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.