Mrs. The Sweetness

I love weddings. You can ask anyone who’s ever seen me at a wedding, and they’ll probably tell you about Wedding Frank, a drunken dervish of broken dancing, whose version of The Worm looks more like a man imitating a dust mop. You can usually recognize him by his unbuttoned shirt, misplaced necktie, his sweaty sheen, and his glass of gin and tonic that he does not spill but does occasionally drop, shattering on the dance floor. He has turned up less frequently as time has passed, but his legend has only grown.

About three weeks ago, I attended a wedding in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I’d known the groom Chad since college, even before he’d given himself the nickname The Sweetness (which we initially refused, then took up with a vengeance). I’d seen him three weeks prior, at his bachelor party in the woods of Kentucky, where my parting image of him was slumped against the car window on the drive back to Louisville. There were five of us in the car, and our friend Ryan took it upon himself to impart some advice to the groom to be.

“Chad, buddy, let me give you some advice. After you’re married, you’re going to get in some fights. It’s going to happen, so just remember one thing: you are always going to be right, and she will always be wrong. Remember that.”

Parker, sitting shotgun, added, “And don’t give in, no matter how long you’re fighting.”

“That’s right, stick to your guns!” Ryan added.

“And keep a list of all the things she gets wrong, she’ll really appreciate that,” I threw in. “She’ll like that you’re trying to help her be a better person.”

“Yeah, you can remind her of them every time you guys are having a fight! It’ll help, no question,” Ryan said.

Three weeks after those sage words, I found myself waiting in Terminal 2 at JFK. It was my first time flying out of JFK, and a combination of travel anxiety and my unfamiliarity with the A train past the W. 4th Street stop meant I got to the airport more than three hours early. At LaGuardia, this would have meant boredom and a disappointing, ten-dollar sandwich from the Cibo Express, and I wasn’t expecting much more here. This is why I very nearly burst into tears when I saw the Wendy’s just past the security line. If I had been any hungrier, I would have been openly weeping.

The terminal at JFK was definitely one of the nicer terminals I’d ever been in. There was a seating area near the Wendy’s, with iPads on each table for public use. I enjoyed my Spicy Chicken combo while reading ESPN, then made my way over toward my gate. I used my three and a half hour wait (the extra half hour was bonus time spent waiting for the plane to actually land) to finish one of the three books I’d bought for the trip. The gate itself was odd, as it was a covered walkway on the tarmac, with numerous exits to the left and right. After walking halfway back to Manhattan, I finally reached my exit and boarded the plane.

After an uneventful flight, I landed at Dulles and called Arnie, who was coming to pick me up from the Baltimore airport. He told me he was driving a little black Mazda, and that he’d be there in 40 minutes. After about half an hour (and a surprising number of little black Mazdas), Arnie called me again to ask which terminal I was at. If you’ve ever been to Dulles, you’ll know this is an odd question to ask, as there is one main terminal for pickup and drop-off before it splits into its numerous smaller terminals.

“What do you mean, which terminal?” I asked.

“Dude, I don’t know. What airline are you flying?”

“Delta, but there’s only one terminal.”

“Nah, man, look. I just drove past Terminal A, and it says there’s Terminal B and Terminal C. That’s it.”

Concerned, I told him I’d ask at the information desk and call him back. I explained what Arnie had told me, and she gave me a sympathetic look. “Honey, your friend isn’t here.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Honey, he’s at Reagan.”

“Reagan. Airport, right?”

“Yes, dear. I’d call him back right now, because it’s going to be an hour before he gets here.”

I called Arnie back. “Dude, you’re at Reagan.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m at Dulles.”

“Wait, really?”

“Yup.”

“Oh. Then you’re not here at all, are you.”

After spending the past five hours in airports or in planes, the additional time didn’t really bother me. If anything, it gave me some time to start in on the second book. Arnie did make it to Dulles in good time, and it was relatively easy to get to our hotel as well.

The area where our hotel was located was part of what development types call a “lifestyle center,” but which most of us call an outdoor mall. It was a very pleasant area, with a lake behind our hotel and a boardwalk connecting several restaurants and the pavilion’s other hotel, where most of the guests at the wedding were staying. After settling in the room, Arnie and I made our way along the edge of the lake and entered the hotel bar, where those who had attended the rehearsal dinner were waiting with drinks in hand.

One of my favorite moments in any gathering of old friends is the moment we first get together. There’s so much joy in everyone’s eyes, with smiles and handshakes and hugs being passed around without reservation. Even the guys who I had just seen at The Sweetness’s bachelor party greeted me with the same exuberance as if they hadn’t seen me in years. We got drinks, raised our glasses, and drank to the happiness of the bride and groom. And we drank again. And again. And again.

