Day Three: Hostel Territory

I pooped roughly seven times the following morning. And by roughly seven times, I mean I pooped seven times and they were all rough. Presumably it was once for each buck of the seven dollar pizza. I hadn’t quite paid double for it at the time, but I definitely did in the end.

< Read New York: Part One

In spite of the day I had just endured, I was up before eight o’clock. Once I’d voided what I hoped was the last bit of liquid from my body and gotten my throbbing leg strapped in, I set off for nowhere; this was my designated full day for exploring and with my knee already slowing me down, I wasn’t interested in wasting a minute more than necessary. When I stepped outside I was pleased to find it brisk rather than frigid. I popped into a nearby grocery store for some of that Jamie Lee Curtis yogurt I hoped would reset my digestive system and headed for the trusty subway station. On the way there, my first destination came to me: Ground Zero.

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They say everyone remembers where they were on 9/11 and for me that’s true. I was in Ms. Biggs’ English class when an office aide came in and delivered the news that all after school activities were cancelled and briefly explained why. I also remember thinking, “Why should I care?” In my defense, I was an angry pop-punky teenager who didn’t know and didn’t give a rat’s ass about anyone I didn’t know (and not many of the ones I did either). Also I wasn’t really sure what the World Trade Center was. One of the many downsides of being from a tiny Texas town with no TV. Thankfully a decade of college, cable, and high-speed internet had changed that. Maybe it was residual guilt or maybe it was contemplative mood I found myself in, but I felt it was a good way to spend the first morning of the New Year.

It wasn’t. Turns out you had to buy tickets to see the memorial in addition to reserving them in advance for some reason. Yes the site still looked to be under construction, but apparently charging admission was going to be a thing even after it was done as a way to ensure it stays maintained (you literally pay your respects). Instead I found a good bench in the tower’s shadow with a view of Lady Liberty in the distance and had my moment of silence there instead. No one was out save a few dedicated joggers (or new ones making good on their resolutions). With a shopping center opening up in the future, I like to imagine that was one of the quieter mornings this spot would ever see. So it wasn’t a complete bust.

Afterwards I just walked the streets for a while which was equally as nice. It was undoubtedly one of the more upscale areas I’d been without being packed with people or commercialized to hell. The busiest spot was of course Wall Street where the tourists were out taking pictures for reasons I can’t fully comprehend. There was a really gnarly-looking old church nearby that was much more interesting to look at, though selfies with the tombstones is probably discouraged. At one point I ended up taking the train back up towards Central Manhattan and was pleasantly surprised to find little bronze sculptures strewn about the station. I later found out they’re the work of artist Tom Otterness’ Life Underground project with over 100 of these guys depicting life in NYC in comical/political fashion.

otterness03 otterness11 tomotterness06

The temptation to stop and take photos of them all was strong, but the bubbling in my guts was stronger.

In Part One I covered how difficult it was to find somewhere to sit in NYC. Maybe it should’ve been obvious by now, but it’s even tougher to find somewhere to… well, poop. Half of the fast food and restaurants don’t have a public restroom and the few that do have “customers only” signs that might as well read, “Go squat in an alley”. I get that it’s probably directed at the homeless population who tend to discourage business, but a place to dump in peace should be an unalienable human right. I was sure I wouldn’t make the 30-minute train ride back to the apartment, much less the 10 minute walk from the station, so I shuffled through the streets of New York in search of an open toilet. It took almost an hour.

