Monday, January 9, 2017

Happy Holidays, Part 2: New Year's in New York

I think everyone should live in New York City for at least a month, at some point in their lives.

For one thing, it’s a great place.  It never shuts down – you can walk around at 11:30pm on a Thursday night and the streets, sidewalks, and shops are all full.  And it really does sound exactly like it does in the movies.  For another thing, it has everything, from the ordinary to the extreme, all within easy travel times if you’re willing to use the subways, which you should because it is easy and reasonably convenient and also because driving in New York is the stupidest thing you could do in that city short of taping your credit cards to your back pocket and walking through a crowd.  

The other thing that would happen if everyone were to spend some time in New York City would be that I would no longer have to put up with so many people who live in places where everyone in a three-county radius looks, thinks, worships, votes, speaks, and dresses pretty much exactly the same way they do telling me that *I* am the one living in the bubble.  You can’t go half a block in New York without hearing multiple languages, walking past people who are utterly unlike you in most superficial respects, being immersed in the proud diversity that makes the United States such a great country, and yet still be surrounded by people who are every bit as American as you are (oh, yes they are, thank you).  I think it would improve our politics immensely if this lesson were reinforced.  It would certainly improve my mood, anyway, and that’s reason enough for me to advocate this policy in these parlous times.

Seriously.  My mood is in great need of improvement these days.  I vote we make this relocation policy happen.

So we went up to New York, there to visit family and friends and have a grand time while we were at it.  And if it was grey, rainy, and essentially mist-bound on the drive up, well so it went.  There were also no traffic delays, for perhaps the only time I have ever made that trip, and we made it from suburban Philadelphia to mid-town Manhattan in two hours flat.  If I could bottle that, I’d be rich.

Our first stop, after dropping off our stuff at my brother’s apartment, where we were staying, was to visit our friends Josh, Abby, and Zach.  We went through a number of plans for the evening before eventually settling in and hanging out, which is a good thing to do with friends.  We took the subway up to their apartment, wandered around for a bit getting our bearings, and eventually arrived to be welcomed in style.

They declared that we would be feasted, and feasted we were!  On incredibly tasty barbecue, no less.  And then we played D&D, which I had not done since high school.  Zach is a budding D&D player, and the rest of us were happy to go along.  We pressed Tabitha into service as the DM since she’d actually played the game in the current millennium, and with essentially no prep time for this particular quest she did a pretty good job of working a novice and rather sarcastic band of adventurers through to a reasonable stopping point.  

The next day we decided to go exploring ourselves, so we got back on the subway and headed down to Times Square.  This was mostly Lauren’s idea – for someone who loves animals and whose current plans involve living on a farm in her future, she’s pretty up for city exploring.

We came up out of the subway station to find ourselves in the middle of it all, as Times Square is over the New Year’s holiday.  We don’t go there on New Year’s Eve itself, as the math simply does not work (2,000,000 people, 7 public toilets, you figure it out), but it’s fun to be there the day before when they’re setting everything up.

We walked over to the stage – one of them, I’m not sure which network eventually ended up using it, as there were several – and suddenly several dozen people were pointing cameras at us.  Knowing full well that four more tourists in New York City are not particularly camera-worthy, we figured there must be something behind us and sure enough there was.

They practice the day before, which you think about and say, “Oh, right, of course they do,” but which comes as a bit of a surprise when you first see it happening.  They have to get the timing right and cue up the various special effects and all that.  So we watched them drop the ball and haul it back up and drop it again.  This went on for a while.  Eventually we moved on.

We wandered over to Fifth Avenue, because why not?  It’s a sight, that place.  Many of the storefronts are decorated for the holidays, which can be a festive thing or, in the case of Saks, kind of creepy.  Saks had an entire block of windows decked out with impressive and no doubt highly sophisticated animatronic displays of scenes from The Nutcracker that fell squarely into the uncanny valley, and I was glad to be on my way from that even if the crowd around it suggested that I was in a distinct minority in that opinion.  

We also stumbled across St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was just gorgeous and made up for it all.

Our eventual target was the Museum of Modern Art.  Kim loves modern art and Tabitha is an artist, so this was a place they wanted to see.  I’m not much of a modern art person, to be honest – a high school friend of mine used to say with some derision that “recognizability is an artistic quality that most people find profoundly thrilling” but I never saw the problem with this sentiment – but I figured it would make Kim and Tabitha happy and there are a few corners of modern art that I do like, so why not?

Lauren, it must be said, was not impressed.  “They call it modern art because they can’t call it art,” she said.  Oh well.

