New York City – Day 2 (Sunday, October 11, 2015)

We awoke the next day to sunshine and much more energy after the previously long day. We definitely needed the rest and Matt and Laura’s cats were kind enough to not disturb us overnight (though I suspect they may have tried cuddling up with us at some point during the night). Misha ran downstairs to grab some breakfast sandwiches from the local grocery, we got cleaned up and headed out for what was already looking to be a beautiful day (the morning air was still a bit on the chilly side, but there was the promise of it warming up).

A Boat Ride and the Big Bridge Walk

Not to miss out on more touristy goodness, our morning plan consisted of walking over to the East River Ferry’s Greenpoint landing (just a couple blocks from Matt and Laura’s pad). There was a little bit of wind coming off the water, so it was a chilly wait for the ferry, which promptly arrived and was already full of tourist types. As the ferry continued its way downriver, we were treated to a better view of the new architecture clashing with the older Brooklyn buildings, while listening to any and all manner of different languages around us. New York may suffer from a fading reputation as the immigrant gateway to the United States, but it’ll never lose its reknown as a melting pot for those from every corner of the globe. The boat ride made the chilly wind on the dock seem like summer by comparison, but it also provided fantastic, dramatic views of Lower Manhattan and as we passed under the Williamsburg and Brooklyn bridges, the latter being our final destination.

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Top: The view from the dock, and passing under the Williamsburg Bridge.
Bottom: Passing under the Brooklyn Bridge.

Call it touristy, call it tradition, even call it cliché, but some things are worth being labelled as such – kissing the Blarney Stone, using forced perspective to look like you’re keeping the Leaning Tower of Pisa from falling over, fruitlessly trying to make the Queen’s Guard smile at Buckingham Palace, assuring a celebrity that you’re their biggest fan while the security guards pepper spray you, and of course(1) – walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. While it’s hardly the oldest, tallest or most technically-formidable structure ever designed and built by human hands, there are fewer American landmarks that are quite as iconic. Its image alone represents one of the world’s greatest cities. To walk across it heralds one’s unofficial entry into Lower Manhattan (or Brooklyn should you be headed in the opposite direction). Nevertheless, if you’ve never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, then you’ve never truly visited New York City.

It was Sunday, so the bridge was full of tourists doing their Kardashian impressions with their selfie sticks.(2) Meanwhile, the natives and locals were doing their best to either hide their thinly-veiled disdain of visitors, or openly bitched and moaned about the necessity of laws against tourists (and definitely more so for those fancying themselves as amateur travel blog writers). Nevertheless, the fortunate weather offered amazing views as we crossed above the East River, taking in the ever-growing Manhattan ahead of us, the dwindling Brooklyn behind us, and the countless boats racing along or lazily going no where in particular. Like our fellow visitors, we made our share of stops along the bridge span to snap a picture or two, and kick ourselves for not having brought along a padlock to commemorate our relationship, as many others do (though not really with the city’s approval). Eventually, we arrived in lower Manhattan, right in the middle of the activity along Park Row by Pace University and City Hall.

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(1) I’ve “been there, done that” – as the kids may or may not say these days – for one of these…you are free to guess which one (HINT: it involves hanging upside down at an Irish castle).
(2) As a bit of an inside joke, Misha and I keep a running tally of people we see using selfie sticks. As a form of entertainment, it helps me process through my unmitigated hatred of selfies, although Misha occasionally flips flops about whether or not she wants one.

Ground Zero

I remember being home sick from school back in 1986 when my Mom called, telling me to turn on the TV for breaking news report about the Challenger Space Shuttle exploding. I remember walking into my college dorm after my evening Life Drawing I class(1) – every TV airing CNN as we bombed Bagdad and heralding the beginning of Desert Storm (not to mention half the guys in my hall calling their parents about whether they would be drafted). I remember being out to dinner at a really nice steak house with my family when the staff dropped everything and crowded around the bar’s TV to watch O.J. Simpson’s now infamous Ford Bronco police chase. I also remember one of my closest friends, Michael, calling me early on a Saturday morning, telling me to turn on the TV because the Columbia Space Shuttle broke up over Texas.(2)

And then there was September 11, 2001.

