Scenes from the Naked City

It’s the week Everybody Came to New York.  Don’t blame me if I can’t wrap it up into a single seamless narrative.

* * * * *

Visitors from outside New York!  My husband and I enjoy our new status as semi-experts on the city since, after all, we’ve been here for six whole weeks.

We throw around every bit of insider terminology we can think of, like the BNT crowd.  (Is that the way you spell it — like a sandwich?  Or is it B&T?  Who cares?  No one can tell when you’re vocalizing it.)  We brag about how many plays we’ve been to.  How many movies.  How we’ve learned to jaywalk with abandon and almost get run over without breaking stride.

Our friend Brenda sits on the couch, flipping through the latest copy of TimeOut, marking events and places with a pen.  “There’s so much to do here!” she says.

“Wasn’t she cute — getting all enthusiastic about New York?” I asked my husband later.  “Remember how we were like that when we first got here?”

Later, our daughter arrives.  She tells my husband she finds our continued delight with the city to be amusing.  “She said we were kind of cute, though,” my husband reports.

* * * * *

“My God,” our daughter hisses as we linger over drinks.  “Look!  That’s Cynthia Nixon!”

She and I try to look casual and unimpressed.  “Who’s Cynthia Nixon?” my husband asks loudly.

“Miranda in Sex in the City,” our daughter whispers, watching Cynthia Nixon and another woman walk past us.

“The one with the red hair,” I tell him.  “The one you don’t like.”


“Her girlfriend is very unfortunate looking,” our daughter says.  Cynthia Nixon, though, she and I both agree, looks much better in person than on the small or big screen.  Great cheekbones.

We pay our tab.  “I need your help,” says an older man — a total stranger to us — sitting at the bar with a friend.  “What was Jackie Onassis’s middle name?  It was something weird — like Tallulah.  I’ve got a bet riding on it.”  He motions to his friend.

“Why do you think I’d know?” I ask.  I mean, is it that obvious that I live for gossip?

“You look like a writer,” he says.  He points to my husband.  “And he looks like some kind of college professor.”

Amazing.  Right on both accounts.  “You have really good inuition,” I tell him.  “But you’re horrible at gossip.  Her middle name was Lee.”

“Lee?” he says.  “What kind of name is that?”

“Her mother’s maiden name,” I say.

“That’s not right.”

“Yes, it is.”

We could have kept arguing all night, except he glimpses our daughter and immediately falls in love with her.  Who cares about the old-bag gossip expert when you have someone young and beautiful around?

“Thanks for taking up for me with that old guy hitting on me,” our daughter says, as we leave the restaurant.

We explain the situation to her: We’ve brought her up and she’s had a wonderful education.  We’re pretty sure she can take care of herself.

After we get home, I look up Jackie’s middle name on the Internet.  I was right.  Don’t mess with me when it comes to gossip.

* * * * *

When you have more than one friend visiting, you have to balance accordingly.  Brenda had to see the Sally Mann exhibit of photographs of her husband’s aging body.  Carol refused to go, since the last Sally Mann exhibit she’d seen in New Orleans had contained grotesque corpses.

So, Carol heads to the Village to meet another friend and Brenda and I walk to the Mann exhibit.  Unfortunately, we keep getting sidetracked by the store windows.  A designer resale store, for instance, where a middle-aged man with platinum hair and multicolored, pointed shoes lounges in a chair while a younger woman (his daughter?  his niece?  his, let’s say, fiancee?) works her way through designer jackets.  “That’s you!” the man calls across the room, as the woman preens.  “That jacket is you!  I could tell the minute you put it on.”

The woman doesn’t say anything.  She just stares into the mirror, entranced.  “I’ll buy it for you if you want,” the man announces.  “I’ll buy you anything you want!”  The woman still doesn’t acknowledge him.  She takes off the jacket and they leave together.

“Nobody’s ever told me he’d  buy me anything I wanted,” I grumble to Brenda.

“Maybe she wanted him to say that in a place that didn’t have used clothes,” Brenda points out.

* * * * *

We finally make to the Mann exhibit.  It’s unexpectedly beautiful: The work of a woman looking at her husband’s aging, failing  body — a body she has clearly loved for years and still loves now.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about shopping with my mentor

4 comments… add one
  • B&T. Bridge & tunnel.
    I couldn’t have told you Jackie’s middle name if you waterboarded me.

  • Cindy A Link

    OK. That’s it. I’m booking a flight to NYC.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    B&T?  Oh, of course.  Another day, another faux pas.  You don’t know Jackie’s middle name, Sophie?  What have you been wasting your life learning?

    Cindy — great plan!


  • Sheryl Link

    Congratulations, Ruth. You’ve spotted a celebrity :)!

Leave a Comment