marie

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.

drinking in nyc

image of McSorely'sOne afternoon in New York City on our way back from a tour, My Darling B suggested we stop at McSorely’s, reputed to be the oldest continuously-operated tavern in America. From the moment we set foot on the sawdust-strewn floor of the place, I didn’t doubt it. The bar ran down one side of the narrow bar room and a scattered collection of wooden tables and hard chairs ran down the other. The walls were dark wood, but the wood was mostly covered with framed newspaper clippings of historic events, or photographs of well-known people. Teddy Roosevelt was featured prominently and repeatedly. I have to admit, I like the place immediately for that.

We took a seat at a table beside a pot-bellied stove, which took up a considerable amount of space in the middle of the room. There were four fire fighters from the Bronx at the next table over who started chatting us up even before we sat down. Their table was crowded with beer mugs, most of them empty, a half-dozen or so still full, two or three half-drunk. “Where you from?” they asked, and when we said Wisconsin the next dozen words out of their mouths included “cheese curds” and “Bret Favre.” Why didn’t Bret Favre stop while he was ahead? they wanted to know. What he did to himself and his career was just a tragedy. And so on.

Leaving B to keep up the conversation with the firemen, I sidled up to the bar and asked the bartender, after he was done welcoming a small crowd of regulars, what he had on tap. “We serve only McSorely’s ale here, light and dark,” he informed me. I asked for one each and he drew them off into small glass beer mugs. The beer had a rich, foamy head and a sweet, creamy taste, and went down very easily as we listened to the firemen bewail the fate of Bret Favre. I even went back to the bar and ordered another round after polishing off the first, the only time we did that at any bar we visited in New York City.

After McSorely’s we went to Pete’s Tavern, reputed to be the oldest continuously-operated tavern and restaurant in New York City, which is clearly not the case if McSorely’s is in fact the oldest continuously-operated bar in America. Is there a rivalry going on here? If so, McSorely’s has the edge in product, because they serve a better beer. The beer at Pete’s was okay, but not all that great. We ran into this a lot in New York City, where the bars tended to serve mainstream brands like Bud and Miller, and we saw very few locally-produced brews like Brooklyn Brewery and Six Point.

image of My Darling BThe only other place that was nearly as interesting as McSorely’s was The Tippler, a bar carved out of the spaces beneath the Chelsea Market, a retail mall in the reconditioned buildings of the old National Biscuit Company’s original manufactory. This was the birthplace of the Oreo!

My Darling B wanted awfully badly to visit, so we stopped in on Saturday, our first day in NYC, for an evening cocktail. If memory serves (and if it doesn’t, I’m sure she’ll find a way to let me know), B had a Booty Collins, a drink of vodka infused with tea and mixed with passion fruit, cayenne, lemon and yohimbe. I’ve never even heard of yohimbe, so it sounds like her kind of drink, but she didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed my Gin and Chronic, a take on the classic gin and tonic with a little hops flavor thrown in.

We stayed for just one drink as it was getting late and we wanted to have enough time to visit the Empire State Building that night. Considering how that turned out, we probably should’ve stayed for another drink or two.

image of The Tippler in NYC

missing fall

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.

got gas?

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.

Skyscraper Museum

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.

NYC at night

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.

charging bull

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.

Hayden Planetarium

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.