Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

I don’t know how I forgot to tell you this story:

On our first day in New York City we went for a walk down a busy street, I forget which one. As we walked, we slowly overtook a man who was very easy to pick out of the crowd, even while he was still half a block away, because he was stopping every so often to talk to people only he could see, or to break into song, just like they do in the movies sometimes. Other people were giving him a wide berth as they passed him and we did, too.

I couldn’t tell if he was crazy or high as a kite on something he cooked up in his bathroom using ordinary household ingredients and a few over-the-counter medicines. Whichever it was, we passed by him while he was very loudly singing a song that was all vowels. I thought we’d never see him again but, minutes later, he went running past us up the block, then stopped in front of a store where a mannequin dressed as Marine Antoinette stood out front.

Mr. Crazy Singing Man was very taken with Marie. In the time it took for us to cover the distance between us, he worked up the courage to kiss her, then take her into his arms and kiss her more deeply and, finally, sweep her off her feet and dip her in a way that would have been, again, almost like something out of a musical if it hadn’t been so, ah, carnal.

After we passed by I once again made the mistaken assumption that we’d never see him again. Minutes later, he went running flat-out up the middle of the street, dodging taxi cabs.

marie | 8:50 pm CST
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Friday, October 12th, 2012

Before we left town to visit New York, the weather here was fine, all the trees were green, even the lawns were starting to look normal again after the summer heat wave that tried to kill them off.

New York was hot and muggy. We had a little rain, but temps were always in the 70s and 80s. We walked the streets in our shirtsleeves. We sat in parks under full, verdant trees surrounded by thick bushes and brightly-colored flowers.

Then we came back here to find that, in the short week we were gone, practically all the leaves on the trees turned and fell, all the lawns went brown and spotty (again) and, even before that, the first thing to hit us was temps cold enough to make us put on our jackets and make us zip them up to our necks. It’s like we missed fall.

missing fall | 5:34 am CST
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Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Here’s a weird thing about Manhattan: There are no gas stations, or almost none. The whole time we were there, we saw just two gas stations, and we walked up and down a lot of streets. In six days, we saw just two places selling gas. It was weird, because we saw a lot of cars. Taxis, mostly, and a lot of trucks, but quite a few personal cars, too. I suppose the taxi companies have their own, private filling stations, but where are the ordinary people getting their gas? They can’t all be buying it at the two gas stations we saw. Do they drive to New Jersey to gas up? Brooklyn? I’ll never know.

got gas? | 10:12 pm CST
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Then there was the Skyscraper Museum. A museum about skyscrapers. It was in New York City because where else would you have a Skyscraper Museum?

We almost didn’t find the Skyscraper Museum. It’s just north of Battery Park where the streets are so old that they tie themselves in knots so that the address numbers don’t always follow a linear progression. Three does not necessarily follow two as you walk along some of those streets. Luckily, while we were tracing streets with our fingers in our handy guidebook, a passing Manhattaner out walking his dog took pity on us and helped us find the building we were looking for. Without him, we’d probably still be in New York City right now. Bastard.

The Skyscraper Museum was in a few rooms of the ground floor of a building that was not a skyscraper. The ceiling was mirrored, though, so that in every room it looked like the walls soared up into the skies. Very appropo.

Fun fact: Most of the downtown neighborhoods in Manhattan were built up in the 1900s by the garment industry. There’s hardly a block anywhere on the lower half of the island where clothes weren’t being stitched together by a dozen immigrants in every room in tenement buildings, or later by a hundred immigrants in a loft. They were making clothes everywhere down there right up to the 50s, and quite a lot of those buildings are still standing, making up some of the more interesting parts of New York City.

Best part of the Skyscraper Museum: Admission is just five bucks. There’s amost nothing you can do in NYC for only five bucks. Go see the Skyscraper Museum.

Skyscraper Museum | 9:21 pm CST
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Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

New York City at night, looking south from the top of the Empire State Building.

image of NYC at night

(Click on the photo to see it in MEGAVISION!)

Fifth Avenue shoots straight down the middle of the island; Broadway cuts across it at an angle. The tallest sparkly tower in the middle distance is the new World Trade Center. And I think the loopy string of bluish lights with two bright red beacons is the Manhattan Bridge.

NYC at night | 8:42 pm CST
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image of My Darling B with the charging bullMy Darling B posed for her picture with the charging bull of Wall Street, except that it’s not on Wall Street, it’s on Bowling Green at the bottom of Broadway, just north of Battery Park. In fact, it was never on Wall Street. But it is a bull. The artist who made it, Arturo Di Modica, placed it on Broad Street outside the Stock Exchange, apparently without asking anybody. It was so hugely popular that, when the city removed it, the public made such a stink that it was relocated it to Bowling Green.