I wandered into a promising-looking health food/drug store and did a lap of the aisles. To my dismay, there wasn’t a restroom sign in sight. A clerk approached me and I asked about something for my blisters which was second on my list of immediate concerns. He took his sweet ass time walking me over to a shelf full of vials, making multiple suggestions, and explaining the benefits and drawbacks of each. By the time he’d convinced himself one was the ideal solution I was starting to sweat in all the wrong places, so I snatched it from him and hobbled to the counter, eager to find out if I was going to be able to release the krakken or not. I tried to play it cool, casually asking the cashier if they had a bathroom, as if it wasn’t first on my list of immediate concerns. She said, “Noooo” in that saccharine sweet way that actually makes you hate them more. And then she rang up the $16 vial of goop, which I assume cures skin cancer at that dollar-to-substance ratio. Determined to get something out of this failed venture, I asked where the nearest bathroom was. She directed me to one of the bars across the street.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the men’s bathroom of a bar, but in my limited experience, they’re the least optimal place to make it chocolate rain. If you’re lucky there’s actually a seat on the toilet. If there’s a door on the stall, you’ve struck brown gold. That in mind, I ventured into the first open drinkery I spotted. This is where I’d normally describe the bar and the bartender and its patrons in vivid details, but I honestly have no recollection of any of that. That’s how bad it was. I asked if there was a bathroom, heard someone answer “Yes”, and headed down some stairs in the back, not really caring that it felt like I was headed to a secret backroom full of mobsters and cigar smoke. When I pushed open the door with the little man on it…. hallelujah.

I don’t know how I did it, but I’d found the best men’s bathroom I’ve ever seen in a bar. Ever. There were two toilets, both with seats, and both had doors. They even had hooks for me to hang my jacket. And it was CLEAN. My quest had come to a merciful end and not a moment too soon. It was gnarly. Such was my relief that on my way back to the apartment, I handed out what little cash I had to the people who asked. Even got a hug from one guy. It was the least I could do for the brave men and women who have to endure that sort of search every time they roll a butt cigar.

Back in the Lower East Side for the final time, I popped into the grocery store again and grabbed a 12-pack of PBR, a gift for my minimally-gracious hosts. I would’ve thanked them personally but, well, they didn’t seem remotely interested in leaving the room they were still holed up in. I pinched off one last grumpy for safety, packed my things, and GTFO of there. Where was I going? To the New York Loft Hostel.

So just about every hotel, motel, and Holiday Inn in NYC hikes up their prices for New Year’s Eve. Basic principles of supply and demand. Luckily those hikes take a steep dive the day after, so I made sure to wrangle one of those deals, not because I assumed the apartment would be as horrible as it was, but because variety is the spice of life (also pasta). I’d never stayed in a hostel before and at the same cost as the apartment’s couch, it was a no-brainer.

The New York Loft Hostel is technically located in Brooklyn, but the beauty of efficient mass transit is it was only a two minute walk from a station that would take me back to Manhattan in minutes, pretty much whenever I wanted. I will admit I was hesitant to stay there at first glance, if only because their tagline is “Live like a Hipster King/Queen!” But my fear of being surrounded by the herpes of people was assuaged as soon as I arrived.

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If this is hipster, I don’t wanna be right.
Check in wasn’t for another 3 hours, but they had a locked storage room where early guests can stash their bags and not have to wait around. I loitered for an hour anyway; the Game of Porcelain Thrones had taken its toll on my still ailing knee. Sitting in the lobby gave me a sneak preview of what kind of roommates I could expect in my 3-bed room of choice. Most were in or around my age range and as they checked in and out I played guessing games with their accents. Not a single over-styled mustache or pair of lensless glasses in sight. There was one older Asian gentleman who creepily insisted on finding out the name of a female Hungarian guest he’d encountered at some point. Either the Concierge played dumb really well or she legitimately had no idea who he was talking about so he eventually gave up. Once I finally got into my room, I found one bed looking really lived-in (read: a hot mess) and the other two untouched. I plopped down on the empty one by the window, wrenched the brace off my leg, and put in a few hours of sleep. It wasn’t the most comfortable bed, but at the time, it was heaven.

I woke up a few hours later to hunger pangs and decided my knee felt good enough to head out again. My roommate hadn’t returned and I had no interest in waiting, so I looked up a decent sushi place and set off. It was a mercifully straight-forward outing: the food was good, I wasn’t the only weirdo eating alone, and afterwards I took a walk by the Empire State Building and sat on a bench on the outskirts of Central Park to watch people take horse-drawn carriage rides while wrapped in a beehive of heavy blankets, because apparently that’s a thing. Still, it was a great place to watch the city happen. I felt like I could see for miles down the man-made valley of towers and watched lights in windows flip on and off. Normally traffic sounds are a nuisance but here the dull roar was strangely comforting, like a waterfall of constant human activity. I felt like if the whole Los Angeles plan was a bust, I could live in New York. Of course, I’d need to learn the city better, because later when a frazzled woman rushed up to me and asking where 7th Street was, I unknowingly pointed her in the opposite direction (I don’t do well under pressure).

