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New York, New York New York 95jul15

by Mark Simple

The totally unplanned trip to New York City propa PH started with a phone call I received at TCBY Friday.
Bill: "Hey, you want to take a road trip?"
Mark: "To New York City?"
Bill: "Yeah..."
Mark: "Right after work?"
Bill: "Yeah..."
Mark: "I'm in."
Bill: "We're using your car. And two other people are coming."
Erp. Serves me right for being only partially psychic. I tossed my latest project ("Make checkerboard yogurt") aside along with my apron and headed home to do laundry (you can never be too unprepared). Bill informs me that we'll be staying with someone he's only met for 20 minutes. The other baggage errrr passengers, Terry and Amy, will be fending for themselves in the Bwig City.

The stats:

  • Bill is a photographer and has been X Magazine's staff photographer/publicist/right-hand man on and off for five years. Man, that is a sick long time.
  • Terry is an assistant to a famous Detroit-type photographer. We share almost identical tastes in music, which is quite eerie, I must say. Maybe I don't get out enough.
  • Amy is a model-type who fits the bill for "model-type extras" in various movies. She appears in the yet-unreleased movie "The Heat" as The Model-Type Who "Takes Cover Behind Car" When DeNiro, Packing Heat and Carrying Val Kilmer On His Back, Starts Unloading The Hot Lead In A Scene Some Would Call Climactic, Neigh, Innovative, And Unique To Its Genre. She also apparently hangs with Mr. Reeves. His first name is pronounced "Kee-YAN-oo" - I had been saying "Ken" all this time. Don't ask me how I got hooked up with this dish - things like this just don't happen to me. But for the purpose of this story, it happens all the time; I swim in seas of models. Cindy! Naomi! Kitty Cat Chow Chow Chow Bela Lugosi! Let's do launch! Whatever.
Everybody piles in with the world's largest jambox. The first hour of any road trip is always the fastest; I don't even remember it happening. Thus, no discussion thereof. We pick up our story just before the Ohio Turnpike toll booth.

As we approach the Ohio Turnpike toll booth, Terry puts System 7 in the jambox. I am delighted. "Put on the last one first...it's my favorite. It's a killer." As the track unfolds, the others are not impressed.

"So when does it pick up?"
"It's not very good."
"Is it picking up yet?"
Ohio turns into Pennsylvania. Personally, I just wish they had a trebuchet (see this month's Scientific American for information on the killer catapault that can hurl pianos and small cars) at the border; I'd pay big bucks to get launched over the state. I have nothing against Pennsylvania, it's just too damn long. Suggestion to state government: annex into West/East Pennsylvania, or even West/Mid/East, add some carnivals and live sex shows at the borders to wake up the commuters, you're in business. The $100+ ticket for two mph over 55mph doesn't help matters any; oddly enough, the fine for 80+ mph isn't much more, so what's the point? Drive like mad... Pennsylvania turns into night, and I turn into a vegetable. Amy assumes driver command, and control of the jambox. Amy likes Thai pop music. She knows the words to at least one hunnerd Thai pop songs.
yah rong hai
cheht nam dah, sah
pom ja glap low reo reo nee
kid tung kuhn...
There is something about Thai pop songs. Something sinister. Something more sugary-sweet than any song by Book of Love. Book of Love to the power of the Archies. In the Thai language, if you carry a note for musical effect, it magically changes the word(s) of the song. Musical morphing (brrrrrr - I hate that word). There's not much opportunity to carry notes, unless you phrase the verse in the form of a question. No, seriously! However, there is a Thai punk, a Thai pop-music rebel, who just carries notes, confusion be damned - good luck to you, mister or miss translator! "I am loving your plate..." Luckily, the music acts as a sedative, and I fall quickly asleep. Amy bails after three hours of horrid driving conditions (construction, rain, trebuchets); I don't blame her. I take back control o' the wheel, fall asleep three times and careen into Tenafly, NJ on fumes. We're put up at a nice suburban house occupied by Bill's 20-minute acquaintance, a young Korean couple, their two children and no furniture. I mean...none. The dining room table was a board laid over two cardboard boxes. I really like this. Of course, since we didn't bring any blankets or pillows (ummmm...whoops), we crash on our clothes, a fire blanket, and a sleeping bag pad. I really like it -- up to a point. Two hours later, the older daughter (3 yrs) is roaming around the living room, towing a small karaoke box, and singing into/eating the microphone.
nega macho
nega tulylo
narang sanguan opso
kachima! kachima!
I'm laughing constantly for ten minutes due to a combination of sleep deprivation and the max-volume karaoke sing-along. After an hour of karaoke, I fall back asleep. Thirty minutes later, everyone gets up, and we trundle to the dining room.
No bulso mogotni?
Chris translates for us - are we hungry? Oh my yes. We are served spaghetti and watermelon. The daughter is shy, disappearing behind doors while we tramp around; the son (8 mos.) motors about in a five-wheel slobber utility vehicle, oblivious to anything but food.

