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NY Trip Retroblog: Wednesday July 4th

NY Trip Retroblog: Wednesday July 4th

Zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow

Now, going to the zoo was not one of the things I envisaged doing on my trip to New York. Neck-ache-inducing skyscrapers and vertiginous views, yes. Bustling bars and unchecked alcoholism, also yes. Bored baboons and cramped crocodiles, err... not really.

But the friends of Swerd's whom we met on Tuesday night were already planning to go, and it sounded like it could be fun, and we needed something to do on July fourth, and I'm not going to make any more excuses because it was ace, alright? Good.

Morgan, Aaron, Bethany, Swerd and myself met at the Tick Tock Diner, a sort of faux retro piece of Americana, all polished chrome and daytime neon.

I was feeling a little, er, delicate after the previous night's boozefest so I forsook (forsookt? forsuck? forsooth?) the disco fries (Morgan is far braver than me), the penne in vodka sauce (southern Italian dining meets Slavic staple in New York shocker) and whatever the hell it was that Aaron was eating (potato / onion lasagne rug thing) and opted for toast. Ah, toast. It's like bread, only stiffer. Even that was too much, actually - not a promising start to the morning.

Discovered that Americans have an acronym for everything; I call it "the shits", they call it IBS. Go figure. The less said about that, the better.

We rode the subway out to the Bronx Zoo, and joined the hordes strolling around poking the animals with sticks. I'm not kidding. People were actually taking branches off nearby trees and poking them through the cages at the ickle monkeys. Fuckwits. It would be easy to put that one down to a "huh, kids these days" knee-jerk reaction were it not for the fact that we were talking about swarthy Hispanic middle-aged bloaters in baseball caps and fanny packs.

And yes, I was able to resist the urge to giggle in a puerile fashion whenever anyone said "fanny pack". Just. (snigger)

The zoo was excellent - for us, anyway, but at least we got to leave at the end of the day, unlike the animals. The debate about whether or not it's right to keep animals in captivity aside, if you're going to visit a zoo then you could do a lot worse than the Bronx one. It was huge, the animals seemed to have plenty of space, plus the zoo clearly had a lot of conservation and reintroduction-to-the-wild schemes going on. If only they could spare an area (a small, claustrophobic one would do) for a new "fuckwits with sticks" exhibit, then it would be practically perfect.

The contrast with Ueno Zoo in Tokyo, which I visited a couple of years ago, was striking. Ueno is terrible, really. Concrete everywhere, space constraints and overcrowding. And that's just for the human visitors - the animals have it even worse.

The bears were cool, the peacocks quite striking, and the supercool hanging monkey in the rainforest was tops. He was just hanging by one hand from a liana, fifteen metres up, just dangling there, watching us all watching him. Then with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders he swung off through the trees. I was very envious - but not so envious that I'd sacrifice, say, being human for being able to do that. Jon decided that the giraffes were a lot like most models he's met: tall, graceful, slow walkers, "difficulty getting blood to the brain". It was hard to tell if they were insincere or not, though. Not sure how Paul Simon arrived at that conclusion.

By this time, plans for the evening's celebrations were hotting up. We were invited to a bring-your-own barbeque on Dori's roof in Williamsburg, so we sped back into Manhattan, where Jon proceeded to have panic attacks over how to make the perfect fajitas.

Arrive at flat. Check internet for fajita recipes. Realise we have NO relevant ingredients. Compile shopping list. Pack paper plates, Ziploc bags and napkins (I'm sorry, "serviettes"). Change mind - decide on burgers after all. Go to supermarket. Try to find burger ingredients. Dismiss burgers. Start picking up fajita ingredients instead. Dismiss fajitas. Acquire hot dog materiel instead. Stop. Ponder. Put hot dogs back, reformulate fajita plan. Realise that this will require going back to apartment to mix seasoning.

If, heaven forbid, I ever find myself in trouble with the law in the States, I want this kid on my defence team. Just seeing the amount of effort he was prepared to put into turning barbeque fajitas into cuisine left me in no doubt about the future success of his burgeoning legal practice. He is not, however, the kind to say, "oh sod it, let's just make futsu burgers". Why? Because futsu burgers have but two ingredients: burgers and buns. I love him dearly, but, as I'm sure he'd be the first to agree, he's in serious need of chillage occasionally. "It would be bad to miss the fireworks," he said at one point, "but it would be terrible to mess this up", pointing at the shopping bag. Bethany and I traded a look.

