I’ve only been there twice. Both times – I’ve considered never coming back.
I love New York.
I don’t love the humidity (it wreaked havoc on my hair). And I’m not so sure this California girl could survive the snow. But New York takes my breath away.
So did this afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art…
I missed the lunch hour (by miss, I mean I was only capable of digesting Diet Coke…YEAH for tying one on in Times Square!). Around 4 p.m., I was finally ready for solid food.
I walked over to the MoMa. Entrance into the museum was free that day. I knew it was meant to be.
I admittedly didn’t stop to appreciate the art. I went straight to the café. I know what you’re thinking. How could I? Right? At that point, I was just desperate for some noodles and a meatball (or five).
After about a 35 minute wait, I realized they “misplaced” my meal. While I was waiting, I drank a carafe of Sauvignon Blanc (I have no self control). The café staff felt so bad for making me wait, they gave me another carafe on the house. Obviously, this impromptu trip to the MoMa really was meant to be.
I took my time. I know it’s hard to believe – but I actually enjoyed the silence (and the Sauv Blanc).
After I finished my pasta, I started to pack up my stuff.
I noticed a new number (the kind they use to find you when your food is ready) had been set down in front of me.
There were nine empty seats at the table. Apparently, somebody felt like they MUST sit in the one directly across from me. They had to sit REALLY close to me. Weird.
Normally, I’m open to this type of adventure. But I was full, I was “sleepy” and I was perfectly content tweeting/texting (I do this a lot). I wanted a nap more than a new friend.
Whomever set their number down was nowhere to be found. So, the server delivered their cold glass of milk, pea gratin and seasonal fruit crisp to me. He just assumed we were together. Why wouldn’t he? It didn’t look like I was dining alone. It looked like I was on a date. I didn’t even try to explain.
I felt bad leaving the food unattended…so I waited, with my phone and bags in hand, for this person to come back.
He was too good to be true…
This little old man was slightly hunched over. He shuffled his feet when he walked. He wore thick, black-rimmed glasses (that gave him sort of an artistic edge). He was in an outfit that was perfectly put together. I bet he’d been wearing the same outfit for the better part of 80 (plus) years. And this outfit would always be in style…on him.
I smiled at him. It was impossible not to smile at him. I still wanted to leave – but he wanted to tell me why he walked away – and left me to receive his order.
He took the subway, from Brooklyn, to the MoMa – every Friday night. And every Friday night, he would order a glass of milk, the pea gratin and the seasonal fruit crisp. The seasonal fruit crisp was his favorite.
This Friday night, they had accidentally charged him for two seasonal fruit crisps. He went to see the cashier to explain – and to be reimbursed.
While he was talking (rather slowly), I glanced down at my phone. I had received a few texts. I responded to one of the text messages while he was mid-sentence. While my head was down, he barked at me.
“Are you listening to me?”
That was all he said.
It completely caught me off guard. He totally called me out. I couldn’t help but laugh. I still laugh every time I think about him putting me in my place.
I apologized profusely (and tried to hide my grin). I put my phone in my purse. I set down all of my things. And I sat back down.
Something told me I should not walk away.
He finished his story and dove into his dinner/dessert.
He continued to talk – with pea gratin in his mouth.
He told me he was married. I asked him why his wife had not joined him at the MoMa that Friday night. He said – you do some things together, and you do some things apart. That’s how you make it work. The MoMa was his thing. Not hers. Not theirs.
The MoMa was screening a film for free that Friday night. He asked me if I would join him for the show. I told him I was supposed to go dancing with some friends. He was disappointed but he understood – and did not want to interfere with my plans.
He asked me if I liked music. He LOVED music. He broke into song. He was hard of hearing…so he spoke…and sang…loudly. Her serenaded everyone around us. He/we didn’t care.
He asked me if I would go swing dancing with him the next time I was in New York. He was a member of the Swing Dancing Society. He had been alive for more than eight decades, but STILL loved to dance. His wife could not dance with him anymore, but he knew I could. I promised him, one day, we would dance.
He wanted to know what I did for a living. I told him I planned parties, but I mostly loved to write. He said I brought joy to people’s lives (that’s debatable). Then he asked me if I’d write him a letter. He said he did not email. But he loved to write letters. He sang me another song. Love Letters I think.
He wrote his name and address on his receipt, and he gave it to me. I promised I would write.
His name was Robert Thomason.
Even his handwriting was irresistible.
He told me he had wanted to buy a home in Brooklyn, in a black neighborhood, when he got out of the military. He said even though the military guaranteed the loan, even though he was good for it – the banks wouldn’t lend him the money. He said the banks would have loaned him the dough if he wanted to live in a white neighborhood. But he didn’t want that. He believed in interracial neighborhoods. He wanted to build one. He was turned down ten or eleven times. He never gave up. Finally, a bank signed off on the loan. He still loves Brooklyn. And he still cares about equality. He loves his neighborhood and his neighbors. He was a good neighbor too. No, a great one. But he admitted they had heard him tell the same stories a handful of times. He thought they could be getting tired of his stories (he said his wife definitely was).
We talked about so much.
We only paused twice…
We paused once when he took his first bite of his seasonal fruit crisp.
He savored it.
And we paused once more, when he told me he had truly lived an amazing life. He believed life was the greatest gift. He grabbed my hand and told me how lucky he felt to be able to live life every day.
I cried. I cry every time I think about the look on his face when he said that to me. I swear there was a real twinkle in his eye.
It was nearly time for his movie to begin. I told him I’d walk him out.
He gave me the tightest squeeze goodbye. And he gave me a kiss on the cheek.
I tried to back out of his embrace to tell him (again) how much I enjoyed his company and promise (again) to write.
Before I could say a word, he gave me another kiss. On the lips.
There was no getting out of it.
Robert Thomason was relentless.
He knew what he wanted. And he got it.
I laughed all the way back to my hotel. I laughed so hard. I probably looked insane (which is no different than any other day I suppose).
I wondered how many times Robert Thomason had pulled that stunt – and gotten away with it.
I hope he gets away with it EVERY Friday night.
And I hope I have half as much gumption as that guy. I’d honestly settle for half. Scratch that. No I wouldn’t…