NYC, part 2

IMG_4235I suppose Times Square is like our Pier 39 in San Francisco: a place for all the world to gather but is itself not very authentic. What can I say, it’s not my thing. I don’t get dazzled by the towering advertisements, by the fifty-foot high images of Beyonce luring you to buy a Cartier watch. I’m irritated by the men in superhero costumes on street corners taking photos with children… for a price. The assault of all these images is just that: an assault. And the density of tourists and the density of hawkers convincing those tourists to ride this bus or see this comedy show or eat this plate of steak and fries—no, to me it’s in the same family as hell itself, Las Vegas. So I was relieved to escape Times Square and to walk among the theaters on 42nd St, to see that Romeo and Juliet is playing over there and some play about tango music over here. It appeared that some of the people passing us on the sidewalk were dancers in shows, their hips turned out in that distinctive way and their gaze straight ahead.


We got a few slices of pizza at a place I remembered and sat on a stoop, watching the IMG_4237characters walk by, wondering why the bicycle across the way was suspended in a locked position from a railing. From there I got lost trying to follow the iphone map that is easy to follow while driving. Eventually we made it to Rockefeller Center to take Liam to the observation deck. Dolora escorted him while I wandered around, doing such pointless things as going into the most prominent shop there, a Legos store packed with

IMG_4239people doing the most bizarre thing: buying lots and lots of Legos toys. Really? I just picture kids whining to their parents in all languages to please please please buy the Legos helicopter set.


From the profane to the sacred, I walked down to St. Pat’s on 5th Avenue and entered at the tale end of Mass. I sat in a back pew and read a random Bible passage, which set me as usual in a bad mood: Do people really believe this, really find guidance and solace in… in this? The passage was about God assuring someone (Abraham?) that he wouldn’t destroy Sodom if there were fifty innocent people there. “What if there were forty?” Abraham asked, and God said no. And onward down from thirty to twenty to ten in this sample of really predictable writing. Even at ten God wouldn’t destroy the city, and so ended the passage, leaving me to wonder, Is that it? Is the point simply that we’re supposed to marvel at God’s kindness, even though he sounds pretty eager to wipe out an entire population? Is this what fills up these pews on a Sunday evening in New York City, this reminder to not slaughter your neighborhood as long as one good egg is living there?


IMG_2571Back to Rockefeller Center, where Dolora and Liam had descended from the heights of the tower and were now waiting for me in… the Legos store. It all fascinated Liam and it all repulsed me—the reverse of our walk through Harlem a few hours earlier. Fortunately he didn’t beg me to buy him a helicopter, so out we went into a rain that was now falling heavily enough for us to find refuge in a Starbucks in the basement of Rockefeller Center, us sipping hot chocolates beneath a few billion tons above our heads. The best part was Liam and I playing table football with a sugar packet. I needed one dramatic field goal to tie… and yes, I split the uprights of his fingers for a 44-44 tie.


Outside the rain had abated. Abated? Is that the word I want for this blog? How do you write a blog, anyway, what kind of voice do I pick, what level of sentences and vocabulary. I think I’ll get better at this thing but for now it’s a bit strange, writing to the air.


Outside the rain had… eased. How’s that? Better? Beneath the easy rain we walked to Grand Central Station to show Liam this magnificent building, a train station with chandeliers and arched


hallways and marble floors. Along with libraries, this is my kind of church—and a testimony to the core values of New York City that it’s ordering Madison Square Garden to move in ten years so it can restore Penn Station. And it’s also a testimony to New York City that on one end of Grand Central Station is an Apple store out in the open as part of the station—this mix of commerce and aesthetics everywhere you turn.


From there, a subway ride home up to the 103rd station. On the ride I watched Liam watching a group of five men in soccer uniforms and cleats, chattering in Spanish and English and French. Liam’s red eyes told me he was exhausted but he remained alert to this pocket of men, to their easy interchange of languages, to the way they kissed each other on both cheeks when they left. This is what I want Liam to see and to become himself: not the Lego shop or the Siren that is Beyonce in Times Square, but the lesson of cultures that is everywhere present and that will teach him about his world: about ways of saying goodbye, about ways of providing health care, about ways of traveling on a subway rather that the isolated cars of Sonora.


At long last we arrived at the apartment and met Theresa and David, along with one of their three grown daughters, Marie, just back from two years in China as part of a program at her university, Yale. Theresa and David deserve to be the gold figures you see at the top of Trafalgar Square, or the new gold figures to replace the reclining figure (Hermes?) at Rockefeller Center. To be brief, they are exceptional people: Theresa works for the United Nations, traveling the world to combat child and women exploitation; David, with his degree from the JFK school at Harvard, is the director of a program that rehabilitates dropouts through work and school—a program that began in NYC and is now worldwide. Amazing, kind, eloquent people who have been my friends ever since Theresa and I eur-railed through Europe and Morocco during our junior years overseas. At some point I hope to write more about them and our dinner conversation, but for now, onward…. onward to day two: to the subway down to the Staten Island Ferry that took us past the Statue of Liberty, to our walk through Wall Street, to our visiting the memorial at the World Trade Center, and then our walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to meet our old friend from Sonora, Peter Segerstrom, who was our tour guide through Brooklyn for the rest of the night—a night that included sipping champagne on his rooftop with the skyline of Manhattan playing out in front of us.





  1. Katie Slocum

    Abated! you’re not writing to air. I’m here with you, every step of the way. Checking this blog is as routine as email and weather to me now. It’s so refreshing to be enveloped in your words again, especially as I’m reading Colum McCann’s new novel Transatlantic concurrently.

    I like how you mentioned Liam’s hesitancy. He is ten after all and it’s important that you’re considering his perspective in this. I love how it parallels with Serendib and your experience vs. YOUR father’s experience.

    I’m addicted to this and I love you guys tenfold more than ever.

  2. Patricia Harrelson

    You are not writing to the air. We are here, reading your amazing words, traveling with you. Yes, the rain “abated.” I love that word! And I love Liam’s fretting over the long walk because I did that too just a few months ago walking from 107th to Columbus Circle; And the subways, oh the subways, thank you for bringing it all back. What I’d give for a subway ride! Keep it up Jim. I loved Cleveland and the porches and parks and “meeting” your friends and family and hearing a bit of that intellectual conversation. You are NOT writing to the air!

  3. Norman Aldridge

    Hi Jim, Dolora and Liam. I hope you are having fun in New York City. We just got back from Tahoe. Tahoe was fun. We went to a boat museum and drove around the lake in the boat. I can’t wait to hear about Sweden.


    • Jim Toner

      Liam Toner

      Dear Norman,
      Sorry I didn’t get back to you for so long,yes I had AN AWESOME TIME!!! both in New York and Sweden.In Sweden I did a lot of awesome things like going to a Swedish soccer camp, going swimming in the Baltic Sea, driving a speed boat, and going tubing with my friend Lukas.I’ve had lots of fun in Hungary and Italy I’ve only been to venice and bologna. I think you would really like venice.I hope soccer is going well.


  4. Barbara

    Well . . .I don’t see you as “writing to the air”. I appreciate your insights and curiosities Jim. Regarding Grand Central Station; when Brad’s great uncle Wilgus designed it, he created the concept of combining commerce with the train station as a way to pay for the exorbitant and mounting costs.

  5. Stefan Lövgren

    A fine post. I like the dis of the bible’s writing as “predictable.” Lede a little weak. Overall, I give it a B+. Keep up the good work. Can’t wait to see you all.

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