10 Take Home Lessons From a Day in Manhattan


Holiday sparkle on Columbia University’s campus

I enjoyed a uniquely New York day over a recent weekend. I will miss things about Brooklyn and Manhattan when I soon return to Maine.

It started with an interesting conversation with my father-in-law who picked my brain about the medical aspects of an investment opportunity. Take Home Lesson #1: I know a lot about the principled practice of medicine but not about evaluating investment risk.

Then I “babysat” for two granddaughters while their parents ran errands. Take Home Lesson #2: the Brownian (aka random) motion  of a one-year-old and a three-year-old is a pleasant challenge in small doses.

A long subway ride on the 2/3 line with transfer to the local 1 (aren’t you impressed with my underground fluency??) to Columbia University, followed by several hours of compelling documentaries at the journalism school founded by Joseph Pulitzer, introduced me to a new perspective on autism and arranged marriages. Take Home Lesson #3: there are so many fascinating stories in this increasingly complex world.


Debbie and Cooky after a chance meeting on the Upper East Side last week.

(Thanks to Debbie’s childhood friend, Cooky Donaldson, for introducing us to this event at Columbia. Joseph Pulitzer is her great-grandfather.)

Then it was back downtown on the 1 train to meet some friends for pre-theater drinks and dinner. The local terminated unexpectedly at 34th Street/Penn Station prompting us to walk through Times Square to The NoMad Hotel on 28th street. Take Home Lesson #4: do not walk through Times Square if it can be avoided.

There we had a lovely dinner with two friends from D.C. who are real urbanites. The hotel’s restaurant and its three bars were jammed with people, testimony to its trendiness, its “why pay less?” drink schedule and its Bourgeois Bohemian appeal. Take Home Lesson #5: I can take the Brownian motion of Bobos in the same small doses as babies.

After the usual catch-up conversation topics (jobs, family, therapists), Neal asked me how I would define “success” in relation to my book project. It was a thoughtful and provocative question. My immediate response was that perhaps a dozen people had updated their Advance Directives and one person had entered hospice care as a result of my project and associated conversations. I was already well satisfied.

We parted ways for separate late evening plans. Then Debbie and I, thinking it would be a good idea to walk off some of the dinner and drinks, schlepped 20 blocks to the theater on foot, arriving out of breath, nerves rattled, and with only seconds to spare to take our seats. Take Home Lesson #6: see Take Home Lesson #4.

King Charles III is an award-winning production (transferred from the West End) that explores the “future history” of the British Monarchy and the impending transition of the royal head of state from Queen Elizabeth to her heirs and descendants.

The dialogue (written in blank verse iambic pentameter) and themes (power, authority, democracy, and monarchy) are reminiscent of the current Broadway hit, Hamilton (which we saw in November), but without the trendy, frenetic, hip-hop dancing, and rap singing. Take Home Lesson #7: do not try and convince anyone that King Charles III is better than Hamilton. If you do not like spending time in Times Square you will prefer King Charles III. Note to self: study “rap” lyrics before going to “rap-inspired” show.

All of this is an impossibly long segue to the middle of the second act of King Charles III where Prince William and King Charles face off in a difficult conversation about the power of youth, the aging of Britain’s Crown in Parliament democracy, and the inevitable decline, indeed the ultimate death, of the monarchy.

It was reminiscent of an “end-of-life conversation.” You knew I was going to get here eventually.

A friend and potential book agent has recently given me some insight into the benefit of The Hard Conversation. She pointed out that denial is a burden and that “unpacking” the denial lightens the load. Take Home Lesson #8: listen to your friends, family and coaches.

Take Home Lesson #9: lighten your load.

Take Home Lesson #10: take the R train home to Brooklyn and skip Times Square.

P.S. If the weekend weren’t already full enough…

Nutcracker_Dec2015Debbie took Eliza and the two older granddaughters to the New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker. I stayed at home to babysit the one-year-old and help my son-in-law cook dinner – fresh trout from the fish store down the block.

4 Responses to 10 Take Home Lessons From a Day in Manhattan

  1. Deborah DeWitt December 7, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

    Saw both King Charles III and Hamilton this fall. Hamilton wins by a mile. Get tix for next fall. You won’t be sorry. No need to study rap lyrics. The history will be familiar.

  2. Sam December 8, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    Deb, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I am sorry that I did not make it clear that I saw Hamilton last month. I will be speaking to my editors about that. I should also clarify that I understand myself to be the only person in the five boroughs who preferred King Charles III-excluding a few of the KC III cast members. But rather than trying to win converts to my position I have asked Debbie to give me a digital recording of Hamilton for Xmas. My Number One New Year’s Resolution will be to become less curmudgeonly. Looking forward to our meeting this afternoon, Sam

    p.s. I did not get far in the Chernow book-another embarrassment for me. sph

  3. Debbie December 8, 2015 at 12:33 pm #

    Ha! … on the topic of Sam’s #1 New Year’s Resolution of becoming less curmudgeonly. I’ll be watching that development with interest. Will it coincide with less use of the passive voice in his writing and, perhaps, shorter sentences? I have commissioned a blog post from him on that topic but it has not been forthcoming. Lots to look forward to in 2016!

  4. Nancy December 8, 2015 at 3:35 pm #

    I don’t think Sam is curmudgeonly. And I understood that he’d seen both Hamilton and King Charles III, and was likely in the minority in preferring the latter.

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