There was a teeming throng of about a hundred people clustered all around it that barely fit inside the enclosure fence set up along the boundaries of the island it stood on in the middle of the street. I had wait patiently to snap a few shots of My Darling B beside it without somebody else in the frame, and then the best photo I got still had a guy’s butt just inside the edge of the frame that I had to crop out. Thank goodness for photoshop.

Just as we got there, an older man was gathering up a busload of kids who looked like maybe fourth graders and explaining the significance of the bull as a lucky rub. The bull is cast in bronze, so the parts of it that people rub for luck are quite shiny, while the rest of it wears an earthy patina. “Many people like to rub the bull’s nose,” the old man explained to the children, “and some people like to rub the bull’s backside. Some people like to reach underneath and rub the bull.” Titters from the crowd of children, who really didn’t need their minder to explain this, as one person after another posed to get their pictures taken grabbing the bull by the, ah, jewels.

charging bull | 5:38 am CST
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Monday, October 8th, 2012

It’s one of those things you’ve got to see when you go to New York City: The Ghostbusters firehouse.

image of Ghostbusters firehouse

Who You Gonna Call? | 9:43 pm CST
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There’s an IQ test to get into the Hayden Planetarium but they don’t tell you about that when you buy your tickets.

The planetarium itself looks like a huge sphere on stilts inside a glass box that is the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Wow. I would give up a kidney to work in a place called the Rose Center for Earth and Space. I wouldn’t even necessarily have to do anything all that earthy or spacey, I just want to work in a place with a name as cool as that. Even if I were the janitor, I’d have business cards made up with my name followed by ROSE CENTER FOR EARTH AND SPACE because how awesome would that be? But My Darling B isn’t going to move to New York City because she loves her garden and I love that she has a garden so I’m probably never going to clean toilets at the Rose Center for Earth and Space. *sigh* Guess I’ll have to be content with cleaning toilets here at Our Humble O’Bode.

When we got to the Rose Center for Earth and Space (not going to shorten the name; deal with it), we found ourselves on a mezzanine that ran all the way around the bottom third of the planetarium sphere. To get into the planetarium, which is in the top half of the sphere, we had to ride an elevator from the exhibit floor beneath the sphere to a balcony on the floor above us. The only way to get to the elevator appeared to be by way of a corkscrewing ramp that coiled around the base of the sphere, and to get to that, it appeared that we had to enter a small movie theater in the bottom of the sphere where we would have to watch a four-minute video about the big bang. The IQ test is: Can that really be the only way to get to the planetarium? Because if it is, it seems a little convoluted. (Answer at the bottom of this post. Don’t skip ahead to cheat.)

Not that I didn’t want to watch a video about the big bang, but we bought tickets for the twelve-thirty showing of “Journey To The Stars,” the featured show at the planetarium, and we arrived shortly after noon. Our timing was a little tight. Also, the corkscrewing ramp was an exhibit about the big bang that I wanted to see. Seemed a little pointless to watch the video if we wouldn’t have enough time to walk through the exhibit, but we searched for, but couldn’t find, a stairway down to the bottom floor, so we gave up, ducked into the little movie theater, watched the video about the big bang, then rushed down the ramp without looking at any of the exhibits, figuring that we could come back later to look them over.

The planetarium show was all about stars and how they’re the source of practically all the elements in the universe, and the sun is the source of all power for all living things on earth. Great show, outstandingly illustrated, excellently narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, although I have one teensy-tiny little niggle, the smallest of bones to pick with the writing, which missed a huge opportunity, it seemed to me, to explain what’s going on when new elements are formed in stars. It bugs me that shows like this one dumb the science down so far that it sounds as if the formation of elements in stars is almost entirely accidental.

Here’s what I mean: When I asked B later to tell me how fusion took place in the sun and why, she said, “Well, they made it sound like all those atoms just floated around until they bumped into one another.” She’s not far off at all: That’s exactly how they explained it, if you can call that an explanation. Why they bumped into each other in the interior of the sun, instead of doing it somewhere else, was not explained. A simpler and, if I may say so, a better explanation would be that fusion takes place in the sun because a star is a place where there is so much hydrogen piled up in one place that it gets crushed under its own weight. When you crush atoms against one another, they fuse together. It’s as easy to explain as that, and yet most science films make it sound like an atomic dance party where hydrogen atoms gather for no other reason than to bump into each other.