After eating, we thank our hostess as best we can (Chris has already left for work; he fixes/creates violins), and head for the bus to NYC. We end up grabbing an all-stop deluxe city bus for maximum passenger interaction. On the way there, Bill espies a store called "Raspberry Beret" and though I'm sure every muscle in his mouth spasmed against it, he began singing the Prince song of the same name. Five minutes later, I spot a business entitled "Coffin Turbo Prop Inc."

Coffin turbo prop
The kind you find in a second-hand store
Coffin turbo prop
And if it was warm she wouldn't wear much more
Coffins have propellers? I know very little about this "death" business, but already it sounds exciting! Our arrival in at Port Authority lacked everything I had hoped for in NYC. You know, grime, filth, etc. It was pretty clean, I must say. An LCD sign flashed one of the reasons:
If I eventually get these missives moved to the web, you can bet yer bottom dollar I'll provide an audio clip of exactly how that should be pronounced for maximum comic effect.

Update 98jan11


Eventually we descended proper to the subway level, and I found all the maximum livin' I was looking for.

While in NYC, we really didn't have a strict agenda; just check out the city, interact, react, and avoid looking like tourists. I packed a small handgun errr 35mm camera in my pocket. A quick flip and maybe I've got a keen picture of an interesting building, or maybe it's the back of someone's head. It's not important. We trip into Liquid Sky, a rave-type shoppe with fine CDs. The new Locust! My standard pick-up technique (stand around looking dumb -- try it, fellers!) is working wonders on one of the customers, so I get the hell out of there. Suddenly we're in the middle of a street fair. There's a tasty looking Lil' ole French crepe stand at the beginning of it, I'm hungry, everyone is hungry. A customer following me in line has a question for the cook.

"What's in the strawberry and banana crepe?"
"Strawberries . . . and bananas."
I myself partake of the wonderful chocolate and banana crepe, which contains, inexplicably, bananas and chocolate. I eat crouched on a street corner with Amy and her pal Art (they've picked up a traditional Thai breakfast - blearrrgh!), and Bill (who got some sort of chicken-type lunch thing). In the middle of my meal, I'm rocking to the Pop Tart beat of some band playing across the street. Some guys playing guitars and the pan flute. Didn't look anything like Zamfir, so I bought the CD.
Ch'uwa Yacu - Clear Water (Sounds of the Andes) [CD] Tranquil stuff. Think Can with a pan flute, I guess. I don't know, I'm not getting paid for this, so I'm not going to look up any impressive words. I'm kind of ticked that the song that made me buy this CD isn't on here. It's okay, I'll be fine.
There are many musical-type vendors here; several of them are fine tape bootleggers, plying their astro-brite cardstock j-card tape wares. You could pick up #501, DISCO DANCE PARTY, for instance, or you could pick up #504, DISCO DANCE PARTY, or mebbe #508, DISCO PARTY TIME. Actually, I wouldn't mind having the tape with JAM ON IT in my collection. As we're all leaving, most of us hear a fragment of a disjointed conversation (one in a series):
"Should we stop in before we go out or should we go out before we stop in?"
Dragging along the Soho (Soho stands for "South of Houston Street"), we encounter random drunk #721, who's wandering around in circles singing. Somehow he's able to combine Harry Belafonte, Bill Halley and the Comets, and Chris Elliot as Marlon Brando into one seamless quote of total perfection:
"One, two, three, four, five o'clock bananas!"
If he had asked me for money, I would have dumped the contents of my wallet on him. Much better than the street crazy we saw earlier in the day, who seemed to have a one-word fetish: "Communists. Rats. Terrorists..." Please say "agitators," please please please... "Agitators..." YES!

