My husband Rob said, “You’re not going to like the plane.” It was hardly bigger than a puddle-jumper. Two seats on one side, one on the other side of the aisle. But it was a direct flight to Newark from Chattanooga; the airport, closest to home, two hours away.
I sat next to a young woman wiping everything down with disinfectant. “I’m a germaphobe,” she giggled. I tried not to let on that I was flirting with a cold. I sneezed a few times like an avalanche into a Starbucks napkin, and ran out of pocket-sized tissue as I carefully balled them up into my purse. Maybe I tipped her off when I asked the flight attendant for extra cocktail napkins when she brought the pretzels and soft drinks?
Once off the plane, then it was a grimy taxicab ride through the Lincoln tunnel into the city. After we checked into the hotel, where we were greeted with warm chocolate chip cookies, my daughter Bethany and I scarfed a couple down and we sought the provisions of a Duane Reade (the Walgreens of NYC) across the street. Standing in line with a case of bottled water, day- and night-time cold medicine, and more tissues, I glanced around, noticing a New York Post. Plastered on the front were sobbing teenagers from South Florida. The shooting had just happened two days before, on Ash Wednesday, also Valentines’ Day. I was all undone over this. It was oddly surreal, because I’d grown up in Ft. Lauderdale and attended high school in the same area as the tragedy.
I was born in Michigan and we moved to Broward County when I was only three. My mom taught me how to swim in the ocean and my sister and I romped around orange groves barefoot, climbed trees, and hopped swimming pools throughout our childhood. I was familiar with that neck of the swamp, with its nearby alligators, Everglades, mosquitoes, and flip-flop attire. The other oddity is that I am very at home with New Yorkers. Even though we have lived in the remote mountains of North Carolina for almost twenty years, my roots are sandy, almost reedy, floating like a lily pad along the banks of a South Florida canal. I am used to diversity, all kinds of people. South Florida is the hottest part of the melting pot of these United States. Many of my classmates in high school were originally from New York. Some, Brooklyn. Some, Long Island. The recordings of grieved parents who’d lost children express their sorrow, their understood anger with pronounced Northeast accents.
The main reason for our trip to New York was the International Toy Fair, held at the Javits Convention Center, alongside the Hudson River. We attend every year, in February, showing our wares, Christian games, down in the basement, known as the ‘Game Alley.’ Long hours, standing, greeting, playing games … this is what we come to do. We are CactusGameDesign.com.
At night, we forage for food, seeking comfortable chairs, ambience, and hamburgers that don’t cost $21. It’s not possible. New York is expensive. You get what you pay for, though. The food is delicious.
One night, after a long day of exhibiting, we trudged a few blocks from our hotel into an Irish pub called “The Perfect Pint.” We ate bangers and mash, chicken pot pie, and beer, brought by a smiling ginger-haired server with a lilting Gaelic voice. I am comfortable here too. My grandmother’s maiden name was McConnell. I planted myself in view of Olympic figure-skating on the television.
We brought our youngest daughter, Beth, so she could experience a little New York. She got to meet Amish and Asian customers, as well as talk to a wide array of store owners, buyers, distributors, and her Dad’s old colleagues from the game business. Some are inventors, some wear colorful ties, and some hand out tokens, like miniature dice. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They play games for a living, after all.
Instead of a taxi, Beth and I braved google maps on my phone to find the Majestic Theatre, where we would watch Phantom of the Opera. The streets were wet with unseasonably warm rain, and we raised an umbrella we’d just picked up at the Old Navy in Times Square. We felt adventurous and touristy, eating in a typical diner, a block from the theatre, where we listened to ’80s music and ate Yankee bean soup and coconut pie. Sensory-wise, I was blissful, with a little nostalgic music, northern and southern flavors. Beth kept pulling up soundtracks on her phone: “Think of Me,” “Angel of Music,” and “All I Ask of You.”
