June 1, 2002 was my first weekend of summer vacation, I went to see "Star Wars" with friends and my mother took me to the town farmers market. I said to my sister, "It's definitely summer."
June 1, 2003 was the day after my high school graduation. "I hated the night," I would write, having spent it crying, rolling my eyes, and summarizing high school as four years of a missed connection with an entire administration and student body.
June 1, 2004 was my first day of university summer school. I spoke to new students, took a communications theory course, and then had my usual weekly violin lesson. The same was true for 2005, but I was worried about my future, writing: "somehow I feel like I’ve disappointed everyone because I’m not what they want me to be. That fact makes me sad."
June 1, 2006, I wrote: "I’ve been quite numb -- school, shopping most days, trips to Starbucks and sitting in restaurants leaves me bored. Math class is a terror, waking up early is mundane...I don’t have much to say about anything."
Among the Mobile summers and classes and Starbucks, June 1, 2007, was a rare day. I was 22-years-old. For background: I'd used my four years of college as a platform for getting as many bylines as possible. I'd had a focus and determination that I'm now envious of. I graduated with 190 published articles, I had completed a book draft on a ghostwriting contract and the check was cashed, and I was steadily keeping an arts column. It was enough to produce consistent exhaustion and unnatural joy from sitting at shows and visiting art galleries at least two times a week and staying up till 3 am on deadlines.
Networking always worked to my advantage. One of the critics for the New York Times, who'll I'll call by the nickname "Alyssa," had invited me to lunch the next time I was in New York. The lunch would unexpectedly turn into me accompanying her for a New York Philharmonic concert. I always close my eyes and remember the way the sun fell down on us, how cool I felt standing in that tight little circle of important people, feeling like "our hero" in a coming-of-age novel. If ever my life had a "peak" 2007 was it. It's hard to believe nine years have passed since. Its still one of my favorite New York memories, and for that reason the entire post follows. Nicknames throughout, of course.
June 1, 2007
I get worried when I hear myself say things like, ”I can now die happy,” because pure satisfaction is a dangerous thing. But last Friday afternoon, I slid into a wooden chair at a Starbucks on Broadway, and when those words slipped out of my mouth, I meant it. It had been a perfect week that just kept growing into something more.
The first day of my seventh vacation to New York began early at 1:10 p.m. Its customary for us to arrive in the city around 9 or 10 p.m., so we took advantage of the daylight and good weather.
After purchasing metro cards in the Harlem subway, we took the bus down Fifth Avenue, headed for the shops on Third Avenue.
The last time I'd been in the city was in April, for a quick three days of stressful interviews. Anyone who knows me knows that New York City is my heart. I love to be there, and I love to write about being there, so as we shopped and snacked on Wednesday afternoon my head was in the stars.
Thursday afternoon was the most important. I rose at 9 and left the apartment at 10:30, dressed appropriately for an afternoon lunch with Alyssa, the first female music critic of the New York Times. I've been reading her reviews since I began college, and have looked to them as a guide for myself. Alyssa has an awful lot of skill, and always makes her short reviews potent -– not a word gets wasted.
After a stuffy, long ride through the Upper West side, Diana, mutti and myself landed in midtown Manhattan, smack dab in the middle of Time Square. I speed walked a few blocks to Pigalle Restaurant, and parted with my family.
Alyssa hadn't arrived so I got us a table a few feet from their floor length open windows. I nervously scanned my menu, hoping to settle on steak. After a few moments of fidgeting, she appeared, a tall in tights and a polka dotted dress. She looked just like the photograph of her on the back her novel. She sat across from me and together we chatted about a host of things, mainly her job, and the critics of New York.
Somehow, as I munched on the raw steak I ordered, we got to discussing the New York Philharmonic. On my list of ”Things to do in Manhattan,” attending one of their concerts was on the list. But after breaking the bank for tickets to see both New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, I had no change left to attend an NY Phil concert.
Mrs. Alyssa explained that she would be reviewing that night, and then suddenly she jumped in her seat --
”I have an extra ticket if you would like to go!” she exclaimed, and of course I was pleasantly surprised! I wanted to jump up and say ”Of course!” but first I'd have to consult it with my mother. I told her I would let her know, and mentally devised a plan of getting to the concert.
I had to part with Mrs. Alyssa around 1:45, as she had an appointment. I walked with her to the corner and waved goodbye, feeling quite pleased that she was so fabulously nice, and willing to put up with my flighty conversation.
