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He Wanted to Be a Part of It (Yes, New York, New York)

Friends huddled around, wanting to hear about my recent trip to New York City. I tried to tell them it was “just another vacation, like going to Nebraska,” but they pressed me for details, so I reluctantly tried to remember the high points . . .

It was kind of upsetting that on my first morning in the city, I was taken hostage by three members of a radical sect from Bimini who held up the 7th Avenue doughnut shop where I was breakfasting. I talked them into freeing me and four other hostages, including Donald Trump (whom they luckily did not recognize), in exchange for a baker’s dozen mixed doughnuts and a promise to air their grievance in a column.

So, in honor of that pledge: My fellow Americans, when you visit Bimini, please shop there as well.

With that situation defused, I strolled. The city is cleaner and safer than ever. Even Times Square is less tawdry, as efforts abound to purge the area of seedier venues. Wanting to help, I ducked into a theater offering “Peep Show, 25 cents” and asked to speak to the manager.

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A frail man wearing tan pants, an undershirt and olive sport coat greeted me, saying he didn’t want any trouble. I asked if he took pride in appealing to people’s prurient interests and he said he’d never thought of it in those terms. Without being pushy, I suggested that family entertainment might be a better way to go.

I walked up to Central Park, exulting in its springtime splendor. Cyclists and joggers dotted the park’s byways, and I sat down to rest against a boulder next to a lagoon. Soon, I heard a commotion on an adjacent softball field.

I walked over and found myself in a skirmish between rich-but-troubled private-school students and a resentful Brooklyn gang known as “Satan’s Handymen.” As with most sandlot arguments, this one involved the exact definition of the infield fly rule, which I explained in its entirety and to the satisfaction of all. I then joined the game, making a backhanded stab of a liner down the third-base line and then doubling in the winning runs for the Handymen in the final inning.

Tired and sweaty, I decided to relax by going next door to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Avenue and 82nd Street. On my way out of the park, I came upon a heavyset individual lying on his side on a bench. He was wearing grimy sweatpants that, because of his girth and lack of attentiveness, were sinking ever lower around his waist. He apparently had an itch south of the border that needed addressing, but his effort to alleviate it rendered the view of him increasingly off-putting.

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Thinking quickly, I saw a weather-beaten tarp on the ground a few feet away and used it to cover the man from head to toe. Expecting nothing in return, I felt in my own small way I had beautified the city. Imagine my surprise when Mayor Giuliani hopped out of his limousine, shook my hand and said, “I just saw what you did! That was marvelous!”

The mayor gave me a key to the city, which I gave back in exchange for Yankees tickets.

I declined the mayor’s dinner invitation and continued on to the museum. I browsed about an hour, at one point chastising a schoolboy who interrupted my reverie by hurling a seedless grape at a Greek sculpture of a young man, hitting the subject right in the fig leaf. Using my shirt to wipe away the stain, I lectured the boy but didn’t turn him in.

Heading back downtown for a matinee in the theater district, I lucked into third-row seating. I say “lucked” because midway through the second half of the show--a musical revue of doo-wop music--the star fell ill onstage and couldn’t continue. As a show official announced to a disappointed audience that the rest of the performance was canceled, I bounded onstage and told them I knew all the songs by heart and asked for a chance “to keep things going.”

I wasn’t in great voice, but I was good enough to finish the show and, probably for that reason alone, got a resounding series of ‘Bravos!” during curtain call, not to mention a pretty good write-up the next morning in the New York Times.

After the show, I ducked onto a cross-town subway because it seemed like everyone in the theater wanted to take me out to dinner. Wouldn’t you know it, within minutes of boarding, a man of uncertain nationality sneezed on me and then threatened to shoot me when I wiped my neck.

“You’re not going to shoot anyone,” I said, looking him directly in the eye but without a trace of rancor. “Well, then,” he sputtered, while waving his gun, “I really need to rob someone!”

People shrieked, but I remained calm. “I’m sorry,” I said, “that’s not going to happen, either. These people didn’t get on the subway to be robbed.” He sneezed on me again, and this time I handed him a clean handkerchief. “Here,” I said, “use this.”

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That simple act of kindness changed him instantly. He blew his nose softly and put the gun back in his trousers pocket. He got off at the next stop but not before apologizing to all of us for any fright we might have experienced. “It wasn’t loaded, anyway,” he said sheepishly, just before stepping onto the platform.

Well, a few other things happened that first day in New York, but my memory is hazy.

About the only other thing worth mentioning is that, in the late afternoon, I walked past the peep show theater I’d passed in the morning. Let’s just say my heart soared as I saw the manager personally relettering the marquee to advertise the next day’s double bill of “National Velvet” and “Swiss Family Robinson.”

Somewhere, I knew the mayor would be proud of me.

Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.


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