This weekend was a typical blur for a person with an office job and small children. There was per usual a mountain of house chores to do, events to take the children to, and hours of each day dedicated to the day job, as our day jobs spread their tentacles into every aspect of our lives. On top of that add grocery shopping.
Sunday I took one of my daughters with me while we went grocery shopping. She helped me find things in the store and took pride in helping me load things into the cart. We navigated the crowded aisles and found everything on our list (with some extra popcorn and coffee thrown in for good measure).
We were running down the clock toward dinner time and I knew I had a full wagon of groceries to get upstairs and away before either I or my wife had to make dinner.
We made good time and were parked outside our building a few minutes after I had returned our shopping cart. I sat at the driver’s seat for a few minutes, trying to calculate in my head the things I needed to accomplish in the next few minutes: getting my daughter out of her car seat, loading up the groceries, cleaning out part of the car quickly between those two steps, getting the groceries away, making dinner, getting logged back in at work—
“Daddy, look at the sunset,” my daughter told me.
Through the trees and the power lines and shadows of nearby buildings, a patch of brilliant dusk sunset filled the sky with its pastel vision. It had been there the whole time, going unappreciated by me.
It was a testament to the excellence of children. They have not had years to become jaded or distracted with the compounded stresses of the mundane. It was a reminder of how grateful I ought to be for my family and my life.
When we think of New York’s beauty we usually picture its stunning skyline, its aged paving stones and its tributes to achievement wrought in stone or glass; the urban landscape is beautiful but almost always bears the mark of a human hand. Even the most gorgeous parts of our most popular parks were put there by design.
This outlook often neglects the natural beauty that surrounds, us, and the fiery sky of an autumn sunset has few rivals of natural scale in our Gotham’s vision.
And so often in the execution of our ambitious dreams, the wonder of life itself gets lost in the shuffle. Having kids won’t bring the same reward if we can’t pass on an appreciation of beautiful things. Without the ability to stop and look at the greatness around you, are we succeeding in life at all?
I opened the passenger door so my daughter could get a better look at the brilliant sky, and took a photo so I could remember this and show her later. I made a silent vow to remember our sunsets, and make the time to take in the natural beauty that surrounds us, even in the densest cityscape.
A few years ago a friend who lives in Las Vegas posted a photo of his car’s dash board, which displayed a temperature reading of close to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. “Still nowhere near as bad as New York City subway in the summer,” was his photo caption.
New York City survived its first major heat wave of 2019 this past weekend and survived is as good as it gets.
Public pools were kept open an extra hour, though one pool had to close during the heat wave. Large numbers of homes lost power throughout Brooklyn and Queens during some of the hottest hours of Sunday. In Times Square, where the heat index got as high as 110 degrees, my colleagues from Ask A New Yorker began frying an egg on the sidewalk.
To endure a New York City summer is to taste the atmosphere of Hades if Hades had fewer redeeming qualities. It was Sunday and the heat was high early. I couldn’t avoid doing the grocery shopping and I’d be subjected to consistent air conditioning, at least while I was indoors.
At the local supermarket, I got to the crowded parking lot and found a space on the perimeter. The blacktop of the lot was a welcoming carpet of black lava. I saw containers of recycled glass sitting by the can and bottle redemption machines. Four large tubs were filled with the smashed remains of recycled bottles. The image summarized the weekend’s heat wave. There in all the gleaming punishment its jagged shards could dish out, penned in for all to see, the shards seemed to taunt us. This is my time, the broken glass could boast to passers-by. I was born of a blast furnace and your city’s asphalt is a cool breeze in the mountains to be. How fragile you must be…
I stopped to take a photo of the glass. It was so simple yet so brutal.
“What’s wrong with my glass?” a man asked me. I turned to see a man in a blue jumpsuit with ear protection headphones on. He was collecting the recycled glass and thought maybe I was taking a photo to establish some kind of complaint. I explained it was unusual to see all the glass out of the machines like that and made for a neat photo. This was true. I decided that a parking lot in 100-degree weather was not the place to have a discussion about the murderous indifference of nature and human kind’s being at the mercy of the Earth despite our collective ability to damage it, especially as this gentleman was spending his day working in the hot sun collecting the industrial chum of the recycling machines.
The supermarket requires shoppers use a quarter to unlock a shopping cart from another. It also employs a locking system that stops someone from wheeling a shopping cart off its premises. Because I parked on the edge of the parking lot, my shopping cart locked up once I got it to my van. I loaded my groceries but now the wheels on the cart couldn’t move.
I was enraged and determined that I would get this quarter back if it was the last thing I ever did. I dragged the shopping cart across the parking lot to one of the docking stations where you can return cars without walking all the way back to the store. All the carts at the station had been self-locked and I would not be able to get my quarter back there. I dragged the cart all the way back to the store where an army of locked carts stood silently as I strained and cursed my way to redemption.
