton with her five-year-old daughter Cherish (to a David Mamet play !?!!...can you say fucking inappropriate), Mike Tyson with Robin Givens (a week after the Barbara Walters interview), McEnroe without Tatum and a heavily body guarded, pre-glyph Prince, to name a few. But the most telling celebrity story surrounding Speed the Plow was one night a lanky, slightly greasy man jumped up even before the intermission lights fully came on and bee-lined to the top of the aisle where I happened to be standing. With an exasperated I-can't-believe-I-have-to-sit-through-another-act-of-this-crap look on his face he demanded, "Where can I get a drink?" I pointed the way, he managed a monosyllabic grunt which I took for thanks, although it very well could have been fuck off, and was the first to pony up to the bar, where he ordered a double. Who was this incredibly put upon, in dire need of a drink patron? Why the Malkovich known as John, of course.

For six whole months the Royale was packed. People swarmed to see if Madonna could act, and I somehow maneuvered my way into the thick of it.

One sunny afternoon, I was on my way to my apartment after ushering a matinee. I was wearing Top-Siders with no socks and sported a backpack, casual twinkie chic as I recall. I turned onto my street, just off of 8th Ave. and some kid asked me for a quarter. Being a seasoned New Yorker of six months I pointedly ignored him and kept on walking. I remember feeling proud of my disdain towards this kid, proud that I had successfully adopted contemptuous big city ways. As I got closer to 9th Ave. the same kid grabbed my left wrist and yelled, "All I asked for was a quarter!" and then took off. I was shell shocked. My personal space had been egregiously violated. I knew he must have done something. The little fucker cut me. I looked around to see if there was any blood, if anyone...anyone...witnessed the infraction. But there was no one on the street, and no gaping wound upon my person. I may not have been injured but my wrist tingled from where he grabbed me. It just didn't make any sense. Why would the kid scare me like that? And grab my wrist of all things? For a quarter? 

I took a couple more steps, then stopped again to recheck my backpack, my clothes, my wrist and eventually what struck me was how tan I had gotten during my time in New York. There was this pale, fish-belly white stripe on my wrist where my watch usually lived... 

My watch! The Cartier Tank watch Mom gave me for graduation...where is it? I put it on today, didn't I? (Light bulb) That asshole stole it! 

I turned towards where he took off and could just barely make out his form as he turned south onto 8th Ave. My shoulders sagged with resignation. Well, that bites. Mom is going to be royally pissed. I'll never hear the end of it. And the thought of her nonstop carping spurred me into action. Fuck it. I'm going after him.

I raced down 48th. Top-Siders slapped the sidewalk, backpack banged against my back and yet I flew. My adrenaline was pumping so fast I was barely winded when I got to 8th Ave. I turned the corner expecting Nimble Fingers to be long gone. But I was wrong. This kid, whose name I was to find out was Malvin Webb, was only a couple of feet in front of me, sauntering! Nothing could have pissed me off more than the audacity of his strut.

At the time, I was deep into the Meisner Technique. I can already hear some of you snickering, but for those of you not in the know, Sanford Meisner created an acting technique whereby what you do on stage has nothing to do with any of your own preconceived notions, but rather your entire performance is hinged on interpreting the other actors' emotional life and then taking it very personally. As a Meisner student, I clocked in hours of exercises knowing exactly how I felt in any given moment. I became a Zen master deciphering nuance.

The end of your sentence lilted upwards and you raised an eyebrow. Does that mean you're questioning me? Fuck you!

During that time if you were to have asked me the innocuous, "How are you?" I would have let loose with unvarnished, splinter-filled truth. (I have since learned that fine is the preferred response for a reason.) And right then, looking at Malvin Webb's back, nonchalantly strolling away from the scene of his crime, I was filled with a volcanic anger that leads men to do stupid things.

I caught up to the kid, placed my hand on his shoulder am I really doing this?, turned him to face me and yelled, "Where is my fucking watch?"

