Free Shakespeare in the Park

 

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On a sweltering Tuesday in August, in my first full summer as a New York City resident, I was nervous and excited about the prospect of obtaining free tickets to A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The day in 1982 was hazy, and the great lawn was full of picnickers all with numbers for a place in line. I was number 26. I had gotten there so early, maybe 7 AM to ensure my audience participation. And, I was far from the first one in line. But with a coffee and an H&H bagel for breakfast, I felt well-prepared. Hour after hour of baking in the sun, I was a lucky recipient of two tickets to the show.

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The production was magnificent. Directed by James Lapine, a name I wouldn’t recognize until after the first production of Into the Woods, Shakespeare’s mystical comedy was a seamless theater piece. Before the show I spotted Kevin Kline among other stars in the V.I.P. section. As a young aspiring actress, I felt part of something.   Christine Baranski was spot on as a comedic actress. William Hurt was dreamy.

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35 years later, Larry, my husband, and I celebrated our 20th anniversary seeing the latest production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Another wonderful evening of theater, this time with the wonderful singing voice of Marcelle Davies-Lashley. Although neither Larry nor I had ever heard of her before, we’ll be following her now. And, though the entire cast did a great job, our notable favorites were the indomitable Annaleigh Ashford, plus Danny Burstein and Kristine Neilsen.

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It was so much fun to share the evening with Larry. Between our work, our parents, our kid, and life’s needs, we don’t go out even half as much as we did twenty years ago. We very much felt like a part of something as as audience members, as New Yorkers, a supporters of Free Shakespeare in the Park, and as a couple. It’s more fun to laugh together. And, for that I appreciate a good night’s theater under the stars.

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(All images are from www searches)

 

I am Cautious

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I am cautious. I ride a low bike so that when I stop my feet reach the ground. This is reminiscent of my old banana seat bicycle in the 70’s with the purple handle bar streamers. It was comfortable because of its lack of height and its smooth, plastic seat. I was a proud rider on the streets of Haddontown, Kresson Heights, Brookfield and Woodcrest, riding my modern bike in my bright red keds.

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This past week I braved the New York Streets to take my bike out for the third time this summer. I was halfway to my destination, Central Park, when I realized the traffic was too thick. Cars and trucks were double parked. I am not that adventurous. I am cautious. So, at Third Avenue I turned around and headed for the promenade on the East River. When I get to the park I ride to the crosswalk because I can avoid riding up on the curb. I like a flat ride, no bumps. That’s not easy in New York, so I do what I can.

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It wasn’t very crowded. It was Tuesday, and some had just started back to work, while others were just getting back from their Labor Day getaways. I rode as if I were a child, gleeful to have the promenade virtually to myself. I ring my high-pitched bell when the few people walking are four wide and there’s no place for me to go. They part and I move on, happy I didn’t have to stop. I am in heaven. There’s something so sweet about moving in space, especially when I know at any given moment my feet can touch the ground.

 

The Kindness Con

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Last week I spent the day in Central Park to see the Pope. The day was beautiful. It felt like an early Autumn Day, sunny with a bit of wind, low humidity, but not too cool. I love Central Park, so giving up a day to stand in lines to join a crowd of 80,000 did not really seem like a sacrifice.

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I went with a friend. Given our busy lives this was a rare occasion to spend quality time together. We stood in line for a couple of hours before reaching the security check point at the park entrance at Columbus Circle. During that time we spoke with a group of moms from Queens, a couple from the Bronx, girlfriends from China, and faithful individuals from the tri-state area. The energy was positive. There was glee in the air, and it was infectious.

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When we finally made it into the park we went were directed to The South Drive. It looked like the front line was already filled, but we found a prized position in-between a mother-daughter team in the front, peeking out between their shoulders.

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Swiftly the rows behind us filled out. There was some wiggle room, but not much. For the most part there were lovely people around us. There was a large group to our right sitting and picnicking. There was a young mother and father with their 5-month old. There was a technology professor who brought his mother. And there was a father and his son. The father was around 65 or so, his son in his mid-30s.

They had a plan. First, divide and conquer. The son, I didn’t get his name, sidled up to us to show us pictures from his phone. This is after he played the same con with the couple behind us. Now he was next to us, rather than two rows behind where he started. We didn’t ask to see the photos, nor did we care about his arbitrary relatives, but that was his M.O. At some point after the son made his way next to us I went to the bathroom.  I knew I’d have to pay for the coffee earlier. So I stood in a long line for a port-a-potty.

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There were a couple of guys in line, a teacher from Yonkers and a homeland security off-duty officer from Texas. Good conversation made the line move quickly. Though, when I got back I barely had room to stand. The dad, I didn’t get his name either, started a campaign to move into my spot, telling those around him that my bag, which I used as a space holder, was really large and took two places. It didn’t. I found my sandy bag underneath a stroller and I had to squeeze to get in, angling to reach my bag. At this point the dad was playing with a baby, volunteering to hold her so he could be up front. Then the mother of the professor started getting faint and he leapt to help her, wrangling a closer spot. There were already four of us assisting her. He was oh, so helpful. With each act of good will he moved one row closer  to the front. The two in front of us had to tell him to move from their spot. The mother in front of us went to nap since she had worked all night, and his concern for her was amazing. “Is she okay? I hope she’s okay, I’d hate her to miss the pope.” To his daughter, do you want to check on her? I’ll hold your space.” He was three people away from her.