So my overriding memory from the Fourth of July is of myself and Bethany, huddling under an umbrella on an East Village street corner in the torrential rain, holding two bags of booze and a number of fajita components, waiting for Jon to dash to his apartment and back with the magic seasoning, laughing gently at the ludicrosity of it all but looking forward to the exquisite rooftop fajitas.

Jon arrived and we headed to catch the subway out to Brooklyn. If it's all such a hassle, I asked, why don't we just get a taxi? Jon and Bethany just looked at me. Ah. Like that, is it? I now understand that asking a Manhattan taxi driver to take you to Brooklyn, even at 8pm, is a bit like asking a London cabbie for a lift south of the river after midnight. "You're jokin, incha? Cor blimey guv" etc.

Dori lives in a converted warehouse next to the East River, and after a bit of a trek we made our way up twelve storeys to the roof, along with 200 or so other people and a view that I hope I don't forget in a hurry. It had stopped raining, but was still very overcast; even so, the lights of Manhattan and the armada of cruise ships and powerboats spread out underneath us were spectacular.

The East River fireworks didn't start for a while; instead we could only catch flashes of the Jersey ones, illuminating the low cloud between the silhouettes of the Manhattan skyscrapers with anti-aircraft artillery flashes - Gulf War imagery transposed onto the New York skyline.

The fireworks were pretty damn good, even if the tops were sometimes truncated by the cloudcover (and I certainly wasn't about to say "well, of course, I've seen Japanese displays that were far superior" in a British accent) and it was such a superb, surreal setting. Possibly the strangest thing was the Jewish bouncer, complete with rolled-up white shirt sleeves, yarmulke (skullcap) and peyis (sideburns), standing on top of one of the rooftop structures to prevent drunkards climbing up and hurting themselves, while helicopters buzzed overhead and trendy new media types milled around on our and surrounding roofs. Just awesome.

I considered affecting a South African accent for the evening, but decided that I'd probably tire of people asking me which part of Australia I came from (I can never keep it going long enough to be totally convincing). Thankfully, comments on my Britishness were kept to an absolute minimum - no need for any of the pithy comebacks I had prepared earlier. Born in Canada, raised in the UK, living in Japan, global citizen; I personally couldn't care less about our two countries' relative histories, but I was half-expecting that all-too-familiar brand of American "patriotism" - the one that involves lots of whooping - to surface in some form.

I met the excellent Andrew and we chatted extensively (shockwave, console gaming, MegaTokyo, Japanimation, manga, high technology and low-brow culture); he then left to get his fire-spinning equipment ready (seriously), but the rain intervened and everyone darted back downstairs. Except us. Swerd, Andrew, Bethany and I were left standing on the roof amid the downpour, drinking spiked vodka alcopops under our umbrellas as the thunder picked up and lightning started coming down.

Out of the rain came Vanessa, a tiny mad blonde girl with a thing for Welsh accents; we grabbed the remainder of the barbeque chicken and headed downstairs to Dori's, AIM'ed briefly with Ethan, coerced him into coming out to meet us and then left for Last Exit, only to find that the only thing harder than finding a cab willing to take you to Brooklyn late at night is finding a cab already in Brooklyn late at night.

Finally flagged down a livery cab (read: normal car driven by a couple of dodgy-looking dudes) and wound up at Last Exit, where Ethan's girlfriend, Louisa, tends bar. Some guy on crutches appeared to be having trouble with his fine motor control; I heard him break two glasses in the space of half an hour. Truly this was a day of fuckwits with sticks (in fact, if we count the guys at the pool table the previous night, then I think I'm starting to see a theme here).

It's a nice bar with comfy sofas, and Louisa is a lovely person who mixes a delicious cocktail. More chattage with Andrew, Ethan and Bethany and then back to the mainland (heh) by Magical Appearing Taxi. Ethan says, "you need a cab?", stops, sniffs the air, bounds along the sidewalk to the nearest corner, holds up one hand, and lo! A yellowcab screeches to an immediate halt in front of him. The kid's a savant.

Back to Swerd's flat to meet the long-anticipated and rather sleepy Meghan. Grabbed some floorspace and sank into a quality snooze, my mind's flywheel gradually slowing down, dropping off into memories of the nocturnal exhibit at the zoo, fireworks over the East River and large orthodox Jewish security staff. So varied, so cool, so... New York.

And the fajitas? After all that we left them, uncooked, as a present for Dori. Too much like hard work.

Posted by chris at July 12, 2001 11:01 AM | Permalink

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