Doing battle with daily dragons

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

America, In Brief

Sorry this has been a while in coming. I came back suffering from a head cold on top of crippling jet lag, so I've only just managed to pick enough bits of myself off the floor to post. This pretty much covers what we got up to over the past few weeks.

November 18

I have just woken up in the city that never sleeps. King of the Hill and Top of the Heap status are pending, but I CAN tell you that there are some really good bagels on the corner.

I am spending my first morning in New York with a mild hangover. Our flight landed at JFK at about 7 local time, 12am GMT. After a lengthy taxi journey, (I don't have anything particularly pithy to say regarding our first ride in a New York cab. I've been more frightened in the past riding with BoyRacer) we were dropped at our home for the next few days at 301 W 53rd St and immediately set to the task of getting ready to go out to meet Big Fish and Little Fish, whose wedding we are here to attend.

After a 5 minute cab ride, we found ourselves in a small treasure of a piano bar on East 84th Street called Brandy's featuring a vocally talented wait staff and a flamboyant, gregarious pianist with an impressive musical vocabulary. The "Wedding" party had been there for some time and we were greeted enthusiastically with a flurry of drinks that continued to flow copiously throughout the evening until The Rock Star and I were serenaded out the door at about 3.10am, our bodies threatening imminent shut-down. Thus, the hangover.

This morning, BoyRacer, The Rock Star, myself and our traveling companion, Mr. Easy Company, (a friend of the boy's from school) are heading out to see what we can see of the city. I keep hearing talk of breakfast, but seeing as how it's 11.45, I think it's unlikely.


I have only ever been in New York City once before, despite growing up about 5 hours away. I was 15, had never really experienced a large city and had unfortunately been drafted into a mock UN group whose membership base consisted of future slackers who were not so much as interested in world events as they were with trying to be as cool as possible. (I didn't fit in so well.)

I found the experience (aside from my incredibly dense companions) overwhelming and since then, have had no desire to return. However, within an afternoon, I was about ready to go extremely over-priced apartment hunting.

Our flat is ideally placed in terms of sightseeing as well as being a shooting location for at least two different pieces of film while we were there. (We ran into the incredibly creepy Jason Patric just outside of the building and a notice was posted a day later about clearing the street for the filming of “Law and Order”, thus justifying the Rock Star’s perception that the US is just one big film set.) Times Square is literally two blocks away, so our merry little band made our way down into the glittering madhouse at the end of Broadway, trying not to look like tourists. However, I suspect that most New Yorkers avoid the area like the plague, leaving the visitors to the city to fend off the muggers, pickpockets and knock-off handbag salesmen, so by definition, if you‘re in Times Square, you ain't local.

After mooching under the bright lights for a bit and admiring the 3 block long line for discounted show tickets, (a cab driver informed us that some people sleep out the in order to get them.) we explored more of downtown near the Empire State Building. (Which we chose to look up at rather than down from.) We had no particular goal in mind for our afternoon’s wanderings, although Mr. Easy Company had made a slight miscalculation in the underwear department and informed us that he was in need of pants. So we decided to pop in quickly to a little corner store called Macy's.

Moot and I made the mistake of going to Harrods’s once, pre-Christmas. The experience was definitely enough to make you re-evaluate your belief in Capitalism if not everything that is good and holy. Macy's was pretty much the same deal, but with different accents and no Egyptian tack. I had no problem whatsoever finding the women’s clothing (it took up 3 floors) but the boys had so send out scouting parties to locate the men’s wear, which was hidden away in an actual whole other building. The pants were finally located in the basement, but THEN the challenge was to find ones that didn't have a designer label slapped on the ass crack with a price tag to match. Mr. Easy Company managed to find something fairly inexpensive with which to cover his butt and we made a hasty retreat.


Nightfall in New York took us to a tapas bar with a cranky lead waiter who didn’t like 30 people turning up in his restaurant at once and then milling around by the bar. Big Fish, who was obviously in the throws of pre-wedding jitters, was feeling fairly stressed, so BoyRacer, Mr. Easy Company, The Rock Star and I took a table away from the main party to facilitate everyone putting their butts in a chair. After a few drinks, The Rock Star and I decided to head back to the apartment, still suffering from jet lag and a bender the evening before. Mr. Easy Company and BoyRacer have elected to remain out for the evening, being the swinging bachelors that they are, so we don’t expect them in anytime soon.

November 20

Following our early evening, The Rock Star and I got up early to go to be dork tourists, leaving BoyRacer and Mr. Easy Company sleeping off their second late night trip to Brandy’s.

We started out with breakfast at Lindy’s, an apparently famous diner on Broadway that’s mostly known for its cheesecake. While the breakfast was quite stunning in both taste and proportion, I have to say that the 5 dollar glass of orange juice knocked me for a loop. Apparently I’m not the only one who was heartily unimpressed with the financial implications of breaking fast at this particular establishment.

Waddling off into the Big Apple, full of pancakes, we snagged a cab to take us to the Staten Island Ferry port. We boarded the doubled ended ferry to get a nice far away look at Manhattan and a close up look at The Statue of Liberty, which The Rock Star has seen in it’s miniature form in Paris, but was rather more impressed with in it’s larger than life twin.

We were lucky to get a lovely cold, clear morning to make the crossing, although the further we got from the island, the more apparent Manhattan’s incredible brown funk became. Our momentary hankering to actually live in the city was squelched by the thought of constant black bogies.

