Last Wednesday, on my way back from the Kenyan consulate, I stopped at St. Bartholomew Church at Park Avenue and East 51st Street. I had applied for a visa to Kenya, and submitting the application wasn’t easy: two visits to the post office, where they had to lecture me about the difference between Priority Mail and Express Mail; a separate visit to Chase Bank at the UN, because, apparently, you need a cashier’s check no matter what the Web site says; and three extra searches through metal detectors at the consulate. In the heat, I stopped at St. Bart’s to rest. To pray. To pee. Perchance to dream.
After relieving myself spiritually and physically and taking some brochures to look legit, I left the church with its cavernous coolness and followed a zigzag route toward Central Park. I was headed to Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus, where I planned on having lunch and doing more relieving.
When you live in New York, you learn the art of zigzagging, which is using the grid pattern of avenues and streets to get to your destination. Think of avenues as points on the x axis (“b” below) and streets as points on the y axis (“a” below). When you zigzag, you create a hypotenuse (“c”), which, as you remember from eighth grade, is shorter than x plus y. It is a shortcut. The more creative you get, the shorter the shortcut, thus saving time and money. This is why New Yorkers are so quick. They are in constant search of the Holy Hypotenuse. That they eat pizza and talk on their phones as they do so is just part of their charm.
So, there I was plotting my imaginary hypotenuse from St. Bart’s to Lincoln Center, minding my own business at a traffic light, when I came upon–how can I put this–my own version of Beatrice at the bridge, Juliet at the balcony, Helen at the parapet, the girl from Ipanema. This version was not stunning but divine, angelic. I was the one who was stunned, so much so that what happened next can only be described as temporary insanity.
I surrendered my hypotenuse right then and there. Without thinking, which should have been a clue, I caught up with this person, matched strides, and tried to make eye contact. I didn’t want to come off as creepy, so, I kept enough distance and feigned enough ignorance for plausible deniability. But then I thought of something quite implausible. I wouldn’t deny anything! I would proudly declare that I was following this person because of their exquisite beauty. Nothing strange about that, is there? Officer?
Here’s the thing. I am a daydreamer. I come from a long line of daydreamers. I can whip up something in my head that seems so real I am shocked to discover later that it is a fantasy. This used to get me into trouble in my younger years, as you might imagine. I am not so foolish now. I still daydream and occasionally act on a dream, but when I do I stand outside myself to make sure that my inner child doesn’t kill himself or anyone else. In other words, I exercise reason. It’s what adults do.
As I stood outside myself now, I noticed that this person and I were following each other. That is, when I continued to Sixth Avenue, so did they. When they turned onto 57th Street, so did I. This went on for twenty minutes. It sounds like something from Monty Python, but there we were–two souls free of the shackles of hypotenuses–and I felt giddy.
Then, near the Russian Tea Room (where else?), it ended as abruptly as it had begun. The vision that was Beatrice looked directly at me, turned away, and then disappeared into the madding crowd toward Park Avenue. I stood on the sidewalk for the length of two traffic lights, watching, which was a big hit with passersby.
Even now, I am not sure whether that really happened, or if it was just my imagination.