Shh! I Can’t See!

One of the finest examples of those things that make remember why you love New York City is the New York Philharmonic’s free Concerts in the Park series. (Other cool free stuff in parks includes Shakespeare in the Park, Broadway Under the Stars, Bryant Park Summer Film Festival and the River to River Festival.)

One could go for the performance alone. It is one of the world’s finest concert orchestras. But plunked down at one end of Central Park’s Great Lawn, and playing to a crowd in excess of 60,000 and relying on a speaker system distributed throughout 13 acres, the full range and power of the orchestra is lost. The music on Tuesday night was fine, a simple roster of crowd-pleasers, a little “1812 Overture,” a couple of standard-issue Sousa marches — nothing too challenging.

But what makes the event is the gathering of friends, the wine and cheese and chips and wine and baguettes and wine, the crossover of strangers from picnic blanket to picnic blanket. It’s a rare moment when we all stop fussing with our super-important lives, take a breather to appreciate some of the beauty we literally pass by every day, and come together like a real community. It’s when New York is New York. Thousands of us all there for one thing: each other. And, by extension, the other guy. And, by extension, the other guy…

I brought five bottles of wine with me, a nice mix of reds and chilled whites, including a nice soave my friend Jamie seemed particularly delighted by. So much picnicking! So much conversation! So many people wandering around on cell phones trying to find their friends!

Seriously — “What did we do before cell phones?” We arrived on time.

A star-filled night (as star-filled as you get in the City) overtook the dusk, and soon we were surrounded by citronella candles and miniature flashlights and glowing cell phones and those infernal multi-colored phosphorescent plastic whips parents are powerless against purchasing for their kids. The Philharmonic stopped, and the fireworks began.

Fireworks never fail to delight me. They are so pointless and wasteful … but they are so brilliant! It’s like, we’re so happy to be alive and to be there that all we can think to do is light stuff on fire and hurl it up into the sky and watch tiny bits of metal burn and fall back to the earth.

The funniest part about the fireworks was the silence in the crowd. All through the performance, there was a low roar of chatter. People were talking about the workday, their vacation, their friends and family, the performance. Laughing. Shouting, “I’m right here waving my arms. See? No. Next to the tree on the other side of the speaker. No, the one with the pink and blue balloons — yeah — see me n— Yeah. Yeah. I’m right here. See me?” into their bloody cell phones. We even saw some guy propose to his girlfriend. We presume she said yes. Or at least that she would consider it.

But as soon as the instrument cases were latched tight, and the Philharmonic loosened their neckties, and we all turned southward to face the fireworks, everyone shut up. It was as if we had to … so we could see.

It reminds me of that line line in Ghostbusters when Ray says, “Listen! Do you smell something?”

It makes the eventual “Oh!” and “Ooh!” stand out. It sounds funny. Like we’re surprised. Like we haven’t seen it all a hundred times before. So my drunk friends and I started saying other vowel sounds, just for the sake of variety. “Aye!” “Uuuuh!” “Eeee!” They seemed as legitimate as the old standbys.

Then we moved on to consonants. “Fffff!” “Kkkhhh!” (which sounds a lot like a sneeze.) “Mmmm!”

It quickly degenerated into animal sounds. “Baa-aa-aah!” “Rrreeow!” “Waak waak!” “Moooo!”

We had killed the silence with our own performance. And the people nearby could hear us more clearly than they could hear the orchestra. I secretly dared someone to shush me. “Why?” I would ask. “Can you not see over the noise?” Annoyance with us would seem hypocritical to me, following a performance that many of them hadn’t even really listened to.

But apparently they had not come to see us, and no one said a word about it. They just continued to gaze back up into the sky, their eyes and mouths wide open, holding each other or holding themselves in the chilly summer night air.

And then it was over.


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