From Morgan Avenue with Love (New York City Stories, Take 3)

(Continued from Part 2…)

It was goddamn hot when I woke up and the hangover just wasn’t helping.

“What happened last night?”

I knew I must have taken a detour before getting back to Brooklyn. I scrolled through the pictures in my camera. Abstract images of Times Square. Blurry cabs and swirls of neon and nearly getting hit by cabs and busses. Times Square is one of those amazing places you have to see at least once, but never really have to return to after. The enormity of the buildings and the chaotic rabble of tourists and Manhattanite yuppies can be a bit of a culture shock for those who’ve never experienced it. I know I couldn’t stop looking up when my 18 year old eyes first walked out of the Times Square subway stop. I had a similar reaction the first time I saw mountains (being from Florida, land of flat lands and more flat lands, I’m very easily impressed by even the slightest bump in the road, so you can imagine!)

But on my… what is this.. 6th? 7th time to New York? I’ve somehow always wound up in Times Square for at least a little while and while I appreciate the buildings and the warmth of those neon lights on a cold night (if you’re ever without a coat in NYC in Winter, I suggest standing underneath the lights of the McDonalds on 42nd Street as i’ve done in previous visits. Guaranteed heater!), I’m no longer awe-struck when I get in the thick of it. Add to that the barrage of street vendors trying to hock everything from knock off purses and NYC “artwork” to used bottles of perfume and “Tickets to Tonight’s Comedy Show (It’s Gonna Be A Great One!)” and you quickly begin to realize why the majority of New Yorkers steer clear of this area unless they have a reason. Overwhelming and unnecessary, especially when NY has so much more to offer in just about every other corner!

Another good reason to stop in Times Square, however, is if you’re already intoxicated and don’t want to go home juuuust yet. And so, a detour. A detour, alright. I’d spent a few hours in the company of one, Tyler Edwards. Tyler was a boy I’d met my last night in Philadelphia the previous year, a night that would prove to practically cause me to get kicked out of the house I was staying in, and it would’ve totally been my fault (but that’s a story for another day). He was tall and handsome and doing fairly well for himself – a young professional with a gym membership and a heavy interest in social media, though he himself doesn’t use it all that much (something I have yet to understand). I would be staying with him soon enough though, but you know, sometimes it’s late and you’ve had a few and you just can’t really wait.

Back in my stuffy Bushwick basement, I reached around the floor for my metal water bottle, unscrewed the top and drank the last bit of room temperature water. Where the fuck is the ibuprofen? I could hear CJ’s roommate upstairs, clacking away at her computer, on a work-related phone call, but still blasting some sort of indie Brooklynite music (possibly this?).

And then there it was again. Another wave of unrelenting heat. That suffocating heat. The only word I can think of that properly describes it is a Spanish word: desesperante. WordReference.com describes it as exasperating or distressing, but I feel like it’s not quite either of those.

I grabbed my iPod, scrolled through, found some Ramones, and remembered seeing the sign for Rockaway Beach on the MTA map. The mission for the day was clear: To get the hell out of the heat and on to the Ramones’ very own Rockaway beach!

For those who are unaware, Rockaway Beach is quite a hike from Bushwick:


See? The L to the A to the S.. and then, a walk either North or South to the beach (alright, so the quality of the image sucks. I never said I was a graphic designer). After over an hour of train time, I grabbed a quick grilled cheese from the Last Stop Shop and headed towards the boardwalk. It dawned on me then that I hadn’t actually brought a towel, so I tried haggling the asian man selling beach towels on the street. Obviously my haggling skills aren’t so great because he wouldn’t budge. I wound up settling on this tiny, pink hand towel for $1.25 which I suspect may have already been used. But it was fine. I could smell the ocean. Rock-rock-rockaway time!

Being from Miami, my visiting friends constantly remark about how beautiful our beaches are. This is something I know I take for granted. Walking on to the sand of Rockaway Beach, I really knew it. Bits of styrofoam cup here and bottle cap there and itty bitty bits of plastic and decomposing paper, a mine field of debris in need of much recycling (which does happen on occasion back home, but certainly not to this extent). Still, the beach was alive with dozens of locals sprawled out on bellies and backs; girlfriends in pale sundresses reapplying sunblock; portly guys with farmers tans looking self conscious without their shirts on; squealing 4-year olds running after each other without any particular reason; guys with gel in their hair, tossing a football around; a pair of older ladies sitting in their beach chairs looking on. I sat by a group of Muslim girls drying off but still fully dressed from head to toe. Even from the sand, you could see it was chock full of seaweed. Except you couldn’t really see in to the water, since it was kind of a dark grey color with dark green hues. Yup. Definitely not Miami. But then, wasn’t the point to get the hell out of there for a while anyway? I dove in.


