Looking toward Mighty Manhattan, from the Staten Island Ferry
A sleaze-bag hassled me for my metro card at the Bowling Green subway station. If he had simply asked me for five bucks or something, I might’ve given it to him. But my metro card? I could’ve had $20 or more on that thing. How the fuck was I supposed to know? Plus giving it to him meant I would’ve had to have gone to the trouble of getting a new one from a machine. No. On the other side of more than a month in the US, and recovering from a terrible illness, I’d had quite enough of his type by this point. But I didn’t get angry. Wearily, I simply waited until he was distracted then stepped around him through the turnstiles to get track-side. Let the poor bastard hopefully forget a train ride and get on the Staten Island Ferry. Let the Statue of Liberty remind him of his freedom to not
spend all of his train money on crack and smack. Unpleasantness aside, I hopped the Seven train to Grand Central Station. Pretty damn cool. I don’t know why anyone ever decided that it was necessary to build a train station to look like an ancient Greek or Roman building, but I’m glad they did. And the star-constellation painted ceiling was spellbinding. I think the proverbial “they” call stuff like that “art deco”. Again, I have no idea of its purpose, but like with any type of art: even if I don’t understand what it means, I know what I hate. And I far from hated anything inside Grand Central Station – a place which really is just one big piece of art dedicated to, of all things, train travel. I couldn’t figure out where the Empire State Building was from street level, and it was starting to rain, so I decided to track it down for obligatory photos later on. Which I did, but my notes don’t mention it and I’ve drunk a lot since. Considered going ice skating again, but probably due to hangover-induced dehydration I was experiencing strange light distortions in my eyes, like the heavenly figures on Central Station’s ceiling had imprinted themselves on my retinas. Plus I was missing a certain diminutive British dame. So I returned to the hostel to drink one Budweiser, one Brooklyn Lager at a late-teen obnoxious French people invaded welcome party and looked forward to getting my arse over to the Old Country. Emma, in the meantime, was “dominating my mind”.
Grand Central Station, from East 42nd Street
Grand Central Station, zoomed, from East 42nd Street
Grand Central Station ceiling
Woke up late again for some reason. Probably the prior night’s (small amount of) booze. It was Monday, apparently. How time flies when you’re seeing a butt load of cool shit. I “lit a fire under” visiting the Rockefeller Center. The elevator to its roof was certainly faster up many more floors than the hostel’s, plus an indecipherable film played on the lift’s glass ceiling while it rocketed upward. This helped its inhabitants cope with the dizzying vertical speed. The photos I took on the roof, of Central Park to the north and Empire State Building and the rest of downtown to the south, were obviously the most clichéd and done before ones I took during the entire journey, but they had to be captured nonetheless. And luckily the weather wasn’t awful. Some guy back at the hostel had generously torn a free coupon for the New York Museum of Modern Art from a booklet and given it to me, but moments after walking through its doors I realised the coupon was “void if removed from booklet” so I threw the useless slip of paper in a bin and caught the subway a few stops south. Probably to around about NOHO or Little Italy. Wandered through Chinatown and the Lower East Side’s strong smells and edgy sights, and due to quickening my step managed to catch the sun setting behind the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. I followed, in vain of course, the sun around to again visit the Whitehall Terminal (where the Staten Island Ferry leaves from). Caught the subway back up to the New York Public Library, which was disappointing and didn’t look anything like it did in that film The Day After Tomorrow. Probably because it wasn’t surrounded by water and then snow. Not to mention frozen corpses and a Russian cargo ship complete with man-eating wolves. But it surely had a ridiculous amount of books in it. And that, on its own, is awesome.
Central Park and most of the north of Manhattan, from the Rockefeller Center Building
Empire State Building foreground left, and Statue of Liberty extreme background right, from the Rockefeller Center Building
I managed to return to the Upper West Side in time to join Carlo for a bookending (this was my last night in New York, I should state) visit to the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club. There was a big band playing. Best jazz I ever heard across the US or UK. Damn I assure you I have no idea why I didn’t note the name of the band, though. Perhaps I do later. The most interesting part separate to their performance was when the black, erm, I think he was a trombone player, came out quite randomly with a joke. And it might be a joke you can only tell if you’re black, Italian or Jewish, but indulge and tolerate me, please:
An Italian woman, Jewish woman and African American woman are seated together on a plane. And it’s going down. The Jewish woman starts putting all her valuables into a little safe.
“What are you doing?” the other two ask.
“I don’t want just anyone getting my jewellery,” she explains.
Then the Italian woman gets out her makeup kit and starts generous application.
“What are you doing?” the other two ask of her.
“Well, I want to leave a beautiful corpse,” she explains in turn.
Finally, the black woman strips naked.
“What are you doing!?” her shocked seat sisters ask.
“They always find the black box,” she states.
I’m not sure I got that joke quite right but it’s pretty amusing, wouldn’t you agree? Of course it was one of those jokes in which everyone at the Smoke kind of laughed with a closed mouth; unsure of whether they were supposed to be amused, offended, or experiencing a potent mix of both. Personally I think no one person or group should be above satire, as long as it’s skilfully, respectfully and genuinely done.
My first big band experience, Smoke Jazz and Supper Club, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York
Anyway, despite the fact I had a pretty early flight the next day. About 9am from memory. Carlo and I decided to hit another bar. The reasoning we agreed upon was that if I got rotten drunk and only slept for a couple of hours before the flight, I could spend the bulk of my time in the air on the way to London asleep. A good plan, and as you well know from reading this or knowing me personally: I like a drink in good company (and while writing) anyway. So yeah, another bar, but I can’t remember what it was called largely because of my alcohol intake. I recall it was a sports bar. There we met Tao – a well-travelled, partially with the US Navy, dude, who was still jealous of what Carlo and I were doing (blowing money we’d saved on lengthy overseas travel instead of houses and share portfolios and boring shit like that). Carlo, I might add, obviously had a lot more cash saved than I did, which is not surprising as he was almost 40. He’s somewhere in South America as I write this sentence. The lucky bastard. My last memory of Tao was that he bought a cigarette from me with about a kilogram of silver change. American shrapnel, that I still have because from that point on I didn’t spend enough time in America in which to trade it for goods and services. The fucker. Would’ve worked out better if I’d just given him the smoke and received a “Thanks”. Oh, also, another interesting thing happened back at the jazz club. One of the musicians asked Carlo and me to look after his instrument case while we were outside inhaling tobacco smoke through New York’s frigid air, and he ducked back inside for a drink or to chat with someone. Or both. Point is, after about 20 minutes, he still hadn’t returned. We ended up having to ask some other random to look after it, who for all we knew or cared took off with the probably expensive wind instrument as soon as we’d walked away. Surely rule number one for New York survival, though in general I found its inhabitants to be friendly, would be to trust no-one. I just hope the talented man knows what he’s doing, and has a safe and fortunate life. I could not want anything less for anyone who is capable of producing one of the best types of live music I’ve ever encountered: jazz. You hear that, N’Orleans? I’ll see you again one day, and it will be glorious. God willing, I’ll even live and work within you and as intimately as possible discover the secrets held by your singular music, culture and geography.
Brooklyn Bridge, from the East River Bikeway, below Franklin D Roosevelt Drive, Manhattan