Then came the performance. We were practically onstage, in the second row, feeling the vibration of the orchestra, underneath. The main prop, the grand chandelier, swung over us, and we could see the soprano’s veins pulsating in her neck with every passionate note.
After the fabulous show, we stepped back onto the streets of New York. Two blocks up, we approached Times Square again. I looked up and gasped. Positioning my camera phone, and halting my daughter by the arm, I said, “Look at that!” It was the most prominent image in all of Times Square. An illuminated Nativity scene, in which the Blessed Mother Mary, gazes into the eyes of her infant Son. The two, intimately focused on one another. The ad read, “The Mormons.” If we’ve ever needed the love of God through an image like this, it is now.
The next morning, my husband quickly straightened his tie. We stepped out of our hotel at 6:55 AM, hustling into the working crowd of the city. We waited not-so-patiently at the crosswalk. I don’t know how we did it. Maybe it was our guardian angels? We flew four blocks to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and plunked down into our pews, breathless, in time for 7 AM Daily Mass. “Our celebrant today is Cardinal Timothy Dolan.” What???!!! Yes, there we were, collecting our souls to receive Jesus, in Word, and Sacrament, for two very important meetings. For my husband, it was a meeting with Hasbro. For me, it was a meeting with my publicist for my new book, Paul’s Prayers. (For preorder, visit GoodBooks.com.)
At the trade show, coffee in hand, Rob and I recounted how we quickly we got to the church. He said, “It’s like that time Jesus stepped into the boat, and immediately, they were on the other shore.” It really was like that! Five minutes to go four New York City blocks to Mass.
Later, I opened the door of a taxi cab and asked the driver to take me to West 36th Street. He pointed ahead, “It’s right there, a block and a half from the Javits, Miss.”
“Oh, you are so kind,” I said. He wasn’t going to make any money off me that day. He didn’t tell me to get out of the cab, but he said, “You can walk.”
So, I walked. It was about 67 degrees outside. I walked, still, wrapped in my overcoat, feeling a little vulnerable, amidst littered sidewalks and construction workers, eating their lunches on broken cement stairs. The publishing company was housed in an unassuming building in the garment district. I pushed the button for the 11th floor, taking notice that there was no 13th-floor button.
After sitting and talking with my publicist, we posed for a picture with an advance reader copy of my book in front of a beautiful painting, done by an artist with a mix of Picasso’s color cubism and Monet’s impressionism. I’d like to describe our meeting, but that will wait for another time. Let’s just say that meeting a New York publisher for a book that I’ve written, my first book, is a dream come true.
That night, we went to the most famous ice rink, at Rockefeller Center. It took us a minute to adjust from wobbling on blades to somewhat of a glide, if you want to call it that. Because of the 70-degree temperatures, the top layer of ice was literally a puddle. The first song was David Bowie’s “Golden Years,” and that was a good start, but then it deteriorated into some techno beat that my fiftyish brain isn’t wired to, so I focused on sticking close to the outside rail, and not being run into by gangly adolescents.
At six AM the next day, we gathered into an Uber for our ride to Newark Airport, facing our final day of traveling, stepping in and out of metal containers, on the way to our resting place with our own pillows and comfy featherbeds.
Wheeling up to the airport, a trio of flags circled the terminal driveway. They were at half-staff. I was strangely comforted and connected to God and my neighbors near and far. We are a nation in mourning for the loss of life, ode to violence, and despair. On the plane, as I sat next to an unpleasant man from who knows where, I reached for my Rosary. I didn’t care if he saw it. I wanted him to. I texted my other two daughters, my friend, Judy, from South Florida by way of Brooklyn, with this message, “Please pray for us. We’re about to take off.” I switched my cell into airplane mode and wished that I’d bought a nap ring at the airport, so I could ignore the turbulence. Clutching my crucifix in my left hand, fingering each beautiful blue crystal Hail Mary with my right, I consoled myself with this thought, “God will save us, one bead at a time.”
Home, Sweet Home.
Copyright 2018 Susan Anderson