Monday, November 2, 2015

Going Into Hiding


Our plans to explore lower Manhattan were shifted aside this morning by security concerns.  With the theft of his cell phone in Paris still in his mind, Ken harbors a certain wariness about pickpockets in busy urban centers.  The hotel where we're staying empties right out into Times Square, an ideal haven for sneak thieves because it's often so crowded you can't see your own feet or take even a few steps without being jostled.

Enter Clothing Arts, designers of the pickpocket-proof pants.  I had read an article about the company's clothing in Forbes, and their Brooklyn showroom was on our list of places to go for that borough.  To give us peace of mind, we decided to fast forward to Brooklyn today and make Clothing Arts our first stop.   So we walked a couple of blocks to the Rockefeller Center transit station and bought two 7-day unlimited ride passes for $32 each—a real bargain considering a single one-way fare costs $3.00.

After exiting the Church Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, we walked a short distance to the address on 14th Avenue where we expected to find a Clothing Arts retail shop in something like a strip mall.  Instead, we were presented with a six-story full-block warehouse type facility with a distinctly industrial air.  And it was encased in scaffolding.  Thinking this might be the back side of the building, we walked around the corner, where we found only loading docks.

Where are the displays?  The mannequins?
Calling the phone number we found for Clothing Arts through Google Maps, we reached the charming Katrina, who enquired whether we had made an appointment.  She explained that this wasn't a retail shop but encouraged us to come on up anyway, providing guidance for locating the building entrance and an elevator that would carry us to their utilitarian fourth floor workspace.

Ken thanks Katrina for her assistance.
When we arrived at their locked door, Katrina buzzed us in and ushered us into what turned out to be the design studio and shipping facility.  A storage room functioned well as a temporary dressing room.  After a couple of test drives to narrow down the size with the best fit, Ken found the perfect pants to foil pickpockets.  With multi-layered security—zippered pockets, reinforced by buttoned tabs or flaps, snaps, and even secondary zippers—these pants would require far more time and effort than a thief can afford to devote to removing your belongings.  Ken promptly transferred everything from his old pants to the new ones, clipped off the tags and wore his new pants out the door, feeling much more secure.

Green-Wood Cemetery
From Clothing Arts, we were just a few blocks from Green-Wood Cemetery, where we wanted to search for a few letterboxes.  Established in 1838, Green-Wood was an early example of a "rural" cemetery, an expansive landscaped burial ground in a park-like setting following a style imported from Europe.  With very little public parkland and public art in the city at the time, Green-Wood grew into a premier tourist destination, attracting more than a half million annual visitors and rivaling Niagara Falls in popularity.

Autumn was in its glory at Green-Wood.
Walking through the curving lanes lined with elegant monuments and stately trees in their autumn splendor, we certainly understood the cemetery's appeal to those early tourists.  In the intervening 150 years, Green-Wood has become the final resting place to many well-known New Yorkers, including toy retailer F.A.O. Schwarz, stained glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, musician Leonard Bernstein, newspaper editor Horace Greeley, and numerous entertainers, inventors, politicians and other famous and infamous locals.  Its more than 360,000 permanent residents are distributed over almost 500 acres, which proved a bit too much for pedestrian exploration.  After finding one of the letterboxes on our list and searching unsuccessfully for another, we left the cemetery and hiked over a few blocks to Batata, a Middle Eastern sandwich shop, for lunch before boarding the F train toward Manhattan.

On the way back to the Doubletree, we stopped to check out tonight's offerings at the Times Square TKTS booth.  Finding one of the shows on our wish list available, we headed over to the Play Express window, where one can buy tickets to Broadway and Off Broadway plays without queueing up in the lengthy lines for tickets to musicals.  Finding the window shuttered, we enquired of some nearby TKTS employees.  After explaining that the window was closed because only Off Broadway plays were on the list tonight, one of the agents ushered us to the front of the line at window #1, where we quickly bought half-price tickets to Clever Little Lies.  