After the show, we stepped out of the planetarium to find ourselves right back on the same mezzanine we started from when we came in. We still hadn’t worked out the secret of how to get to the bottom (hint: there’s a stairwell at the far end of the Rose Center for Earth and Space that we overlooked until we were about to leave) and we wanted to go back and see the big bang exhibit and several others on the floor below the planetarium, but we really didn’t want to watch the introductory film again. My Darling B took the lead on this one: As we entered the movie theater, she lead me toward the back and parked herself in front of the exit door. Then, while the attendant wasn’t looking, she opened the door a crack and slipped through. I followed here and we stood giggling at the top of the ramp like a couple of school kids who’d skipped out of study hall to smoke cigarettes in the parking lot.

Our truancy did not go unnoticed, however. We thought we got away with ducking the movie, but somebody must’ve ratted us out because the attendant popped out the back door while we were looking over the exhibits. “You’ve got to see the show,” he told us, looking genuinely hurt that we didn’t stay.

“Actually, we’ve seen it,” I told him, figuring that honesty would serve us best here. “We came through once before but we didn’t get to see the exhibit, so we’re doing that now.”

“But you’ve got to see the video first,” he said again. So much for honesty.

“Yes, and we’ve done that,” B said. “We came through earlier and watched the show, but we didn’t have time to see the exhibit, so we’re doing that now.”

“But you have to see the show or it won’t make sense.”

“We saw the show,” I said. “Before. We watched it, and then we came back to see the exhibit.”

“Well, okay then,” he said. “Have a nice day.” And he ducked back inside, but he didn’t seem to be convinced that we’d seen the show. Maybe he was just sick and tired of arguing with us. We’re always messing up somebody’s day.

Hayden Planetarium | 6:29 pm CST
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Sunday, October 7th, 2012

My Darling B wanted to see Lincoln Center at night, so we did:

image of Lincoln Center

Next time we go, we’ll have tickets to see the ballet and we’ll wear fancy clothes.

Lincoln Center | 3:58 pm CST
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Appropos of nothing:

totally random

I eat paint | 6:00 am CST
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Saturday, October 6th, 2012

Frau Bleecker!Beware the Curse of Bleecker Street! This is an age-old New York City curse that will strike while you’re trying to find a place along Bleecker, or if you have to cross Bleecker, or even while you’re walking down a street that sounds like “Bleecker.” You will be mysteriously overcome by a desire to walk blocks, or even miles away from your intended destination if you’re not paying attention. Don’t be fooled! We were, and here are but a few of our tales:

Although B was not feeling entirely well Wednesday night, she was very hungry after a day of tramping all over New York and wanted to find a nice place to eat a really good meal, so after going back to the hotel to clean up we did a little Googling on the internet for Italian restaurants in the neighborhood and decided that Bianca’s on Bleecker Street sounded like just the kind of place we’d like to go. We knew from our walk that morning that we could find Bleecker by getting off the train at the Christopher Street station, and we figured that finding number 5, the address of Bianca’s, would be a matter of simply walking down the street a few blocks. And in theory, that would’ve worked. In theory.

We had no trouble finding Bleecker after getting off the train and weren’t fazed much by discovering that the addresses we were seeing were in the mid-200s because they can change very suddenly. We had seen them go from 200 to 100 to single digits in just a couple of blocks on other streets. Unluckily, that didn’t happen on Bleecker Street. We walked three or four blocks and the numbers were still in the 200s. We walked another three or four blocks and although the numbers dropped below 200, they stubbornly stayed in the high 100s no matter how much further we trudged.

Finally I stopped under a light to show B the map and plead with her to go somewhere else, anywhere else, rather than keep plodding on. It would have been no more than another six or eight blocks but I really didn’t have a special need to eat at that particular restaurant any longer. I was able to convince her to turn back and we caught a train back to Christopher Street where we utterly failed to find a nice quiet Italian place and had to settle for an Olive Garden knockoff that served pesto so full of stems I wouldn’t have fed it to rabbits. At least they poured a generous glass of wine.

The next afternoon we were trying to find the Bridge Cafe for lunch. B had read all kinds of good things about the Bridge Cafe and really wanted to try it. Although we found it with little trouble, there was a handwritten sign on the door that said they were closed for lunch due to a freak electrical fire, and once again we were left searching for a place to eat.

Looking at the map, we noticed that we seemed to be not very far at all from the far end of Bleecker Street where the Italian restaurant we’d been searching for the night before was supposed to be. It was five or six blocks away but we thought a nice quiet place where we could sit for a while would be worth the walk. When we got to Bleecker and started up the street we saw right away that the addresses were very wrong, and when I checked the map I found that we were on Beekman Street, not Bleecker.