That night was a lot like many other nights we’d shared in college and beyond. We met random people (one of whom was from New York, just off the W. 4th Street stop I mentioned before). I had conversations with people who didn’t remember they’d met me the next morning. Someone made a late-night run for food. And we retreated to a hotel room with a deck of cards and a bottle of Gentleman Jack (on a possibly related note, I can’t recommend substituting whisky for beer when playing drinking games).

The next morning, I was remarkably untouched by the previous evening, feeling only a minor bit of queasiness. After some breakfast, I retrieved the golf discs I’d brought with me, and joined Nat, Elizabeth, Walsh, and Dan for a game at a nearby park. As rusty as we were, we had a great time. The temperature was perfect, and while the fallen leaves made finding our discs challenging, I hadn’t realized just how much I missed their soft crunching since moving to New York. Between ricocheting off of every tree in the forest and trying to tunnel our way to the hole (“subcutaneous,” as Walsh put it), we didn’t score very well, but it was one of those days where the score is only incidental.

A quick lunch and a shower, and we headed for the bus to the wedding location, a farm about 10 minutes from the hotel. The ceremony itself was outdoors, and it was gorgeous. We walked past some repurposed farm buildings into a large, hilly clearing. A chuppah had been erected about 50 yards past the base of the hill, with rows of white folding chairs eight rows deep sitting opposite. Billy’s acoustic guitar provided the perfect aural setting for the procession, with the groomsmen wearing gray suits and the bridesmaids in burgundy.

Nat, who was sitting next to me, pointed out a structure in the distance, partially hidden by a hill. “Do you think that’s part of the ceremony?” he asked me.

“I think so,” I said. “I’m guessing they’re going to go down the aisle on ATVs and jump off that ramp. I don’t know, I’ve only been to two Jewish weddings.”

“That would be awesome. If The Sweetness and Jen don’t do that, someone should. Ooh, and pyrotechnics!”

“That’s perfect! And magicians!” I started humming the opening bars of “The Final Countdown.”

“Yeah! He could pronounce them man and wife, then disappear in a cloud of smoke!”

“May I please have the ring?” I said. “You, ma’am, in the front row. Would you check your pocketbook? Is there a ring in there?”

“Oh my god, there is!” said Nat, in his best old-lady-being-excited-about-being-included-in-the-show voice.

“Oh my god, that would be the best wedding ever,” I said.

“Yeah, we should definitely be wedding planners.”

“We’d make millions.”

After the ceremony, we moved into an open structure where the wedding favors had been laid out. Each of us had been given a mason jar with an attached handle, a tag on each glass indicating our table. The jars also served as our drinking vessel for the evening, and I intended to put it through its paces. I started with a gin and tonic, naturally, and made my way to a group of friends.

After a few moments, Arnie came up to us with a brown cocktail and a confused look.

“What did you get?” I asked him.

“A Tom Collins, apparently.”

I understood his confusion, as most Tom Collins are yellow, not brown, and do not come with a cherry. Arnie dumped out his undercover Manhattan and made his way back to the bar. A moment later he came back with another drink and a giant, shit-eating smile.

“Did he make the Tom Collins right this time?”

“Nope,” Arnie said. “This is a Carl Weathers!”

“A what?”

“I don’t know! I asked him to make me a Carl Weathers, and this is what he gave me!”

Apparently, a Carl Weathers was also a gin and tonic. Or at least it was that time. Walsh went up and asked for a Carl Weathers as well, and he got a Jack and coke. Another time it was a whiskey sour. You ask me, you mix them all together, pour it over a little more ice, and you got yourself a cocktail going.

Dinner was a barbecue buffet, and it was quite tasty, although I was a little unsettled when I was given my chicken. A pale, lanky kid with some unresolved acne issues asked me if I wanted white or dark meat.

“White, please.”

“Sure thing.” And he took a half-chicken in his hands and tore it in half, placing the breast on my plate and the leg back on the warming grill. Now, I’m no prude when it comes to how our food is prepared. I realize that when I eat meat, there is butchering of some kind involved. But I wasn’t quite prepared to see a kid tear a chicken in half right in front of me, even if it was already cooked.

After dinner, toasts, and the traditional dances, the reception opened up into the usual dance party. One of the things that happens after going to many, many weddings is that you notice the little touches that each couple adds to their reception. The Chad and Jen did themselves proud. Next to the DJ there was a crate labeled “dancing shoes” filled with flip-flops for those wearing uncomfortable shoes who wanted to dance. There was a fire pit out back with s’mores fixings, as well as a box of cigars for whoever might want to indulge (and yes, I did).

For me, the highlight of the evening was when Walsh took the Carl Weathers game to the next level. Rather than order another Carl Weathers, though, he invented the “subcutaneous.” What’s a subcutaneous, you ask? Specifically, a subcutaneous is a scotch on the rocks. With fifteen cherries. The best part? Walsh doesn’t even like scotch. From there, the rest of the evening relaxed into a pleasant ease, from the farm to the hotel bar and back to the hotel room to drift off into a semi-inebriated slumber.