His eyes grew as big as Courtney Love's addiction, surprised as hell that I ran after him, then he shrugged off my hand and took off across 8th in slowing traffic. What else could I do? I followed close behind, dodging taxis and yelling nonstop obscenities.

Poor Malvin didn't realize he was headed right towards the fire station at 48th and 8th, where two fire men happened to be hanging out enjoying a cigarette break. They saw a crazed, backpack-wearing fool giving chase to a skinny, guilty looking kid and threw down their butts ready to intervene.

Malvin realized his blunder and quickly veered uptown. I was right on his heels and saw my opportunity. Either I attempt what I've only seen on tv and nail the bastard, or let him slip from my fingers. Meisner kicked into high gear and I thought, "Get the asshole!" I grabbed the kid with both arms and we body-slammed into a bus stopped at the red light. Baretta would have been proud.

Then he purposefully dropped my watch, trying to get rid of the evidence, and that prompted me to label the event to anyone who would listen, "Did you see that? That's my watch that fell out of his hands! He stole my watch. And when I grabbed him he dropped it. But that is my watch and it was in his hand. He stole my fucking watch!"

Two firemen took him into custody which Malvin didn't fight. Personally, I think he was relieved he was being escorted away from me.

Then another fireman brought me into the fire house lounge area. He saw how amped up I was and told me to calm down. Calm down? Are you kidding me? I need to own this emotion. I might need to recall it for the stage. And then he offered me coffee. First you want me to calm down, then you offer me coffee? Which is it? Oh, that's good. I have to remember that.

Eventually, the police came and took Malvin Webb into custody. He didn't show up to the grand jury trial and I never found out what happened to him. But if not for the wonderful services of Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 I never would have gotten my watch back. They will forever be in my debt.

And without knowing my story, Sebastian wanted to go to "Broadway's Firehouse" on 48th and 8th more than any other place in New York.

We went to the station and not only was it open, but two firetrucks from another station were parked in front. One of the firemen saw my son openly salivate and asked if he and Maxwell wanted to sit inside the truck. He was a true gem, very patient with the kids, coaxing them along if they got shy, really very wonderful.




While the kids were sitting inside the truck and trying on helmets, our friendly fireman informed us of a Fire Department store in Rockefeller Plaza! Who knew?

I found myself very much tickled by the message on the fire truck's windshield. 


The fireman then asked if the kids wanted to go on the tiller, the back of the truck that has it's own steering wheel. Sebastian was just climbing up when the call came in. The fireman deftly lifted Sebastian down and then a bunch of them quickly donned their gear, hustled onto the truck and sirened away. Bash was slack jawed with amazement.

After the trucks took off, I noticed a  plaque out in front. It hadn't been there when Malvin Webb was taken into custody. It was commendation for the firehouse's courageous work on 9/11. Fifteen firefighters from Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 were lost that day.

I couldn't help but wonder if one of those men was the firefighter who offered me a cup of coffee.

***

After a quick stop in at Saint Patrick's Cathedral, which the kids were surprisingly into, we made our way to Rockefeller Center. The Americana's tree may be taller, but come on, what setting tops this?


The next day was a repeat trip to show Michael all we'd seen. We flirted with the idea of ice skating but the line was crazy long (I imagine two hours worth). Instead, and this may sound cheesy, we went to the Rock Center Cafe with a table that overlooked the skaters. 



Right next to the cafe is a replica of the Swarovski crystal star that sits atop the tree, and little Maxwell Pearl was drawn to that bauble like Joan Rivers to reconstructive surgery. Whoever becomes this girl's spouse better have bank because Maxwell likes bling.


And right around the corner from the star...the NYFD store! Sebastian couldn't believe his good fortune, and if hard pressed he might tell you it's his favorite place in the city. 


So, once again, the Christmas tree was not the hit. Maxwell loved the crystal star, Sebastian the firefighter store, and my husband...well my husband was much more impressed with the 2012 FDNY Firefighters calendar.


And really, who can blame him!