So we found the nearest subway station and took a train to Bleecker Street station, which was supposed to be just a couple blocks away from Bianca’s. Working our way down the street, our anticipation grew as we passed restaurant after restaurant where people were sitting at the tables, enjoying glasses of wine, the aromas of so many delicious meals drifting into the streets. Finally we reached the end of Bleecker and No 5, the address of Bianca’s and it was closed! For no reason that they cared to explain, it was the only restaurant on the street that was not serving lunch that day.

We were so completely deflated that for ten or fifteen minutes we couldn’t decide what to do. When we could, we got on a train and went back to Chelsea to look for an Italian restaurant across the street from a Cuban place where we’d eaten dinner a couple nights before. It was closed, too. No surprise there.

So, to summarize, the three Italian places we were looking for were closed, while every other restaurant in NYC was open for late lunch. In the end we decided to just bend to the will of fate and went back to the Cuban place, which was not only open 24/7, it was also serving mojitos. Yum.

Our final encounter with the curse of Bleecker Street came when we were on our way to Murry’s Cheese Shop. It’s kind of a big deal, especially to foodies like My Darling B who adore cheese in a way that makes people like me feel as if we should just pretend we don’t know what’s going on.

The quickest way to get to Murray’s from our hotel was to take the A, C or E train to Washington Square, walk down to Cornelia Street and hang a right when we got to Bleecker Street. Since going to Bleecker Street had screwed up every other plan we’d made so far, I took extra care to research the hell out of our trip before we left by Googling Murray’s, making notes in our guide book and drawing arrows on the maps to indicate which corners we had to watch for and which way to turn.

Everything seemed to go smoothly. We easily caught a train right away after we got to the station, found Cornelia Street with no effort at all and made our way down it to Bleecker. Our friend Troy at the Chelsea Pines had told us that Cornelia Street was a great place to get a bite to eat, what with all the different restaurants along it but, although we saw three or four bars, most of the shops along the street appeared to be selling sex toys. “I hope Troy wasn’t trying to pull our legs,” B said.

The street also seemed to be a lot longer than the map indicated it would be, and by the time we got to Bleecker we found out why: We’d been walking along 4th Street the whole time and were four blocks north of where we should’ve come out! I grabbed B’s hand and we doubled back to 6th Ave to find out how that had happened.

At the top of 4th Street we found the street sign that pointed down the street and clearly read “Cornelia” but the sign pole was bent at a weird angle and the signs hung slightly skewed from the direction of the streets. It looked as if someone had backed into it with a car and twisted it around so that the sign that read “Cornelia” was pointed down 6th Street. That was about the craziest example of the curse of Bleecker Street that we saw while we were there.

The Curse of Bleecker Street | 9:48 pm CST
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We’re back from New York. It may take a while for My Darling B to adjust. “It’s so quiet here! No car horns, no rumbling as the trains go by, and there’s nobody walking down the street!”

First thing she asked for when we got back was coffee. No matter where we went in New York City, we got really crappy coffee that tasted like cardboard.

It was much the same story with beer. We stopped in just one bar that served decent beer. Everywhere else, the beer was bland and ordinary. You’d think that, in one of the biggest cities in the world, we would’ve been able to get a decent cup of coffee and a decent mug of beer, but no. We had to come back to Madison, Wisconsin, to get both.

Even so, we had a great time and we miss it already.

readjustment | 4:41 pm CST
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Friday, October 5th, 2012

image of Abingdon Square in NYCIf you’re a pigeon in the Chelsea area of New York City (because so many pigeons read this blog, right?), don’t trust the guy with a box who throws bread crumbs to you in Abingdon Square!

While I was sitting on a park bench with My Darling B Wednesday morning, a man passed by us carrying a cardboard box and several plastic bags. He went round the corner to sit at an empty bench not twenty feet from us, set the cardboard box beside him on the bench and began digging around in one of the plastic bags.

“There aren’t any signs in this park asking people not to feed the pigeons,” B remarked, referring to a sign we saw in Central Park the day before, a sign that virtually everyone there was ignoring.

Just as she finished saying that, the man stood up from his bench and began scattering bread crumbs on the ground around his feet. Pigeons flew from as far as a block away to gather in a busy, fluttering knot around him, pecking at the crumbs. While we watched him feed the birds he looked over at us, smiled, and pointed down at them while he said something, but we couldn’t make out his words over the noise of so many beating wings and busily pecking beaks.

Eventually, he took a seat on the bench as he continued to scatter crumbs across the ground around him. Then he paused, I presumed because he’d thrown out so many crumbs that the pigeons were crawling over each other trying to pick it all up, but no: He suddenly lunged forward, reaching into the teeming throng with his hands. The whole mass of them to exploded into flight all at once. When the air cleared, the guy was standing with his hands straight out in front of him, holding a pigeon which he quickly shoved through the flaps of the cardboard box beside him.

