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Thursday, Dec. 20, 2001 - 12:16 a.m.

Here is New York

I spent the latter part of yesterday afternoon and early evening walking around New York City for no other reason than I wanted to. I wanted to be out in the cold air, I wanted to exercise, I wanted to take pictures of the city in its Christmas splendor in the gathering darkness.

I took the PATH train from Jersey City to 33rd St. and walked up Sixth Avenue until I came to Bryant Park and its red, white and blue Christmas tree. As I approached the park from the east side of Sixth, I saw a hint of green reflected in the building north of the park and I positioned myself in a place I could see both the tree and the Empire State Building. And I took pictures. It's been a while I've gone on a photo outing, and I was happy. I like being off in my own little world, me and the camera. When I'm by myself, out on the town or the beach or the woods -- somewhere -- I feel invisible. People may look, but they're just watching, observing. When I'm at a party or function with friends and family, I can get away with that sometimes, but at others, people expect me to be The Camera Man. They expect me to get the shots, the good shots, all the shots. I don't mind it -- unless they act disappointed when they see the photos. Which doesn't happen often, but occassionally.

So I spent some time in Bryant Park, which was rather empty, save for a few people passing through on their way home from work. Some stopped at the newsstand for coffee, a couple sat on a set of chairs near the tree and the dry fountain, and a cop stood near a railing near the fountain.

From there I decided to head over to bustling Times Square to get a gift certificate at Carmine's for a coworker who's giving it to her sister and brother-in-law. The restaurant was warm and packed and decorated to the ceiling for Christmas. A man came up to put his name down for a table -- it's about 6:30 p.m. at this time -- and was told the wait was two hours, maybe two hours, 15 minutes. I laughed, thinking I could put my name in and by the time the table opened, Casey would be off from work.

Gift certificate in hand, I crossed over to the new Toys "R" (imagine it backwards) Us and went in to gaze at the Ferris wheel near the entrance. Tickets are sold on the ground floor, where riders board, and the floors up to the top open up to allow the wheel to turn. The store was packed and teeming with parents on shopping missions and others with kids in tow. Employees in suits or royal blue shirts and khakis helped customers find items and communicated with headsets and earpieces -- like the toy world's Secret Service. I actually saw someone buying a pogo stick, and while I've tried one in my past with moderate success and enjoyment, I can't see any kid in this day and age enjoying a pogo stick for more than a month or so. I hope I'm wrong.

I wandered a bit, inspected other floors, bought Casey a package of Powerpuff Girls napkins she may use with her family at Christmas dinner, and scooped up 1.29 pounds of Sour Patch Kids and sour watermelons from Candyland for our cavity-tempting pleasure.

When I looked at my watch, only 15 minutes had passed -- and that included a stop at the restroom -- and I could not believe time went so slowly. Either it was all the toys and the fantasies of being young again, or it was all the PEOPLE, the crowds and the kids, that made time stand still in there.

I tried to see the big model train display at Citigroup Center on E. 53rd, but it was closed. I browsed through Barnes and Noble looking for an appointment book, but didn't like any of theirs, and just as I was about to leave, I turned and saw a display of New York books. One caught my eye: E.B. White's Here Is New York (that's a link, not underlined for style). I love E.B. White's writing. I love his essays more than Charlotte's Web or Stuart Little (which are FINE, by the way; I have nothing against them). And this one, a tiny (about 3x5 inches) 56-page book (including White's Foreward and a new introduction by his stepson, Roger Angell), jumped out at me immediately. He wrote it on a sweltering hot afternoon in 1949 and knew, within months or a year or something, that what he had observed had already changed. He knew that New York changes so quickly, it cannot be written about accurately. It's up to the reader to update it on his or her own.

But some of what he wrote still holds true: The three types of New Yorkers (those born there, the commuters, and those born elsewhere who move there). It was a fascinating first read, particularly as I come to know and discover New York and enjoy it. I'll reread it over and over as I continue to learn about the city.

From there I made my way back to Fifth Avenue and walked up toward Central Park to see the stores and their decorations, and the big lighted snowflake suspended over the intersection of Fifth and 57th. I walked up the east side of Fifth, crossed at 58th, and walked back down the west side. I returned to Rockefeller Center, noticing the wrapped Cartier building and scaring myself by knowing that the gaudy purple-and-yellow lit building next to it was Versace. And at Rockefeller Center I happily became engulfed by the crowd, gazing at the skaters on the rink below. I went inside to the concourse with hopes of dining on an Auntie Anne's pretzel, but it was closed. So I settled for a slice of Sbarro pizza in the subway and laughed at the sign on the plywood outside a soon-to-open restaurant: "SUBWAY COMING SOON." HA! Subway in the subway!

After dinner, I returned to the tree and watched the Zamboni smooth the ice for half an hour before Casey called and we met outside the public library on Fifth.

Then we walked briskly in the cold December air back to the subway, taking it down to 33rd and hopping on the PATH back across the river to New Jersey.

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