Leaving It All Behind (2008)

The Best Places to Say Goodbye

SUBJECT — The Best Places to Say Goodbye
LOCATION — East River, Hudson River, Manhattan, Outer Space

If you have to say goodbye to a person or your youth or a job or some dumb book proposal that didn't work, go to New York's oldest places—an ancient landscape that's lasted like the HUDSON RIVER. Then sit on some bench (PIER 34 at Spring Street is good), and think about the Ice Age when thick glaciers gouged the river's bed to below sea level, and remember how later the ocean poured in and mingled with fresh water from the river's newly thawed tributaries to form the river we see today. I did when my therapist of four years moved back to Israel, and it certainly helped. I don't know if it was because of his wife, but who cares, and anyway I always thought he was a Mossad agent and the therapy thing was a cover and I was his only patient.

An alternative method is standing on the MANHATTAN BRIDGE (entrance at Canal Street), staring down at the old and icy EAST RIVER and distracting oneself from petty comings and goings, like some 18th-century alpine traveler, by looking down into the abyss. After all this, have cocktails on the roof of the HOTEL METRO (45 West 35th Street, 212-279-3535) and you'll be nose to nose with the EMPIRE STATE BUILDING, which has been standing up straight, an inspiration to us all, since 1931. After a few of whatever you ordered, stare up at the silver and white stars in the night sky, and if you have some training in astronomy, look for the CASSIOPEIA constellation (Milky Way), with its five points that resemble either a stable chair or Cassiopeia's long flowing hair. She has seen so much come and go.

Then take in the diorama of the nude cave people walking through the volcanic ash at the MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY (79th Street and Central Park West, 212-769-5000), reflect a bit on eternal recurrence, and wander downtown looking in the windows of dollar stores—the telephones covered in pink fur, the rice cookers at NATIONAL WHOLESALE LIQUIDATORS (632 Broadway, 212-979-2400), and, if you're in Bushwick, the MYRTLE GIFT SHOP (54-21 Myrtle Avenue) with those plastic CyberFighters and dolls with green eyes. And then say: Oh, what does it matter, this man-made world?

And before going home—in this case, a crawl up to the fourth floor of a tenement building with truly historical crumbling tiles in the bathroom—look in the window of THE QUESTION OF TIME (54 MacDougal Street, 212-475-3820) with the Champagne Velvet clock and the Longines Fine Swiss Watches clock and all the store's keepers of time, which never stops but is most fleeting and we just have to live with it, which is a logical impossibility and, in New York, even more so. It was my therapist who said in our next to the last session that living in this city, one is always, constantly and sharply, dealing with separation—neighborhoods, cultures changing, people passing each other by, by the hundreds, every minute. It is far more difficult to live here than other places like Israel, he said, where the community is small and tight and stays in place in spite of how Americans perceive it as a place of violent losses. Well, maybe that's why he left. I wanted to give him a copy of Spellbound, but I was too shy.

Now I watch Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love, where Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are practicing saying goodbye. And he tells her, "Don't cry, it's only a rehearsal."


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