My Guide to Spending the Holidays in New York

I have lived on the island of Manhattan for ten years now and every year there is a massive influx of tourists and visitors and merry-makers during the holidays.  People come for many reasons and to enjoy a wide variety of activities and so I’ve decided to put together some of my thoughts in order to help out all these weary pilgrims who make the journey to my fair city.

1.  STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM THE TREE:

Seriously.  Please. It’s a tree.  Yes it’s actually quite pretty and yes it’s very large but you don’t understand what you’re doing when you go visit the stupid thing. The foot traffic around Rockefeller Center creates a chain reaction that snarls traffic up in all directions. I don’t want a bus ride across the park to take two hours just because you want to see some lights.

Look.  Here is the location of the tree:

tree-location

Now here is my estimation of the area that becomes affected by congestion due to tree traffic:

tree-traffic

Please don’t go near the tree. I’m sick of telling my cab drivers to take the long way through Nicaragua to avoid traffic when I’m trying to get across town.

 

2. STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM CHINATOWN:

Chinatown isn’t known for it’s fast moving foot traffic under the best of circumstances but during this time of year it becomes another thing entirely. Somehow all of humanity stopping and pointing at the little shops that sell weird toys and disgusting fruits manages to bend time or something so that I seriously think the foot traffic actually starts to move backwards. And if you’re in a car just forget about it.

You think I’m kidding?

Here is a shot of Chinatown in June:

Chinatown Dialogue

Just try to imagine it when it’s crowded with holiday traffic. Occasionally I like to go there and get dumplings with family this time of year. Off limits.

 

3. STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ANYWHERE I MIGHT WANT TO GO DRINKING:

There is a bar in Murray Hill called Rolf’s. This is what Rolf’s looks like (this was taken with my phone so sorry for the quality):

rolfs

You’re waiting for a punchline, aren’t you?

There isn’t one. Rolf’s is its own punchline. Around the holidays the owners go completely out of their minds and put up more decorations than, to be honest, the actual tree probably has. Rolf’s is known far and wide as the bar where Christmas goes to projectile vomit then die.

You may go to Rolf’s. The heat from the lights and the general creepiness of the dolls they hang up make it hard to last more than two beers there during the holidays.

Oh. Here are some of the dolls:

rolfs-dolls

One year some of the dolls had mustaches.

Maybe lasting two beers would be stretching it.

Feel free to crowd into this place as, even if I do go there, I won’t be staying long.

Otherwise the rest of the bars are off limits.

 

 

4. NOW THAT I THINK ABOUT IT, JUST STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM NEW YORK ENTIRELY:

Honestly. It’s closed or something. And they built a wall around the tree this year. Here look:

tree-wall

It’s bedlam.

Stay away.

If you want to you can gaze at this picture of the tree. That should satisfy:

the-tree

It really is pretty, isn’t it? And when you catch a glimpse of it as you turn the corner and look down that long alley of evergreens and statues and then walk in close to where the skating rink is and smell the chestnut vendors…

God damn it.

Okay. You can come to see the tree.

Just, you know, try and keep it down while you’re here.

 

 

 

Things They Sell at My Bodega

Every few blocks in Manhattan you will come across a little store with an awning out front and a wide array of products inside. We call them bodegas…I have no idea why. Boston, apparently, uses that term as well while the mid-west uses “party store” or “corner store.” Taiwan is flooded with 7-11’s while in New Zealand you might hit up the “dairy” for smokes at four in the morning.

Here is my bodega (technically I have three in my area that I cycle through but they all look much like this):

bodega

Two points here.  First, these things aren’t giant mega-marts with tons of shelf space, they’re little stores which makes this next point so amazing to me, mainly that the ones in New York stock some really fucking weird shit.

We’ll start with what is, hands down, the most astonishing part of my local bodega: the lunch buffet.

Wings and potatoesOmm nom nom!

