Friday, October 19, 2012

A walk with a friend.

Yesterday night a gentle rain fell in New York. It started around two in the morning and even at that time, within minutes the trash bins on nearly every corner were quickly dotted with blown-out umbrellas, their spines sticking into the night like the ribs of dinosaur.

The people out, the people walking while Whiskey and I split the night, were crunched and huddled against the damp. They plodded along like Willy Loman on downers, chins buried in their chests, hands deep in their pockets like a wayward priest, their hats pulled down over their faces like a little-known 1940s noir film.

Whiskey and I approached the night with more optimism. The rain bothers neither of us and I felt fairly scotch-guarded with my mackinac zipped high and my cap pulled low. Whiskey, whose coat is thick and imbued with a natural lanolin, seemed not to notice the moisture at all. She trotted ahead looking for mischief, listening for my conversation with her, or on her ever-present search for a discarded apple-core or soggy pizza crust.

Tonight, unlike most nights when I walk with no direction, I was meeting a friend down around 53rd Street. He also couldn't sleep. We had seen, via the magic of IM that we were both awake in the wee hours and agreed to have a walk.

The friend was my oldest. We had gone to high school together and because we were both born late in the year, were the two youngest in our class--13 when our peers were 14. This was just one of many things that brought us together--I'd say like brothers, but we are closer than my brother and I ever were.

Fred and I went our separate ways to college, but reunited in grad school, he was Columbia Law, I was Columbia Arts and Letters. While attending the Ivied halls we had each found the woman we would marry and the four of us would often share Chinese food and laugh and talk at least until the effects of the MSG lightened to a simmer.

Through the 40 years we have know each other we have most often been on the other end of the phone  when a loving ear was needed. Through job losses, through trouble with the children (as I have two girls, Fred has two boys) through issues with parents' deaths and more.

I walked south with Whiskey on the path downtown. The promenade along the river narrows in the 70s, for there, 100 years ago Con Edison built a giant steam plant on 74th Street and the FDR drive that powers and warms many of the older buildings in New York.

New York's steam operations were started back in 1877 by a man from Lockport, New York called Birdsill Holly, yes, Birdsill Holly, who had 50 patents to his name for the production and metering of steam. Steam still today provides energy to over 100,000 customers via its annual production of 13.64 megatons of steam--it's not unusual in Manhattan, especially during the cold, to see huge cones of steam billowing from beneath the asphalt and up through sewer grates. It looks, at times, like the city will soon explode. There are, of course, occasional eruptions, even deadly ones, but still New York keeps the lid on its steam, a warm hissing, even comforting presence in so many homes.

Whiskey and I walked passed the hospitals of "Bed Pan Alley" that run nearly a 1/2 mile along the river from the low 70s to the low 60s. We walked through the opulence of the river townhouses that once butted against the east side Irish slums of New York--the Irish slums that were built alongside the abattoirs that once filled the site of what is now the UN Headquarters.

I bumped into Fred around Tudor City in the low 40s. I was two miles from home. The rain was steadier now.

"Georgie," he said shaking my hand. (We don't hug. We are not men who do so.) "Georgie, I have cancer."

"Shit, Fred."

"I'm not going to die. But I'll be in treatment the rest of my life."

"Fred, if there's anything I can do. If you need blood."

"No, I'm ok. Celia," Fred's wife, "Is ok, too."

"George, you'd be surprised how some people just don't get it. They don't know how to act. They act like schmucks. People at work."

"Fred," I repeated, "anything you want. I am here. Always. I'm a universal donor. And Laura," my wife "knows every specialist in New York."

"I'm ok, Georgie. I'm ok. I just had to tell you."

We leaned on the wrought iron and patted Whiskey. We did a lot of spitting into the up-flowing water. After a few minutes in unison we pushed ourselves away from the ancient railing.

"Work in the morning," Fred said.

We said goodnight, shook hands again.

And walked through the rain our separate ways to our homes.

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