I spent an amazing, riotous weekend in New York, a gift to myself in advance of some big changes. One of the many pleasures was going to the theatre, something I do much too rarely these days.
On Saturday, I saw On the Town, the Bernstein/Comden & Green piece that tells the almost-stories (more like anecdotes) of three young Navy men on a one-day leave in New York. It’s the show that taught me that the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down, among other pieces of wisdom.
There isn’t much of a plot: just the funny and sweet things that happen with these boys, mainly involving meeting girls and just what you’d imagine young people in that situation might like to do. (I remember it well.) The show strolls along from vignette to vignette, skimming the surface, until, just before the end, it sneaks up on you and goes deep. Suddenly, four of the young lovers sing a gorgeous number about how fast the day went, and how much is left undone till next time. “Oh well, we’ll catch up…some other time,” they sing. They are convinced that life is spread out before them, that there will be adventures and loves and reunions some other time. They are young enough to believe that life is a lark, that you really can meet someone in New York and have your whole life change in the course of a day.
The song was staged brilliantly in this production. Nothing fancy: just the four lovers slow-dancing on an empty subway car. “This day was just a token. Too many words are still unspoken. Oh well, we’ll catch up…some other time.”
I’ve seen On the Town a couple of times, and that number is always affecting. The slow-dance on the subway — could there be anything sexier? To me this song, this scene is the heart of not just the show but of a certain flavor of nostalgia. It’s a rich flavor, seasoned bittersweetly with innocence and tenderness but also with patriarchy, war, enforced domesticity. Yet even with those rough edges, I love it. This scene hits me in the gut every time, despite my being born nearly three decades after the object of this nostalgia.
And this time, it hit me harder still. It’s not just the staging — did I mention they were slow-dancing on the subway? — but the subtext. These sweet, sort-of-innocent boys are going off to war. Even if they come back, they will never be like they are now, in this one precious minute, slow-dancing on an empty subway car in the wee hours with girls they just met. They will lose limbs, they will see friends die, they will kill. They are innocent of it now, but they are about to grow up, brutally.
Each time I encounter this song, I alas am also reminded how many words are still left unspoken, and lives unfulfilled. It is harder and harder to avoid the realization that time is racing, and we never know when “some other time” stops being an available resource. These past few years have seen the deaths of friends, of friends’ parents, of (dear G-d) friends’ children.
I’m getting older, and the stuff that used to happen to older people, or to other people, creeps closer all the time. Life is great, yes. Life is a lark. But it’s shorter than we think, and getting shorter as we go. Let’s catch up now, and leave nothing unspoken.