By In Stuff

And Peggy

I have an irrational love of Times Square. It is irrational because Times Square is an amalgam of just about everything that I (and everyone else) loathe — traffic, overcrowding, tourists, garbage, commercialism, pushy people, rude people, odd smells, noise, gaudy advertising, ripoff artists, construction, jackhammers and the biggest Olive Garden you ever saw. I sometimes stop in front of that Olive Garden just to take in its perplexing immensity. I’m not an Olive Garden hater as so many are, but here in New York, with 783 spectacular and independent Italian restaurants run by actual Italian people less than a Giancarlo Stanton homer away, the gargantuan Olive Garden seems to stand for something irrepressibly sad. B.B. King could have played a song about it.

Still, I love Times Square, now more than ever, and if I had to explain why, well, I don’t know that I could. Let me just tell you about this walk I took with our youngest daughter, Katie through Times Square.

We were walking along Broadway, and the evening was perfect. You know that perfect temperature? I suppose it’s different for everyone. For me, it is that precise degree where, jacket or no jacket, you feel exactly right. How does a temperature work with or without a jacket? I don’t know. It’s magic, I suppose. And it was that magical temperature that evening, just enough to feel neither hot nor cold, and we started to walk through Times Square.

The Square was crowded, of course. More so than usual. Craziness was in full bloom. Naked painted people. Tourism ninjas trying to force you on one of those busses. Mercenaries trying to push you into a comedy club. As I held Katie’s hand, someone dressed like a minion raced toward us, sensing an opportunity for a photo and a buck. But then someone else dressed like Minnie Mouse tried to cut off the minion and get to us first. It was a race for our attention. We somehow slipped by both, not unlike Gale Sayers, but we could not avoid a young woman with a black hat and tights. She did a little dance and tried to hand us a card that I can only assume was for “Chicago” on Broadway.

“No thank you,” Katie said. The young woman smiled.

“I love your dress,” Katie said.

We walked passed a homeless man who held up a sign that read “Give me a dollar or I’ll vote for Trump.” We walked past someone trying to get us to stand still so he could draw a caricature of us. We walked past a Japanese family, with the mother and father trying to somehow arrange a family photo in the middle of all this chaos and the daughter, who was probably about the age of our 15-year-old Elizabeth, had this priceless “Would you please stop embarrassing me,” teenager look on her face.

You could smell the pizza coming out of Ray’s. You could see the steam coming out of the grates in the ground. “Where does that smoke come from?” Katie asked because she is always asking questions, nonstop, every waking hour.

“It’s steam,” I said, and then, “look, there’s a frozen yogurt place.” With Katie it’s often about misdirection or else the questions will keep coming in an endless stream.

There were five or six languages flying around us, some I vaguely recognized, some utter mysteries. We saw a man wearing a yarmulke. We saw another wearing a turban. Earlier in the day, we had a cab driver who was wearing a turban. He explained to us how you play Pokemon Go.

We passed a newspaper stand, like something from another century, and there was the Daily News and the Post and the Times, along with a glorious assortment of magazines and gum and candy and odd items like paperclips. Katie was halfway-knocked over by a man carrying a briefcase; he seemed to be late for something important, like his wedding. As far as I can tell, he did not look back.

It was, as Times Square always is, overwhelming. I better understand why people despise Times Square than I understand my own love for it. We weren’t really moving. People were rudely cutting us off. After the man semi-knocked over Katie (I held her up before she fell), I started to feel just a touch of that malaise that has lingered in the air this year. You know that malaise, right? Maybe it’s the election. Maybe it’s the rapid way everything is changing. Maybe it is the division — people seem so repelled by each other that they don’t even try to talk. Maybe it’s that snarkiness so often eclipses wonder.

Maybe it’s that snarkiness and cynicism and weariness often eclipses wonder.

I try to avoid the malaise, of course, because I’m not built to be pessimistic. Katie helps. I just glazed over that scene with the Chicago young woman because I see that exact scene every single day. Whenever Katie meets someone new — and I mean every single time — she cannot help but shout out in full glee, “I love your earrings/scarf/shoes/glasses/necklace/tie.”

Elizabeth helps. Almost every day, even at 15, she breaks away momentarily from her teenage wasteland and gives me a hug and tells me about her day and about the stuff she loves, which very often is the stuff I love too, like The Godfather or chocolate or terrible puns or a perfect 1980s song I introduced to her like “The Promise” by When In Rome.

Margo helps. She sent this to me the other day. It makes me boundlessly happy when I see it.

I’m sorry: You can’t watch that without feeling at least five percent better about the world.

Great new songs help — it’s probably overplayed but I have fallen in love with “Death of a Bachelor.”

Friends help. Great writing helps. Baseball helps.