Smiling at us again to take his leave, he packed up his things, grabbed the box and sauntered off. Looked like someone had a dinner of squab planned for that night.

Abingdon Square | 4:45 pm CST
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Thursday, October 4th, 2012

B jumped a subway turnstile yesterday! Can you get a more authentic New York experience than that? And it only happened because we weren’t paying attention.

We had to catch the train at the Christopher Street station and went down the wrong set of stairs, ending up on the platform for the train that was headed uptown instead of downtown, so we had to leave the platform, climb up the stairs, cross the street and go back down the other set of stairs to the platform where the downtown train would meet us, if our Metro cards had let us in when we got there. They didn’t. Apparently, if you swipe your card at any given station, it won’t work there again, at least not for while. We don’t know how long, exactly, because there was no attendant to ask, and no matter how thoroughly we searched the station, we couldn’t find a helpful sign or informational poster to tell us.

So we did what any reasonable people would do in our situation: We uselessly swiped our Metro cards a couple dozen times each, getting the same stupid error message over and over again, until finally I caved and bought a couple of one-way tickets from the machine, handed one to B, swiped mine in the turnstile and stepped through. Once on the platform I turned to say something to B, only to discover she wasn’t there. Given our luck up to that point, I can hardly say I was surprised. Turned out she was still back on the other side of the turnstile, swiping her card.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” I said.

“It says, ‘See attendant,'” she told me, reading the error message.

There was, as I have already noted, no attendant at the station, so I told her, “Screw it! Jump the turnstile!”

That didn’t go over very well with her. “There are cameras everywhere!” she protested. “I’ll get in trouble!”

“How will you get in trouble?” I asked. “We paid for the ticket. Jump the damned thing.”

She wasn’t quite up to jumping it – we’re not twenty years old any more – so she ducked under the bar and joined me on the platform, nervously glancing over her shoulder at every person who walked past us. When we got off at the next station she was sure there would be a transit cop waiting for her, which would have been the perfect ending to this story, but there wasn’t. She got away scott-free.

scofflaw | 5:57 pm CST
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image of sailboat on East River, NYCOn Tuesday, we took a boating tour all the way around the island of Manhattan.

(That’s not the boat we did it in. It’s only a cool-looking boat that got in the snapshot I was taking of the Brooklyn Bridge. I took photos of the boat we went in, but they were really boring, so I used this one instead. Artistic license. Deal with it.)

About a month before we left for New York City, I was paging through The New York Times when I read about a guided tour of New York that focused on the architecture of the buildings making up the skyline. The advantage to doing it in a boat that sailed up the East River and down the Hudson was that you could see the skyline at a distance and gain an appreciation of how architecture tried, or sometimes failed, to design buildings that compliment their surroundings.

The boat we rode in was a replica of the kind of passenger boats that used to ferry people back and forth across the rivers around New York a hundred years ago. To catch it, we had to walk from our hotel in the heart of Chelsea to the piers along the shore of the Hudson. Most of the piers along this stretch of the river were demolished years ago, and the few that were still standing appeared to be derelict, except for Chelsea Piers. The piers used to be where the luxury liners of the White Star Line and Cunard Line docked in the 20s and 30s. Four of the piers have been rebuilt into a sort of community center where you can play golf, drop off your kids for gym class, stop by for a beer at the Chelsea Brewing Company, or catch a boat to sail around the island.

Our guide, an architect named John from the American Institute of Architects, sort of rocked my world when he referred to New York City as an archipelago city. I’ve known for years that Manhattan’s an island, but somehow it escaped me that, of the other four boroughs that make up the city of New York, only the Bronx is on the mainland. Brooklyn and Queens are on Long Island, and Staten Island is, duh, an island.

We sailed south from Chelsea Piers on the Hudson River into New York Harbor, far enough to take us past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. I hate to have to say something as cliched as this, but the statue looks so small! I’m surprised more than ten people can get into it at a time. And John pointed out an interesting fact about the pedestal the statue’s mounted on: it’s modeled after a fortress. America’s shining beacon of freedom is penned up within the stone walls of a reinforced battlement. The ironies of our country’s metaphors never cease to amaze.

The tour continued up the East River from the harbor. It was just about this time that it started to rain, but luckily the boat we were on was boxed in on all sides by plexiglass. We spent about three hours sailing all the way up the East River past Harlem and back down the Hudson, following the sites as we went. An interesting part of the tour (interesting to a nerd like me) was looking at all the different kinds of bridges we sailed under as we went. And the Palisades along the New Jersey shore looked strangely primeval after being surrounded by skyscrapers for the better part of two hours.