With my first suffering-free evening in the books, I was ready to cap it off with a long night of heavy sleep and healing for all my aches and pains. I kicked off my shoes and laid back on my bed, imagining the hot shower that was about to melt away the previous trials and tribulations. I wanted to be 100% for my last full day in New York.

And that’s when the Frenchman walked in.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting in a bunkmate, but I can say for certain Benjamin was not it. The designer jeans, the shawl-collared cardigan, close-cropped blonde hair and goatee, and the shiniest shoes I’ve ever seen without a logo in sight. I swear he was a dead ringer for Charlie Hunnam, only…. uh…. fancier I guess. Conversation came easy, a welcome change from the “authentic” apartment experience. We talked about where we were from, what we did for work, and what we’d done the past few days. Eventually after he decided I wasn’t a complete creep, he mentioned a group of fellow hostelers were going out and extended an invitation. I had my polite denial ready, making sure to point out that both my feet and my knees were compromised. He clicked his tongue and mused, “Oh you’re from Texas, I thought Texans were supposed to be tough?” And despite never in my life feeling any semblance of Texas pride, those words cut right to the heart of me. The cocktail of surprise, indignance, and shame coursing through my veins told me if I let this slide I would never let myself live it down. So I did what any good Texan would do — I picked my ass up and went the hell out.

The “group” of hostelers was probably half of the damn hostel. There at least a dozen of us and nearly everyone was from somewhere different. I’ve always been terrible with names, but I did pretty good that night: there was me and Ben, Jenny from Virginia, Enrique from Mexico, Mika from Sweden, Bér from Chile, Matteo from Italy, Barbara and Florencia from Argentina, and Atsushi and Katashi from Japan, the latter a longtime professor Stateside. There were more I may have remembered if not for the ensuing events. We gathered in the kitchen and Ben decided to pre-game by drinking vodka from the friggin’ bottle. Still looking to prove myself, I followed suit. Within a few minutes I’d learned a new trick: take a swig of alcohol, a swig of chaser, then mix them in your mouth and drink. I don’t recall whether it actually made Smirnoff palatable, but by the time the group was headed out the door, I couldn’t feel my face or my aching legs enough for it to matter.

It’s a good thing this hostel was not one of those hostile Hostel hostels, because at that point I would have been Hostel-ed had anyone felt so inclined. I don’t remember how we got to the bar or what we did there (besides continue steeping in alcohol, obviously), but I have this picture to prove it was, in fact, on the roof of something. Somewhere. A hotel maybe?

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Definitely not a torture basement.
We were there for a while. Or maybe not. Honestly it was in the top five of the most intoxicated I’d ever been, which I attribute to the fact that I knew I didn’t have to drive. So while immeasurably convenient, I imagine the subway is also responsible for a fair share of life-mistakes.

Like later that night, for instance.

At some point either the bar had closed or we had decided we’d had enough of the rooftop and shambled our way back to the trusty subway. Maybe I was the only one shambling, because I was the last one to go through the gate… except for Enrique. No, he was behind me waving and saying something about needing more money on his card, but no one else seemed to hear him. Not wanting to leave him behind, I urged him to squeeze through with me — I mean, my card was technically unlimited rides after all, and who’s around to care at that hour? Officer Bannister, that’s who.

