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 verbiage, I offer my gratitude.
Life on West 78th Street was sketched neatly like a chapter out of Stuart Little or an 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. I could smell the perfume of secretaries hurrying off to work and hear their clicking heels on the pavement from my 2nd story window. There was the Dublin Harp bar on 81st street in the evenings... quiet tables in candlelight, 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 to find the windshield to put on a ticket for parking violations!
The three strangest sights I ever saw in Manhattan:
1) Early one morning, I came climbing up the stairs from the 34th street subway to encounter a surreal street filled with dusty elephants silently marching along filling the entire street - dozens of elephants quietly shuffling on their way to the circus. Never seen anything like that before or since!
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 enjoyed being 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 exciting, 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 really 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.
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 was just two blocks away - so I still got down to Manhattan a lot for work.
But after four years in Dobbs Ferry, the West kept calling. I began to grow 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’- I loved every minute of it. I arrived destitute 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, even 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 on business trips. Never, Ever, Never. Did I mention they never send illustrators on business trips?
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. Of course since the internet arrived, it's all kind of one big electronic village.
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 even remember who I was. So I've never gone back. I send postcards instead.
Anyhow, that was my tiny tale of triumph & tribulation... I'm sure everyone's got one that's just about the same, so thanks for reading mine!