If / Then … or WHAT NOW?


The seats are really decent and we got them for half price.  Idina belts out how her life would have turned out If/Then.  She sings about two different scenarios.  Idina herself is forty-one and newly divorced with a son.  For all I know, she may just be belting out her own If/Then… on stage.  I remember If /Then was on my mind a lot when I was forty.  At fifty, not so much.  Because by the time I turned fifty, the past didn’t matter to me. I was so involved in life, I simply did not have any extra time to spare.  Just like the show suggests, I got over it, shrugged my shoulders, accepted that my life was never meant to be perfect, and forgave myself.   The best song in the show, What the Fuck?!  sums it up.  You never really understand why you mess up, but you learn to just go with it and laugh at your own flawed humanity.  At sixty, if I could sing, I would be singing WHAT NOW? 

TKTS If/Then

Enough is enough and we decide to go up and have our champagne.  We are planning to get to TKTS early the next morning.  It is our last day of vacation in NYC.  Tomorrow is Wednesday and we are going to a matinee.

TKTS480    images

TKTS is exactly thirty two blocks away – straight going downtown.  Everyone walks in NYC.  I want to walk but my husband’s BPH  does not allow it.  (Until I wrote this, I had no idea what BPH stands for:  Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia).  He insists on taking public transportation.  He wants to take the subway.  I want to take a bus.  Since I originally wanted to walk, he caves.  We wait a long time for that downtown bus.  When we get off at 47th street, we both have to pee.  Before we do anything, we have to find a Starbucks.  My conscience does not allow me to go in and just use the restroom, so we have to wait on line to get a drink, which we both know will only make me need to pee again real soon. We finally get on the TKTS line. We are in the company of tourists and middle aged or aging seniors.  We get the tickets we hoped for.  We are going to see Idina Menzel in If/Then…  I am thrilled.  The sun is shining.  It is a warm autumn day.  We walk to nearby Bryant Park to grab a bite for lunch. 


Bryant Park is full of people.  A lot of working people from the surrounding office buildings come to play ping pong, chess, and other board games.  There are kiosks of fast food.  There is a public restroom with long lines.  There are jugglers and a carousel.  It is one of my favorite places to rest and feel energized simultaneously.  You can’t help but feel young.


Upper East Side Medical Hub

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. 

  We are a litle like Frick and Frack at the Frick.

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. 

Past Prime Time

We go to a restaurant that serves so called healthy type food.  My husband cannot have any salt;  I watch the carbs. I cannot eat dairy.  My husband has to hydrate.  I drink bottled water.  My husband has high cholesteroI. I watch what he eats. 

Restaurant food has more salt than either one of us needs.  Because of the extra salt, we need to keep drinking more water.  And because of the extra water, we need to keep peeing even more than usual (which is a lot)!

We decide to skip desert and head back to our hotel suite. At night, the mocha colored walls seem darker – more like espresso.  The one window in the drawing room looks small because of the heavy curtains that drape it on both sides.  The lights are too dim.  There are no recessed cans in a hotel room. 

We are surprised to find champagne on ice on the entrance table: a gift from hotel management.  We are too tired to drink and put it in the fridge for the next evening.  For a second, I contemplate wearing my shoes to bed.  But I take them off, just like I take off my shoes when I enter my house.  My feet are naked and exposed.  Man, they are really, really ugly.  When exactly did that happen?


The Cialis commercial is shot in the desert.  Maybe we should have gone to Scottsdale or Phoenix.  We are so tired, we decide to shower in the morning.  My husband falls asleep just like that.  I get out of bed.

We could have gone anywhere.  We could have gone to Paris for the long weekend  or Boston, Montreal, Chicago, Austin, Toronto.  We chose Manhattan.

I tiptoe back into the living area.  I am barefoot and cannot feel my feet.  Of course I bang into the coffee table!  I cannot tell if I have stubbed my toe or toes because the neuropathy does not let me feel pain the way I once did.  I cringe and plop myself down on the sofa.  I have no idea how this could have happened because the table is an oval. It does not have any straight edges as far as I know.  While I am rubbing my foot, I glance to the window.  I get up and stand and stare out and across.  Most of the apartments or condos or coops – whatever they are, do not have curtains on the windows.  A few are still lit. 

I have just finished Visible City and I want to peep into other people’s lives.  Unlike the main character in the book, I  do not witness anyone having sex.  I do not see rooms filled with art and antiques.  I do not see bookshelves.  I do not see oriental carpets.  I do not see anything that would make me imagine what my life might have been like had I opted to stay in the city instead of leaving for the suburbs so many years ago.  I walk gingerly around the coffee table.  I go back to bed careful not to bump into anything.  At home I have learned, like a blind person, to feel my way in the dark.   A hotel room is not home. 

The sunlight is pouring in.  I am sitting in the living area with my feet comfortably atop the tufted ottoman – the same ottoman that was my enemy last night.  I survey the room.  The building is definitely pre World War I so the ceilings are high, giving the illusion of space.  The sitting room cannot be more that 12 feet by 9 feet, the size of a regular bedroom.  The deep taupe walls with the painted enamel black crown moldings, seem formal.  It is a hotel setting, not a home, after all.  There is a gauche, gilded silver mirror with an antique finish hanging near the door.  It is not placed exactly opposite the window so it does not reflect the sunlight.   Even with the light pouring in from the window, this room can use more light.  There is  the perfunctory desk with the office chair.  The dark wooden chest has curved drawers which are decorated with painted flowers.  The drapes have gold and white broad stripes with a matching valance with inverted pleats.  Golden tassels hang across the valance like the paper chains we used to make in grade school.  Heavy duty golden tassels hold the heavy drapes open. 

Mais oui!  The hotel is French. The hotel room must have been recently remodeled.  The carpet has no stains.  The taupe wallpaper – for now I see that it is not paint – is not frayed nor torn nor worn.   The tufted oval ottoman is meant to look like leather but smells of vinyl.  And I have finally found the culprit:  this ottoman/coffee table has curlicue wrought iron feet.  The curlicue feet stick out from the perimeter of the table.  I will have to remember that this evening when I take my off shoes.  I make a mental note, then immediately worry that by the time the evening comes, I will have forgotten.  An accident about to happen again.

My husband offers to run out and bring back breakfast.  A croissant would certainly go with the milieu but I am lactose intolerant.  My husband will have to walk the block to the gourmet shop to ensure that I can have soy milk and a roll that is not made with dairy products.  He leaves and I am struck by a memory of a vacation twenty-five years earlier.  We got back to the hotel in the late evening then, too.  He had closed the door behind us.  He scooped me up from behind.  He kissed my earlobes and fondled me.  He drew me down to the floor, gently but firmly.  He commanded my attention.  And he took me tenderly, as he took my breath away.  The very next morning, he came back with breakfast just as I was setting the table with coffee. 

He was handsome then and charismatic.  He was confident and fun.  And our life lay ahead of us. 

As I look around at the room, the walls seem to be caving in.  The decor is reminiscent of another time and place.  It is ludicrous to come to Manhattan only to be tricked into pretending you are in Versailles in its glory…when France was at its height of opulence and beauty  …when Europe ruled.  When I was in my prime.

I was thirty-five years old when we met.  I was thirty-eight when we married.  Only twenty-five short years and a lifetime ago.

My husband comes back.  We eat.

It is time to get out and walk around.