I’ve been in New York almost thirty years. This might be the first time I encountered the Delacorte Clock come alive in Central Park, near the Children’s Zoo. I knew of the clock but do not think I ever even knew its carousel spun and its bells sounded tunes to nursery rhymes every ½ hour between 8am and 6pm. A fun find, and a hell of a sound, thunderous but not bone-shakingly so.

This one is “Au Clair de la La Lune”, which I only know for having spent twenty minutes of my precious life listening to nursery rhymes after getting home. The songs played on the Delacorte Clock are listed here, but in no apparently meaningful order. I guess the songs play in random order each day?

I thought this tune was from “Sing a Song of Sixpence”, and further find that in my mind I’ve sung the lyrics of that song to the tune of “Au Clair de la La Lune” since childhood. Such are the things you do not learn, or unlearn, from conservatory musicology curricula (I was a double-major in Piano Performance and Musicology at a conservatory).

Looking at the lyrics now I find the tune to “Au Clair de la La Lune” fits them pretty well, but I would guess the tunes and lyrics of many nursery rhyme’s might be interchangeable.

Further on from this fun little discovery I revisited a not-so-fun find I made several years ago: Park benches with plaques purchased by Bernie Madoff “in loving memory” of his (Ralph and Sylvia Madoff) and in-laws (Saul and Sara Alpern). I would have thought the Central Park Conservancy might see fit to remove these plaques, and I remember some small movement to get that done, not out of spite or malice but for the safety of the benches that hold them.

I found these plaques sour, and saturated with the familial bitterness of one of the grandchildren who hanged himself, the patriarch rotting in jail, and the trail of ignominy that forever follows the Madoff name. I think of this any time I pass the “Lipstick Building”, and a headline that dubbed it a place “Where Money Went To Vanish”.

But I’ve come to think the Madoff scam, while loathsome and damaging, was not as big a deal as media coverage made it seem. A lot of people got their money, a lot did not. It was a significant scandal in terms of investors’ safety nets and such but in the context of something as relatively puny as these 4 plaques I don’t think anyone who randomly encountered them, as did I, would see fit to vandalize or destroy them. The Madoff scandal was not that expansive in its influence or impact.

I do see where birds pooped on one of them, though. That’s supposed to be good luck, right?

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My next goal was (what else?) a payphone. The payphone at the Conservatory Water (where model sailboat racing takes place) had been the last working phone in Central Park, among a dozen or so abandoned hulks of telephony past scattered across the grounds. I would think the Conservancy would actively want to get rid of these vandalism magnets, but between this and the Madoff plaques I guess I just don’t know how the Conservancy works or why I should assume to.

This payphone has a particular association for me, beyond its past status as the last one in the park from which you could make a call.

A few years ago I went on a payphone-hunting expedition with a woman who had contacted me via hand-written postal mail, saying she saw me in an indy documentary about payphones and wanted to know more. I suggested a tour of Upper West Side and Central Park payphones. Arrangements were promptly made.

On a bitterly cold and windy December day I took her to 7 or 8 payphones in the Lincoln Center area, and at least one in Central Park, this one at the Conservatory Water. It was notable for being the only phone in the park that worked, but also for its ability to connect, for free, to a variety of entities such as banks, government agencies, and a “Daily Prayer” line which connected you to a live person who would guide you through a prayer.

We called the latter. I’m not religious, and neither was she, but this step-through of a prayer for her hometown of New Orleans was enchanting, and in its way affirming. I never talked to her again.

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