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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: July 27-August 4, 2003

Wednesday, July 30, 2003:

Alright, more Tales of Ribaldry in New York City. I wandered down to Central Park, which was fairly well-stocked with people on this gorgeous day. Puppies were mingling, tour groups of 50+ kids wearing matching shirts were merrily chanting in a language I didn't understand, old couples were walking too slow and the men were making no effort to disguise their leering at bethonged sunbathers on the grass... the whole setup felt alive in a way that Detroit never does unless the Red Wings are in Stanley Cup contention. It was at this point that I decided I wanted a hot pretzel from one of the many Good Humor vendors strategically stationed around the park. Ahead of me in line was a girl who'd ordered a hot dog with ketchup and mustard. The Good Humor man responded by drenching her dog in a river of condiments more befitting a Double Dare stunt than something you'd actually want to put in your mouth. (Not that you should be putting hot dogs in your mouth to begin with, of course, but I'll leave the vegetarian rants for another day.) Ketchup and mustard ran over the sides of the bun in an extremely unappetizing fashion... and the Good Humor man decided to make amends by frantically yelling at the girl for taking more than one napkin with her food. She didn't seem to appreciate my laughter. (I then gave the Good Humor guy $2.00 for my $1.50 pretzel, and he didn't even offer me change, instead just dropping the extra 50 cents into his tip jar, and blinking impatiently at me. Rock on, Ballsy Good Humor Guy!)

Underneath a walkway, a Chinese guy was playing beautiful, exotic music on an instrument that seemed to be of his own design, constructed from a couple old cans, a broom handle, a string, and a violin bow. I listened to him for a bit as I munched my pretzel, and wished I'd had a minidisc recorder on-hand, so I could've saved the incredibly soulful sounds he was coaxing from his thingy. If the Good Humor guy had given me my 50 cents back, I would've tossed it in the Chinese guy's open instrument case. (At that point, I had only twenties, though, and I didn't dig his music that much.)

So I walked and walked and walked. Finally, I arrived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Suggested admission this time was $12. Mustering up my courage, I paid $7, and my conscience remained clear. As much as it ever is.

I loved the Met. I spend about an hour and a half there, and got to see only the first floor, because it's so huge. Though there weren't as many instantly recognizable, iconic paintings as the Art Institute of Chicago had housed, I saw lots of unfamiliar works by great painters (Picasso's Blind Man's Meal was new to me, and it held me transfixed for a little while- so sad!) and pieces by artists whose names I'd never heard- and have forgotten- but that left me shaking my head in amazement that so much can be coaxed from a little paint and a canvas. They also had great exhibits of attractive interior design items, and the display of modern photography was every bit as moving as the painting galleries. I still can't get too excited, however, about all the rooms full of old tools and weaponry, though. If you work at the Met, please make a note of this.

By this point, my feet were killing me, and I decided to walk back to the hotel along Fifth Avenue, so that I could motivate myself to keep going by watching the streets pass and counting down the blocks from 81st Street (where the museum is located) back to 32nd. The faux-cobblestone of the sidewalk didn't do my feet any favors, but it was probably better than the uneven terrain in the park anyway. Along the way, I stopped at a few cheapo sidewalk vendors, who were selling photos, bootleg CDs, and other junk. A few tables actually had some very pretty prints of Times Square at night, but as enamored as I always am of neon cityscapes, I don't think I'd necessarily want to immortalize a lot of the pictured advertisements and logos on my wall. The big Kangaroo Jack billboard prominently featured in one picture, for instance.

Retired to my hotel room at 2:30 or so, scrubbed the city off my body, relaxed on my bed for awhile while half-listening to the efficient chatter of CNN, inadvertently donated a dollar to the malfunctioning e-mail terminal in the Red Roof Inn lobby, and then just waited for Scott.

Had fun with Scott and Mark Prindle. But I've realized that I'm never going to get this thing posted if I insist upon posting every little detail. Suffice it to say they're both really nice guys who are fun and polite and warm and would probably make you feel comfortable any time you were in their company. Had lots of fun, bought lots of CDs.

