Tuesday, April 26, 2011

NYC: Sunday, April 9, 2011 – Monday, April 10, 2011

Okay everyone. Here's the WHOLE THING. (Well, the WHOLE THING of Sunday and Monday...gives you a sense of what a project this is, eh?) Please feel free to skim if you wish. But I put it all there for your sakes, because I love you. And also because when I asked my mom what she wanted as a souvenir from New York, she replied "a detailed blog." So this is for you, Mom.

These two days have to be written about as one, because they sort of flowed into each other, with uncomfortable naps scattered throughout them. So here goes.

I spent most of Sunday afternoon wandering around the house with a desperate case of cabin fever. We didn’t need to leave until 4 pm or so, and if you’re getting ready for a big trip, that’s the worst time to leave, because you spend most of the day just wanting to go, but knowing it would be pointless to leave so early. But after packing, a game of chess, a bit of last-minute cleaning, and a lot of pacing, 4 o’clock arrived and we headed out. We gave a ride to our friend Jerry and a girl named Cassy, whom we didn’t know at the time, but who is now a friend. =) We had some great conversations on our way down, about the Gospel, about LDS culture, about the need for compassion, and a lot of other things. (One of those great conversations that you learn a lot in, but have a hard time summarizing later.) Jacob’s grandparents gave us a ride to the airport and Jerry presented himself to them as their new adopted grandson.

At the airport, we had to go through one of those disturbing “see everything” security machines, and Kolby had to have his leg patted down because he had a gum wrapper in his pocket, which apparently looked suspicious on the screen. We sat in the airport and swapped stories and played hackeysack. Omar and Lori Hansen told us a great story about moving to New York as newlyweds. They literally packed their car with their wedding gifts a week after being married, and drove to Manhattan to audition and write. They only lasted a few weeks there, but they look back on it as a good memory now. The hackeysack was funny, because as soon as Jacob and Jerry started, Heidi and Sam said that they always make fun of hackeying because it’s usually so anticlimactic. One person hits it and it falls to the ground. In an effort to prove them wrong, we made Sam join in, and I joined in as well, and I’m proud to say that our record was 11 hits. We made up all sorts of rules to compensate for our general lack of hackeying talent (things like “any time the hackey hits ANYTHING, it’s 3 points”).

My other favorite moment from the trip was when in the silence of standing/sitting around and waiting, John said “I hope we see a celebrity. So I can give them the finger.” John is a “charming enigma” to most of us. He also told us a story about how one day he was sitting in a park in the Czech Republic (any story that begins this way is sure to be interesting), eating a can of olives which he decided were not to his liking. So he left them on a park bench and watched and waited until a homeless man came up, investigated, sat down and ate every olive with delight. Our joke about John all week was that we were probably going to lose him in New York. Not on purpose, just that a few days into the trip, one of us would look around and say, “Where’s John?” (Which actually did happen a few times, but he always turned up later.)

Our flight was mostly uneventful, aside from the moment when I woke up at 2 in the morning to the worst turbulence I have ever experienced in my life. Normally, I give a hearty “yee-haw” to turbulence, but something about the lack of sleep, my already present nausea from medicine, my hunger, and my inability to see out the window, made the experience a NIGHTMARE. And this wasn’t just a few bumps and jolts. I’m talking like, 7.5 magnitude earthquake for 40 minutes straight. Even the most avid roller-coaster enthusiast has to admit that 40 minutes of adrenaline is too much. Biologically speaking, your brain is receiving all sorts of signals that says that you’re about to DIE, so it kicks into survival mode, pumping adrenaline through your body. And on a dark night, at 2 in the morning, no amount of self-talk can convince your brain that you’re actually NOT dying.

I finally ended up in the bathroom with my head between my knees, just waiting to pass out, throw up, or some combination of both. After I had been gone about fifteen minutes, Jacob finally came and knocked on the door, and held my hand until we were on solid ground again. Which was especially gallant of him, since he gets pretty ill himself during plane landings. Anyway, I was glad to reach the airport, although I did spend the next few hours being convinced that I had contracted some disease from the airplane bathroom, since in my desperation, I had run there barefoot. But so far, my feet and body are fine.

