More Humans in New York

Line-ups are a fact of life in New York City. If you want to get in on a good thing, you have to wait your turn for whatever that is. Shakespeare in the Park, for example, or rush tickets for popular sold-out shows, Seamus Heaney's memorial at Cooper Union's Great Hall, for which my friend Liz came equipped with reading material and a substantial snack.  But really, they're a gift, those line-ups. Some of my most memorable meetings with New Yorkers have come about as I shifted from foot to foot, or leaned against a wall, or perched on a narrow ledge inside a theatre lobby. Years ago, it was a pair of Asian-American lawyers I chatted with, and who, after the show, invited me to join them for lunch the following day at a popular Chinatown restaurant, where there was also a line-up.

This year, waiting a couple of hours just to put my name on a wait list for the Annie Baker play "John," I met the composer/lyricist Tom Megan from Boston, who was in Manhattan to see a couple of shows and do some business relating to his own work.  Our conversation ranged from Joyce, to his new piece on W.B. Yeats in the afterlife, to the book I'd brought to pass the time, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, to the formulaic nature of most musicals, to the difficulty of surviving as any kind of artist. We both made it into the show and met to compare notes during the two intermissions. Afterwards, waiting at the bus stop to sum up our impressions, a woman joined us, another writer, of children's books, Fran Manushkin, and while Tom went his way, Fran and I continued on the bus to a smokey Grand Central. Apparently there had been a fire, but obviously not so big a fire that it made the news the next day; not in New York, where minor fires are a footnote.  The traffic delay only gave us a chance to chat more about our impressions of "John," and about other theatre experiences. A Sondheim fan, she confessed that she wants to make her personal exit to the strains of Sondheim's "Sunday".
Nathan and LeCora, 8/14

Then came Friday morning in Central Park, waiting for free tickets to the wonderfully energetic "Odyssey," presented by The Public Theatre. Tickets would be handed out at noon, but the first people must have arrived before 9 am. I ended up sitting on a bench between two men. Irwin -- after some chit-chat about where to find coffee nearby, the dominance of cell phone conversations, the casual exhibitionism of youth -- revealed that he has always been interested in philosophy and has lately been studying the stoics. The conversation wound around to death, to his father's last words.

Nathan and LeCora, 9/15

On the other side, Ray Healey, a Ph.D in English from Columbia, with a varied career in journalism behind him, who is now teaching English, as he always wanted to do, at Hostos community college in the Bronx. Ray was reading Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything, because he intends to use it in his classroom. Our conversation ranged from climate change, to student activism, to literature. Since the tickets are handed out in order, I was able to see both of my line-up companions again that evening as we all sat enthralled by Todd Almond's upbeat, contemporary version of Homer's epic.

But maybe the best part of the night came before the show even started.  Waiting to enter the Delacorte Theatre, who should I see but a brother and sister I had met in a similar situation the previous year. In August 2014, I sat with Nathan and Le Cora for an outdoors jazz concert at St. Peter's Church in midtown. The fabulous Amina Figarova quintet. I asked if I could take their picture and promised to visit the church where LeCora sings on Sundays. I would have done it too, except I forgot the name of the church. But there on that warm Friday evening in Central Park, as if to remind me of the church's name, if not the power of meaningful coincidence --or synchronicity, as Carl Jung called it -- were Nathan and Lecora one couple ahead of me! I had to take another picture.