| June 28, 2012 | Comments (0)


Reaching the peak of a noontime sugar/caffeine high – I had just had an excellent lunch topped off with mousse au chocolat and a double espresso – I bask in the warm sunshine that bakes Katherine Hepburn Park, that delightful sliver of green extending from lst to 2d Avenue at 47th Street.

Some years ago, the park had been a noisy thoroughfare, a grid-locked two-way street choked with angry, honking cars snarling at each other, seemingly going no where. Somehow City Fathers had the wisdom to transform the street into a much-used park, a rare occurrence, indeed. An oasis amid the  concrete canyons in postal code 10017.

Now as I sit in the park on a bench next to a snoozing Chihuahua, Miss Hepburn’s sanctuary is quiet except for tree leaves rustling in the breeze and the tolling of midday church bells chiming their joyful invitation to lunchtime mass. Da…da,da,da…da…da,da-uh…da ! The words of the old Beethoven hymn ring in my ears, a distant echo from childhood Sundays in church: “Glorious things of thee are spoken…Zion, City of our God !…”

Or wait a minute ! Wasn’t  it also …”Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles !”, the Nazi national anthem and still, today, a German patriotic song ! The night before, I had watched a documentary on television about the collusion of the Catholic Church with the Nazis. Although I had been aware of this hateful liaison from reading history, I had never actually SEEN visual proof of it till I saw the film which showed smiling, plump priests standing next to Nazi party stalwarts. Everybody, including the holy men,  had extended their arms upward giving the hated, out-stretched  Hitler salute. Suddenly the sweet sounds of the church bells were ugly and sinister.

Shaken from my happy reverie, reminded by the chimes of what a confused world we live in, my gaze swept the passing parade of lunchtime pedestrians.

Probably few spots in New York City provide such a contrast in life styles and human profiles as one sees in the midtown neighborhood of  Turtle Bay. The park is a demographic playing field and the teams assembled represent all manner of stripes and persuasions – wealth, poverty, honesty, chicanery, arrogance, humility, not to mention that trait shared by all of us, human confusion.

There is the lunchtime expense account crowd, the Madison Avenue PR types, those creators of jingles and sound-bytes that make us buy things we don’t need and consume products that actually harm us; then we have the financial crowd, their flushed purple-ish faces, already jowly before they are even thirty – true-blue Republicans to a person – huddled in conspiratorial groups buzzing to each other knowingly with arcane code words; and who could forget the cream of the crop – the United Nations functionaries and diplomats, expensively tailored with seriously pursed lips, striding by at a rapid clip,  pashmina scarves  flying over their shoulders, glancing purposefully at their Rolexes…We are in a hurry ! We are important ! We have a mission !

Apart from the Chihuahua beside me whose snores alternate with little poopy jets of  tiny Chihuahua farts, I share the bench with a homeless person, a lady of indeterminate age – sometimes being on the street makes you look fifty when you are actually twenty.  I have seen Madame Homeless before. I know she lives in the shelter on East 45th Street; outside the building looks like any posh East Side condo. I wonder what it’s like inside her abode. Sometimes I pause in front of the entrance and jaw with the ladies and guys who congregate by the door. They are a jolly, laid-back group, bantering non-stop in a cloud of smoke, much of it carrying the sweet smell of weed. To me,  they are far more simpatico than the “my shit don’t stink” UN naabobs or the Madison Avenue huckster-fops or the hedge fund gangsters.  When I tripped and fell on Second Avenue a few days ago, who bothered to stop and see if I needed help ? Only those down-and-out homeless folks. They may be poor, but they’ve got soul.

Madame Homeless, my bench mate, is obviously down and out, but her presentation, as threadbare as it is, is respectable. Her dress is worn and old, but clean and neatly pressed. Only her shoes seem to give her away as not well put together. She is wearing sneakers that don’t quite seem to match. But who can blame her for that ? How many mornings have I dressed in a hurry and absent-mindedly buttoned my jacket the wrong way or managed to slip into one brown sock and one blue one ? Who cares ! Madame Homeless is a black woman and the image she projects is one of gentility. Make that shabby gentility.

And what she is doing sitting beside me reinforces her well-born mien. She is reading a glossy brochure, an expensive  real estate prospectus advertising townhouses and high-rise condos that cost millions of dollars. Sitting in the shadow of the elegant, almost forbidding Trump Tower, that 80-story ebony edifice whose top floors are lost in the clouds, I feel that Madame Homeless lives in a palace in the sky in Mr. Trump’s extravaganza and that she is shopping for another  residence. Perhaps a pied-a-terre in Battery Park City in that new building created by the edgy French architect who designed an eccentric structure with wavey walls that make you almost dizzy when you contemplate it. Or maybe Madame Homeless seeks a country retreat, a green haven on Long Island or in the horse country around Bedford ? Dressage anyone ?

I discreetly study Madame Homeless with a side-long glance, a technique  I learned on the Island of Java where everything is done indirectly and with stealth, and her detached but involved scrutiny of  these fabulous properties confirms my initial impression that she is a class-act. The faint smile on her lips tells me that she likes what she sees, but that she is not about to get overworked and pushy about any particular property. You will never hear Madame Homeless say, “I would kill for that classic six apartment !” or “That beach house has got my name on it !” No, Madame will take her time and if it is supposed to happen – if the  mansion REALLY is for her – she will buy it. Or in her case “acquire” it. Madame Homeless is not crass. She “purchases” or “acquires.”

I sit next to Madame for the better part of half an hour. For a few seconds, she looks up from her search for just the right property and heaves a sigh. Then she begins her quest anew, starting from page one, leafing with interest but detachment through the glossy pages.

I look at my watch and realize it is late. As I rise from the bench to leave, Madame Homeless lifts her face from the pages of her fabulous perspectus and locks eyes with me. We smile for a second as I move off  to my next destination. Walking away, I hear a plaintive voice. It is Madame speaking to me. As diplomats rush by us and  trophy wives parade past with nannies, babies and poodles, I hear her plaintive squeak, barely a whisper,  “Mister, I knows you is a nice man and I’s really hurtin’ ! Can you spare a dollar for a hungry lady?”

I reach into my pocket, peal off a five-dollar bill and place it on the open page of Madame’s  real estate brochure.  The page is turned to HAMPTON PROPERTIES FIT FOR A QUEEN.


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