Just Saying Column: A trip with a grandson is so rewarding during a pandemic

We greet with great happiness the thawing of Manhattan from the grip of the plague, but our thoughts eagerly turn to regaining the rhythms of a more normal Island life. Jane’s new hip is fully incorporated into her body, and Jitney travel to the East End no longer seems so fraught. As with all owners of a middle-aged home here, most of the major house components have required updating or replacement over the years. A new well, pump and storage tank have ushered in an era of stronger water pressure that, months into it, still elicits wonder. The heating system, overhauled a few years back, effortlessly keeps things toasty enough to eliminate the second sweater. 

Twenty years of service have been enough for the cedar posts of the garden fence. Some are wobbly and chewed away and we are in the hunt for replacements. The roof needs a good washing, the wood pile needs tending and the list goes on. It will be good to get back into the Island home groove as spring performs its annual miracle.

But the city still holds its cornucopia of attractions. We have timed tickets to visit the Frick museum, in its new temporary home at the former Whitney museum, just around the corner. (Its usual mansion home on Fifth Avenue at 70th is undergoing renovation.) I’m old school when it comes to art and the Frick’s astonishing collection of Old Master paintings is deeply moving for the nearly unimaginably precise painting techniques that produce such representational beauty. The hair, the lace, the eyes, the texture of clothes! They don’t do it like this anymore.

Which brings me to my grandson, Max, 12. In a sign of significant plague thaw, we arranged for him to visit us in the city from his home in Brooklyn. This being 2021, we Ubered him over and back, tracking him in his “car” on Jane’s I-phone. The original plan (I’m not sure why) was to head to the MOMA, the vast repository of modern art on the West Side. In a stroke of luck, MOMA was closed on the day of Max’s visit, sparing me from grousing silently and aloud about many of the museum’s modern masterpieces whose significance and power are totally lost on me. There was a recent New Yorker cartoon that spoke to this issue. It shows an uncle/grandfather character turning to his nephew/grandson and saying, “Oh, you’re 4? Well this stuff could be done by a 3-year-old.” Concocting my own caption, I told Max, “A lot of the stuff in there is no better than Zoe on her worst day.” Zoe is his 8-year-old sister, one of whose signed modernist works is hanging framed in our living room. Max got a kick out of that.

We went to the Empire State Building instead. A brilliant stroke on a beautiful day.

As you tend to do when you start living in Manhattan, you clamber to see all the classic sites. The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Fulton Fish Market (now in the Bronx), the bridges, countless, cool neighborhoods, the Empire State Building of course and on and on. (The iconic structure, built on the site of the original Waldorf-Astoria hotel starting in 1930, was completed one year and 45 days later.)

You needed timed tickets but there was barely a crowd. All the guides and helpers were exceedingly polite and many in grand uniform. There are many more engaging historical exhibits than we recalled from previous visits. The animated depiction of the red hot rivets being tossed about is the best. The main observation deck is on the 86th floor and we chose to pass on the upper deck on 102. The panorama from 86 is sufficiently spectacular, as most of you probably know. 

Alas, no more Twin Towers, but there is plenty to see and it’s fun to pretend to spot your apartment building although only some tall nearby structures are all you can make out. Max was blown away even though he’d been there before as a little kid. Jane and I were blown away too, and you are struck by Manhattan surrounded on all sides by water, which seems almost an afterthought during normal life on street level.

Soon, I hope, our favorite jazz club uptown will reopen for full inside service. That will be the strongest sign to me that the city is mostly back. Normal Island life went away for a long time too. But to us, compared to Manhattan, it didn’t go so terribly far. No Island jazz club is on the horizon, but a Mashomack hike on the yellow trail with a new hip will be every bit as welcome. A visit from Max and his sisters too.