New York And Back With Hardly Any New York

My nearly five hour roundtrip commute is in pursuit of a 10 minute audition!

I am typing this while on the 12:07 PM Metro North express from Grand Central Terminal. Until a few minutes ago there were rivers of sweat pouring off my body. This is a train I shouldn’t have attempted to make, but did. I am on my way home from New York City. My nearly five hour roundtrip commute is in pursuit of a 10 minute audition!

I continue to be amazed by people who make this commute to the city from this part of Connecticut every day. When most out-of-towners think of my state they think Fairfield County. When the first of those Fairfield County passengers get off I’ll still have over an hour to go.

This all started yesterday afternoon with an email and three pieces of copy from my commercial agent. Could I be there today at 11:40?

Of course I could.

Making the 9:33 AM train to New York is to me what making at 3:00 AM train is to most of you. I am nocturnal. My bedtime is around 5:00 AM. This morning my alarm was set for 7:50. I was actually up before 7:00.

I now know this trip well. From the Metro North platform the subway is down a long formerly majestic hall. It’s downstairs to the mezzanine then down again to the platform.

I have a MetroCard with a balance. It makes me feel less of an interloper and more like I belong.

Beyond the train today’s destination was one subway for two stops then a two block walk through pouring rain! Less than ten minutes from GCT I was taking an elevator to six and the casting office.

Casting Factory Outlet! The place was nuts.

There were at least six simultaneous auditions noted on laser printed paper signs and close to a hundred actors sitting along the walls. Some folks looked like they knew one another and were chatting. They all seemed to know the drill. Everyone was nervously sizing up the competition.

I signed in and sat down.

It wasn’t long before Colin fetched me into what looked like a large office. We were above Madison Avenue in what was evidently not a soundproof room.

There was a mic, but no headphones. Down near my feet was a Mac laptop. The casting director for this commercial was joining us via Skype!

I read my three pieces of copy took some direction and read one again.

I was OK. I wish I was great. Maybe I was. It’s all so surreal. Judgments are tough to make.

Will I get it? Who knows? A friend who has been a regular at these says you audition then forget about it. Sometimes you hear, usually you don’t.

I love this experience. I loved being in the casting agency, even if only for a few moments. I’d like to get cast, but right now I’m merely learning the ropes and getting comfortable.

A quick look at my watch told me I had time to make this early train I’m now on.

Unfortunately, I entered the subway and got all the way down to the turnstile before realizing it was a downtown only platform! I rechecked on the way back up: no signs!

It wasn’t until I was finally on the “6” heading north that I realized it would be touch and go. I was only two stops away, but as the train pulled into Grand Central it slowed and my pulse quickened. This time of day it’s one train an hour to New Haven.

I ran!

I ran up the stairs past the token booth then up another flight and into Grand Central Terminal proper. My train was on Track 26, a little farther than I expected.

It wasn’t until I cleared the gates and was on the platform that I saw my train was still there. As I panted my way into the car a buzzer buzzed and the doors closed!

I’ll be in New Haven two’ish and hopefully back in bed before three.

It’s a good day.

My Trip To New York: She Was A He!

It wasn’t until I walked into the casting office that I realized the female assistant would be played by a guy!

I’m on the 2:37 from Grand Central. If you’re a New Haven commuter you already know what I’m about to say. There is no 2:37 train from Grand Central to New Haven. Oops!

My time is Manhattan was very brief. I was here for a 2:10 audition at Donald Case Casting for a Peruvian liquor. I played a German scientist with a female assistant. I figured there would be a gorgeous long legged blond standing next to me. It wasn’t until I walked into the casting office that I realized the female assistant would be played by a guy!

I auditioned with two “Tilde’s.” One had a beard!

I hope I get the part, but right now it’s the experience I’m enjoying. Theatrical casting is a world I’m not at all familiar with.

Like I said this was a quick trip. I got right back on the subway and took the Uptown #6 two stops to Grand Central. There was a 2:34 to New Haven, but I knew I’d miss it. I ran anyway and saw the 2:37 to Stamford was still listed. Not thinking I continued to run to the platform.

