You know you’re in Manhattan when the check arrives.
Living in the coolest place on earth, you find you get swallowed up in the hype, getting high on your own home-grown kombucha, as it were. But just across a river lies an island dubbed “The City that Never Sleeps.” The center of the world and home of pizza places named after a series of men named Ray; the place so important to the imagination of the world that Las Vegas has a casino themed after it. Even Egypt doesn’t get to claim the Luxor, and THAT’S A COUNTRY. What had I been taking for granted, living in my homemade duplex in a former warehouse, when famous dead guys like Jack Kerouac, O.Henry, and Lou Reed (he’s dead, right?) had been living less than 5 miles away, making the art that we’ve been stocking our cement block bookshelves with over here?
First things first, if I was going to live among the Manhattanites, I needed to look the part. Fortunately, I still had the suit my parents bought me after graduation for my first job interview! Next, it was time to lose the scruff! Unfortunately, living in Brooklyn meant that I hadn’t owned a razor in years, so I had to venture out for some hastily purchased supplies. Obviously, if I could be positive that a real Manhattan barber like The Art of Shaving in Grand Central Terminal was open, I would have much preferred that. Nevertheless, I boarded the train, newly shorn and dudded up and headed straight to the epicenter of New York culture: Midtown!
My first stop, of course, was to find lodging at a typical Manhattan boarding house to begin my weekend abroad, so I headed right up to the corner of 59th Street and 5th Ave for The Plaza–hey, if it was good enough for Eloise, right? The hotel, quaint with its gold leaf adornments and crystal chandeliers, was bustling with typical Manhattanites toting around their giant rolling handbags, unraveled maps of the city in hand, as if to brag at every moment how large and sprawling their island was, and showing off the true melting pot of nationalities every time they spoke in their mother tongues. What a metropolis!
I was just about checked in when the hotel reception desk informed me that the Brokelyn corporate card was actually a slice of pimento loaf with tears that I swore looked like a “B” when I started my journey, and I would need some other sort of payment. After confirming the nightly rate for a Saturday evening would put me in bankruptcy court, I tried to negotiate an hourly rate. This, too, seemed to be against Plaza policy, so I slipped my stick and bandana bundle under one of the larger comfy chairs and and nipped outside, ready for my jaunt through the concrete jungle.
Once unfettered, I was excited to see the land that brought us Sex and The City and Seinfeld. I wanted to have brunch with my girlfriends and debate between buying shoes and dating a fashion photographer. I was ready to go down that Big Salad hole! I wanted to see what these denizens did in the hours when they weren’t actually paying the suggested donation at museums.
As I walked the streets, I began to realize I wasn’t dressed as appropriately for my Manhattan outing as I initially presumed. How silly of me—this suit was at least 10 years old! So I made a beeline for one of Manhattan’s premiere boutique shops, Banana Republic at none other than Rockefeller Centre, put on the map by the very excellent, and now defunct 30 Rock (apparently the title is actually an address in the area). Once inside, I headed down to the men’s section–you heard me right, in Manhattan they separate clothes into sections by gender and keep them in the same store. A clean-cut young man who looked like he definitely voted in the last election, Luis, came right up to me and introduced himself, asking if he could help me. Who said the people of this town were cold to strangers in need of help? I told him I wanted an Occupy Wall Street look, “but for the other side.”
The salesman was game to help me find something spring-y and appropriate for a typical Manhattan jaunt, picking out jeans that were decidedly not tight at all (“I left that life behind,” I told him) while a second salesman, Tareak, suggested an outfit he had assembled for himself the other day. He found Emerson vintage (!!) straight white chinos ($59.50), a green slim-fit linen button-down cotton shirt ($69.50), a dot print silk skinny tie ($59.50), a tailored Navy Linen-Wool blazer ($250), and Digby brogue Oxfords ($148), which I took into the changing room for my own personal Manhattan fashion show!
The outfit, Tareak told me, was inspired by his love of the Seattle Seahawks color scheme. I strode up to the mirror in the changing room, the other salespeople in awe at my transformation, and tried out my new Manhattan persona. I stared down that handsome devil in the mirror and announced in my best Midtown voice, “I’ll pay for that with my credit card!” It was like a metamorphosis. I looked like I was worth $586.50 (not including tax and black market value of my organs.) As I handed the clothes back for them to fold, I asked them to kindly point me to the reduced items section. “I have a 40% off coupon on my phone,” I explained, and looked for some discount socks I could afford.
