Later that night we had dinner at the Bull and Bear. When we sat down, Barb asked the waiter,
“Can we be done with this and out of here in forty-five minutes? We have a show to catch.”
I could see gears turning between his ears, calculating all the variables.
“Yes, I believe we can.”
The filet mignon was tougher than I figured. But the scalloped potatoes that came in an oval dish were to die for.
After we finished, we toasted with champagne, like we owned The Bull and Bear. Barb took up a knife, which I thought was odd, since there wasn’t any food left. She dug through her purse and came up with Chanel lip gloss number 110. Holding her butter knife sideways, she proceeded to touch up her lips. I just love it when she comes up with polished feminine moves like this. She caught me smiling.
“My mother used to do this,” she said, “when she went out to dinner.”
Out the swinging glass door to the Towers and into a black limousine. I grabbed a paper from my shirt pocket.
“124 West 43rd Street, please.”
Off we go and I’m all eyes out one window, while Barb is all eyes out the other. This is the first time we’ve been out at night, and it’s quite a display. What can you say about Manhattan? There are streets and buildings and people and more people and they’re all in a rush. Even at midnight somebody is out and about being busy.
And I don’t know much about Carole King besides the fact she made an album called Tapestry back in the day. It looked like a girly album to me at the time. I was into Led Zep, the Rolling Stones and the Doobie Brothers. See any girl’s names there? Barb would never watch a movie like Lawrence of Arabia simply because it hasn’t any women. And Barb is way into girly stuff, so I’m going to humor her. It may be good; after all, I did like a couple of her songs, like Natural Woman. At the time I heard it though, the title conjured up images of women I knew who didn’t use deodorant or shave their legs and ate male chauvinists pigs for dinner. I’m all for natural women, but Jeez. Thank God, Barb isn’t that natural. I was younger then, not so sure of my masculinity, so I touted only masculine groups, no girly stuff for me, kinda juvenile attitude. So Canaries were OK, and Canaries were a dime a dozen because women have pleasing voices anyway, but no girl song writers for me. Idiot Boy at his best.
By the time our limo reaches our destination, there is no doubt in our minds what “district” we’re in. The last few blocks were crawling with theaters. The street is lit with dazzling neon.
Outside the Stephen Sondheim Theatre I see an immense billboard for the show and capture the moment digitally. Barb’s in the picture too, to demonstrate scale and add panache. In we scoot. When we find our seats and sit down, Barb scans the audience while arranging her coat on the back of her seat. She twists my direction and draws closer, noting,
“They’re more dressed up than in California.”
“But we have one thing in common,” I whispered, taking a look over my shoulder, “salt and pepper hair.”
“Speak for yourself, Steven.”
That shuts me up. Most of the crowd is dressed up like anywhere else in the world but a few ancient grand dames are outrageously stylish. They brought their kiddies, and the kiddies were in their late 30’s. These fashionable women have no fear, and know the secret to beauty lies in attitude. One in her late 60’s has electric pink hair. Another sugar momma has a slick Italian dude wearing an Armani suit who’s a quarter her age, holding her Ermine coat like a lackey.
The rest of the people are like audiences anywhere, all eyes and ears. When the lights go down low, and the curtain finally goes up, they’re as ready as Sponge Bob for the show.
There she is, and look at her, only a high-school girl. And there she is writing and the next thing we know she has trouble selling her songs.
But look, what’s this? She’s given Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow to the Shirelles. Hey, I remember that song! She wrote the number one hit? OMG OMG I just didn’t know. Up On The Roof and On Broadway to The Drifters? Take Good Care Of My Baby to Bobby Vee? Pleasant Valley Sunday to the Monkeys? That’s one of my favorite songs, and it wasn’t by them it was written by her, the young woman song-writing genius.
Before our very eyes the string of her hits unwinds, one after another, for years.
As the times and places change, the stage crews and technicians move the pieces and places about like children draped in black silently assembling gigantic Leggos for our amusement. There’s a lot of illusion going on here.
During the intermission we stroll to the lobby for an extremely sophisticated plastic cup of Riesling and on the way back we spy a couple standing by the double doors. She’s wearing a diaphanous gown with a flower print, off one shoulder. He’s sporting a Harvard vest under a navy blue blazer, and a Sinatra autographed snap-brimmed hat. They’re so engaged you almost hate to break their mutual spell, but you know me, the guy with no boundaries. I don’t need a stinking passport to get into people’s heads. Barb schooled me to ask only bold decisive questions, you know, the deep stuff, the tough ones, like,
“How do you like it so far?
“We’re really enjoying this,” Snap-Brim Hat Guy answers, and beams at his woman. She can’t say anything, she’s sipping some wine, but she smiles. He squeezes her arm tenderly and she pulls the plastic cup away from her lips.
“I didn’t know she’d written that many songs,” Sheer Gown Lady says.
“Me too,” says Barb, and hands the visual mike to me with her eyes.
“Where are you guys from? We’re from California, and I’ve been on the lookout for what I call a New York accent, but you two don’t seem to have one. At least it’s not the one I heard on Seinfeld.”
They giggle conspiratorially.
“We’re from here. We live in Manhattan. You’ll probably hear more accents in the burrows.”
“Oh yes,” I say understandingly. As a child I learned to respond understandingly, even if I didn’t understand sh*t. It pleases people when you understand them, and I don’t like to displease people, especially when they’re making a genuine effort to communicate. And besides, straightening out the confusion in my mind takes more questions. This gives the illusion you’re really interested, and they adore this, when you’re just trying to straighten out your own confusion. We think life is crystal clear, but it’s just smoke and mirrors. You mirror people, and for whatever reason, they like what they see. There’s a difference between a trick and an illusion. A trick can only be a dirty trick. It’s second rate. An illusion is made of grander stuff. Illusions can be heavenly or straight from Hell, and the most Hellish ones are the one we make for ourselves. Tricks are straight from Outa Compton College. Illusions graduate from Vassar, Duke, or Cornell. They take more effort.
So I name the boroughs to show him I know what they are. A New York kindergartner knows them, and now I do too, and share the wealth of knowledge.
Snap Brim Hat Fella, and Shear Gown Lady give each other a look. It’s real subtle, but it’s one of those looks one half of a couple gives the other half, that gives them the OK to reveal a secret. It’s one of those, “Go ahead, Honey, tell ‘em” looks. He takes the invisible mike.
“You know,” he whispers, “when people here refer to the boroughs; they use their names, like Brooklyn, Queens, or Jersey. But when they come to Manhattan, they call it ‘The City’.”
My socks nearly fall off.
“Oh my God, California has that going on too. We call San Francisco The City, but nowhere else.”
The implications make all four of us smile. Culturally, geographically, and musically, we have identified ourselves, and are happy with what we’ve discovered. The tribes from both coasts meet… and party.
And true to its name, and true to the spirit of Carol, the show was Beautiful, and we drifted off in a New York state of mind.
©Steven Hunley 2017
https://youtu.be/R1lwPQhN9gI James Taylor Up On The Roof