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9:28 p.m. - 2013-01-22
The Big Night Out

I'm standing outside Carmine's my back to the wind, looking toward the blaze and jumble of lights that is Times Square, I'm talking to my son on the smart phone I dialed with one swipe of a finger across its glossy screen, Mick's inside paying our tab and while I'm saying good night to Wolf our limo pulls up. Mick comes out of the restaurant just as the driver comes around to open the door of the glossy black car that looks about half a block long and I had a moment of total clarity about the whole incredible scene. This was me, LA, in the most fabulous city on Earth out for a romantic night with my amazing husband to celebrate a birthday I never thought I'd live to see.

And how was your weekend?

Mine, as illustrated above, was phenomenal. I know I'd usually be spraying italics and writing in all caps and using my most hyped up adjectives, but what I have after this weekend is the most wonderful sense of peace. Of content and calm and I feel beautiful.

Friday night Mick was in the kitchen having a snack and I sloped in to say hi and have a cuppa with him as usual and instead I started to cry. Blubbering I tried to tell him how much all this effort he'd put toward my birthday meant to me. At that point I didn't know yet what he was planning, it was simply the knowledge that he WAS planning something. He wanted to knock my socks off. Make it the most special night of my life. It was undoing my effort to be chill. This feeling I had went way past simple gratitude. Between braying sobs I told Mick it honestly didn't matter if the big surprise evening he had planned was simply a trip across the river to Nathan's. I was blown apart by this wanting of his to please me.

Many, many years ago I remember writing a blog post about my longing to be a Zsa-Zsa. It seemed to be an impossible goal back then with that dog's dinner of a life I had. But throwing caution to the wind and setting myself up for everything from snorting mockery to chiding for being so anti-feminist I admitted I wanted to be one of those glam women who men went to outrageous lengths to please. Don't remember my exact words but it was along the lines of: 'I want a guy who'll scale a mountain, cross a crocodile infested river, fight his way through hostile natives and finally stagger to my door gasping and bleeding with a curare dart sticking out of his neck just so he could give me a diamond ring and a pint of Cherry Garcia.'

And knowing I was now married to exactly such a guy...wowzers.

Of course Sunday night was a hella lot more than a trip to Nathan's. Mick arranged THE most romantic night he could make happen. At 5:35 all spiffed up in my sparkly dress and prepared for anything I opened the front door to see a stretch limo idling at the foot of the driveway. Our driver hopped out and introduced himself. Opening the passenger door with a little bow Mick and I got in and the driver, JJ, stuck his head in and showed us the radio controls and pointed to the selection of sodas and juices and water and the bottle of champagne on ice in the bar section. Swanky glassware with monogrammed napkins tucked inside was snugged into their individual holders. The car smelled clean and had no hint of proms and weddings past. Already I was bowled over and we hadn't even left yet. A ride in a limo! Scratch one thing off the bucket list. YAY!

Destination was still unknown but by the time we'd rolled through Podunkville and gotten on the highway heading south I had a feeling we were going into the city. Sure enough about where we left the Thruway for the Palisades Parkway Mick's phone rang. It was some guy named Ron who wanted to know if we could meet him at the corner of 59th St and 7th Avenue instead of the original place. I only got Mick's side of the convo and he was doing his best not to give anything else away.

When he hung up I assured Mick nothing was spoiled. I'd already figured out the city part but was still completely in the dark about what happened when we got there. I knew this Ron guy wasn't a drug dealer, but other than that not a clue. Mick smiled and we sat back and watched the lights and talked. Once over the GWB I started to get all hopped up the way I do whenever I go into the city. By then it was dark enough outside to do one of my favorite things- peek into the windows of the buildings we passed and try to imagine what kind of lives the people who lived there had. Up here in the country privacy is paramount, even the space made by our moats of lawn isn't enough and almost everybody curtains their windows from the peeping eyes of the neighbors and passersby. But in the city I am always astonished and delighted by the lives on display. Even the ground floor apartments have uncovered windows! Perhaps living on a little island with half a million neighbors skews one's ideas about turf and privacy. Whatever it is I'm grateful.

