Thursday, January 11, 2018

The mountains of New York.

One Saturday when I was about seven-years-old, my old man took me mountain climbing. At least he called it mountain climbing, and what did I know? I had hardly ever been further west than Philadelphia, or further north than White Plains.

It was 1964, maybe, before the world was derailed by rampant drugs, and crime, and racial strife and hippies and the chaos—and danger—that tainted so much of my growing up. There was still order in the universe. You could tell there was order because the Yankees were still winning pennants in 1964 with the likes of Whitey Ford still on the mound and Yogi and Mickey still slugging roundtrippers. The Yankees won, when I was a kid, with the regularity of the sun rising in the east or at least the IRT pulling in to 51st Street.

So, one Saturday my old man must have had some work to do at the office, or some secretary to meet illicitly and he reckoned I would, unknowingly of course, be a good beard. We piled in his dusty green 1949 Studebaker and he let me sit in the front seat.

“Son,” he gurgled, “today we ascend to the heights. Today, we blaze in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hilary. Today, we climb mountains.”

He threw the car into gear and we rattled down the street and across to the park. I had on an old pair of jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and probably a ball-cap and sneakers.

“Is it hard, Dad? I’ve never gone mountain-climbing.”

He laughed and steered the Studebaker around a black-smoke-belching city bus. “A strong boy like you—you have muscles on your muscles,” he said, squeezing my non-existent bicep. “A strong boy like you, you’ll scamper up the escarpment like a mountain goat. You’re a natural.”

In just a few moments we had reached out mountainous destination—a large exposure of Manhattan schist that lifts up in Central Park just north of the zoo at around 65th Street. He parked his car and hustled me across Fifth Avenue against the light. We walked down the asphalt path and up to the fringe of the giant out-cropping.

“Here it is, son,” he said, “New York’s Everest, New York’s Kilimanjaro.” He handed me a brown-paper bag with some lunch in it: a bologna sandwich and a plum. “Look,” he continued, “it’s 10 o’clock now. Your dad has some work to do in the office, I’ll pickya up in a couple hours. Stay right on these rocks and don’t talk to anyone.”

There were other kids around. Some with parents or nannies, some, like me, were alone. They were playing ball, or drawing on the sidewalk with big sticks of dusty chalk, or climbing the rocks, or kicking through the large clumps of pigeons that had congregated where an old man with bread crumbs in a dirty bag was feeding them.

I put my bag of lunch in a crevasse a few feet above where we were standing. It would be safe there, I figured.

My old man kissed me goodbye. And I went off to climb Mount Everest.

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