In a cosmopolitan mecca that can pull you in literally every direction, it’s important to know how to get around. Sure, there’s the subway which is only $2.50 and runs around the clock, but that’s for tourists. If I wanted to get the real Manhattan experience, I needed to pop from landmark to landmark in the Manhattanite’s vehicle of choice, a taxi. I flagged down one of the yellow ants marching along the thoroughfare and “took a cab,” as my brothers and sisters across the East River would say, but not before the cab attendant asked me if I actually knew my way around the city and told me I “could very easily walk the three blocks to get there.” To appropriate that famous line from another cinematic lettre d’amour to Manhattan, “Hey, I’m not walkin’ here!”
Taxi cabs in Manhattan are fantastic, with separate air conditioning for the back seat, or electronic windows if you’re so inclined to grab a whiff of beautiful Manhattan’s world-class air when it’s warm out. There’s even a television that will tell you about all of the fabulous Manhattan movies that are playing in the city. I was fine until the meter came to $15, however, at which point, not wanting to rent use of my mouth in order to make the month’s rent, I happily switched over to foot power. Just like they used to do in olde New Amsterdam!
All that movement had made me hungry, and I realized that in my excitement to discover a new land, I had neglected to eat anything all day. In a city that has intersection of so many worlds, whether it is fashion or theater, how could I neglect the culinary paradise that also coexists in this Western Jerusalem? Of course there were so many choices available to me, but I reminded myself that this wasn’t about Yelp reviews or what Urban Spoon suggested. I wanted to eat like a true Manhattanite, and what’s more beloved in Manhattan than the hot dog carts, serving their busy clientele while they rush back and forth all day? From the look of a typical Manhattan hot dog cart, you’d think you were eating from the tropical version of a dumpster outside of a medical plant, its giant umbrella shading from the only natural element within 20 feet, sunlight. But looks are often deceiving, as the smells emanating from it were heavenly, if heaven were in the mind of a Labrador.
I went to a genial vendor near Radio City Music Hall and asked him for a hot dog. “Grilled or boiled?” he asked. “Whatever the locals get!” I declared, and then I saw that the boiled ones were only $1, so I went with that. “Can you please make it a Manhattan style hot dog?” I requested. The man looked at me for a second, registering the request; no doubt he was assessing if I was the real deal, or just another tourist trying to pass. Nevertheless, he began putting on ketchup, mustard, onions, and sauerkraut, and a few moments later I got to see firsthand how Manhattan bites!
My journey left only one more stop for culture. I headed to the center of it all, Times Square, for tickets to a Broadway show! Well, there was quite a huge line, and it turned out even at TKTS I would only be able to afford a ticket to be the bathroom attendant at Jekyll & Hyde starring Constantine from American Idol. So I abandoned that in hopes of mingling with some salt-of-the-earth Manhattan folk.
I hastened to one of Manhattan’s outdoor cafes (they’re sort of like the empty lots and sixpacks we have in Brooklyn, except nothing is on fire), made famous by Carrie, Samantha, and the rest of the girls, as they watched the world pass by and drank bellinis, and ordered the only cocktail that came to mind. “Give me the usual!” I directed the kindly waitress who had an air about her as if she was addicted to ordering her meals at home from Seamless. On the rocks or straight, I had to decide. Why, it was a warm enough day, I would have my Manhattan, in Manhattan, on ice!
When one is sipping bourbon and sweet Vermouth, even a city filled with people hustling back and forth on a Saturday seems like it might be enjoying a leisurely weekend day. It’s amazing what just the right angle on life can do to your perspective! I decided it was time to try another pass at my new persona.
“Isn’t this Manhattan simply to die for?” I exclaimed to the table next to me. The older woman there enthused, “Oh yes, I’ve had 8 already, and it’s not even noon!” Why, I think I could get accustomed to this city living!
It’s hard to know what I’ve gained on my outlook after my day spent in Manhattan. This island, so rich in history, where its residents wield sarcasm in daily conversation with the same precision that my fellow Brooklynites reserve for irony, can hardly be encompassed in a few trips to its more notable sites. Just as with the Louvre, masterpieces loom around every corner. After all, I never even made it to the Apple Store or even a Tad’s Steaks! I’ve come to understand that fear of commuting more than 30 minutes anywhere and assigning exorbitant worth to things that are seemingly identical and mass-produced is an important cultural inheritance for those of us pioneering the wild farmlands of Kings County. After all, we youth are destined to inherit the earth, if not a rent-controlled apartment, and how will we know we are successful, if our worth isn’t literally challenged with every hot dog or chino we buy? It may have only been a few hours since my sojourn to Manhattan, but I can say with complete confidence that I’ll be returning to that giant little island sometime very soon. Especially since I have to go back to work on Monday.
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