The remainder of the trip was largely an exercise in retreat. Back to the airport, back to New York, back to the A train and back to the apartment. By that point, it was the only place I wanted to be, back with my girlfriend and the cat, on my couch in my pajamas, returning to the usual surroundings. I think in some ways that’s the best measure of a wedding. There’s the love and all that crap, but it’s also about just how much you were able to squeeze into that tight window, and the level of exhaustion you feel when you get home is a pretty good indication of how successful you were. So thanks to you, Mr. and Mrs. The Sweetness, for making me so exhausted. And here’s hoping you guys manage to exhaust yourselves for many years to come.

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Are You Being Served?

One problem with living in New York is that shopping is a much more complicated process. I’ve written about the troubles facing the humble grocery shopper, but on Saturday, I went with my girlfriend on an infinitely more daunting proposition: women’s clothes shopping. That is, I was helping her go women’s clothes shopping. Well, maybe not helping. I accompanied her while she went women’s clothes shopping.

I don’t wear women’s clothes.

Ahem.

Girlfriend and I both grew up in the suburban Midwest, which meant shopping malls, shopping centers, and box stores spread in irregular conglomerations throughout town. As you might expect, box stores aren’t as prevalent in New York, as real estate prices run just slightly higher here than in Dublin, Ohio. Sure, there are a ton of stores, but there’s no way to know what the inventory is like, besides an angry Yelp review or physically looking in the window. About the one thing you can count on is that it will cost more than you want to spend.

But there are some familiar stores here, usually in areas popular with tourists. And sometimes, no matter how much you don’t want to, you just have to go to those areas. You know, like the week before you and your girlfriend go to a wedding. So we hopped on the A train and headed down to Herald Square. The first stop was the Manhattan Mall, which occupies about half a block between 6th and 7th Avenue between 32nd and 33rd Street. The target destination?  JC Penney’s.

JC Penney’s. I wore a lot of clothes from Penney’s—in fact, I still do. They weren’t the most fashionable duds, but they were better than Wal-Mart, and they weren’t much more expensive. But the last time I went to a JC Penney’s was at least two years ago, and it seems a lot has changed. I know there’s a lot of business junk going on, what with the falling revenues and the sales-related missteps, but actually being in the store was kind of sad.

The Manhattan Mall is a very strange structure, to me. The mall itself is tall and narrow. The top two tiers of the mall are dotted with familiar—miniature—mall stores: Aeropostale, The Limited, GameStop. The lower two levels belong to JC Penney’s, and they’re pretty depressing. We spend about thirty minutes looking through the dresses, and the majority were very disappointing. As girlfriend put it, “It’s no wonder they’re going out of business. All their clothes are ugly.”

Our second stop was much more iconic—and much larger. Anyone who’s watched Maureen O’Hara on Christmas Day surely knows which store we visited, sitting between 6th and 7th Ave. and 34th St.  Yes, that 34th Street, the one with that miracle. Get it? No? Really? It’s a Christmas classic, people. Jesus, fine. It’s Macy’s. The store I’m talking about is Macy’s.

My experience with Macy’s before New York largely involved two things. One, there was a stand-alone store in Columbia, Missouri, built in the same commercial development where the Wal-Mart parking lot got swallowed by a sinkhole. And two, the Mall at Tuttle Crossing in Ohio had two.  In the same mall. The second had been a Lazarus, but became a Macy’s after the two companies merged. Why they kept both stores, I can’t say. Maybe they thought it was better to have a store at each end of the mall, so lazy people would still go. Your guess is as good as mine.

This Macy’s is unlike either of those two things. Or rather, it’s like both of those things, plus about ten more. I mean, the store is fucking huge. It’s nine stories tall, with a lower level and a half floor, and it takes up an entire city block. I mean that literally: this store is the entire block. The fact that there are restaurants is not a money grab; it’s a necessity, since you might literally walk more than a mile in the store. The layout is strange too, with areas and rooms set apart by brand. Of course, walk half a block and this system breaks down, becoming separated by garment type. Oh, and there are at least three floors of women’s clothes. My overall impression is that the store is entirely too big. Too many choices, too many people, too much division, and all of it overpriced.

This is not to suggest that we didn’t still look for a dress. Macy’s reminded me of all my favorite things about women’s fashion. Dress categories read to me like some arcane text that I can’t quite decode. What is the difference between Juniors and Petite? What qualifies as an evening dress? Is that different than a cocktail dress? And girlfriend told me a house dress isn’t even really a dress. What is that?  My favorite category was “Social Dresses.” Does this refer to the dress itself or to the person wearing it? Does it make the wearer more social? Is this a dress that likes to spend time with other dresses? And where is the Anti-social Dress section? Off to the side trying not to draw attention, I’d guess.