Let me just say, there are few things that are better for a hangover than jumping into a large body of cold water. It basically shocks you back into sobriety whether you like it or not (although this feeling doesn’t necessarily last once you walk out of the ocean. For that, I recommend Gatorade, preferably the orange flavor). When the afternoon began coming to a close, I did my best to dry off and change clothes and walked to the opposite end of the main road to a small 9-11 memorial park. It never occurred to me how many memorials there would be around the city, not just in Manhattan. Some boys were throwing rocks in the water. I watched the sun set (did I mention this would be a recurring theme in my trip? Probably.) and took the train back in to the main land.

Getting closer to Brooklyn, I called up my friend Ezra to meet me for a drink. He’d moved to the city just a few months ago and was still exploring, so we wandered around for a bit and wound up at Greenlight Bookstore and sat in (well, stood) on an open mic. Good poetry, great crowd, and this was the first of many moments on this trip that I would realize just how badly I need to get over my public speaking phobias (this should go under my next Things I’ve Learned On This Trip post).

Moving on… After a series of failed attempts at finding a bar that would take plastic, we settled on Canal Bar. It was $1 Cream Ale night, so I don’t have to go into specifics about what happened next. Our bartender, Jeremy (?) was the hipster with a heart of gold (skinny jeans and a flannel, easy on the eyes, but also genuinely friendly, warm smile and all – or maybe it was the beer keeping me warm… Damn.) We joined some of the regulars for a bit on the back patio, but the conversation got a little uncomfortable when this bald lummox of a man started getting a little too personal questioning Ezra about his Jewish heritage and debating the rights and wrongs of the state of affairs in the Middle East (or I might have just been drunk and heard wrong… I should add the “Drunk Disclaimer” to a good portion of my stories I think. Either way, he was dropping borderline racist sounding jokes here and there and I couldn’t be sure how much truth was behind them.) Suffice to say, we left a little after that – besides, we’d already had at least a $15 tab between the two of us with those $1 beers, and the occasional shot of Whiskey. Speaking of which, I had my first taste of Bushmill’s Black Bush while at this bad and I approve! Let’s hear it for discovering yet another bottle you don’t mind drinking from!

Oh! It’s also (very) worth mentioning (more worth mentioning than the bald lummox and possibly more worth mentioning than the Bushmill’s) that I had some of the BEST Mexican food I’ve had on my trip so far while at this bar. No, it wasn’t bar food and this was actually before i’d imbibed more than one can of Genesee Cream Ale, so I think it’s a pretty legitimate claim. The great thing about Canal Bar is that they have an absurd amount of local restaurant menus to get food delivered from. We opted for Oaxaca where Ezra got a few tacos and I happily devoured some enchiladas*. The other great thing about Canal Bar is they’ve got free popcorn, which we happily noshed on once our Mexi-goodness was all gone. All in all, a lovely night! I’m pretty sure I got rained on again on the way home, but the buzz of the beer and of the day were good enough to keep me toasty.

New York is like that. Some days and nights go without a hitch, but more often than not, they’re either remarkable or devastating. I’ve had my fair share of amazing NYC moments, which is what’s always kept me coming back to her, what’s always made me want to move there. This trip to NY was different though, rougher than before, for sure.  It’s not that she was a total bitch, although there were moments. But something was just different. I keep wondering if maybe it’s just me, growing up, being an adult in the city rather than a starry eyed girl of 18 or 21, with notions of excitement and romance keeping me heavily intoxicated. Either way, more on the “remarkable” and “devastating” nights coming up. Much sooner than you realize!

 

Note: It’s become apparent to me that there was something I completely forgot to mention about my 2nd day in NY – my visit to Ground Zero. I don’t know if that’s a very telling statement about how much 9-11 directly affected me. I don’t want to pretend that it completely changed my life, nor that it had no effect on me. Either way, I’ll considering saving that for a separate post.