Flight back to Detroit sucked. Whose bright idea was it to outlaw liquor sales before noon on Sundays? Some of us have early flights! Last week, when visiting with Jessi and Alan in Ann Arbor, I jokingly said that I was going to bring along a hollow prosthetic limb that was filled with gin to get me through the flights. On Sunday, though, as the stewardess fought for 20 minutes to seal the cabin door (i.e., that thing whose closed state prevents us passengers from asphyxiating or being sucked out into the blue at 30,000 feet), I sort of wished I hadn't been joking.

I don't think I got Gangs of New York. Professor Eberwein always used to tell me that any decent historical movie was always actually more about the time in which it was made than the time that it presents on screen, but... I had a hard time connecting anything in Gangs of New York to the modern day. There just didn't seem to be much of a reason behind it, nor was there a satisfactory story arc. Daniel Day-Lewis was obviously having a high ol' time doing his Snidely Whiplash impression, but... why? Why any of it? For the first two hours or so, the film seemed to be traveling along a fairly linear story line, and then ZIP! Off to the pond for the next 40 minutes! The end! I'm sure there was some sort of logic to it, since Scorsese isn't the sort to just say, "Well, it's good enough and I'm sick of working on it- print it, release it, whatever." So I think I missed the point, because it seemed pointless to me.

Is my writing style getting tiresome? I think so. I'm also trying desperately not to believe in love. Is it working? You tell me.

CURRENT MUSIC: Rahmania by the Bollywood Brass Band.
TIME: 11:08 PM.

Doot? | |

Sunday, July 27, 2003:

So I was sunning myself on the yacht deck this Wednesday past, laughing uproariously with Chauncey and Howard as we watched old Hastings, the butler, struggle vainly with the unclogging of the servants' outhouse (as a lark, we'd filled the lavatory with the mountain of oyster shells that was left in the banquet hall following last night's soiree; as everyone knows, nothing gums up the works in a servants' outhouse like oyster shells), when I had a stroke of inspiration. "I say, old boys," I declared. "I believe I'll take the helicopter to New York City tomorrow!" Well, needless to say, Chauncey made some comment to the effect that it was impossibly gauche to visit New York in the summer, but ha ha, you know our Chauncey! Besides, I quickly silenced him with a light swat from an antique meat tenderizer Daddy had fetched for me on his recent jaunt to Tuscany. And so, New York City it was and has been, between Thursday and this morning!

Yes, I'm tired of just introducing these entries by saying things like, "I went to New York for a few days." But I did. And it was fun! A detailed travelogue, you say? Very well...

On Thursday, I landed at LaGuardia Airport in an enjoyably buzzed state. As flying ranks rather high on my list of phobias- just below needles and centipedes- it had taken me a few gin and tonics to get on the plane at Detroit Metro Airport- which has recently added a Jose Cuervo Tequileria, I was pleased to discover! I'll spare you the contents of the notes I took between downing my sweet, sweet liquor and landing in NYC, because (a) they're nearly illegible, and (b) they quickly descend into profane complaints that the pilot had not yet turned off the "Putana da Seatbeltz" signs so that I could use the restroom.

Upon landing, I fought to remember the instructions my coworker, Sandy, had given me about obtaining ground transportation to my hotel. Simply following the signs marked "Ground Transportation" didn't really work, as I simply sat outside as cars whizzed by for a good half hour. Finally, I called Barnes & Noble to see if Sandy was working. She wasn't. I did manage to freak out poor, sweet Aimee by telling her that I was "At LaGuardia and confused."

"Chris, are you drunk?" she asked.

"A little."

"Is there anyone in New York with you?"


"Chris! You went to New York by yourself and you're drunk and lost?!" It's not hard to get Aimee going. She insisted that I find a Starbucks in the airport and try to sober up a bit, and then call her back in an hour. Stuck for a better idea, I waddled back into the terminal, where I immediately ran into a kiosk for those wanting to hire ground transportation. Yay! An hour or so later, and I was able to call Aimee back from my hotel room. She was relieved to hear that's where I was. Apparently, she'd called her boyfriend in Wales for advice because she was worried about me. (He good-naturedly laughed at her.) I really must remember not to add to Aimee's stress level like that. She's such a sweetie.

