Published by Jonathan Aryeh Wayne, August 2, 2015, based on his memoirs from July 26-30, 2015

Sunday, July 26, 2015

It all started with the Megabus ride to Manhattan at 11:00 am. My reserved seat was in the very first row on the second floor of the double decker bus, with a panoramic glass window in front of me overlooking the world outside. I was traveling with my friend Marc “Rock-Steady” for the very first time on an extended trip to New York. The 8 hour bus ride turned into a 9 hour ride when there was a delay in State College, 3 hours into the journey… certain people with the wrong ticket boarded the bus. It was a great excuse to take a break, exit the bus and find the nearest restroom. The journey continued and by the time we entered the Lincoln Tunnel, the sun was setting and twilight was setting in. During this time, I was using my smartphone’s built-in video camera to film the scenery, taking clips every now and then from my seat until just before the bus finally reached its destination on 27th street and 7th avenue, near Madison Square Garden. The journey was not enjoyable as I was mostly exhausted from having not slept much the night before, and I was squeezed into a tight seat with people sitting all around me, despite having a great view in front of me. My trip to New York City this year was primarily one of leisure and to see U2 perform at Madison Square Garden the following night, Monday. I had purchased tickets at the last minute and invited a new female friend living in NYC to join me for the show. I always wanted to see U2 perform at this venue and so I was looking forward to this particular concert. When the bus finally landed in Manhattan, we departed and walked to find the F subway to the East Broadway stop was, as the Airbnb rental apartment was located only a block or so away from there. Marc was carrying a heavy duffel bag plus a little canvas backpack while I only had a small REI day bag and a small bamboo cloth food bag. I packed very lightly compared to him and he was quite shocked. The walk to find a subway started off nonchalantly before becoming more arduous for him as he was becoming weighed down by his baggage. I didn’t want to upset him further but I knew there were subway lines along 14th street. We had already walked 13 blocks down and 2 avenues across from 27th street and the F was at 14th and 6th ave, but we ended up at 5th so we had to backtrack one avenue block to the west. I willingly carried his heavy duffel bag that entire one block to ease a load off his shoulders. I was developing a headache all this time probably from not hydrating enough all day. When we finally arrived at our destination of the East Broadway Manhattan stop, we ascended the stairs on a muggy, warm evening and up to the street level. All around us, in the Lower East Side, were Chinese symbols and characters and words that made me realize we were on the edge of Chinatown. The apartment was located on Orchard and Canal st. I texted the host of the apartment (Andre) and he came down to meet us. We climbed 3 ancient marble stairs in a clearly old building. When we walked into the room, the 36 inch flatscreen tv was on showing a baseball game (or sports channel) and it was quite cramped. Only later in the trip did we realize just how much of a dump this place was. Andre was a friendly black man and he answered all of our questions at the time. He apparently was the middle man in this whole apartment rental, collecting a portion of the funds that went to another man. My experiences with Airbnb had been mostly positive up until now, but I only reserved this location because Marc’s budget was within a certain limit and this rental was roughly $110 a night. There was a bathroom, small living room with a kitchen in the same room, and a small bedroom with two windows. The scarce furniture was of low quality, mostly shelves and crates that could have been dumped on the sidewalk. The couch was pretty beat up and old and there was a small fiberboard piece of wood sticking out of a wall with one screw attached to keep it from falling and a pole sticking down that wasn’t affixed to the floor. One small tap on the “table” would cause wobbling and one definitely wouldn’t want to dare lean on it. I noticed a stool in there too but no other places to sit. There was a small refrigerator placed under a hook that held a punching bag with the bag being on top of the fridge. A couple signs on the wall read “NO PARKING” and “CUSTOMERS ONLY”… not exactly very friendly, warm and inviting messages. A particular chest of drawers that were stained and finished seemed to be the centerpiece in that dump, along with a pretentious coffee table book entitled “Cooking from the Heart”. We soon discovered the mess that was the bathroom too. After taking a shower, there was about 5 inches of water up above my ankles from a clogged drain and after pulling the shower curtain aside, the pole fell down but I caught it before it crashed on the floor! There at least was an air conditioner in the living room and I noticed plastic bed lining under the sheets to keep the mattress preserved from, I suppose, nocturnal emissions. Ha. The same went with the pillows too. It seemed like the place had never been deep cleaned before and that was a shame. Only one coffee mug was available in the “kitchen” section and apparently previous guests had left some food items on a shelf, including pomegranate juice, various teas, peanut butter, nuts, a moldy opened jar of salsa and a few plastic plates. What a joke. But this was a place to crash at night, not spend much time in, after all. And this turned out to be true for the entire trip, for whenever we left the apartment for the day, we never returned once until it was time to return at night. After checking in around 9 pm, we went outside for a jaunt around the neighborhood of the Lower East Side. We both wanted food, as that was high up on the list of priorities, having not eaten much all day. I guided Marc up towards this one street, Rivington st., to check out this Anarchist establishment called “ABC No Rio”, to see if we could catch an avant-garde/Jazz