Usually, I'll move heaven and hell to avoid spending Labor Day weekend in New York City. A shaky sense of self worth tells me I'm a loser if I'm stuck here during major holidays. The very prospect calls up high school humiliations, like getting picked last for the soft ball team or being a wallflower at the prom -- a sense of where in my life have I gone wrong?
"What drivel is this?" wrote a fan of one of my recent blogs. To whom I'll reply that I know that more grounded individuals actually enjoy the city when everyone decamps -- you can get into restaurants, theaters, etc. And to whom I'll confess that my enjoyment of the thinned herd on Upper Broadway is poisoned by the conviction that all the swells in northwestern Connecticut or some benefit in Watermill are whooping it up -- not that I would have shelled out for a benefit where no one knows or cares who's benefiting. Anyone who's got anything going, it seems, clears out, including the super in my building. The night doorman complains it's been deadsville since Thursday. I venture into the heartbreaking sunshine -- dreaming of ocean dips -- among the crocheted yarmulkes, the self-appointed doorman at Zabar's, and a stooped little woman in Talbot's who can't remember her phone number.
I was staying in the city on account of my friend's operation. He underwent -- in one of New York's major teaching hospitals -- what medics refer to as a "procedure" and the rest of us might call a triple-pronged airstrike on a shocked, defenseless civilian lasting eight hours. So I discovered the culture of the Hospital.
First, just about anyone who wants to can walk into the place. On my repeated visits I noted an eerie individual with a pinwheel hat who looked to be neither patient nor visitor. That there are people who might enjoy roaming hospitals tells us something about variegated human impulses.
Then there's hospital time, which is famously phantasmagorical. The doc tells you to arrive in the Family Room at 9 A.M. for a four-hour operation -- by 4:30 P.M. the only news was an announcement about an event in an interfaith chapel.
The Family Room where you're embedded is an environment like no other. And embedded is the operative word -- you don't know what's coming down. The place is done up with trays of fake narcissus plants, complete with buds, and paintings of country lakes at dusk, or is it dawn, that resemble the first greenish experiments in Technicolor and make you think you've passed on and woken in purgatory. More respectable art can be found in the waiting rooms of periodontists.
Then there is the Family Room literature, tattered journals that report on why some hunky actor prefers slit-eyed Renee Zellweger to Jennifer Aniston, or delivers the bulletin: "Reese looks happy." But you're a hostage here and thumb through these rags because, even with the new Proust translation in your bag, your concentration is shot to hell.
Nor will it do to yell at a nurse with Jean Harlow platinum hair, who periodically updates the group on operations. Hey it's been six bloody hours, already, what's up? you say. The surgeon is very fastidious is what's up and takes his time, she says. You go back to Reese's happiness and Jen's broken heart. The pages of those copies of "Us" and "In Style" and "People" feel basted in the angst and cold sweat of countless hands.
The sun hangs low and the Family Room is now all but empty -- but hello, there's my friend's surgeon, wearing one of those pastry chef hats.
He takes me into a sinister private room where I imagine they deliver bad news, but he says it went well, whips out a pen, and draws me a picture on a pad hanging on the wall detailing how he spent his past eight hours. It's a crash course in Innards 101. He's also really cute, this doctor, and according to Google skis and likes ballet. There's something satisfyingly congruent about a surgeon who likes skiing and ballet. If there's any problem, he says, he lives just three blocks away. Though it's unlikely that he, too, will be in New York over Labor Day, wouldn't it be nice to think so?