Architecture tour | 7:41 am CST
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Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Brooklyn artist Sophie Blackall’s drawing of subways riders charmed me the moment I laid eyes on it.

image of Sophie Blackall's illustration of subway riders

Read more about Ms. Blackall and how she came to draw art for the MTA on her blog, here.

Sophie Blackall | 6:34 pm CST
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image of Grand Central TerminalWe went to Grand Central Station Tuesday night and, while we were there, ate supper at the Oyster Bar. Grand Central Terminal was one of those must-see tourist destinations we had to check off our list and, if I were here with a bunch of train nerds, I probably would’ve wanted to spend more time exploring the tunnels that branch off in all directions from the great hall but, being here as an ordinary tourist with My Darling B, we just went in, gawped up at the ceiling, took a couple of photos and left.

Luckily, Grand Central is not one of those places where they made us take off our shoes and belt and had to consent to a frisking just to get in and see it. This is only me talking but, if I were going to do the trip to New York City all over again, I would argue for not visiting any place like that. Grand Central’s still just a train station with thousands of people parading through it each day, so nobody’s getting frisked to get in, not yet, although there are soldiers with machine guns stationed in the hallways. I thought that was a little much.

Our guidebook says that the Oyster Bar has the best seafood in town. I hate to be a wet blanket, but if this is the best seafood in town, don’t even bother ordering seafood while you’re in New York. The Oyster Bar has seafood, and it’s not bad, but it’s not great. It’s not even pretty good. It’s good, and that’s about all it is. I’ve been served much better seafood in Madison, Wisconsin. No guidebook on earth has any business telling anybody that this is the best seafood in New York City.

But let me back up a little bit, if I may, and begin at the beginning, because The Oyster Bar’s problems don’t start with their inventory, they start with the service, which is bad in so many ways, the first way being that the host seemed to think it was his job to make us feel that we were about as significant to him as a couple of whiny kids, needing only to be shooed away so we wouldn’t sully the atmosphere for his better guests. As we approached his booth he stepped away to survey the dining room, so we waited a moment for him to return and, when he came back and I asked about a table for two, he pointed over my shoulder across the sandwich counter and gave me these instructions: “Through the doorway marked ‘Saloon.'” Not even a “please.” Just, Go away.

I was confused. I thought we were standing at the dining room and that he, the host, would seat us in the dining room, or at least tell me why he couldn’t serve us. A rude brush-off was not a response I expected, so I asked, rather reasonably, I thought, “Excuse me?”

“You wanted a table for two, right?”

“Yes, that’s right,” I answered.

“Go through the door marked ‘Saloon’ and ask for a table for two,” he said.

From his expression I could see that we were dismissed, so I turned and lead My Darling B across the room to the Saloon because she was hungry and wanted to eat at The Oyster Bar, even though I couldn’t understand for the life of me why she would want to at that point.

The Saloon was a bar with a dining room, and we were met at the door by a sullen teenager dressed in the all-white livery of a bus boy who asked whether we wanted to sit at a table and, when we said we did, waved his hand toward the tables along the wall and told us to sit wherever we wanted. And he threw a couple of menus at us. I can’t remember if he brought us water glasses or if the stink-eyed waiter did, but it doesn’t matter. Whoever it was filled our water glasses only once, and after that pretended we didn’t even have water glasses.

The waiter was the worst piece of work of all the staff. When he came to our table to take our drinks order, I was ready with mine but when he turned to B and she said she was still thinking and would like to order in a few minutes, he rolled his eyes at her and stalked off. When he brought my beer several minutes later, he avoided making any eye contact with B and rushed off before either of us could say anything. Ten minutes later he rushed back to our table and literally positioned himself with his back to B, pointedly addressing me and me alone when he asked if we were ready to order now. “I’ll have the calamari to start and the smoked North Atlantic salmon for my main course, and she would like the, ah, I’m sorry, darling, what did you want?” He was forced to twist his head over his shoulder to take B’s order because he refused to turn to face her.

When one of the kitchen staff brought the calamari about ten minutes later, B still didn’t have a beer and she’d already drunk all her water, but she managed to snag the kitchen runner before he could get away and asked him if he couldn’t check on it, please. He must have caught up with the waiter somewhere behind the scenes because Mister Stink Eye appeared another five minutes later with a foamy glass of beer that he left in a puddle on the table before he ran off. B wrinkled her nose at it when she brought it to her lips, took a tentative sip, thought about it for a second before passing it to me and asked, “Does that taste like a lager to you?” The smell alone told me it was an IPA. B doesn’t drink hoppy beers, so I offered her my Oktoberfest, which she accepted rather than wait another ten minutes for something to drink.

