You know those annoying people who talk a mile-a-minute and have no internal editor, explaining everything in the painstaking detail of their actual thought process? For example:
Normal Person: Traffic sure sucked coming in today, didn't it?
Abnormal Person: It totally sucked. I normally just take the 170 to the 101 to the 405, but even the 170 was completely jammed so I got off and took sidestreets to the 101 which was also a parking lot. So then I took Ventura instead but so did everyone else. Plus, there were like 2 accidents and then when I finally got to the 405...
And on and on. Anyway, forgive me for becoming that person for the length of this post because I have not the energy or will to compose this post properly (I kind of already started down this path, didn't I).
I was back in New York last weekend. Sigh. It was really nice to be back although I was reminded again how whenever I go back there is always a tinge of sadness lingering in there in the background. I went through some tumultuous times in New York. Nothing close to the proverbial shit millions of people around the world wade through every day, just to keep things in perspective. But for a privileged American male like myself, they were absolutely some emotionally mucky times. Since I left a mere days after graduation and have only been back maybe eight times since, I don't think the city and I ever got full closure on those times. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't affect my ability to enjoy the trip, not even close. If anything, the old memories enhance my experience for their added texture and context.
On Thursday we zigged and zagged through the charming West Village, my favorite neighborhood. It's an area I didn't see much of when I was in school despite it's close proximity. I think that's because there's no attraction to really draw you there, with the exception of shopping which I never had money for and Magnolia Bakery, which hadn't blown up yet then, if it even existed. To me, the West Village is for strolling, just walking and absorbing for the sake of doing so. I don't think I did such things in college. There was this one block where Commerce Street dead-ended into a curve at the end with beautiful old brownstones lining either side, a full canopy of trees overhead. Near the end of the block, was the small, but character-rich Cherry Lane Theatre. It was one of those scenes where you can't help but just stop and stare. And then right there on this whisper of a street, singer-songwriter Ben Taylor walks right in front of us and into one of the buildings. I'm not sure most people would have noticed, but I'm a loyal fan so it was that weird, random kind of cool.
Thursday night was the Indigo Girls concert at the Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side. I love coincidences that feel like more and this show had the makings of such a night early on. I'd always wanted to see the Indigo Girls (go ahead, make your pithy jokes, punks!), but had never seen them come into town until a recent show at The Troubadour...which I could not go to because I had a class that night. I was really bummed about that. I was trolling the concert listings a few days before we left for NY, just looking for something remotely familiar that we could make an evening out of, when I saw the listing. The show was sold out by the time we walked in, but somehow I was able to get great seats in the 6th row. Also, come to find out, our friend Marjorie lives literally around the corner from the Beacon. We met for dinner and pre-show drinks, had a grand ol' time. I haven't even gotten to the actual concert yet. I may have already used up all my powers of description for concerts because I now find myself searching in vain for the words. It was really, really good. It occurred to me as I sang along to songs like "Get Out the Map," "Power of Two," and "Closer to Fine," that I was just discovering a lot of their music when I was there in college. I remembered the comfort and inspiration I drew from it then as I was navigating all that confusion, uncertainty, and self-doubt. It felt right that I would finally see them live for the first time in New York. New York, home of the finest concertgoers I have ever shared a standing "O" with. Nicole has been bemoaning the LA concertgoer as passionless and drab for years, and I always defended them. Not anymore. At the best shows I have ever seen in LA, there is always a slight sense of self-consciousness, a withholding. If the band says sing along, people might do so, but only at a level where they will be safe from anyone hearing their voice individually. I am guilty of this myself. I am prepared to own it, we Los Angelenos are, generally, a tame, laid back species. Even when we are truly excited to be at a show and having the time of our lives there, we keep it inside. We let it all out when we get back to the anonymity of our cars. On this Thursday night, the people of the Beacon showed me how it's supposed to be done. When we were called on to sing along, we did not slowly build momentum as we fought back nerves; we belted proud on the first cue. We were not cordially encouraged to sing one chorus, we were assigned entire verses of intelligent lyrics and we answered with gusto, loud and united, an acoustic choir raining down from the highest seat in the balcony. At the end of the show as they were taking their final bow, one of the Girls, I forget which one, said, "Thank you! We fuckin' love New York City!" I could see why. As the lights came up and we began filing out, half the theatre was dancing to the recorded exit music for crying out loud.
As we stepped out into the humidity of the intermittent rain, I was reminded of my favorite quality of New York. I will keep it brief because it's a total cliche, but it's the inherent, inescapable energy of the city. There is electricity in the air. Walking the streets, going to dinner, running out for paprika--everything you do feels like an event. It's invigorating and inspiring. I feel more alive there. I feel like my mind is more active, my neurons firing like the crack of sparks from that pole at the back of a bumper car that conducts its power. I'm sure this can't be right, but I don't recall ever finding myself with nothing on my mind there. I recall nary a dinner where any of us looked at each other blankly. It's like being on drugs, usually for better, sometimes for worse (My mental server crashed one night way back when, I melted down).