But there in Times Square I could feel the malaise coming anyway.

And then I saw them.

They were beaming with joy. They were probably in college. Maybe high school. Maybe older. I don’t know, the older Elizabeth gets, the worse I get at estimating age. The other day, my barber (do you still call them barbers?) struck up a conversation with me, and I would have sworn — I mean SWORN — that she was in college. It would not have shocked me if she was a senior in high school. And then, in the flow of conversation, she told me that she had been married for 10 years and had a nine-year-old son. So, I’m probably better off not guessing ages. They’re all kids to me now.

Anyway, these two girls came through the crowd, and they were happily singing a song.

“Daddy said to be home by sundown,” one sang.

“Daddy doesn’t need to know,” the other replied.

“Daddy said not to go downtown,” one sang.

“Like I said you’re free to go,” the other replied.

The song is “The Schuyler Sisters” from Hamilton.

It’s a wonderful song, so joyful, so full of curiosity and hope and awe.

“Look around! Look around!” Katie sang because she has heard her sister sing Hamilton song for the last year and sort of knows the words. “The everything is happening in New York! The greatest city in the world! Work!”

That’s not exactly how it goes. But it’s close enough. I looked out to find those two girls. See, there’s a particular part of that song I love most. It is the part where the sisters introduce themselves.

“Angelica!” the oldest sings.

“Eliza!” Alexander Hamilton’s future wife sings.

“And Peggy,” sings Peggy.

It’s that “And Peggy,” that gets me. Peggy throws it in there with force, with sass, it’ the ultimate “Don’t forget about me,” interruption. Our girls do it around the house all the time, full of cheekiness and nerve, and it cracks me up. I wanted to hear those two happy girls sing the “And Peggy” part of the song, but they had disappeared into the crowd. Even so, just seeing them there, singing without any qualms, enjoying this perfect evening in New York, well, it made whatever I was worried about before disappear. I squeezed Katie’s hand a little tighter.

“You ready?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Angelica!”

“Eliza!” I sang.

She let go of my hand, and put it on her hip. She pursed her lips and sang in the loudest voice she could muster, “And Peggy!” And then she laughed and grabbed my hand again and we were walking again,and  the everything is happening in New York … in the greatest city in the world … the greatest city in the world. Work!






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43 Responses to And Peggy

  1. MikeN says:

    Wait another decade, and Times Square will be a dirty crime trap once again.

  2. Gordon C Hewetson says:

    This touched me. I’ve had good and bad in Times Square but NYC can be invigorating and life affirming. Your daughters are charming. Mrs. Posnaski a nurturing, model mother. Makes we want to see ‘Hamilton’. “And Peggy Too!” My favorite Manhattan haunts are St Marks Place and Katz Deli on Lower East Side. Also Dumbo, Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry. Central Park Zoo, the Frick Gallery, New York public library, Central Park… cap the day with a Yankees game – winter go see the Rangers.

  3. PS says:

    >>>Wait another decade, and Times Square will be a dirty crime trap once again.

    Not sure what prompted this sad start to the comments, but … Growing up in NY in the 1960s/1970s, I can confirm that Times Square was a pit. And while the current version of Times Square has pros/cons as nicely captured by Joe in this touching piece, it is a VAST improvement over what was there before.

    • nightfly says:

      You couldn’t write a song like “Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City No More” nowadays. Product of those bad old times.

      This column was so beautiful. I’m humming that “National Express” tune now at my desk. Ba da-da, baaaa da da-da… You have a good day now, y’all.

    • MikeN says:

      That’s why I said wait a decade.

  4. Dr. Baseball says:

    (Somewhat off topic)

    I love Olive Garden.

    I run marathons and always enjoy the unlimited pasta, breadsticks, and salad as a carb load the night before the race.

    There always seems to be an Olive Garden near each race I run.

    I know, there is growing research that the carb load may not be necessary.

    Still, it’s a great excuse to overeat!

    • invitro says:

      It’s not off topic. Joe made a point of saying the mere existence of Olive Garden is “sad”. I think it’s sad that a grown man cares so much about other people’s culinary decisions. Part of maturity is not trying to make yourself seem a better person by putting other people down, and putting down people that eat at Olive Garden is exactly what Joe is doing. Now, there’s nothing wrong with hating Olive Garden’s food. But if you do, just don’t eat there, and eat at the “authentic” Italian restaurants if you want. Unless this Olive Garden is likely to put all 783 of the Italian restaurants out of business, I don’t see why anyone has to demean others, especially about such a trivial thing as where you eat dinner.

      (For what it’s worth, I’d probably choose to eat at one of the “authentic” restaurants, unless it was much more expensive than the O.G.)