The car glided to a stop. We were across the street from the NY Athletic Club, on our right was an entrance to Central Park. I saw several horse-drawn carriages and looked over at Mick. He was grinning. Oh no he didn't! Oh yes he had! A few minutes later a bright red carriage drawn by a gorgeous white horse clip-clopped up and we got out of the car. The driver, (you guessed it, Ron) nimbly got down from his high seat and after introducing us to Mozart his horse told us to get in and to please tuck up well beneath the velvet lap blanket. We did and off we went into the park. Ron knew his stuff. Quite the spiel he had, it was full of movie references and gossip and bits of history about the park. He pointed out statues and to landmark buildings along the park's edge. Once deeper into the park he offered to stop for photo ops but I was freezing my tuchus off and didn't want to leave the relative warmth of the lap blanket and Mick's hugging arm around my shoulders. I made an exception when we got to Strawberry Fields. Mick and I got out and walked up the path to the Imagine mosaic. We snapped a few pics and I wished I had a flower to leave with the others already there. During the whole ride I kept marveling over how cinematic our trip through the park was. It was bitchin' cold so there weren't many people in the park, but there were a few, just enough to make the whole place feel like a secret only a select few folks who were in the know were allowed into. And of course scenes from every movie and TV show ever made in New York were flipping past my mind's eye. "Oh look! There's the bridle path from 'Hair'! And isn't this where Barbra Streisand was slogging along during her self-improvement phase in 'The Mirror Has Two Faces'? And look! It's that bridge that's in everything from 'Annie Hall' to 'Highlander'!" I was amused that despite telling Ron where we were from and that we'd been to the city many times he kept slipping off into his practiced "Give the out-of-towners their money's worth" tourist patter. It was nice, really, and I thought about how great it would be for folks, maybe from Kansas, for whom a trip to NYC was a once in a lifetime thing to get Ron as their driver. He was a sweetheart.

And so was Mick to arrange such a treat for me. What better thing for a princess on her birthday than a carriage ride?

We had a lot of time left before our dinner reservation and originally Mick was going to ask Ron to take us on the other route through midtown so his birthday girl could look at the lights of Broadway from her royal ride, but we were freezing. So back into the limo and we took a tour that was in the warmth and comfort of the car. JJ took us up to Columbus Circle and then all the way downtown so we could look at the new Freedom Tower. I'm glad Mick didn't want to get out there. I've not been there since 9-11 and don't know if I ever will. Last time I was taking visiting friends through the city and we did the observation deck at the Empire State Building I stayed on the north side the whole time. Nothing could get me to come around and look at that awful hole in the ground. But the pinch of momentary sadness was gone as soon as we turned back toward midtown.

It was still a little early for our 10:00 reservation but we figured we could wait at the bar so had JJ drop us off at Carmine's. I was a bit surprised by Mick's choice of eatery, I thought he'd have gone for someplace really chic, but he assured me the food was to die for. Straight up basic Italian served in huge portions. He was right. Our wait at the very crowded bar was short and then we were led upstairs to a small table tucked in a corner that felt cozily private but still had a great view of the rest of the place. Opened in 1990 the restaurant managed to give the impression it had been there since the 1920s. There was an old New York speakeasy vibe that wasn't in the least bit hokey. It truly felt like the kind of joint where mobsters and band leaders and politicians and maybe a movie star or two would go afterhours for plates of steaming spaghetti and chianti so raw and acidic it would take the enamel off your teeth.

We had a long relaxed meal. Chowed our way through a pile of calamari so tender it was as though the squid came from Heaven. Our entree was good, but since we were so full from eating Calamari Mountain even Mick barely made it through a piece of veal about the size of his hand. My portion was even smaller. The rest (and man it was A LOT) was packed up to take home. We ate it yesterday and reheating didn't make a difference, the meat was still nice and tender and the angel-hair hadn't gotten tough or chewy. For a place a block from Times Square in the heart of the touristy theater district the prices was astonishingly low. Eating in the city means resigning yourself to $18 hamburgers and the fries are extra, so Carmine's is a bargain indeed.

And this is where I came in. On the sidewalk in front of Carmine's about to get into the stretch limousine my darling man hired to take his best girl out for a night in the city to celebrate her birthday.

The birthday festivities didn't stop there but I am hanging up my keyboard for the night. More next time about The Best Birthday EVER!


Much love, ~LA the 50 year old

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