New York blue bloods patrol the streets
Happy to have time to freshen up and relax a bit, we returned to the hotel until dinner time.  A cozy restaurant called Bea got the nod due to its convenient location next door to the theater on W 43rd Street in Hell's Kitchen.  As we were walking toward the restaurant, we encountered heavy police presence on 7th and 8th Avenues.  Barricades lined the sidewalks, and communications and command vehicles were parked at regular intervals.  Though we hadn't heard the news, it was immediately apparent that President Obama must be visiting the city.  What other event would shut down blocks of city streets at rush hour and put hundreds of officers on the street in a concentrated area?  Sure enough, one of New York's finest confirmed our suspicions.  Mr. Obama was scheduled to attend a Democratic Party event in Manhattan this evening.

Ken's dinner at Bea was tasty, but I had the misfortune of inadvertently ordering a mushroom pizza topped with Taleggio cheese, which I now know to avoid.  When the food was delivered to the table, it smelled like someone had just dropped a pile of sweaty gym socks nearby.  Instead, the stinky cheese man had come to visit.  The pungent odor of the Taleggio matched its flavor and the combination overwhelmed and completely defeated my appetite.

Marlo Thomas and Greg Mullavey in Clever Little Lies (photo from
Clever Little Lies, however, restored my positive mood.  The ensemble cast brought to bear the benefit of their extensive acting experience in stage, film and television in this comedy of hidden sins.  Marlo Thomas has top billing but Greg Mullavey, who plays her husband, stole our attention.  As the couple tried to keep their son's wife from learning about his affair, Mr. Mullavey's timing and delivery of both spoken lines and expressive gestures were the best parts of the performance.

Tomorrow we'll try again to check out lower Manhattan—with wallets and cellphones behind their protective shields.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Pair of Aces


A couple of weeks ago we read with great interest an article in USA Today about a show opening on Broadway. New productions debut on a regular basis in the New York theater community, but rarely do these events occasion coverage in mainstream media. What propelled the news of The Gin Game's opening into the wider world was the identity of its stars:  James Earl Jones, age 84, and Cicely Tyson, 90, two acting legends whose combined collection of awards would fill a room or two.

The opportunity to see these two theater icons on the same stage was all the encouragement we needed to start thinking about a short trip to New York. When we realized we hadn't spent any time in the city—just the two of us—in more than six years, the decision was obvious.  Soon we had a plan:  eight days in the Big Apple to take in some theater, which we hoped would include the play that inspired the trip, a bit of urban letterboxing, and checking out some sights we haven't seen in previous trips.

Delta was happy to provide transport—for a slightly more than nominal fee—and deposited us at Laguardia around noon today.  As we've managed to do on a couple of other occasions this year, we again arrived in the downtown area of a major city on a day riddled with waves of street closings for the annual marathon.  Coming off the Queensboro bridge into Manhattan, we had a great marathon vantage point as we crossed over 1st Avenue.

More than 50,000 ran through the five boroughs today. 
A little luck and a savvy driver got us to our Times Square hotel just after 1 p.m.  We were delighted when Lady Luck decided to hang with us a while and nudged the Doubletree desk clerk to assign us a room that was available for early check in.   After depositing our bags in our 35th floor suite, we walked across the street to the TKTS discount ticket booth.  Our good luck fairy was working overtime by this point, as we scored tickets to the 3:00 matinee of The Gin Game.  We even had time to grab some lunch first at Crossroads inside the Marriott Marquis.

If high expectations bring a certain degree of risk along with them, we had set ourselves up for a possible free fall as we entered the full theater.  It should come as no surprise that Ms. Tyson and Mr. Jones did not disappoint. And it certainly was not because of the material they were given. Though it won a Pulitzer Prize during what critics have called a very lean year of theater, The Gin Game isn't much of a play. It depicts a series of interactions and a developing relationship between two lonely residents of a run-down nursing home, as he teaches her to play gin rummy and proves unable to win a game against her.

(Photo by
While they play cards, they occasionally share insight into the lives they led before arriving at this juncture.  Though there is very little in the way of plot, these two masters unveiled the layers of their characters' depths as they peeled back the loneliness that so often strikes at this stage of life.  By the end of the two-hour performance (with one intermission), the appreciative audience, many of whom were as awestruck as we by these brilliant stars, leapt to their feet for a prolonged standing ovation.

Tomorrow we'll head down to Battery Park at Manhattan's southern tip and move north as we work our way through the list of letterboxes and sights on our list.


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