On grey Saturdays, snatches of city weekends return to me that even now are less likely to come from my own years than from my sense of in-between scenes in Annie Hall-era Woody Allen or Kramer Vs. Kramer—movies that seemed grownup and urban when I was not—or from when my aunt and uncle lived off Connecticut Avenue, and returning with my parents to our suburban house I carried not the three a.m. sirens from the fire station across the alley or the sweet and sour and stir fry vented from the Chinese restaurant, or the roaches, or the earwigs, but rising late to pancakes made from scratch, and a stroll to the National Zoo, all in a day; and after, when someone asked what then, if we dithered, and well into autumn defaulted to ice cream, we dithered because so much remained conceivable.
The camera pans across friends or a couple animatedly finishing lunch in a coffee shop window, or the shot is a lock-off inviting us to settle into a parlor floor living room for the afternoon that has passed, or it is a tracking shot back across Central Park at a pace that in real life would vex me to incoherence unless I was helping along a toddler, which, in the movie, I am delighted to do. The weather cannot be so fine that outdoor activity becomes imperative; in the overcast light, no shadows point out how far four o’clock has come from eleven. Nor does the day drive with rain or snow. We might stay in, might as well go out.
These are days we walk to, no traffic to be jammed in, no train to miss or wait for, unless the wait is on a platform whose buskers we agree should be stars, or a platform with a view of the district where soon we will be in theatre seats, and of office towers in which all the cubicles are dark.
We may be any combination of friends, lovers, or spouses; we are more than one and likely six or fewer. We don’t run out of things to say. We live in apartments. We have no lawns, or mowers, or leaf-blowers. Our neighborhood might be an Upper West Side not yet overrun with ATMs, or Cobble Hill when only those who lived there knew its name, or Seattle before Microsoft or Brussels before the EU. We dread our neighborhood’s appearance in the Times’ “If You’re Thinking Of Living In” section. We are likely in a city of a half a million or more; on all sides, or at the far end of our leafy block, the currents continue, in cars, on foot, with strollers that, from our distance, get in nobody’s way. We aren’t new arrivals; dozens of things we’ve done push subway headlights through dusty reminiscence to bright marquees, an era past. But today we are here.
Photo: The Lake, Central Park, from near West 76th Street, November 2008 | Sarah Malone.