Who the heck goes to the dentist at the Helmsley Building? A New Yorker does, that’s who.
I went with my aunt to her dentist appointment on a gorgeous day in New York—one of those rare but beautiful summer days: 80 degrees, sunny, dry, breezy. My aunt is 87 and doesn’t get around so easily anymore, so I go with her to appointments and help with errands. It seemed like the whole world was out and I couldn’t help thinking how I often run around this city mindlessly trying to get from one place to the next, barely stopping to catch my breath while elbowing people out of my way. But then there are days like this when I slow down and take it all in (that, plus my aunt can’t walk so fast).
And then it hits me: I LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY. New Yorkers have appointments with their dentists in the Helmsley Building. Actually, my dentist is on Central Park South, where I drool overlooking the treetops while my teeth are flossed and polished. I walk past The Plaza Hotel and the Essex House on my way there and breathe in the smell of horse shit from the carriages that cart tourists around the park. Sometimes I’ll treat myself afterwards to a quiche at Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center down the street. And then I’ll meander through the park or just hop on the subway home. Technically, I suppose I am bridge and tunnel now that I live in Long Island City, but I’ve been in and around this city long enough to have earned my NYC badge.
I have my six-month cleaning coming up and I have not yet called my dentist to say I’ve been laid off from work and no longer have insurance. (How much is a damn cleaning these days anyway?) If my blog has gone international by now and you are reading this from abroad, please know that the healthcare system in the U.S. sucks. (I know my one cousin in Colombia reads it, so there’s that—I have to remind her that I am a lot funnier in English than I am in Spanish but she assures me she gets it). I have opted not to spend $500 a month to keep my health insurance, preferring to go move to the Trump Tower if that was the case. Instead, I do my best to take care of myself and live healthily, with a side of “hope and a prayer” that I will remain in relatively good shape as I have been. If worse comes to worse I can always go to a “free clinic” on the outskirts of town and sit in the waiting room with pregnant teenagers and other poor, uninsured souls like me as I’ve done in the past when I’ve been unemployed.
But I love, love my dentist. Dr. Peter Farrington is a great and decent man. If you know me chances are you have heard me try and convert you to his services if the subject turns to dentistry. He even gave me a free teeth whitening once for being a loyal patient and for referring a bunch of people. I had never had a professional teeth whitening before and I happened to be going on vacation to Mexico at the time. I didn’t know this then but teeth whitening changes lives. Doesn’t matter if your step family never took you to the dentist as a kid until you were 12 years old and you badly needed braces but didn’t get them and had to go through all of your adult life with crooked teeth—teeth whitening will erase all that and make you look like Cindy Crawford on vacation in Mexico!
So here we are on this lovely day and we’re on our way to the Helmsley Building for my aunt’s dentist appointment. I’ve passed this building a thousand times and have seen it from afar—it’s hard to miss as it sits at the base of Park Avenue and 46th Street. It’s always been a source of confusion when I’m looking south at it from Park Avenue: The giant MetLife Building with it’s logo towers behind it making it seem like they are the same building. MetLife—formerly the Pan Am Building—was described as an “ugly behemoth” when it opened in 1963, dwarfing what was then the gorgeous Beaux Arts, New York Central Building (home of the New York Central Railroad Company, built in 1929 by Warren & Wetmore—the architects that did Grand Central Terminal). It changed ownership several times since, getting it’s current name from the Helmsley-Spear company which bought it and ensured it’s namesake.
Ross gets his teeth whitened (Friends)…
We enter at 46th Street and show our IDs at the front desk. They take our picture and give us each a badge to go upstairs. We pass through the lobby and my jaw is on the floor. I hadn’t planned on doing a tour of one of New York City’s greatest landmarks…all I heard was “dentist appointment.”
Luckily I have my camera with me.
The lobby is all marble and bronze chandeliers with swirly, cast iron accents all over the place. The elevator doors are Chinese red with elaborate gold inlay and when the doors open, it’s like your standing in a human jewel box: The walls are that same red with gold trim and the ceilings are painted with fluffy clouds like the ceiling of the Camera degli Sposi in the damn Ducal Palace!
We go up to the 11th floor where I safely deposit my aunt to her dentist while I shuffle back down to the lobby to take pictures. There are two guards at the desk and one at the entrance and I consider asking if it’s okay to take pictures…then I remember I’m not a jackass. I start snapping away and futzing with settings like my life depends on it. I’m a crouched down-tippy toed-upside down-hanging off chandeliers-snap happy-picture taking fool, until I hear, “Ma’am. Ma’am, you’re not allowed to take pictures.”
First of all, I love how you turn 40 and all of a sudden you’re “ma’am.” Secondly, I can’t fathom how I’m like 50 pictures in while doing cartwheels in plain sight all over this joint and now they notice I’m taking pictures?? I may well have set up a barbecue and been on my third hot dog right there in the lobby before they noticed I prefer ketchup to mustard on my bun. Needless to say my faith in the security of our city’s landmarks is not very marked.
Anyway, I play it cool: “Oh sorry, I didn’t know.” Duh. Then I proceed out of sight toward the elevator banks where I snap another 15 pictures.
I go back upstairs and wait for my aunt to be through with her appointment. On our way out we pass the guards who were asleep on the job and I can’t help grinning at them like an idiot for allowing me to get some shots of this beautiful, forbidden lobby. As we walk outside I turn and take pictures of the exterior, and I remember that one of my favorite cab rides is the one you take up Park Avenue South, through the tunnel and the elevated ramp that wraps around Grand Central Terminal and the MetLife Building before descending and exiting through the tunnel of the Helmsley Building right there at 46th Street.
I rarely take that cab ride, or any cab ride for that matter, unless it’s late at night when the city is quiet and twinkling and magical. Standing in front of the Helmsley Building I am reminded all over how I love this city and how grateful I am that I get to live here and discover the wonderful secrets it holds. People come here from all over the world—often times a lifelong dream realized—just to see what I have the privilege of seeing and experiencing everyday. It makes me more than happy to show off my city to new visitors—to make sure that they know what a great place this is. Many times it’s an easy task; the city speaks for itself. But sometimes I need to work a little harder at it. It’s a duty I take seriously. I share the ins and outs that I’ve grown to know and love over 20 years of living here—come to think of it, I’ve always had this secret fantasy of being a New York City tour guide…hmm.
I don’t know if I will live here forever but in the meantime I defend this city to the death and I want nothing more than for people to love it like I do. Even still, it’s not always roses and on-time subways. Like any good relationship things can get tough. But I have stuck it out and am stronger and better for it, I think. For now me and New York City are serious.
I think Carrie Bradshaw summed it up perfectly in one of my favorite scenes in Sex and the City when she meets the sailor and they talk about great loves and he kind of disses New York. She later says: “If Louis was right, and you only get one great love, New York may just be mine. And I can’t have nobody talking shit about my boyfriend.”