We effortlessly segue into Barney's, a hi-fashion type New York store yeah. I start writing down overheard conversations; I have no desire to purchase any clothes created by a purple dinosaur. Get it? Barney's? Damn, the kid is HOT! We're in the shoe department. A woman watches a man - try on shoes. He motions to the salesperson with an Expensive-type Shoe.

Guy: "Can I try on a nine?"
Gal: "NINE?"
Guy: "Oh, sorry, nine and a half, ten."
Present tense: I've read about people doing odd things in dressing rooms, figured I'd just cut out the middleman and let you read writing created in a Barney's dressing room. How do I do it? Volume.
Barney's Fitting Room [NYC] This moderately-sized changing area provides a cozy atmosphere when writing small notes. There are several amenities available, including a pants rack and hanger-hooks (2) that have a malicious, fabric-endangering sharp point up top. The chair is a deep reddish-brown and very comfortable, but too slatty for my taste. I could live here for two or three hours.
While in the dressing room, I am afforded several opportunities to transcribe nearby conversations. Big deal.
Guy: "Do they look a little big?"
Gal: "They're long, but they'll be cut."
Guy: "They're like baggy."
Gal: "But they'll be cut, they won't be baggy."
Guy: "You're cutting it a little bit, not a lot."
Gal: "Yes."
Guy: "I'm going to like these?"
Gal: "Definitely, you like them. These are the ones you fell in love with."
Guy: "Mmmmhhmmm."

[three minutes later]

Gal: "You love them?"
Guy: "Mmmmhhhmmmm."

[two minutes later]

Guy: "I just want to see them!"
Gal: "It's a good fit."
Mark: "Come on! Let's mix it up out there! Gossip! Backstab! The cameras are rolling!"

No, no, I bolt for the top floor, where everyone else is. As you ascend, the music and clothes both get sleazier. Top floor, Sheena Easton and sweats! Perhaps this is aural negative reinforcement. Stay below, Armani, Armani, Ah-Ah-Armani. Time to go.

Chinatown was being beat down by rain when we arrived. As we wandered past the street vendors and avoided umbrellas, a New York City police communications van (with four loud speakers) made announcements no one could understand. All we needed was a pissed-off Vangelis following us with a keyboard, and it's Blade Runner 1995! We ducked into a noodle place ("Wonderful Noodles" or "Happy Noodle Time" or "Hot Damn! Noodles!", I can't remember) and had some steamed dumplings and noodles with a bizarre peanut butter sauce. One member of our entourage (six and growing), Emily, glanced through the Japanese candy reviews of the last issue of X and later handed me a box of Japanese caramels to give the author. "He'll like these." Hmmmm, I would too...boo hahhahahaha!

Later in the day, I ended up meeting that very same author (Messr. Jack Szwergold) for the first time at some packed-but-bland Italian dessert place.

Update 98jan11

Jack's website: Marginal Hit Parade.

From there, our group ended up in some ridiculously-spacious 20something commune apartment thing; the residents were playing a dice-oriented drinking game. Clash of the interests. We leave and immediately notice a David Bowie clone, dressed as a clown, briskly walking to a corner convenience store.

Jack: "You could go in there and take a picture of him."
Mark: "I thought about it, but I figure he's packing heat."
"Packing heat" is an important phrase; I try to inject it into every conversation I have. A friend of a friend of a friend of Bill's lets us crash in the city proper that night.