The smoked North Atlantic salmon I had was pretty good, but it was only pretty good, and it was served with a lame garnish of about half a dozen scallions on a limp leaf of lettuce. Maybe I’m asking for too much, but even back in Madison, where seafood has to be flown in from the coast, I expect a plate of smoked salmon that cost me nineteen ninety-five to make me want to get up on my chair and sing.

My Darling B ordered a lobster sandwich. They called it something a little more frou-frou than that, I can’t remember exactly what, but it was shredded lobster in mayo on a really cheap white bread hot dog bun. Looking at it, I could almost picture the plastic ice cream bucket they scooped it out of. B didn’t even want to finish it and offered about a scoop’s worth to me. There’s a good indication of how much she liked it: She ate some and threw the rest to her husband. I finished it off just to see what it was like and, again, it was okay. Not even pretty good, just okay.

Go to Grand Central Terminal, I urge you. Look up at the ceiling and go, “Ahhhh.” Take those photos. But if you’re staying for dinner, get a sandwich in the food court. That’s affordable, and it’s just as tasty as anything they’ve got at the Oyster Bar.

Grand Central Terminal | 5:25 pm CST
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Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

SO! YOU HAVE DISCOVERED THE LOCATION OF MY SECRET LAIR, WHERE I PLOT MY NEFARIOUS SCHEMES TO ENSLAVE THE ENTIRE WORLD! You have learned too much, my nosy little friend. Prepare to meet your doom!

image of yours truly plotting world domination

Kidding. It’s just me in the lobby of the lobby of the News building on Lexington Avenue.

caught in the act | 6:18 pm CST
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Monday, October 1st, 2012

B was a bit concerned before we left for NYC about the way we looked. She worried that everyone would be able to identify us as rubes by the way were dressed, and suggested that we should go shopping for clothes that would let us blend in. She even suggested at one point that we buy black shirts and pants, or white shirts with black pants, or something equally generic so we wouldn’t stick out.

I volunteered the opinion that, no matter what we wore, practically anyone in NYC would be able to tell at a glance that we were from Cow Town, Wisconsin.

And I still think they probably can but, now that we’ve been here a couple days, I’m almost positive we could have worn just about any t-shirt and well-worn pair of pants we already owned and it wouldn’t have been our dress that made us obvious. In fact, we could both walk down the street wearing bear suits, or nothing but our underpants (a great many New Yorkers appear to be comfortable wearing little more than their underclothes in public), and we wouldn’t look out of place here.

It’s when we gape at the people dressed in bear suits and point, saying “Garsh! Lookit them fellers!” that makes it obvious we’re not from anywhere in NYC.

dressed for it | 7:11 pm CST
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We went on a walking tour, sort of, of the lower east side of Manhattan on Sunday, and we also took part in a street show, sort of. I’m not sure what to call it. The people who organize the show call it Accomplice: New York and they describe it as a street performance that the audience participates in. Whatever it is, we had a great time at it, or doing it, or whatever.

After signing up, My Darling B received a message on her cell phone directing us to be at the South Point Seaport on the lower east side at one o’clock, when we would meet our first contact who would give us more information. “You don’t find him,” the message said, “he will find you. Write down this information and destroy this phone.” Well, she didn’t destroy her phone, so I suppose we’ll be in big trouble if they ever read this drivel.

We were waiting at the dock beside the Ambrose light ship, just as we were told to do, watching the various people who very suspiciously stopped to gaze over the rail at the ship. “Oh, that’s definitely our guy,” My Darling B said, pointing very discreetly at the guy in the Batman t-shirt. “Or that could be him,” she added, nodding toward the old man in the button-down cotton shirt. “Or it could even be her,” she said, watching the two ladies whisper to each other a few yards away as they watched the crowd, sort of like B was.

It wasn’t any of those people. A little after one o’clock, our contact showed: A guy in a black jacket, black shirt and black pants wearing dark sunglasses. “Did any of you get a message?” he asked. We nodded. “Come with me,” he said, and took off at a trot across the pier toward a three-masted clipper ship with the name Peking painted on the prow, “named after the duck, not the city,” our contact said, pointing. “As far as anybody else is concerned, I’m your tour guide,” he added, pointing toward other sights. “I’m a tour guide. You’re supposed to be looking at the sights, dummies,” he helpfully explained, pointing again. This time we all looked, ooohing and ahhhing. “Very good, dummies. Now, listen up.”

