In some respects, New York is the center of the universe. That’s not just chauvinism, however appropriate chauvinism might be. It’s that New York City is in many ways the greatest European city in America.
Reeking of the past and smelling like the future, it’s where the rich and poor, the haves and have-nots, live cheek to cheek, or cheek to jowl, as close to each other as the frying pan is to the fire.
The writer Mike Domino has his ear to the ground and his eye on the souls of his fellow New Yorkers. His latest book, “Park Avenue to Park Bench,” is a collection of stories that recounts the rich humanity he has encountered wandering the streets of New York. But Mike Domino is more intrepid explorer than street walker. He goes where his legs take him and his fearlessness only plays second fiddle to his bold curiosity.
As superbly written as these stories are, no small feat in these times, even more remarkable is Mike Domino’s compassionate, nonjudgmental portraits of the people he meets. They are complex individuals often down on their luck, subject to the myriad frailties of humankind. Yet they cling to hope, shreds of hope, shards of home, in often dire circumstances. It is this hope, the indomitability of the human spirit that the author vividly captures and brings to life.
It’s hard to know if Mike Domino goes looking for trouble or trouble goes looking for him. But whatever he stumbles upon on the streets of New York he embraces, lovingly embraces, pushing aside the fear and caution to which more hesitant men would submit. He takes us places we haven’t been and might never want to go, but Mike Domino honors his subjects, serves literature, and satisfies his desire to help in a remarkably unique way.
Edition #71 – July 6, 2014
PARK AVENUE TO PARK BENCH
By Michael Domino
Sharing a bench with a stranger and ignoring each other is not unusual in this crowded city, but something made me look at the man sitting next to me out of the corner of my eye. As I did, I got the feeling that here was a person whose body was physically present but whose spirit was not. For some reason I had an impulse to break the silent wall that always exists between people sharing a park bench, and make contact.
I turned toward him slightly. “How ya doin?” I said, and smiled.
No response. I tried again.
“How ya doin’, pal?”
It was the word “pal” that did it. He lowered his sandwich onto the paper and slowly turned to look at me, long and hard. What was that something I saw in his eyes?
My work week lunchtime habit is simply that I don’t have one. There are just too many great restaurants in Manhattan and too many different kinds of foods to eat. I see “lunch” as a mini adventure that breaks up the monotony of the office. I do, however, always go out, even in the worst weather. I need to get away, breathe fresh air, and clear my head. On nice days, I usually get something to go and eat in Central Park. I always go to lunch alone. There is no shortage of human contact in the office so I don’t feel antisocial in choosing to eat by myself. I’m also a people-watcher, so I don’t bring a book or the newspaper. I eat slowly and look around, then usually walk a bit before going back.
The day after my meeting with the lonely man on the bench, I made an exception. I decided to go back to that same spot in the park to see if he was there again – and there he was.
“Hiya, pal – good to see ya!” I said.
“Hi, buddy, good to see you too,” he responded.
I unwrapped the gyro sandwich I had just bought from a food truck.
“What a mess. How am I going to eat this with my hands? I told the guy to go easy on the Tahini sauce and the onions, but I don’t think he understood. Oh well, here goes nothing.” I dug in. It was heavily seasoned, squirted all over the place and tasted delicious.
“Whatcha eating there?” the man asked, watching me stuff my face.
“A gyro. It’s Greek food,” I slurred with full cheeks and sauce dripping down my chin.
“I never had one of those – it smells good.” He looked hungry.
“Why don’t you get one?”
“No, not today – I’m a little tight – I just had a bagel anyway so I’m full.”
“Oh, okay.” For some reason I did not believe that he had eaten yet. I thought of offering to buy him one, but something about him made me feel I might offend him, so I held back.
It was June, with a long stretch of warm summery weather, so I ate outside every day. I kept returning to the bench, and oddly enough I was beginning to develop a comfortable routine with my new acquaintance, since he was almost always there to make small talk with. It felt nice to greet him and be greeted. The small talk continued, and after a few days we exchanged first names, Hal and Mike.
Michael Domino found his voice first as a writer of poetry. He composed two collections titled Cadillac on The Bowery and Wandering Mind. From there he moved on to the art of the short story after realizing that many of his poems and prose were in fact stories in the miniature. He is now working on his first Novel.
Born in Queens, New York, Domino spent his youth growing up in suburban Long Island but spent almost as much time as a boy in New York City alongside his Father who ran a business in the city. Michael was captivated by the diversity of Manhattan and began putting his thoughts to paper in his teens and never stopped writing about The City.
His most recent collection Park Avenue to Park Bench explores the hearts, minds and souls of the people he meets on his long walks around Manhattan Island. Domino is married and has three grown daughters who also live and work in New York City.
Domino’s poems and stories have been published in a number of publications including: The New York Times Metropolitan Diary, Rebel Rider Magazine and Dan’s Paper’s of The Hamptons as well as Angie’s Diary and other literary blogs and web sites. Domino co-Authored a short Book titled Time to Pay the Rent with his Cousin Michael Primont. This emotionally charged book chronicles Primont’s return to the battlefields of his wartime past in Vietnam where he was a combat tested Army Lieutenant in 1968. The two men traveled together to Vietnam in 2006.