March 15, 2007

Thanks, Manhattan! :7


At last, the long winding tale exhausts itself... leaving the theatre empty and the lights gone dim. To those valiant readers who wintered over and endured the endless gales of verbage, I offer my gratitude.


Life on West 78th Street was sketched neatly along the lines of Stuart Little or some old Jack Lemmon movie. I remember watching all the people bustling off to work in the mornings... through the dappled morning sunlight of the trees. You could smell the perfume of the secretaries and hear the click of their high heels on the pavement. There was the Dublin Harp bar on 81st street in the evenings... quiet, tasteful... full of opera buffs.

And never a dull minute in New York City. New York always steals the show.

Like the night at 3 am to be awoken by jackhammering in the street directly outside the window.
JACKHAMMERING at 3 am??? And then, when dawn finally broke, the guy in a hardhat poked up in his hole in the middle of the street... sipping his morning coffee and looking as much like a groundhog as a person!

Or the time in the middle of one of those monster snowstorms, when the city was buried under a mountain of impossible snow. Only in New York would you see the traffic cop struggling on foot from car to car, digging holes down into each mound of snow that was a car - to find the windshield to put on a ticket for an ‘opposite side of the street parking’ violation!

The three strangest sights I ever saw in Manhattan:

1) Early one morning, I came climbing up the stairs from a subway to encounter a surreal parade of dusty elephants silently shuffling down 34th street on their way to the circus. Unexpected to say the least!

2) One bright spring day around 57th street and Lexington I came across a city street gushing deep with crystal clear water. Instead of the usual asphalt there was a sparkling, foot deep fountain of clear water filling the entire street. It looked exactly like an alpine river from the Rockies had issued forth... unreal. The sunlight reflecting through the water was entrancing.

3) One day in Central Park I saw the only smoking jogger I’ve ever encountered. An elegant old queen with an ash tray in one hand was shuffling along in a purple velour jumpsuit. All the while with the most wicked sort of grin... he probably knew he was the only smoking jogger on planet earth. Only in New York.

Of course New York City had it's dark side...

I mean Manhattan is an exciting place... but it’s tough to live there. New York was a world behind glass... you could look at treasures behind glass, but you can't touch them. The lure of the West Coast was calling. I suppose I needed a trip out of Manhattan by then anyhow... call it a vacation or whatever... but just staying there seemed too hard.

I guess I'm just a Westerner at heart. I have to have snow capped mountains in view.

We’d spend hours in the Museum of Natural History sitting in front of this one particular diorama with elk in the Flat Top Mountains in White River National Forest in Colorado. It almost hurt sometimes to sit there and just wish I could hear the river rustling and smell the sage and the campfire smoke. So we packed up and headed west. On the way we stopped for a much needed two week camping trip in the Rockies.

It was exactly what we needed to unwind and relax in the sun. Echo Park in Dinosaur National Monument... Rocky Mountain National Park... and we even made a point of searching out the exact spot of that museum diorama in the Flat Top Mountains in White River National Forest. We came close to the exact spot... but I think the artist must have fudged a few details, since we couldn’t it to line up exactly.

We returned to New York the following September... but this time to Dobbs Ferry, in Westchester. It was quiet and leafy and much more live-able than Manhattan. That's where I put down roots as an illustrator, living in a wonderful old house built in 1840 overlooking the Hudson, with the most wonderful and eccentric landlord... a sculptor and art history professor and his wife, a photographer. But that's another story. It was the land of Sleepy Hollow, winding roads through the trees, historic estates of the robber barons, the Hudson River line to Grand Central.


But after four years in Dobbs Ferry, the West kept calling. I was homesick for snow capped peaks, rain forests, desert canyons, sagebrush, the cool green Pacific... for wild places without hardly any people. I dreamed of Seattle, the proletariat paradise... or so it seemed... sailboats, coffee shops, mossy sidewalks and ferns. I subscribed to a neighborhood Seattle paper, which is the worst possible thing to do when you're homesick.

Anyhow, by now I had an agent... and FedEx made it possible to live anywhere. So my New York days were over.

All in all I got to be all misty eyed and choked up when I think about New York City and how it makes the All American dream come true for ragged immigrants who arrive on her shores with no more than a dream. All those cliches about ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere’ and ‘Welcome your homeless, your destitute and all that’... it all came true for me and I loved every minute of it. I arrived with my own little dream and some talent... and it all came true for me. Thanks Manhattan!

I'd been a New Yorker for 5 years... it was everything I'd hoped it would be. But things move on. Amazingly I haven’t been back once ever since... though I left decades ago. I never seem to go back to places. Life got in the way. And, after 10 years I began to realize that they NEVER send illustrators anywhere on business trips. Never, Ever, Never.

I've always envied people who get to go out in the world and travel as part of their work.  I just stay at home and the work comes to me and I make my own little worlds.

I've heard people tell me that my editors and art directors will be glad to see me - but somehow I can only remember how when I was in NYC everyone was always too busy to see me or care.  So I've never gone back...

Anyhow, that was my tiny tale of triumph & tribulation... I'm sure everyone's got one that's just about the same.


John Nez said...

Oh No! I deleted the kind comment from Anonymous by mistake!!! SORRY!

I was trying to change my comment that I'd added, and clicked on the wrong little trash bin icon by mistake!!!

SORRY, Anonymous. I didn't mean to do that!

I wanted to say THANKS for reading my story all the way through.

Please forgive my bumbling clicking. I'm very appreciative of anyone who actualy followed along with my story.



Anonymous said...

It's ok John...mistakes happen...heaven only knows the mistakes I've made clicking the wrong icons. I always read your blog and find it entertaining reading.Love your drawings too.

John Nez said...


Glad you understand....


Liz said...

Great True-Life Adventure, John! I can't believe you haven't been back to NYC in 20 years...don't worry, it hasn't changed much (hehehe)

June said...

Thanks John, I really enjoyed reading your journey from student to working illustrator.
My own story would be so dull by comparison, I shan't even think of writing it down.

gail said...

I enjoyed following your journey!

Thanks for sharing it,

Paige Keiser said...

Bravo! What a grand tale!