I also like the strange mannequin configurations peppered throughout the store. Some have heads, others don’t. Some have arms, while others are torsos with legs. Others are just torsos, and some of these are attached to hangers and hanging on the end of a rack. Just about the only constant among these mannequins are the disquietingly prominent nipples that I’m pretty sure would show through a poncho.

What I like best is the wild array of accents added to dresses, blouses, whatever. Fake pearls strung up in a zig-zag across the front of a sweater, which with the smallest movement would make you sound like a maraca. Glitter and rhinestones strewn with wild abandon anywhere there’s an open field of fabric. Or better, sequins stitched to express one’s inner self, like “Slut” or “Glitter Bitch.” My personal favorite are the extraneous zippers that show up in strange places, on shoulders and stomachs and breasts, zippers that aren’t functional because the paired sides have been separated. Zippers! Glorious zippers!

Of course we didn’t find a dress at Macy’s. Instead we took our Penney’s bag (girlfriend found a dress that I think looks really nice on her), and hopped on the train to head uptown for dinner. Ah, dinner. There was where we came out winners. But I’ll have to save that for later. Let’s just say fried pickles, beer, and a burger with mac and cheese on it will pretty much make any trip outside the house worth it.

The Rain Room

RainRoom5The Rain Room was a MoMA art installation, built in a temporary building adjacent to the museum, and from its opening in May, it drew huge crowds. Inside this temporary building was a room where it is constantly raining. Constantly, that is, except for the sensors in the room that detected people and “paused” the rain above them. In effect, you’re walking through a downpour but coming out entirely dry.

It sounded neat. But girlfriend and I had put off going because of the long, long wait. People had been standing in line for between 4-5 hours with no guarantee that they’d actually get in. But with the exhibit closing in less than a week, we decided to brave the crowds.

We arrived at MoMA at 10am bearing the free Snapples some overeager teens in Snapple t-shirts handed us. The best decision we made all day came when I bought a MoMA membership. We were able to bypass the general admission line and jump right in with the members. Even better, girlfriend got herself a $5 ticket, saving us about $20. Best of all, for the next year I get free access to MoMA. For all that, fifty bucks didn’t seem so bad.

RainRoom7The members’ line didn’t seem that long. It was a winding queue, and we were only four rows deep. Of course, I had no idea how “fast” the line would move. While the museum asked guests to keep their visit to under 10 minutes, the artists had insisted that no set time limit be imposed, meaning that people could stay in the rain as long as they liked. So we were in for a wait, which wasn’t exactly unexpected. I pulled out my Harlan Coben book, while the girlfriend tried to get into the two books she brought with her.

There was a Dutch mother with her two small daughters waiting just in front of us, and they were hilarious. One girl refused to wear her Crocs, leaving them behind several times as the line inched forward. It seems she really just didn’t want to be in clothes at all, as she tried more than once to pull her dress over her head. Her older sister, being very older-sistery, would chastise her, then weave around strangers and take off her own shoes.

The girls behind us were the first people in the general admissions line. They’d gotten up at 2am and gotten in line at 6. By the time they’d gotten behind us, they’d already been waiting for more than four hours. Yes, I felt bad for them. I also felt smarter than them, not just for buying a membership, but for not having to take four hours to get up and get ready to stand in a line.

Around 12:30, the sky opened up with a downpour of irony. Girlfriend and I tried to share an umbrella—more or less successfully—while we and everyone around us laughed at the silliness of trying desperately to stay dry while waiting to go into a building full of rain. Thankfully, the rain didn’t last very long, and the sun came out in full force for the last hour and a half of waiting, which finally ended at 2:30.

RainRoom6Inside the Rain Room building, the first thing you notice is the sound of the rain. The second thing is the *&$# second line. It was much shorter, though, and it offered us the chance to watch other people in the rain. The gallery assistants explained that to keep dry, you need to move slowly, advice that was immediately disregarded by the two little Dutch girls. The younger girl immediately started running through the rain. She would get wet, freak out a bit, then run to her mother and cling damply to her leg. The older one chided her sister, then immediately got just as wet, until they were simply dripping as they left.

RainRoom3It was finally our turn. The Rain Room was, as I had hoped, neat. Being surrounded by rain but staying (almost) entirely dry ended up being more interesting than I had expected. It got even more interesting when the entire exhibit stopped working. A few clunks, a hiccup, and the roar of the room became silence peppered with groans. The gallery assistants moved us all to the sides, and we had to wait for the rain to start again.

Honestly, if we hadn’t waited for five hours just to get into this rain room, we might have left. But after the waiting, the sun, the rain, and the membership, I think we would have stayed overnight. I passed the time coming up with alternate names for the Rain Room, like the Drizzle Space or the Moist Cubby. Luckily, the water came on after only about ten minutes, as those were the only two names I came up with.