* = It’s probably also worth mentioning that because I am a vegetarian, I can only ever comment on how good the vegetarian options are at any given restaurant.

From Morgan Avenue with Love (New York City Stories, Take 2)

CJ was really busy the entire time I stayed with him, which was unfortunate, but I understood. The freelancer life must be quite the hustle. After getting settled in to my new home away from home, he took me to the corner bodega and we got a cheap breakfast – egg and cheese on a roll. For some reason, every sandwich in New York City is automatically cheaper if served on a roll. Regular sliced bread or some other variation seems to almost always automatically incur additional fees and I kind of wonder what kind of bizarre deal the city as a whole gets on these rolls. Or worse, I wonder if anyone has the real ingredients list for these mystery carbs that sustained me for a good part of my NY adventure. Regardless, they taste fine and at $2 for a breakfast sandwich, there’s really no need to continue wondering.

After brunch, we walked down the street to get a key made for me, which was fortunate since it allowed me the freedom to come and go as I pleased, without getting locked out (which, unfortunately, was a scenario that I encountered twice later on in my trip – more on that later, in detail). I asked CJ where I might go about buying some second hand shoes since I only thought to bring one pair of shoes (and a pair of flip flops) for my adventuring. He showed me a few places and then he went home and I opted to go hunt down some new footwear. Two thrift shops in, I found a comfortable pair of sneakers and a cheap pair of shorts, since I had underestimated the heat when I was packing back in Miami. Living my whole life in a sub-tropical climate, I figured i’d prepared for 26 years for summer conditions anyplace. But I was wrong. There’s a definite difference between the heat in Miami, which we constantly avoid by never going outside unless we’re in bikinis jumping in large bodies of water, and heat in a New York City subway, basement, or basically anywhere in that city during the summertime.

New (old) shoes in tow, I decided to head in to Manhattan. I’d read about a bar that gave free bread and cheese during happy hour in the Village and I figured that’d make for an excellent lunch/dinner. When I got in to the area, I realized it was much too early and feeling famished, I decided to pop in to the pizza joint near the bar and had a delicious slice of NY’s finest. When I finally made it to the bar, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Excellent beer list, but chock full of yuppies who all seemed to be running in the same pack. Wearing my thrift finds and about a pint of sweat, I began feeling out of place and letting insecurities get the best of me. I stuck to my cellphone and began texting my friends in the city.

There was Mark, whom i’d stayed with last year for a brief stint, who had a girlfriend now. I was almost sure we wouldn’t end up hanging out. Not because we weren’t friends, but also because we weren’t really good friends. There had been a short-lived semi-intense meeting of the minds with us which wound up fizzling into nothingness when it became painfully apparent that we probably weren’t meant for each other. And there’s just always that unspoken rule that you almost always end up staying away from ex-flings once they have new, steady relationships, so I didn’t press too hard for the company.

Then there was Carlo, a good friend from high school, who was also living with a girlfriend. He was good people, but like most New Yorkers, severely busy. I would get to see him later on luckily.

And then of course, there was the DJ. Anyone who’s known me for a while knows about the DJ. If you’ve ever had a long-term, non-relationship with someone, maybe you know what I’m talking about. He’s that guy that for some reason you’ve never really been able to shake. Time passes, relationships come and go, and there he always is, kinda smug, always sharp, but only showing just enough interest in your friendship that it makes you almost wish you never met them. But then you see them again and you don’t know what to do with yourself because it always feels like regardless of all the other bullshit in the world, this was the person you should’ve been able to have something with, but you also realize that it would never actually happen in reality. Yeah, that guy. More on him later.

So I texted one and then the other and then the other and then texted friends and proceeded to empty my wallet into some really great tasting microbrews. An older gentleman sat next to me and began chatting me up about beer. His name was John and he had just retired a few days ago at the not-so-old age of 63. He would be the first of two recent retirees I would spend hours conversing with. He recommended beers and then bought me a few but he didn’t act like a creep so I was fine with the arrangement. We talked to people who came to the bar and left and made recommendations according to their tastes. After a while, I realized that I never even got my free bread and cheese, as it was never set out at the bar, but rather at a small table on the opposite end of the room that had so many guys exchanging business cards that I couldn’t even see it. It was okay though. I had beer and company and that was good enough.

