Our apartment was on 82nd Street, between Columbus and Central Park West. It was myself, my sister, Erin, and Joelle who lived together, on the ground floor, down a small set of stairs. I remember a young couple who lived there but we, or I, would only see them in passing.
A couple blocks down, the Natural History Museum. Of course I walked in the park a lot. I would enter on 81st, where the Diana Ross Playground is. Even though they can be very annoying and unreasonable, it’s always comforting when there are a lot of little kids around, and there are a lot of little kids and families on the Upper West Side. People hear Upper West Side and they think it’s a chic place to live. It isn’t really. It’s more of just a family neighborhood. The Upper East is the upscale side.
Walking in the park around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir, the runners passing me by. The ducks on the water. Looking at the cityscapes on all sides, the outlines of the buildings, the great buildings. Momentarily getting lost in The Ramble.
Going to the gym with my sister. In the winter she wore a big black puffy coat, with the hood up, that we called “the black condom.” She didn’t seem to mind too much, if I remember correctly. That’s one of the great things about her — she’s very comfortable with herself. By that point, in her mid-twenties, she had become very comfortable with herself. I always looked up to her anyway because she is my older sister. For a Christmas present, she got me a membership to the Metropolitan Museum, which was right across the park from where we lived. That might be my favorite place in the city. It’s like a giant vault of art and history and peacefulness.
Babysitting for the Sternbergs, for Josh and Rebecca. Picking Becca up from school and taking the crosstown bus back to their apartment on West End Ave, another peaceful place, a peaceful street, due to the fact that there are no businesses on it. They have a wonderful old apartment that the wife inherited from her father who was a physician. Off of the kitchen was a small room where he used to see his patients. Sitting on the couch and watching as an eight year old girl would jump around the living room and get her energy out after school. Becca calling Josh “Joshy” and Josh seeming to get exasperated with everything she said simply because she was his younger sister. I grew a beard during this time and when I finally got rid of it and shaved, Becca told me she liked me much better without it because she liked being able to see my face. No matter what age they are, never underestimate the opinions of girls.
One block further over is Riverside and that strip of park on the water. Walking up it to Grant’s Mausoleum. I remember one sunny day in particular, near sunset, when it felt like I was in Europe, and the sunset felt really bittersweet.
Taking the C to the A to see my friends up in Washington Heights. Taking the C down to Spring Street in Soho. Walking further down, to Wall Street, and being in the canyons with the Bull. When I lived there, they had not yet built a memorial for the World Trade Center. Their absence was a huge presence, like deceased family members. Walking around the old Trinity Church down there, looking at all the old headstones that surround it.
As is the norm for people who live in Manhattan, I avoided Times Square as much as I could. But just below it is another one of my favorite places in the city — the Central Library and Bryant Park. I never once checked out a book; I would just go there to read books that I had bought. And seeing that stretch of green grass behind the library was so pleasing amidst all that gray, and going into it, it gave a better vantage point for looking at and appreciating the buildings.
On one of my birthdays, my sister took me out to a nice dinner near Union Square and seated right in my line of sight was a woman who had been on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition a few years previous. I’ll tell you, it was nice. It reminds me of the couple times I went out to dinner with a woman I was in love with (not in New York.)
As many things as I like about New York, it really is the people I knew there that are the best.
Written by: Benjamin Johnson