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His son was quiet now that he was as close to the front as possible, but he kept working the crowd, hoping his kindness and concern would pay off. When the faint mother was ready to stand up hours later, he stretched in front of me to “help” her.

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And, when I said to him, “Stay where you are. You’re not fooling anyone.”

He came back with, “Calm down. Take it easy. We’re all in this together. We’re all here for the same reason.“

Smiling at those around him with a knowing nod, as if I was the crazy one. At one point he repeated, “We’re all here for the same reason.”

To which I replied in earnest, “You’re giving me a great opportunity to test my spirituality.”  The father and son were incredibly annoying, but everyone else gave us renewed faith in humanity.

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And then the Pope drove by quickly, yet with aplomb. It was a wonderful moment. we were able to get the mother & her baby stood in front, sans the self-perceived, good samaritan. From there we made our way through the park, no one in sight. It was glorious.

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A Six-Year Old State of Mind

When I entered the first grade at Stafford Elementary there were too many students for the two classrooms. I was assigned to an extra class, which was temporarily located in the southeast corner of the all-purpose auditorium, the exact location where they display the book sale in the Spring. The teacher, a mean spirited woman, whose name escapes me, derived her sense of power by placing me in the corner.

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I would laugh uncontrollably with Robin Reed, a beautiful, tall girl with large green eyes. We would just look at each other and start laughing. However, my laugh, for reasons unknown to me would set off the teacher. And, I alone would have to sit in the corner, having been shamed in front of my classmates. I thought this completely unfair. As a six-year-old fairness meant a great deal to me. Why was I sent to the corner, and Robin could stay at her desk learning how Dick and Jane were getting on? My back was to the class so I’d miss the lessons and get behind. One unfairness on top of another. Perhaps it was this experience that wed me to proper rules. This fabricated black & white idealism.

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Today I was in Central Park on a run. I was going the way of traffic, far on my right on the Bridle Path. I like the soft earth under my New Balance even though I always end up with small stones and sand that has to be emptied. It was late morning, and with the heat there weren’t many runners out. And, yet, from time to time a runner would come at me on my lone path, on their wrong side of the path. I get mad at them. I hold my ground running along, certain of my right to be where I am. But I am filled with righteousness, and a touch of malice.

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Since I run because it gives me pleasure, my holier-than-thou attitude does not lend itself to enjoyment. In fact, I allow those unwitting runners to get in the way of my satisfaction. So, I started to ask myself where these thoughts may have originated. And first grade came to mind. My idea of what’s correct and fair was compromised. I held onto my notion of right and wrong as a defense. It’s time to let it go. I needn’t think mean thoughts for runners who are going where they want to go. There is room enough for all of us. Well, I’m not quite there yet. But I’ll work on it with each subsequent run.

Addendum:

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After a month of torture from that First grade teacher, the class got moved to the old art room, and Mrs. Schlosberg became our teacher for the rest of the school year. She was kind, and thoroughly supportive. I even won a poster of Cambell’s Soup as an outstanding student award. It was a great redemptive prize. I will always be grateful to her. And in the end, first grade worked out. I made it to second, and so on.

Wonderful Central Park

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It’s 6.2 miles around the Central Park loop. On a good running day I’ll run to the entrance to the Park Drive at 90th Street, jog around the park and run back, an 8-mile run. That doesn’t happen too often. I’m more apt to do a three-mile run to the park, around the reservoir or around the bridal path surrounding the reservoir, then back home again. I like that run. There are beautiful views of the city, some people watching, and the ground is soft.

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But, for now, as I train for a half-marathon, which I may or may not run, I am working on longer runs, making the loop a better choice. As I cross Fifth Avenue to join the other joggers, always on the drive, I pass a bevvy of tourists. They have come from the museums with selfies-on-the-reservoir as their next objective. I can get frustrated as they block the path, oblivious of native New Yorkers trying to get by.

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When I finally pass the tourists I go down a small slope and move towards 96th Street with a playground on my right and lush trees on my left. I veer to my left passing a field to my right and distant tennis courts to my left. Soon I pass the 103rd Street by-pass, which is a short cut to the west side, eradicating the two hills to come. I fuel myself with positive thinking since I feel good that I’m going the tougher route.

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Once I pass 103rd Street, the road zigzags past the Lasker Pool & Rink, the North Woods, and the Meer. By that time I am approaching the hill. Lesser cyclists stop or mimic the Engine that Could. When I ride my bike, I use self-talk of encouragement to get up that hill. “You can do it, Janet.” You’ve got it.” Just one foot in front of the other.” The pro cyclists speed righteously up the hill, indicating their athletic prowess. And, just when I think I’ve made it, there’s another slope towards the top. This last time, I went up another hill where there’s a 1/5 mile track. I did that just to prove to myself I conquered the hills. From there I go down hill. It’s a gentle decline, nothing too steep. I pass a pretty pond with a bridge and a scenic willow tree.