The doors were closed as I reached the train, but the rear window was open. I asked the conductor if he’d open the door?

It wasn’t until ticket taking time we both realized my error. Stamford is this train’s last stop.

This is a no harm, no foul situation. I’ll just get off in Stamford and wait for the train I would have been on… and stop at every station in Westchester and Fairfield Counties along the way.

How A Space Looks When Nobody Cares: Grand Central Subway Station

Anything that could look clean looks dirty. Worse, it looks uncleanable!

A few years ago I posted an entry which included the most depressing public space on Earth the (since rebuilt) Staten Island Ferry waiting room at the St. George Terminal. It has a rival.

Here’s a photo I took at the Grand Central Station on the #7 Flushing Line.

Make no mistake I’m a subway guy. I loved riding the subways as a kid and little of that appeal has gone away. Still, this station may be the ugliest, least inviting, most depressing public space on Earth (especially since they rebuilt the St. George waiting room).

The Flushing Line (#7) station is far underground! NYCSubway.org lists the depths of the various Grand Central Stations&#185

Shuttle, 20 feet below street
Lexington/East Side Subway Platforms, 50 feet
Flushing/#7 Subway Platforms, 80 feet
Metro North, Upper Level, 20 feet
Metro North, Lower Level, 60 feet

That’s eight stories down through Manhattan bedrock with multiple train, power, water and sewer lines between you and the street.

There is no fixture or feature meant to convey warmth or humanity. If it doesn’t have utility it isn’t there. Illumination is provided by fluorescent bulbs which gives the station harsh uneven lighting.

Anything that could look clean looks dirty. Worse, it looks uncleanable!

It is always noisy and usually warm.

Because the exit stairs are centered on the platform if you’re standing near them you’re uncomfortably close to the incoming trains.

For most of us it’s as close to a dungeon as we’ll ever get.

Can someone design a space like this then step away from their sketch and be happy… or proud? Who is responsible for this ugly place?

&#185 – The actual Grand Central where ‘real’ trains run is called Grand Central Terminal, not station, since all trains entering the facility terminate there.

Off To New York

This is my parents last full day in Connecticut. Tomorrow, at an ungodly hour, they fly the day’s only non-stop from BDL to PBI.

The goal of the Connecticut Foxes was to make this a vacation full of activity, and we’ve succeeded. Maybe we were a little too aggressive in planning for my dad. We have taken him to the edge of his physical limits… though that wasn’t our intention.

Today was our day to head to New York and the Lower East Side. Stef, Helaine and my Mom love shopping there, but after this week, we knew it would be too much for my dad.

The solution was mine. The five of us would travel to New York together, but when the women headed to Canal Street, my dad and I would continue to Whitehall Terminal and the State Island Ferry.

When I was a kid a trip on the Staten Island Ferry cost 5&#162. Later, it was raised to 25&#162. About ten years ago, to lower the cost of commuting from Staten Island, the fare was removed altogether.

It’s a phenomenal free trip from The Battery, at Manhattan’s southern tip, to St. George on Staten Island. You go through the Upper Harbor, past Governors Island, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island.

It’s easy to forget, as I had, how busy a harbor this is. There are ocean going freighters moving past barges and tugs and other local working boats. We actually cruised by LSV-!, the Army’s General Frank S. Besson, Jr.

I thought the Army only had ships in Jack Lemmon movies!

Our ferry to Staten Island and back was the John F. Kennedy, christened in 1965. It, like all the ferries, is a stubby, dirty orange behemoth. There is no front. The ferry is commanded from both ends.

We took the outbound leg, standing outside on the upper deck on the port side. That’s the best view of the Statue of Liberty.

On the return we stood at the very front of the Kennedy, with an ever sharpening view of Lower Manhattan, the ‘satellite city’ of office towers that’s grown up in the Hoboken/Jersey City area and the smaller, older, office buildings in Downtown Brooklyn.

This trip, like nearly every other trip to New York was heavily dependent on the New York City subway system. I know some people are a little apprehensive, but it’s a great way to get around. It’s certainly faster than driving. Service is frequent… every few minutes on some lines.

