Well, for the first time in my life I actually experienced a couple of hours of magic in NYC.
Now, I've been to the city at least 30 times, and probably more in the last 14 years, and I hate it with a passion. It's dirty, a constant hassle, the noise pollution is unbearable, everyone is running, and if you look close enough, you just see them oversized hamster wheels spinning around, powering the rat race, and holding up the carrot that everyone is running to get. Those are the nice things. The smell, the rudeness and the overall look and feel all leave me asking myself "why the hell do I come here" every time I speed out of traffic over the Whitestone Bridge on my way home.
But, walking around Central Park on Saturday afternoon with my friends, we heard faint sounds of music in the distance, and decided to investigate. We walked around the lake, through the woods, across the road, ducking the rollerbladers and bicyclists, trying not to step into the fresh cakes, left by retirement age horses, pulling carriages with retirement age tourists, who don't recognize romantic, even if it jumps up and bites their oversized butts.
Finally, as music was getting closer, we started to recognize what sounded like the 30's scratchy gramophone recordings of a Russian Central Army Choir, mixed with Edit Piaf on amphetamines. Beyond the last set of whipping willows there was a little square with a fountain on the shore of the lake. Ordinary at any other time, seen a dozen times before, in the twilight of this particular Saturday evening it was transformed into something much less recognizeable. The music, scratchy as it was, was coming form a small modern PA system, sitting in the corner of the square. People dressed in coattails and cocktail dresses were milling around, some dancing on the rough cobblestone of the little improvised dance floor. It was Argentine tango, straight out of romantic black-and-whites of the 30s, alone with the authentic gramophone music, irreversibly and peculiarly transported into the richest part of New York in the last year of the century.
We were sitting on the granite railing, mesmerized, unable to stop listening and watching them dance. Local Tango Club outing as it turned out, was in full swing. The dancers of assorted levels of ability were unabashedly free to hone their craft, and let me tell you, some of them were excellent, at least to my untrained eye. Women were clinging to men, high heels making strange figures in the air, black clothing surrounding all and flying into the oncoming night.
As it got dark, they lit dozens of candles and surrounded the imaginary dance floor with little boundary of flickering lights. The word romantic does not describe this fieric scene, it was magical, the kind of poetry you experience once in a lifetime, suddenly and unexpectedly, because if you plan for it, it loses half its luster. The newcomers like ourselves got progressively antsy as the darkness fell. Darkness has a nasty tendency to destroy one's inhibitions, no matter how deeply rooted they might be. The more experienced dancers were offering to show us some steps, and I could no longer resist the urge to be a part of it, not just to observe and sponge the experience as is my usual habit.
And so went my first tango, the unsure tiptoed steps of a boy, lead into the night by a siren in black. Flowing blond hair and crooked smile. Her patience towards my impatience. Her hands holding mine and her heels next to my loafers, guiding me in a heavy and trying flight through the magical night of flickering little candles.
Wonderful as it was, the end comes to all good things, and we walked away, never to forget and never to repeat again, for there is the first time in boy's life for love, and there certainly is the first time for tango. And, whether you eventually get good at it, or not, the first time will remain special as a mystic and dream-like sequence of moves and smells and sounds.
Walking away, the sounds were getting quieter and softer, the scratchiness was now almost gone, and you could only hear the occasional passage dying away behind the trees. However, replacing it, somewhere up front, was a different sound. Metallic and melodic at the same time, it was painfully familiar. Some more maneuvering around the trees and ducking the near-midnight jogging nuts, predominating in the Gothem City, we came to Strawberry Fields. Of course, of course, Saturday was John Lennon's birthday, and I've forgotten it, and almost missed it, as I was flying through the air just ten minutes ago. Shagal was right, those who fly through the air are either lovers or goats, and neither is particularly in control of their brain functions, especially memory. Albeit late, but there it was, John's birthday celebration in the Central Park, across from Dakotas. There was a circle of people, some holding hands, singing. About half a dozen people with assorted guitars, a little drum set, a bass, flowers, pictures and candles in the middle. The first song we heard as we walked in was "She Loves You". Ah, the first Beatles album I've ever heard in my life, when I was 14, was "Love Songs', and of course "She Loves You" was there. I was instantly hooked then, and I've remain a Beatles nut throughout my life. I went to Paul's concert, I listened to Linda's voice, which, I guess, qualifies me as a survivor. If you don't believe me, listen to Linda and Yoko back to back. You will come out loving Yoko more than John ever did.
But, I digress. We stood there, myself, my best friend of 31 years, his wife and their 7-year old daughter. And his daughter looked up, and said: "It sounds like Beatles!". Yes kid, sure does, sure does. And it's good that you recognize that, alone with Barney and Teletubbies. Because, when it's all gone, these songs will remain, generation after generation. At least we hope they will.
We stood there, and just melted into the emotion of the crowd. When we were 16-17 year old kids, the three of us were sitting in my living room, listening to the same songs, making plans, discussing impossible future, smoking cheap cigarettes and fighting the onslaught of the roaches. Either the roaches liked The Beatles as much as we did, or they knew that those were the last days of their peaceful life with the old owners. Soon, very soon, all was left behind, the wind grabbed us, separated, and threw each to the ends of the Earth, never to be together again. Now, in the warm evening, holding hands with the rest of the people at Strawberry Fields, it's painfully apparent that nothing really changes, ever. The three of us are together again, older, happier, much less smart then before, just standing there, listening to the same music we did when we were smart ass all-knowing kids. And this music conjures up the same emotions, and allows us to be kids again, even though the 7-year old is falling asleep on her dad's lap.
Back to cars.