We walk to the bus stop.
I don’t tell my husband that seniors can ride for half price. I don’t want to call attention to myself. We came to the city to escape the obvious and my husband does not want me to remind him that we are aging. “Does it make you feel better?” he asks every time I try to bring up the topic. “Work will help us stay young,” is his mantra. Only I don’t want to work so hard anymore. The problem is that all my husband has is work and I, myself, cannot find a real substitute for the work I have retired from.
Everyone on the bus appears to be wearing muddy colors, grays, beiges, muted colors. Their faces have that NY- don’t -look -at -me look. My husband must have been reading my mind because he leans over and whispers in my ear: “How are they making it in NYC? “Where do they live?” my husband continues. “How can they afford the rent? What do they do for a living?” I let him ask and answer his own questions because the truth is, he is whispering in my ear, and his hot breath feels nice and tingly. “They all look like they wear uniforms for a living,” he concludes. “Yes, “ I reply. “This is a crosstown bus and we are going east. They may all work in the hospitals or doctors offices.” Because even though this is our anniversary, we have combined business with pleasure and we are, indeed, on the way to one of my husband’s doctors to check on his growing prostate gland. We are seeking a second opinion. I secretly or not so secretly want to make sure – one hundred percent – that he does not have prostate cancer.
I watch a boy board the bus with his mother. Somehow they stand apart from the others on the bus. For starters, they are extremely well dressed. She is wearing a classic pinstripe skirt and smart high heeled pumps. They look brand new but you can tell she feels comfortable in them. Her hair is pulled back and up and she exudes confidence. Her son is wearing a helmet and carries a scooter. He observes everything and as we pass under the overpass, he remarks that the arches are made from stone. His dark brown alert eyes miss nothing. Both mother and son scream Upper West Side sophistication even though they are very quiet. It is obvious that even though this boy may be only four years old, he is part of the city. He belongs. We get off at the last stop. Mother and son are right in front of us. She turns to me and tells me that her son is going to the doctor to get a vaccination.
We are in the medical center of New York City. The doctors here can perform miracles. There are specialists who specialize in specifics. It hardly seems fair. My husband suffered from severe spinal stenosis in his lower back for years. We used to walk from one Starbucks to another to another in order for my husband to sit down and rest. Then it got so bad, he could not walk even one quarter of a city block without sitting down. He had surgery on this very block, in this very hospital, just last year. And he walked out of the hospital and has been walking ever since. Only now his new condition is so bad that we cannot walk a block before he has to pee. And so we are back to walking from Starbucks to Starbucks to Starbucks again, not to sit and rest anymore, but simply to use their restrooms.
It turns out that my husband’s growing condition is normal and is a natural part of the process he does not want to name. Who knew that the only gland that keeps growing in old age is the prostate? The specialist in the city deals with this normal situation and he prescribes yet one more pill that should help the problem.
We can celebrate legitimately now, so we head over to the Frick Museum. I have never been here, even though I studied art so many years ago. The Frick is magnificent, breathtaking. There has always been the uber wealthy, I realize. My husband must have read my mind because he is whispering: “This Frick? He was a robber baron along with Carnegie.” He is so excited that he can relate this expedition to history. I stop and stare at the Rembrandt. I have seen this portrait many times in art books but never in real life. The matadors by Manet is a fascinating composition. I know in a second that the Whistlers on the wall were influenced by Japanese paintings. Now it is my husband’s turn to be impressed by my knowledge of art history.
For a minute I cannot recall why I gave up painting so long ago.
I can feel the brush strokes, the colors, the way Turner’s yellows and blues create sunlight on the canvas. The three Vermeers alone are worth this trip. The delicate figures that emerge out of the dark. They are exquisite. After the Goyas and the Holbeins, my eyes are drawn to the carpets and the furniture. Such attention to detail. Such craftsmanship. Such pride in workmanship. Why on earth did mankind ever invent machines? Will robots take away more and more jobs? Without work, can there be purpose?
Is that what my husband means by “work will keep me young?” Without a sense of pride and purpose, will he wither away? And why can’t I find something meaningful to take the place of the career I retired from? I was not ready to stop working, yet I could not keep it up.