Sunday, July 28, 2013

Welcome to New York – Now Get Out

A Native’s Guide to Tourism

Hey Babe, Take a Walk on the Wild Side

“I happen to like New York, I happen to love this town
I like the city air, I like to drink of it
The more I see New York, the more I think of it
I like the sight and the sound and even the stink of it
I happen to like New York” - Porter

“Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitchhiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her leg and then he was a she
She says, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side
Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side”- Reed

Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the streets, so why not indulge those terpsichorean aspirations on the boulevards of the most vibrant, exciting, sophisticated, intelligent, cultural, artistic, colorful, diverse, culinary-keen, and, of course, humble, conurbation ever captured in Rand McNally’s  - a city so nice…  it’ll cost you twice. New York, New York, a beloved metropolis merely requiring extreme and ungodly quantities of currency to occupy, visit, fly-over or even quietly whisper its name; home to embarrassing and amorously aberrant office-seekers, and the most justifiably disliked, disrespected and deceptive toiler on a baseball diamond since Barry Bond’s head exploded, 50’s Drive-In, horror film-style into the size of a prize-winning pumpkin. Start spreading the news, as well as your hand sanitizer, and visit my home town, if you can make it here… consider yourself unusually lucky.

Forsake Frommer, fie on Fodor and tsk tsk to Trip Advisor and rather, heed these words. Welcome and attain inner-city enlightenment as we examine these wayfaring strangers, their curious customs, and gently and gracefully guide them on an expedition that eight million of us undertake daily.

New York tourists – Latin genus “Giuliani Disney-ficcation” are known for their colorful plumage and can be easily identified by shared telltale external signs – I love NY t-shirts, fanny packs, Statue of Liberty crowns and M&M store bags. They will commonly exhibit a glazed-over ocular appearance of being Zeppelin-esque dazed and confused for so long, and of a, habitually, in frantic need of voluminous and varietal information. If broaching contact with our guests approach slowly, with care and caution, as they are skittish and frighten easily; treat with kindness and courtesy and communicate correct coordinates to Liberty Island rather than comical misinformation leading them, instead, to Staten Island.

Visitors, take note, not a single resident, now, in our glorious and glamorous past, nor in our hopeful and promising future, has ever or will ever, don an “I love NY” shirt - not even if it’s a black one (meaning the shirt, not the resident.)  That garment is the surest signal of an Empire State outsider, and can often be seen, simultaneously, on all members of a nomadic clan. Observe the blonde, fair-skinned, freshly scrubbed, smiling from ear to ear Midwestern family. The oldest boy is the slightly, overweight placekicker on his high school football team.  The middle child, the only daughter, freckled, giggly, retainer-wearing and as innocent as a newborn bunny. And finally, in the size 6, husky chemise is the youngest boy, he’s tousled-haired, spoiled and slightly fresh-mouthed, and scared to death of the streets of Manhattan, tired of all the necessary walking, pining for the SUV and its reassuring rear seat DVD player, but refusing to descend the stairs into the cavernous unknown of any subway station. Dad is mustachioed, bespectacled, a bit paunchy from his love affair with Coors Light, and slightly wrinkled from the everyday hard work that paid for this holiday. These dads look like real dads. New York Dads have gyms in their buildings and overuse “product” in never-ending vain, vain attempts to maintain appeal to the young baristas they encounter each morn.  Tourist Dads resemble “The Old Man” in “A Christmas Story,” while their Big Apple counterparts are more the MC from “Cabaret.” And Mom, looking substantially older than she truly is, is but one cautious caterpillar to beauteous butterfly venture to a pricey New York salon away from obscuring the matronly school crossing monitor persona and revealing the genuine glamour lurking inside this past princess of the twirlers. Each one proudly sports their brand-spanking new, Iranian street vendor sold, 3 for $10, I Love New York t-shirts, which will, sadly, not survive the initial toss in the Maytag.