The next morning we hit the streets again with a whole new attitude. Citibank apparently has one, too. "Say hello to a whole new way to bank," read the signs. The dumbing down of America continues, vis-a-vis ATM transactions:

Please dip your card in and then pull it out so we can begin.

I'm working on it. Just a moment please.

It's always a pleasure to serve you.

Coddle the user! Coddle the user! More window-display propaganda: "touch it try it see it hear it." What happened to "taste it" or "smell it"? Onward to Dojo, a very cheap mostly-vegetarian restaurant. While sitting at the outdoor cafe, we're verbally assaulted by a man trying to sell the table a book, "The Complete Films of John Wayne."
"I swear he was the duke...I swear it!"
Uhhh, thanks. As we're leaving, my hands fall victim to a random pamphleteer for the Hemlock Society.
"We believe that persons who are hopelessly ill have a right to choose the time and manner of their death; that a painful dehumanizing death prolonged by artificial means is a violation of that right."

"Death is not the greatest tragedy in life. The greatest tragedy is what dies inside us while we live. We need not fear death. We need fear only that we may exist without having sensed something of the possibilities that lie within human existence." -- Norman Cousins

It's time, quite obviously, to do some New York-style book shopping. The Strand is a big bookstore. This is where we shopped. Oodles of design books, art books, whatever books - tons of books reviewed in the New York Times, half off the cover price. I didn't get much farther than the "B"s (Dave Barry) before giving up. Too many books, not even sorted by fiction/non-fiction like the paper does. It's criminal. Here's a nice U.S. Customs House Book.
Article 728.3.1. Complete color television receivers contained in a single housing apparatus for receiving and displaying off-the-air each standard broadcast channel, with or without external speakers, having a single picture tube intended for direct viewing, with a video display diagonally exceeding 45 cm but not exceeding 50 cm.

Article 728.3.2. Complete color television receivers contained in a single housing apparatus for receiving and displaying off-the-air each standard broadcast channel, with or without external speakers, having a single picture tube intended for direct viewing, with a video display diagonally exceeding 50 cm but not exceeding 52 cm.

Such a large bookstore leaves room for the undesirable elements of NYC to make their mark; one large post bears the McWit of several El Marko authors:
Work: the process by wich (sic) the masses exchange the fear of starving to death for the reality of being bored to death.

tee-he-he-he d-ear me

This is a pillar of society?

Bill bought a wheelbarrow filled with books. This is the perfect thing to carry around New York City with you, so we wander around until we're sucked into Tower's Cut-Out Shoppe. I pick up some very old cheap things.
  • Neil Arthur - One Day One Time [CDsingle] Arthur at one time was one-half of Blancmange, a euro-pop duo (duh) from the early 1980's. He left his soul back there, too. Incredibly schmaltzy; Arthur could pick up some serious coin in Thailand.
  • The Forbidden City - Pu Yi [CDsingle] Enigma crashes into bus of drunken singers.
  • Steinski & Mass Media [CDsingle] A knee-jerk reaction to the Gulf War. Palatable, but not up to Steinski standards ("After These Words"). Worth $2.00, which is what I paid for it, because I'm cheap.
  • System 7 - 7:7 expansion [CDsingle] Always nice. Where the hell did my album go? I mean, it was in the jambox, right? Go back to the toll booth part. See???

Update 98jan11

Two years later, a back-seat passenger in my car found the System 7 disc in the seatback pocket.

Dinner that night was at the Time Cafe. There's some kind of movie-script writer guy talking to his first date friend across the way.

"I generally eat every 3, 3 and a half hours...small things..."
Help me, please. Time, like several other shops in New York, has tons of free advertiser-sponsored postcards. Ad on front, blank on back. I like to grab these, write out messages to my friends, and never send them. After dinner, we catch the bus back to Tenafly -- can't find anyone in the city who'll put us up. Such is the way of the Totally Unplanned Trip With The Way-Too-Long Journal.