The downside is, the cars are sometimes dirty and there are often people soliciting for (often dubious) charities. We had one guy beg while holding up sandwiches, ostensibly for any homeless on the train. We also had an accordionist join us – hand outstretched. His charity begins in the home.

There was one other downside today. When we headed from Whitehall Street, at the ferry slip, to Cortlandt Street, we discovered the Cortlandt Street Station is closed due to the reconstruction around the World Trade Center site. That aded a walk I didn’t plan on from City Hall down to Cortlandt.

We met up with the girls at Century 21, an &#252ber clothing department store, about a block from Ground Zero. My dad and I sat in the shoe department while (mostly) Stef did her damage upstairs!

The final stop of the day was dinner at the Stage Deli. It was very good, but my first choice was to head to Chinatown for Chinese food. I can’t name one Chinese restaurant down there, but I’m sure whatever we would have found would have been great.

By the way – on a trip like this, majority rules. It’s no sin to be outvoted.

The Stage is in the mid-50s on 7th Avenue while Grand Central Terminal is at 42nd and Park Avenue. That wasn’t too much of a hike for Helaine, Stef and me, but it was too a lot for my parents. We threw them in a cab and met them at the train station.

We were home by 8:30 PM.

My parents need to go home to recuperate from their vacation!

Blogger’s note: I took well over 300 photos today. I was saddened to see a few pieces of dust had settled on “Clicky’s” sensor. That was easily cured with a bulb duster I carry… but not until I had shot at least 250 photos that need an extra hand to be acceptable.

A Couple Of Guys Go To Broadway

Helaine and Stef left Saturday morning. The ‘Stalker Tour’ is on the move with Rick Springfield concerts in Boston and Laconia, NH. They’ve taken “Clicky,” my Canon Digital Rebel camera, with them.

That left Saturday as a pretty hollow day for me. Luckily, I knew someone else who was being ‘abandoned.’ Matt Scott’s wife and daughter were leaving town for Mississippi.

He and I decided to head to New York City and see a show.

If you carry a fishing pole, people just assume you’re a fisherman. If you go to a Broadway show… a Broadway musical… a Sondhein musical… they assume you’re gay! I know this because virtually everyone who heard we were going either commented or asked.

All I could think of was the time I went to the theater and stood in line behind a guy wearing a t-shirt which said, “I can’t even think straight!”

Just as there are black Republicans, there are straight guys who enjoy the theater.

Since Matt was dropping his wife and daughter at LaGuardia Airport, I took the train to the city. I would walk crosstown and we’d meet outside the theater.

Taking the train from New Haven is very easy. Unfortunately, it’s also quite a long trip. Union Station to Grand Central Terminal is around 1:45&#185. I brought the NY Times, a photo magazine and my $30 camcorder.

I didn’t have “Clicky,” but I did want to try and make a short video essay. It was supposed to be about the day in general. Unfortunately, I didn’t budget properly and my video ran out as I approached the theater!

My New York City travelogue video is at the bottom of this entry. It was entirely shot on the $30 camcorder and edited using Windows Movie Maker (included on every Windows XP or Vista computer). The music is “Look Busy” by Kevin MacLeod.

Yesterday’s show was Steven Sondheim’s Company. This is a revival of the 1970 musical about Bobby (Ra&#250l Esperza), a bachelor, the three single women in his life and his five married couple friends.

What made this musical more interesting was how it was cast. There was no orchestra pit because the actors were also playing instruments on-stage!

This must have been a casting nightmare. Finding good actors is one thing. Finding good musicians is another. But finding people who can sing, dance and act (often simultaneously) really limits your choices. I, for instance, would be 0 for 3!

With all this going, the cast was dynamite. I especially enjoyed Ra&#250l Esperza, (Bobby) who reminds me of Bradley Whitford (Studio 60, West Wing) and Angel Desai (Marta).

The show is funny, but often poignant and sad, as it traces Bobby’s life from his 35th to 36 th birthday. Being a grown-up bachelor has its good and bad points. Being single doesn’t remove you from emotional tumult.

I’d recommend going to see it, but as I type this, they are nearly an hour into Company’s last Broadway performance. Luckily, yesterday’s matin

Where’d The Day Go?