Typical Tourist Dad

Typical NYC Dad
Particularly fond of familiar, fat-laden, commercially mass-produced, chain restaurant food stuffs, the uninformed urban explorer can be found foraging at their natural habitats - queuing out the door and around the corner at Ellen’s Stardust Diner and The Olive Garden. They inevitably avoid any of the fine quality restaurants that make New York City a gourmets and gourmands delight, and a global culinary capital and fond food destination. 

As in rural areas, where there is nomenclature for gatherings of carbon life forms native to the environment, here, in New York, there are also labels for indigenous groupings. Whereas some may be accustomed to seeing and interacting with herds of cows, flocks of sheep, (if you’re from the UK, Flocks of Seagulls), racists of rednecks and intolerants of conservatives;  here one is more likely to encounter  turbans of taxi drivers, divas of drag queens, parkas of homeless, and most relevantly, tediums of tourists.

Tediums are well-known for definition difficulty with the name “sidewalk,” believing, despite the active nature of the term, that they are not intended for walking at all, but rather for standing in the middle of, in sizeable crowds, to gaze at guide books, formulate plans, and to attempt to interpret confusing subway and street maps. Foreign friends, should you, at any point, feel it may be appropriate to actually saunter upon these concrete walkways, remember that it always is to be done with no fewer than 5 people abreast and at the pace of a turtle with 3 compound leg fractures. Worry not about those around you, they are merely local denizens attempting to tally to their places of business, and will be more than happy to arrive there even tardier than normal.

A New Yorker's View of Tourists

 New York is no place for backpacks. Just once, ride a rush hour subway with humanity packed in like Kim Kardashian in her maternity wear, toting your High Sierra, and you’ll see the reasoning. Should you happen upon a mountain to climb in Manhattan, a nature trail to hike, or a desirable campground to call home for the evening, than be my guest. Under any other usual urban circumstances, for all that is holy, keep that Hellish, overstuffed monstrosity out of my face on the R train.

In the manner of entertainment and the arts, New York lacks for nothing. And anyone who is anyone knows that it is essential to appear here to claim true fame and success.  From Sunday through Saturday, daytime, nighttime and after hours, from gratis to grotesquely over-priced, the performing may pause, but never perish. We have jazz clubs. rock clubs, blues clubs, hip hop clubs, folk clubs, country western and comedy clubs; cabarets and piano bars, ballet, opera, symphony, all matter of live concerts, at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden; Broadway, Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway and any kind of experimental theatre the cranium can conjure…. and that’s just the half of it. But, don’t let these rich, rewarding and wide-ranging experiences distract you, remember, you’re here for Wicked and Jersey Boys, and best of luck securing ducats.

A New Yorker's View of Tourists pt. 2
We Gothammites do greatly value the funds you contribute to our city’s coffers, and are assured that you are all upstanding, upright individuals, doing your best to do your duty to God and country and to obey the laws of the pack; but enmasse your numbers can be quite overwhelming, unrealistic and uncontrollable, and the effect quite disruptive. Oftimes, our needs and desires run counter to each other. For example, the worst place to walk in the world for a Big Apple dweller, an area we avoid like Elliot Spitzer avoids fidelity, Sarah Palin intellect, and A Rod integrity, is Times Square, and you rush to it like Anthony Weiner to free Wi-Fi.

For century upon century, mankind has built cities, (until Starship almost ruined it) and then it created New York and achieved perfection. Appreciate, and perhaps more importantly, respect the hallowed megalopolis on whose avenues you are treading; and the history and tradition of greatness and uniqueness that has preceded your presence.

In conclusion, a stroll with Lou Reed along the city's "Wild Side," as Judy Garland and Cole Porter express what they happen to like about New York.

Any comments, questions, criticisms, compliments, candid confessions, cash contributions? Contact me at butchersaprons@mail.com.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Side of Holland-days: A New Amsterdamer in Amsterdam

The following tale contains elements of truth, elements that are blatant lies, elements of writer’s embellishment, elements from the Periodic Table and most relevantly, Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style.” Let us journey jointly and uncover, and discover, the joys, the heartbreaks, the dramas and the adventures to behold in this enchanted, canal-laden land nicknamed the “Venice of the North.”