RainRoom4
A few more pictures, and we left the rain room and made our way back home. The experience did take most of the day, but there was a lot of fun to go with it. The room itself was a unique experience, and we got some great photos. The other people in line were fun too, especially the dripping-wet Dutch girls and the marathon line-standers from Jersey. It was another one of those experiences that living in New York gave us the opportunity to enjoy.

Plus, we got gyros on the way home!

New York Sweaty

As I write this, I am sweating. I say this not to shock you or disgust you, but because it has become a state of being. New York is a great city for sweating. Since moving to New York last August, the one thing that I have come to know for sure is that at some point each day, I will sweat. And I don’t mean sweating in the way that we all sweat everyday without noticing it (Wikipedia studies show that humans average 10-14 liters per day—and if you don’t believe that, just read the citations on Wikipedia the internet).

No, friends, I am talking about the kind of sweat you can’t help but notice, that you can feel actively cooling you, that starts to make your skin shine and, in more dire cases, send droplets into your eyes, off your nose, and rolling down your back into your nether regions. This is the sweat that can leave embarrassing patches of darkness on your clothes, which during exercise can merge into one all-encompassing wetness that effectively renders your shirt into a person-rind, which is fitting since you now smell like a well-aged cheese. But only a minority of this sweating comes from exercise. Sure, when I go for a run I end up shrink-wrapped in a stinking UnderArmour sausage casing. That’s only part of the story.

Let’s start with summer. This past week, we had the second of two rough heat waves, with high temperatures averaging around 95 degrees. These temperatures, while warm, are certainly not the worst I’ve ever encountered. Last summer in Missouri, for instance, the weather went for weeks with temperatures like this. At work, I parked in an uncovered lot with virtually no tree cover, meaning that my drive home on those days with a 110 degree heat index meant either waiting 15 minutes for my car’s AC to blow the satanically hot air out of the four open car doors, or try to drive home quickly without the heat of the steering wheel welding my hands to the faux leather wheel cover.

Yes, Missouri was hot. And humid. I mean, I’d never wished I had gills before my first summer in Missouri. But here’s the thing. We had air conditioning. You wake up in your air conditioned home. You leave for work in a car that has air conditioning. You walk from your car to your air conditioned workplace. You leave work and go to the air conditioned store or restaurant. And you come home to your air conditioned house or apartment. You know it’s hot, and you feel it when you’re outside. But by and large, it’s possible to avoid the heat.

New York, though, has a lot of old buildings. Old buildings mean old designs and old technology. Old technology means no central air. And that is where window units come in. Last summer, we decided against buying an AC, since it was already August, and we could live with the heat for a month or two. This year, we broke down: we bought a small, 5,000-BTU window unit for the bedroom. Our thought was that we could live with the heat in the rest of the place, as long as we had a cool room for sleeping. We didn’t understand why our super, Manny (henceforth to be referred to as Super Manny), laughed when he saw the size of our unit—until the heat came.

Outside the house, there are other ways to sweat. We don’t have a car (because we’re not crazy), which means walking and public transportation. Walking in summertime will make you sweat, of course. But so will waiting at a subway station, especially if there are no functioning fans. Our nearest station isn’t particularly bad, but others along the line are almost unbearable. Today we waited for the D train at Rockefeller Center, and it was absolutely stifling. Luckily, most cars are air conditioned. The word “most” is an important distinction. When on the subway, an empty car is usually a gift from god. There are seats, no creepy people watching you, and no one to laugh when you trip entering the car. More often than not, though, an empty car in the summer means one thing: no AC. I once tried to power through a 20-minute train ride in one of these cars, ignoring other passengers’ “Hell no’s” and “You gotta be kidding me’s.” Learn from my mistake. Change cars.

This isn’t just a summer thing, though. Winter in the city, much like that too-hot hot tub, gonna make you sweat. Since you end up doing a lot of walking even in winter, you have to dress appropriately, meaning warmly and in layers. Of course, if you calibrate incorrectly, you either find yourself shivering down the street or, more likely, soaking through your long johns. In either case, you’re only dressed to get from one place to the next. If that happens to include a subway station, that sweat will probably move from your long johns through your hand knitted sweater and eventually into your goose-down parka (probably. I own none of these things).

Think going home will help? You would be wrong. Our apartment, at least, has radiator heat, which is controlled from the boiler room. As I mentioned in my post New York Lesson-XVIII, it came on suddenly, and we had no control over it. Our thermostat is effectively the window.

I say all of this not to complain, although I’ll bet it sounds like it. Really it’s just one of those things I didn’t understand before moving to the city: being in New York means you’re going to sweat. A lot. This, I think, adds its own bouquet to the aroma of car exhaust and sewage and overheated garbage that permeates the streets. Plus, there are a lot of air conditioned places to go, if you have the energy. The library. A coffee house. The local Fine Fare, where the air is so cold you find yourself shaking off a fine layer of frost after walking through the door.