      • sbmcmanus says:

        Meh. I don’t think he was overly dumping on the existence of Olive Garden per se. I think he was saying it’s sad that people travel all the way to New York just to eat at OG, when part of why someone would want to visit NY in the first place is to do something like get authentic italian food. It’s kind of like going to a baseball game to read a book in the concourse. Books are great, but you’re kind of missing the point of going to the ballpark.

        • invitro says:

          You’re making my point for me. Why do you or Joe get to say what good reasons to go to NYC are? I’m sure lots of NYC tourists, probably most, don’t give a damn about “authentic” Italian food — why is that sad? Why assume your interests should be everyone else’s?

          • JustBob says:

            Because it’s Joe’s column, and his little piece of the internet, where he can say whatever he wants. You have the right to go somewhere else.

          • SDG says:

            Anyone gets to say what the good reasons to go to NYC are. Anyone gets to have an opinion, especially about restaurants. Why does it bother you?

          • invitro says:

            People’s opinions about restaurants don’t bother me. I hoped I made that clear. People’s opinions about other people’s taste in restaurants doesn’t bother me either, unless it’s put down in print and called “sad”. Then it bothers me. A little. Not very much.

      • KHAZAD says:

        I don’t think it was a comment on the food, I think the giant Olive Garden stands out as a homogeneous symbol in a somewhat unique atmosphere. I find it sad as well, but not because I hate Olive Garden or anything. It is a symbol for people’s tendency to flock to the familiar like moths to a light, even while visiting a place with unique experiences- presumably to have a different experience themselves.

        I have a rule when traveling to not eat anywhere I could eat at home. The places don’t have to be fancy, some of them are local dives, but it is part of the experience for me. This has become more difficult in recent years, as so many cities (and places off highway exits) have become more homogeneous.

        People flocking to what they know doesn’t limit itself to restaurants. I find it interesting that the two presidential candidates ended up being the people who started off with the most name recognition to begin with, and that the two national “third party” candidates are the same people who ran in 2012. Despite differing belief systems, the majority of people within each system went with the name they knew.

      • SDG says:

        Come on. Joe was not saying the mere existence of Olive Garden was sad, just that he personally didn’t understand why someone would visit a mediocre chain restaurant when they’re in NYC, surrounded by better restaurants, just as close by, that cost the same.

        While there ARE people who need to put others down by telling everyone they know about their cool tastes in food/music/movies and mocking other people for not living up to their standards, that’s pretty clearly not what Joe is doing. Not everyone who expresses an opinion is doing it to establish an identity, look down on others, or see cool. Plenty of people do it because they, in fact, like something. Is everyone who criticised “The Phantom Menace” or the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS doing it to seem cool?

        Going through life accusing people of being elitist hipster snobs, or do-gooders, etc. just for having an opinion is just as dumb as calling people tasteless or trashy for having an opinion.

        • invitro says:

          “mocking other people for not living up to their standards, that’s pretty clearly not what Joe is doing” — I think that’s exactly what Joe is doing, albeit in a very mild way. It’s such a tiny tiny thing, but if he’d written “different” or “interesting” instead of “sad”, there would be no problem. I know I am radically overcommenting about this tiny pinhead, but hey, that’s what I do sometimes. And I don’t like when people put down other people’s tastes… why isn’t it enough to just say “I don’t like Olive Garden, I’d much rather eat at a real Italian restaurant”?

    • SDG says:

      Unless you run marathons, eating at Olive Garden will kill you. Very few people have lifestyles such that they can carb load.

      • invitro says:

        “Unless you run marathons, eating at Olive Garden will kill you.” — Whew, I was worried for a second there that I was the only one taking things to extremes. 😉

  5. Mike says:


  6. invitro says:

    One thing I wonder about when someone says New York, or San Francisco, or wherever, is the most wonderful city in the world… why don’t you live there? I mean, if it’s too expensive, doesn’t that make it less wonderful? Or if it doesn’t have jobs for your particular skills, doesn’t that make it less wonderful? Or if it has too much crime and perversion for your kids?

    My idea of a wonderful city is one that’s safe, has jobs, is inexpensive to live in, and has whatever cultural things I’m currently interested in that I can’t enjoy through the Internet. That rules out all the big cities, but that’s fine… it leaves tons of wonderful medium-sized cities.

    • KHAZAD says:

      It is a song being sung by people visiting the city. There are more songs about these places not only because they are places with big populations,(including having more songwriters) but because people visit them and have good times in a limited period of time.
      I share your views on living in big cities. I would never live in either place. I live in Kansas City (Is that considered a big or medium sized city? I guess it would depend on perspective) but I am barely inside the city limits in the northern part. There is a small farm raising belted galloway cows closer than my grocery store. I get some city benefits close, while avoiding some of the drawbacks.

