Back in History: Walking the Land

Manhattan as it was when the Dutch arrived.

Green Manhattan as the Dutch saw it.

And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world.  The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald

The six-lane highway is excessively traveled. The highway is not particularly lengthy. It leads a traveler through small densely populated towns and ends at the river. The tunnel is the only option if a commuter wants to continue his/her travels.

I am a regular on a bus which uses the aforementioned route. The bus I am a passenger on typically gets to the river and tunnel area around 6:25 A.M.

At this time of year, the sun has been up for a few minutes by that hour. In fact, the sun is high enough in the sky so that it is visible above the buildings which are clearly visible across the river.

I look out across that river at the crowded populated land.

The land I refer to is Manhattan, and the tunnel is the Lincoln Tunnel.

I’ve lived in the New York/New Jersey area for close to 20 years now. Yet, I still feel my heart race when I get to Manhattan. I love the energy, the pace, and the possibility.

When I see Manhattan in the early morning light, I feel a sense of wonder. While I know anything can happen on any day, my wonder goes beyond that.

I’m a history buff.

I go through phases where I read 1000’s of pages about a particular place or era and the people that populated that place and time. One such obsession was the Civil War. I read about the major battles –Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, etc.  and of the distinguished people – Lee, Grant, Lincoln – of the time period.

Another such obsession was New York City history. I read about Boss Tweed, Vanderbilt, Horace Greely, The Five Points, Central Park, Times Square, Triangle Factory Fire, Building of the Subway, and other people, places, and historical events that New York is known for.

My new phase is the Revolutionary War and the early history of America – any recommendations? I recently finished Revolutionary Summer and am currently reading Founding Brothers. Both books are by Joseph J. Ellis.

As I go through these periods, I don’t care about specific dates though I do have a good memory for such things. What I do care about are the people that make up history.  I wonder what was going through their minds, how did they view the world, what prompted them to act as they did, and did they know they were creating history.

My goal has been to understand and sense not only what was happening at the time (from multiple angles) but what people were thinking and feeling.

I love the energy and hyperkinetic activity that is present day Manhattan.

Yet, I wonder what Manhattan was like during the Revolutionary War era?

There were no Starbucks or CVS or Duane Reade. One could not tell where he/she was by recognizing the closest skyscraper.

Manhattan was green and mountainous. The terrain was rough. Unconquered and untouched.

If I could,  I would step back in time like Simon Morley in Jack Finney’s Time and Again  (he went to the late 1800’s). However, I would go back further maybe to the 1700’s or when the Dutch first landed. I’d walk that land.

If I look hard enough through the bus window each morning, the buildings fall away and I can almost see that Manhattan of old.

This was a Pizza Hut
Now it’s all covered with daisies
you got it, you got it.

‘Talking Heads’

Check out the video:

No Small Children

“How many kids do you want to have?”

“I want to have four kids.”

“You know, I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, this child will be our first, and we are already in our mid 30’s. Well, you are at least.”


“So, I just don’t think having four kids is realistic. The timing is not right. You’d have to pop ‘em out one right after the other.”

I distinctly remember this conversation. My wife and I were strolling through Riverside Park in Manhattan. It was a cool Fall afternoon. My wife’s baby bump was coming through (she was due in April). It was not the first conversation we had had about children. However, it was different. The world did not move at our pace, and some of what we wanted was not going to come to pass. Our joy knew limits.

I have read many posts about parents gearing for the new school year. There have been posts about school supplies (I have learned how moms get crazy about these, including Mrs. MMK), teachers, classmates, bus routes, etc. Most of the posts have been a bit sad as people have noted their joy for the ease of summer and are concerned with the grind of a school year. However, there is a resignation and appreciation for school as well. And it’s not just because parents don’t have to figure out another way to entertain their children.

Anyway, the posts that have most struck me are those from moms whose children are starting kindergarten. They have unanimously focused on tears. The tears shed are by the parents. As I read these articles, I felt sorry for these parents. Why are they getting so sentimental and weepy? You see, my younger son is starting kindergarten this week. I can guarantee you that this parent won’t shed tears.

Why should I shed tears? SJ is ready for kindergarten. I’m sure there will be some issues with transition. However, that will occur because he has to find his comfort level. Yet, I have seen his skills grow, and I am convinced he will revel in gaining new knowledge. He will enjoy being part of a bigger class (especially if there are more boys than in his previous pre-k classes). So, why should I be weepy?

I’m not weepy. But, I am sentimental. With both our children now in the education system, it’s as if we are not a young family. There are no little kids at home. My children are getting older.  I don’t miss late nights, feedings, burpings, etc. However, children keep us young. I’m getting older too.

A little while after SJ was born my wife starting dropping hints that she might be interested in having a third child. I wasn’t interested. I don’t remember the specific reasons – they were the typical justifications.  She was not adamant, and the moment passed. Later, I was the one dropping hints. She wasn’t interested, and I was not adamant.  As an older couple, we did not have time to dally. The time passed and two children are what we are blessed to have.

So, as SJ heads off to kindergarten, I am proud of him. And a little sad. I am confident that it will be a great experience for him. I look forward to seeing him learn and grow. However, I can’t help but feeling some sense of nostalgia in recognizing that my youngest child is moving on, leaving no little ones behind him.


Do you ever look at the real estate section?  Nearly every classified listing of a property notes that it is spacious. The property could be next to a dump, an after hours club, or a prison but if it has space then well, you have to consider it. We all want space. I need my space – don’t get too close.  Space – the final frontier.  Give me space.

My wife’s elderly aunt is, unfortunately, unable to care for herself. She is in a home and seems happy there. The aunt, who is in her 90’s, lost her husband last Spring.  The couple, who met at a dance when they were in their late 40’s, was married for nearly 40 years.  For their whole lives as a couple, they shared a studio apartment in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. They knew the doormen and raved about how wonderful they were every time the subject was remotely broached. These same doormen became surrogate caretakers as the couple grew more frail.

While they were past having kids, the couple took great joy in their families including their nieces and nephews. Both of them, however, shared a true love and passion for Manhattan. They prided themselves on walking and went everywhere in the city.  Along their travails, the couple picked up a lot of stuff – programs from Rangers games, restaurant menus, and newspaper clippings. They were collectors – scrapbooks, letters, pictures – you get the idea. Well, remember, they were in a studio which even an over-zealous real estate agent would not describe as spacious (prime location would have to suffice).  So, the small studio seemed smaller due to the clutter that comes from a hoarder in a small space.  My wife and other family members have been painstakingly going through the many collections struggling to decide what to save and what to throw away.  It has been an emotional journey.

So while many of us pine for more space – an addition would be so nice – for our various gadgets and things, this elderly couple is one to think on. They had a small space with way too much stuff.  However more importantly, they never complained about their not so spacious apartment because it had enough room for each other. Memo to self: space for others is the most important space and don’t save the old bills.