This essay, published in the 2015 issue of the Great Lakes Review, was an honorable mention in The Best American Essays series, edited by Jonathan Franzen. We reprint it here with permission from the author.
Living in Michigan, Dreaming Manhattan: A Meditation on Memory and Place
BY MICHAEL STEINBERG
Someone once said that if the Leelanau Peninsula has a polar opposite, it’s probably Manhattan –Kathleen Stocking, Letters From The Leelanau
It’s just after dawn on New Year’s Day. My wife Carole and I are at our get-away cottage in Leelanau County in Michigan’s north woods. Carole is in the loft working on a painting, and I’m standing at the bay window nursing a cup of coffee, gazing out across Lake Michigan. A few embers still glow in the fireplace, and the smell of smoke intensifies when I stack more logs on the grating. Outside, a pale sun rises through foggy mist above the bay, and a new snow begins to coat the evergreens. It’s an idyllic winter scene, to be sure; yet, my imagination, like the fire, suddenly flares. And the scene I’m conjuring takes place back in the early 60′s, when I was living in Greenwich Village.
An early October morning, and the air has just turned nippy. I leave my West Village walk-up and stroll through Washington Square Park, past sneakered, white-uniformed nannies wheeling baby strollers, and scruffy teenagers making their morning connection with seedy-looking drug dealers. I pause to watch the old men in pea jackets and wool caps playing chess, and I see a group of NYU students gesturing with their hands and talking loudly as they head for their morning classes. Picking up aTimes at the 6′th Avenue subway newsstand, I inhale the musty aroma from the subway grating and watch the spiraling steam rise, while my feet are being warmed by the burst of compressed air that’s been pushed up in the departing train’s wake. I walk by the tiny asphalt park across the avenue and pause to watch the neighborhood kids playing hooky basketball on the fenced-in asphalt court known as “the Cage.” As I head up Bleecker, I wave at the Italian storekeeper stacking the morning’s shipment of produce on the outdoor stalls. My last stop’s at David’s Potbelly, where I linger over a hot cup of coffee and kibbutz with the usual coterie of neighborhood writers and painters about the Yankee’s season-ending loss to the Red Sox. At ten o’clock, I get up and walk over to the New School to attend my weekly writing class.