As it turns out, the gate was directly in front of a booth with two cashiers who were very much present to witness this pitiful con attempt. We were just far too gone to notice. The second we were through the gate, Officer Bannister came bursting through a door we hadn’t noticed, called us both over, and proceeded to write us both tickets with the slowest. Handwriting. Ever. Over the course of the next 30 minutes, he lobbed basic who-what-where-why questions at us, spouted nonsense codes into his radio, and weirdly avoided eye contact, which is all the same because I imagine sitting in a subway closet waiting to bust fare-dodgers is the mall cop of NYC and the vacuum where his soul might have been once would probably have stolen mine. Or he was just tired and making us sober up. When he finally let us go on our merry way, tickets in hand, I was surprised to see most of the group had waited for us to finish our ordeal (drunken run-ins with the law, the universal language). I felt bad about the extra 20+ minute wait for the next train they had to endure as a result. It was salt in the wound. By the time we were finally on our way back, we were all ready to crash for the night.

Just kidding, we kept drinking.

We obtained beer from a shop conveniently located a block away, snuck it past the receptionist (who I assume knew what we were up to and also gave zero fucks), then proceeded to consume it whilst seated in the hallway of the second floor. Conversation was had, though I’d be hard-pressed to recall any of it. The layered veils of thick accents, hushed tones, and muddled wits don’t add up to reliable comprehension. Finally when the beer was all gone, we wandered off in the different directions of our respective rooms, but not before exchanging goodbyes with those who were leaving the next morning.

It was the strangest thing, hugging the necks of people I’d known for less than 12 hours and genuinely feeling I’d miss seeing them the next day. But then I guess hostels tend to be full of kindred spirits, wanderers who know the value of a shared moment. They’re the modern day equivalent of a medieval inn. That explains why I felt right at home. I’ve never slept better.

Day Four: Life in a Box

Miraculously, I woke up without a hangover. And at a decent hour. Because it was Broadway day.

I’m not a theater guy. And I’m not trying to avoid the stigmata either, I’m not ashamed to admit I was in One-Act Play in high school, which was preceded by a childhood cameo in my hometown’s production of The Mikado (those embarrassing photos will surface at some point I’m sure). I just don’t like live crowds. Any time I have to be on stage, whether it’s a speech or a performance or just standing there, it becomes the single most terrifying moment of my life. I’m not terrible at it, I just don’t enjoy it. And that’s what I appreciate most about theater, is actors who have the balls (and eggs) to stand up in front of crowds of hundreds, thousands even, and thrive on it. Like musicians who don’t just record great albums, they kill it at concerts.

I’m also not really a punctual person, but I arrived at the Cort Theater an hour early, just to be sure. I picked up my tickets at will-call and since the lobby wasn’t Times Square, I wasn’t allowed to park in front of the doors and wait it out. So I walked up the block a bit, found a nice stretch of railing to lean against, and I waited for Waiting For Godot. Not long after, another guy walked up and parked a buffer urinal’s distance down. I realized pretty quickly he was also waiting and it would’ve been an awkward half-hour of half-standing half-near one another without a word only to end up in line next to each other. So I made eye contact long enough for him to speak up, because hell if I’m going to make the opening remarks.

Turns out the guy’s name was also David, and unlike this David, he was very much a theater person, so much so that he’d already been there several hours earlier to grab rush tickets (a reserved portion only sold the morning of the showing, usually for dignitaries and celebrities I think). He was a nice guy, really he was, even offered me his other rush ticket for No Man’s Land if I needed it. But once he got started talking about his school performances and aspirations, I tuned the fuck out. Good thing I’m not a theater guy, because had I been actively involved in the conversation I might have missed Sir Patrick.

He was shorter than I thought he would be. Much, much shorter. As Theater David blabbed on, I saw him round the corner, dressed down in brown, coat, gloves, and beanie. He strode by at a normal pace, looking straight forward as though wholly-focused on accomplishing some menial task he could have easily pawned off on an assistant. He blended right in, which is probably why no one seemed to notice him but me. I suppressed the urge to call out to this hero of mine. Whether it was a practical joke of sorts (it was) or part of his process before the show (it wasn’t), I didn’t want to interfere, so I just admired what he was doing until he disappeared around the corner.

“That was Sir Patrick,” I interrupted Theater David.

“What?” he asked rhetorically, half-not quite believing me and half-not wanting to believe he’d missed it.

