Category Archives: Films

Life, and everything . . . the allegory of the bench, and talking to strangers in NY

From Sunday through Thursday last week, I had attended six music performances: the Jack Quartet (Sunday), the Bobby Previte Ecstatic Music extravaganza (Monday), the Juilliard Percussion Ensemble (Tuesday), the John Zorn Masada Marathon (Wednesday), and then the New York Philharmonic followed by John and Lynn and the Giant Cicada (Thursday).

So Friday I just couldn’t do another concert, and I took my daughter to a movie. We wanted to see Bill Cunningham New York at the Film Forum, but it was sold out (I finally saw it yesterday [Thursday] afternoon and it is great) and we caught Le Quattro Volte instead.  It’s a beautiful film.  Amazing cinematography.  Touching stories.  Phenomenal direction and planning.

You know you’re in New York, I thought to myself as we watched it, when you pay $12.50 a ticket to see an 88-minute Italian art film, in which many of the protagonists are goats, and which has no dialogue or subtitles–and love it.

Oh, and you also know you’re in New York when you’re in the locker room at an Upper West Side gym and two other guys are chatting enthusiastically who is playing whom in upcoming Sondheim performances at the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center.  I’ve yet to hear anyone talk about sports in there.

Few guys talk to each other in the locker room, anyway. It’s a big city, we are mostly strangers to each other.  Making eye contact or small talk, especially at a gym where you know a big percentage of the clientele is gay (out or closeted), the slightest thing can be interpreted, correctly or incorrectly, as a sexual overture/inquiry. Actually, that’s probably true in most locker rooms anywhere. (At my gym, though, there’s a big sign up on the door of the steam room about keeping behavior “appropriate.”  I wonder if there’s one in the women’s locker room, too.  Somehow I doubt it’s needed.)

Not everyone who works out where I do suffers from social-contact phobia.  I went to open my locker the other day, and a guy about my age spontaneously moved his stuff that was on the bench right in front of my locker.  “Thanks,” I said.

“That’s OK, I’m not under 25.”  He then gave a mini-discourse on how guys in their early twenties tend to be totally oblivious and inconsiderate when it comes to other people, including things like not taking up half the locker room with their stuff.  “A friend of mine calls it the allegory of the bench,” he explained.  I suppose you can tell a lot about where a guy is in life by how he deals with his stuff in the locker room.  We then had fun exchanging amusing anecdotes about self-absorbed young people we are related to, have encountered, or in my case, work with. That was nice; no flirtation or sexual tension, just two guys talking. Turns out he’s a financial planner.  Hmm. Maybe he strikes up conversations with people as a way of networking for clients.  Or maybe he’s just a talkative guy who gets exasperated with Gen Y kids.  Anyway, I like “the allegory of the bench.”  (I think I told him I’d use it in a blog post, so here it it.)

Speaking of talking with strangers, the other night I was walking back from a concert at Lincoln Center and stopped in at Big Nick’s Burger and Pizza Joint, because it has good burgers and low-carb buns (I’ve cut way back on bread and sugar, in addition to working out).  A woman about my age, from whom I was separated by an empty table or two, struck up a conversation with me.  Since I was alone and love to chat, I went along.  She more or less interviewed me, but I didn’t mind.  “I talk to people,” she had announced.  I think she likes being a character. So after awhile I asked how this works out for her, striking up conversations with strangers.  Well, she said. Some folks are happy to talk, others not. She’d started out asking me if it was still raining, then something about the newspaper I was looking at, and saw how it went.

She was nearly as reticent about sharing information about herself, though, as she was inquisitive and I was open. And I may have freaked her out just a touch when, since we finished at the same time, I waited for her to pay before leaving and, since we were both walking uptown, walked with her on Broadway a few until she turned down a street.  For me it was a way to continue the conversation and somewhere inside it seemed at least quasi-gentlemanly to kind of walk her home, at least part way, in the dark, late night.  But it certainly was pushing at her boundaries–chatting inside a restaurant is different than walking with that same stranger on a Manhattan street. Since she’d pushed mine bit, perhaps I was unconsciously pushing at hers.  It was only when she said she had to turn down whatever street it was that it dawned on me that it was at this moment she would discover I was either the nice guy I seemed to be or a creep it had been a mistake to start a conversation with. Life is uncertain in the big city.

Random marketing thought: a smart thing they do at Big Nick’s is little samples.  Twice I’ve gotten a burger there with the low-carb bun and no fries (since that would defeat the purpose of the low-carb bun).  Each time there was one cross-cut fry on the plate, just to let me know what I was missing. And when both the talk-to-people woman and I said we wouldn’t order dessert, the waiter (who looked like he could be a boxer but was named Karma) brought us little dessert samples (oh, temptation!).  Everything is a test, isn’t it?


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