Strange Duet

NEW YORK, New York—It’s just shy of seven o’clock, and the concert doesn’t start until eight, so Brandon and I take our time along the 72nd Street transverse in Central Park. We follow the same route we took all last summer to our shared office in the basement of the Frick Collection. Sometimes we walked, and sometimes we rode borrowed Razor scooters, our laminated museum badges flapping over our shoulders, sweating into our business casual.

Now, we reach the crest of a hill, and a dark stripe comes into view on the horizon, tracing the contour of the asphalt path and then disappearing into a cluster of trees. “That can’t be the line,” I ask. “Can it?”

It is the line, though, and we can’t even see the end, so we give up on entering the bandshell and instead find a place to sit outside. To cushion my thighs against the pricking of the wood chips lining the ground, I perch on a paperback book pulled from the depths of my purse. A crowd soon forms around us. Some have brought picnic baskets, blankets, bottles of wine. Teenagers reclining on clustered yoga mats fill out SAT practice books.

An hour passes, and the music starts. The lilting soprano sounds distant, like it could be floating over from Lincoln Center and not just a couple of yards away. Brandon and I exchange glances. “Is this Lucia di Lammermoor?” he asks, then shakes his head. “I can’t even tell.” We give it another half hour and then abandon our spot.

We wind up on a bench along the Central Park Mall. A bunch of young guys are skateboarding around, practicing ollies and grinds, their lithe bodies dark blurs in the lamp-lit night. A man sitting across from us begins to sing. After a few notes, Brandon and I recognize the tune and laugh. It’s “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys, somehow rendered soulful. Suddenly, the singing from inside the bandshell grows louder, and for a few brief minutes, the two voices join into a strange duet between the trained tenor on stage and this anonymous man on a bench. Then the man stops his song to greet a passing longboarder, and the aria quiets to a whisper.

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