Last week I went back to my hometown of New York City for 3 days to see Bette Midler’s last performance on Broadway in Hello Dolly!.
(Note: Actually, it turned out to be no more than 2 and a ½ days because of a 6 hour delay sitting at the airport in L.A. waiting for the fog, sleet, storm (and likely frogs and pestilence – at this point, you’d believe that, wouldn’t you?) to lift on the east coast.)
There’s an old saying that literally says you can’t go home again, probably based on the title of the famed Thomas Wolfe book about a young writer who pens a best-selling novel about his hometown, and is met with nothing but death threats and rage by the people he once knew for his distorted depiction of them, when he very unwisely decides to return there.
Well, that didn’t happen to me, neither the best-seller nor the anger, which in NYC can happen for no reason whatsoever if you are walking anywhere in the vicinity of Electoral College POTUS Tower.
In fact, I am here to tell you that you very well CAN go home and it can not only fulfill your every expectation but go far beyond them.
– You can get to see your favorite live performer ever once again perform live in the place where you first saw them and they can be every bit as brilliant, and perhaps even more so, than you had ever remembered or imagined.
– You can spend 2 and a ½ days, give or take, navigating bone-chilling, sub-freezing Arctic tundra weather conditions and yet still wonder how you could have ever left town to begin with and consider how much more quickly you want to revisit and/or even move there again.
– You can pay the equivalent of a really good used car to see two live shows and rent a nice (but not) fantastic hotel room for three nights and still brag, believe and recount to anyone who will listen that, in the end, all things considered, you really did get some kind of deal.
And, in fact, all three might even be true.
But you will also, inevitably, experience other things when you go back to the town where you were raised and spend some time, even a mere two and a ½ days, when you are there. In NYC, here’s some of what they were for me:
– The stroll past Electoral College POTUS (okay nee TRUMP) TOWER where I wondered how someone who grew up not only in the same city but borough that I did (Queens), in fact in a neighborhood just 10 minutes away – was allowed to flourish in my hometown. How could all of us have laughed him and his valueless greed off all those decades ago? What were we thinking in allowing him to bribe, cajole, threaten people and build a presumed and/or faux fortune on the backs of many unpaid or sub-paid or illegal workers in exchange for some laughs and shekels and faux eighties glamour?
We say he is the OPPOSITE of the values that every real New Yorker stands for (Note: Okay, it was me who posted that), but is he? Aren’t we just as guilty in a different way for not using our voices before it was too late?
– The aftermath of the fun Italian dinner in the West Village where I find out we’re right down the street from St. Vincent’s Hospital – the place where I last spent a week in the nineties watching one of my closest friends dying of AIDS – along with so many young men – his age and mine.
But as we move closer, I’m told St. Vincent’s is long gone and in its place a lovely yet stone cold (at least that night) memorial park exists with beautiful salutatory proverbs, some benches and endless memories of a time I will never forget but don’t particularly want to remember this well on this night here. A time that one week later I’m still finding it really difficult to shake. It may have taken years to move on, but spend enough moments in your hometown and it’s amazing what moves right back onto your front burner of thought. And stays there.
– The walk through the set of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, I mean, Times Square, at midnight – as bright as the Neon Museum or a nuclear test site – take your pick – where I finally accept that parts of the city have totally and intractably fallen victim to corporatism. This part will never return and generations of young people, many of whom are my current students, will never know a world that isn’t slapped with a Disney insignia, candy brand or their favorite breakfast cereal.
Is this better than the strip bars, hookers, pimps, pickpockets and porn houses in the former Times Square that I knew? Absolutely…NOT. They were part of the real world fun. As a native New York younger person you knew to hold on to your wallet, got a thrill if a hooker or pimp gave you a look to which you were too terrified to respond, and could never make it past the gigantic bouncers with front door duty at the strip bars. As for the porn houses, no young person in 2018 is going to pay for porn (Note: Seriously?), so that’s not even a factor. What is a factor is that there was an authentic ALIVENESS to that world – one more outgrowth of a sub-section of humanity – that they will see only the worst pictures of and yet never truly EXPERIENCE – even from a distance that, truly, was safe. One wonders, what exactly will they look back on years later when they go visit?
Yes – Bette was great. The new musical we lavishly spent too much money to see from orchestra seats, The Band’s Visit, was haunting, original and moving. Food was fantastic and it didn’t even cost a fortune (Note: You have to save money somewhere). As for the people — always good humored in that snide New Yorker hometown kind of way that will always be deeply imbedded in my soul. Willingly or unwilling.
But there is also always a downside to the past that equals the downside of the present. Even my memories of Times Square – where once I recall slipping away from a guy (with some sort of concealed weapon – a knife or gun I believe) who wanted to take my wallet (or worse) thanks to the closing of a subway door.
As we lament the past in the age of T—P it might be good to remember that it wasn’t all good. But as we build up to the future to also know that it wasn’t all bad. It just – was. Time marches on and we do – hopefully WOKE to both.
As Bette continues to entertain us. At least for the foreseeable future.