We all sleepily grabbed our luggage, sleepily got on the bus, and sleepily watched as we passed a MILLION graveyards! Apparently, Queens is filled with very old, large, and eerie graveyards. I couldn’t believe how big some of them were. I was too sleepy to figure out how to take a picture of them from a moving vehicle, but I found a picture or two online to show you. Maybe it was the fact that it was sunrise, and there was a grey mist over everything, but it’s one of the most vivid images I have of the entire trip.

When we got into Manhattan, I felt something within me sort of shift and sigh into place. There’s something about big cities that make me feel comfortable in them. I don’t think I could happily live there forever, and my “own” city of San Francisco is very different, but somehow I feel like there’s a part of me that belongs in a big city.

We all sort of woke up a little more once we got into the city as well, especially when we got to an intersection and noticed a completely naked man showering in his upstairs apartment. Really. He was NAKED. The shower fogged up the window enough to obscure the details of his person, but still. We decided to consider that our official welcome into New York City. (There was also something that morning about a pole-dancing Ronald McDonald in a window somewhere, but I was too sleepy to be able to process that one.)

For some reason, checking in seemed to take another million years, probably because I was 80% asleep. I finally curled up on top of a coffee table in the lobby until we got our key and could head upstairs to take a nap.

A word on our hotel:
We stayed at the Milford Plaza, on the corner of 44th and 8th. It was IDEAL as far as location goes, and reasonably priced, and not too shabby. But I had the distinct impression that they were trying REALLY hard to be trendy, and not succeeding at all. You’ve either got 2 million dollars to put a bar in the lobby, or you haven’t, and no amount of pink gels over the lights you place beside the columns can make it look that way. It looks like it used to be a really fancy hotel…marble columns and chandeliers. But it has since fallen into disrepair, and attempts to “hip-ify” it make it only more painfully obvious how un-hip it is. They could have a clean, decent Motel 6 kind of feel if they stopped trying so hard. But I came to love it anyway.

Here’s a funny story about how “small-town” Jacob and I have become. We were told we were in room 2025. The elevators were cool in that there was one dial-pad thing for four elevators…you would enter the floor number you need, and it would tell you which elevator to go to. Well, since our room number began with a “2,” we naturally assumed we were on the 2nd floor, and dialed up an elevator, so to speak. But after wandering around office spaces and janitor’s closets, we decided our room must not be on the 2nd floor. Jacob finally realized that our room must be on the 20th floor. Ha ha ha. That’s about 16 floors taller than the tallest building in Rexburg. In that moment, I felt…what’s the word? Provincial.

I did run across the street for a greasy breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and bacon, at this little deli that I never visited again. Then it was glorious glorious sleep. When we woke up around noon, we all met in the lobby to take a brief walking tour of Manhattan, to familiarize us with the area, and attempt to wake our bodies up. (And to enjoy the balmy 78 degree weather, which didn’t really show its face again the entire time we were there.) As we waited in the lobby, Jacob turned to me and said “My body feels so traumatized.” Which was accurate for all of us, I think. Driving four hours, a red-eye flight full of turbulence, and a nap do not make for feeling at the top of your game.

Our hotel was right around the corner from Times Square, and Times Square was our first stop. It is a crowded, insane kind of place. And I don’t like it at all. Aside from the really cool shops there. (The middle picture here is totally staged, but I love it anyway.)

We headed through the diamond district, which I didn’t even know existed. And which I also didn’t like. (I’m more of a hemp jewelry kind of girl myself. But more on diamonds when I write about Tiffany’s…) There was one memorable moment, when a guy standing in the doorway of his shop creepily said “Helloooo ladies. You like diamond?” No. I no like diamond. Not anymore.

The main “adventure” of this day was when Roger, Heidi, Jacob, Jerry, Sam, Kolby, Zack and I decided to check out a designer suit outlet on the second floor of a shop near 5th Ave. The rest of the group was in the American Girl Store next door, which, now that I think about it, I would have loved to visit. But then I wouldn’t have had this memorable experience. We crammed all eight of us into the elevator, and pressed “2.” The elevator went up about three feet, then skidded to a halt. And wouldn’t move again.