free-form music session that was happening on this Sunday night. I wanted to go there first so we wouldn’t miss whatever was still going on but Marc needed to eat, so we settled on this great little Vegetarian eatery on Rivington and Norfolk st. called “The Falafel Shop”. Marc had the Falafel platter and I had the Sabich platter, and the fresh homemade pita was so amazing, I had to order a second piece of pita for $1. It was almost 11 pm by this point and we walked a block east to ABC No Rio but discovered that it just closed down for the night, so we missed the music. At this point we decided to walk towards the East Village and find more nightlife. We walked up Clinton st. and soon after we crossed E. Houston st., we found ourselves on Avenue B. At some point we walked past Tompkins Square Park attempting to find an 80s dance theme bar called “The Pyramid Club”, but ended up walking up 10th street. It was at this point in our walk that we suddenly noticed the word “Kava” across the street. Then it said “Sutra”. Kavasutra? What on earth was this? We crossed 10th st. and saw that it was some sort of kava-drinking bar. We walked in and discovered a very small, darkly lit room with purple & green tinted lights and a flatscreen tv depicting jellyfish in a type of screensaver. It had just opened up 2 weeks prior. It turned out to be the very first kava-drinking bar in NYC and due to having no regulations in the USA, there were no restrictions on age limit and closing time. A wild-eyed and bushy tailed young man with long hair named Justin was acting a bit hyper behind the counter, where just 3 or 4 people were sitting when we walked in. He talked to us for a long time all about Kava root and eventually Ayahausca, Magic Mushrooms and some shaman called Fabian-ji Chononita. I had an intense headache at this point and having never consumed authentic, raw kava tea, I was given a sample (otherwise known as one serving) along with Marc, and the two kava bartenders raised their bowls with us and said out loud “BULA!”. There was a slice of pineapple on the side of the bowl too which was a pleasant flavor to chase the earthy, rootsy, milky-beige kava concoction. A few minutes later I went ahead and bought a double serving of kava after not worrying about any unusual effects to my body and mind. Soon thereafter we learned of a special $1 kava shot happy hour that was to begin at 1 am. We thought at the time it was anytime after 1:00 am but it really only took place between 1:00 and 1:01 am, and if you weren’t there during that one minute, you would miss out on the $1 kava shot special. So having not known this, Marc and I went outside in a slight upbeat daze and strolled around a bit. Marc discovered this residence (or storefront) of his miracle dream home complete with bookcases full of books and old lamps and furniture with plants viewable through a large square paneled window. He took lots of photographs on his digital camera the following night when we returned to the kava bar. We walked back up the street as it neared 1:00 am but suddenly saw a couple of rats chasing one another on the sidewalk near a pile of garbage. They were apparently jousting/fighting and they kept scurrying around, bouncing off garbage bags and cans. One of the kava bartenders came outside to take photos and at this point a few minutes had gone by. We walked in and found out that we missed the $1 kava happy hour as it had been after 1:01 am. Marc said “we got screwed over!” Yet, here we were right in front of the establishment and were momentarily distracted by the rats, but the people working there had to honor their 1 minute rule. So we said we’d return the following night and be in there between 1:00 and 1:01 am to receive the deal. Ridiculous to say the least. But it was getting late and we were operating on less than 5 hours of sleep between the two of us, so we made our way back to the Lower East Side by jumping on an N train to Canal st., the closest we could manage where we were. We made our walk up the slow incline on Canal through Chinatown and ended up back in the apartment around 2 am. After a shower and some browsing on my smartphone, I probably dozed off around 3 am and woke up at 1 pm the next day, just minutes after Marc awakened. It was a great, well-deserved sleep after a long day of traveling.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Today was the day of the U2 concert at Madison Square Garden I was looking forward to, and one of the reasons for going to NYC in the first place. I awakened after a long sleep and my headache was gone. What a great feeling. Around 1:30 pm we left the apartment and walked a bit north, up towards Grand st. It was hot outside. Nearby our apartment, many Asian (Chinese) denizens were holding umbrellas over their heads to keep out the strong sun. I noticed this sun umbrella trend particularly in that area of the city. We took Allen st. and made a left perhaps onto Delancey and eventually Kenmare st., and then made a right onto Cleveland pl. which then became Lafayette st. I told Marc about this great coffee place called “La Colombe” in Soho. I had been to Todd Carmichael’s other location up in Noho the year before and I used to watch his reality TV show (“Dangerous Grounds”) where he traveled all around the world searching for the perfect coffee bean for his enterprise. I had a “Workshop” latte for $4.50 with Organic Valley whole milk, and it was delicious. We were lucky to find a little table to sit for a few minutes and sip the coffees as dozens of people were lining up to enter the cafe, eventually wrapping around in spirals. We had to figure out a way to get out of there when the timing was right. The caffeine woke us up and we continued our journey north, making a left onto Jersey st. and a quick right onto Crosby st., where we saw a TV or movie production crew shooting video, with extras and catering tents set up. We crossed E. Houston st and I was being pulled by Marc towards a special building that had caught his eye. It turned out to be the only Louis Sullivan-designed building in NYC, the Bayard-Condict Building, on Bleeker