      If I were moving, New York or San Fran would not be on my list of possible places at all, because of cost, crowds, etc., but if I were visiting a city for a short period they would be right up there. If I were writing a song? I think I could find more to write about one of those places than where I choose to live.

      • invitro says:

        Well, I didn’t mean to comment on whether NYC or SF were wonderful… I can most certainly understand why millions of people with different values/priorities than mine would find them wonderful. I spent at least ten years of my own live wishing I could live in Manhattan. What I meant to wonder about is this: if someone finds NYC the most wonderful city in the world, why doesn’t he live there, especially someone with (I assume) means such as Joe’s?

        • KHAZAD says:

          I think it might be one of his favorite places to visit. “The most wonderful city in the world” is from the song.

          I absolutely love visiting San Francisco. I find it to be a wonderful city visit. I wouldn’t want to live there.

    • bartap74 says:

      Some of us say that, and DO live there. Or here, I guess.

  7. Nathan says:

    I really enjoyed this column.

    And The Promise is my favorite song. Everyone should be introduced to The Promise.

  8. JimWalewander says:


    Why are we picking nits?

  9. BobDD says:

    . . . and Danny!

  10. Rick Rodstrom says:

    As someone who grew up in NYC during the years when Times Square was something out of Taxi Driver, I am always surprised when I return to my old home town and see what Times Square has become. It seems inauthentic in a way that the Olive Garden is inauthentic. The old Times Square was a dump, but it was OUR dump. The new Times Square seems as genuine as Las Vegas.

    All the wonderful characteristics of NYC, its energy, vitality, creativity, variety, eccentricity, and multiculturalism are to me better found in a walk through Central Park than a walk through Times Square. Central Park is the heart and soul of New York. Times Square is the tourist trap.

    • Gordon C Hewetson says:

      You are so right. I like a stroll in Central Park now. The Times Square of Taxi Driver, Midnight Cowboy and the Lady Detail had a dangerous allure and excitement not found anywhere else – especially suburban Connecticut. Interesting mix of sex trade, sailors, tourists, Broadway matinees, three card Monty, fake Rolexs, religious zealots, ethnic food toned down to please white bread, mayo, sweets taste of tourists. May have been dangerous but not as aggressive as West Side hwy, Hunts Point, Port Authority or the poor wretched tunnel bunnies. I don’t dislike the new sanitized Times Square and Disney s be congratulated on making area family friendly. Where do sailors and Marines go for a drink, a cuddle and a brawl? San Diego

    • invitro says:

      Maybe you could go to and start a petition to make drug dealing, assault, and child prostitution legal again in Times Square. Just a thought!

    • SDG says:

      I agree. Times Square is a tourist trap and I don’t enjoy it at all. It’s crowded and loud and has nothing of value to me. Of course, it’s incredibly easy to avoid, and if other tourists like spending time and money there, who am I to judge. It’s the literal definition of not hurting anything.

      What I don’t understand is our obsession with authenticity. It’s incredibly authentic. Just as the drug dealers and prostitutes were authentic before, this is authentic now. It’s a city with a gigantic tourism industry from all over the world, where people who move there from Jersey and Ohio far outnumber the second and third generation New Yorkers (let alone people who’ve lived there longer than that), where only the rich, or the young creative types who make big financial sacrifices can afford to live there. That’s what’s authentic now. Kale smoothies. No more neighborhood Italian places because the Italians who ran them became assimilated years ago. And couldn’t afford to live in NY anyway.

      And Central Park, while very nice, is also touristy as hell.

  11. Marc Schneider says:

    My daughter goes to college in Morningside Heights so when we go up there we spend our time away from Times Square. I prefer that and find it much more pleasant to see the neighborhoods where people live and work and go to school rather than the tourist traps. On the other hand, I have friends that love Times Square and I confess that I do find the energy in Times Square (when I have been there) exciting, but only for a time. Generally, I find the areas outside of Times Square to be the more interesting parts of NY.

    New York is clearly not a place for everyone and it seems to me the only people that can really live in Manhattan are either the very rich or they young (who are willing to live in tiny apartments). But, clearly, a lot of people love living there. It’s interesting to me the number of people on this blog that seem to enjoy crapping on big (and, politically liberal) cities like NY and SF. Certainly, you don’t have to like big cities and I can certainly imagine the downside of living in a place like NY (it gets tiring navigating the streets and throngs of people). But having grown up in a relatively small southern city (is 100,000 small or medium?), I have never wanted to live in small towns. I find nothing appealing in them. It’s interesting to me how many people seemingly want to hate NY or at least feel the need to rip on those who like it.

  12. fhomess says:

    ‘Cause everyone’s your friend in New York City
    And everything looks beautiful when you’re young and pretty
    The streets are paved with diamonds and there’s just so much to see
    But the best thing about New York City is you and me

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