Saturday, September 08, 2007

Welcome to the Jungle

I realized earlier this week that I've lost touch with "the streets."

Although this could very well be the single most ridiculous thing I've ever said, it in no way diminishes the sentiment I'm trying to express. I just don't get out enough anymore. My days usually consist of work, followed by a lot of time at my computer, followed by dinner with my wife, followed by sleep. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. This is unfortunate, because for me -- and I'd imagine a whole lot of others -- New York City is basically one giant playground. When I first moved here, I never spent more than a few hours indoors at any one time; the city outside was always calling. It wasn't until I moved into a high-rise in Chelsea with a view of the Empire State Building that I even started to think of staying at home for any length of time.

So, today, I decided to change that. I threw on my Mighty-Mouse t-shirt, a baseball cap, cargo shorts and flip-flops, grabbed my backpack and hopped the subway downtown. I'm glad I did; I was reminded in so many ways why I love this city, even when I fucking hate it.

Union Square

While standing with a crowd of people at a crosswalk at 13th and Broadway, I turned my head and noticed a guy heading toward us on a bike -- riding slowly, parallel to the traffic we were all trying to cross. As he pulled in front of the teeming mass gathered on the side of the street waiting for the light to change, he began complaining that everyone needed to step back. "Get back, get back," he said with an air of arrogance that was utterly surreal coming from a kid who was wearing an oversized Puerto Rican flag t-shirt and a hip-hop-style flat-billed baseball cap. The fact that he was riding one of those tricked-out low-riding bikes made the whole scene all the more strange. The heads of those at the front of the crowd followed him as he passed -- confused looks on their faces. "Get back, get back," he kept saying as he got closer and closer to where I was standing. Finally, he pulled slowly in front of me, barking the same instruction to me that he had to everyone else -- "Get back." I was following him with my eyes, when, without saying so much as one word, the guy standing next to me simply reached his arm out and pushed the kid over. As he and his bike spilled into the street, the entire crowd, myself included, busted up laughing.


At 9th and 2nd Ave lies one of this city's best culinary secrets -- Otafuku. It's a place the size of a shoebox -- no seating, no counter, nothing -- that serves Takoyaki, which is basically Japanese street food; the kind of stuff you generally find kids in Osaka wolfing down after a night of heavy drinking. It's deep-fried, it's slathered in mayonaise, and it's fucking spectacular. For six bucks you get fritters made with octopus, and a giant helping of wok stir-fried noodles.

I got a take-out box, a pair of chopsticks and some napkins and headed to find a park bench.

Tompkins Square Park

As it turned out, today was "Art in the Park" day, as opposed to the usual daily event: "Junkie Whores in the Park." I sat down with my octopus balls (well, what would you call them), turned on my iPod and settled in to enjoy the show. It wasn't long before a woman who could've been a dead-ringer for Nancy Spungen -- had Nancy been morbidly obese and insistent on doing her makeup so that she looked like a Romulan -- stumbled over and collapsed onto the bench directly in front of me, waking the old black guy wearing the Rhythm Nation-style baseball cap who happened to already be sleeping there. The intrusion produced a shouting match that would've been incomprehensible even to a UN translator.

This scene was immediately followed up -- almost as a sort of resolution to the punchline -- by a guy who walked right in front of my carrying a sign that read: "Bad Advice $1."

Nevada Smiths

Three pints of Boddingtons. A great crowd. A World Cup rematch -- Italy vs. France.

Forbidden Planet

There's no better place to get your geek on than at the country's biggest comic book store. Forbidden Planet has every silly, stupid, completely unnecessary goddamned thing a kid who grew up mainlining sci-fi into his veins could ever want. From new issues of 30 Days of Night and the brilliant Y: The Last Man, to a ball cap which features a picture of General Zod and the word "Kneel!" on it, to a button that says "Han Shot First," to a mini 3D movie poster of the original Alien (guess what'll soon be adorning my work space), to a vintage-looking t-shirt with the Colonial Viper Squadron logo on the front of it (tragically, they didn't have it in my size, but promise to get it soon).

I could die in that place.


Eventually, every single person in New York City -- visitor or resident -- will face one seemingly insurmountable dilemma, and it sounds like this: "Do I take the chance and buy 3:10 to Yuma on DVD from the little guy selling it out of a plastic bag, knowing full well that it may be dubbed into Chinese, look like it was downloaded on a VIC-20, or simply not work at all." What about Superbad -- or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? I've been screwed too many times to consider blowing even a measly five bucks on steet bootlegs anymore -- although the original Spider-Man was worth it just for the pleasant surprise of subtitles in Engrish. ("You, you think, Mr. Spider. Also did the foil defeat the person? You at all did not win!") Bottom line: I passed.