st. I must have been standing there for 15 to 20 minutes with Marc as he obsessively took shot after shot on his camera in gusto, relishing every moment. Though I’m not quite as interested in architecture as he is, his enthusiasm was infectious, and I ended up taking some pictures on my phone as well. I later discovered that this 13 story building was built in 1897 in the Chicago School style, and was considered a radical design for its time. It has been an historic landmark since 1976. As I continued to stare up at the intricate floral patterns over white terra cotta, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the detail and work that was put into designing this building. Soon after, we decided to check out this rustic-chic organic bakery/cafe underneath the building called “Le Pain Quotidien”. The local chain restaurant was mostly empty which wasn’t a good sign and we were lured in by the word “organic” (which doesn’t pop up nearly enough around here in my hometown of Pittsburgh). We ordered omelettes but despite the bread being homemade, it was quite stale, possibly a day old, and I wasn’t impressed one bit. The food was probably average at best and considering it was the worst place we ate at on the trip, that isn’t too bad I guess. We just knew the cooks in the back were “dicking around” (as Marc put it). After all, it was 4 pm, which is a strange hour to eat as its neither lunch nor dinner, but somewhere in between. Yet, this had been our very first meal of the day. After we finally left, we continued heading west on Bleecker until we hit the Washington Square Park Village complex. We made a right onto Thompson st., passing a couple of favorite little places of mine (Generation Records and the vegetarian Quantum Leap eatery) until we hit the park itself. After briefly walking through Washington Square Park, we eventually ended up at the IFC Center on West 4th st. It was at this point that I had to get ready for the U2 concert… and to meet a woman named Antoinette near Madison Square Garden at this hotel restaurant/bar called “Niles”. The woman’s workplace was literally across the street from there so it was very convenient for her to meet up there. I took the E train 30 blocks up to 34th st. and 8th ave and then headed towards the bar that was along 7th avenue. It was nearly 5:30 pm and I walked by a line of U2 fans standing outside in the GA line in the hot sun. These were very dedicated fans to be outside all these hours. I once did this back in Pittsburgh on the Elevation tour and my friend Agustin and I queued up for 5 or 6 hours on a sunny day back in May of 2001 at Mellon Arena. I had sunburn I recall from that day, but the experience was worth it as we had gotten super close to the stage on the floor in the inner circle called the “heart” at the time. It was one of the greatest experiences of any rock concert I ever had and I even had a special photo pass at the time where I was able to access the catwalk bordering the stage to take photos of Bono who walked around the perimeter of the “heart” for the first 3 songs. I don’t doubt that these fans who were waiting patiently in line all day for a good spot on the floor were going to get an up close and detailed experience of the show. My tickets however were way up in the 200 level, in section 225, row 16, only 9 rows from the very back wall. After meeting with Antoinette, a middle-aged rubenesque, blonde haired woman, at Niles, we sat down for iced teas with guacamole and chips. We left rather early and entered the “Garden” around 7:15 pm (which turned out to be about 90 minutes before U2 actually came out to perform). Prior to going up to our seats, I checked out the merchandise and scene in the main lobby, taking a few photos here and there. While sitting waiting for the show to start, I showed Antoinette some pictures of that 2001 concert in my hometown of Pittsburgh I had attended, where I had a photo pass and amazing views of the band. I also showed her some video of the Nick Cave concert I saw at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. the year before, where I had an up close and personal view of the show that featured nothing but the band, some stage lights and nothing else. And then… the house lights dropped and the intro music started playing. Bono came walking out from one end of the floor and the rest of the band from the other side. 20,000 screaming fans stood up on their feet as “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” was being performed. The real highlight of the night for me (and many others) was the second song, when U2 performed “Two Hearts Beat As One” for the first time in over 25 years live in concert. This song, from 1983, was played regularly up until 1985 on the Unforgettable Fire tour but after 1989’s Lovetown Tour, was never played again… until tonight! What a treat for the fans. There were no special guests at the show tonight (the previous night, Lady Gaga was brought up on stage to sing and perform “Ordinary Love” on piano). This 6th show in the 8 show run in NYC was highly enjoyable though, even from way up in the arena. What really impressed me was the amazing sound quality, as U2 had set up a special sound system placing an oval array of 12 speaker clusters all around the arena, thus eliminating echo commonly found in large arena shows where the sound originates from one centralized source and then bounces off surfaces. The band’s aim was to make it that every person in the arena, no matter where he or she was, would hear music that was 50 feet or less away from them, thus evenly distributing the sound. The main stage was also connected to a smaller “b” stage on the other side with a large 100 foot x 22 foot video screen that seemed to divide the audience. My charming new friend Antoinette must have taken over 200 photos during the show, until her phone’s battery died right before the encore. There is no doubt that technology can be a distraction… and for me it was sensory overload. So as “cool” and amazing as U2’s spectacle of a show was, it was a bit too much to take in, and the feeling of spontaneity and intimacy was not