Monday, June 28, 2010

Feels like home: 9 days in the Big Apple


One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”

-Thomas Wolfe

After a nearly 4-hour bus ride from Washington DC, in which I had to fight off the temptation to turn off a sleeping passenger’s iPod, I arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. In the subway, I saw a young girl tell an old man to “sit the fuck down” and noticed that the guy in front of me was talking to himself while tightly holding a book in his hands. Without a shadow of a doubt, I knew I was in New York.

The next day I decided I would take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I had a smoke in the small park by the subway in order to relax and to brace myself for the long walk ahead. Apparently I relaxed a little too much, seeing as I found myself walking in the bicycle lane. Devoting all my attention to not getting run over, I’d begun asking myself why so many bikes kept coming down my way, until I noticed the bike sign painted on the ground next to a thick line indicating the pedestrian’s place in the sidewalk. I immediately took my place among the other silly tourists.

Being so enthralled with my surroundings, I walked at a slow pace behind a large family while enjoying the exceptional sights of the Big Apple. After a while I began to get that feeling you get in restaurants, when you feel that the couple next to you actually came with you in your car because of how close they've been sitting for quite a while. “Let me move up ahead” I thought, “before I do or say something stupid”. It just so happens that we were approaching the center of the bridge where lots of people thought it was a good idea to take a picture. Since most people were in large groups, it was impossible to walk past them lest I venture once again into the dangerous bike lane. I swear to God, I must have appeared in about a hundred pictures.

Once in Brooklyn, I played local band Earl Greyhound on my iPod and decided to get lost. I ended up in a park on the side of the bridge overlooking Manhattan. The view was stunning; words fail to describe it. I took it all in and after a few moments asked where the nearest subway was. I found it, and as I went down the stairs I realized that a train was about to leave. I ran and managed to get inside before it took off. It took me the better part of half an hour to realize I was headed in the wrong direction. I've gotten lost in the subway before, so I didn't panic. I looked at the MTA map and figured it out, because after all, real men don't ask for directions.

I was feeling very self-conscious because the new slip-on shoes I'd bought were making strange noises every time I took a step. I'm no expert, but these peculiar noises I was making resembled the frowned upon sound of a flatulence outburst, aka a fart. I paused in front of an escalator to see if there was any way to stop making these sounds. An elderly man heard me speaking in Spanish, and annoyed with the fact that I was in his way exclaimed, “C'mon, poppies! Let's go”. Then again, it could've been papis (as in the plural form of papi). Guess I'll never know.

On a train leaving Queens, I looked up from my book and suddenly realized I was surrounded by mariachi. A fellow passenger decided to make a request and asked the musicians to play “Mexicali Blues” by The Grateful Dead. I don't think they knew the song, or how to speak English for that matter because they looked at this guy with bewilderment. I felt sorry for him. I felt even more sorry for me: a mariachi version of a Dead tune would have been something epic.

Every day in New York seemed to be a story in itself. I continued to encounter unique people and circumstances, as one can only do in this great city. As far as food was concerned, one of the things I enjoyed repeatedly was the hot sausages sold in the little cars on the sidewalk. One day as I walked into a Barnes & Noble bookstore it quickly dawned on me that my last hot sausage was not agreeing too much with my stomach. Trying my absolute best to keep things under control, I couldn't help seeing Marlon Brando in my thoughts, gently whispering “The horror...the horror”. Despite my better judgment, I ventured into the public restroom. I don't care to describe the things I heard inside of that God-awful place, but I will say I was very uncomfortable knowing that someone in the cubicle next door was up to the same thing. Even more awkward was the look we gave each other as we both exited our respective cubicles at the same time. Jesus Christ... Ok, enough of this. Let's continue.

All around Times Square and other parts of Manhattan I couldn't help but notice all the people dressed in graduation togas. At some point I saw a group of young girls that kept jumping up in the air at the same time. As I approached and realized what was really going on I became speechless... these bitches were attempting the infamous 'up in the air' picture. I haven't seen anybody do that since the first Clinton administration.

A few days into my NYC expedition I began to get guitar withdrawal. The only sensible thing to do would be to find a guitar store and shamelessly ask them to let me test a guitar worth more than my beaten up Ford Taurus. And yet, I've done that so many times that this time I thought it would be in better taste to just refrain. So I took Option B and contacted an old friend in Queens. Since he has a few guitars and amps, I knew a jam session was in order. I met him at some corner of Astoria to go buy beer. In our little walk around his neighborhood he won my complete trust by asking himself at every corner: “Where the fuck am I?”. I found it all very funny until it seemed we were walking in circles. That's when I began to doubt his abilities as a host.

When we finally found his apartment, we threw back a few cold ones and sat across one another with guitars in the living room. We had a lovely jam and later, as was expected, I had to go to the bathroom to relieve my pulsating desire to urinate. Lucky for me, I found a Maxim magazine sitting on top of the toilet. Milla Jovovich was on the cover... oh my. I quickly grabbed the magazine and raised the toilet seat. Judging by the amount of beer we had already consumed, I knew this would take a little longer than usual, so I placed my gear on auto-pilot and used both my hands to look through the magazine. Once I was done urinating, I began to raise my zipper. In an instant I heard the doorknob turn and I watched in disbelief as the door began to open – I was still unzipped. My friend's female roommate walked into the bathroom and caught me in the rather embarrassing and suggestive position of having a picture of Milla Jovovich in my left hand while my right hand was placed somewhere near my nether region.

The next day, after sleeping off my humiliation, I took a downtown train to Brooklyn to catch my friend's play at St. Ann's Warehouse on Water Street. After the show I made my way back to the subway. Since it was a Saturday some trains were not working so certain commutes had to be reorganized. It was still early so I was having a hard time making sense of this mess. Some girl saw my confused face and offered to help. Turns out we were both headed in the same direction so we got on the next train heading back into Manhattan. I asked about all the confusion and she said that “New York is a well-oiled machine, but sometimes it needs maintenance.”

“Where are you staying?”, she asked.

“Astoria.”

“Astoria's nice. I once had sex with a photographer in an apartment over there”.

“Was it big?”

“Not really. It was small but cozy.”

“What about the apartment?”

“What do you mean? I just told you.”

“Nevermind.”

On one of the last nights of my stay in New York, I found myself in the coolest place in all of Manhattan, The Beauty Bar. The hour was approaching midnight, and as one song ended and another began I realized that this place had very high standards for what is quality music. Song after song, the tunes were hitting the right spot and I was mesmerized. Quickly, I approached the bar and ordered a brew with a shot of whiskey – I was having a good time. On a later trip to get another beer, I leaned over into the bar and said to the bartender “Give my regards to the DJ; tell him he has my utmost respect.” The bartender flashed a big smile and asked “More whiskey?”.

“Yes, sir, please. Two!”

He poured the drinks.

“What do I owe you?”

“Don't worry about that, they're on me.”

“I love this town” I thought to myself as I swallowed a mouthful of scotch. After some more drinks and even some dancing (Yes, I'm prone to dance on occasion with the proper motivation), the time seemed right to head back to Queens for further entertainment. The party had begun to wind down anyway. After taking one last look around, I headed for the door and walked back into the warm Manhattan night.

Photograph by Nichole Saldarriaga

1 comment:

Miss Narco said...

Everyone has NY stories, it's always nice hearing them, because they're different points of view. And everyone seems to fall in love with it in their own way... I finally visited for the first time, and hopefully not the last, and fell in love with it as well. I can't wait to go back.