I met mutti and Diana outside the restaurant again, and we went walking to 39th Street, where supposedly there was an American Apparel store. We ended up on a wild goose chase, and stopped at Starbucks for something to cool us from the heat.
Afterwards, we trekked through Herald Square, stopping at H/M and Forever 21. Around 4 p.m., I called Mrs. Alyssa to see if the invitation was still open, and it was. I happily took a bus to Lincoln Center at 6, waited nervously at Barnes and Noble for a solid hour, then crossed the street and waited in the lobby at Avery Fisher Hall.
I was to wait for her in the lobby, and around 7:30 she appeared, with a new haircut, but still dressed as she was from the afternoon.
”This is the first time I've gone to the symphony and not known what's on the program,” I told her.
”Sometimes my husband doesn't look at the program so he can see if he can guess which pieces they're playing,” she laughed.
We rode up an escalator of the golden hued Lincoln Center, entered through door five, and sat in row T, in the two seats reserved for the critics from the New York Times. As soon as we sat, she introduced me to one of the press coordinators at the New York Philharmonic.
”Shes an aspiring critic,” she said as I shook his hand.
”Well, Im an aspiring PR professional,” he laughed.
I met another pair of individuals, Mr. North, another critic, and his guest, a violinist whose name I have forgotten. The lights went down in the middle of our chat, and Mr. North leaned into me and whispered:
”Going to the symphony with Alyssa is like going to a baseball game with Babe Ru–-” and before he could finish, Alyssa was hitting him playfully on the shoulder with her program, and he scampered to his seat.
The first half, Rimsky Korsakovs ”Russian Easter Overture,” and Saint-Saens ”Third Violin Concerto” went by rather quickly. I noted to Mrs. Alyssa about the orchestra's forte.
”Maazel is such a technician, and that last forte was much different than the first,” she said. It was an observation I didnt even notice, and I made a mental mark in my brain. ”Must listen more.”
During intermission, Mrs. Alyssa and I walked out into the lobby with Mr. North and the violinist. I listened intently to their comments, and none of them enjoyed the first half.
We all walked to the balcony at Avery Fisher Hall.
”Whats wrong with them?” someone exclaimed in disgust about the concert.
”It was so pedestrian!” exclaimed North, noting that the Phil usually do much better in the second half of a concert. In fact he even used that exact phrase in his review.
Everyone discussed music for a long while, and Mr. North asked where I'm from. Mrs. Alyssa discussed her time in Munich, and when the violinist cursed, Mr. North reprimanded him, ”Dont curse around Ariel.”
The violinist mentioned Joan Acoella, the dance critic from the New Yorker. He had coffee with her earlier in the week.
”She says she like, goes through this thing, with the–-” he pretended to nervously down coffee, smoke a cigarette with a slight tick, and then finally let his left hand wither to the ground like a dying fly.
”Well, I think every writer goes through this period of agony,” said Mrs. Alyssa to my surprise.
The lights then flickered and the outdoor crowd began to shuffle back inside. The violinist excused himself to speak to a friend, and before parting looked at me, placing a hand on his neck.
”Do you have a mark yet?” he asked me, referring to the black mark all violinists get below their jaw from placing the violin under their neck. I touched my own neck.
”Not yet,” I said.
”You will,” he said. ”Good luck.”
When we returned to our seats, the violinist returned with news from backstage. Supposedly the orchestras poor playing was due to their 11 p.m. arrival back in New York, and a single morning rehearsal. The lights then went down for the second half, and as Lorin Maazel strolled onstage, I whispered to Mrs. Alyssa, ”No score,” and she nodded,
The Bartok ”Concerto for Orchestra” was very nice, and I am partly too intimidated to comment on it critically. Their last movement was much more drippy than the recording I have at home.
At the end of the evening, we skipped out the second the applause started.
”They used to call that the ’critics exit but now everybody does it,” she said.
In the lobby I parted with Mrs. Alyssa after thanking her profusely. My mother, sister and aunt were waiting for me in the plaza, and as I greeted them I saw her drifting toward midtown at a steady pace, headed home for an 11 p.m. deadline. (I later read her review online.)
I was kind of sad that the evening went by so quickly, everyone I met was so nice, I could do that every evening for the rest of my life.
That night we rode deeper into the Upper West Side for Chinese Take-out. After our late night feast I settled into bed, and couldnt stop replaying the meetings and conversations in my head.