We were meeting my cousin Joan and her daughter Jen in Long Island City, so we started out early and headed in that direction.
First, the Isamu Noguchi Museum and Sculpture Garden is a block from the river. Noguchi was a sculptor, landscape architect, and theatrical set designer who lived and worked in LIC. He created the Red Cube in the Financial District, and the Sunken Fountain at Chase Plaza, among other public art. The Noguchi Table (1948), with its distinctive yin-yang design, is still in production today. He also designed stage sets for Martha Graham, George Ballanchine, and others.
Noguchi opened his museum in LIC in 1985 as the culmination of his commitment to public art, using a 60-foot tree-of-heaven (ailanthus altissima) as a focal point. When the tree started to die, threatening to fall over into the building, he commissioned a team of artists to turn the wood into beautiful and functional works for the sculpture garden. This is a good thing twice over, since the ailanthus is a non-native species that is invasive in NY and elsewhere in North America.
We wandered around the Socrates Park across the street, but didn’t see many sculptures because
it’s between installments, but the amazing opportunities NYC has to offer were evident in the park’s offerings. Its mission seems to be to provide art space for all people who want to participate in the arts, either in the audience or by expressing their own creativity. The August schedule includes live performances of Hamlet and Comedy of Errors, participant creation of a field of scarecrows, tai chi, yoga, outdoor viewing of films, kite-making and flying, kayaking, and much more. This is all open to the public and free of charge. Again, I was struck by the horizon-expanding opportunities I had growing up in New York. I wish such opportunities were available to kids and adults everywhere.
I recall the Mona Lisa exhibit at the Met one year in the 1950s or 60s, and the line to view it going as far down 5th
Ave as the eye could see. These were normal people waiting, not the super-wealthy or super-educated who probably had their own private viewings and receptions for this important work of Western art. Art is accessible to New Yorkers. Our field trips took us to the UN, the Guggenheim, Lincoln Center,
the Museum of Natural History -- what kid gets activities on that level? A couple of the neighborhood kids acted on Broadway and went to special schools like Professional Children’s School or HS of the Performing Arts, and they would teach us the latest popular dances and perform their choreographed dances to show tunes. I also flashed back to a pizza maker who sang Italian songs behind the counter of his open-front restaurant as he tossed dough in the air, and a city bus driver who sang opera on his route. I was always happy to board his bus. But he wasn’t singing the day Kennedy was shot and we were dismissed early from school.
We were in the middle of an assembly honoring the National Merit Scholars and Finalists from our school when the Principal came out and announced that the president had been shot. I thought, what, the president of the National Honor Society? Of the Altar Society? Of our school? Having just come from the grandfatherly Eisenhower era, a time of peace and prosperity although the Cold War was worrisome, Kennedy seemed like a new, young, and exciting option. Did she mean he had
been shot? A few minutes later she returned, crying, and said, “President Kennedy is dead. School is dismissed.” I wouldn’t feel that level of shock again until 9-11.
The bus ride home from school was a blur, except for some boys who were joking even more loudly and stupidly than usual. I wanted to hit each one over the head, using all my strength, with my heavy schoolbag. The bus driver, usually a very patient guy, yelled to them, “Knock it off.” Now, of course, I understand that none of us knew how to handle the situation. We were all drowning, and there was no one to help us swim through this. Today, they would have kept us at school and called in the counselors, but that wasn’t how it was done back then. Something changed in me that day. My previous fears, around the Cold War and bombs and such, were theoretical. JFK’s assassination was real, and it opened up a whole new list in my head of Things That Can Go Wrong.
So back to 2012 and Socrates Park: Gracie made a cat friend. She was also enthralled with a house-like setup made of industrial storage
containers, which you can see in the pictures. She is interested in living spaces and design, and this structure tickled her imagination.
We went to a classic NY diner, where our cousins treated us to lunch. I had a very large Reuben with about 25 super-thin slices of corned beef, so tender I barely had to chew it. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry: I meant to take a picture of it but one look at this perfectly beautiful sandwich chased the thought away, and I picked it up instead of the camera.
I hadn’t seen any of the Fitzpatricks since my mother’s funeral Mass in 2003, but some things don’t change: Joan and Jen have great and hilarious personalities, and we laughed a lot while catching up on her sisters and their families. Joan is the second of my mother’s brother’s five daughters. Kathleen, Kelly, and Susan and their families live in Maine; Joan, her husband David, and Jen live in Astoria; and Lynne and her family live in Florida. I’m very happy that they are a super-close family. My much-loved late uncle Gene was lucky to find their mother, Nettiemae, who passed away in 2010, and
to have these amazing kids. Jen is very much like Gracie in that she is unconventional, independent-minded, and holds good values. Both girls are proud to be nerds. I’m sorry we didn’t get to see David, or any of the other Fitzpatrick girls, but they are all in our hearts. At least we got to hang out with these two wild and crazy women!
After lunch, we took the 30th
Avenue bus to Key Food, where we bought some stuff to take back to our place for supper later, and picked up a copy of my baptismal certificate and my parents’ marriage certificate from St. Joe’s. We rode around on the bus some more before heading home. I watched two episodes of Nurse Jackie on my laptop, while Gracie read her book, talked and texted on the phone, and wrote a postcard or two.
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