by Constance Daley
The American Reporter
St. Simons Island, Ga.
June 21, 2006
GIVE MY REGARDS TO DUFFY SQUARE
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Whoever said there is no such thing as coincidence wasn't in this quiet room this morning. The light touch of the computer keys addressing Amazon.com was the only sound. I was hoping to find a listing for a VHS or DVD video of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" for our Fourth of July entertainment.
As soon as I logged on with only that search in mind, Amazon managed to waylay my effort with temptations equaling Eve and the shiny apple: "Books we think you'll like." They base this assumption on books I've ordered in the past and today's offering was: "This is New York" by E. B. White with a new Introduction by Roger Angell. I had bought Pete Hammill's book, "My Manhattan," as well as A. E. Hotchner's "Elaine's." Amazon's assumptions were hardly a psychic reach.
The excerpt they offered to further flavor the bite of the apple was page 20 and E. B. White was sitting in a stifling hot New York hotel room in midtown Manhattan as he wrote. Here's a glimpse onto the page:
"... 22 blocks from where Rudolph Valentino lay in state, eight blocks from where Nathan Hale was executed, five blocks from the publisher's office where Ernest Hemingway hit Max Eastman on the nose, four miles from where Walk Whitman sat sweating out editorials for the Brooklyn Eagle, thirty-four blocks from the street Willa Cather lived in when she came to New York to write books about Nebraska, one block from where Marcelline used to clown on the boards of the Hippodrome ."
And, at that moment in real time, the phone rang and it was John calling me from Duffy Square, close enough to the place E. B. White was when he wrote for me to say: "Do you realize you're 22 blocks from where Rudolph Valentino lay in state?" And I continued reading from the screen in front of me until John broke in and said, "Whoa, wait a minute, wait a minute. What are you, a virtual Atlas of New York, New York? And who is Marcelline?" Well, I don't know Marcelline, but you do remember the Hippodrome, don't you?"
I asked if he was near the monument to George M. Cohan and he was but, again, construction was going on as a new Ticket Booth was being built to accommodate the horde of humanity. I told him that I was searching for "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and found the E. B. White book. I still had excitement in my voice for the parallels to my own way of thinking that I discovered in E. B. White. He has been my hero ever since he and Strunk published "Elements of Style," a thin little book I keep as bedtime reading.
"And, John," I said, "you are just 13 blocks away from where Harry Thaw shot Stanford White. You know," I told him, "over the girl in the red velvet swing?"
John reminded me that I was excited about "my" New York. John's New York is a city with a whole different take on it. He was born in the borough of the Bronx four miles north of where he stood. I was born a 20-minute subway ride away in the borough of Queens. Our tastes are so different. He called from the Times Square part of town and knew I'd be excited. If he called from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he'd be greeted with my ho hum.
If I tried my hand at analysis, I'd say John likes the accomplishments of people; I like the stories of the same people. I like the how and why of Willa Cather; John likes her stories of Nebraska. I like the gossip around Harry Thaw, Stanford White and the torrid love affair with young and virginal Evelyn Nesbitt; John likes the architecture.
"Stanford White designed the old Madison Square Garden," John offers, and I respond, "The Red Velvet Swing was in his huge "office" in the Tower of the same Garden, and he was shot during dinner in the Roof Garden! Gee, John. Who cares about the bricks and mortar? Real life was going on in that structure."
In the theater, John likes dramas and I like musicals. We both enjoy comedies. In "The New Yorker," I read Talk of the Town and poetry; John reads Articles, Fiction, and the Critics Notebook; we both enjoy the cartoons. In spite of differences, New York is the see all, end all to both of us, where our opinions come together in total agreement when our conversation is in and on restaurants.
And, I'll say again, it's not the brick and mortar, it's the real people we become when we're there. We can't change New York but it changes us back into the way we were.
A minor setback precluded my going this time but it was no surprise when my daughter said Dad should have come home a day earlier. "What's he going to do in New York on a Monday that he didn't do all week?" She just doesn't get it, does she?
Although New York is a place that has everything, it has one more magic thing that keeps you going back: your personal impression of what's waiting for you. Often, John would go into the New York Public Library and I'd slip around back to Bryant Park for some people watching.
Oh, library! Books. That reminds me I must reach Amazon.com and order E. B. White's "Here is New York." It's amazing how Amazon knows exactly what I like to read.