As proud residents of the American city once known as New Amsterdam, we began our educational excursion at the world-renowned Rijksmuseum, where much can be learned about the metropolis’s culture and history. The name, “Amsterdam,” is derived from the original Dutch word, “Amstelredamme,” meaning “alluring land of beauty and charm, where many unexpected activities are surprisingly legal.” On display were countless artifacts from the 17th century “Golden Age” when Holland was a respected, and even feared, global power in many arenas – it was a commercial power, a financial power, a military power, a naval power – then came the discovery of hemp and the country’s evolution into flower power. And indeed, there is a distinct, 60’s, Haight-Ashbury feel and aroma in the air. Appropriately, many of the city’s women have the fresh-faced, young, natural beauty of the Mod Squad-era, Peggy Lipton, while, unfortunately for them, many of the men have the unkempt, poorly-groomed, up all night and living fast and hard look of Canned Heat’s, The Bear. As one who takes himself to be a sophisticated, never not nattily attired New Yorker, I would be remiss in skipping the observation that in seven days I did not spot a single other human being sporting a tie, jacket or suit, with the exception of restaurant waitstaffs.

The Bear

Peggy Lipton
This refreshing casualness in lifestyle and attitude extends to the busy streets and sidewalks, as well, where Engelbert’s, “Les Bicyclettes de Belsize” has nothing on Amsterdam, for as far as the peepers can peer, one sees a sea of Schwinns, Stingrays and 10-speeds, the main mode of transportation for the indigenous population. Any regular readers may recall that one constant and vexing vacation motif from previous holiday highlights is nycityman’s tendency to be struck by assorted and countless conveyances whilst a stranger in a strange land – and this destination did not differ.  Amsterdam’s  extremely narrow thoroughfares are shared by trams, buses, cars, motor scooters, motorcycles and, like XXX porn for Lance Armstrong, the aforementioned bicycles - thousands upon thousands upon thousands of bicycles. Whenever planning to traverse an avenue, it is of utmost urgency to look right, look left, look right, look left again – and then brace for impact and pray to your deity of choice.

Should you be a traveler of nefarious nature and intent, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is the international checkpoint for you. I could have been Dexter Morgan transporting Glad-bagged sundry and various body parts, Wiley E. Coyote with Acme TNT in ceaseless pursuit of that annoying, beeping Road Runner, or Arlo Guthrie “Bringing in a couple of keys. Don't touch my bags if you please, Mister Customs Man,” for security was as invisible as the increasingly, angry scientist memorably portrayed by Claude Rains. No luggage was looked at, no questions queried, no documentation displayed. Welcome to Amsterdam, please enjoy a gratis Heineken or Amstel Light.
Arrive in Netherland’s capital already awash in Euros, ATMs are rare and as hard to find as an African-American at the Republican National Convention, a Mensa member at a Sarah Palin rally or a hit show on NBC.  While patiently awaiting a moment with our hotel’s concierge to pointlessly inquire about the locations of these dollar delivering devices, I intrusively overheard his current conversation with another of our lodging’s boarders as he tolerantly, thoroughly and with great detail imparted advice and instructions for peak perusal and utilization of the area’s ladies of the evening.  This morally ambiguous resort additionally afforded accommodations which made one wonder if the owners were once circus folk, as it was home to the tiniest beds since Danny DeVito’s boyhood bedroom. I was surprised that they didn't have cowboy or astronaut sheets on them.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road then turn right
The Windmills of Your Mind - a Day that Will Live in Infamy

 Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
As the images unwind, like the circles that you find in 

The windmills of your mind! – Bergmann

Drug humor is not something I generally extract from the comedy cabinet. It’s cheap, easy, lowbrow, pandering… and then, of course, there is that pesky possibility of probable health and medical predicaments from abuse. But, we are all adults and it was lawful in this locale, so… let’s have at it!