By the time I got up, Stef was at the gym and my parents were on a train to New York City. Though we’re going Monday, once isn’t enough.

Their plan was to head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They never got quite that far. On this semi-humid, almost sunny, August day they mostly walked around Central Park.

The park is jammed with life on days like this. Everywhere you look there is some for of entertainment, plus people watching.

I’m not sure how far my folks walked, but considering they started at Grand Central Terminal and walked everywhere they went, you can calculate it in miles. For my 81 year old father and his child bride, that’s excellent assurance of good health.

With my camera in the shop I would have been much too jealous. It’s a trip I’ll have to take when “Clicky” returns.

We’re Back From New York City

I like going to New York. The city is invigorating to me. When I was a kid, living in the bowels of Queens, going to ‘the city’ was a big deal. It was where sophistication was – and I was anything but sophisticated.

Helaine is less a New York lover than I am. On the other hand, she loves me. She agreed to go because I wanted to go.

Helaine, Clicky&#185 and I headed to Union Station in New Haven for the 11:57 AM train. Union Station is a moderately large, moderately grand, railroad station.

There are rows of large wooden benches in the waiting room. Over the past few

years someone has put large model trains, under plastic covers, on the tops of the benches. It was a great idea, but it ruins the look of this classic station.

Of the eight trains listed on the stations schedule board, three were delayed or cancelled. Is this any way to run a railroad?

Our train arrived at Grand Central Terminal ahead of schedule and we were on our way to Times Square.

The norm for a Fox Family trip to New York is to see a show, and the best deal is to go to TKTS in Duffy Square in the northern reaches of Times Square. TKTS sells Broadway show tickets for half price, plus a small surcharge. There are no credit cards accepted and no guarantee of any show being available.

Oh – you have to stand in the cold, in line, and wait. Temperatures yesterday never got out of the mid-30&#176s and there was a pretty stiff breeze.

We got in line around 2:00 PM. TKTS opens at 3:00 PM.

I had done some research, seeing which shows had been posted for sale in the previous week, and which shows we might enjoy. Trust me, some shows are bad. Even worse, some shows are weird. There are shows about nearly every aberrant behavior you can think of – and many you can’t!

Our goal was to see “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” We had seen small snippets of it on the Tony Awards, and it looked funny. Here’s the original NY Times review.

After waiting a few minutes, it was entertainment time. A man brought a portable amplifier, karaoke soundtrack, and buckets for contributions and began to sing. Yikes! No wonder he can’t get a legit job.

He started with “New York, New York,” and it went downhill from there. Like the guy with the broom who sweeps up after the elephants, he is in show business.

Most times you can get your first choice for show tickets. This time we did.

For $47.50 + $3 service charge each, we got $95 seats for the show. Our seats we’re in Row C at the very oddly shaped “Circle in the Square Theater.” More on that later. It was just after 3:00 PM and the show wouldn’t begin until 8:00 PM. Five hours in New York to kill.

I suggested, and Helaine readily agreed (she really must love me) to go to the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. We popped into the subway, bought two Metrocards, asked the ticket agent for assistance, and found the correct station was a few blocks away.

I’m not sure how most out-of-towners take to the subway. I grew up riding them. I took a long subway ride to high school, every day for four years. It is the fastest, easiest mode of transportation in Manhattan. They’re just not very clean or friendly looking. The cars are filled with people from every corner of the planet.

We were at the museum in 15 minutes.

Our time at the museum was a little aimless. We got there late in the afternoon. Even on Fridays, the museum turns into a pumpkin at 5:30.

We walked around the new space wing – an impressive glass lined structure. We moved into the ‘old school’ sections of the museum.

At one point I needed the men’s room. I left Helaine and walked a series of hallways to get there. I made a turn and stared down the hall where the lunchrooms for school kids are located.

Good grief. It’s deja vu! I remembered being there, in this very same hallway, well over 40 years ago.

I like this museum. We needed more time, or more importantly, a real strategy for seeing things. We walked around aimlessly.

Some of what we saw was very impressive. Huge dinosaurs filled large halls. In other areas, animals from around-the-world were pictured in their native habitats.

