It is hard to come to rest on a cold winter’s day in midtown Manhattan. The crowds flow eternally, swirling around and past anyone who breaks stride. The sun is painfully bright and its light is pale and cold. From the point of view of the visitor, the city and her business can seem to rush past like a missed train, its lighted windows framing millions of lives that have nothing to do with you. Along with the wonder and the exhilaration that this city can inspire, there is also always the tiny little shock of realizing that the city hasn’t really noticed and certainly doesn’t care that you are there.
Scoured raw by the wind after hours of walking, we started to think about getting indoors for a little while. On the central midtown avenues, there were restaurants and there were Starbucks, and we decided that a half hour over a mug of hot chocolate perched at a window seat in a Starbucks would be the most reviving thing.
And we are not made of money, after all.
There was a Starbucks every two or three blocks, but they were all stuffed full, every seat taken on this blustery Saturday afternoon. At the third Starbucks we came to — also full — we bought hot chocolate and walked across the street to the Shops at Columbus Circle, an upscale mall, hoping to find a bench and watch the shoppers while we warmed up.
In the gallery-style entryway, the first thing I saw was an enormous statue, a corpulent standing body in black gleaming stone, sort of like an infant but also sort of like a sumo wrestler. We walked the mall’s curving halls, past windows of jewelry and clothes. I paused outside one window and pretended to study a sign on the wall. Just inside, a clerk was draping a glittering metal bracelet around a young woman’s wrist while an older woman looked on. The trio was huddled next to a display case, their backs to the rest of the store. As I watched, the young woman looked up from the bracelet around her wrist to the older woman standing next to her and nodded, smiling.
We couldn’t find any benches. On the second floor, we leaned on a railing and looked down onto the corpulent statue and its twin standing guard on the ground floor, one story below us. Exhausted, legs and feet aching, we sank to the floor, joking that we would probably be told to move by a security guard. A few minutes later, a security guard told us to move.
“Where can we sit?” I asked, looking up at him. He was not wearing the gaudy, police-style uniform of a Wal-Mart rent-a-cop. Instead, he was dressed in a dark suit, a discreet badge reading “Security Officer” hanging from his coat’s breast pocket. This being an upscale mall.
“There are seats on the second and third floor,” he told me, already edging away, perhaps not wishing to see how quickly we complied with his order. He made a hand signal at someone down the hall, a sort of “call off the dogs, all clear” wave-off.
I was confused, because I had thought we were on the second floor. We rode the escalator up one story, which turned out to be the third floor. The third floor was full of restaurants, which do indeed contain seats, but paid sitting wasn’t the kind of sitting we were in the mood for. We retired to the Barnes & Noble and consulted a guide book for a good Korean restaurant near our hotel.
There were no benches in the Barnes & Noble, either, so I just threw my coat on the floor and we stood there reading in the aisle. Another discreetly uniformed security guard walked by us two or three times, circling like a fish in a tank. I tensed, waiting for the “excuse me, sir” that would push us along again, back outside if we weren’t going to buy anything. As it turned out, the guard left us alone, but it was still a relief to get back to the hotel and flop down on the bed, where we could arrange our bodies any way we wanted and no one could tell us not to.