800422_3009/11 started out like any other work day – fighting my way through Northern Virginia rush hour traffic en route to work. As I pulled into the office parking lot, the radio morning show unknowlingly made such a near flippant report of a plane crashing into one of the now former World Trade Center towers, that I mistook it for something about a small, single engine plane and no big deal (relatively speaking). By the time I walked into the office, radios were blaring, worried/distressed/panicked/near-hysterical coworkers were running around, and no one could bring up any of the news websites because everyone in the western hemisphere was online and trying to find out what the Hell was going on. I turned on the radio at my desk (which became very popular due to lack of access to online news sources – we listened to the Don and Mike Show for most of the day as they covered the news) and quickly realized that things were obviously much more serious than a small plane accident (one DJ on the radio became so hysterical that his female newscaster slapped him on the air). By some miracle, I was able to trade a few emails via my then AOL account to check in with parents and friends, but ridiculously overwhelmed phone lines made it impossible to call anyone until later that afternoon.

Since that day, I always had a need/want to see Ground Zero in New York City. I’ve been to a few other sites with infamous, historical significance – the Tower of London, the Oklahoma City bombing memorial, Gettysburg – but never a place where I witnessed history as it happened (albeit via television). I suppose it’s due to a morbid sense of curiosity – a fascination with seeing those places, but in a strange way, visiting Ground Zero was also paying respect to the fallen, and those who fell as events unfolded in the tragedy’s aftermath.(3)

After some wandering and a few wrong turns, we found ourselves at St. Paul’s Chapel. It’s a sobering place – quiet, stoic, but still blanketed by a apprehensive air that begins at its fenceline and permeates over the church grounds. One step inside the chapel was enough for Misha, she wasn’t up for the memorial inside, which was hard even for me – and neither of us were even thinking of visiting the museum (even if we were motivated to go in there, the wait was ridiculously long). The shrines to the victims, the rescue personnel and the event itself were tough to take in – one memorial is made of up fire fighter gear, still grey and weathered with dust and grit. I stayed long enough to pay my respects, light a candle and then meet Misha outside in the warm sun. We walked over the the official memorial, and stood at the North Pool, and again, the impact of what was once there and what happened sinks in. The former towers’ footprints look both larger and smaller than you’d expect, and the new One World Trade Center’s architecture seems odd and out-of-place compared to the former twin towers. Something about the new tower’s crystal modern, shiiny glass look just doesn’t ring true with New York’s grey concrete and steel pallet. I’m reminded how sSome of the Washington, DC memorials have signs asking onlookers to maintain a “respectful silence” due to who or what the memorial represents. At Ground Zero, no one needed that reminder.

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(1) In college, I received my BA and MA in English, but I minored in Studio Art and nearly a second minor in Theater (which I’m still kicking myself for not completing). Truth be told, my Life Drawing I professor – Dr. Graham – still remains one of my favorite teachers. He was a big, burly black man from Chicago with a warm, friendly presence and gentle, sing-song voice (all ironic considering his otherwise intimidating appearance) and a strange fascination with my last name. While this constantly fedora-and-scarf-clad bear of a man and brilliant artist referred to most every other student by their first names, he always called me by my last name. When I finally asked him why, he enthusiastically told me he loved the sound of it, though another professor added that Dr. Graham did that for students he liked or appreciated. I had one semester with Dr. Graham, but I remember every moment of it – to this day his guidance comes to mind when I try my hand at sketching or drawing. However, despite some potential talent I showed back then, it turns out I made for a much better writer..but don’t just take my word for it.
(2) Yes, I realize these historic references offer more-than-obvious clues to my age. Now you kids turn down that damn “music” and get off my lawn…
(3) And you can bet I wasn’t a fan of the Bush Administration. In fact, I still wonder why members of that administration still haven’t been arrested for crimes against humanity.

The Best Bouncy Castle EVER

801777_300Our stomachs growling made for a good excuse to leave Ground Zero and do something about lunch. We made our way into a gourmet-esque food court, and after heavily considering several of the tempting options, went for burgers and bacon lard-coated sweet potato fries that were worth every health-endangering calorie (in fact, Misha and I still go into “Homer Simpson drool mode” whenever we think about those fries…no, seriously, we do). We debated what to do next as we inhaled lunch – for all intents and purposes, we had seen just about everything on my wish list (except for the Statue of Liberty, but decided on saving that for Monday).