Of course, I could be exaggerating all of this, and it really isn’t so bad. Maybe I’m just trying to make this post seem interesting, and the heat and the walking and the warm clothing and those unbearably hellish subway stations don’t really make you sweat like I’ve been saying. I guess I’ll have to leave that up to you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to squeegee my keyboard.

Heeeeeere’s Stephen!

It seems like the girlfriend and I are on a whirlwind of adventure recently, doesn’t it? A ferry trip almost two weeks ago, a Broadway show last week, and another play that I haven’t even gotten to write about from the fifth of July (that’s for you, Lanford Wilson). We added even more excitement yesterday with a trip to The Colbert Report (You can watch the episode here.

For those of you who haven’t been, it’s not too terrible a process. First off, tickets are free—you just have to make an online reservation beforehand. There are VIP tickets available for a charge, but the studio is small enough that it doesn’t really make that much difference.  We arrived at the studio around 4pm and joined the queue of about 30 people. While the doors don’t open until 5:30 at the earliest, you still need to get there early, as they overbook the show to ensure a full house. The line was beside the building and under a canopy, with signs painted on the wall asking patrons not to write on the walls.
Colbert2
I was glad we were under some shade, as it made the 95-degree heat a little more bearable. We bought water, and the staff handed out small bottles as well around 5pm. Still, it proved once again that you sweat in New York doing just about anything.

At 5:30, they opened the door and handed us our physical ticket. Mine and girlfriend’s were blue, with a number indicating our entry order. 
Colbert1
The red tickets, denoting the VIPs, were not numbered—they simply got to go in first. Once we got our ticket, we passed through a metal detector and entered a (thankfully air conditioned) anteroom, where we waited until about 6:45 for the studio doors to open. We were seated about ten rows back in house center. Of course, girlfriend and I did our usual technical inspection, noting lights and sound equipment. I personally liked that some lights had been gelled by clothespinning full sheets of blue and diffusion to the front of a barn door, a technique I was, um, not familiar with.

The warm-up comic (whose name he correctly predicted I would not remember) was okay, although he got hilariously schooled by an Asian researcher who suggested he “do more research” when he said he couldn’t tell if she was Korean or Chinese from looking at her. But it got the job done, and the crowd was pretty hot for Stephen’s entrance.  Before the taping, he comes onstage out of character to take some questions from the audience. Girlfriend wanted to ask him how he felt about Saint Louis University making his dad’s portrait a focal point of their med school tour (his father was a dean of SLU’s medical school). Unfortunately, he didn’t call on us, so instead we got stuck with a guy asking how he could get a job with The Colbert Report.  Stephen was a good sport about it, asking the kid what skills he had. When the guy said he didn’t really know, Stephen smiled broadly and said, “Good luck with that!” and moved on to the next person.

The actual filming was pretty streamlined, which I suppose it should be after almost eight years.  Only a few moments had to be reshot, including one where it was the technology and not the performer that had problems. The guest was Jerry Seinfeld, who was as engaging as you’d expect. He was extremely appreciative of the woman who came to the taping wearing a puffy shirt like the one he wore on Seinfeld. Stephen enjoyed his interview so much that we recorded a false break for commercial, so he could use more of the interview.

After the taping, Stephen let the audience ask him one last question. A woman in the front row mentioned that his dressage episode was her favorite (it was one of mine, too), and asked if that was his first time riding a horse. He told us that he in fact had done dressage as a child, up until fifth grade. It was then he had to choose between dressage and little league, a decision made “easier” when he showed up late to a little league game dressed in jodhpurs and a velvet hat, to which his manager said, “Well, looks like Little Lord Fauntleroy finally made it.”
Dressage

It was a very enjoyable evening, and one that I hope we get a chance to repeat in the future. Not having cable, it’s easy to forget how entertaining Colbert can be. I also have to admit that a small part of me hates watching political satire because it reminds me of how angry I am about the subjects they’re riffing on. I appreciate the satire, and it’s important work, in my opinion. At the same time, I don’t like being sad. But being in the audience, it was easy to just laugh at the jokes and be a part of making the satire, even if it was only a very small part. And hey, swag!
Colbert3

Hail, Thane of Awesome!

Last Friday, I took my girlfriend to see a play for her ___th birthday.  She’d been hoping to see Alan Cumming’s Macbeth before it closed on July 14th, and circumstances happened to work in our favor.  A few weeks ago, I happened across a Macbeth street team member, who was handing out coupons.  Thanks to the coupon, we got pretty decent seats for a pretty decent price. 

We got to the 42nd St. station about an hour before the house opened, mainly because we got burned by the A train last week.  I usually don’t mind getting downtown for a show a little early, since it gives us some time to leisurely stroll around (re: dodge tourists and look at stuff), but it happened to be raining, meaning our usual spots for passing time were packed.  We usually like to hit Schmackary’s Cookies for some delicious—if pricey—baked goods.  But the line was out the door, and all of the tables were occupied.

