The first time I lived in Manhattan I crashed with a close friend in the East Village on 2nd Street, if that location means anything to you. Though I’d visited New York before, I’d never actually lived there and, needless to say, I was quite excited about the move, supercharged and receptive to a new experience.
I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, the next six months were among the most stimulating and thrilling of my entire life. For one thing, I’d never heard or participated in such intelligent, yet unpretentious, free and easy conversations about Marxism, existential philosophy, Einstein’s theories, Abstract Expressionism and a host of other topics that were common in Eastern universities like Princeton and Columbia but were completely foreign to this young fellow from an isolated, conservative school like Washington State University. For another thing, the women. My God, they were incredible! They were the most independent, stylish, strikingly beautiful, sensuous, and intelligent ladies I’d ever known.
Given all that, one could understand my feeling superior to my former life and the people and relatives I’d grown up with. All my small-town friends and relatives suddenly seemed so narrow-minded, immature and positively hokey.
Alas, my inflated ego was a bit too big and was about to be punctured.
It was Christmas Eve. My friends abruptly left town to spend the weekend with their families in Connecticut and on Long Island and I was left alone in the apartment. But this is Manhattan, I told myself, and the bars and restaurants would certainly be celebrating the holiday.
I caught a cab to one of my favorite clubs in Rockefeller Center. I probably wouldn’t know anyone there, but it was a warm and hospitable little gin mill that overlooked the ice rink and the skaters.
Guess what? It was closed.
I tried another midtown lounge that was always quiet and comfortable. It also was closed.
I finally retreated to the East Village dives I was more familiar with; those places where “everybody knew my name.” I was relieved to find them open, as you’d expect in the “city that never sleeps,” but they were nearly empty except for a handful of people. I ended up in that horseshoe bar where Paul Newman shot a few scenes for some forgotten movie. Just me and the bartender and a few other customers who gazed blankly at the small, inconspicuous TV.
So, feeling rather lonesome in a city of millions, I found myself pondering my mother’s Christmas Eve party and all my “hokey” relatives opening their gifts. I presumed my cousin would play Santa in the family’s Santa Claus suit. I actually salivated at the thought of the pumpkin pie. My uncles and cousins would surely miss me at the poker table. Furthermore, I discovered, and was quite surprised to do so, that I also missed them. I even missed the cigar smoke.
And as I sat in that remote, empty bar in some forgotten corner of the world, I realized that style, good looks, education and most of the other traits through which we usually judge people, have little to do with real love. Rather, real affection involves intrinsic values like trust and respect and commitment that can, in the right situation, be produced by nearly everyone, no matter where we are or what our station in life. Families are built on love and the recognition of kindred spirits – and perhaps that blissful state of mind that allows a pair of deuces to challenge a full house.