Helaine asked if the animals in the dioramas were ‘real’ or re-creations. You know, sometimes you just don’t want to hear the answer!

I would assume these are the best of taxidermy. I’m also guessing the same antelopes have had vultures picking at them for decades. Some of these dioramas looked pretty old.

As the museum closed, we headed south. There was plenty of time, since we were meeting Steffie and her college roommate for dinner at the Stage Deli. We decided to walk.

The Museum of Natural History to the Stage Deli is around 1.5 miles, but it’s a flat, easy walk down Central Park West. CPW is a broad, two way street with the park on the east side. On the west side are mostly large, stately, very expensive co-op apartment buildings.

We walked past canopies leading to lobbies with multiple doormen. From time-to-time as we walked, a doorman would dart to the street to hail a cab or carry a bag.

We walked past the San Remo. It’s one of the few buildings on CPW I’ve been in. Years ago a friend worked for Barry Manilow, and I was in his apartment (without Barry). His view of Central Park was unreal.

We walked past the Dakota, the building where John Lennon lived, and outside of which he was killed.

We walked past one cross street, and as I looked down, it was covered in snow… and movie gear. A film shoot was in progress.

A few young women were talking to technicians, wondering about the arrival of someone – probably a movie star. Though the tech said he’d be there in a few hours, they said they’d stay.

We continued south to Columbus Circle. For years the circle was dominated by the horrific Edward Durrell Stone designed Huntington Hartford Art Gallery and the New York Coliseum. The Coliseum was actually uglier. With it’s astoundingly restrictive work rules it came to represent everything bad about doing business in New York City.

Now Columbus Circle is ruled by the Time Warner Center, a huge complex of condos, hotels and upscale shopping. We still had a few blocks to walk before getting to the Stage.

I fished my cellphone from my pocket and called Steffie, in the Village. She and the mystery roomie were heading to the subway to meet us for dinner. Luckily the Stage wasn’t all that crowded, as Helaine and I sat for a half hour waiting for their arrival.

I’ve written about the Stage before, but briefly, imagine Shaq sized sandwiches with bowls of matzo ball soup large enough to bathe in. On the table, a plate of very large, very sour pickles. Along with these oversized courses come checks the size of a small mortgage payment.

There was still some time before the curtain… and it was still very cold. Helaine sat down in the theater’s lobby while I headed back out to Times Square to take some more shots.

I took over 200 photos on this trip. It wasn’t particularly sunny and there wasn’t a whole lot I hadn’t photographed a dozen times before. I have a few good shots, but alas, nothing spectacular.

I made a few attempts at panoramas, firing off shot after shot as I slowly spun around at a location. So far I’ve looked at my panos for Times Square and the Museum of Natural History. Neither is a keeper. There’s still one from Grand Central to process.

It was dark out as I went to take these last Times Square shots. Obviously, the square itself is illuminated with miles of neon, but I wanted to capture the lower light foreground as well.

This kind of shot really calls out for a tripod. I have a little tabletop tripod in my bag… which was with Helaine. So, I waited for the light to go red, moved out into the crosswalk, and put the camera on the blacktop. In some shots I placed a tube of Chapstick under the lens to ‘lift’ the view.

Our show, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” is presented in “Circle in the Square” on 50th Street. This theater is at least 30 years old, new for a Broadway house, and probably has been refurbished at least once in that time. The theater space is actually downstairs.

To get you into the theme of the show, the lobby is decorated as if it were a school. There are posters, mostly handmade, for the A/V Squad and school elections. I didn’t know it at the time, but everyone pictured seems to be in the show or with the show.

Some members of the audience were standing in line with forms. This show uses four members of the audience as spelling bee participants.

Within a few minutes, a coordinator was approaching me. Helaine had found him and ratted me out.

As it turns out, I wasn’t chosen. Helaine says I wasn’t dweeby enough and probably too tall. Wow! Those are two things that never apply to me.

“Circle in the Square” is a very unusual theater space. The stage juts out into the house with no offstage wings. The audience surrounds it on three sides.

It’s not a particularly large theater, and having the audience split into three makes it that much more intimate.

