Fahrenheit 52

The Key to Gramercy Park


That's the word.


The sound of a squirrel in love. Scrambling, tousling, rough-housing, probably over a nut, with a rival or a best friend.

That's definitely what I'm hearing. Now, I wouldn't swear on my mother's grave or anything, cause my eyes are still shut. But it's definitely squirrels.

Which raises an obvious next question: why I am hearing squirrels?

There's something making me not want to open my eyes. It's a just a feeling I have. I'm feeling... dew. Yes, dew. On my face. And on my hands.

Okay, I'm going to do it.

I open my eyes.

Yep. I'm in a park. That's what I was worried about.

I'm waking up in a park, it's still kinda dark out, and I have no idea how I got here. It's gonna be one of those days.

I scramble up to my feet.

There's no one else here, thank God. I can see a few lights on Irving. A taxi, or probably an Uber. I watch it roll away through the black wrought-iron fencing. Fencing that's at least ten feet high, with giant nasty spikes on the top...

I'm in Gramercy Park.

I'm in the most exclusive park in New York City, where you need a special key handed down for generations or something like that to be allowed inside.



I cut myself off and look around, as if I wasn't the one shouting.

Act like you've been here before.

There's a gravel path tracing the outer circumference of the park. I know it well. I've walked this perimeter many times, wondering what it would be like to be on the inside of the fence. I find a bench under a green and white birdhouse shaped like a Japanese pagoda and I take a seat.

This isn't my first rodeo. I know what to do here. It's time to take inventory.

I empty out my pockets onto the bench next to me, pleased that I still have things to be emptied out. Cell phone's dead, obviously. No charger, either. But where would I even find an outlet? Wallet's there, too. Seems light, but also unperturbed. No cash inside, but that's normal. Just a crumpled-up receipt. Why do I keep these things? I should just throw them out right away. Oh, wait. I should unfold it. Clues, right?


That's odd. Then I look down.

I'm wearing a tuxedo. It's the full shebang: cummerbund, shiny black shoes, unfolded bowtie to show people I'm a cool guy.

That's weird. Do I even own a tux? Do I have amnesia? I definitely have a hangover, that's for sure. I must have blacked out last night. I haven't blacked out since... I can't remember that either.

There's the squirrel again.

"You live in Gramercy Park, squirrel. Do you even know how lucky you are?"

She looks at me and races up the birdhouse post.

Has she lived here, in Gramercy Park, her whole life? Does she think this park is the entire known hospitable universe, surrounded by the Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud of scary cars and pavement?

What about the squirrels a few blocks away in Union Square Park or Madison Square Park? Are these distant cousins? How many generations back do we have to go to find relatives?

I can't really imagine a squirrel making the trek down the street, like a salmon flowing upstream, for breeding season. But maybe? Still, there must be a ton of in-breeding in the squirrel populations of New York City. How soon until they start evolving and mutating? What weird adaption helps you survive in Gramercy Park?

That's something I'd like to know myself.

I mean, this is kind of a life-long dream, to be honest. Gramercy Park. I've thought about tailgaiting my way in here behind some scion of New Amsterdam so many times. Imagine how great it would be to be reading a book in here on a Tuesday afternoon, like a normal, non-tuxedo-wearing, person.

Someone's coming!

I stuff my stuff back into my pockets, get up, and shuffle around the path. I glance over my shoulder. It's an white-haired old lady and her white-haired fluffy dog. They both look pretty mean. I make sure I'm at least twenty feet from the duo at all times, hands in my pockets, looking pensive.

How many people access this park in a given day? Do they all know each other? Is Loretta here going to call the cops when she doesn't recognize me from her son's boarding school squash tournament?

Lucky for me, Froo-froo poo-poo-ed quickly, and they're gone, just like that.

That's when I bump into the sign.

This park was developed in 1831 by Samuel B. Ruggles. Samuel B. Ruggles created Gramercy Park pursuant to an 1831 indenture as a private ornamental park for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of the owners and occupants of the surrounding lots.

Indenture, huh? The rest of the sign is a long list of incredibly fun-looking activites listed under Not Permitted, including:

Allowing entrance to non-key holders

Ball playing, frisbee


Beach attire

Finally, this rather informative sign (it's basically a Wikipedia article at this point) warns that the park is under 24 hour surveillance.

I flash my eyes up and try to spot the cameras. I'm not worried about being caught -- it's far too late to care about that. But maybe the footage can explain how I got in here? Cause there's no way I scaled this fence. I don't even see any trees that I could use to hop over. Maybe I did tailgate behind someone with a key, which is probably one of those old skeleton keys with two tweeth, on jangly circular iron run.

My stomache rumbles. I might puke. Or maybe I'm hungry. I could just leave. Right? Nothing's stopping me. There's no key needed to get out. I could just push this gate right here and go home. But... then... I wouldn't in Gramercy Park anymore. And when am I going to ever be in here again? I need to figure out this food situation.


I gulp and turn around. It's an old man.

"Rough night?"

I chuckle and grind my foot into the gravel of the path. "What do you mean? Oh... the tux?"

"Yes. I haven't seen you around here before. I'm Arthur Reade. You are...?"

"Uhh... Sam. I'm Sam."


"Ruggles." I blurt out what seems like a perfectly reasonable name. But why is he looking at me like that, with that raised eyebrow?

"Well, hopefully today's a bit better for you than last night, Sam."

He walks past me.

I'm still reeling from his look. Then it hits me. I just gave him the name of the guy from the 1800s who started this park. Wonderful. He's probably his great-great-great grandson.

Now he's at the shed in the center of the park talking to a maintence worker that I didn't notice before. I'm toast. The old guys's moving his arms a lot. They glance at me and I hop down to re-tie my shoes, an old trick of mine from school days whenever an authority figure would come over to some illicit game we were playing. I glance over from one knee. The maintence worker's making a phone call.

Why couldn't I have woken up to the sound of seagulls instead of squirrels, like my friend Joe who fell asleep on the N train one night and woke up in Coney Island?

The police car shows up pretty quickly. The old man opens the gate for the officer. Even the cops don't have keys to this place. The officer heads towards me, right as my squirrel runs between us, dives into the woodchips near the bushes. It looks at me. The squirrel. In a weird way. Then it starts digging, stops, and looks at me again. The officer's getting close. But I walk into the bushes, and start digging right where she was. My hands close on something in the dirt. It's cold and metallic. I lift it up. It's an iron ring. With a skeleton key.

"Excuse me."

"Yes, officer?"

"Can I see your identification?"

"Um, yes." I hold out the key ring towards them.

"Your ID card. Please."

"Right, right. Sorry. I just... let me grab that." I fish out my wallet, find my card, and hand it over.

The officer looks at my ID, then at me.

"I see. Have a wonderful morning, Mr. Ruggles."


I take the ID card back and look at it. Samuel Bulkley Ruggles.

I look at the squirrel, then at the officer, then at the card, and then at the squirrel again, but she's gone. I return the card to my wallet and walk past the officer, swinging the skeleton key on its iron key ring, like I own the damn place.

I push through the gate onto Irving Street.

Now, to get some coffee and a sesame bagel, and then find out why I'm in a tux.