City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks

As a little girl growing up in snow-less St. Petersburg, FL, I was always fascinated with “up north” and in particular, New York City. I loved Kay Thompson’s ELOISE books, and dreamt of living at The Plaza Hotel. Any movie set in New York, especially MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, was a big hit with me, and of course I was dying to see a Broadway play. I was in my 30s before I actually made it to New York, and it did not disappoint. Nowadays, I go to New York on business four or five times a year, but I never tire of going. And going at Christmas is especially exciting. This year, I talked Mr. Mary Kay into taking me on a fun trip to NYC for our anniversary. Normally, MMK is not big on doing touristy things. His idea of a great day would be one that included hunting, fishing, golf and tennis. And bourbon. I, on the other hand, am the ultimate tourist. And when I get to New York, I happily turn into a total rube. But since it was an anniversary, he humored me. And we had a great time. We flew up last Thursday and checked into our hotel on Lexington Avenue in midtown Manhattan. Someday, I’ll stay at the Waldorf-Astoria, which is across the street from our hotel, or the Plaza, like Eloise. But this time, we were looking for Marriott points, so Marriott it was. That night my super literary agent Stuart came by in a cab and whisked us off to a fun dinner at a Greek restaurant called Kefi on the upper westside. On Friday, Stuart and I had business meetings with my publisher, and Tom went Christmas shopping. I helpfully pointed out to him that Cartier’s is on the same block of Fifth Avenue as HarperCollins, and Tiffany’s and Bloomingdales were a quick stroll away. Don’t know if he made it to the jewelry stores, but he did manage to find Orvis all by himself. With the meetings over, we went to lunch with my friend Virginia, who is in library sales with Harper. Gin and I hit it off years ago when she invited me to speak at a convention of librarians and we discovered we both love to drink and sing showtunes. At the top of our lungs. In public. We joke that we’re going to record a CD called SONGS YOU BEGGED US NOT TO SING. But it was a very merry lunch where we talked about books and librarians. And showtunes. After lunch, Tom and I toddled down the block to Saks Fifth Avenue, where I was immediately accosted by every cosmetic counter salesclerk in the store. I DO LOVE to have my makeup done, and MMK was very patient and stood by bemused while the Clinique Lady slathered my face with every potion and lotion and spackle known to mankind. She inquired about my “skin regime.” Apparently scrubbing your face with Irish Spring in the morning does not a “regime” make. She tried to educate me, but I’m afraid I’m hopeless. Besides, what exactly is a “free radical?” In the end, I bought some new eyeshadows and mascara, and a green eyeliner which is my version of exotic. After our purchases, we strolled on. As we were passing the Nars counter, a lady of a certain age snaked out an arm and grabbed me. “A little magic under your eyes?” she asked.

“Pardon?” “Your eyes,” she cooed. “We have something for those bags of yours.” I blinked.

“But, I just had my makeup done.” She leaned in, and gave me a disapproving once-over. “They put all that makeup on you, with no eye cream?” I swore the Clinique Lady had put eye cream on me. But the Nars lady was not convinced. “Tsk-Tsk,” she tsk-tsked. “They don’t train them anymore,” she said, jerking her head in the direction of the Clinique counter. “What I forgot already they don’t know.” Well, how could I argue, since she put it that way? She dabbed the eye cream on one eye to show me the startling difference. What was startling was that I couldn’t SEE any difference. Still, I begged her to dab it under the other eye–just in case somebody else could, I did not want to walk around Manhattan looking whoppy-jawed, as my grandma would say. The Nars lady was clearly disappointed, but I did not make a purchase from her, and my baggy eyes and my husband and I strolled onward.

Since we had tickets to see BYE BYE BIRDIE for a 7pm curtain time, we left the hotel early to allow time to walk over to Rockefeller Center and see the Christmas tree. The crowds were enormous, the streets jammed with families and folks gawking at the tree, and the skating rink a sea of skaters. It was all very Christmassy. After that, we found a little bar near the theatre, and settled in for a pre-show drink. If you’re seeing a show this winter, I recommend the bar in the Iriquois Hotel. The drinks are generous, and they even have a free antipasto buffet to hold you over til after the show. Sadly, the show somehow lacked energy that night. I’d loved the movie as a kid, and I actually own the DVD, but this cast seemed to need some steroids. The actor who played Conrad Birdie, who is, after all, supposed to channel Elvis Presley, was barely out of puberty and actually resembled Doogie Howser more than the King. Although I won’t deny John Stamos, who played the Dick Van Dyke part, was very easy on the eyes. Apres-theatre–doncha just love it when I get all big city and start talking all frenchified?–we had dinner at a nice French restaurant called Triomphe.