I try to avoid the trains like prison rape on the weekends; they run one every six or seven hours and they're usually packed solid with a cross-section of grotesque vermin the likes of which seem beyond rational comprehension. Still, they're cheap, and that obviously counts for something. My train ride home involved being pinned against the doors by an old woman in a wheelchair. Under normal circumstances, the predicament of the elderly and handicapped would likely inspire pity or at the very least concern for the well-being of the person in question; when that person smells God-awful and is taking up a very large amount of desperately needed subway car space -- well, fuck that. She stared blankly ahead, a cup of water in her hand, resting on her lap. After waiting for a half-hour in a steaming subway station (and believe me, there hasn't been a word created yet to properly describe the hell of an underground train platform in the summertime), it's safe to say that most of the riders were less than thrilled about the insinuation of this giant metal contraption and its drooling occupant into the center of the car. It came to a head though when I glanced down to see the woman, for no apparent reason, let go of her cup and spill the water all over herself -- then proceed to reach her own hand into her pants in what I assume was an attempt to clean up the mess. There was a family of tourists next to me at the time; the look on the faces of the kids was better than priceless.

Welcome to New York, folks.

? ? ?

Tonight, I'm going out. If you think this place is batshit in the daylight, you have no idea what it's like when the sun goes down.

Wish me luck.


winged unicorn said...

when i was in nyc, may 2006, i rode the subway from grand central down into park slope. at 4 am. it was....interesting. I GOT A SEAT!!!!!!!!!!!!! which, to me, was a miracle considering i rode the lex express every day rush hour. a seat. a friggin seat. i miss mass transit. and considering i've put 3076 miles on my car in 42 days (no big trips either-haven't gone more than an 80 mile radius from my abode) i SHOULD miss it.
street vendor food....used to get it up at rockefeller plaza, souvlaki, quesadillas etc. and my pretzel guy, on 5th and 53rd, figured out i was pregnant when i was about 4 weeks along: lady, all of a sudden you want them with extra salt? you pregnant or something? (no i was NOT fat. wore my regular clothes til the day she was born. size 6. they still fit, 18 years later, too.)
i miss new york.....but i don't think i could live there again.

Harris said...

I dunno. Everytime I go to New York I think, "I should have stayed home. I could done all this stuff in Philadelphia and it would have involved a lot fewer sweaty motherfuckers." I find it impossible to get anywhere in NYC. That said, I love Chocolate by the Bald Man in the East Village and the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. One because the fresh chocolate is so damn good I want to pour it all over my naked body and the other because of its complete and total dedication to a joke.

Lorenzo said...

Well, when you put it like that, New York City, here I come

winged unicorn said...

hey harris, you do realize that nyc is one of the few cities where you CAN pour fresh chocoalte all over your body and the public will react as follows: ignore you, nod at you and wink, ask what company or art exhibit you're promoting, lick it off and THEN evaluate the taste/texture/cocoa fat content of the chocloate. we of the cities are all SUCH experts on everything.
asked a local down here for directions. guy was very precise, accurate. i asked: you a transplant from nyc? guy says: hey, i'm telling you where to go and how to get there. whaddya think? me: brooklyn or bronx?
guy: born in bronx, raised in other

Alex Barreto said...

You wore FLIP-FLOPS for a day out in the city?!?!? I hope you've had all your shots.

Karl and Mia said...

Union Square:

We are primates, and this is the perfect example. Despite being human we are still animals. There is a pecking order, and despite what modern day children believe they are still at the bottom of it.

Adults aren't going to let a kid push them around and tell them what to do. Too many kids actually have that ability these days due to the fear factor. Children have lost respect for their elders have little care as to possible consequences for their actions because there are no consequences.

Kids naturally crave discipline if they are not given it then they become aggressive, hateful, and vindictive. It's not because they WANT's because they have been neglected. If this progresses too far then they come and see me. I work in a mental hospital. And what might have ended in light corporal punishment and a good talking to now ends in seclusion and restraints. Not pretty.

As far as the kid on the bike...I would have been the one to push him. I would also have then helped him up and told him to shape up and respect his peers or one day his punishment will be much worse.

Karl and Mia said...

You only try to avoid prison rape on the weekends? What about the other five days of the week?

You're scaring me, man.

Karl and Mia said...

Forgot to share my NYC experience:

The first time I was in NYC I didn't know about the "no eye contact" rule. I was still smoking then, and from rural Northern Minnesota. I opened a fresh pack of cigarettes in broad daylight, and I swear every fifth person I made eye contact with asked for a cigarette. In my naivete--not to mention my wholesome Midwestern upbringing--I was all too happy to help my fellow man out. (How come women never bum smokes?) By the time I reached the end of the block I was out of cigarettes.

And speaking of naivete, some friends and I walked down 42nd street on our way to see some tourist attraction--I don't remember which (The Intrepid?), and the further we got from Broadway the more lipstick-stained condoms I kept seeing in the gutters. At first I thought they were all blood-stained! Despite the "newness" of seeing these massive numbers of latex condoms on a public street, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why there was lipstick on them. It took a transplant friend to explain it to me.

Hey! At least they were using condoms!