So, I’ve been here before. I mean right here, in the Bronx, in this neighborhood.
During Christmas break my senior year in high school (1982), a couple of the Brothers and maybe a teacher at my high school, St Joe’s (which was founded by the Christian Brothers), took a few seniors on a sort of class trip to New York City. I remember that a maximum of ten seniors could go, and about six did. I went because it was an amazing deal. For about eighty dollars, we had transportation by school van and accommodations for a couple nights, which I think were dorm rooms at Manhattan College (also run by the CBs). I remember lying awake listening to sirens and people talking outside. This was long before the Disneyfication of the city – New York was still a place to be feared.
As early as 1960, 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenue was described by The New York Times as “the ‘worst’ [block] in town”. In that decade, Times Square was depicted in Midnight Cowboy as gritty, dark and desperate, and it got worse in the 1970s and 1980s, as did the crime in the rest of the city. By 1984, an unprecedented 2,300 annual crimes occurred on that single block, of which 460 were serious felonies such as murder and rape. (Wikipedia)
It was a long drive to the city in those days, via NY Route 17 across the southern upstate New York. I got to talk to Brother Joe Radich (I may have the spelling of his last name incorrect) for a long time, and recall thinking that he was a cooler person in real life than when he was a teacher. I think I had him for typing. I still can’t type, even after being a computer programmer for thirty five years. (There were five typos in that sentence alone, three in this one.)
While we were here, we saw a play (I don’t remember the name, but I do remember it was weird – avant garde), a musical (Godspell) and the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Musical Hall. From that, I remember the Rockettes (I was a 17 year old at an all male school, after all), but I also remember the Wurlitzer Organ, and how the sound filled the hall.
A bit about that organ (Why? Because I just looked it up, that’s why.) As it turns out, it was built in the town next to my high school, and was the largest organ ever to leave the plant there. It has TWO consoles – each can run the whole thing – 4178 pipes. Wow.
I discovered my deja vu on my ill-fated mission to find church this morning. I set out with plenty of time for 8:30 am mass at Visitation Parish, which is only six tenths of a mile from here. I got to where I thought the church was, only no church. There was, however Manhattan College’s Leo Engineering Building (That is a quality link right there. Is there no limit to what I’ll do for you? Even more info about Leo Hall: it used to be a Fanny Farmer Candy Factory, and from 1964 to 1997 it had a critical nuclear reactor in it. Critical means it operates just below the level where them neutrons start getting frisky and all sorts of bad things can happen.) I thought (from estimating on Google Maps) that I was much farther away. I suddenly realized that it was the 1 train that we took into Manhattan every day on that trip.
So, how did I manage to get lost (in the sense of not ending up where I wanted to be
(my usual kind of being lost), and not in the sense of not knowing where I am or how to get back to where I knew I was (which seldom happens to me)? Looking back, that is just a really complicated sentence. I suggest meditating before you read it. Actually, I guess I just suggested meditating AFTER your read it. I’d better stop now.
Unfortunately, I did not start out this morning with a complete set of directions in my head. In my head, the directions were: go down the hill, cross the big road, walk one block, take a right and it is at the end of the block. This, as I see now, was perfectly accurate. However, it is insufficiently detailed in the description of “big road”. As I was walking, I interpreted “big road” as “Broadway” , which is indeed a big road – the biggest around – yellow on the map. What I neglected is that I cross over the Major Deegan Expressway (also yellow on the map) BEFORE I get to Broadway. I should’ve turned right after I crossed the MDE bridge. Anyone who has been in a long term relationship knows that these are the kinds of communication assumptions that cause fights. Fortunately, it was just me, so the fight didn’t last too long. (Although I did turn away from myself in bed later in the day when I took a nap, so I have a feeling it’s not quite over yet.)
When I realizzed my mistake, my phone dutifully (and non-condescendingly) told me which way to go, so I quickly headed in the right direction. I’d have been on time to church, except I was waylaid by a road closure due to overhead track work, the very trackwork that George was so excited about yesterday. I arrived three minutes late. That’s OK though, because I’m Catholic, and Catholics are always late. One small problem. The church is closed, permanently. Note, there is no indication of this on Visitation Parish’s (I realize now, defunct) website. There was a sign taped to the door indicating that there was a shuttle to the sister parish (St. John’s) that had left 33 minutes earlier.
The next mass at St. John’s was at 11am (or so I thought), so I shopped for some supplies I needed and headed back up the hill. At 10:35, I headed back down again. I got to St John’s at about 10:55, aaannnnndddd no one was going in, the opposite of which I take to be the usual harbinger of the beginning of a church service. Hmmm… The sign on the front of the building didn’t help much. Mass times were listed as 8: and 1XX3, where X represents a place where the letter fell off. Again, my phone to the rescue – 11:30. The good news was that there was a farmers’ market half a block away. Its first day, just opened. I got cherries, apples, and cilantro – and, I was on time to mass. A little early, even.
P.S. Click on the link for harbinger to hear a really excellent pronunciation of it.