All of us looked at each other, with panic only right behind our eyes. Jerry and Sam attempted to shove the door open to check to see if we were between floors, or if we could escape. We were between floors.

We waited about three more minutes to assess our situation, and see if anything else could be done. Someone noticed the sign taped to the wall that said “WARNING: MAXIMUM CAPACITY FIVE PERSONS.” Which we were exceeding by about three and a half people (Jerry claimed that he was at least two people, but I’ll give him some slack and say he only counts as one and a half). And let me tell you, standing shoulder to shoulder in an un-air-conditioned elevator, on a warm day in NYC, you can start to feel a little panicky. I kept telling myself to take deep breaths, but doing so didn’t help much because the air was stifling. But in that situation, you can either panic, or laugh, and I made the decision (over and over again) to laugh. We finally called for help, and they said they’d be on their way shortly, then called the other group to tell them where we were. The conversation sounded a little like this:

Lori: Hello?
Roger: Hi Lori. We just wanted to let you know that we’re stuck in an elevator.
Lori: Are you kidding?
Roger: I wish I was.

But help arrived within five minutes or so! So if it had to happen, it happened in the best way it could have. I think part of me has always wanted to get stuck in an elevator, just for the experience, and so I can check that off my bucket list without it being too traumatic of an experience.

A few of us did go upstairs to check out suits, but they were all still way out of our price range. When we got back down, we discovered this:

Apparently, the person actually doing this job left their sandwich board and fliers just inside the door, so Jerry took the opportunity to utilize them himself. We also stopped by the Lindt Truffles, which was heavenly. And I was grateful that those babies are also available in Rexburg.

The bulk of the afternoon, however, was spent not stuck in elevators or going broke in chocolate shops, but rather in places of a more spiritual nature. Jacob said something cool later that day…he said that he loved that we started our visit to the city by going to its most sacred places. We first stopped at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We got there at the end of mass, and we lit a candle for St. Patrick and wandered a bit, looking at all the statues of the other saints. Both Jacob and I had really spiritual experiences, and I won’t write about the details here—partly because they’re very personal, but mostly because I can’t find the words for them. But I did kneel in a pew and say a little prayer of gratitude in my own way, for truth and beauty, for the Savior, and for the hope that seeing so many people trying to do good brought me. Jacob talked about how he hasn’t visited many other churches in his life, but he remembers elders on his mission talking about their experiences in other churches. They used to talk about how false everything felt, especially in the Catholic church (no offense to any Catholics…keep reading), and how you could just feel the falseness, or something like that. But Jacob said that his experience in the cathedral was so different. He said he felt the Spirit, as did I, and that in many ways, it’s a lot of the same truth, just wearing slightly different clothing. I’m always a little taken aback when people talk about our Church as though we are spiritually superior, as though we have the monopoly on truth. I simply can’t see it as true. True devotion is without dogma, I think. I believe that my Church is true, but I don’t think we’re the only ones who have any truth at all. So to any Catholics reading this, know that my husband and I had a very spiritual experience in your church, and we are so grateful for it.

(And the building was GORGEOUS. Just awe-inspiring in so many ways. I loved the tall, vaulted ceilings, especially.)

The other cool thing that happened at St. Patrick’s is that after the mass, a choir came to the front and sang a few hymns. It looked like they were from a local high school, and they sounded fantastic. But as we were nearing the end of our visit, they began to sing Aaron Copland’s “All That Hath Life and Breath.” I sang that song my senior year of high school, and LOVED it. It’s one of my fondest memories of high school choir, and it was just really neat to hear it. ☺

We also visited an Episcopalian Church and a Protestant Church, but I’m ashamed to say that I don’t remember their exact names. They were equally beautiful though, and one of them reminded us of the Tabernacle at Temple Square. It was kind of surreal, but really beautiful to step into these cool, peaceful havens in the middle of this consumer-driven area of the city.

