Heart of the City
Nine New York love stories: Can a city be a matchmaker?
(Page 2 of 2)
Two tales involve sailors. In “Green,” Quartermaster Third Class Willis Langford encounters Paula Filip, a waifish, desperate runaway, in Central Park in 1941, as she attempts to light a cigarette – a veritable little match girl. “Drawn in by her helplessness,” he buys her a meal and makes her promise to meet him the next day. But his orders change and he ships out immediately for the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, so he sends a note via a friend, which she clings to like a lifesaver.
When she’s arrested for vagrancy a few days later, Helen Worden, the reporter from the New York World-Telegram who broke the Collyer Brothers story in 1938, features her in a human interest sob story. Down in Philadelphia, Willis sees the story and, through Worden, reconnects with Paula. They’re swept up in “a hurricane of publicity” which is interrupted by the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
By the time Sabar found the story of the “Park Cinderella” and her “Sailor Prince Charming” in a newspaper database, Paula was four years dead. He learned that, unlike his other subjects, she was so eager to bury her unhappy past she harbored no nostalgia for the spot where she met her husband of 63 years. In fact, she never returned to New York.
Not so with the couple who met at the Empire State Building – on one anniversary, they visit the quarry from which its limestone facade was harvested.
Several tales involve Americans who empathize with how tough and overwhelming New York can be for foreigners. Newly divorced Virginian Tina Wagenbrenner is reminded of her Bavarian-born father’s “fellow feeling for new arrivals to America” when she meets a young German with a “Terminator” accent en route to the Statue of Liberty in 1988. Music critic Milton Jennings – one of several pseudonyms – writes his phone number on a map he gives to the woman newly arrived from Manila who asks for directions to Chinatown on the empty subway train from JFK airport.
“Heart of the City” is about what can happen when people let down their guard in a sharp-elbowed, often daunting, city, where “routine contact with strangers is a fixture of public life.” A random encounter can change everything.
Heller McAlpin, a freelance critic in New York, is a frequent Monitor contributor.