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Then I run for ½ mile at which point I’m at the 90th Street entrance on Central park West. It’s not quite half way, but it feels like it to me. To my left is the reservoir. Once I pass that there’s the great lawn. These days there’s a long line of theatergoers staking their claim to see Cymbeline at the Delacorte Theater. As I continue I can see the New York Historical Society peeking through the trees to the west. Next is the lake where you can rent canoes and row boats. But within a blink I’ve already passed Strawberry Fields and the crowds of tourists with their umbrella carrying leaders.

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Unknown-4Sheep’s Meadow with the picnickers, and frisbee players is next on the left with the reopened Tavern on the Green to my right. From there I can smell Horse Manure as I pass the Handsome Cabs and their passengers. I don’t hate the odor, but it’s distinctive. By the time that ends, I’ve passed the carousel followed by the Boat House. I now have less than a mile in the park, yet by now I am hungry for milestones for the end of this run. There’s a hill, actually not quite a hill, but an ascent of some degree. But as I run through that I treasure the sight of the Still Hunt, the cougar sculpture on a cliff.   And then there’s Cleopatra’s Needle just as The Metropolitan Museum rises on the east. I am simply relieved. I have a quarter mile to go in the park and that makes me giddy.

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I fall in love with the city and Central Park even while I push myself at West 72nd Street and East 68th Street.   I get tired there. I want to quit. I think about walking away from this. I need to think of walking away. Having an exit clause helps me to finish. I don’t do as well when I feel like I have no choice. Knowing I can walk away gives me the freedom to choose to keep running. That is a freedom I so need, and so appreciate.

I end where I began, East 90th Street, across from The Cooper Hewitt Museum. I turn south to 88th Street to run straight to the East River, jogging in place when I’m stuck at a light. On my steps I stretch. Breathing heavily, I think, “I did it!”

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Walking on

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If I’m not aware what I’m feeling, I become acutely aware when I start walking the city. Walking through beautiful Central Park on my way to a morning appointment a runner came towards me. As far as I was concerned she was going against the clearly marked directions on the pavement. I held my ground, and when I kept walking towards her, righteously indignant about following the markers, she barely moved to get around me, whispering, “Fuck you.” I wasn’t sure I heard her right. But she was a fast runner and she was well past me when I started to think of replies. My first thought, was, “Have a nice day.” Like I said, I was feeling righteous, and I thought my fake kindness served my feelings well. Sometimes I can just stew over a simple incident like that. But it was a beautiful morning, and I had gotten a rare early start.

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Then I was crossing 72nd Street, it was my light, but a cyclist tore down the road. He waved at me, indicating that he’d go around me, and I smiled back. A lovely New York moment. I forgot my self-righteousness after that. I find it amazing that a mis-matched moment can embroil me, but an act of kindness lifts me to a better place.

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This happens a lot as I walk or jog public areas. Sometimes someone takes up the whole sidewalk. He or she unconsciously walks in the middle so no one can get by. More often than not, I get irate, as if it’s my private sidewalk and I take it personally, silently cursing them out.

I went for a short jog this afternoon, but school was letting out, and, again, I got angry at the parents and caregivers who straddled the sidewalk.  Funny how I love to walk, yet I can get worked up over minor inconveniences. Perhaps my walks give me a chance to move through my emotional repertoire. An inner drama played out on the streets of New York.

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Something Different

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I can be a solitary person. I like my alone time. I like to figure things out on my own and I like doing things by myself. But I learned something new about myself today while running my first race in awhile. I resist change. In the past I was happy to be a solo runner. I am a very slow runner, mindful of my age and the wear and tear my body has endured. I was pleased to be running at all, and it took me a couple of years to run even one race.   Then I ran one run, uncertain of the shouts and cheers the volunteers provided. They meant well, but I liked going at my own pace, listening to a book or a podcast, enjoying beautiful Central Park.

Today for the first time I ran with a partner. Zena, my husband Larry’s cousin, asked if I would meet her to run, and I said I would. She has been a wonderfully encouraging supporter of my running. She runs in Chicago, as well as around the world when she’s traveling for work. So today I ran alongside her. We talked, and she asked how I felt about run/walking. My friend Jeannette, another supporter and avid runner suggested it last week, but I said I wasn’t sure. Clearly they both knew something I didn’t.

The four-mile run today was set to Zena’s clock so we could run nine minutes and walk one minute. I was afraid that if I stopped running I wouldn’t want to start again. But it was a great way to pace the run and feel rejuvenated and motivated. I have always thought myself someone who is open to change, but today seemed more of an exception than the rule. I really enjoyed having a running partner, and I liked the walk run process. I’ll be doing it again. Plus, I may need a good running trainer. As much as I like to do things myself, getting proper support is invaluable. Or so I recognized today.

So, between Zena & Jeannette, my running support, and Larry, as well as our friend, Justine, my cheering squad, along with our dogs, Lucy & Nyah, this run was truly delightful.

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