My hotel room was much like that of any other Red Roof Inn in the nation: a cheap coffeepot, serviceable storage areas, clashing greens on every possible surface, streaky "Do Not Disturb" signs that attempted to look somehow marbleized and elegant but actually just looked dingy, etc. However, there was one important difference between the Manhattan Red Roof Inn and every other one in which I've stayed. When you threw back the curtains in this room, you were greeted with a staggering view of the Empire State Building a block away- though it may as well have been directly across the street, for how enormous the thing is. I had to crouch on the floor and lean my head on the wall beneath the window just to see the top of the building. There wasn't much activity visible inside the ol' Emp during my stay, but it was nice to be able to sit and look at it without being jostled about by a billion noisy, sweaty yahoos on the street. Without getting all sappy and Reader's Digest on you, it really is a sight to behold if only because the fact that such a structure exists and was built by humans is practically unthinkable.

Porn-on-demand was also available in the room, albeit with disappointingly bland titles to choose from. I think Slutty Candy Stripers was the funniest name, which is not that funny to begin with. Bah.

After I got settled in, I decided to wander around Koreatown, the cultural area in which the Red Roof Inn was situated. (On West 32nd Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, I think.) Though I wasn't able to understand most of the signs that were jutting off the buildings, there were all sorts of interesting little shops and cafes all around the block, with a special emphasis on karaoke bars. And damn it! It just now occurs to me that I should've stopped in that Korean record store and looked for that Jadoo CD I was curious about a few years ago! Maybe one of you can pick it up for me. Anyway, I stared at some of the menus taped in the windows of the cafes, scanning for dishes that sounded both enjoyable and vegetarian-friendly, but nothing grabbed me and I ultimately just went to Sbarro's and got a slice of cheese pizza instead. (When I die and St. Peter peruses the account of my life on earth, I have the feeling he's going to roll his eyes at how often the phrase "ultimately just went to Sbarro's and got a slice of cheese pizza" appears.)

I walked a few more blocks, almost to Madison Square Garden, and came across a great little bargain-crap store called Weber's, which offers all manner of industrial overstock clothes for between 99 cents and five dollars. I had a brief, spontaneous shopping spree there, in which I picked up a charming hospital scrub shirt that says "BJC Health System" on it, an industrial orange short-sleeve shirt, a forest green shirt that I contend qualifies as a "dress shirt," a gray vinyl shirt that reads "Waste Management" on the left breast and has cool reflective stripes on the sleeves, a safari-colored blazer that has a ridiculous amount of pockets, and a pair of slacks that turned out to be intended for women (which may explain why the fly is left-handed- are all women's pants like that?), but I still think are nifty. And slimming. Total cost: $5.81!

At that point, I returned to my hotel room, psyched about the cool supplements to my wardrobe, and tried everything on while watching Friends and doing cheerful little jigs in front of the mirror in my new threads. Then spent the rest of the evening getting started on In Babylon by Marcel Moring, a Dutch novel (translated into English, of course) that was a birthday gift from Anne, and that I can tell is going to soon rival my copy of Microserfs for number of creases in its binding due to compulsive reading and re-reading. More on that later. I fell asleep early, missing Queer Eye for the Straight Guy yet again.

On Friday, I woke up early and decided to take in as much of the city as I could before meeting Scott Floman in my hotel lobby at 4:00. First stop: H&M, the clothing store that most of my female friends have agreed is a good starting point for a guy looking to phase out some of his deodorant-stained T-shirts in favor of clothes that are "presentable" and "not suggestive of homelessness." Unfortunately, H&M wasn't open till 10:00 AM, and I started my explorations at about 9:30, so I wound up circling the block a few times. I noticed that most of the eating establishments had chalkboards out front advertising "Eggs on a Roll" as a breakfast special. Is that another New York-centric culinary obsession that I was just unaware of? Like New York-style pizza or hot dogs that come from any place that has Nathan's somewhere in its name? At any rate, I decided not to squander my appetite on an investigation.