Helaine said she felt a little uncomfortable sitting sideways to the stage, as we did. I thought they were fine – and we certainly had great seats for half price.

Before I continue, if you’re reading this and have never been to Broadway to see a show – go. I’m not talking about a Broadway show touring your city with an all-Minnesotan cast.

There is nothing like live theater, especially when you are seeing the cream of the acting crop, as you are in New York City.

But, it’s more than the actors. The theaters, the staging, the lighting, the musicians – they are all very special to Broadway. There is no other experience quite like it.

Broadway has become very pricey. What used to be a New Yorker’s pursuit is now primarily there for tourists. You can get good seats to many shows for half price. I have never been disappointed when I’ve seen a show on tickets from TKTS.

Back to the show.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” follows the action at the bee, but of course is more than that. Each of the participants (two of whom could easily be played by an unamed friend of mine) has a back story. There is a subtext in everything that’s going on.

The dialog is clever. The music is OK, though there’s no tune for me to hum or memorable moment in the score. The play is performed so close to the audience that every action is a ‘tight shot.’

It is an ensemble cast of mainly young people, trying to look even younger.

The four audience members are integrated into the spelling bee and one-by-one, they are stumped (though when the script calls for them to stay, they are given words like “cow” to spell) and sit down.

At our performance, one of the audience members was an excellent speller. She got a word right that was obviously there to stump her. On her next turn, she spelled an even more difficult word.

Without missing a beat, she was given another, even more difficult word… a word which began with an “x” and went on for four or five syllables! It was obvious this was her time to sit down.

When she finally walked toward her seat, she was given a huge ovation. Really, quite sweet.

We enjoyed the show. It runs 1:45 without an intermission. That left us plenty of time to catch the 10:22 PM train back to New Haven… except the show began almost 10 minutes late!

We dashed from the theater and began walking to Grand Central. My legs are longer than Helaine’s. Advantage Geoff.

We huffed and puffed to 6th Avenue, then through the Diamond District (all closed on a Friday night – shabbot). I was wearing my atomic watch, accurate to the millisecond, and kept yelling out the time remaining.

Finally, a few blocks from the terminal, I had had enough. A cab was at the light and we hopped in. He took off and we then managed to hit every light the few blocks to GCT.

Helaine’s shoe was coming off… or coming apart. I’m not sure. It just wasn’t going well. We were living the Sandy Dennis, Jack Lemmon life from the original “Out of Towners.”

Our train left from track 15 – about a thousand tracks in from the main entrance. We were tired and I was sweating (Helaine might have been glowing – not sure) but we made it on board.

The train was crowded. Helaine said it looked like there were more than a few Rangers fans, going home after their game. There were more than a few people drinking beer and some loud, though controlled, laughter and discussions.

We rolled through the quiet Connecticut shoreline, getting to New Haven at 1:11 AM.

That’s a lot to do in one day!

&#185 – Since I’ve taken nearly 16,000 photos with my Canon Digital Rebel, it has earned a name: “Clicky.” Helaine, Steffie and I refer to the camera by that name – we really do!

Father’s Day With My Father

This is the last full day of my parent’s visit – time for another trip into New York City.

Usually, on Sunday trips, we drive. Steffie asked if we could take the train and I said yes. I’m not entirely sure it was a good idea, though a street fair on 6th Avenue and the Yankees game probably slowed things down.

We left around 10:00 AM and headed to New Haven’s Union Station. Our train was local through Connecticut, but from Stamford it went non-stop to 125 Street in Harlem and then Grand Central Terminal.

We talked about people we knew, people from Connecticut, who claimed to never have been to New York City. That stuns me, though I know it’s true. There’s so much to do in the city that you can’t do anywhere else.

Actually, as a kid I always thought I’d grow up and move to New York. Even as an adult there were times when I thought my career would take me there. At this point it probably won’t happen.

Living in New York is convenient and cumbersome at the same time. Getting anything home – like grocery shopping, is an incredible hassle. Then there’s the noise and the crowds. On the other hand, if you live in the city, you can get anything delivered to you at any hour of the day or night.

