Archive | June, 2013

Tour guide étiquette.

19 Jun

While in the belly of Federal Hall today, in front of a model of Hamilton Grange, I was rattling off many of Alexander Hamilton’s many hundreds of achievements while simultaneously asking questions, keeping plates spinning, trying to engage bored eighth graders, doing well, making jokes, getting laughs, getting them to realize they know more than they think they do, awarding points for the harder questions, pulling out ten dollar bills, juggling it all, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a stranger. He was not supportive. One is not paranoid when one is correct. 

I made a stupid mistake. I mentioned Hamilton started The Bank of Manhattan. It was a really stupid mistake, because my own brother works for Hamilton’s bank, The Bank of New York, now The Bank of New York-Mellon. I saw the stranger shake his head no, triumphant.

I quickly corrected myself in his mirror, and went on. But the man ruined my game and the plates all came crashing to the floor. I stumbled over a few dull sentences and relinquished my fiery finale to the bathrooms behind us. 

Then this bore, this oaf, lingered. I tried to get away from him, but he cornered me in the bowels of The Bill of Rights. “Do you have a business card?” he asked. I saw right through him. I saw him, in fact, reach for his own. “No, I don’t,” I lied (my bag is literally bursting with two hundred of them I bought last month in a moment of vainglory and had them printed with my picture on them and hugely so and now I’m too embarrassed to give any of them away, even to an asshole). “Well, here’s mine,” he said. “I’m a guide, too, and I give walking tours of this area. By the way, you got a few things wrong like…” and I interrupted him:

“No, you heard a few things wrong because you were looking for mistakes, and you can have your card back because I am a working tour guide currently showing forty-five students around ‘your area’ and as far as I can see, you are empty-handed except for this card I’m handing back to you. Here. Take it. (It fell to the marble floor.) And if I EVER had the gall to listen to a colleague while he or she was working instead of minding my own goddam business, I CERTAINLY wouldn’t go up to him or her and mention the one or two things I knew but they didn’t. So fuck off, sir.”

And I believe those were Burr’s last words to Hamilton as well.

A gift.

9 Jun

His feet dangled a foot above the subway car floor and it was his cute shoes that I noticed first. Kind of brown suede wing-tipped loafers with ecru soles. Neat. And he was neatly dressed in a white button-down shirt and blue jeans with a little cuff at the bottom. He was chewing fruit chews out of a foil bag, calmly, not piggishly wolfing them down like an animal. Or two.


His father, dressed similarly and on the boy’s left, reached into a plastic bag and without ceremony handed his son a gift, wrapped in yellow gift-wrap and sporting a big blue bow. The boy put it on his lap until he finished his fruit chews. Then he calmly handed his father the emptied foil and set upon the present.


It was taped together like a father might tape a package. Altogether too much tape and sloppily with love. The boy was puzzled and approached the oddly shaped figure from nearly every angle until the father turned it over for him and pointed out the one loose flap. Had he left it there for the boy? I wondered. Then the father let his son figure out the rest for himself, watching patiently as his four-year-old’s stubby little fingers away pried at the yards of stubborn Scotch Tape.


Many stops came and went. They were in no hurry.


Hundreds of people came and went. No one penetrated their world, tucked away in the corner of the car.


Finally the top of the gift-wrap gave way and the boy pulled something blue from the yellow paper. I thought it was a shirt myself. I thought to myself the boy would not much care for a shirt. But as it emerged like a butterfly, it spread itself open to reveal a baby blue baseball cap with baby blue and white pinstripes on the underside of the bill and on the cap itself it read Donald in embroidered letters and as the boy spun it around the embroidered bill of Donald Duck himself came into view as did the rest of Donald’s pudgy ducky body, spinning around until the little boy found the velcro at the back to fit the cap to the size of his huge head sitting atop his little tiny body while I wondered myself how on earth do little boys know how velcro works in the first place?


It fit on the first try.


And the boy turned to the window to catch a glimpse of himself in its reflection. Then he quickly turned to his father and something like joy or safety or surprise or wherever one hides love in themselves came pouring out of every pore of him in an instant, and instantly the boy was wrapped around his father like a gift with flashes of dimples and blue and eyelashes and little tiny fingers. The embrace lasted a few seconds and eternally.


I was seated across from them the whole time. And I felt a little ashamed to have ‘eavesdropped’ on their moment. But when the father saw the tear that fell off my cheek, he said, “That’s my son.” And I said, “Yes. He is.” And I gave the boy a big boy thumb’s up, him ten feet taller in his new hat, and left them on the R Train going south at 49th Street.

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