Metropolitan Life

Walking in NY, there’s a pilgrimage spot, a place I need to be. Long gone to me, decades since I popped in after a lit-agent lunch. When I surprised someone in medias res, in the middle of work, in crew-neck sweater fresh from the drafting table. Uninvited, I showed up. I was tacky and unkind.

This was a place I visited, never lived in, yet maintained as partial home. I had keys attached to a whalebone teething ring. I would rush past the catcalls from the ground-floor Latin luncheonette, trot up the same narrow staircase Stanford White climbed. A place of fun and sadness. For White, for me, for the creative man who lived there 20 years, for a string of sauciers-cum-celebrity chefs. Stratocasters on the floor, model planes dangling, an X-Acto knife poised above Charlie Brown’s pate. In the shadow of Madison Square Park, the Met Life Tower, home of licensed Peanuts characters. He freelanced for Metropolitan Life.

For years I never saw, never spoke, had nothing to do with him. I did remember, always, lots of that.

Clearly he was happy, in all the ways that count. Extrapolating isn’t hard; I’m the Peggy Fleming of that.

His happiness, their happiness, made me happy.

I walk down the block. The building is gone. Burnt, then collapsed, scraped, this 100-year-old-plus former stomping ground of Stanford White, a man and his roommates and then family, and, relatively briefly, in Reagan days, me.

Not my ruin. Yet I always stop.

Luncheonette gone, street spiffy and clean, expensive and quiet, no loud Salsa Boricua, no factories, catcalls, or grime. No crew-neck sweaters pasting up the latest Snoopy brochure beneath Evelyn Nesbit’s skylight. Everything’s changed. Mario Batali slings truffles on the corner.



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