there for me. I would still rather go to a show in a smaller music hall or club and see a band than in anything as big as an arena or stadium. It’s an impressive show but the feeling of being stuck or trapped in one’s seat for the entire show was the opposite experience I was looking for, as having standing room floor tickets allows a person to freely move about. U2 is a massive rock band and one of the biggest in the world so this is the only way to see them, but I normally prefer smaller acts in smaller venues. After the show ended and thousands of people streamed out through different exits, I walked with Antoinette to her bus stop and gave her a great, big hug, before I departed by myself. I was a bit high from the music but reality set in quickly and I soon realized I didn’t know where I was going. My goal was to head back down towards the East Village to meet up with Marc and so I did. I literally had 1 or 2% battery life when I got a hold of my friend Marc. Seemingly, I warped back in time as the whole arrangement of meeting up with Marc felt so “old school” (as if we were talking on land phones). Knowing that we wouldn’t have further communication due to my non-functioning cellphone, we agreed to meet at the “Barcade” on St Marks place (8th st) at midnight, and if he didn’t arrive there we agreed to meet at that kava bar a few blocks over just a few minutes before 1 am (to try again for those $1 shots between 1:00 am and 1:01 am). And so I arrived at that arcade-themed bar just before midnight but didn’t see Marc there so I walked a bit down St. Marks looking for something cold to drink or eat. At the St. Marks Market, I bought a little 3.6 ounce container of Häagen-Dazs dulce de leche ice cream and a cold bottle of organic Kombucha tea that contained 2% alcohol. I walked outside looking for a place to sit but was unable to find a single bench or chair on the street. I didn’t feel like sitting on some dirty steps, so I leaned against an iron railing that flattened out at the bottom of a set of granite steps and ate and drank, a bit paranoid I might get arrested for having an open container of a technically “alcoholic” beverage. I wrapped the glass bottle in the plastic bag but that made it look all the more suspicious, so I peeled the sticky label off and consumed the rest as people occasionally walked by me in the night. Then I returned to the “Barcade” and found Marc playing an old arcade game from 1980. A few minutes later we left to go back to that kava bar we had discovered the night before. This time we walked in a few minutes before 1:00 am and one of the bartenders from the previous night recognized us and welcomed us in. Five or six people were there for the special deal so we made our way to a couple of stools and sat at the bar, ordering 3 shots of kava each (for $3 – 1 dollar a shot during the special minute). Then we received a bonus 4th shot, along with the few other people inside, because we were told to “haze” the new bartender to break him in as it was his first night working. We don’t usually like to do things like this but we reluctantly agreed. The atmosphere in the bar was increasingly raucous and rather juvenile/immature and we didn’t really appreciate the scene much anymore (perhaps the kava went to these kids’ heads). Afterwards, we walked away and made our way west along 10th st towards Astor place and boarded an N or R train to Prince st. I wanted to find a late night pizza spot but since I didn’t want to settle for the typical Rays pizza joints, Marc mentioned a place called “Ben’s Pizza” on Spring st. We must have not gone west enough on Spring as we were unable to find it, and even if we did it was probably closed at this late hour. As we continued to walk east along Spring st, we eventually hit Bowery ave… and then we made our way back to Orchard and Canal st. We opened the doors to the apartment and I took another night shower before getting comfortable on the bed. I remember it was already quite late, after 4 am, before we retired for the night. I ended up stirring about for another 2 hours as a terrible mosquito was attacking me as I was trying to fall asleep. I kept punching the air, attempting to knock this mosquito out but it was an exercise in futility. I got up to relieve myself and then returned only to hear the mosquito buzzing around my ear (even with ear plugs on I could hear it!). Somehow I wondered if the mosquito had already had enough of biting me and taking my blood but this one was very persistent. Suddenly I made a violent move and slapped my shoulder and for 5 minutes I didn’t hear anything. Then once again I got out of bed, opened the light (it was already morning and daylight outside) and looked in the mirror. I saw a dark spot with blood under my left shoulder. It was the giant mosquito and my blood it had sucked! I had killed it miraculously. I desperately needed sleep, so I wiped it off with a tissue and finally had relief…and sleep.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The next day (Tuesday) may have been one of our most memorable days of our trip. The day got off to a late start with us waking up at 1 pm again. We ventured out to find a late breakfast/brunch type of spot. We ended up walking to Rivington st. in the Lower East Side. We had a healthy vegetarian meal at Moby’s teahouse (Teany). I had yogurt with granola and mixed fruits along with eggs scrambled with various vegetables and bread/butter/jam on the side, to go with some English Breakfast tea. I could have explored the neighborhood more for a better quality restaurant… but when Marc gets hungry his stomach makes the decision-making! Just prior to all this though an amazing thing happened. We were walking down toward Canal street to make a left on Essex st and suddenly my friend saw smoke coming out of a garbage can! There was a little fire in there! And out of nowhere this Chassidic Jewish man helped put out the smoke by pulling out the plastic bag that lined the can, stomping on it and exclaimed nonchalantly: “Citizens united save New York!”