To warm up after a fairly chilly crossing back, we started to hike briskly downtown, making a quick detour down Wall Street to see what all the fuss was about. Being a Saturday, it seemed remarkably quiet except for other tourists who were all jostling to get their pictures taken next to the bollocks on a statue of a bull that took up a fair amount of space outside of the Cunard Building. (which we took a picture of purely for the interest of Moot and PPD, who served aboard the Queen Mary back in the 60’s.)

You can’t really walk around for long in downtown New York before you came across Ground Zero. The Rock Star and I weren’t really looking for it, but we came across it nonetheless; the only place downtown where you can see the sky.

I imagine that after the event, when the site was littered with high jagged rubble, it must have been an incredibly distressing sight; an obvious scene of devastation, both human and architectural. Four years on, it is a rather large and sterile building site, the only reminder of 9/11 a pair of crossed girders that are said to have been found in the rubble that way. I suppose it is the absence of the Towers in the sky that is the most lasting reminder of the tragedy, rather than the hole in the ground.

By this time in the afternoon, we finally heard from the boys back at the flat and agreed to meet them at a well known Greenwich Village watering hole called Chumleys.

The cab dropped us off in front of a building of no obvious note. The only clue we had to its purpose was a yellowing piece of paper tacked to a weather beaten piece of cork by the door that proclaimed that it was indeed the place we were looking for. The Rock Star suggested that if we entered we might encounter a load of men in leather chaps slow dancing together a-la The Blue Oyster Bar from the woefully awful Police Academy movies. (okay, maybe the third one made me laugh, but only because of that guy who screamed all the time)

It actually turned out to be one of the coolest bars in the universe. Inside, there was a distinct lack of slow dancing men but a treasure trove of literary history, two aging Labradors and a damn fine pint of cider. The place was a speakeasy during Prohibition (America’s great failed moral experiment and sure-fire Mafia moneymaker) and reportedly had several secret routes out into surrounding alleys in case of a police raid. It was frequented by giants of literature and show business; John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemmingway, Buster Keaton, and Willa Cather. (who, if the tour guide we were eavesdropping in on was to be believed, was a real party animal. Anyone who’s ever read My Antonia should be mildly surprised.)

The walls, as well as being a tribute to famous patrons, were adorned with firefighting memorabilia, as the landlord seemed to be a member of an engine company himself. The Rock Star and I both found the tributes on the walls to fallen 9/11 personnel to be much more moving than the actual site downtown. With something as big as 9/11, it’s easy to get lost in the enormity of the whole thing; actually putting faces on it brings it closer to earth.

While the four of us could have stayed there for the rest of the day and well into the night, we had a wedding to go to, so we took our leave and attempted to hail a cab at around 4 in the afternoon. Anyone living in New York would know the utter folly of this act; it is around this time that every single cab driver in the whole city goes off shift at once. We were lucky to find one with a driver who was heading in our direction anyhow and was happy to pick up one last fare on his was home. This particular cab ride, due to the volume of traffic on the road, was slightly more hairy than some of the others. Though there are only 4 lanes on most of the major avenues of the city, most people drive as if there are 8. BoyRacer asked our driver if cabs ran into eachother often. "Yeah, all the time, " he answered nonchalantly, "but we're all yellow, so who cares?". I'm assuming that one of these comings together is NOT followed by the exchange of insurance details.

After an hour or so of primping and styling, the four of us caught a cab to the swanky UES Hotel Palace Athena, where the wedding was taking place. Being early, we settled on one of the comfy couches in the bar and ordered the most expensive round of drinks I’ve ever laid eyes on. Not that they were extraordinary drinks, mind you. Far from it; 3 rum and Cokes and a Bay Breeze, totaling (are you ready for it?) $60.00. Before we could swallow our own tongues at the cost, we were invited upstairs for the wedding by the tiniest and most perfect looking wedding planner who has ever lived.

The wedding itself was very small as both Big and Little Fish are British. (both working for the same UK company on exchange in New York) Like most weddings, it was very beautiful. Little Fish looked stunning. Big Fish looked blissfully happy. The Best Man (Big Fish’s little brother) looked out of his mind with worry over his speech. (Which was very good, by the way. He took their horoscopes from “Teen Girl” magazine.) Everyone ooed and aahed at appropriate moments. We had a lovely meal, some drinks and a bit of a boogie and then bid farewell to the new Mr. and Mrs. Fish when it became apparent that the busboys were ready to physically remove us from the ballroom in order to tidy up and go home.

I knew when we arrived at the apartment, the boys were itching to do their best Rat Pack imitation out on the town in their suit jackets, so I left them to their own devices in Times Square while I put on my PJ’s and flipped through the roughly 300 stations we got in an attempt to find something to watch. If I had been looking for porn, I would have been in luck, but I was in more of a mindless sit-com kind of mood rather than a poorly written naked people kind of mood, so I took to my bed to celebrate my last night in New York with a decent night’s sleep.

So that was our excursion in the Big Apple. The following morning, The Rock Star and I caught a train from Penn Station to BWI in Baltimore where we were met by Papapotamus and whisked back to my parent's beautiful home in Mt. Airy where we spent a week relaxing, being entertained by the cats, catching up with relatives various and eating a beautifully prepared Thanksgiving dinner with my folks for the first time in 6 years. Our last Thanksgiving in Mt. Airy was a hugely crowded affair and took place a few days before we got married. We actually celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary on Sunday, the day we returned. We marked the occasion this year with dinner and a movie; I had the chicken and rice, he had the ravioli. "Bug's Life" was the feature du jour and we would have engaged in other romantic activities but were rather afraid of attracting the attention of the stewardess as well as our fellow travellers on Flight BA126 from Dulles to Heathrow.

Home again, now, we're still recovering from our travel experience. Normal blogging service should be resumed in a few days.