We decided to pass on the cookies, and instead popped our umbrellas and headed for the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.  The lobby was open, but it was still only 7pm, meaning we had about half an hour to kill.  While we were standing outside the theatre, I had my first celebrity sighting in New York.  Well, it might have been my first sighting.  I’m actually pretty terrible about recognizing famous people in public.  I can recognize actors across movies and TV, but get rid of the screen or the stage, and they’re just sweaty New Yorkers trying to get somewhere.

Anyway, this time I recognized Jessica Hecht.  For you theatre folks, she was most recently in The Assembled Parties and Harvey.  For you TV people, she was Walter White’s lost love in Breaking Bad and Ross’s ex-wife’s lesbian lover Susan in Friends.  How did I know it was her?  Well, it helped that The Assembled Parties was in the theatre next door. 

We entered the theatre a little after 7:30 and took our seats in the front mezzanine.  We were in the second row, which turned out to be a pretty good place to watch the show (except for the kids in front of us—more on that shortly).  The play is set in an asylum, the towering walls covered with sea foam green tiles redolent of a 1950s bathroom.  Steel stairs on stage left led to the only door, one story up and locked via keypad.  A large window stood up center, also on the second story.  While the play was almost entirely a one-man show, two other performers served as a nurse and a doctor, and they would frequently pass by the window, occasionally stopping to watch the patient.  Finally, there were three large flatscreen monitors hung above the stage, each of them connected to cameras mounted atop the walls of the set.

The show itself was phenomenal.  The lights and sound helped create an eerie atmosphere throughout, drawing you into the asylum.  Mr. Cumming was fantastic, as expected.  He managed to portray each character as an individual, with mannerisms and props to help distinguish between them.  Macbeth, for instance, continually ran his fingers through is hair, while Banquo continually passed an apple from hand to hand.  Some characters were quite unexpected, such as his effeminate portrayal of Duncan.  Others were quite fascinating, like his use of a baby doll to represent Duncan, meaning the doll became king of Scotland at the end of the play.  At another point, he treated a child’s sweater as Macduff’s son, which he violently drowned in the onstage bathtub.  It was an especially shocking moment in the play, much more than you’d expect from essentially watching someone do laundry.

The final twist of this adaptation comes at the end, when the two staff members leave Mr. Cumming on his bed.  As they turn to leave, he utters the witch’s line, “When shall we three meet again?”  He effectively suggests that this character goes through the events of Macbeth in a neverending cycle which, as my girlfriend put it, means it’s now two sad stories.

The only downside to the performance was the kids sitting in front of us.  When I say kids, mind you, I mean teenagers.  They were clearly not that interested in being at this show, as they were eternally restless.  Since they were in the front row of the mezzanine, they continually leaned forward on the railing in front of them, effectively cutting off our view of the front half of the stage.  They typically stayed in this position until I’d just figured out how to adjust my own view, at which point they’d sit back up, lean on one another, or pet one another.  And the petting, geez.  I don’t consider myself a prude, and I understand that teenagers will be teenagers.  But these kids, who I hope were a couple, couldn’t stop trying to find new places to rub each other.  Head, back, shoulders, neck, leg, knee, side, ear, face, and probably other places that I don’t need to know about.  I’m glad that young people are going to the theatre, even if they have to be dragged there by their parents.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t be annoyed when they get in my way.

Anyway, the show was a hit, and we left around 10pm.  As we stepped outside into the rain, we decided against our usual post-show cheesecake.  Between the rain and the show (1 hour and 45 minutes, no intermission), we were drained, and we just wanted to get back uptown.  It was a great show, and I was glad we got the chance to see it before it closed.  It’s one of those moments that make me glad I live in New York, where I can board a train and in 20 minutes see cultural and theatrical events that I couldn’t see anywhere else.

Summer

As the summer rolls along, it occurs to me that I haven’t written a blog post in quite some time.  Since the end of April, to be specific. Looking back through my posts, I realize there’s a lot of promises that I’ve left unfulfilled over the past eleven months. I haven’t been reliably updating my friends and colleagues on what living in New York is like.  I haven’t taken any of the fifty walks I talked about in my first post.  And I certainly haven’t been writing enough.  I teased about the NFL Draft, but left you hanging.  I didn’t write about my first game at Yankees Stadium.  And you’ve only gotten the barest glimpse of my city math.

My goal for the rest of this summer is to provide you with at least one story a week.  Some of these stories will be catching up on old news.  I’ll write about seeing an Indians-Yankees game in June.  I’ll finish my NFL Draft entries—there are three whole days left to cover.  I’ll give you some excellent dining experiences, and perhaps a little bit about life as a New York hermit.  But I’ll also have more timely stories, including taking some of those long-awaited walks.

