Beth Fallon wrote columns for the Daily News and the New York Post. She was also a commentator for WWOR-TV.
I got sick (viral pneumonia, a real stinker) so they made me go someplace warm to recover. First time out of New York for that long in twenty years.
Naturally, I pick San Juan. At least it’s a city, you know? Universities. A million people. Traffic to cut your throat over. Yet a climate like the Garden of Eden, beach at the doorstep, a rich and complex heritage, the restful formality of Spanish manners.
Also, a plane for New York every hour on the hour, in case I go insane.
I loved it. They even have the Mets and Yanks on cable TV. (I don’t know what you take intravenously when you’re sick. I mainline baseball. And chocolate.)
But after six weeks of infinite kindliness, generosity, friendship, hospitality, and even real bookstores, I am restless in Eden. Why? What is missing here that New York has? Bagels we have in San Juan, and baseball. Crowds, crime, a harbor; people of all beautiful colors and sizes; French restaurants; also muggers, problems—all present and accounted for.
So—what? I get my first clue from my diversity fixation.
Asians. Not enough Asians. Some Japanese tourists at the resplendent El San Juan Hotel, yes. Some business travelers and immigrants, yes. But not enough Korean delis. Not a single one personally found by me. Also, not enough Indians and Pakistanis, or Muslims generally. American Indians, yes, thank God. But I’m here six weeks and have not seen a single Sikh. On my home block, I have three. We are not personally acquainted, but they are dignified and beautiful. I miss them. I miss everybody.
Furthermore, I am beginning to think I recognize every second face in the televised stands at Yankee Stadium. I am losing it. Definitely. A wise and perceptive friend has sent me a card completely covered with Manhattan’s skyline at twilight. All blue and beautiful. “You probably need this by now,” she writes.
I do. I’m homesick. It’s not just the Chrysler Building. It’s the moral attitude. I need to be snooted by somebody because I wasn’t born in Brooklyn. I need to tell the Yankees I hate those new Jackets-they look like Oakland’s. I need to tell Steinbrenner what I think of him.
Bougainvillea are gorgeous, but where’s the challenge when it’s always 85 degrees? Give me daisies at the Bronx Botanical, peonies at the Brooklyn, things that thrive in nasty climates. Like us.
Enough. Thank you, Eden. I’m better. I’m coming home. And for once, in this unreliable vale of tears, it is better than I dreamed. On West 85th Street, the trees are still that fragile spring green—hardy, tough New York trees, fighting to survive, like everybody else. Benefactors with window-boxes have planted flowers, and nobody has stolen them yet.
I see the Sikhs right away, majestic as ever. It is all I can do not to actually curtsy. Three Korean delis within four blocks are selling fresh asparagus. I walk an extra block, get it for 99 cents—a dollar less. Hah.
I celebrate with iced coffee at Panarella’s and Eric the waiter is glad to see me. I am reconnecting. It is warm, for once, and people are wallowing. You cannot take weather for granted. Anything for granted. Still, they hurry. They rush. I need the rush.
Good thing, because at 6:30 the next morning, it starts with the jackhammers and the car alarm. I know I’m really home because I’m fantasizing I have a machine gun and am shooting up the car. Not the occupants, there are none. Just the actual metal.
Even the jackhammer is perversely welcome. It covers the howls of the homeless lunatic outside screaming. It dulls the guilt, rage, helplessness, despair—that I can do nothing, or almost nothing, to help my wounded city.
So what? I will do my “almost nothing” the best I can, and hope. Suddenly I know I missed the screamer just as much as the Cub Scouts (I swear to God) I see that Saturday on the number 4 train to 161st Street in the Bronx.
They see the parking garage.
“Is that it? Is that Yankee Stadium?” one says.
“No,” I say, intruding, delirious. “That’s it.”