Not every bodega has one of these but a large number do and I have never, at any moment in my life, understood this. Who eats this stuff? More importantly, who cooks this stuff? I should point out that of the three bodegas in my area this array of victuals is found in the tiniest one. And it’s not a small buffet either.  Here, look:

Steam TableThat’s not a mirror at the end there, that’s more fucking steam trays. This is a crazy number of different foods.  They have a seafood section for the love of all that’s holy! How does a corner store sell this many different dishes *by the pound* at a lunch buffet? And why this stuff? I’ve been to plenty of buffets in my lifetime. Not a single one of them has had deviled eggs:

eggsNot to mention deviled eggs floating in what appears to be salsa.

Now, for all I know this is the single greatest meal to be found on the entire island of Manhattan. This could be a culinary trip through worlds of flavors and tastes the likes of which I’ve never experienced. But I’ll never know ’cause I ain’t eating it. Not a cliff I’m looking to dive off of anytime soon.

The good news is that you can wash down your deviled eggs with coconut water:

Coconut WaterI’ve actually heard of this product…sort of…I think. But it’s a cooking item, not a beverage, and that really doesn’t matter because I can’t find this crap in my local supermarket so why is a place that has one-fourteenth the refrigerator space stocking it?

Here’s a fun one:

Duraflame

I’ll repeat. I live in New York. Who is using these? I think I’ve seen one fireplace in my ten years of living in New York and it was sealed shut with bricks and had a TV sitting in it.

I have no idea what this is:

Menora PolishThe price tag should give you some indication of how big the box is, which is not very big at all.  It certainly does not hold the elaborate stainless steel menorah pictured on the cover. My best guess is menorah polish.You know, because the holidays are just around the corner.

The following is a picture of a bottle of white vinegar from a major brand. This is neither rare nor weird, I’d just never noticed how fucking stupid their slogan is:

vinegar

“The Natural Choice For Food?” As opposed to what? That’s horrible. “Vinegar: It’s the obvious choice for things that you eat.”

Now, let’s say it’s three in the morning and you find yourself ravenously hungry. You don’t want to order in a full meal because you have a few ingredients on hand that you want to get rid of, things like a sack full of toast points, a jar of sour cream and a bottle of champagne. Where do you go? Why, you go to my bodega…because they sell caviar:

caviershot

Oh, my caviar has a first name, it’s K-V-L-A-D-A-T-V-I-A. And my caviar has a last name, it’s S-V-O-R-I-S-T-K-R-Y-P-T-N-I-A…

We’ll end with what has to be the strangest product I’ve ever seen in my life. Technically I think this was actually being used by one of the people working at my bodega and wasn’t for sale, per se, but I don’t care. The point here is that this product is being made somewhere by someone and is then being purchased by someone somewhere else for use.

Tired of your dull, boring leaves?

Leaf Shine

You know it’s good because it’s from Holland.

One Year of The Mall in Central Park

I finished up my photo project over the weekend.  I have no idea how it turned out.  More on that in a bit. For now I will simply direct your eyes to where they have already most likely turned, the collage (montage?) below.

oneyearhireswebjp

This is, oddly, not the finished product.  The finished product exists as ones and zeroes on my computer and has never been seen by anyone.  What you see above is a drastically shrunken down version of the final product.  In fact, if you click on the picture you should get taken to a larger version.  But that still isn’t the real version.  The real version is forty-two inches by twenty-eight inches (though I think the size that helps put it in proportion is that each individual photo is six inches by four), and, as I keep mentioning, I’ve never seen it. That in no way fits on my screen so either I view it life-sized and see a tiny chunk of it or I view it in a reduced size which, considering the content, very much alters things.

A lot changes when each of those pictures is the size of a snapshot.  For example, some of the shots look sort of blurry in the small scale, but blown up that blurriness reveals itself as plain old weather. Some fog or snow or sun dappled leaves look wonderful in the large scale but it kind of looks mushy in the small scale.

And that’s to say nothing of what possibly gets lost due to your internet browser and my publishing platform not shaking hands properly, or the file size I have to save it in to upload it to this site a sane amount of time affecting things.

This is all very confusing and I can’t decide if I should print up a large scale version.  Mainly because I don’t know what I’d do with it…look at it once and then put it in my closet, most likely, which seems silly.

