Searching for elusive camels on 51st Street in Manhattan
The camels are in the cast of a Christmas show at a famous theater that features dancers known for their synchronized high leg kicks.
The New York Times
NEW YORK —
Walking down 51st Street on Thursday morning, Brenda Clarke talked to herself out loud — just once — when she was halfway between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. "What, no camels today?" she said, pouting a bit.
Robert Monegan, standing on the street with his partner, Thaddeus Williams, spotted a kindred spirit.
"The camels were right here yesterday," Monegan said. "I brought Thaddeus to see them."
The camels are in the cast of a Christmas show at a famous theater, and word has spread that they take morning constitutionals along 51st Street, though representatives of the theater seem to regard this pleasant fact as a national-security secret.
"They are adorable," Clarke, a legal proofreader, said. "They just chew and chill."
Along came Arthur Papazian, sweeping the sidewalks outside Rockefeller Center. He had been introduced to the beasts the day before. "Two females," he said. "One male."
Earlier in the week, a spokeswoman for the famous theater dug in when asked what time the creatures might be out. "The problem is that I don't know," she said.
Perhaps she could ask the camel people? "The problem is, we don't give that information out," she said, which is an altogether different problem.
"I'm not asking for Obama's personal cellphone number," I said, "just when camels are going to be on 51st Street."
A camel stakeout was set up Thursday. Workers at the theater said, variously, that the camels had already been out, weren't coming at all, or would be emerging soon. Around 8:30, a janitor stepped outside.
"This is anonymous," he said, "between you, me and the Lord."
His voice dropped. "(The camels) live in the theater and come out every morning. Remember: A-non-y-mous."
And no, he said, they had not yet been walked.
Then a stagehand, a member of a union that makes the knees of the toughest theater owners buckle, brushed past. Even he was nervous. "There's a surveillance camera overhead, and you didn't hear this from me," he said, pretending to speak to a parking sign. "They'll be out before 9:30."
Carol, Ted and Gabby, three majestic creatures, paraded up a ramp from the theater to the street a few minutes after 9, escorted by Amanda Brook; her mother, Bambi Brook; and Todd Evans. All were most cordial. "We power walk them around the stage for an hour, then we bring them outside for light and air," the younger Brook said.
As the camels stood in a kind of corral, being greeted by their public, it was evident the creatures were not spooked by cellphones. "What!" said Odile Doyet, visiting from France, as she opened her cellphone camera. "Amazing."
Among dozens who had pictures taken with these apparitions were FedEx workers, a man in a hard hat, a traffic agent and a trumpet player in the theater orchestra.
The camels live with the Brooks at the Sanctuary for Animals in Westtown, N.Y., and earn the upkeep for many other creatures who have no commercial, domestic or theatrical value. "Ted would be here every day; he loves the attention," Amanda Brook said. Other camels will be driven down to give a break to Carol and Gabby.
"Understudies?" someone asks.
"We call them swings," she said.
The camels perform at a climactic moment of the Christmas show, well after a performance by dancers famous for their synchronized high leg kicks. A living Nativity scene is staffed by the animal sanctuary with sheep, a donkey and the camels. "These three get along here, but they are not friends at home," Amanda Brook added. "They have cliques at the farm."
There was no spitting or bad manners, though Evans had to deploy an absorbent pad to keep the street from being flooded.
In years gone by, before they began indoor workouts, the camels walked the streets of Manhattan for exercise, Brook's mother said. Once, a neurosurgeon led a camel on a defiantly serene stroll.
"At the end," she recalled, "He said, 'Today, I am a wise man.' "