And speaking of diamonds, our next stop was…Tiffany and Co! The classiest jewelry store in Manhattan. I’ve got some moral issues with the diamond business, which I don’t quite feel like going into at the moment. There’s still some inhumane business practices in the diamond industry that I don’t want to support, and they’re just not quite my style anyway. (Which is why my own ring is still cubic zirconium, until we can afford to buy the stones from a reputable company.) To each his (or her) own. BUT, walking through Tiffany’s seems like something everyone should do once before they die. So we did. Jules, Amberly and I went to the second floor to look at engagement rings. We kept overhearing things like “Now this one will run around 30 or 40…” As in 30 or 40 THOUSAND. That will probably be my yearly salary someday. There was the famous “blue diamond” ring, valued at around $750,000. (Which, as a teacher, I would be able to afford only if I worked for fifteen years straight, didn’t pay taxes, and put every single dime of my paycheck towards the ring. One advantage of not being into diamonds.) At one point, a stately gentleman in a suit saw me looking in the display cases and said “Hello miss, are you here to buy a diamond?” To which I replied “Oh, not today, thank you.” As if I would come back next week to pick one up. You know, on my way home from Saks, or something.

We did pass Saks, actually. We only went in long enough to discover an INCREDIBLE perfume (something Bond No. 9) and pose with hats. But I was made aware of an Oscar de la Renta collection being sold upstairs. Now, Oscar de la Renta is one of my FAVORITE designers. I know I don’t seem like someone who would be very into fashion, and to be honest, I’m not really, but I adore Oscar de la Renta. His designs are so classy and feminine without being obnoxious. (Go look up some of his evening gowns to see what I mean. Anne Hathaway has worn him a few times on various occasions, and always looks stunning.) I know that I’ll probably never be able to afford to own an Oscar de la Renta dress, but it’s on my bucket list to at least wear one. So I made plans to come back later in the week and accomplish that goal. Which I totally did, but I’ll write about that later.

The whole gang then headed to FAO Schwartz, which had a foosball table made of armless Barbies, and where you could make your own muppet for $99. Oh, and there were some stuffed animals there too. At this point, I was feeling pretty ill, so I decided to head back to the hotel, despite the incredible opportunities that were all around me. I was at a point where I simply couldn’t enjoy them. So while the rest of the group (including Jacob) headed to Central Park (where they had adventures that I’ll detail in a moment), I walked back to our hotel. It was nice to just walk on my own. I’ve concluded that trying to walk in a group of more than four people in a city like New York is way too stressful. I’m always doing head counts and making sure everyone’s caught up, instead of paying any attention to anything else. So I liked just taking half an hour to reacquaint myself with Manhattan, on my own.

Although I did have a bizarre adventure in stopping into a drugstore for some medicine, only to find a total lack of medicine there. What kind of drugstore doesn’t sell drugs?! I bought a box of Honey Nut Cheerios and a ginger ale, and then walked around about eight times, trying to figure out where the medicine was. I guess I could have asked, but something in me wanted to prove to everyone that I was actually a self-sufficient city-dwelling type who was familiar with the Duane-Read on 5th Avenue. I finally discovered a hidden escalator to a lower level, where there was medicine galore. Huzzah! And my grocery bag of cereal and other goods prompted someone on the street to assume I was a native New Yorker. Double huzzah. ☺

I got back to the hotel, climbed into bed, ate dry cheerios, drank ginger ale, and watched two episodes of Friends. Which may sound sort of lame, but lemme tell ya, it was bliss. We don’t have television at our house, so just the act of channel-flipping and watching something on a screen bigger than my laptop felt glamorous. And I’m a big fan of dry cereal too. It may have seemed to others like an hour or so wasted, but I delighted in it and don’t regret a thing.