New York is the only city in the world with twenty four hour room service!

And, you can walk to where you’re going. Walking is the major advantage city life has over anything else. It’s funny how we think of the suburbs or country as healthier living, but New Yorkers certainly walk more than my neighbors do. They surely walk more than I do.

And, of course, whatever you want to do – it’s there! Movies, museums, restaurants, culture, crap – it’s there.

We got off the train at Grand Central and headed to the Museum of Modern Art. I’ll have to hand it to Stef. She kept her word. I know she had no desire, but she went with the rest of us into the museum.

MOMA is unlike most museums in that there are no classics – everything is new, meaning 20th or 21st century.

We headed to the fourth floor and started scouting around. Some of the work is spectacular. Some of the work is ridiculous. Some of the work seems to be saying, “Can you tell I’m trying to fool you?”

The man on the left is staring at a painting that lists the world’s 1,000 longest rivers, in order. Is it art? Actually, I liked it!

Yes, there are single colored canvasses – just a solid blue canvas, for instance. Is that art? MOMA thinks so. I’m not so sure.

Then there are the works of Picasso, Gauguin, Klee, Lichtenstein and Jackson Pollock (he of the paint splatters seemingly sprayed at random on a canvas). Andy Warhol‘s soup cans are there too.

It’s all a little overwhelming. Standing next to some of these paintings is like standing next to Mick Jagger or Britney Spears because they’re cultural icons, etched into our common experience.

We couldn’t stay too long. Six months ago, before we knew my parents were coming, we had gotten tickets to see “Wicked” on Broadway. Steffie, Helaine and I had to head to the Gershwin Theater for the 3:00 PM performance.

“Wicked” is the prequel to “The Wizard of Oz.” It’s the story of how Glinda became the Good Witch and Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West. It’s a cute story with a great cast. As is so often the case on Broadway, the first act was better than the second, though the show ended very strongly.

For months Steffie has had “Popular,” a song from “Wicked,” on her Ipod. And for months, I had been playing it and singing along. Obsessed? Me? Sure.

If, for some reason, the conductor had suffered a wrist injury, I was ready to step in and lead the orchestra for this one song. I knew every word, every note, every bit of accompaniment in the arrangement.

It took everything I could muster to refrain from leading the orchestra from my seat.

The original cast is long gone. The current stars – unknowns to me – were very good and the staging was spectacular. We didn’t expect it, but in the cast were Ben Vereen (The Wizard of Oz) and Rue McClanahan (Madame Morrible).

It has become common for Broadway shows to have names you recognize from TV to help at the box. If these two were meant to sell tickets, they’re awfully well hidden. Of course “Wicked” doesn’t seem to need help selling tickets at the moment.

My parents met us at the theater at 6:10 and we proceeded to dinner. The five of us feasted at the Stage Delicatessen on 7th Avenue.

We were stuffed as we walked south, through Times Square, and back to Grand Central. I must have taken 10 shots of the Chrysler Building as it glistened in the golden light of the late day’s sun. It stood out so tastefully against the pure blue sky.

Our train left at 8:07 and took nearly two hours to reach New Haven, making this an awfully long day – but a great Father’s Day.

Into New York City To Shop

It’s really been a long time since we went to Manhattan to do some shopping. Today was the day – all five of us: Helaine, Stef, my folks and me.

There was no rush, so we left the house after 10:00 AM. There’s always a little family conflict about this, but I like to drive to Stamford and catch the train from there. Helaine prefers going to New Haven to pick up the train.

She says it takes less time. I say there are a lot more trains go to Stamford to choose from on the way home. Maybe we’re both right. Unfortunately, the long term trend says when there’s this kind of family conflict, either I’m wrong or Helaine’s right.

We parked in Stamford and headed into the train station. I wanted some coffee, as did Steffie. As we got our drinks, the express pulled out! Next train: local… and a half hour wait.

We had no trouble getting to Grand Central Terminal. From there it was a quick subway trip on the “6” local to Canal Street.

Welcome to knockoff shopper’s heaven.

We’re used to hitting Canal Street and the Lower East Side on Sundays. Tuesday is a totally different animal. There’s actually room on the street to stand without being bowled over!