And on Friday, we shopped. I don't have anything to say about that part really. It was just shopping. Although I did get a peanut butter and jelly donut from Dean & Deluca which turned out to be a failure in my expert opinion. It was really a jelly donut with peanut butter coating the outside. It didn't taste bad but it didn't live up to expectations. If I am going to have such an indulgence, I want it to be worth it. What they should have done is inject the peanut butter into the middle, co-mingling with the jelly and then coated the outside of the donut in sugar. I am confident that donut would have delivered. Ah well.
Our efforts at Broadway were meek and non-committal other than to confirm we would certainly see something. We ended up at TKTS taking whatever they had that we had not already seen in movie form (Sister Act, The Musical? Seriously?), i.e. "Godspell." We had no friggin' clue what "Godspell" was until hours later. We were less than enthused going in, but it actually turned out to be a very entertaining show. The storytelling was a little dense but the staging, modernization, and performances were all outstanding. So there. After the show, we went back to Brooklyn, the hipster part of which I still had never visited. I found it very welcoming on this night. We were pretty sure the bartender had a crush on me because he kept bringing us free drinks. I'm a team player (and a ham) so, what the hell, I played ball.
Saturday we met my other former roommate, whom I hadn't seen in years. We ended up eating at a restaurant right on the corner of our old dorm, a place I had always seen but never felt cool enough to visit (perhaps I had self-esteem issues). He had been studying medicine in Israel and just recently gotten married so it was one of those weird, "wow, I guess we grew up" kind of visits. It's amazing to feel mostly the same and then suddenly realize how far you've actually come, isn't it? Then again, he did also draw me detailed instructions on how to pick a padlock, something he had devoted a lot of time to recently.
Central Park on a Saturday afternoon, one of my favorite places in the world. It's the one single thing I just have to see every time I am in the city. It's where I used to escape to when I felt like I needed to figure things out. I don't think I ever did, but I at least felt a little better whenever I was there. The leaves hadn't really begun to change but plenty were still falling and had fallen, giving me the taste of Fall I had been fantasizing about since booking the trip. I haven't looked at the photos yet, but I swear I got one looking through hanging branches onto a leaf strewn field with some guys playing football (get your mind out of the gutter), the quarterback's arm raised, just about to throw. That's the other thing about New York, production value. Everywhere you look, it just feels like you are living in a movie and it usually feels like a pretty good one. Does this metaphor work...In LA, I feel like the actor, but in New York, I feel like the character? I know, I'm laying it on thick and cheesy now. I'll get some tea and take a break.
Saturday night, Chirag...Wait, I can't believe I haven't mentioned Chirag until now. We stayed with my old roommate, friend, and groomsman at my wedding, Chirag and his wonderful fiance Kristen. They are fantastic hosts and great friends. Now then...So Chirag and Kristen took us to this Italian place in Brooklyn that had to have been there for a hundred years. One of those places with waiters in tuxedos and a wise guy behind the bar. I was compelled to order a martini immediately. That kind of place. It was awesome, and the food was some of the best, freshest Italian I've ever tasted. After dinner, Chirag and I climbed (there was a ladder) to the roof of his building for a manly cigar and talk, with the Manhattan skyline as our view. You can't beat a good man-to-man talk on a rooftop, I tell ya. We used to have long, philosophical conversations back in room 6-E as I recall. Granted, one of us was probably high most of the time which probably contributed to the length and philosophical nature of them. What I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall now for one of those sessions.
Sunday was our last day in town and we spent the early part of it in classic fashion, shopping for knockoff purses on Canal Street. This was a first for me, and quite the experience. It's illegal, of course, so there is a whole dance of a process you have to go through to avoid The Law. First, you tell them what you're looking for and then they show you a photo grid of everything they have that fits that description. You pick which one you like and then they lead you on a 3-block pilgrimage to some other corner where their people are or where they have deemed to be safe. You negotiate a price, they send a runner to go get the bag. In the meantime, three or four other sellers will gauge your interest in a Rolex watch or a wallet. I looked at a Rolex myself, but it just wasn't my style. Then they bring your item in a black bag so inconspicuous it's conspicuous. Money exchanges hands and you parts ways. It was really fun, almost like a scavenger hunt or a murder mystery dinner but with real players. At one point a cop car pulled up, an officer getting out on foot and suddenly thirty people scattered like rats. As it turns out, he was getting some gum at the newsstand and we avoided a ride in a police car.
We finished off the trip with a massive pastrami sandwich at Katz's Delicatessen, home of the famous Meg Ryan faux-gasm scene from my favorite movie of all-time, "When Harry Met Sally." I'm a dork and I actually do get excited to see locations from movies that mean something to me. The pastrami there is the best I've ever had too, so it works out. As I think about it now though, the sandwiches they are eating in the movie look nothing like what you actually get there. They are eating these tiny little sandwiches that you might get at some bistro somewhere, not the ginormous mounds of meat they give you now. Anyway.
Just like that, it was time to say goodbye to the city once again. Halfway through Day One, I mostly-jokingly told Nicole to think about moving there. I checked in on Day Two and was not surprised to hear she had ruled it out, but stipulated that we should visit more often. I'll take that.
See you again in May, old friend.
P.S. We flew Virgin America, my first experience with them. At first, I was skeptical. The purple lighting and spacey entertainment stations reminded me a lot of Space Mountain which is hardly the type of ride I am looking for on a commercial flight. On the ride home though, the ability to order drinks on demand won me over.