If I gave away too many details, you wouldn’t enjoy the game as much when you came to New York City to play along, so I’ll just say that our contact gave us a number of clues that we had to follow to meet the next contact near City Hall. I’ll also say that we were lucky enough to be in a big group: lucky, because we needed the brainpower. There were several clues that left me scratching my head, but somebody else in the group came up with the solution and we always kept moving along. We were also lucky enough to be in a group with six people from Brooklyn who knew the city pretty well, although we were flat-out amazed none of them had ever been to the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the places we had to meet a contact at.

We ended up at a basement bar in Little Italy where we met Bunny, our last contact and a girlfriend of, shall we say, The Big Guy. We were there to deliver a special package to Bunny, only things didn’t turn out quite the way we thought they would, and there again is a turn of events I wouldn’t want to spoil by giving away too much. When the show ended they encouraged us to hang around to watch the next group come in, because “it’s almost as much fun watching from the outside when you know what’s going to happen,” and it really was.

After the show, as we were enjoying a beer and waiting for the next group, My Darling B let me in on a little secret she’d been keeping from me: She thought the group from Brooklyn was part of the show. “They’d been acting like they knew a little too much about it,” she explained. “They seemed to be solving the clues a little too easily, and a couple of the times that we were stumped by the clues, they got phone calls or text messages to help out.” So her biggest surprise was when we got to the end of the show and the others were just as surprised by the twist as we were. The phone calls were the way the tour worked, of course. The organizers had all our phone numbers and they’d call if you got stuck. B got a phone call, too, but she didn’t answer because her cell phone has a funny habit of not ringing when she gets a call.

We drifted out into the street when the show was over and tried to find The Pickle Guy. Remind me to tell you about that.

Accomplice | 8:31 am CST
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Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Can you believe it? I came all the way to New York City and I forgot my camera. The one that can hold 600 photographs on the cheapest memory card they sell. The camera that I bought so I would be able to take snapshots of the sights of New York City. That camera.

I packed it in a knapsack that my son calls my man-purse and made sure to include the charger for it, as well as the charger for my cell phone. And I put the knapsack on top of my suitcase so I wouldn’t forget it. And then, at some point between the time I did that and I loaded everything into the car, I must have set the knapsack aside, probably because it was in the way and because I was sure I’d be coming back for it (because who wouldn’t, right?), something shiny must have distracted me. I never went back for it. It’s probably on my bed right now.

Luckily, My Darling B didn’t forget her camera, so we’ll still have some photos. And one of our hosts at the hotel we’re staying at lent me his phone charger, so we still have phones. Doesn’t make me any less of a dumbass, though.

lost camera | 7:07 pm CST
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B and O on the Empire State Building!We paid a visit to the Empire State Building Saturday night. Glad we got that out of the way early.

The thing about the Empire State Building is, if it wasn’t one of those things you have to do when you visit New York, I’d tell you to chuck the whole thing. The view off the top is amazing, but getting there is a genuine pain in the ass.

The pain starts before you even get to the entrance. There’s a small army of guys with credit card machines deployed all over the streets around the building, selling express tickets to the top, and they’re not very good at it. They want yiou to guy their tickets, which are better than general admission tickets, but they can’t really tell you why, or at least the guys who tried to sell tickets to us couldn’t.

What they should have said was, “If you buy a ticket from me, you won’t have to stand in a line to get your bags x-rayed while bossy guys in jackets yell at you. You won’t have to stand in another line to buy tickets, and you won’t have to stand in a line after that to get your picture taken, which they’ll try to sell to you on the way out. You’ll be able to take an elevator straight to the 80th floor where you won’t have to stand in a line waiting to take the elevator to the observation deck, waiting for the people in line ahead of you to take their photo with the guy dressed up as King Kong. Your trip to the top will take about twenty minutes instead of an hour and twenty minutes. Don’t you think that’s worth an extra twenty bucks?”

It’s not worth it to me, because I’m a cheap bastard, but that’s how they should sell it.

The lobby of the Empire State Building looks exactly like it did in Sleepless In Seattle, but that’s the only part of the building that looks like it did in the movie. There isn’t any kindly old man working the elevator; they’re all run by remote control by liveried employees who look very, very tired. And the observation deck doesn’t have wide open terrace where a half-dozen or so sightseers take a leisurely stroll. The deck is maybe six feet wide, and it’s packed shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of people, several dozen of whom are carrying very unhappy children. This is not a place where you can spend a quiet, reflective moment.

That said, we had a pretty good time, except for the loudmouth yelling, “Belts and jacket off! Belts and jackets off!” at the people waiting to get x-rayed at the end of the first line. That guy’s gotta go.

Empire State Building | 7:07 am CST
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