New York, Day 3 (Day 242/365)

Nothing is open before 10:00 in NYC, and MOMA is the only art museum on Mondays. Plus, if you have a lunch engagement at 11:45 down on 3rd Avenue, what can you really do between 10:00 and 11:00? So the coolest plan for us all, we thought, was to get up and go to the Empire State Building, which is open seven days a week and opens at 8:00 a.m. We could do that in plenty of time to walk over to the restaurant to meet Nancy Willard.

We were therefore surprised and disappointed to waken to a great NYC fog which obscured even the tops of the more lowly buildings up in Times Square. What to do?

The Honeas decided to go squeeze in MOMA, which opened at 9:30. We decided to walk back down 8th Avenue to a hattery that Ginny and Carol Lee had discovered on their way to Hell’s Kitchen yesterday, because they had… wait for it… hats. And they did: bowlers, homburgs, porkpies, knit caps, mukluks, Stetsons, even boaters, for pete’s sake.

We were there because Grayson, having worn a bowler in Beauty & the Beast last year, had expressed an interest in owning one. We had called him yesterday to get him to measure his head, and not only had he done so, he had done so with astounding accuracy: 22 and 13/16 inches. A little too precise for hats, but hey, it demonstrated an enthusiasm one sometimes does not sense from the young when you’re trying to do them a favor.

We got him the black bowler (as opposed to the more pimperific purple, green, red, or baby blue), and threw in a madras patchwork driving cap. I myself picked up a nice tan straw Panama for my car rider duties in the afternoon. Of course, I don’t know how we’re getting these nicely packed boxes back home, but hey, it’s fun walking down the Avenue with your hat boxes. I would wear mine here, but it’s really not warm enough yet.

Soon it was time to hop the train to our lunch date.

This was the most exciting part of our entire trip: we were going to meet Nancy Willard. Heck, forget everyone else. I was going to meet Nancy Willard. One of the world’s most gifted children’s authors has allowed me to use her work as the basis of my piece, and I get to meet her in person.

We arrived at Docks, seafood restaurant corner of 41st and 3rd, right after they opened at 11:30. We were shown our table, a nice large round one in a corner by the front window. We had just divested ourselves of coats and stuff when I saw Nancy and her husband Erik coming down 41st and getting ready to cross the street. It was a thrill to look out the window and recognize her.

Nancy Willard is a total delight. Everything I thought I knew about her from the video, from her poetry, from my correspondence, is more than true. Conversation was far-ranging and fun. I even got her to acknowledge that we did have business to discuss at some point, although that’s all we got, an acknowledgment. I told her I’d mail her (and her agent) some contracts, and in her case, the Grippo book she’d need to understand them.

We talked about the creative process a lot. She was surprised to find that I am completely untrained as a composer, although I’m sure I’ve confessed that at some point. Both she and I work out of order, and both of us have been known to write the equivalent of “abortive attempts” at the top of a blank page, to forestall the perfection demons.

Many of her “creatures” and the Inn itself are now at Ann Arbor, at the University’s Rare Books Collection, which amuses Nancy. She and Erik both thought that they would be more than willing to arrange a loan for an exhibit for the premiere. Cool!

(Not to cheat Erik out of his due: he was as charming as she, and it is easy to see why they are a match.)

When it was finally time to go, we presented her with our gifts: Carol Lee had brought a sunflower to give her, and she was of course delighted with that. Ginny and I had Coweta County books to share: Herb Bridges’ postcards book, and of course A Taste of Georgia.

Carol Lee presents Nancy Willard with a sunflower

She in turn had brought me a copy of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which she had covered in a nice music score fabric, and The Ballad of Biddy Early, illustrated by the same artist (Barry Moser), and a collection poetry that is denser than William Blake’s Inn.

Finally, I pulled out my copies of William Blake’s Inn and asked if she would autograph them. Ah, she said, she would have to take them with her. That kind of thing couldn’t be done on the spot. She would have to paint something. Oh. My. God.

Oh, and she said, she thought Alice Provensen was at home; she’d get her to sign it as well. OH. MY. GOD. Alice (and her late husband Martin) not only illustrated William Blake’s Inn, they also illustrated my favorite book as a child, The Color Kittens. Oh. My. God. Those of you who know me know that I am not easily rattled, shocked, or impressed. But Oh. My. God.

Well, what can top this? Nothing. We could go home right now and this would be the greatest trip ever. Nancy Willard and Dale Lyles

But not until Ginny had her hair appointment at Nick “What Not To Wear” Arrojo Studios in Chelsea. Off we went, finally switching from subway to cab to make sure we got there in time.

I had no such appointment, and of course galleries are closed on Mondays, so I asked if there were a spa in the neighborhood which offered massages. There was, so I walked over and got a massage. Not the best I’ve had, at all, but a massage is always relaxing. Ginny was waiting for me when I got out, and we hurried back to the hotel to change for dinner.

We were meeting our friend Robyn Ice and her husband at the Algonquin. Yes, Round Table, and all that. I thought we were meeting for drinks at 5:30, but Robyn and Donnie didn’t show up until 6:30, which was absolutely fine. We had our drinks in the lobby with Mathilda the Algonquin cat and just relaxed for a while.

Robyn is our friend from the old days at UGA, we had reconnected back in February out in L.A. and had agreed to get together on this trip. She started as a puppeteer at the Center for Puppetry Arts, but left to become a lawyer after a couple of years. She worked for Alston & Byrd in Atlanta and then in New York, but now is with a different firm. Last year, she married Donnie Kisselbach, bassist with The Turtles, and he’s a really neat guy. We had a lovely dinner and great conversation.

They live in Connecticut, so we let them go early, and we walked down Fifth Avenue to the Apple Store. {cue: hosannas}

Dale at the Apple Store

This was a pilgrimage, pure and simple, because there is not a thing I need. I played with the Apple TV display, but it’s not something I want at this time. If I were actually exercising, I would want a new Shuffle, but I know myself well enough to know that buying one as a bribe to start working out is a false hope. My promise to myself is that if I actually exercise for a week, I’ll reward myself with a Shuffle.

We caught a cab back to the hotel and hit the sack. What an incredible day!