I explained to him what I just explained to you, and I wish I could fully explain the look on his face when it sank in. You know the sensation of water splashing up from the toilet and onto your butt after a high-velocity poop? His face looked like that. Contrary to how this reads, I took no pleasure in his misery. See, as Theater David began to gush about theater stuff while keeping his eyes locked on the corner where Sir Patrick had disappeared, I was still paying attention to everything else and saw when he rounded a different corner headed back our way. I quietly murmured, “There he is,” and nodded. Theater David whipped his head around so fast I thought toilet water would splash from somewhere. Thankfully he didn’t lose his cool and we both watched Sir Patrick continue to go unnoticed, even as he stopped to snap a photo on his phone of his own sign.

Photo Jan 02, 10 33 37 AM
Probably looked something like this. Only one Sir Patrick in this photo, sadly.
Mercifully, Theater David was rendered speechless. Again, nice kid, but just wasn’t very interesting. A few minutes later the line had started to queue so we followed suit. Once inside the theater, we parted ways and I didn’t see him again. Hopefully he’s doing well in Oregon or Michigan or wherever. I found my seat without a problem, although I would regret picking an aisle seat and getting there so early. There was a lot of standing up to let people to their seats and my knee, while rested, didn’t need the extra abuse. Of course that paled in comparison to what I was about to endure.

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No, the play was masterful. Simultaneously not what I expected and more than I ever expected. Sir Patrick fed off of and played to the audience without breaking character like the pro he is, while Sir Ian’s physical comedy got the biggest laughs, almost as though he playing his own practical jokes to try and get Sir Patrick to break. Though he fumbled with a line due to a mouthful of carrot, you would never have known it from the way the pair played it off. The primary reason I’d ventured out was completely and utterly worth it. The people in front of me didn’t seem to share that sentiment.

I knew it was bad news the moment they sat down. The two young couples looked likely to be early in their collegiate careers, vacationing on mom and dad’s dime and deciding to pop in for a guaranteed celebrity sighting. When one of the guys explained to his girlfriend that Sir Patrick and Sir Ian were, “Professor X and Gandalf,” my worst fears were confirmed. These kids didn’t belong here. The material was going to be completely and utterly lost on them. And boy was it. About 15 minutes in, the lost girlfriend who probably still wasn’t sure which one was Professor X and which one was Gandalf leaned in towards her boyfriend and started whispering, not sure what was happening or if she missed an important plot point. I have never wanted to punch a stranger more… until he started whispering back what he thought was happening which was definitely not what was happening.

I get pretty pissed off when people talk or text in movies, but in a theater with actual people on stage who can see and hear you, I was livid. Knowing that causing a scene would make me worse than them was my only restraint. This was obviously my penance for any ill-will I had projected at Theater David, who it would’ve been a privilege to sit next to. Thankfully by the time intermission rolled around the kids either mistook it for the end or decided they’d had enough, because they left and didn’t come back so I could enjoy Act II in peace. Again, I can’t express how incredible it was watching Sir Patrick and Sir Ian work. But once again, not a theater guy and this is not a theater blog so I won’t pretend to appreciate the nuance of it all. I am, however, allllll about the musicals.

No I’m not some savant with an encyclopedic knowledge of musicals and the ability to recognize songs by a few bars or lyrics, but performing music doesn’t instill the same paralyzing fear that speaking does. Maybe it’s the structure, the very specific notes and tones you’re supposed to hit that keeps the whole thing from going off the rails, but I’m less astounded by the feats of courage and more swept up by the talent on display. It leans more toward the movie-going experience, albeit with the best 3D you ever saw.

With all the praise I’d heard heaped onto Wicked, I megalomanically had to see it for myself to ensure the accolades were justified. It did not disappoint. It was hysterical, heartbreaking, and heartfelt all at once and endlessly entertaining. The leads were so good I didn’t once find myself wishing I’d seen Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth in the roles (though I wouldn’t pass on a second chance either). And the music… just ugh, it killed me that I’d waited so long to see it, but all the same was worth the wait. The guy on his cell phone three rows up obviously did not feel the same. I seriously don’t know what the hell is wrong with people these days. Scratch that, being an asshole does seem to transcend time periods. We just do it more digitally now.