After a few beers, I decided I should head back to Brooklyn and get some shut eye. It had been a long day, after all. On the way back, I got absurdly lost on the train and wandered around in circles a few times and then it began to rain. Rain would become a highly prevalent and not-too-amusing theme for the last month. When I was a little girl, my mother would tell me that people would catch colds if they got caught in the rain. I believed this wholeheartedly growing up to the point that I think I almost psyched myself into always getting sick, or at least developing symptoms, every time I got rained on. If I still believe this old wives tale, let’s just say I would probably be dead considering the amount of times I got soaked in various cities.

The walk back to CJ’s started off somewhat miserable, but after a while, realizing I was in New York and not in Miami, realizing that I was actually traveling, realizing I was working toward making my dreams come true, and realizing that I in fact would not be catching a cold, I said fuck it and slowed down and enjoyed the cold drops of water falling on my head, streaming down my face, making my clothes heavy but my heart light. It reminded me of how fun it was to play in the rain as a kid (right before the faux colds hit). I smiled to myself, hiding under the shelter of bodega awnings whenever I needed to wipe my glasses a bit. I made it back to the apartment and wished I had something to smoke. Everyone was either asleep or not home. I stumbled down into the basement, changed into some dry clothes, and passed out.

(Part 3 coming up soon!)

*Names have been changed more or less to protect the innocent and guilty alike. If you happen to guess real identities, keep it to yourself.

From Morgan Avenue with Love (New York City Stories, Take 1)

So I’m sitting in this quaint, little wooden house in Athens, Ohio, amongst a mess of dirty laundry and even filthier bed sheets that could tell you tales that I probably can’t even imagine myself and I’m thinking that I should write about my recent experience in New York City while it’s still relatively fresh in my mind before it escapes me as so many memories tend to do the older I get. The point of this whole trip was to not only travel, but more importantly, to write. To write about it, to write about the people, to write how I felt, to write what I knew, to write what I learned, to just fucking write. Now is just as good a time as any to begin chronicling my misadventures in hobo-land.

There needs to be an appropriate soundtrack, I tell myself as I sit down to write this, so I YouTube some Ratatat. “Loud Pipes” is playing and I can hear the fan in the corner blowing air across the room on the lowest setting possible, just good enough to keep it from getting stuffy but not so loud that I can’t hear myself think.

A splash of pavement from Williamsburg, a tiny sunset in the Financial District, steamed dumplings the size of a watermelon, and all those bridges connecting, keeping a city afloat and connected to the rest of the world – all random flashes in my mind of the places etched into my mind, forming one big picture of New York City to me, the visitor, the outsider from Miami.

There are all these songs and stories and movies written about the city that it makes you wonder why anyone would live anywhere else. But maybe it’s because of all the hype that so many people choose not to end up there (I know that was my experience when I was in Pittsburgh). I, myself, constantly struggle on the fence of desiring Native status and simply wanting to accept my place as the occasional drop-in guest. I went to New York this time around without any real expectation, which was probably for the best since there was really nothing to find. In the end, all I left with was a heavily depleted bank account and a sense of confusion about who exactly took my money in the first place, like a broke(n down) amnesiac.

My flight picked me up out of Ft. Lauderdale, about an hour north of Miami for the non-South Floridians, and flew me over to Queens – LaGuardia Airport, paid courtesy of JetBlue (my favorite airline, despite the fact that they turned down my application for a position as a flight attendant).

“I’m really doing it,” I thought to myself as the giant rubber tired crashed onto the pavement. I grabbed my heavy, Adidas backpack that I bought about a day or so before skipping town to live life on the road for a while, and made my way to the bus stop right outside. The bus was packed and I stood there waiting for a seat but ending up getting off the bus before one ever became available. One of many analogies for the city, I guess. I huffed it to a train, then another bus, and finally found Jefferson Street, where my buddy CJ lives. CJ was a kid I knew way back in high school, someone I didn’t entirely get along with because he seemed way too uptight for my teen taste (I was too busy being an asshole, yelling back at Mrs. Brown and getting in trouble for the fuck of it. Mrs. Brown taught English and in retrospect, she was pretty damn nice to me and I was just a stupid kid, but that’s young angst for you). All I could remember about CJ was that he was a good student, spoke with a unique sort of accent, and sold Argentinian alfajores (a type of sweet) at the end of class. I myself was also fairly entrepreneurial, and I had my mother bake brownies that I sold at about .50 a pop. It really pissed some of my teachers off.

