Relay: Back On Top

The November afternoon is surprisingly, wonderfully warm, and at Park Avenue I turn south

    This time, despite not one but two unscheduled stops on the Expressway, the Jitney arrives right on time. I alight and walk in the sunshine toward the meeting place, just as on the previous Saturday.

    The November afternoon is surprisingly, wonderfully warm, and at Park Avenue I turn south. It was a good idea to leave the jacket behind, unburdened by the unnecessary, the better to roam freely.

    Back on my feet again / I’m back on the street again / I’m back on the top again.

    As often happens, I’ve become obsessed with a particular recording, at present Van Morrison’s 1999 album, “Back on Top.” With titles like “Golden Autumn Day” and “When the Leaves Come Falling Down,” the at-turns swinging and meditative collection is the perfect autumn soundtrack, and in my not-so-humble opinion his finest since the 1970s.

    And I’m taking in the Indian Summer / And I’m soaking it up in my mind / And I’m pretending that it’s paradise / On a golden autumn day.

    Just before 34th Street, the sun disappears behind No. 3 Park Avenue, a huge and hideously ugly structure that obliterated the river view when I lived, for a year, across the street. In its absence, the temperature perceptibly falls and a brisk wind blows across the deep canyon of Park Avenue.

    A few minutes after 2, Lucy appears, radiant in the autumn sunshine, distant across Herald Square as all of humanity seems to charge in every direction, all colors shapes heights, faces exuberant and weary and confident and anguished and the thought returns that we are all born to die and that the time will surely come sooner than we wish and knowing this how can you be cold or disrespectful toward any person? Can you not have an open heart again? Did you ever?

    This, our third meeting in a week, is the least awkward as we grow familiar. Like my former wife, Lucy (not her real name) is foreign. Like mine before it, her marriage lies in smoldering ruin. It’s all over but the paperwork.

    Yet she is still married, and that mildly reckless feature of the budding relationship lends a trace of danger, a thrilling tension. It is foolish, or I am.

    We sit on the trodden brown-green grass in Central Park, couples and families and groups camped around us on this golden autumn day.

    “I have to tell you something.”

    “Mm-hmm.”

    “This is the last time I can see you.”

    (Silence)

    “Until this is finished. I have to get a divorce, have to move on. I want to be happy again.”

    I saw you standing with the wind and the rain in your face / And you were thinking ’bout the wisdom of the leaves and their grace / When the leaves come falling down.

    We meander through the park and, with the first drops of rain falling from the fast-graying sky, escape to wander the Time Warner Center. Later, the packed 1 train spits us out in the Village and as night falls we are dining at the bar of a noisy Japanese restaurant, the mostly college-age patrons abuzz in anticipation of Saturday night’s carouse.

    And then we are at another crowded bar, and then another, and then it is too late to make the journey to our respective joyless homes.

    Up in the morning, out on the road / And my head is aching and my hands are cold.

    Daylight saving time has concluded and a shaft of egregiously early-morning sunlight, between the curtain and the window frame in an otherwise unlit room along the Expressway, shines upon us.

    We had dressed only for that golden autumn day, and now it is so very cold, and we huddle in the lobby until a car arrives to deliver us back to Manhattan and a breakfast, in Chinatown, of scalding tea and noodle soup. A furtive hug and I step into the chilly autumn sunshine, blinking and bleary-eyed, and fade into the crowd.


    Christopher Walsh is a reporter at The Star.