. And just as he did that he strolled away like some superhero on his way to his next stop. This guy left such an impression on both of us that we couldn’t stop hearing his heroic words, but somehow we managed to not remember exactly what he said! Was it “Citizens of New York unite!” or “Citizens save New York!”? Whatever, it didn’t matter, but it did inspire us to set a theme for the day. After “breakfast”, we ended up walking to the Delancey street subway stop and took the F train up to West 4th st. to which we then sauntered slowly through the Washington Square Park area up towards Union Square Park. At the corner of 10th and Broadway I urged Marc to check out a cool clothing store (“Brooklyn Industries”) to peruse through some trendy t-shirts. I bought a couple of amusing tees there for $34 each (one of a bear with an eyepatch holding a neon green bass guitar, and one depicting a Pac-man death star eating 3 smaller planets), and then met up with Marc at the Strand bookstore a couple of blocks north. We spent over 2 hours there perusing books mostly in the basement, specifically in sections for plant medicine, the paranormal, philosophy, Eastern religions, street art, nature field guides, music and nearby flipping through some bins of vinyl records. Time just flew by. Marc purchased 3 different books, one of which was a book I discovered on entheogenic medicine, a topic we both find interesting. I was supposed to meet up with a new lady friend named Hallie shortly in the area and so I walked down to Whole Foods in Union Square to sit down with Marc for a bit. He had an iced tea and I a PB&J smoothie from the cafe. Marc parted ways with me at that point and headed back down south towards the West Village where we were going to meet up a bit later. I walked back down towards 12th st and met up with the young woman at this comic book/cult collectible store called “Forbidden Planet”. She was a woman of 25 years, quite introverted, shy and socially awkward with a skinny, tall figure and wore thick black plastic glasses. I did not connect with her, but I did have a discussion on Star Trek as I had previously been communicating with her online for a few months on this subject. We smiled often, but I felt some anxiety. This wasn’t a date by any means, and I was rather perplexed by her shy demeanor. After spending nearly 45 minutes at the shop, we took the L train to 8th avenue and then walked into the West Village to meet up with my friend Marc and my other friend Marci who I’ve known for almost a decade. Marci is a standup comic, voice-over artist and actress. I proposed we meet at this Swedish candy shop (“Sockerbit”) on Christopher st. around a quarter to 8. Little did I know that they closed at 8 pm. A year ago I had an interesting night having met up with Marci along with 2 other women we invited as blind dates for a little birthday celebration of mine. It was a foolish experiment at the time, since inviting strangers is rather risky, as we didn’t know how they’d react and behave around a new group of people. Ironically I had also gone to that same Swedish candy shop just prior to meeting up with them that night. The dinner we had was good but that night ended terribly awkward and nearly violent. The woman that my friend John had invited turned out to be rather mentally unstable and got into a little squirmish with me on politics/religion (yes, two topics that nobody should ever discuss on a first meet-up). So this time around it was far more pleasant as the young woman, Hallie, I had invited, was quite amiable and level-headed. Marc texted me and let me know he was sitting in a taquería across the street called “La Gringa”, having a beer by himself. Hallie and I arrived in the candy shop just a few minutes before closing time and I bought nearly a pound of chewies and soft gummies. Then I heard a knock at the door and it was Marci waiting outside! The two clerks had locked the door because it was now closed, but they let her in and I finished filling up my white paper bag before we rendezvoused with Marc. My friend Marci suggested we have dinner at this good restaurant in the Meatpacking District. So we all walked several blocks and had dinner at this lively restaurant near the High Line called “Bubby’s”. It was quite tasty! I had a colossal veggie burger loaded with veggies, melted Swiss cheese and onion rings with a side of homemade coleslaw. The ambience in that restaurant was great, and it clearly was a go-to spot for dining in the city. I also had a chilled rosé, and the pink wine paired well with the food on this hot summer night. After eating, the four of us walked up to the relatively new High Line Park (opened in 2009) to take a stroll under a full moon. Marc found a $20 bill folded up on the steps leading up to the park and picked it up! As we walked, we discovered some people stargazing with telescopes up there and we stopped for a few minutes to look at the rings of Saturn. It was quite a thrill as I had never seen Saturn through a consumer telescope. We all took turns gazing at Saturn before we continued our walk. After the ladies left to catch their trains, Marc and I bummed around in Midtown Manhattan wondering what to do. At the entrance to the 23rd st N/R subway station, we stumbled upon a small promo card for a scary strip club called the “VIP” on 20th st. Afflicted with major sexual repression, we decided to take a short walk to see what this place was all about (but I didn’t have any interest in going, as Marc was mostly curious). When we arrived at the entrance, a big scary Russian gangster bouncer with an ear piece was standing there. He was clearly sizing us up as cheapskates for showing him the promo complimentary admission card, and he said there would be a 2 drink minimum for admission into the club. He then gave us a hard time saying that bottles of water would be $9 if I didn’t want to buy alcoholic beverages. What a jerk. I didn’t like the vibes there and refused to waste my money on a low life establishment. So with a sigh of relief, Marc and I walked away and we headed up towards Madison Square Park. And just like that we found ourselves standing in front of the iconic Flatiron building, designed in 