It’s funny how life works out though, and after 10th grade, I never saw or heard from CJ again. That is, until the advent of Facebook, where he somehow found and friended me. After reading about his job at a local Broward newspaper and all his penguin-related joke statuses, I started thinking CJ had actually grown to be a pretty awesome guy. Then, last year, as I was visiting NYC after a failed relationship and a number of other unpleasant events, CJ asked if I wanted to meet up. And meet up we did, at a gay bar near Christopher Street. It was pretty fantastic because I always had my suspicions but seeing as CJ had been involved with the far-right clubs in high school (Republican and Christian groups), I was never 100% sure what was up with his orientation. These days, he’s much more open and relaxed and it was really grand to meet up with him and get to know him under new circumstances. That night, CJ told me to look him up the next time I was in town. And so, a few weeks before leaving Miami, I sent him a quick Facebook message asking if he’d let me stay with him a few nights and if he’d like to hang out some more, to which he very cordially replied: yes.

CJ lives on Jefferson Street near the L, in a multi-bedroom apartment he shares with about 3 other roommates (I can’t remember if I met them all or not?) Walking into the hallway of his complex, you’re greeted with the delicious, familiar scent of nice-quality herb, the kind I wasn’t fortunate enough to partake in as it was never offered and the only offer extended was that I buy $40 of more worth, which was way beyond my budget. Nostrils flared, I let the smell sink deep into my lungs as I entered the apartment. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of places i’ve crashed at since then have all had the same lived-in, dirty dishes, lack of feather duster, tell-tale art on the walls kind of feel that this joint had. These apartments all have this quality of desire to them, a combination of grunge and grit left behind by the over-booked lives of 20-somethings. They’d make great anthropological studies: notice the caked on cheese left on the plates, the gum and cigarette wrappers and beer bottle tops strewn about, hurried messages scribbled on napkins, half eaten sandwiches barely wrapped in the fridge, a compost heap or recycling bin because even though they’re busy, they still kinda care about the planet, an instrument that’s played on drunken nights by the musical talent of the house, well-worn shoes that have traipsed the city one hundred nights and then some, a fancy bike that cost more than everyone’s rent combined leaning against a wall with chipped paint, some books written by dead authors and dead poets about how to survive stacked tightly in a shelf to show that someone is well read, and maybe a refrigerator magnet from each of their home towns holding up a local chinese food menu. Beautiful.

The main thing I noticed, and what I hadn’t exactly prepared for, was that New York City would be hot. And not just hot, but really fucking sweltering hot. I’m from Miami, i’ve grown up under the sun. But i’ve always had air conditioning available. And when that wasn’t, due to some major natural disaster or power outage, there was always something else, like a battery operated fan. Never had I experienced the stagnant heat of a NYC basement in the summertime. I hate to sound ungrateful, and to be honest, I am not and would gladly sleep there again no question, but now I would go in with a much more prepared state of mind. CJ led me down the metal steps from his apartment’s kitchen to the shared basement space that divided his bedroom from his roommate’s room. Right in the middle was a big, grown, fuzzy couch with a wool blanket at one end and a pillow at the other.

“I hope you don’t mind, we don’t have a fan or anything. This is the couch though! Let me know if you’re not comfortable though!” CJ said to me, so kindly to the girl he really didn’t know much about at all except she was kind of a pain in the ass when she was 15 and probably was still somewhat of a pain over a decade later. I plopped my stuff down by the edge of the couch.

“This is perfect!” I smiled, and it was, because I wasn’t paying one red cent for it, and sleeping there meant I could be in New York City, the holy land of dreamers who imagine their own towns to be much too small for their big ideas. There were no expectations, only gratitude to have a small space to call my own, even if only temporarily, in a city of 8 million other confused individuals just trying to get by. It felt good. It felt really good. I sat down on the couch, opened my bag, and got acquainted with my first free home on the road.

(Check back for continuations throughout the week. For now, enjoy the music.)