When Jacob returned, he related to me his experience in Central Park, which was apparently a little unpleasant in only a few aspects. I’ll let him relate what happened:

There was a group of dancing moneygrabbers in Central Park. It was the first time I’d ever been there, and it was the first group of street performers I’d ever seen there, and so I was a little insane with the highness of my hopes. The dancing moneygrabbers all happened to be black guys, and they had a few things going for them. One was that they could all break dance. Another was that they had a ludicrous 12-year-old who thought he owned the planet (he didn’t) and would tell the crowd what to do. “Put money in the bucket.” “Move back.” “Clap for us.” “Watch.” “Don’t leave until you’ve paid.” These guys were obsessed with money, which is okay, but it tainted the experience. The 12-year-old kid would run around yelling stuff while another of the older dudes took off his shirt and shook is buns at old women, while the other few dudes would step forward, one at a time, and s-l-o-w-l-y, with boredom, do their crazy body-flailing dance moves. It should have been awesome, but I’m not sure anybody was impressed. The dancers just didn’t care about what they were doing, didn’t like the fact that there were all these people around. They were only there to get their lucre. Thus the show boiled down to Twelve-Year-Old and Shirtless yelling at people to give up their money, staring people down until they gave up their money, or doing sexual-innuendo-stuff to make people laugh, which was a tactic to get money from the people who hadn’t yet given theirs up despite the yells and stares. I know about the last one not only because I saw Shirtless moisten his own nipples while giving people a coy sidelong glance, but because Shirtless also saw fit to grind his sweaty body against me when I gave 5 dollars to his soulless cause. I gave the money, was violated by Shirtless, and was promptly approached and stared at by Twelve-Year-Old. “I already paid,” I sobbed. He coasted robotically away. Why 5 dollars? I don’t know. When your brain is heated with the insanity of your first visit to Central Park, your wallet is no longer sacred.

Poor Jacob. The version of the story that Jacob tells younger audiences is that Shirtless “gave him a hug,” which is a much nicer—if totally inaccurate—version of what actually happened. The truth was much more NC-17, unfortunately. But let's move on to something more family-friendly...

Our first Broadway show of the trip was…MARY POPPINS! Full of “magic” and great performances. =) It was a perfect first show…nothing terrible, nothing particularly mind-blowing, but a wonderfully enjoyable evening nonetheless. It was also in the New Amsterdam Theatre, which I’ll write more about later. Jacob and I especially loved the actor who played Burt (Gavin Lee), and the actress who played Miss Andrew (Ruth Gottschall). Favorite numbers include Miss Andrew’s number “Brimstone and Treacle,” and “Steppin’ Time.” Here’s the greatest tragedy of all time, though. Jacob had to go to the bathroom, and left the theatre right before “Steppin’ Time” and came back right after it was over. I actually cried a little bit. It was, in my opinion, the best number of the whole show, and it broke my heart a thousand times over that he missed it! But let us not dwell on regrets. I don’t think I’ll be over it for another few years, but I’ll work on it.

Apparently, the Broadway production was “lightened up” a great deal, compared to the London production. The British version of the show is much darker and a little scarier in a lot of ways. But too many American kids lacked the stiff upper lip to deal with it, so they lightened it up. There was still one pretty creepy number when all the toys come alive at night. A common and not necessarily scary idea, but these toys were the broken, misused, abused and neglected toys that the Banks children needed to learn a lesson from. The beginning of this number also had the one magic trick that I cannot, to this day, figure out. There were a lot of things, like the magic carpet bag, and the bed appearing out of nowhere, that I figured out. But before the toys-coming-to-life number, Mary Poppins takes a broken doll and puts it in a dollhouse, then closes the dollhouse. The dollhouse is on a table, raised above the ground about a foot. It is away from all walls. About four seconds after she puts the doll into the dollhouse, a person dressed as the doll comes out of the dollhouse. I’m sure that the way this was done is common knowledge to any magician reading this, but I cannot figure it out.

The last time I went to New York, I learned a million important things about performing. But I’ve learned a lot of other things in the five and a half years since I’ve been to Broadway, and this time around, I learned a lot about tech theatre. I spent half of the show paying attention to the acting, and spent the other half figuring out how they were doing things, and thinking of ways they could be adapted to a high school or even college stage. Because really, the only difference between Broadway and the rest of the world is the amount of money they have. And the size of the house. But there are a lot of things that you could totally do in a college or even a high school, if you had the right resources. You probably couldn’t have someone tap dance on the ceiling (like Burt did in “Steppin’ Time”), but there was a scene where the kids are “helping” in the kitchen, and everything turns into a disaster! The faucet explodes (steam/stage fog, not water), the table cracks in half, plates roll down the shelf on the wall, etc. And it would be complex, but totally doable. That was a fun thing to learn.