When we got ready to leave the hotel Saturday morning, it was raining, and the rain quickly turned to snow. But these were not Hollywood-type puffy, Bing Crosby type snowflakes. No. These were slutty, sloggy, slushy snow-type product flakes. But we had our umbrellas, and we pressed onwards. We walked down Fifth Avenue for blocks and blocks, taking in the fun department store windows, gawking at the crowds, and trying vainly to look cosmopolitan. We eventually switched over to Madison Avenue, and at 72nd Street, I tried to act surprised that we’d stumbled across the Ralph Lauren mansion/store. Mr. MMK was not fooled by this ruse, but he did gamely allow himself to be dragged inside. The Ralph Lauren mansion is high church WASP/Prep/English Gentlemen’s Club, and at Christmas it is decorated with miles of tartan wool bunting, and the sterling silver doo-dads and crystal whim-diddies seem to gleam and wink and say…”You are a poser and you will never be worthy of owning me.” Posers that we were, alas, we did not purchase the buttery leather hand-stitched butler’s tray for $2,450 which caught our collective fancy. At one point, we stationed ourselves in front of a Christmas tree in a bedroom setting, and another shopper agreed to take our photograph, volunteering that on a previous year she’d posed for a similar photo, which she then sent out as her Christmas card. Now why didn’t I think of that? Have a family picture snapped at the Ralph Lauren mansion so that distant friends and relatives might be duped into thinking we lived amongst such splendid trappings??? The resulting photo was blurry, otherwise I’d use it for next year’s author pic.

Leaving Ralph, the snrain got unbearable, so we finally took a cab the ten more blocks to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I love this museum, partly because of its awesome exhibits, but also partly because I loved the book FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER. As we were walking in, I could tell from the look on MMK’s face that he was mentally checking the Met off his bucket list. He gamely viewed the Neapolitan creche, and he silently traipsed through the exhibit of American paintings, but after an hour of that, he clearly felt that he’d had all the culture he needed for one day. We strolled part of the way, but when we noticed that our shoes and pants were soaked up to our knees, we surrendered and caught a cab back to the hotel.

Late in the day my junkbuddy Beth phoned to implore us to join her and some friends at Michael’s, a swanky restaurant on 55th Street. The place is sort of a clubhouse for the publishing and media world, and on two previous visits with my editor, I’d spotted Barbara Walters, and then, in an unprecedented coup, I saw Anna Wintour sans sunglasses. So we had some nice adult beverages, and then it was on to dinner. At Patsy’s. Being the rube that I am, I’d done some reading up on Patsy’s, and discovered that it was supposedly Frank Sinatra’s favorite restaurant.
It certainly had the requisite number of aging Italian waiters. Our waiter helpfully showed us Frank’s favorite table, shared Frank’s favorite menu items, and volunteered that when Frank came in after a show, you didn’t close the restaurant down until Frank was ready to go home, which might not be until 3 or 4 a.m. I had the veal chop, which was enormous. And tasty. We didn’t close the joint down at 3 a.m. but it was certainly a great evening. And as we walked back to our hotel, arm in arm in the glow of Manhattan at Christmas, not to mention many adult beverages, we deceived ourselves into thinking we were very chic.

Sunday morning, we took one last stroll down Fifth Avenue, to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, for Sunday Mass, which was beautiful and spiritual and just the right way to cap off a wonderful weekend and get us in the right kind of Christmas spirit. And then we went to one last chic deli breakfast, where MMK had his third bagel with salmon of the weekend, and I had a six-dollar bowl of steam-table oatmeal that closely resembled wallpaper paste. Ah, the memories!

4 thoughts on “City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks”

  1. Oh Mary Kay, I am so envious… Congratulations on your anniversary. What a wonderful way to celebrate. When you wrote over the weekend about what you had done and where you had been, it sounded like so much fun.

    I too, grew up reading and loving Eloise – and will share her with my granddaughter that was born this year. I grew up in Colorado, so I, like you grew up with the dreams of staying at the Plaza, shopping at Macy's, FAO Schwarz and seeing the Thanksgiving Day parade. Seeing "Barefoot in the Park" and other movies that featured the city, Rockefeller Center and the museums TV only enhanced these dreams. I haven't figured out for sure how I would handle staying in the Plaza and the Waldorf-Astoria in one short trip so that we could say we stayed at both —-but I am sure Marriott points will be the guiding force – so we will probably just enjoy from afar. There was nothing like growing up with the wonderful movies like "White Christmas" and icons like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, was there. I am so glad that so many of your dreams came true with this truly "fun" trip. Your husband sounds a bit like mine — patient but not interested in the least in putting on airs or being exposed to too much culture!! Don't we love them. Your final comment about ending the trip with Mass at St. Patrick's really did sound like a part of my dreams. As a Catholic, I don't think there are too many more churches in the United States that people pray that they will be able to see.

    Sounds like so many of your dreams were fulfilled. Perhaps MMK did take the hint and you will find a little blue box with a white ribbon under the tree from Santa.

    Merry Christmas and Happy Anniversary!!!

    Cindy Sivula

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