I managed to lock my shopping cart to another and retrieve my quarter from its infernal lock. I celebrated this victory by taking a photo of the quarter held aloft before the shopping cart in victory.
If I had looked closer at the photo before driving home I would have noticed my glasses inside a case on the seat. I have not yet found these glasses. Heat wave: 1, Matthew Sheahan: 0.
New York City is such an intense and captivating force that New Yorkers must all leave their beloved Gotham from time to time for areas more peaceful and serene, places where the air is cooler and the pace of things slower. City life is an immense trade-off. We have the greatest art and culture in the world but must endure great hardships, annoyances, and inconveniences. It’s this crucible that makes our standards so high and our quest for excellence so unforgiving.
These past few days have found me on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, a beautiful beach community that is best visited after Labor Day, when the summer season is considered officially over. Plenty of other people have had this idea also. So the island is not a ghost town but can look that way at times if you turn down one of the quieter streets. The restaurants are starting to board up for the fall and winter or have at least cut down their summer hours.
Long Beach Island is one long excuse to sit and marvel at the beach and ocean. It is a thin, string-bean like island that is geared towards renting to or selling to people coming here for the summer. It floods easily and the oncoming series of hurricanes that are lined up to punch the United States now are on the top of everyone’s mind.
While this end-of-summer escape is welcome, the travails of life remain. This time of year especially, the days around September 11, are times when we are reminded about the fleeting nature of our very existence and the fact that life commands us to enjoy every moment.
This awareness does not all have to come in tragic form. I formed a habit of quickly taking photos of the sand castles I help my children build, because before long one of my daughters will crush them quickly without hesitation. She is not yet four years old yet she is a destroyer of worlds. She has not yet grasped the value of leaving something behind that is beautiful in part because of its vulnerability. It is more fun for her to feel that collapse of the cool, wet sand under her feet.
Long Beach Island is a place where you will miss out if you don’t take the time to walk along the beach at night and enjoy the light of the moon reflecting on the ocean. It is where the best thing to do is to sit on the sand under an umbrella and attempt to clear your mind of everything. The beauty of the landscape belies the chaotic, violent, and tragic nature of our lives, which is why we seek to surround ourselves with beauty as much as possible. The world will hand us enough ugly all our lives.
In a few days my family will return to New York City, which has now been rebuilding for more than 16 years since the September 11 attacks. A whole new generation of New Yorkers are alive who did not know life before that day. Our responsibility, among many, is to give this generation an appreciation of all that we have given them as family and all that we have built as a people, because it could very easily not be here tomorrow.
Long Beach Island, New Jersey is a tourist haven and I have no doubt that when the summer season is in full swing it is crowded and obnoxious. But going there during the off season, even a week or so after Labor Day, the place retains its beauty on the beaches but the towns take on a somewhat empty appearance, which makes it even more interesting. You can see starts at night there and the island is narrow enough that you are never far from the ocean.
The hum and crash of the ocean is constant. Even when you can’t see the water beyond the buildings or the sand dunes, the ocean keeps up its end of the bargain and sings you to sleep.
Hauling musical gear on the back roads of the Connecticut countryside was satisfying. I followed my friend Steve past some interesting houses in the woods of Killingworth: one giant massive estate that was under construction was already completely out of place with the houses around it. Another house was built in a strange dome-shape, eccentric to the last.
We were done loading the gear for my friend’s big July 4th party. I invited Steve to join me for some pizza, but he couldn’t. He had to make a phone call to a friend’s mother. The friend was in Texas and had committed suicide. It was an online gaming friend; they had never met in person, but the loss was hard to fathom. The guy was young and had a lot to live for if he had only been able to see that. Now it was up to my friend Steve to try to console his friend’s mother. Steve has a lot of friends and cares deeply about people despite his cynical and jaded exterior. He’s a person people are drawn to and for good reason, but this also means he spends a lot of time facing life’s tragedies. He’s seen more than his fair share.
The day after July 4 my father flew into town and rented a car at LaGuardia airport. He came to our apartment in Queens and visited briefly with me and my wife and our two little girls. My Dad lives in Georgia and doesn’t get to see his granddaughters much.
Then we headed to Poughkeepsie for a wake.
Mickey Murphy was my father’s best friend. They had been friends since they were 13-year-old freshman at All Hallows High School in The Bronx.
Mickey and his wife Denise are my godparents and were a very good influence. They were adults that spared me the drama of regular hectoring and criticism required of parents. There are times in every person’s life when they hate their parents; but I could never think a bad thought about the Murphys Mickey was always a friendly face, a calm voice even amid the sturm and drang of adolescence. His wife Denise is the liveliest and friendliest person of every place she goes.
