Tavern on the Green
The last thing I expected to be doing on Saturday
night was sharing a carriage ride through Central Park
with my girlfriend, my teenage cousin and her boyfriend.
The original plan was to meet my sister and her family
for an early dinner at Tavern on the Green. They would
then head over to the 165-minute musical production of
Little Women. We would head...anywhere else.
written about my sister over the years, sometimes not
in the most flattering terms. This nags at me occasionally;
she's a good person who probably didn't deserve to be
dragged within range of my sputtering bile. Her sin? Becoming
a Born Again Christian.
the time of her rebirth, I was publishing a nasty little
zine that often mocked self-righteous Christians. I had
little choice but to poke fun at her. She wasn't entirely
blameless. Like most Born Agains, she shouted about Christ
from the rooftops, as if she'd just discovered the joys
of puppies, red wine and chocolate ice cream all at once.
It was a bit taxing, especially for my girlfriend at the
time, an observant Jew who didn't appreciate receiving
Jews for Jesus literature in the mail.
a few years, I didn't see much of my sister or her family.
Then, as my 20s came to a close, I began to miss them.
My oldest nephew was becoming a man; his sisters were
teenagers. The key, I decided, was to accept and love
my sister without needing to agree with her. Mostly I
learned to keep my big mouth shut.
so we get together every few months, often for an early
dinner before they go to a Broadway show.
was my second visit to Tavern on the Green, and not coincidentally
the second time I would not be paying. Like most everyone
who lives in New York, I can think of a dozen other restaurants
that offer more for less.
still. It's a lovely place, especially -- only? -- at
this time of year, when tiny white lights are strung along
the back patio, the meticulous topiary stands in stark
green contrast to the winter-barren Central Park and a
20-foot Christmas tree boasts ornaments the size of chubby
cats. At 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon, it's a madhouse
of families -- tense fathers, Prozac'd mothers, kids
in their Sunday best, sullen teenagers seated next to
sweater-wearing grandparents. No doubt many of them would
be snapping photos at Rockefeller Center within a few
always an interesting time, these meals with my sister.
Though she no longer grills me about faith or pressures
me to study the Bible, the scent of Jesus hangs over the
affair. Usually it's harmless enough. The kids are cool;
I'm not quite sure how much they believe and how much
they perform. My brother-in-law is a great guy, hardworking
and loyal. And for the first nine-tenths of any given
conversation, my sister is a pleasure.
last 10 percent, though... She can discuss in positive
terms social reform and child-rearing and charity and
art, even homeopathy and vegetarianism and organic living -- to
a point. In the end, the world's problems always get traced
back to Wiccans or Satanists or demons or whatever. More
Bible study, and the world would straighten right out.
once fought her rhetoric tooth and nail; now I change
the subject. Or excuse myself politely. My sister, after
all, is hardly the first person to find religion, so I'm
hardly the first brother to navigate an uncomfortable
conversation with his sibling. For her, finding Jesus
was about protecting her children. The world is scary;
it's angry and unforgiving. It will hurt you and hurt
your kids without thinking twice. Religion is a readymade
moral framework by which the ugly world can be, if not
embraced, then at least kept at bay.
had a lovely dinner, ordered off the brunch menu. My beef
mignonettes were perfectly medium-rare, and served with
a modest side of potatoes and haricots verts. The seafood
appetizer for two was large enough for four, with two
small lobster tails, half a dozen oysters, crab and mussels
and several jumbo shrimp. My sister had no complaints
about her salmon, nor did my girlfriend of her king crab
legs. No one, in fact, had a bad word to say. Even in
the full room, service was prompt and friendly, and despite
having to wade through half of New Jersey to reach the
bathroom, the atmosphere was more festive than overcrowded.
dinner, with two hours to kill, my brother-in-law suggested
did I know that at the southeast corner of Central Park,
the horse-and-buggy business is chaotic as a Moroccan
market. Living first under Giuliani for six years, and
now under Bloomberg for two, I expected a rigid system
of ticketing (and taxation) for this tourist racket. Far
from it. As a buggy emerges from the route that carries
passengers for 20 minutes into the park, around Wollman
Skating Rink and then out again, anxious suburbanites
and foreigners vie for the driver's attention. Being 11
in total, we fought three separate times -- as with
taxis, they won't carry more than four at a time -- until
my girlfriend and I were finally seated across from my
teenage kin and her boyfriend, all of us huddled under
a farmyard-fresh wool blanket.
had our 20 minutes through the park, laughing about those
things teenagers can laugh about with the "cool uncle"
and his "cool girlfriend." And then out, to
relinquish the buggy to another group of four.
a quick stop for extra-large coffees, they went to Little
Women. After a quick nap, we went to a friend's apartment
for a holiday party. Two hours later, my girlfriend turned
to me and said, "You know, they're just getting out
right now." I wondered if there's a musical number
when Beth dies, and whether or not anyone in my family
had been awake to enjoy it.