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I was sitting in the sunshine on a red metal chair on the section of 42nd Street that is paved, communing with Broadway. Above me loomed two swimming pool-sized posters of women in bikinis, and in front of them a gold-painted man on stilts dressed as the Statue of Liberty was looking a bit forlorn. I was shaky with the tiredness that comes from extreme merrymaking. My stolen weekend in New York had taken me from anticipation to exhilaration to sublime happiness to utter exhaustion in 38 hours flat.
The glamour had been intoxicating and very medicinal. Now and then I caught myself having such a high time, I grew quite chivalrous: “Oh you shouldn’t have!” I practically cried out to myself as I skipped down the bright streets scarcely believing my luck. “But I’m so glad you did.” With sorrows on the horizon we must seize our pleasures where we can.
Things had turned slightly during the past three hours, though. I was worlds away from the old nit comb of home yet I was beginning to miss it a little. There was the sense of an ending but it felt like good timing. That morning I had sung “I’ll get by, as long as I have you” in the hotel room in my new short-sleeved pink jumper, which is printed with a toothy grin and sunglasses so I can remain unmoved above.
As I sat on 42nd Street, chewing gum and whistling, I read an article in an American fashion magazine in which a columnist in her late twenties claimed she liked to dress with the post-fashion confidence of the sixtysomething female psychotherapists who peopled her refined Brooklyn neighbourhood. “I wonder?” I thought. I had just been to MoMA, and while I was walking round Jasper Johns’ Regrets, a woman in her late seventies had grabbed me and told me she had fallen in love with my shoes. I didn’t really know what to say. Did she actually want them? I was sure it was unrequited. They’re mine! The previous evening, while the pianist Earl Rose played “I Could Write a Book” in Bemelmans Bar, someone said I looked like a young mafia widow. I hadn’t known what to say then, either. I have, it is true, heard worse.
I was waiting to meet a friend who was rehearsing for a Broadway show at the new 42nd Street rehearsal studios opposite Madame Tussauds. I wondered what she was up to in there, in that private world of razzle dazzle and black Lycra. And a one, two, three, four . . . I’ve learnt a couple of things about this world lately. I know the chorus is now called the ensemble. I know the show folk I most admire don’t say, “Break a leg” but, “Kill the people.” (It’s what the wry theatrical maid Birdie says in All About Eve.)
I thought of the highlights of my trip. There was the dinner of crisps and gin and jazz when I had chatted to new friends whom I hope some day soon will be old friends. There was the delicious crab, fennel and orange salad eaten without ceremony because we were late for Cabaret where Alan Cumming lit the stage with his stunning brand of menace and glamour. (Glamace? Menour?) There was the tea I shared with my playwright pal who gave me an amazing account of the 12 weeks in 1966 when Jack Warner had hired him to write a musical version of Rebel Without a Cause. Even the woman I got talking to in my three-hour wait at customs turned out to be a lecturer in clinical psychology who also taught tap, leaving me with the distinct impression I had dreamt up my perfect companion.
While sleeping, the dialogue in my dreams had impressed me with its strangeness: in one, I faced the director of my play and said: “But you made me look so naive and I have never been naive in my life. Even when I was a baby, I was a soldier.” Neither of us knew what I meant. Perhaps the dizziest moment was when one of the white-gloved lift attendants at the Carlyle sang me a lullaby on the way up to my room and we lingered in the liftcar on the seventh floor until the song had ended. I felt sure he’d never done this for anyone else. Reasonably sure.
My friend emerged from her rehearsal, not quite in leg warmers but with a leg-warmerish air. There were four hours remaining until my flight home. We walked along Broadway. A large, plush Mickey Mouse went by, and a Buzz Lightyear. The Statue of Liberty guy was having a coffee, looking cheerier. We bought sandwiches and sat and ate them neatly in the nearby park while all around us the lights of New York flashed and yearned.
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