Miracle on 96th Street

New York is a city of coincidence and chance, so much so that, “Only in New York!” lands with the weight of an obvious cliche. It’s a city of 8.5 million people, but the one who calls the number on your runaway dog’s tag just happens to be from your hometown. Only in New York! You’re pictured in the background of a news story for three seconds and someone recognizes you from it the next day. Only in New York!

It’s not uncommon to see to old friends run into each other on the train, delightedly catch up on years of absence, and part again a few stops later. I was once a third wheel to a Street Meet (another common site of chance encounters) between a colleague and their friend who’d become a Broadway actor. I moved to shake the Fancy Actor’s hand, only to realize I was pressing the packet of dental floss that had been in my pocket into their palm. (I may be prone to minor social faux pas, but I have great dental hygiene. “Oh, that Lydia.” they’ll say. “Always leading with her best tooth forward.”)

I think this is part of why New York is a cultural fascination for so many; it always seems to be teeming with serendipitous potential. Some of this magic must have rubbed the rust off my cynical soul because when Daniel lost his keys last week, I found myself parroting my own Only in New York aphorisms: All good things in all good time! Things have a way of coming back to us!

Daniel had taken Marcy on a run through Central Park, following the same path we take her down at least three times a day. Riding the elevator back up, he realized the keys were missing. The apartment keys, the mail keys, the building fob, the keys for the bike lock… all of them gone, likely jostled out of an unzipped pocket while running.

We retraced the run. No keys. We split up and looked again. Still nothing. We checked benches and tables, trash cans (you never know!), water fountains, fence posts, in short, every plausible spot a passerby may have tossed them. No luck. Daniel called our local precinct. Nothing there; but there was still the lost and found at the Central Park precinct.

By this point my peppy recitations about the magic of New York had run dry for Daniel, although I’m not sure he ever really believed those keys were coming back. It was very improbable that a passing tourist would pick up a pile of keys, Google the Central Park lost and found, then hike more than a mile to deliver them. It was Saturday. It was cold. The keys were gone.

I wasn’t giving up. All good things in all good time! Those keys were coming back! On to the Central Park Lost and Found! As it turns out, there is an entire section of the Lost and Found exclusively for recovered keys. It’s a cardboard box, the kind you’d expect to find free kittens nestled in. The contents of the box look like the crowded mouth of a teenager sporting new orthodontia. Twisting piles of metal, keychains, car fobs, and not one of them belonged to us.

New York is big, and bright, and beautiful, and sometimes you feel swept up in its magnetic energy. It’s a place where you find yourself believing that anything is possible and magic is real. But it’s also just a place full of people, like every other place full of people. Sometimes it’s a place where you lose things. As often as you hear stories of chance reunions, you hear about another* marriage proposal gone awry after the diamond engagement ring was accidentally dropped into a sewer. (*yes, another. This exact scenario is bizarrely common here.)

Sometimes, you must make peace with the things you have lost and move on. New keys can be make, bike locks can be cut. It’s an inconvenience, but not a tragedy.

The other day, Dan was leaving the park with Marcy. There was a groundskeeper scooting around in a golf cart. “What would you do,” Dan called, “if you found a set of keys?”

The man prevaricates. “Well, what do they look like?”

A brief description, then some rustling in the back of the golf cart.

And there they are. Daniel’s keys.

Only in New York.

How to Make an Enemy

A simple guide to recreating Lydia’s Worst NYC Day Ever:

