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Miracle on 34th Street

December 15, 2011

One of the things I love about being here is all the things that suggest a story that you don’t know about yet. You don’t know the beginning or the end or maybe even the middle. You just get a glimpse of the most suggestive details. There are happy stories, like the father who, as I walked to the subway this morning, was pedaling his bicycle down my cobblestone street, his young daughter sitting on a seat on the back, the two of them yelling at the top of their lungs, BUMPETTY BUMP BUMP BUMP! There are sadder stories like the dirty and discarded Santa beard half in a puddle on the subway tracks with an empty bottle of whiskey. There are mysteries, like the enormous organic chemistry textbook abandoned on the steps of Anthropologie on Fifth Avenue at 7:30 in the morning a couple of days ago.

I love diving into these stories, wondering what the rest of them might be. I spend my days working with other people’s stories. This seems to be the natural extension of my work. But tonight I decided I needed more than other people’s stories. I needed to get out and try to make some of my own.

As some of you know, the big deadline at the Toy Factory tomorrow has been postponed until after the holidays. We made the decision last night just minutes before the start of the annual holiday party. We’ve been working copious amounts of overtime for weeks to make this happen, but a few too many things went wrong at the last minute and to save our sanity and to make sure the toy is well-made, we decided it was time to stop the roller coaster.

It was the right decision. There is no question about that. I have the complete support of my boss. The reason for this crunch was a series of things that happened before I even started working here, so really we were just trying to stick to a deadline that wasn’t really possible. And it turns out that pushing it up a couple of weeks doesn’t cause problems for anyone. But I was still feeling awful last night. After putting in so many hours, I wanted it to be done on time. I wanted to be able to walk away from the office tomorrow knowing that I’d seen it through.

The office party, which was held in the basement of the Empire State Building, ended up being really nice and a little bit of therapy for us all. We didn’t mingle much. My group stuck tight, venting about the crazy work. Others in our department came by to pay their respects and admit they’d been tiptoeing around us all week because we seemed so stressed. We sat and drank the free wine and ate the free (and surprisingly tasty) free food. We didn’t win the raffle. We didn’t really care. It was nice to let off steam, and nice to talk about some things other than toys. Although we did that too.

Afterwards I’d fully intended on heading to the subway, but it was such a nice night and I was feeling so rotten that I walked home instead. There were plenty of people around. I stopped at the grocery store for vegetables for dinner, but when I was nearly home, I was lured into a fish and chips shop, where I bought myself dinner that is most definitely not on the diet plan. Today, after a good night’s sleep and a good day’s work, I’m feeling much better.

The one really good thing about so many nights of working past 11 is that when you knock off at 7, you feel like you’ve been granted vacation time. I remembered my list:

1. Eat a pretzel from a street cart.
2. Visit the store windows on Fifth Avenue.
3. Shop in FAO Schwarz (I’m not sure I actually want to do this, but I wouldn’t mind walking by it)
4. See the stars on the ceiling of Grand Central Station
5. Take a carriage ride through Central Park (or watch others doing it)
6. See the tree and the skaters in Rockefeller Center (bonus points if I skate myself)
7. Visit the former site of Uncle Tai’s (1009 Third Avenue, between 62nd and 63rd) or eat one really good meal in a Hunan restaurant of my choice
8. See a performance of The Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet
9. See Santa in Macy’s
10. Discover something new to add to this list.

I didn’t get to everything. Not even close. But after work, I walked toward Herald Square. I stopped to pick up some small things for my co-workers and then headed to tackle number 2 on my list. Okay, Macy’s isn’t on Fifth, but it has fancy decorated windows. They’re nothing like the ones when I was a kid, with their elaborate mechanics, but they were still fun to watch.

2. Visit the store windows on Fifth Avenue.

I also learned something today. In Herald Square, which is really more of a triangle, there is a monument. Either I’ve never walked by it after dark before or I’ve never looked up because I discovered that the owls at the top have green lights for eyes that flash on and off. I couldn’t get a good picture of them, but there are some good ones here. Tonight, under the watchful green eyes of the owls, Santa and Elmo were working the crowd and posing for pictures with all the children. I didn’t make it all the way to Santa inside Macy’s, but I’m crossing off number 9 anyway because, hey, close enough:

9. See Santa in Macy’s

Macy’s was packed to the gills inside. After I got mowed over by not one but two Macy’s employees, one of whom shoved me out of her way with both hands, tossing out a less than heartfelt “I’m sorry” over her shoulder, I left. I didn’t want to spoil my first free night in ages. I headed down to the subway where somewhere someone was playing Für Elise on a tinny electronic keyboard, and headed a few stops up to Rockefeller Center. I almost didn’t go. I was so tired and it’s completely the wrong way, but I’m so glad I did because, well, this:

and this:

and most of all, this:

6. See the tree and the skaters in Rockefeller Center (bonus points if I skate myself)

It was crowded and touristy and absolutely breathtaking. And it smelled like the north woods. I just stood there and breathed for a while. And willed myself not to cry, as I headed back toward the street. Because I was suddenly very, very homesick. This is not the time of year I want to be away from family.

A little unsure of myself, I headed into a store, mostly wandering, not thinking much, listening to the Christmas songs on the radio. And then I found something. And then I found another thing. And by the time I came out, I had finally started my Christmas shopping. I celebrated by stopping at a cart outside Radio City Music Hall and buying myself a pretzel for dinner.

1. Eat a pretzel from a street cart.

I told the vendor to keep the change. I've always wanted to say that.

I walked past the lines of people trying to get in to see the Rockettes, thinking I'd walk home or at least part of the way. But by the time I got to the corner, I was suddenly very tired. So I walked around the block instead, taking one last look at the tree. This time a crowd of kids in Santa hats had gathered in front. At first I thought they were going to sing, but then it appeared they were just taking pictures. So I headed back to the subway.

Coming up again near home, I walked to the street where the apartment is and turned. White fairy lights shone from the front doors on both sides of the street and decked the awning of the French restaurant on the corner. Colored lights shone from trees inside windows and the front of the bar on the opposite corner. People were standing in the street on this unexpectedly warm December evening, talking, laughing, smoking. At my building, the super's young son was at the door again. He held it open for me. I walked past the lobby tree with its twinkling lights and handmade decorations and ended up in the elevator with two people whose company I thoroughly enjoyed for five whole floors.

10. Discover something new to add to this list.

A cup of tea and a talk with AJ and my mood is definitely on the mend. Tomorrow I head home for the holidays.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2011 8:07 am

    This post and the five episodes of How I Met Your Mother combine to almost make me want to visit NYC again. The catch is that I’m not much of a walker.

  2. December 16, 2011 8:08 am

    “the five episodes we watched last night” is what I meant.

  3. December 16, 2011 8:33 am

    I’ll send a Christmas wish that your house sells and you can start to make new memories with AJ in NYC as a family.

  4. December 16, 2011 10:14 am

    a little magic.

  5. Cranky permalink
    December 16, 2011 12:18 pm

    Sorry about the delay, but sounds like the right thing to do. I hope that you won’t be working insane hours next week!

  6. December 16, 2011 3:17 pm

    Marry Christmas, Harriet!

  7. December 16, 2011 5:02 pm

    It’s so beautiful, all of it. Thank you for the virtual tour, and your wonderful descriptions.

  8. December 17, 2011 4:48 pm

    Love the lights! Now get some rest.

  9. December 19, 2011 9:31 am

    I’m late catching up on blogs but this was an amazing post to read on this bright, cold December morning.


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