In lieu of other ideas, Misha suggested heading up to Midtown to see a store or two she used to frequent back in her dancing days and visit the Museum of Sex. A subway ride later, we were stomping along Fifth Avenue, trying to get our bearings in full view of the Empire State Building while hunting for the strangely elusive museum.

And then we were stopped cold in our tracks.

What’s the big deal, you ask? In most places, not much, but New York is the only place where you’ll find a tall, bald, sunglasses-adorned elderly woman in a tube top, “Daisy Duke” jean shorts and stiletto heels. It wasn’t enough that she could barely stand up straight and needed the help of her matchingly-dressed male partner, but she half-strut/half-waddled while OWNING her look. She didn’t care how much she advertised every inch of her plastic surgeries, inspired baseless speculation about a possible career as an exotic dancer/sex worker, or offered an unrequested view of stretch marks and varicose veins that scrawled down from her ass to her ankles. No, this was the very definition of “YOU CAN’T HANDLE ALL THIS JELLY.” You couldn’t – wouldn’t – dare judge her, just watch in astonishment and recognize that you were granted the priviledge of bearing witness to something wholly, strangely magnificent.

But moving on…

This being my first trip since Iceland, you might think there’s something wrong with me considering that one of the highlights from visiting Reykjavik was a museum dedicated to male genitalia (in all of its human and non-human forms). You’re probably musing about my ignoring New York City’s famous art museums (several of which I visited back in college) to see one dedicated to sex. On the other hand, you might be thinking “Who wouldn’t want to see a sex museum?!” (and if you’re of the latter variety, then we can be friends).

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I have an autistic sister who absolutely loves gift shops. It doesn’t matter where we go or what we see, the gift shop is the true highlight for her. Not that she really ever needs anything from a gift shop (though admittedly, I collect shot glasses and magnets…don’t judge me), but it’s definitely her thing. Museums, Disney World, hospitals – if they have a gift shop, you can bet she will pay it a visit. Sufficeth say that the entrance to the Museum of Sex is their gift shop, which is really more of a pedestrian adult novelty store, and consequently one gift shop I hope my sister never visits (not that she would understand what most of the items were, but I’ve also learned not to underestimate her). Even better, the average New Yorker pushing along a stroller or had a child in tow didn’t blink twice at the every and all manner of marital aids adorning the gift shop’s street-facing windows.

800736_300The museum is an interesting mix – a respectful, historical account of pornography and erotic art exhibits – some painfully obvious to understand, others requiring modest-to-more-absurd-levels of imagination. There are old cartoons, antique toys, and even a pair of original model Real Dolls (WARNING – THIS LINK IS EXTREMELY NOT SFW), famously reported on HBO’s Real Sex (Episode 22). The museum is the kind of place where one should really think twice before saying things like “Oh yeah, I’ve seen that before!” or “I remember those – man, those takes me back!”(1) However, the true highlight of the museum is the Jump for Joy (link also NOT SFW) – basically it’s an indoor bouncy castle made up of giant boobies…of all shapes, sizes and colors.

Did we pay a few dollars extra and bounce around and off of giant boobies?

Absolutely.

Did we unapologetically enjoy it?

Yes, yes we did.

Did we hope that everyone who was in that room had all of their clothes on?

Dear Lord, yes.

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(1) I know of them because I saw that episode on HBO. No, really I did…ugh, bite me…

A Reunion, Pizza and Hard Cider, and a Cat on my Back

801366_300The warm, late afternoon was quickly turning into a cool, early evening. After trading a few text messages, Misha managed to arrange a quick reunion with one of her former dance students. We met up with her on the outskirts of Harlem, smack in front of the famous Tom’s Restaurant. Misha’s former student is now attending Columbia University and both had a wonderful reunion catching up in the ever-brightening light of the famous restaurant’s red neon sign.

Afterward, we were feeling every single bit of the past two days and my feet were screaming in protest thanks to my not-so-gracefully-aging footwear. Laura let us know that she returned early – it turns out that the Stevie Wonder concert was Monday night and she had to come back to finish some work anyway, leaving Matt to enjoy the concert. We met her back at the apartment, went hunting for an open grocery store to get a six pack of hard apple cider and chomped down on some pizza. I vaguely remember falling asleep as Misha and Laura chatted well into the night, and one of the cats graced me by curling up on my back, which I hadn’t the strength of will nor any actual, physical strength left to do anything about it.

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