After that magical experience, I stepped outside the Gershwin Theater to an even more magical experience: New York City coated in a layer of powdery snow, more flakes still floating from the sky. That picturesque scene from all the movies I’d watched had come to life on my final night. Again I thought to myself, If Los Angeles doesn’t work out, this wouldn’t be so bad. I took a stroll past Times Square one more time and grabbed a few slices of pizza from Ray’s that I silently hoped wouldn’t give me explosive diarrhea (it didn’t), and then headed back for the hostel. That’s where we met Mitch.

Mitch was Australian. I assume he still is, if he’s alive. That might sound morbid, but you’ll see why shortly. Most of our crew from the night before was gone but Ben, spry and impeccably-groomed as ever, wanted to go pub-crawling or bar-hopping or dive-bombing or whatever. So Jenny, who was actually moving to New York, and I joined him. I don’t remember whether it was him or her who recruited Mitch, but when he stumbled into the kitchen still jet-lagged and half-asleep, I had a feeling he was going to have trouble keeping up.

It was the opposite of that.

See as we started towards what would turn out to be the hipster-laden karaoke bar of a first stop, the magical snow was continuing to fall and the whimsical layer of snow on the ground was becoming unruly. Mitch, being from the half of the globe where it was full-blown hellish summer, was happier than a pig in shit. Or a polar bear in not-melted ice. Or a kangaroo in…. another kangaroo? Point being the icy conditions seemed to wake the guy from his half-slumber and he charged forward, always a half-block ahead. We had a few drinks at the bar with a backroom for karaoke but refrained from actually karaoke-ing. Again, the hipsters were out (in?) and had no qualms about hogging the mic for intentionally obnoxious renditions of songs they had no business singing (read: rap), egging each other on in that awful pseudo-ironic manner while recording their blasphemies on their idevices as proof of how cray-cray they be for social media. And of course once they’d all taken their turns vomiting in our ears, they cleared out, wholly uninterested in anyone but themselves. Truly the worst. Having downed a few bad drinks (hot alcohol, good in theory, terrible in execution), we moved on.

It took us a bit to find the cocktail place. The snow was not letting up at all and our GPS were starting to malfunction. We passed by it more than once, in spite of the neon sign that had a very obvious yellow martini glass on it. Either the bouncer saw us walking circles (Mitch skipping) or Ben was significantly less-buzzed than we were, and we made our way in. It was nice. A little too nice. The kind of place people usually go to talk to the people they’re with and no one else. We decided to have a few drinks anyway since it had been a trek and we were in no hurry to plunge back into the bitter cold. It was time for shots, but no one was sure of what. That’s where Mitch came in. He asked for what sounded like, “Black Sam Hooker” which was actually black sambuca which was actually the actual Goddamn devil. It didn’t burn, it didn’t hit hard, no…. it sat. Like a wad of concentrated evil summoned from a licorice tree’s corpse, it coated the tongue and lodged itself in the throat, lingering longer than I thought physically possible for a substance still classified as a liquid. I may or may not have washed it down with tequila. It was that bad. Mitch ordered a second one. After throwing back a courteous number of drinks, we ventured back out in hopes the third time would be the charm.

I have no idea who was leading the group at this point or where we were aiming for, but the snow drift was so high there were no longer cars on the road and we got roped into a random bar just to break up the hike. It took me at least a drink and a half to realize the sparsely-populated drinkery was a gay bar, which I wouldn’t have noticed had Mitch not asked. I’m still not sure it was, though I seem to recall it having a fairly obvious phallus-inspired name like “Weinery” or “Hot Dogs”. It was a nice place though with those hanging ball seats on the patio [Editor’s note: ohhhhhh] I would’ve liked to sit in if they weren’t packed solid with the white stuff. After Ben and Mitch struck out with what I assume were the only two women in the bar, I thought we were finally going to call it a night. Nope. Instead, this happened:

Photo Jan 02, 11 49 22 PM

That’s Mitch. He’s passed out on the subway because we decided to go find a club in Manhattan and he was entirely too far gone to be on his way to a club in Manhattan. When we got off the train, there was just no way in hell we were walking the rest of the way so we somehow managed to hail what I like to imagine was the most hardcore taxi driver in the city. We packed in and he delivered us to the doorstep of the club…. which was closed. Because apparently it was owned by perfectly reasonable people who know that no one should be out trying to club in a friggin’ snowstorm. As consolation, we found what I like to imagine was the most hardcore panini shop in the city and got sandwiches for the sad train ride home. I was relieved. I mean just look at Mitch. I didn’t want to be responsible for that.

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Snow is like high heels; pretty to look at, murder to walk in.

Day Five: New York State of Mind

I was up fairly early the next morning. In spite of not having to checkout until later or fly out until late afternoon, I wanted to spend my remaining New York hours where else but the Brooklyn Zoo? I bid ‘Au revoir’ to Benjamin, who insisted I spend more time traveling and try learning a second language. I haven’t really done either of those things, but given that his Facebook resembles the Travel Channel, I don’t feel too bad. Also I lost my passport. So there’s that.

I never made it to the zoo. My train decided to stop on the bridge for about an hour due to complications the snow build up was causing. It’s just as well, because my other knee was killing me and I was getting a tickling in my throat. Apparently the night before was not great for my already frail body. I hopped on a train back the other direction as soon as I was able, stopped by a Duane Reade’s to stock up on cough drops and parked at a Starbucks, attempting to drown out the illness with hot liquids, or at least keep it at bay for the last leg of the trip. Unlike my frantic arrival, getting back to the airport proved to be a cinch. I was not, however, prepared for what was waiting there for me.

Remember how Sir Patrick was surprisingly short? Supposedly that’s the case with most celebrities. They’re just generally not as large as you imagine them to be, which is largely due to flattering camera angles. The opposite is true of Anthony Bourdain. While waiting in line to get through security, I felt the presence of a towering man standing behind me and glanced over my shoulder. It was definitely him, though I didn’t make the connection immediately because I just never imagined the guy I watched on TV was a full head taller than me and significantly lankier. Basically he was what I thought Anthony Bourdain would look like if he were the TV kid from Willy Wonka.

As we went through all the TSA bullshit, I stepped up to the metal detector and made a sudden realization: I was still wearing my knee brace, which definitely had a few chunks of metal in it, and it was under my pants. The Agent of course pulled me aside and asked about it and I told him. He asked if I could take it off. I answered not without taking off my pants. There wasn’t a room anywhere nearby for me to disrobe and prove I wasn’t a lying terrorist, so he suggested I allow myself to be subjected to a pat down instead. I agreed, not really caring or thinking it would take more than a few pats for him to confirm it was, in fact, just a knee brace. What I neglected to realize that was, despite the scanner clearly indicating the metal was by my knee, this Agent was going to do the full pat down. His fingers trailed up from my ankle, over the brace, up my thigh, and lightly tapped my actual balls. I looked up and away just in time to make eye contact with Mr. Bourdain as he breezed through security.

And that’s how I was fondled by a stranger while Anthony Bourdain watched.

I slept for most of the flights back to Texas, continuing to get sicker by the minute. When I got back my first stop was Walmart to stock up on soup and drugs. Maybe it was my failing immune system or maybe it was being steeped in the New York grind, but it felt like the cashier took forever to get me out of there. I spent the next miserable week in bed, watching at least three shows en totale (The Newsroom, Bob’s Burgers, Girls) and giving the shittiest phone interview ever for a production company internship (my follow up emails went unanswered, natch).

The trip took its toll and probably shaved at least a year off my expected lifespan, but it was totally worth it. The terror I’d built up in my mind of moving to one of the largest cities in the country had dissipated and I was more motivated than ever to make my mark on a significant scale. Los Angeles was calling, but I might never have gotten there without New York.

Photo Jan 01, 7 37 02 AM

Next time: West Coast, Best Coast

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