To honestly answer Jimi Hendrix's inquiry, yes, I am experienced in the ways of weed. It’s practically mandatory in my chosen profession, and any post-lunch foray around our headquarters will reveal a row fragrantly reminiscent of an Allman Brothers Band concert.  And that very fragrance could also be detected wafting from every nook, cranny and corner of our handsome holiday hamlet.  On the penultimate evening of our retreat, it was “when in Rome” time and a visit to The Bulldog was in order.

The Bulldog is the McDonalds of marijuana, a joint joint, if you will, with numerous branches -  bright, light, welcoming and very open and unhidden, with our neighboring franchisee located right smack dab in an outdoor plaza, surrounded by shops and eateries aimed at the tourist trade. It would be as if the Applebee’s on 50th and Broadway in New York suddenly, yet subtlety, added pot brownies to their dessert menu.  By all appearances it was equally family friendly (should one be a member of the Leary or Kesey clans) missing only a coin operated, rocket-ship ride out front, and a merry mascot, Mary Jane the Cannabis Clown.

Upon inspection of the doobie bill of fare, I requested a ganja with a milder disposition, a kind of Bob Ross of reefer, something that might make me envision “happy little trees.” Instead, within mere moments, I was careening headlong into a late 60’s Roger Corman movie. From zero to paranoid quicker than the duration of a teenage boy’s premiere carnal encounter.  This was marijuana of Mephistopheles! And great was my disappointment in the sinsemilla sommelier. After all, who does society afford more respect, regard and reverence to, and put more trust in, than our men behind the dime bag - most commonly referred to as “I got a guy.” 

Where trees are always happy
In prior posts, I’ve alluded to my traveling companion, the preeminent person with whom one could ever “take a kayak to Quincy or Nyack” and “get away from it all,” nycitywoman. Her pick of potent potable was the Space Cake, an intoxicating, yet slow to take effect comestible, which allowed her to ably escort the two of us safely back to our inn, as I was wary of stairways, walkways, roads,  sharp objects, flip-top beverage cans, domesticated animals, celestial bodies, bodies of water,  water fountains, Fountains of Wayne, family of Wayne Gretzky, as well as any and all other members of the genus, homosapien - with the sole aspiration to be peacefully prostrate atop my comforter. Then, when once again securely ensconced in our room, with me executing an unsurpassed sloth simulation,   the Space Cake came alive like a Victor Frankenstein experiment, and  my confidante treaded the boards as if some combination of Juliet Prowse and Ethel Merman,  prancing, pouncing  and pirouetting about our interior, auditioning for a new production of “Jerry’s Girls” or “Flora the Red Menace;” while alternately taking morosely to bed with complaints of a worrisome, slight throat closure and potential airway constriction. What was to be a night of Cheech and Chong rapidly denigrated into a recreation of Sid and Nancy.  I believe she was the eggman, and I was the walrus, or it could have been the other way around, as we sat on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come - goo goo g'joob.

As luck would have it, earlier in the day, we had attended a cheese tasting and visited a gourmet chocolatier, and those provisions, devoured like a Donner Party member happening upon some meat tenderizer, allowed us to eventually emerge from our paradoxical catatonic frenzy to return to a more sober state of mind.

For more folderol about this particular jaunt, featuring our joyful sojourn spent in Muenster, Germany and the enjoyment of a new production of the musical, "A Tale of Two Cities," please follow this link - http://nycityman.blogspot.com/2012/11/ich-bin-ein-muensterer-another-tale-of_20.html

Now, we fulfill the promise of some of the quoted, relevant lyrics, as the wonderful Dusty Springfield performs, "Windmills of Your Mind" and Engelbert Humperdinck serenades us with "Les Bicyclettes de Belsize (co-written by someone I not only actually met, but who hosted nycitywoman and me in his flat for cocktails. Oh, the glamorous and rewarding life of a globetrotting blogger!")

Any comments, questions, criticisms, compliments, candid confessions, cash contributions? Contact me at butchersaprons@mail.com.