1902 by Daniel Burnham. We stopped and took photos like typical tourists would. We wanted to find somewhere to sit down and rest for a few minutes. We found a long row of benches that were partially wet from the park sprinklers. A homeless man walked by slowly asking for change. After we got up to leave, not only did Marc discover a heads-up penny, but he gave the old man a dollar coin. As we looked back, the man was gazing at it like he didn’t know what hit him. We jumped on the F train at 23rd and 6th ave and took it to Delancey st. to explore the nightlife down there. We decided to investigate this highly rated burlesque lounge on Orchard and Stanton ave called the “Slipper Room”. The doorwoman was far friendlier than the big scary Russian gangster doorman at the other club and she invited us to go on up. We walked up the stairs but discovered the shows were over for the night. Should we come back again tomorrow night? Maybe. When we walked back downstairs the lady at the front door tried for 20 minutes to guess where we were from after she assumed we were native New Yorkers who just came back from Key West hanging out at our co-owned beach club. Funny. Our night trek continued up and down various streets in the Lower East Side and after quickly running in and out of this “Insomnia Cookies” joint after changing my mind on buying overly sweet cookies, Marc stumbled upon some trash bags on the street that caught his eye. He picked up what was some Tennessee girl’s high school yearbook from 2002 that was in a clear trash bag along with multitudes of personal photographs and letters. We leafed through the book reading people’s messages and seeing all these accomplishments and mementos of this young woman, sadly tossed into the garbage. We could only wonder: Was it a former ex who did this? Did the landlord dump everything out of this woman’s apartment? Did she die? Or did she just say “fuck it…I’m clearing up my past..I have no use for this now”. It was sad. All of these thoughtful memories gone…like tears in rain (to borrow a quote from the film “Blade Runner”). Marc took the yearbook aside and placed it next to the nearest doorway and we moved along. Soon afterwards we were back on Ludlow st. and heading back to the place where we were staying. We unlocked the door to the front entrance and then I had a plan of seeing if we could access the rooftop of our building. I climbed 7 flights of stairs! I wasn’t sure if this was going to be futile or not but the only way to find out is if I tried. I called down the stairs to Marc who was huffing and puffing his way up the stairs. I told him “I opened the door to the roof!”. Lo and behold we walked up on the rooftop and had a mesmerizing view of the Empire State Building along with some other buildings. We quietly climbed over to the adjacent rooftop and saw a great view of the Manhattan Bridge as well. It was another late night. I took a shower and went into my bedroom and said goodnight to Marc. This time I didn’t have to battle a mosquito, and fell asleep looking forward to our penultimate day in NYC.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

We woke up late again even though we weren’t planning on it. The plan for the day was Brooklyn. After some good research I discovered a good breakfast place: Cafe Petisco in the Two Bridges neighborhood, just 3 short blocks from our apartment. The food was absolutely delicious and the atmosphere was positive. I had an omelette with mushrooms, spinach and Manchego cheese, home fries and a croissant with butter and jam with a latte on the side. Yummy. Marc wanted to check out this strange curiosity in Gowanus called the “Morbid Anatomy Museum”, so naturally I joined him. It was good to get out of Manhattan as it was the hottest day of the year. Between the sour garbage emanating off the city streets and sweating profusely on near 100 degree pavement, Brooklyn was hardly that much of a relief. We took the F train into Brooklyn and got off at the 4 ave – 9 st. stop. After an hour and a half experiencing a vast collection that was somewhat unsettling (two rooms of Apocalyptic / neo-Gothic paintings and Occult-inspired sculptures along with a library of ancient artifacts of preserved creatures and books), we were on our way to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden up at Prospect Park. After we left the museum, Mark accidentally dropped a penny on the sidewalk and it landed heads-up, so he intentionally left it there for someone else to pick up for good luck. A couple of blocks away on 3rd avenue and 10th st. in Brooklyn, we discovered some stencils by the famous street artist Banksy at this coal fired oven pizza place (“Table 87”), imprinted on the outside of the establishment. We split a slice in half for a quick bite and it was delicious. With less than 2 hours before the botanic garden’s closing time, I convinced Marc that we should hail a cab to save some time. We did. 12 minutes later we were sweating our way into the botanic gardens on the hottest day of the summer. I must have walked to just about every garden after losing Marc unexpectedly by the Japanese pond and garden. Marc was taking pictures nonstop with his digital camera and I chose to just snap a pic here and there. I have to admit that my days of excessive picture-taking are long over… but I was once like that. I lost myself and got lost (literally) in the gardens, and at times had whole pavilions to myself (the desert pavilion, the warm temperate pavilion, the tropical pavilion). A female friend from Los Angeles had been texting me this entire time regarding an intimate dream she had of me the night before. I took a picture of a fragrant Natal Plum plant from South Africa and texted it back to her. Then I tried to call…multiple times. The signal was breaking up as I sat on a lonely wooden bench exhausted overlooking the Cranford Rose Garden. Then I found Marc walking around the rose garden (I hadn’t realized until later that the photos I took of the garden also showed him walking in the distant background!). So many synchronous and ironic things were happening on this trip on a day