Mickey had diabetes and had not had an easy time of it. He had experienced heart surgery, kidney dialysis and a lot of other non-fun things. He’d be permitted a measure of self-pity about it but that was unthinkable. He was a constant doer of good and could keep his head up even through very bad times.
My father and I drove to Poughkeepsie talking about things to keep our minds off of our destination. We gabbed about the sorry state of politics, the health and well-being of our own family, how his granddaughters are growing and his difficult travel schedule.
At the wake the significance of the loss was evident. Whether people knew Mickey for 15 years or 50, they considered him their best friend.
I owe Mickey a lot, because he was always giving my father interesting books to read and helped shape him as a voracious reader in high school. Not too many 16-year-olds can tackle Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness but Mickey Murphy and my Dad did.
My father was asked to say a few words and he came with prepared remarks prepared. As per usual he made me very proud to be his son.
Here is what he said:
“I met Mickey in freshman year high school now more than 50 years ago. In the past few days many of our classmates have been exchanging reminiscences and nearly all of them recall his amazing abilities. One of us wrote that, given what Mickey could do on the basketball court as well as in the classroom, he was a kind of superhero to the rest of us. And that was true. I remember describing Mickey to someone once who said, ‘Really, a guy who can do everything really well, sounds pretty hateful.’ But in Mickey it wasn’t. He was a gracious man and there wasn’t an ounce of swagger in him anytime, ever. In fact, if there was a flaw to point to at all, it was that he seldom paused long enough to even take in the great thing he had just done before he went on to the next.
“Mick had a successful career at IBM before illness cut it short. He had a series of important positions in our Human Resources function and ended up as Director of HR for the company’s corporate headquarters division where he had responsibility for the global headquarters site in Armonk. When I asked him about his executive responsibilities he said, ‘It’s simple, it’s just the stuff you already know. ’ Mickey had a welcome sign placed at the desk in the headquarters lobby. So yes, that’s simple and it was certainly something that Mickey knew to do, but no one had thought to do that before. He carried a reflexive graciousness with him throughout his life and applied it everywhere.
“Thirteen years ago Mickey and I visited Ireland. The trip was a Christmas present from our wives. Neither of us had ever been and it was a pilgrimage of sorts. We visited our mothers’ birthplaces. Mickey’s mom’s in Charleville and my mother’s hometown of Roscrea. We also hit all the sites that would draw any self-respecting brooding romantic Irishman. We went to Kilmainham prison and saw the yard where the leaders of the 1916 uprising had been executed. We traced the bullet holes in the walls of the post office on O’Connell Street in Dublin. I remember joking that if we had to have all of the darkness of this heritage couldn’t we at least have some of the light? I get the brooding intensity and sense of injustice unpunished and all that but what about the mirth and the magic? Isn’t there supposed to be a pot of gold here someplace, Murphy? So I got him to go to the Art Museum. It’s really convenient being right here next to the prison. I insisted we go to the Abbey Theater in Dublin to see a play. True, it was a brooding tragedy about a dying young man, but it was the theater.
“This struggle between the darkness and the light – not letting one overtake the other – is something all of us of Irish descent inherit. We don’t always achieve a manageable balance and it can be a life’s work. There is one thing this week that gives me comfort. Today Mickey is with Our Lord of whom Scripture says, “In Him there is no darkness only light.” So we know that for Mick a perfect balance is now achieved and all the physical challenges he bore so graciously throughout his life are resolved. Because we understand the truth of the Resurrection, we know that Mickey is restored to the fullness of his abilities and all the great gifts God gave him just as he was when I first met him. This is a promise made to all of us and in the sadness we feel at having to say goodbye to our great friend, this gives us legitimate cause to celebrate.”
Weekends during the spring and summer are crowded in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. You can tell how bad the crowds are when you pull off the highway and every inch of available parking and then some is taken up on 111th Street. Keep in mind that a minority of people arrive by car too. When you get there on the 7 train and look down 111th Street towards the park you can see a sea of humanity clogging the sidewalks and moving toward the park.
Still, despite the crowds, Flushing Meadows Corona Park is not a bad place. It can be crowded, for sure, but you can still have a pleasant stroll through it on a busy Sunday.
This past Sunday the wife and I went to the Queens Zoo to visit with my friend Jay Levitz and his wife and infant son. Jay is an awesome musician and plays lead guitar for Endangered Feces, one of my favorite bands of all time. Small world: ace punk rock drummer Chris Ara, freshly graduated from the New York Fire Academy, was also in the park that day and it was cool to offer my congratulations to him in person.
After the walk through the zoo with children, we were tired, and my wife thought it would be nice to stop by the Lemon Ice King of Corona on the way home. It was a great idea.