H&M was a bit of a disappointment. Not just because they were playing Elephant by the White Stripes on the store stereo, either. Maybe I was just expecting something different, or maybe I have a hopelessly skewed vision of what stylish clothes should look like (and cost), but they didn't seem to have much of a selection in the men's department. If you're not a fan of cargo pants- which I am not- you're pretty much out of luck, it seemed. Granted, I was riding high from the previous night's we'll-pay-you-to-take-them-away clothing haul, and also Erica had made it sound like you could basically buy a six-pack of nice shirts for $15 at H&M, but I didn't see anything that I liked at all for under $30. Also, I may have gone to the wrong H&M. But at any rate, I left empty-handed, and I got the distinct impression that, a thousand miles away, Adrienne felt a sudden twinge of disappointment in me for reasons that weren't immediately clear to her.

After that fiasco, I headed for Fifth Avenue, and planned to walk to the Museum of Modern Art. One phenomenon that I grew to enjoy, as I walked, was the way New York really doesn't have one overriding smell, per se, like Detroit does (i.e., the smell of rot) but you're bombarded with hundreds of different scents in quick succession. Well, maybe enjoy is a little strong, since every third or fourth smell was one you'd file in the "Not Exactly a Nasal Orgasm" category, but it was at least unique. Roasted almonds, B.O., the antiseptic air spat through the front doors of a pharmacy, fruit, cologne, stale subway exhaust, sidewalk meat products: all registering for a second and then making way for the next odor, like a line of factory workers punching out and moving aside as quickly as possible at closing time. It's quite the sensory adventure, though for some reason it left my watch smelling like strange, cloying garbage at the end of the day. (I don't ordinarily smell my watch before bed or anything; it just reeked so horribly that it was hard not to notice.)

As I walked, I took detours down a number of side streets to see what was hiding from the central hub of mainstream consumption that is Fifth Avenue. More cute restaurants, mostly. And innumerable souvenir stores, none of which carried Knicks T-shirts at this time of year, frustratingly. (I'd told my cousin Caitlin that I'd find her a Knicks shirt. She wants one because Jennifer Aniston wore one on Friends. I would say something snarky about that, but I wasn't much younger than her when I took up the saxaphone because Lisa Simpson played it.) They did have a surprising abundance of shirts that said, "Fuck you, you fuckin' fuck," however. Or, for the more literary consumer, shirts bearing Oscar Wilde's classic witticism, "Fuck milk- got pot?" I also came across the Museum of Television and Radio, which I think would've been interesting, but they didn't open till noon on Fridays, and I didn't have time to wait around. I'm a busy man with things to do!

I then got into a 10-minute discussion with a pigeon who had a huge chip on his shoulder.

I passed up the Museum of Modern Art, because I decided that, at that point, I had enough momentum to keep carrying me on toward Central Park. It was a gorgeous, cloudless day that was warm without being overbearing about it. More importantly, Manhattan was giving off an unexpectedly friendly vibe, where the entire city seemed to be operating together as a single organism. Not that everyone had joined hands like the Whos in Whoville and started singing, but the air had a whiff of benign tolerance and even cooperation in it that was enough to keep me going. Even when people brusquely brushed away those obnoxious guys handing out flyers on the street corners, it was with a "nothing personal" wave rather than an irritated slap. A lot of little things like that.

Okay, tired. I'll work on this more tomorrow.

I just went out to dinner at La Shish with Erica and Lorenzo, and was mentioning some of the cool things I'd seen- such as the surprise of encountering the Empire State Building directly outside my window, looking for all the world like Jack's beanstalk sprouting into the heavens- and Erica suddenly gasped and excitedly said, "Did your hotel have a pool?!" It's good to be home.

CURRENT MUSIC: Vision Creation Newsun by the Boredoms, and Rabbit Songs by Hem again.
TIME: 12:23 AM (technically Monday, I guess, but I'm still calling it Sunday.)

Doot? | |

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