We split up almost immediately – the crowds were far too heavy to try to stay together, and we’d established a meeting point almost as soon as we walked in.  Kim and Tabitha went off on their own, while Lauren and I stuck together.  I did like the photography exhibit – they had some neat old photographs from the mid-19th century that appealed to this historian’s sense of time and place – and once you got toward the upper floors there were some paintings by Mondrian and Matisse and one rather highlighted Van Gogh that were all interesting to see.  Even Lauren thought those were cool.  We also liked the exhibit of psychedelic ‘60s concert posters.  But there were far too many things in there that were just pure concept.

Concept, like heroin, is addictive and deadly.

I’m not sure what I am supposed to make of a monofilament line stretched from ceiling to floor except to feel sorry for the poor guard who has to stand there and keep people from running into it.  Nor did the paintings consisting of one shade of off-white over the entire canvas conjure up anything other than thoughts about needing to paint my garage again next summer.  Lauren’s position is that museums should be for things that you can’t do – they should make you aspire – and those did not qualify.  Then there was the extremely avant-garde film that they were showing on the second floor which was, um, extremely arty in an avant-garde sort of way.  What does one make of a disembodied Frankenstein head superimposed over what appears to be Go-Pro footage of cross-country skiing and singing slam poetry about scientific epistemology in a rather tuneless sort of way, the whole thing in Conceptual Black And White so you know it’s art rather than a movie?

You make short work of it, is what you make of it.

So Lauren and I maxed out pretty quickly, and went to the gift shop for a while.  Eventually we went across the street to the auxiliary gift shop, and when that got too crowded we found a street vendor, bought something to drink, and sat down on a bench.  Lauren then tried out her gift shop purchase. 

I suppose it could be art, by some folks’ standards.

From there we took the subway all the way out to Yonkers to visit our friends Ellen, Jonah, and Quinn (and Rob, but he had to work late that night so we never did get to see him – hi Rob!).  Apparently Yonkers has its own weather, as it was snowing fiercely there when we arrived despite being bright and sunny everywhere else in New York that day.

We had a lovely dinner and spent most of the evening in full hang-out mode, sharing stories and conversation, which as noted earlier is a good thing to do with friends.  Ellen has dining room chairs with quotes painted on them.  My personal favorite is “Nobody knows what Mary did when Lazarus died again.”  It’s an interesting question, really.  Somehow we never did get around to taking any pictures.  We’ll just have to go back.

The next day Kim, Keith, and I went to Fairway.  Fairway is one of those grocery stores that stocks pretty much every odd little thing and not too much of the normal stuff, which is one of the things I love about the place.  They have an entire alcove just for olive oil, and more fascinating cheeses and sausages than are probably legal.  We stocked up for New Year’s Eve, because we could.

Eventually all of us got onto the subway and headed to the 30s, where Lori had booked us into an Escape Room.

I’d never been in an escape room.  Tabitha and Lauren had tried some of the ones near Our Little Town and enjoyed them, so I was looking forward to it.  My cousin and his husband – the Uncles Chris, as we refer to them – joined us for the event, and it was a lot of fun.

You go into a little room about ten feet square that is filled with puzzles.  You solve the first layer of puzzles, and those answers help you solve the second layer of puzzles.  And then you use those to solve the third layer of puzzles, which you use to get out.  It helped that there were ten of us and that all of our children are now old enough to be helpful in this sort of thing.  You get an hour to figure out how to undo the lock code on the door leading out.

We had a grand time, and we solved the room with about two and a half minutes to spare.  Go us!

We celebrated by heading down to Little Italy for dinner – a different place than last year, but no less lovely.  There was good food, better company, and great conversation, and really what more can you ask of a holiday than that?

Eventually the Uncles Chris headed off to their own New Year’s Eve plans and the rest of us went back to my brother’s apartment, where we had a simple birthday celebration for Tabitha and then settled in for the New Year’s festivities.

We had a wide array of snacks (courtesy of the Fairway) and we set the television onto whatever channel had Panic! At the Disco because that’s who we wanted to hear.  Somehow this also ended up being the same channel that had the Great Mariah Carey Fiasco of 2016, which Keith and Lori – television professionals that they are – found excruciatingly transfixing.  Even I, whose television habits are anemic at best, had to agree with them on this.

It was a lovely way to ring in the New Year and, perhaps more importantly, to stay up late enough to make sure that 2016 died.  That’s the thing about villains – you have to make sure they’re dead, otherwise they rise up, cackle maniacally, and reappear in the sequel with new ambitions and a sharper wardrobe.  We were not going to have that with 2016, no we were not.  We stayed up.

We left New York the next morning, because New Year’s morning is the only time you can drive in New York City without fighting traffic.  Everyone else in the city was hungover, dead, or asleep as we cruised over the bridge and onto the highway headed west.  Our plan was to stop in Ohio again, as we did on the way out, but when we got to Maumee we realized that we weren’t tired, the weather was clear, and we could just continue on until we got tired and stopped somewhere else.

And suddenly – BOOM! – Our Little Town.  It was nice to sleep in our own beds.

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