I’ll start with Sunday’s adventure with my girlfriend.  We originally set out to hit the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center in Lincoln Center for the 4:30 showing of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.  Unfortunately, the A train decided it was not going to cooperate, and what is normally a twenty minute trip to Columbus Circle became a 50 minute trip.  We still might have made the movie if we’d hustled, but the heat in New York this past week has been stifling, and we didn’t want to show up to the theatre out of breath and drenched in sweat (I’ll write about heat in New York in another entry soon).

Instead, we decided to head back into the station and down to South Ferry.  For those of you who don’t know, the MTA opened a brand new subway station at South Ferry (the southernmost stop on the 1 train) in 2009.  Unfortunately, superstorm Sandy caused extensive damage to the station, rendering it unusable.  The MTA decided to reopen the old South Ferry Loop, one of the oldest stations in the entire subway system. The station is not terribly convenient for anyone.  The sharp curve of the tracks creates a lot of friction on the train’s wheels, causing a loud, metallic grind. The platform was also designed for a shorter train, meaning that only the first five of the total ten-car train can exit or board at the station.

That being said, it’s nice that the MTA was able to reopen the older station, allowing us and everyone else to take the train all the way to the ferry docks rather than to Rector St. a few blocks away.  Our original plan was to go out onto the dock roof and watch the boats coming and going, but those areas were closed.  Instead we walked down to the waterfront, where the main attraction was a duck diving for dinner.  I’m not entirely sure why it was so entrancing, but we spent at least ten minutes watching the little guy disappear beneath the surface, trying to guess where he’d resurface.

It was clear that girlfriend wanted more, however, and she asked if we could take the free ferry over to Staten Island.  We boarded the 6:00 ferry, standing at the railing on the second level of the port side.  In my mind, we could ride the port side of the boat on both trips, and we’d see the sights on both sides.  On the trip to Staten Island, we passed Governor’s Island, a former Coast Guard base that is currently undergoing some serious reconditioning.  We also saw a number of large tankers, which the geek in me thought was fantastic.  These ships are big.  Huge.  Extremely large.  Even from a distance they dwarf everything else in the water.  And that’s cool.  Girlfriend was more interested in the Coast Guard escorts for the ferries, which boasted helmeted guards manning machine guns.  At one point, she wondered aloud how much those guys must hate their job.  Seriously?  Guns and boats?  These guys are living the American Dream.

In any case, we arrived at the Staten Island ferry dock and disembarked.  Our original plan was to simply get back on the return ferry, but our stomachs revolted, demanding to be fed.  We chose Dairy Queen for our modest repast, dining on chicken strips, BLTs and, of course, Blizzards.  We took our ice cream back to the dock, and boarded the return ferry, once again on the port side.  On this trip, the most interesting sights were the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, although both were from relatively far away.  We realized that the starboard side is actually better for seeing the sights, since the ferry lanes put the port side toward the inside of the path.
Statue of Liberty

Once we made land back in Manhattan, we did to do some terrestrial sightseeing, catching the Charging Bull on Wall St. and the New York Stock Exchange building.  However, the most interesting landmark we passed was at the corner of Whitehall and Bridge Streets.  The 2013 MLB All-Star Game is being held in Queens this year, hosted by the NY Mets.  As part of their publicity campaign, they’ve placed 33 giant apples painted with team colors and logos.  I know this now, but yesterday I had no idea this promotion existed.  Instead, I just happened to pass by the apple for the Cleveland Indians, whose hat I happened to be wearing.  Needless to say, I was far too excited over this apple, as my girlfriend (and this photo) can attest.
Apple

All in all, it was a great day.  Sure, we missed the movie, but we got out of the house and the neighborhood.  Plus, we finally got to the fifth borough (although she’s not sure if it counts, since we didn’t leave the ferry landing).  We saw some new sights, got to take a free boat ride, and finally experienced what the weather forecasters were talking about when they said it was cooler on the coasts.  That’s the other thing that kind of surprised me.  I know intellectually that Manhattan is an island, and that New York is a coastal city.  But Midwestern me still thinks of cities as population centers in an otherwise contiguous mass of land.  We might have rivers or lakes, perhaps even a Great Lake, but they are by and large landlocked masses.  Even after we got hit by a freaking hurricane, I don’t think about there being an ocean accessible by public transportation.

We’re planning to take more trips like this, to explore parts of the city that we haven’t yet hit.  We’re definitely heading to Rockaway Beach at some point, and we’ve got a booklet of beer coupons we have to use in several bars across Brooklyn.  We’re going to take some of the walks in the collection that girlfriend gave me.  And we’ve got friends coming into the city as well, so we’ll be sure to hit some of the more “tourist’ attractions as well.  It’s shaping up to be a busy, entertaining summer.