I walked out of the Times Square Marriott Marquis and headed straight over to Junior’s. I had been craving cheesecake from Junior’s since the last time we’d come to New York for a show. We tried to come at least twice a year, but last year when Maureen (I’d called her Mo since college) had breast cancer, we postponed our trip and in three months, she was gone. I couldn’t bring myself to come alone for a while and finally said to myself, “Hell, you better get to it. That’s what she would’ve wanted.” I’d invited my daughter, but somewhere between soccer and volunteer work, she wouldn’t commit, and I realized she had her own family and life. The last show we’d seen together was The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre, and I had tickets to see both The School of Rock at the Winter Garden Theatre and Beautiful-The Carole King Musical at the Sondheim. When I purchased them online, I got two each and am not sure why, except sometimes I forget Mo’s gone and imagine she’s just on a long trip with girlfriends.
I had some free time and sat in a chair just below the giant red stairs behind the TKTS booth on Times Square. The pulsing lights of the towering digital advertisements were enough stimulation to stupefy the soberest of tourists, and as I glanced at the crowd, everyone was taking selfies. It seemed they were mesmerized, even more Zombie-like than they were at home, where they watched big screens. In fact, the noise from crowds, ads, honking taxi drivers elevated surround sound to a whole new level.
I thought about a recent article I read from Forbes about the U.S. government having written CONPLAN 8888-11, a counter Zombie defense plan, all paid for by your tax dollars, and while I hadn’t read the government’s plan, and likely never would, I mused they should’ve included photos from New York’s Times Square to offer a more realistic definition of zombies than those gleaned from the flesh-eating creatures in early sci-fi films.
When a cute family from the Midwest stopped and inquired if my cheesecake was any good, and asked about the expense of it, I knew they, first, hadn’t done their homework before the trip and, second, they needed to realize everything was going to be more expensive in New York City because it was New York City, the capitol of capitalism, like the Avatar’s Tree of Souls on Pandora, minus the spirituality.
“Well, maybe we’ll give it a try.”
“You won’t regret it.”
“Are you enjoying watching all these crazies?”
“Yes, I find it reassuring.”
“Yes, that I’m not one of them.”
With that, they chuckled, nodded, and moved on, but not toward the cheesecake store. Like the rest of the zombies, they were so steeped in all the hype, they wrongly assumed I was referring to the people dressed in colorful minion costumes with see-through screens for vision, the women painted green, dressed like Statues of Liberty, and walking on stilts, or the Naked Cowboy, who, incidentally, isn’t naked at all, but sporting tighty-whities with a guitar hiding his genital area.
After my cheesecake, I thought about Mo. We’d held hands and walked the streets together from Times Square over to Rockefeller Center, where we’d shopped, and then had strolled through St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a place where Mo’s favorite writer couple F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were married and where we had planned to renew our vows in a couple of years when we hit the fifty mark. I decided I couldn’t watch a show without her. My hand wouldn’t feel right, like a phantom feeling those who’d lost limbs feel, and I didn’t want to sit next to strangers.
I saw the family from the Midwest coming out of the M&M store, and I went up to them, pulled the tickets out of my pocket, and said, “I want you all to have these. Two of you can see The School of Rock and the other two can see Beautiful-The Carole King Musical.”
“Oh, my. Well, thank you. Won’t your wife be disappointed?”
“Yes,” I said. “But she’s not going to be able to make it.”
“Well, let us pay you.” She glanced at her husband who was pulling out his wallet.
“No, please. Take them and afterward, get some cheesecake. You won’t regret it.”
“Yes, we will. Thank you so much, but what will you do?”
“I’m heading over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and my flight is first thing in the morning.”
“I hope your service is nice and you have a safe flight home.”
I felt better than I had in some time and I walked past Rockefeller Center and up the steps at St. Patrick’s. As I walked in, I put two dollars in the brass slot and lit a candle for Mo and sat for some time admiring the stained glass windows and the architecture. I was appreciative of the peace and the lack of zombies.
Niles Reddick is the author of the Pulitzer nominated novel Drifting too far from the Shore, a collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novellaLead Me Home. His work has been featured in eleven anthologies/collections and in over a hundred and fifty literary magazines all over the world including PIF, Drunk Monkeys, Spelk, Cheap Pop, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Slice of Life, Faircloth Review, among many others. His new collection Reading the Coffee Grounds was just released. His website is www.nilesreddick.com. Twitter handle: @niles_reddick