THE PARK

parkseasons2

What is Central Park?  It is wonderful, that’s what it is.  It is a large, unique urban park in New York City which provides many opportunities for people to enjoy themselves.  They can stroll in it, sit and rest in it, read, eat their lunch, watch people, walk their dog (picking up after them, of course), picnic —and a lot more.  If you live in the city, you know this.  If you visit the city, you know this.  And if you’ve only seen the largest city in the United States in films, you have seen the park.  It has been a key part of over 300 films.  For example, When Harry Met Sally; Hannah and Her Sisters; Home Alone 2; Hair; Sex and the City.

Balto2It opened in 1858.  It covers 843 acres.  In 2013, it had 40 million visitors.  It contains 29 sculptures.  One is of a famous, life-saving dog: Balto.  Google him.  It contains Strawberry Fields, 2.5 acres dedicated to the memory of John Lennon.  It has 4 artificial lakes and 235 species of birds and over 25,000 trees.  In it, are:  boats and kayaks, horse drawn carriage rides, joggers and professional distance racers, 2 ice skating rinks, a carousel, and 21 playgrounds for children. Free classical music can be found there and concerts  (eg, Barbra Streisand, The Supremes, Paul Simon (and Art Garfunkel), Andrea Bocelli).

Those are facts.  But there is this, too…There are 9,485 benches.  You sit on them, of course.  But look before you sit.  There are plaques on 4,223 of them.  They tell stories.  For example: “Two Red Foxes and a Pup.”     Cryptic, I know.  You can Google that, too.  (As of 6/19/16, an article from the New York Times newspaper was there to explain it.)

BenchPix

In 1986, the “Adopt-a-Bench” program began in Central Park.  For a significant sum of money –$10,000, you can “put a plaque on a bench, saying almost whatever you want.  Suggested limit: 4 lines of 30 characters each.   And then it’s there forever.”  (The money provides maintenance for the bench and its surroundings.)  Often, a plaque’s story involves a relative or friend who has died.  Maybe a dog or cat, too.  For example:  “One man adopted 5 benches, one for each of his grandchildren, who received them on their 16th birthdays.”  And: “A Japanese couple, when they returned to Japan after a long stay in the city, has a plaque that reads: We leave our hearts in New York after 23 years of our adventure here.”  A couple more stories…

benchwork

 Lou Young has worked almost a third of a century in Central Park.  He puts plaques on benches.  One day, he found his name on a plaque he was installing.  An admirer of his work had paid for it:  “LOUIS YOUNG FOR HIS CARE AND DEDICATION TO CENTRAL PARK SINCE 1985.”  That probably made his day.  After 3 decades of service to Central Park, Lou Young was a NYC legend.

And there was this story.  Chris Branca died at 33.  His dog, Buddha, had died a year earlier.  They took walks in Central Park.  Sometimes they walked where it was not permitted.  There is a fine for that.  Mr. Branca always paid the fine. Then, he and his friend continued walking.  His family adopted 2 benches, side by side.  On one, a plaque read:  “For Chris Branca.  In all of us there is Fear, Hope, and Adventure.  In all of us there is a Wild Thing.”  On the adjoining bench, the plaque said:  “For Buddha, Chris Branca’s Bulldog forever by his side.”

foursome

If I could afford to Adopt a Bench, I would have to talk about two friends:  Angus and Jake.  Yes, they are dogs.  I would try to get a bench near Balto.  Remember him?  I would need to decide what the plaque would say.  Would it be:  “Will Rogers said = If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”  Or:  “Everyone thinks they have the best dog. And none of them are wrong.”  Which quote should I choose?

*****

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About rcarmean

Two things... First, why have I decided to establish this blog? I like to put essays together. I research an idea or topic looking for information, statistics, stories, quotes, pictures, etc. I enjoy the process and seeing a finished product. I’m told that as I get older, new activities can help maintain energy and keep my brain alert. In other words, I am not doing this for money or fame. Second, regarding the gentleman in the collage of pictures above...it's not me. Those are photos of Christy Mathewson. Why him? When I was young, my primary activity was being sick. It took up much of my time. Eczema (a case so bad I was written up in a medical journal showing doctors what their patients COULD look like), asthma, and allergies. You know allergies: don’t eat this, don’t wear that, and, for Heaven’s sake, don’t touch any of these things (eg, dogs, cats, horses --I only saw horses in cowboy movies and TV shows, dust, swimming pools, my brother --OK, that’s an exaggeration, Rick was a fine brother). In my spare time between doctors' appointments, pills, and ointments, baseball kept me sane. In the 1940s and 1950s, when I grew up, pro footballI and basketball had not yet become extremely popular. Baseball truly was “the national pastime.” I listened to games on the radio (remember it? TV without the picture). I read magazines, books, and newspaper accounts of games. I collected baseball cards. I learned about the game’s history, as well as present. The same with its stars. One man stood out: Christy Mathewson. He was a great pitcher for the New York Giants in the early 20th century. But there was much more to him. At a time when professional athletes made little money (yes, there was such a time) and ball players were considered on the same level as actors, artists, and prostitutes, Mathewson stood out. One of his nicknames was: “The Christian Gentleman.” Most men is baseball drank, smoked, cursed, and fought —with other players, umpires, and fans. The fights were physical, not just verbal. Mathewson did none of these things. But he earned the respect of other players who did them all. Even Ty Cobb and John McGraw. There’s more. He was a college graduate (Bucknell University) when most men were lucky to have a high school diploma. He played other sports, including pro football which you wouldn’t recognize. He was handsome. He played in New York City, then as now, the largest city in the country. Excellence and popularity there meant fame and money. He dressed well. Today, his commercials would rival LeBron’s. And, finally, a hero’s life must have tragedy. After his playing career ended, WWI arrived. He suffered from influenza and was exposed to mustard gas. Chemical warfare. His lungs were damaged and he required treatment for the rest of his life. (Like my Grandfather who also fought in The Great War.) He died in 1925. He was 45 years old. I have his picture here because you need to know more about him than me. He was what an athlete could be. Players like him and their accomplishments got me through a sickly, painful childhood and can still sustain me in difficult times. *****
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