biographical / New York / Non-fiction

The Smell of 1890 To The Breeze


After an incredible interview at the American Museum of Natural History, I ventured into Central Park. The park was of course crowded on this, one of the first clear warm days of the year. Tourist families clustered on the sidewalks, couples punted across the lake, it was as good as life gets. New Yorkers were smiling and laughing and making conversation. It’s clear that beneath even the sternest of veneers, people are one bout of mild weather away from being decent, even friendly, individuals.

I set out picturing myself reading (A Canticle for Lebowitz, if you’re curious), or mapping the article I was now in the middle of writing, but instead I basked in the sun, wrote text messages about basking in the sun and watched other people bask in the sun. As they passed, the human drama at its least dramatic played itself out on the benches in front of me and on the grass around me.


A crazy-looking woman, whose her gray hair is pulled tightly up to a single braid that hangs down from the crown of her head to the middle of her back, is walking her well-groomed, flowing haired dog. The crazy looking woman passes the bench, every few steps making a coughing/speaking sound, best dictated as “Bleh.” Her dog takes notice of a small white dog being walked by a very Upper West Side-ish-looking woman who is on her phone. Crazy “blehs” her way over and asks Pantsuit if the dogs can speak for a moment. Pantsuit, still on her phone, distractedly agrees. Crazy’s dog and Pantsuit’s dogs do what dogs do to Crazy’s delight and Pantsuit’s indifference, as she is still on the phone.

Crazy: She’s so cute! And look she has bells on her [harness]! Like a belly dancer!

Pantsuit: (leads belled dog away)

Crazy: Bleh. (Exits)


Pantsuit and bell dog are now sitting on a bench when a beautiful girl enters from stage left. BG notices Pantsuit’s dog and excitedly stops.

BG: (in a vaguely foreign accent) Oh! She! I have the same!

Pantsuit: (still on phone, but suddenly attentive) and I… Oh you do?

BG: Oh yes. He’s… Oh! May I? (produces red digital camera)

Pantsuit: (attempting phone, to dog, and in-person conversation simultaneously) Yeah..well I… Sit, Ivy Bell…What’s your dog’s name?

BG: Bruce. Can I be in.. (indicates red digital camera)

Pantsuit: Yeah that’d be better. (into phone) I’ll call you right back. (hangs up)

BG: You didn’t have to…

Pantsuit: No it’s my sister, it’s okay we do this all the time. Where are you from?

BG: Brazil.

Pantsuit: And Bruce is still there?

BG explains that she’s just arrived in New York as she sits holding Ivy Bell while Pantsuit attempts to see an LCD screen in direct, March sunlight.

Pantsuit: Well this is Ivy Bell.

BG: No! My name is Belle!

Pantsuit: (now positively beaming) No!

BG: Isabelle!

Pantsuit: Isabelle! And Ivy Bell! Ivy Bell, smile! (takes photo) Well you’ll have to bring Bruce to New York. Welcome to New York, Isabelle.

Isabelle skips off happily cradling her red digital camera. Ivy Bell, now on the ground, begins begging another couple on the bench for food. She now commands the attention of both everyone on the bench (and myself) and the Pantsuit-Ivy Bell show begins. Ivy Bell continues begging as Pantsuit explains that Ivy Bell’s favorite treat is apples, to the extent that she (Pantsuit) can’t even mention that she is going to the Apple Store, she has to say, “computer store” (though why she’s explaining her itinerary to her dog goes conspicuously unexplained). She produces a piece of apple, which momentarily commands Ivy Bell’s attention.

Pantsuit: What do you do, Ivy Bell? What do you do?

Ivy Bell: (shakes, jingling her belly dancer-like bells)

I take this to be the trick and marvel at what an excellent trick it is for a be-belled dog to learn to shake, but Ivy Bell goes unrewarded until she sits, which in my estimation is pretty basic stuff. Ivy Bell eats and resumes begging.

Pantsuit: C’mon, Ivy Bell. C’mon. You’re going to show off your bad behavior now? Well, here’s what we’ll do.

Pantsuit picks up Ivy Bell who glances back toward the couple and whatever they are eating and looks like a teddy bear. The audience chimes in with “Bye!”s as Pantsuit bids us a good afternoon.

The view from a perfect afternoon. Worth clicking to view in detail.


The sun disappears into the trees so I chase it down to the benches. I am hastily transcribing Act I Scene II because it is too strange to miss. Two women who are just on the other side of middle age (one is has that cool flowy, short older lady hair and is dressed in black with little sunglasses and art gallery earrings. The other has quite a bit of facial hair, but it is clear they are best friends) stop and begin pointing at the small plaque next to me, which commemorates someone from the Parks Department or something.

Woman 2: And that’s Helvetica there.

Me: (looks at bench plaque and back up at the women who are studying it in detail)

Woman 2: (notices my confusion and explains) Oh we’re looking at the fonts.

Me: (nodding because that makes perfect sense) Oh okay. Does that help you date them or something?

Woman 1: No, actually my family got me a bench. We have the verbiage but we’re still working on the font.

Me: That’s wonderful! I love the benches. I just read one up the hill a-ways… now hold on because I don’t want to mess it up…

Woman 1: We’ve been looking at them all around, reading them. One them just said, “For she loved the park and I loved her.” I wanted to cry!

(We all make noises to indicate that this both a beautiful and succinct sentiment)

Woman 1: Another was a quote from E.B. White, and I’m going to mess it up too, but it said, “When I awake in the morning I don’t know whether to save the world or savor the world. It makes it hard to plan the day.”

Me: That’s lovely. E.B. White certainly has a way with sentences. Let’s see, I think the one I saw said, “‘Such and Such: never has one been so blessed in life and family and so pleased with both.”

(Another wave of appreciation hits us all)

Woman 2: We’ve been looking at them all around the park.

Me: Today is great for that; it’s a day to savor, huh?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s