This modest ice store is an essential place to go during the warmer months.
The Corona neighborhood is dominated by Hispanic immigrants from a multitude of Spanish-speaking countries. That brings with it teeming crowds, obnoxious music and bad traffic with worse drivers but it also comes with some awesome food street vendors. Walking down 111th Street you can encounter some delicious empanadas or roasted corn on the cob that’s out of this world.
The celebrated lemon ice store—it is officially named Benfaremo – The Lemon Ice King of Corona—is on 108th Street and the 111th Street stop on the 7 train is the best way to get there via public transit.
The Lemon Ice King of Corona offers flavored ice. Would you like to have some ice cream or a shake too? Too bad. The Lemon Ice King has a lot of flavors to choose from (but won’t mix them).
My wife went and stood in line while I found a place to temporarily park the truck and wait. Our babies were sleeping after a long day at the zoo (a long day for a 15-month-old can be about two hours when you let them walk most of the way). The line was long but moved quickly and my wife soon returned with our ices. I went with the classic lemon flavor and my wife had strawberry banana that had pieces of real strawberry in it. Our babies got nothing; you snooze, you lose, girls.
I ate my first lemon ice of the year sitting in my truck parked in front of a fire hydrant. I powered through the large lemon ice, pausing only to wait out some brain freeze. It felt like I was starting the New York summer on the right foot.
One place I feel I should mention is Uncle Louie G, which operates a chain of stores in the five boroughs and Long Island. They have some of the best ices you’ll ever eat as well, but they also have regular ice cream.
Either way, it is going to be a long, hot summer (it always is in New York City), so don’t forget to treat yourself to a refreshing ice.
Summer is when many New Yorkers plot when and how they are going to leave the city for as long as possible. Although this has been a relatively mild summer so far (we still have to get through the rest of August), New York summers can be a cauldron of oppressively humid heat and sweaty anger.
But New York City is also a place of free Shakespeare in the summer, and if you have not gotten to one of the city’s offerings of free Shakespeare, make plans to do so at once.
The most well-known free summer Shakespeare plays are those produced by the Public Theater in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. But there are many others and they run the gamut. Many are done in parks and one is even produced in a parking lot.
When I lived in Inwood in uptown Manhattan I made sure to attend the Inwood Shakespeare Festival of free plays in Inwood Hill Park courtesy of the Moose Hall Theater Company. A few summers ago I was fortunate enough to attend The New York Classical Theatre’s production of King Lear in Battery Park that featured my uncle Andrew in the role of the fool.
Living in Flushing, Queens among throngs of Asian immigrants and currently out of the zones of hipsters and rapid (or at least costly) gentrification, I am fortunately still walking distance from seeing the Bard’s work performed.
The Hip to Hip Theatre Company specializes in bringing Shakespeare to the people of Queens. I was recently fortunate enough Hip to Hip’s production of Cymbeline that was performed in the garden of the Voelker Orth Museum in Flushing. I walked straight there from the Main Street stop of the 7 train and arrived with time to spare. I was able to stroll home afterwards with no trouble.
My wife and our two baby girls got there before me and the good people of the museum had us set up nicely with some folding chairs on either side of our double-wide jogging stroller (bringing a double-wide jogging stroller to an indoor production would indeed make us among the rudest people on Earth but this was in an outside park and we were not in anyone’s way, really).
The audience was at full to overflowing capacity well before show time, and more folding chairs were brought out and placed wherever people could find space without getting in the way of the actors. There was a children’s presentation before the show began. A member of the theater company brought children from the audience up in front of the crowd and put them through their Shakespeare paces, including getting them to perform dramatic Shakespearean deaths.
The show started and despite obstacles that come with performing in public, outdoors and in New York—actors dealt with microphones that cut out and fed back and they were constantly competing with the sounds of overhead airplanes and a running power generator—the cast forged through and put on a great show.
Watching Shakespeare in summer twilight is special no matter where you are. The changing light signals a cooling of the air and the start of night and new possibilities. Dusk ushers in with it the promise of adventure under the cover of night and hearing the poetry of Shakespeare’s plays as the sun sets is magnificent and is a joy that can’t be duplicated.
Watching Shakespeare’s Cymbeline in the summer night was outstanding. Even though we wrestled with two baby girls the whole night and even had to take them to the back when they started getting noisy (they liked the show and got excited), it was still possible to get lost in the beautiful language of the play. And Cymbeline has everything: romance, long-lost relatives, bloody swordfights, the works.
Once the show was over, audience members and actors alike paid compliments to our twin girls. I am proud that they went to their first Shakespeare performance when they were only six months old. The Hip to Hip Theater Company is to be admired for so ably fulfilling its mission.
Don’t miss the chance to see some Shakespeare this summer.