to day basis, it was boggling my mind. Meanwhile I needed a belt badly. My shorts were slipping down often. I must have lost a lot of weight from all that sweating and walking around the city. After security guards escorted us and a bunch of other people out since it was after closing time for non-members, I guided our journey to Williamsburg for our evening affairs of food and libations. It was time to get back on the F train again and disembark for the G train in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. We were hydrating throughout the day via water fountains at the botanic gardens but I wanted to buy a bottle of water and had run out of cash. After successfully finding a bank ATM in downtown Brooklyn, we sat on the G subway train and compared our photos of the botanic gardens we had just taken earlier. Marc and I were so absorbed in all of this that we missed our stop at Metropolitan ave. but indeed it was far better that this happened for we got a chance to walk through McCarren Park en-route to this rooftop bar (“Berry Park”) which specialized in imported German draft beers (my favorite). Just prior to arriving at the bar, we discovered it was Wednesday night movie night in the park! They were screening “Dazed and Confused”, one of my favorite films of all time. Already there were hundreds of young people sitting out there as an indie rock band was playing music on a little stage. We stopped on a street facing the East River and took photos of graffiti on a truck that was parked along the street. A young, attractive, tattooed woman was riding her bicycle towards us after making a roundabout and as she approached us, she stuck out her tongue and smiled. I stood there transfixed at the beautiful sight in that moment. I wondered if that was at the top of the many highlights of our trip. Marc ended up snapping a photo of the graffiti-laden truck along with the female bicyclist in the foreground. The evening light was magical. We walked around the corner and headed to the rooftop bar. I had this amazing grapefruit wheat beer (“Schöfferhofer”)…and then a second one, but not before we sat at a little communal round table with a middle aged couple from Panama. Marc laughed his head off as he cradled a Warsteiner lager in his right hand. The sun was setting behind the New York Manhattan skyline. Pictures were taken. The hipsters were all around us. After leaving the rooftop bar we walked back into the park across the street and discovered at least a thousand or two Williamsburg hipsters…with food trucks, tables with art, and some young people trying out a handle-less “Segway” type of electric skateboard that moved forward and backward with body motion. The picture-taking of course didn’t stop. Marc, overwhelmed by the amount of young, gorgeous females, a feeling that doesn’t occur on a regular basis back in Pittsburgh for him, couldn’t stop taking photographs. But food was on our mind too of course. And with yet again low battery on my cellphone, I consulted the Yelp app for a good restaurant. After walking up and down Bedford ave a number of times, we had an amazing meal at this rustic, little Italian restaurant on Berry street called “Oregano”. I ordered homemade Gnocchi with cubed salmon in a vodka sauce. We also had an amazing Eggplant Parm beforehand split as an appetizer between the two of us. The cheese stretched infinitely, physically and anatomically. “It was my hebrew birthday too…and our last night in New York” I told the pleasing half Italian/half Argentinian waitress. One of those line chefs came to our table with parmesan cheese and grated it over our dishes. Bliss. Later we discovered he had this crazy, massive, 4 foot long cracked pepper grinder that I wasn’t aware of! Neither of us honestly had ever seen anything so large before. It resembled a weapon (of mass destruction)! Then my friend was craving dessert. We ordered both 1 homemade tiramisu and 1 cannoli. Holy cannoli! Mama mia! Our taste buds just about couldn’t handle it anymore. The lovely young ladies and gentlemen were walking back from the movie and our window-side table couldn’t have afforded a better view for myself and Marc, the voyeuristic photo-snapping tourist. We rambled on back to Bedford avenue and encountered all of this insanely cool street art and graffiti. Even I couldn’t not get in on the action. I pulled out my smartphone for the 156th time and took photos of all this art. Marc had another hotspot in mind that he wanted to check out along with me and that was the Union Pool bar off of Meeker st. Along the way we discovered the one and only Knitting Factory along Metropolitan ave. A group of either Scottish or Australian young men were walking nearby along our route, and one said “Hey mate!”, and I was intrigued. Marc kept taking photographs and I wanted to catch up with these dudes because I was so enamored by their accents. Then, after we walked into the ultimate outdoor summer hipster dive bar (the Union Pool bar used to be the site of a former swimming pool supply store), we quickly realized just how self conscious we were, surrounded by endless amounts of 20-something kids. Outside on the back patio at the Union Pool there was a little taco food truck that seemed to be a permanent installation. Marc and I could only stare at the cute girls there… one had fishnet on her legs all the way up to her buttocks in high cut shorts. There was a ginger haired girl that Marc had his eye on. The people, men and women, were mostly all fairly attractive, yet as we sat there with Brooklyn Brewery lagers, we couldn’t help but feel exposed, like fish out of water, a bit out of the age range of these spring chickens. Ha. We strolled around the packed patio. Even though I was wearing my new seemingly groundbreaking t-shirt of a big furry bear holding a neon bass guitar, I still couldn’t help but feel “uncool” somehow, as if my clothing wasn’t obscure enough to garner compliments. It was as if I needed to wear a 1960s or 1970s t-shirt that was so obscure, that this might have been enough to prove my “coolness”, if it wasn’t for my heavier figure that might have crushed