Saturday, September 22, 2007

Why I love New York...

It was great to be a kid growing up in the 70's and 80's in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Our neighborhood was not too diverse at the time though, alot of italians, some irish and a few hispanic people. The brownstone that we lived in was a nice size for a family of 4. With plenty of space we lived modestly yet comfortably. My family, our next door neighbors and our cousins were the only filipinos- CORRECTION, we were the only asian families around an approximate 10 block radius of our home. My sister and I were 2 of only 3 asians in our grammar school for some time. We had a great childhood. Hanging out with friends on the swings in Carroll Park, playing touch football in the streets on 2nd place, dancing around a friends living room to Duran Duran and Big Country on 1st place and playing 7 seconds at my cousins house on 3rd street. I have memories of walking to our neighboring Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights with friends in the summer time. Eating pizza around Henry Street, sitting on someone's stoop on Clinton St. Walking along the promenade with a view of the East River across from South Street Seaport, passing by Pineapple St and Pierrepont Place, buying audio tapes on Montague Street. Most significantly was that Carroll Gardens was only 10 minutes away from New York City so we would take frequent trips into Manhattan for various reasons.

My dad, Fred worked as a computer programmer for some of the best financial companies of that time including The New York Stock Exchange, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, First Boston, and Shearson Lehman (before they merged with Smith Barney and then broke off again and changed their name a few more times). Alot of our trips involved meeting up with my dad after he got out of work on Saturday afternoons. He worked from Monday to Friday but would occasionally switch off a weekday to take a Saturday shift where he could work from 8am to 2pm. Because he worked within the World Trade Center when I was young, he would take us atop the twin towers to view all of the surrounding city. Though as kids we thought it was fun being up so high, we didn't appreciate it half as much as we do now. As part of his company's perks he got special discount shopping privilages at some of the stores within the towers. One of my memories was shopping for fragrances at the Estee Lauder company store.

I also remember one of the companies he worked for hosting a massive sit-down Christmas dinner at one of the offices in the twin towers. Hundreds of families were there and after dinner all the kids got to line up and tell Santa Claus what they wanted for Christmas. Little did we know that inside one of the side rooms were wall to wall toys, everything from matchbox cars, to bikes to dolls, action figures, stuffed animals, model planes and gameboards! Each kid could go in and pick out whichever toy he wanted for free! Since I loved helping my mom in the kitchen when I was young I chose a cooking set that included a stove top, mini pots and pans, a mixer and blender that ran on batteries, dishes and silverware. For my sister and I it was the night of our lives! I still can't believe that companies back then were that generous to flip the bill for humongous family events like that.

During the holiday season we would visit SantaLand at Macy's Herald Square, buy our Christmas outfits on the fifth floor, where the children's and junior clothing was located in those days. My mom would want to see the Christmas trees on the 8th floor and buy beautiful tree decorations. We would then grab a quick lunch at Chock Full O' Nuts also on the 8th floor at the time or stop by a nearby McDonald's. We'd walk along fifth avenue, over to Rockefeller Center to see the tree all lit up. We'd eat roasted nuts from a nut shop in the Rock Center promenade that's no longer there, stand on a long line for what seemed like forever so we could enjoy an hour of ice skating fun and indulge in some family time. When we got tired we'd head home. There were also trips to St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Rockefeller Center Observation Deck, not to mention seeing the Nutcracker and Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall-more perks from working for financial companies.

On non-holidays my dad would take us through wall street to Battery Park, the Statue of Liberty and South Street Seaport. There were trips to the Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum, The MOMA. When he worked at First Boston on 56th and Madison we'd meet him in the Atrium surrounded by live bamboo trees, birds and sculpture. Then we would stroll along Fifth Avenue to Rockefeller Center and grab a snack of hotdogs or pretzels from the sidewalk vendors. We were like tourists, taking pictures in the sunlight with the giant gold figure of prometheus lurking in the background. Some weekends would be spent at the Central Park Zoo or just laying out on the grass in Sheepshead Meadow eating a small picnic lunch we would pick up at a deli on the way there.

My aunt (dad's sister) was an optometrist who owned and operated an optical store on E. 40th St. between 5th and Madison Avenue for over 20 years. She worked 6 days a week including Saturdays because Saturday was one of the busiest days since many of her clients lived within walking distance from her store. My uncle would drive in from Queens to pick her up after she was done for the day. So it was not uncommon for the group of us (mom, dad, me, sis, aunt and uncle) to get together and spend a Saturday in Manhattan. Sometimes to have dinner at Wo Hop in chinatown or La Nacional on West 14th st.

Having lived in NYC before buying a house out in Queens and being the sophisticated shopper that she was my aunt always took us to the best department stores in New York City that we would otherwise never have gone into. Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, B. Altman. She also took us down to Soho for more shopping excursions. She loved to shop and still does! It was fascinating to watch her. Even to this day she can still spot the next big trend. She and my dad had a silent, yet powerful influence on me. When we'd visit her and my uncle at home my sister and I would entertain ourselves in her shoe/cosmetic closet and in her attic full of designer clothes for hours. She was always a good sport about it. We would lose ourselves in the eyeshadow colors, the irridescents, the frosteds, the mattes. The images of the brand logos burned into my mind-Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin, Lancome, Givenchy, Nina Ricci, Clinique, Dior, Chanel, Lauder, Arden, Charles Jourdan, Pierre Cardin, Vittorio Ricci, Gucci, Evan Piccone.

Because of these after work visits we had the opportunity as a family to enjoy the city in ways that most native Brooklynites didn't get to do until later in their lives or unless it was a special occasion. It was fun for us. We got to experience all of these wonderful city landmarks long before our grammar schools or high schools organized class trips, long before we'd have social gatherings here with college friends and long before we started working here.

Sadly shortly after I finished college and was back from campus life, my dad past away. He had been sick but his death was still sudden and unexpected to us. He was a man that we thought was immortal. He was strong, brilliant, sophisticated, wise and yet frail. He was the man that helped us discover ourselves. His influences are with me today in all that I do from my career to my relationships. My mom has since sold our home in Brooklyn and bought a condo in Westchester. My sister moved to London where she now lives and works.

I'm grateful that my family was sophisticated enough to expose us to the cultured and exciting "world" that Manhattan is. It's made my working life here all the more meaningful. I am also grateful that they taught us to enjoy the richness around us and be thankful for the things we have. Though so many people would argue that New York is too crowded, too cramped and too fast, I have a memory bank full of great moments in New York City. This is one of the biggest reasons why living and working here is so fulfilling to me, not to mention that it's great to be able to walk home from work.

I was fortunate enough to have met someone who appreciates New York City as much as I do. This city has so much history and we have yet to learn about it. So now my fiance, the head trader at his firm, a history buff and lover of all things New York and I have spent moments seeking out good eats at places like Cafe Des Artiste, Annisa, Blue Point, Blue Water Grill, El Parador, Roberto Passon, Kelly and Ping, Blue Ribbon Bakery, Yama, Taka to name only a few. We'd buy our meats at Faicco's on Bleeker, buy our cheese from Murray's Cheese. We've grabbed a drink or 2 at Frances Tavern or Chumleys or McSorleys. From time to time I'd have an afteroon of tea at Takashimaya with my mom when she comes to visit. We now order our meats and produce online from Fresh Direct. When we're not eating and drinking up New York we're walking the streets reading the various historical plaques on the buildings and park statues. At the end of the month we'll be with friends and family at Fort Tryon Park near the Cloisters enjoying a day of open air festivities.

My dad left a legacy of love for this city. I hope that when I have my own family I can pass along the fun, wonderful things that my dad passed along to me.