  1. Take your new dog, the one you haven’t fully established top-notch communication skills with yet, for an after-work walk, right at Peak Commuter time.
  2. Disregard the warnings about Raccoons riddled with Distemper and proceed into Central Park.
  3. Spot a raccoon.
  4. Realize a raccoon should not be out and about in this sunshiney time of day.
  5. Notice the raccoon is acting like it’s a bit drunk.
  6. Realize the raccoon has Distemper.
  7. Notice your dog noticing the raccoon.
  8. Scream as your dog yanks her leash out of your hand, taking quite a bit of your skin with her.
  9. Scream more as your dog charges the raccoon.
  10. Into the bike lane.
  11. Everything is moving in slow motion.
  12. You are screaming.
  13. Your dog has just tackled a bicyclist.
  14. You rush to the bicyclist.
  15. This is the worst moment of your entire life.
  16. The damn Distemper Raccoon meanders over a fence.
  17. Your dog pants after it.
  18. A crowd forms and begins berating you.
  19. You exchange contact information with the man who skinned his elbow in the fall.
  20. Strangers continue yelling at you.
  21. You must accept their criticisms and admonishments on your character, because you are Responsible for this Event.
  22. Go home and cry.
  23. Feel miserable and cry more when the dog who caused this whole mess tries to comfort you.
  24. Regret ever moving to New York.
  25. Spend the next several months dreading the messages that keep coming from The Bicyclist, with updates about his various ailments.
  26. Feel like a horrible person every time you get those texts.
  27. Contemplate what will happen if the texts keep coming. JAIL?
  28. Give the stress ulcer you’ve formed a name, maybe Distemp-Ulcer.
  29. Begin to feel better as quiet weeks pass.
  30. Ding! Another text. Distemp-Ulcer awakens.

Phil Lesh at Summerstage

On our very first date, I told Daniel my favorite band is The National. On all previous first dates I’d been summarily informed that The National is not a band most young 20-somethings would call their favorite and/or even know about. My musical tastes have always veered toward Sad Dad Rock, which isn’t a particularly hip genre. But Daniel immediately told me that he both knew of and liked The National, and then told me all about the collaboration The National was currently (at the time) taking on with The Grateful Dead, which happened to be his favorite band.

To be completely honest and at the enormous risk of embarrassing myself, I will admit that before I knew Daniel I thought The Grateful Dead was a death metal band. I’d seen the skull logo (a “Steal Your Face” I know now) and, I mean, Dead is in their name. As it turns out, The Grateful Dead is a hippie band with a knack for extending a single song to the length of an average sitcom episode.

In the years I’ve spent with Daniel I have listened to countless hours of The Grateful Dead. I have read Box of Rain, a book of their lyrics that read as lovely poems. I have stared at the Steal Your Face tattooed on Daniel’s bicep. I have even gone to huge Dead and Company stadium shows.

And to again embarrass myself with honesty… I didn’t really get it. I could tell how much this band meant to Daniel, but I didn’t get it. Those stadium shows were the first (and only) place I’d seen people doing hard drugs. What can I say? I’ve lived a sheltered life. Daniel ushered my through throngs of smelly guys whispering offers to sell me (me!) hard drugs. Everyone wore grungy tie-dye and nobody wore deodorant. Daniel kept greeting people he remembered from the years he spent following The Grateful Dead on tour.

It was enormously interesting for me, but very clearly not for me. Not my scene, you could say. And again with the honesty… the music itself didn’t do much for me. I know; I blaspheme. But Daniel loves it and I love Daniel, so here we are. The Grateful Dead and me.

Phil Lesh (listen, I could Google and find out what his role in the Grateful Dead was, but the truth is, I don’t know. And I’ll forget as soon as I Google it. He was one of the originals.) played Summerstage in Central Park. Daniel bought tickets before we even moved, and it was the first show we went to in NYC. I wasn’t expecting much. I geared up for a night of fending off powdered stimulants, stinky armpits, and echoey acoustics.

But it turned out to be the night I finally got it. It was small. Out of the stadium, the music sounded great. The songs sounded like poems.

Most people are surprised to learn that Daniel is actually a shy introvert, because he is uncommonly good at making small talk and befriending strangers. We made friends with finance guys, and a pregnant young couple, and an older gay couple, and yeah, some young smelly people too. Between songs, Daniel chattered and proudly told everyone to, “Meet my wife! She’s a genius!” 

That night, Daniel’s face was joyful. It was the first time I’d seen him truly happy since we moved. He hollered the lyrics until I was sure his voice would go hoarse. When Phil Lesh made his case for organ donation (this happens at every show, I’ve learned) Daniel shouted that he became an organ donor because of Phil Lesh. I didn’t know that! I married the man and I did not know that.

Watching Daniel at that show, I finally got it. I can’t say I reach for The Grateful Dead records myself, but I finally get it in a way I didn’t before.