The Burbs, The Boroughs and 5-Napkin Burgers

While the large majority of my pedestrian travels around the city are either a hop across the street from work to the deli, or a brisk walk or sprint to/from Grand Central to work, I got to enjoy a rare leisurely stroll through Manhattan Monday night.

I get out for two or so company softball games each summer, and with a 7 p.m. start time at Houston and the East River (Er, when did those glittery hi rises go up across the way in Williamsburg? It’d been a long, long while, obviously, since I was in East River Park.), I took advantage of the not-all-that-humid weather and set out on foot.

I swung by our old apartment in GraMurray–a building full of left-of-Marx eccentrics, including a notable photog and a somewhat famous author who enjoys a cigar and a lively Yankees discussion outside the building. It’s been nearly six years since we moved out, but the doorman was a friendly face who, to his credit, remembered my name immediately. We reconnected instantly–dishing about the awe-inspiring duplex our old upstairs neighbor made out of our place, and the various doings and well beings of old friends and neighbors. I was pleased to run into our former next door neighbor, whose primary occupation during the three years we were in the building seemed to be attending pro-left marches, with a little paleontology in the building’s tiny back yard mixed in. I showed them pix of the kiddies; they knew Little G as a baby, and had never met Little Miss C.

There was a boy in the lobby, around Little G’s age. I inevitably started to wonder what it would’ve been like if we stayed in the building instead of bolting for the ‘burbs–even though, with a 600 square foot one bedroom, the debate is pretty moot.

But what if Little G was growing up a city kid–grew his hair long, had schoolmates named Satchel and Wolf, and couldn’t throw a ball so hot, but could name all of the Velvet Underground’s founding members?

Or what if we decamped to Brooklyn, and I had some 45 minute subway ride to work, instead of a 45 minute commuter train?  What if I’d experienced, firsthand, the conflict between the stroller set and the kidless at that new beer garden out in South Slope?

It was the dinner hour, and the deliveries were streaming in at the front desk. I told my old doorman how nice it was to see him, and headed on.

I thought of the day we moved out, when neighbors had coached me as to what the under the table fee was for the doormen who operated the freight elevator for the movers. I had the cash in hand, and our front door pal–a different guy than the one I’d just reconnected with–would not take a dime.

You get the true measure of a doorman not when you’re in the building, when he has to be nice to you, but when you’re moving out, or moved out six years before.

I walked through Stuy Town, where we used the playground constantly in Little G’s early days, as well as the lawn in the middle of the complex. Lukewarm Chardonnay in Sprite bottles for the Monday eve concerts at Stuy, and pizza from Posto. Good times.

Then it was on to the Lower East Side, where I’d lived for a dozen years before married life in GraMurray. Ghosts lurked around every corner–some of them the old Ukrainian ladies in babushkas, who aren’t very well represented in actual flesh and blood along 2nd Avenue anymore.

Besides those hi rises across the way in Cool Brooklynia, much of East River Park was blanketed in artificial turf–covering the dirt, the rocks, the needle that I nearly took in the cheek during full contact ultimate frisbee with some friends and strangers circa 1995. The park was packed with young Manhattanites, many of whom jogged and recreated right up until dark.

Yet some things remain the same: Teens from the Jacob Riis houses holding angry pit bulls at bay. The bathroom at 6th street was still a biohazard. The extraordinary inconvenience of going from East River Park to anywhere else in Manhattan.

After the game, a thorough drubbing at the hands of Deutsche Bank II (can’t even imagine what Deutsche I is like), I hopped a bus at Avenue D and 6th. The M14 positively crawled up D, then C, up to 14th, and west.

At 14th and 1st, an obese man sporting a layer of grime and an open priest’s collar, hoisting a jam-packed bag from, of all places, Victoria’s Secret, climbed on, hands on the steps to steady his shaky entry. After he sat, he looked around the bus for someone to make eye contact with and speak at.

At 14th and 2nd, I saw Finnerty’s, where I’d enjoyed another gambol through Manhattan several months ago.

At 14th and 3rd, I took in the colossal 5 Napkin Burger joint, and wondered what the hell was there before. The KFC? No, I’d just seen that at 2nd Avenue. The dusty little gift shop/toy store/pharmacy? I think so.

I jumped out at 3rd for the 4-5 train, the crowd heading under Food Emporium dressed for a night out, me in my grubby softball duds hoping to get my ass on the 8:52 out of Gotham.

Again, the thought of, what if we’d stayed in the city, popped up, and what if I was–like those annoying billboards along the train lines and highways beckon–Home By Now? What if I actually still knew people, bumped into friends, during my walks around Manhattan, instead of feeling like a visitor each day, which I guess I am? What if that pokey-ass M14 bus was a part of my regular routine–taking Little G and Little Miss C down to East River Park on weekends, then back home again, our travel time inching close to our fun time, instead of strapping them into a midsize SUV?

Forget it. Six years ago, I was ready for a house and a yard and, yes, a spot on the 8:16 hurtling out of the leafy burbs each morn.

Time moves on. We did too.

But it’s nice to know we still have a friend, or two, down in GraMurray.

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1 Response to The Burbs, The Boroughs and 5-Napkin Burgers

  1. Sean says:

    Great post – I’ve had nearly the same experience. We moved from the GraMurray area to Larchmont four years ago and I have no regrets about the decision. But it is weird to occasionally find myself back in the old hood and think ‘what if’…

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