The next morning, I awoke to the familiar sounds of child-karaoke.

ottoke kamnikka San Jose...
Once again, we are served spaghetti for breakfast, this time with sweet pickles. And then we went into the city. Yeah, yeah. I stopped in at Time Cafe to see if I could hook up with Erv, who wasn't there the previous day. He's tending bar. Even though he's just about to leave, he characteristically sits and talks with us for a half-hour...Erv recently went to some bar in Tennessee or thereabouts and had something called (I'm way off on this one) "The Big Toe Drink." You pick any drink you want, some guy's now-famous severed toe is dropped into it; you have to knock the drink down and let the toe touch your face to get their "Big Toe Drink" certificate. Allrightie then. Bill learns from Erv that Everything But The Girl had just played 10 nights at the Fez, an adjoining club, and practically tears his hair out. His own hair, that is.

Fez (212 533 2680)

  • July 18 Innocence Mission / Candy Butcher / Katell Keineg / The Catchers
  • July 19 Melissa Ferrick / Francis Dunnery / Lisa Germano / Angelique Biana
  • July 20 Mingus Big Band
  • July 21 Kill Rock Stars - Mary Lou Lord / Phranc / Elliot Smith & more
  • July 22 Rosie Flores / Once Blue / Vonda Shepard / Lucy Kaplansky
After leaving Time Cafe, I stop and make random phone calls. More graffiti:
AIDS man made by Kennedys Shirley Maclaine Planet Hollywood stars Hitler sex curse by his son from the liebenborn Baryshnikov Hitchcock
More random overheard conversation:
"Is this the only way you could think to get there is to go ALL the way around?"
Amy sings more Thai pop songs:
chooay bork tahng bpai San Jose...
She tells us about a guy at a clothing store who gave her a little love note:
Anything created by love will be practical but in the end it will have a lasting value.

2.) I want to love you as one should to excess, with delight, jolly but I do something better than to love I know how to suffer. I hope that you will write.

There's some explosions while we're lounging at the Mission Coffee House, pre-fourth of July stuff. More explosions while I'm on the phone. It's Monday night; Amy wants to be in NYC another day; Bill, Terry and I bail and ride the subway to Port Authority.

Update 98jan11

There's actually a mini-article behind that last sentence. Amy, using her feminine wiles, talked the rest of us into agreeing to leave a day early. Each of changed our plans to accompany her new schedule, and that was that, until we got to the Mission Coffee House and she had decided she wanted to stay an extra day. While Bill and Amy argued about it, I just watched in fascination, since I was the one driving. After they both ran out of breath, I said "I'm leaving, now. If you want to go, fine. But this is it." Amy shot a confused look at me; I guess she doesn't normally meet this kind of resistance, but I had been jerked around long enough. From what I understand, she rode the train home.

While we're waiting for the last bus back to Tenafly, Terry reads the back of his Dunhill Lights Filter De Luxe cigarette pack.

These fine cigarettes, in the new distinctive bevelled edge pack, are made to Dunhill's unique standards of perfection with superior quality tobaccos, bringing a new dimension of lightness to the gentle art of smoking
And I grab a Lotto form.
(e) if you can't think of 10 numbers, just mark the Quick Pick option to have the computer randomly select all or some of your numbers for you.
One, two, three, four, five...It's our last ride back to Tenafly. There's the damn Raspberry Beret storefront.
Raspberry trebuchet
The kind you find in a second-hand store...
We played a little pick-up basketball (all 35 seconds of it) in a deserted parking lot in THE HUB OF TENAFLY. Pack up our stuff, rearrange, leave. The drive back was uneventful and tiring. Terry couldn't drive because his contact lens was torn, so Bill and I shared duties; we kept switching drivers in increasingly shorter periods until we were handing off the wheel every other mile. Then home.

Present tense: Now it's Saturday afternoon. I'm starving. The contents of my refrigerator are as follows:

(1) Bowl of ice
(1) bottle of ketchup
(1) packet of Morinaga caramels
I hope I can make it through the night..."Ladies and gentlemen...we now bring you...KETCHUP ON ICE!"

Next Missive: All About Hippos

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