these squeamish little twerps. Ha. But I felt nothing I could do would be enough to get comfortable to talk to some of these slightly pretentious kids. I both loved and hated this scene. I loved how I was surrounded by this creative, intelligent culture yet I also hated how closed and distant these people were. Marc felt the same exact way… so it was time to skedaddle. The night wasn’t over yet though. Oh, it was far from being over. It was about 1 am now and we boarded the L train to 14th st. and 8th ave, the last stop, to try and find this late night jazz spot. We found ourselves walking down 8th avenue, stopping briefly in front of Magnolia Bakery (known for their cupcakes, popularized by their inclusion in a television episode of “Sex and the City”, along with numerous other TV shows and films). The bakery had closed an hour or two earlier but I had momentarily thought of dumpster-diving to see if their freshly packed garbage bags might have contained day-old cupcakes). Marc groped a few bags and felt icing. But ultimately I wasn’t that desperate for cupcakes in that moment in time. When we finally found the “55 Bar”, alas, the jazz music was all over. But we had just walked by this underground billiards hall called the “Fat Cat” that was featuring late night jazz ensembles! We walked down those stairs and discovered a vast hall with dozens of pool and ping pong tables, couches and booths along with a bar full of an eclectic mix of young and old humans. “Now this is my kind of place!” exclaimed Marc. Some were dressed in suits, some in flip flops, one guy looked like Sun Ra (or at least related to him) and I even saw a young man with a thick, bushy beard that could have easily been spotted at the hipster bar in Brooklyn we had been to earlier. It was now almost 2:30 am and there was yet another jazz band about to come on stage in that underground hangout. I heard a saxophone and I knew it was time to escape. My eyes were cloudy. I was sipping on my second glass of ice water. Yet we both liked this scene… there was nothing pretentious about it. People were there to unwind, to relax, to have fun, and I even spotted a young man caressing his hot date’s buttocks. This place captured the spirit and essence of a late night New York lounge, and this pool hall was more fun than the Union Pool, that much was certain. The night was going into morning and so my friend wanted to walk into Washington Square Park for one last breath of the city at night. I headed into the subway and Marc ventured back outside. I climbed up the steps to the East Broadway stop and emerged to see the vacant, hazy streets with Chinese words and symbols all around me. The day’s garbage was piled along my short walk back to my Airbnb rental. My phone was dead and I had left my charger with Marc (in his bag) much to my dismay. Marc had no way of contacting me and vice versa, in case something unusual were to happen (“What if he gets mugged in Washington Square Park?” or “What if he gets lost or falls asleep on the train?”). Around 3:45 am, after having showered, I was just beginning to read a book on entheogenic plant medicine that Marc had purchased at Strand the day before, when I heard a jiggling of keys at the front door. In walks Marc out of his mind with a huge smile on his face. Knowing he inadvertently still had my phone charger, Marc had sent me a text to my deceased smartphone regarding devising a plan “to yell up two stories for me to open the window to get me to open the front door” for him in case his pair of defective keys didn’t unlock the three separate doors. Then he proceeded to tell me a story about having made sustained eye contact with a rat for 4 or 5 minutes. “My eyes traded places and we shared each other spaces”. This experience occurred deep down in West 4th street’s Brooklyn bound F stop platform (ironically the same site a year previously where I had filmed a rat scurrying along a track which later inspired me to write a poem about the nightmares of dating modern day women – resulting in a Chilean artist’s art project on me), where he had connected with the rat’s soul, sharing a remarkable spiritual connection. Wow. Could this night get any weirder? Checkout time was in 6 or 7 hours and we were still awake.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

On our last day in NYC, I proposed we head on up to the Film Forum to check out a great new documentary film on Marlon Brando. Our Megabus was leaving a bit after 4 pm so we had time to kill. After having breakfast at Cafe Petisco again down the street we boarded the F to, you guessed it, West 4th street. With only 17 minutes until showtime and a good 10 minute walk with Marc’s heavy luggage, I hailed the first taxi I saw (which took less than 5 seconds), and we arrived in the theater with 2 minutes to spare. And then… the movie started. What a movie! It was more of a tone poem, an elegy, an art film of a great actor and humanitarian, and I’d say more than half of the audience in the theater had grown up watching Marlon Brando back in the 1950s. Feeling totally inspired, we walked out of the theater and encountered heavy downpours and thunderstorms in the vicinity. With 3 days left on our unlimited 7 day Metrocards, we felt it would be an act of goodwill to give them to strangers. How interesting that nearly everyone we tried to give our cards to for free thought that there was a catch. It took over 10 minutes for Marc to finally give a lady his card. I gave my Metrocard to a businessman within 20 seconds. With umbrellas open, we took one final subway ride on the C train to 34th and 8th avenue to walk west to our Megabus stop. A few minutes after we boarded the bus, the sky opened up and there was a deluge. It was New York’s way of saying it was finally time for a much needed shower to “wash the scum from off the streets” (to borrow a line from the film “Taxi Driver”). In 5 days and 4 nights of exploring, we accomplished more than we ever imagined, hit more sites and took in more sights than we ever expected and experienced New York City as the crazy men that we were: too weird to live and too rare to die.