James Best, an old friend from BYU-I (and currently a long-distance poetry mentor), came to the show, and afterwards hung out with us in the lobby of the hotel and talked for a while. It was James, Omar and Lori Hansen, Sam, and Jacob and I, and it was one of those great intellectual conversations we Bohemian types like to have…about art and truth and beauty and being open-minded. ☺ After about 45 minutes though, I though my stomach would start consuming itself, so Sam and Jacob and I headed to a little shop called Europan for some dessert/baked goods. Europan became a regular hang-out for the rest of the trip after that. It was after 11 when we walked the two blocks to the shop, and all of the garbage was piled up on the curbs. I remember that from being here in 2005, and somehow it was one of the things I loved and missed most about NYC. Strange, and kinda gross, but so distinctly Manhattan that I came to feel a sort of affection for it. And the night was humid and rainy and hot, just like the nights were in September of 2005, and I loved it.

The other thing I love about New York is walking and hearing snippets of conversation. My favorite quote from Day One was “I don’t like her around no more because she uses f***ing a** bad language all the time!”

The evening ended with me sitting in our window and looking out into Times Square, two blocks away, a la “Lost in Translation” or “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” (Believe me, I was aware of and working the film references.) Our hotel room was right in the middle of the “U” shape of the building, and we could see into the streets below. Not details, but there was enough “scope for the imagination” in it for us.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Delay Numero Two

Okay people. Here's the thing. I took notes during our whole New York trip. The writer in me couldn't resist. And I'm in the process of creating a travel diary from those notes. But I'm writing it mostly for my own journaling benefit, and planned on just sharing it here as well as a convenient way to share the trip with you.

But I'm only on day two, and my travel diary is 8 pages long, single-spaced, not including pictures. And it's not all just boring details...a lot of it is my thoughts on different things and small experiences. But to be honest, I don't know that I care to post something that long and detailed on my blog. So I'm thinking highlights, yes? Now I just have to decide on what constitutes a highlight. Maybe I'll just post the whole thing anyway? I'll keep you posted.

Anyway, that's the reason for the delay. If you have any strong opinions about whether I should post highlights only or the whole thing, let me know. Either way, I'll be posting one or two days at a time. In a few days.

In the meantime, here's one of my favorite pictures of the trip. This is in Central Park. The photograph is entitled "The Circle of Life." An appropriately themed picture for the day after Easter, no?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tales of New York

This is not the blog entry you've been waiting for. This is merely an announcement that the blog you've been waiting for will be posted shortly. I'm working on writing about the trip in great detail, but I keep getting distracted by naps and books and laundry and kissing my husband. But coming soon:

- The tale of Liz trying on an $11,000 Oscar de la Renta dress
- Reviews of seven Broadway productions
- A ghost story about the New Amsterdam theatre
- Chance encounters with unexpected people

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Recent discoveries

1. The Pyramid Code. I love Netflix Instant Viewing so much.  This is a five-part documentary about the ancient Egyptians. Parts of it were SUPER "out there," and I think the writers were trying a little too hard at times to go for the conspiracy theory angle, but there was a lot of interesting information. Very mind and eye-opening.

2. Playing Lucky in Waiting for Godot can be summed up with the following quote from Nathan Lane about Beckett: "It's one thing to look at it on the page, but then you try to do it and you think 'Well, this is impossible!'" Deep down, I do have confidence in my ability to do this. But just because you believe that you're capable of scaling Mt. Everest doesn't make it easy.

3. Scrabble against robots on Pogo.com. I get my butt kicked nine out of ten times. But I'm still enjoying it!

4. Puppetry. AMAZING puppetry. SERIOUSLY. Watch this video.
It's a TED talk, so it's about 20 minutes, but if you don't have that time, watch from 9:20 to about 11:00. This is an example of the puppetry used in War Horse, one of the plays we're seeing when we go to New York. (In four days.)

There are times when the "off-brand" rises above and provides something beautiful. These are some of the creamiest peanut-butter cups I've ever tasted. I mean, I'm looking forward to eating in New York and everything, but these are pretty good at tiding me over.