Home is where the park is

Model Sail Boat Pond reflection near Dad’s European Hornbeam at 73rd & 5th

“Take the Lincoln Tunnel,” John says. “But where should we meet?”

“West Side I would think,” my quick answer since Mary the kids and I will be heading back up to Boston, and they to Newark Airport to drop off Mike. “Sixties on the west side of the Park.”

I haven’t been back to New York since saying good-bye to my father in June of 2019. On that day, we gathered at The Century to celebrate his long life. Family and friends in a beautiful room on the eleventh floor of a club dedicated to artists and writers, my father a lifelong journalist for The New York Times.

“After a while, they realized artists and writers don’t have any money, so they started letting rich people in. Bankers and lawyers,” my Dad never one to mince words. We all scanned the names posted in the lobby, to see if we recognized any of them. “They don’t allow pictures of that,” he said, knowing me too well.

It’s quite possible that we’ll never set foot in this building again and be left to remember it for what it is, a place my father frequented for lunch or dinner with friends. Part of his New York life, but not over the top. He’d earned the right to belong — a career reporter, editor and columnist — invited by another and voted on by the entire membership. The one time I was invited to join something, a fraternity. I said no.

“You’re making the biggest mistake of your life,” a brother said to me when I turned down his pledge offer.

“Maybe, but I don’t think so,” I said to a person I really didn’t like. A bully. Just didn’t feel right. This quite possibly the last time anyone invited me to a special club of any kind, which in retrospect is fine. I’m re-learning the meaning of the word exclusive, having once attributed it to something good, lavish, now not so much.

On this day at The Century, we celebrate one last warm embrace with my father’s memory, having honored him here in person two years earlier for his ninetieth birthday.

In the last weeks before Dad died, I asked him what he wanted most, not at all sure what he’d respond with.

Central Park in Snow at 67th & 5th (1980)

“To walk in Central Park after new snow,” he said. Maybe that’s what draws me back on this late afternoon in December. His love of the park, the thought of a winter’s blanket tucking in the city that never sleeps. “I just love the quiet it brings,” he said.

John and I squawk on the phone leave Montclair and head into the city. “9th or 10th up from the tunnel, and then find a place to park,” we say in unison.

“We’ll follow you,” I suggest as load up in two cars outside John’s house, until we don’t because Waze changes the route away from the tunnel, which I follow, my trust much improved after too many recent disastrous second guessing of the app.

“Eleven minutes faster,” Waze announces pointing us north towards the George Washington Bridge. I’ve entered the Natural History Museum as a pin, thinking it easy landmark.

“There, it just shaved another five off,” I say to Mary, who with Ben and Nicole don’t care. It’s all just a misty gray day to them, regardless of the route we take.

We’re driving into the city over the holidays when our extended family used to spend it with my mom and dad at Mohonk in New Paltz. Today, we’ll spend it walking past Wollman Rink where Dad practiced ice figures. Then up past Balto the Alaskan husky where my mom would walk us from their apartment at 67th and Lex.. Next, we’ll head north to Dad’s tree near the Model Sail Boat Pond.

“European Hornbeam,” I explain. One year, a favorite Mohonk Mountain House naturalist suggested we each adopt a tree to observe and write about once a week. Dad picked an interesting specimen in Central Park, while I found a junk maple in my backyard. We both wrote about our trees for a year, compared notes. I still have my journal, somewhere — would love to compare notes again.

Trees in Central Park near Wollman Rink at 57th and 6th

On this night, we’ll find our way around the park from the West Side to East Side and back. Not the familiar a route from years coming in from Lex, but still the park.

“That’s the Dakota,” I say pointing to what looks like the building John Lennon and Yoko Ono made famous.

“No it’s not,” Mike chimes in. “That’s the San Remo. I know because it’s my favorite building in New York. The Dakota’s not as tall, you can’t see it yet behind those trees.”

The San Remo (not the Dakota) at 74th & Central Park West

The day settles into night, just in time for John to catch-up and find us. Light fades away into a hazy wet hue, turnng me and my iPhone’s ‘noir-mode’ into Alfred Stieglitz. I look at the images I’ve created, happy with a couple of them, remembering one of my favorites taken of two people walking in the park after winter snow. An image my parents hung in their apartment on 67th. Both my parents avid walkers, the city does that. Encourages getting out two three times a day. For milk. To talk to strangers. Ride the subway to find fresh corn. Keeps you young, and part of why we’re here tonight. First time back in Manhattan since we sold the apartment at the outset of the pandemic. Since the beginning of my life without parents.

“Strawberry Fields should be right up here,” I say, looking now at my phone in dimly lit park cast.

Strawberry Field at 72nd & Central Park West

“You have no idea where we’re going,” Ben says, half right. Still, I have feeling. Don’t all parents?

“Sure I do,” I say, sounding like my father before me. Both of us always sounding sure, I more often wrong. “It’s right where those people are coming out.”

We find the mosaic dedicated to Lennon’s Imagine, capture the moment, leave feeling at home in the park. My father loved finding new things, especially in and around this city, constantly inviting others to explore with him. My mom loved people, conversation and connection. The city abundant for both of them.

I will come back to this place my parents called home. Come back in their spirit of learning, growing and discovering new things. Maybe Mary and I will live here for a month, six months, even a year. Find an apartment in Brooklyn, experience the city as David Byrne does, on a bike. That’s what I want, if not New York, then maybe Paris, on a bike.

“Wouldn’t that be a hoot!?!” I hear my mom say in my ear from another place I call home.

Mary, Dad and Steve at Lincoln Center (2018)

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Writer, photographer, wannabe musician.

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Steve Mooney

Steve Mooney

Writer, photographer, wannabe musician.

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