Usually, Canal Street shopping is done from storefronts and curbside stands. On this Tuesday, most of the curbside stands were gone.

I had read about a huge crackdown recently. Big raids on Canal Street had driven out the knockoffs. I still saw some fancy watch names, though no Rolexes.

At one time, Canal Street and $10 Rolex were synonymous.

As far as handbags were concerned, there was merchandise, but none of the high end labels, like Kate Spade, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Coach. These were the names that brought on the raids.

Still, looks can be deceiving. As we walked through the stores, the brand names we desired were being whispered at us, usually in Chinese accented English. After being asked at one store if that was what she wanted, Steffie said yes and was taken to the shopping underground.

Along with my mom and Helaine, Steffie followed the salesperson through a locked door in the back. As they walked out, the door was locked behind them. Then through another locked door, also locked behind them, and into a storeroom.

If they were going to be victims of a crime, this was as good a place as any… and I think there was at least some apprehension as their exits were successively bolted shut.

Where were they? I don’t think they could find the actual store the journey began in, much less the hidden warehouse!

After a little show and tell and typical Canal Street haggling, they were on their way… with a few bags and later, a wallet.

How prevalent is this kind of thing on Canal Street? The huge Heineken billboard, up on the side of a building says it all: “The only authentic label on the block.”

I hadn’t bought a watch in a while, and that was my prey today. Years ago, Canal Street watches, those $10 Rolexes, only looked good from afar. Today, they are masterfully complex and sturdy and Rolex isn’t the only luxury name represented.

I’m sure an expert can tell the difference&#185, but I can’t, nor can anyone I know. In fact, for all I know this was genuine merchandise.

My watch collection, a long running obsession, is filled with watches I trust are real and others I assume are pretend. Like children, I love them all dearly and play no favorites.

Helaine had recommended a rectangular tank style watch, but I though most of what I had seen in tanks were too large and bulky on my wrist. A leather band would be nice, since most of my watches have metal bands. I kept searching.

I settled on a mechanical watch – it’s called an automatic chronograph. As you wear it, a mechanism (visible through a crystal on the watch’s back&#178) winds the mainspring. The face has a main dial, with sweep second hand, plus dials for day of the week, day of the month and hour (in 24 hour notation). There are also two windows for year and month.

It’s very nice looking and, so far, has kept accurate time. Since it’s mechanical and won’t be worn on a daily basis, it will need to be reset before each use. That much is bad. The rest is very good.

Today was a very hot day in an area with little air conditioning. We tried to stay cool with lots of water and soda, but it was tough.

I suppose I was the first to get a little cranky, wanting to bail. That wasn’t nice – wasn’t right. I should have been more of a team player… and I wasn’t. I could blame my aching toe, but the responsibility is mine.

By the time I acquiesced, it was too late. The damage had been done.

We turned up Broadway heading toward SoHo and Greenwich Village. SoHo really is as happening as you’ve heard, with lots of stores and lots of people – mostly young.

After stopping in a few stores it was my dad’s turn to raise the white flag. In his case it was justified. The heat had become more than he could take. That’s the bad news. The good news is, he’s 79. He put up with an awful lot of heat and humidity as if he were half his age!

We cut across to Bleeker Street and found the Uptown “6”. As we approached the station I found the one shot that I think typifies this day in particular, and New York City during the summer in general. Leaning up against a subway entrance were two cops. They were resting and taking in the sights.

Their ease and relaxation set the mood for everyone around them.

Please understand, I am not criticizing their actions. In fact they were very appropriate for this time and this place and I have no doubt they were ready to be “cops” if necessary. Like I said, they set the mood.

We had dinner at Junior’s in what had been the lower waiting room at Grand Central Terminal and what is now a busy food court. This time we caught the express and made it to Stamford in about 45 minutes and the rest of the way home in an hour.

I know this because I’ve got a new watch.

&#185 – Actually, I’m not sure. With some of the products, I suspect they’re made in the same factory, by the same workers, with the same raw materials.

&#178 – I have just learned this type of watch, with parts of the works exposed, is called a skeleton watch.