crescent moon on new york

I was barely able to make out the waning crescent of the moon in the dark sky.

It was just after midnight on a mild September night when we stepped out into the city lights on Lexington Avenue, just up from 52nd Street. I replaced the felt fedora on my head; it was a perfect match to my tan-coloured suit.

There were the familiar rumbling sounds and underfoot shaking of subway cars beneath the Manhattan city street. The sharp smell of cigarette smoke lingered in the still air as a pair of young lovers passed by along the sidewalk in front of Fleurette’s Jewelry store.

We meandered slowly along, side by side, soulfully talking about how pitiful the sad creature from the movie we had just finished watching was. Then she turned, looked me dead straight in the eyes and in her breathy voice said,

“….he just wanted affection – you know,  a sense of being loved, and needed, and wanted.”

She had such a wide-eyed look of innocence and naivety. Who was she really talking about?

And then she stepped onto the criss-cross metal grating above the subway line:

“Ooo, do you feel the breeze from the subway? Isn’t it delicious?”,

she said, her perfectly smooth legs locked straight at the knees, her feet in high-heeled white strappy sandals placed about a foot apart. And then her ivory-coloured halter-style cocktail dress billowed upwards exposing her legs, her white panties, and the inner pleats of the dress that resembled the underside gills of a mushroom. A look of little-girl innocent pleasure painted her face.

It wasn’t a hot night, but what man wouldn’t feel a burning at this moment? The world stopped and lived only for us two for a precious few seconds.

I wandered a semi-circle around her, cocked my head a bit and smiled, “Sorta cools the ankles, doesn’t it?”

An iconic scene of the 20th Century by an iconic figure of the era.

marilyn monroe over subway grate

The abrupt honking of a passing cab snapped me out of my daydream.

Ambling up Lexington Avenue a couple of summers back, it was a warm Friday morning in Manhattan and we were on the hunt for Norma Jean. Yes, that Norma Jean. You might know her as Marilyn Monroe.

It was a scene from the 1955 movie The Seven Year Itch where Marilyn strode out of the Trans-Lux 52nd Street Theatre onto Lexington Avenue with co-star Tom Ewell after having just watched Creature from the Black Lagoon.

We were visiting New York and wanted to see the iconic spot in person and feel the aura of what was but a few seconds from a scene that occurred over 50 years ago. Millions and millions have likely walked this street and across the hundreds of subway grates scattered throughout Manhattan. But we wanted to see THE sidewalk grate where the Hollywood GREAT had stood and purred those famous words in her high-pitched-dripping-sex-all-over-the-place voice.

We asked workers unloading beer cases from trucks, we inquired with hotel doormen, but no one seemed to know the exact grate where Marilyn had cooed and billowed. We wandered back and forth up and down Lexington hoping a sign, a cairn, some marker would pop up saying:

Here, actress Marilyn Monroe captured the world with her engaging smile and undulating white dress while cooling her ankles and naughty bits on her return home from a date in the movie The Seven Year Itch.

But why? Why would this be important? Was I fanatical about Marilyn Monroe? Not at all!

We seek out fame and the famous, the historic, the iconic, the tragic and the momentous. We bookmark our lives by the battlefields and cathedrals and moviestar mansions we visit- we set plaques and monuments as tribute and remembrance. We collect cars, and bubblegum cards, and vinyl record albums, and coins and stamps and vintage wines.

There is a burning desire in so many of us to visit and draw in greatness – both positive and catastrophic –  from the past and feel a part of it within us. We want to walk on the “hallowed” ground and breathe in the air that Julius Caesar absorbed.

No matter our station, there is a feeling of splendour and ownership if we see and touch the same things that others who have achieved much have seen and touched. We want the sensation of being a part of something bigger, grandiose and monumental.

We want to be unique but at the same time we want to feel like a part of the human family. And for many of us too, I think it’s because we want to be fabulous in some way and do something special in our short lives.

fame-star

What could be cooler than to leave a legacy behind; a song that others hum, a story that resonates through time, a grandmother’s iris plant that thrilled, a photographic portrait that mesmerizes 100 years on?

AND SO?

We didn’t ever, to our best knowledge, stand on the famed sidewalk grate we were seeking out on that busy Manhattan avenue.

BUT … we did grab a hot dog from one of New York City’s ubiquitous sidewalk vendors and imagine ourselves solving a stupendously difficult murder case from TV’s Law & Order. Later, we ventured to the top of the Empire State Building and envisioned ourselves as Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr (An Affair to Remember), or Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks (Sleepless in Seattle). I may have even daydreamed of seeing myself climbing that building as King Kong while Fay Wray or Naomi Watts screamed in my hairy clenched hand.

And it’s everywhere.

In Paris, I imagine myself in the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, a half-mask covering my face… in Berlin, I stand in front of the Brandenburg Gate giving an address to hundreds of thousands of onlookers as Adolf Hitler, or John F. Kennedy … in Tokyo, I am Hirohito …in Beijing, I am Mao … in Ottawa, I am Trudeaumania … in Washington, I “have a dream” of standing before a huge crowd on the Mall as Dr. Martin Luther King.

No matter who we are, or where we are in time, we stand beneath the dark skies, feel the warm caressing of the night breeze, and gaze dreamily skyward at the same moon that Marilyn and I flirted beneath that late summer night of 1955.

Van Gogh Starry Starry Night

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