The Man didn’t realize how good he had it until he’d gone
A couple of weeks ago the beautiful blonde who inexplicably enjoys my company invited me to accompany her in New York while she attended a business conference. I was hesitant at first because I had just completed a record-breaking six weeks of temperance, exercise, and clean living, and Manhattan is hardly conducive to any of those bad habits. But then I remembered the wise words of Oscar Wilde who said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” So I packed my bags and prepared to rekindle my love affair with food, drink, and good-natured debauchery. I was to be the Man About TOWN in a different town.
Despite being born and bred in the South, I have spent a lot of time in New York City. My father was from Long Island and lived and worked in the fashion industry in Manhattan for many years before moving to a small Southern town and falling in love with my mother. He would often take us to New York and drag us to all of his old hangouts: P.J. Clarke’s, The Bull & Bear, The Oak Bar at the Plaza. During one of these trips, I asked my father what he missed most about living in Manhattan. “Anonymity,” he replied, noting small towns were full of people interested in your closet and what skeletons might reside there.
As the beautiful blonde attended her conference, I snuck away to revisit some of my father’s old haunts and raise a fork and glass with his ghost. A gin and tonic and a hamburger at PJ Clarke’s, a dry martini at the Oak Bar, a medium-rare filet at the Bull & Bear. Each time I visited these places with my father, he seemed a little disappointed, remarking at how much they had changed in the years since he’d move away. I found the same to be true now, realizing it wasn’t the food or drink or decor that had formed my fond memories, it was spending time with my father that made these places special. They just weren’t the same without him. I believe the same held true for his return visits—it wasn’t the places that had changed, it was the faces that were different. He hadn’t loved living in Manhattan because of the anonymity; he had loved the familiarity.
Maybe this is why our visits to the city became less frequent as the years went on. And maybe that’s why I found myself longing for the comforts of my town and understanding why I frequent the places I do. It’s not Soby’s or Rick Erwin’s or Davani’s or American Grocery that I love. It’s Carl and Michelle and Rocky and Darlene. It’s people who greet me by name and ask about the kids. No matter how large the city or small the town, what we love is the feeling of community. That was what my father was always trying to recapture when he returned to New York. Just like the old theme song says, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.”