I don’t know.

Sharing work on the internet has tons of pluses but it does create weird moments like this.

Moment 8: Will Quits Running

New York City Marathon” is a favorite story of mine and will always be a favorite story of mine. This is the story one thinks about writing when one manages to find time to daydream and think about writing. The whole notion of “capturing a generation” or becoming “the voice of a” group of people is a pretty common daydream among writers.

I have no idea if I managed to do either of those things here, mind you, but for me this story is a nice take on my life during the past decade. The notion of living in New York being a bit of a long haul meshed nicely with one of my favorite events in the city, the marathon, to provide a backdrop that works well on a number of levels. Which is to say that the people in this story wearing jogging shorts aren’t the only characters who are running a marathon.

The most cutting moment for me came when Will and the unnamed runner crumble and decide to give up the race. I wrote it as simply as I could, aiming for less description and written thought whenever possible and tried to have them just give up. Just feel pain. Just start sobbing. Plain and simple. Because Will and the runner were only part of the equation. Really it’s watching Byron react that drives this moment home.

Byron, the ever caustic smart-ass, has his guard forced down as he witnesses the unnamed runner, and thus Will, at their most vulnerable moments and we get a brief, albeit swear induced moment of humanity from him. The rest of the story doesn’t work, I don’t think, if Byron doesn’t crack open here. This scene allowed his character to become rounded out to a degree I often fail to achieve.

I should mention that the story also doesn’t work if Byron stays cracked open, so him righting himself while his brother watched almost won. Likewise Byron and Calvin returning to their race, running down the street, sliding back into their usual roles with some friendly punches at the end of the story almost edged out this moment. But in the end Byron cracking open was what stayed in my mind, and him cracking doesn’t happen without the unnamed runner quitting, and that doesn’t carry as much weight without being interplayed with Will’s decision to move back home. Yes, that might really be three moments in one, but I won’t tell if you won’t.

So slot eight goes to Calvin and Byron and all the other people out there currently on the hard-side of the mile seventeen marker in their own personal marathons.

Remember to stop off for drinks periodically:

There was no need for him to be in this city anymore. He would move back to Ohio.

And that was it. It was decided. And Will, for the first time in months, maybe years, felt the absence of pressure on his body. He would tell everyone in a day or so. Right now, with that decision firmly in his head, he just wanted to go home, maybe get a good night’s sleep. He was tired.

“I’m heading out, guys,” Will said, getting a wave and a smile from Byron and a couple of words of goodbye from Calvin. Then he turned and started walking down the street.

Byron was staring intently at the race. There was something strange in his face and Calvin was about to ask what was going on when Byron spoke.

“Ah, shit,” Byron said, “I saw this start to happen while I was over there.” His voice was very different, lower, heartier, a gravel filled bed of humanity running underneath his usual bite. “I hate to see this.”

Calvin watched Byron swallow slowly and then turned to see what he was looking at. Coming towards them from the race was a group of three people. Two were obviously not runners, they were dressed in jeans that didn’t fit right and t-shirts that were too busy. They were flanking the third person, a woman, who was slowly making her way down the street. This third person was dressed in full racing gear, teal shorts and a stretch tank top. She was favoring one leg as she walked. Her shoulders were covered in a foil blanket. She was sobbing.

Byron was staring at her, one of his hands up at his face, his first two fingers lightly rubbing up and down his jaw line. “I actually saw the moment when she decided to quit,” he said slowly. “She saw her two friends on the sideline, she had forced herself to make it to them, then she just veered off and stepped out of the race.” He pulled at his lower lip. “I’m not sure when she started crying.” Byron and Calvin watched the woman let herself be guided to the other side of the street. She stopped near a car parked on the other side and they could hear her crying change pitch as some new pain flared in her body. Her two friends turned and started walking back to her.

“Come on,” Byron said, staring across at the scene playing out, the volume of his voice soft but the force behind it strong. “Come on,” he said again, rooting her on, his energy strong enough that Calvin felt himself getting caught up in it. “Let yourself do this much at least.”