My Whole Expanse I Cannot See…

I formulate infinity stored deep inside of me…

Jul 29

New York: Squares, Dirt and a Bar

Category: Life

So, we’re trying to catch a cab to Union Square for our first outing into the city. We’re staying in Times Square, it’s probably too far to go on foot. We’re walking up and down the sidewalk, no takers. A woman comes up to us, she has that “I want to say something, but I’m not sure what to say,” look on her face. She walks up and says, “Hi… weren’t you on tv?” I say, “yes,” with my eyebrows. Last year, I was on an episode of This American Life. She says she loved the episode, that she’s so glad to meet me. I never know how to feel about these sightings. Part of me is always flattered, it’s definitely fun to feel like a minor celebrity. Still, deep down I know I’m just a nobody. I still haven’t accomplished anything that I consider important. At any rate, my fan says her goodbyes, and we actually find a cab.

Union Square is sort of a trendy hippie area. There’s a lovely park, and on this particular day there’s a huge outdoor market. People are selling fresh fruit, vegetables, freshly laid eggs. There are bad artists selling bad art, and some good artists selling good art. We’re walking by these vendors, a woman screams, “Johnny Depp! Hey, Johnny Depp!” Being that I don’t talk, he was my tv voice. I’ve been celebrity sighted twice in one day. We walk around the park a bit, it’s gorgeous. The sun’s hot on my face, the whole day’s ahead of me. Before leaving Union Square, I have to take care of a little project. In Kim’s purse is an empty child-sized Absolute vodka bottle. I have this person who couldn’t come with me, so I figure I’ll bring my favorite parts of New York back to her. Dirt, in a tiny empty bottle of my favorite liquor. Kim scoops up some Union Square dirt, we’re on our way.

Now, on this our first day in the city, we don’t really have a plan. We’re sort of just wandering around, taking in the city. This suits me fine. I don’t want plans, or schedules. I don’t want a list of action items. I’m in a beautiful place, I want to be lost. We walk from Union Square to Washington Square, somewhere a little more historic, less offbeat. There’s a big fountain in the middle of the square, little kids are splashing around in the water. I have this coin in my wallet from the 1800s, a fellow gave it to me a few years ago as I was leaving a movie. He said it was good luck. I have Kim toss this coin in the fountain, hoping she doesn’t put out some little kid’s eye. I make a wish and wonder if the coin could be that lucky. As we’re leaving, Kim adds a little more dirt to my collection.

We wander more. We stroll Broadway. We pass by Grace Church. It’s a gorgeous gothic building, it looks so sacred, so holy. I wonder if God’s there, and if He minds the people eating pizza on the church’s front steps. I also wonder if He minds me having Kim stuff consecrated ground into a dead liquor bottle. We walk to this trendy area of seventh and eighth street known as St. Marks Place. St. Marks is all thrift stores, coffee shops, bars. We walk to the East Village, to one bar, the Beauty Bar. It’s a vintage beauty salon, the bottles of hair-dye replaced with bottles of that liquid that makes life feel spectacular, if only for a little while. There’s a lovely woman sitting down the bar from me, we make eye contact a few times. She always smiles. I buy her a drink, give her my card. I tell her, “one day, I might be a famous writer.” It turns out that she’s also a writer, we talk a bit. It’s always interesting talking to strangers with the alphabet, and not my computer. You learn right away how smart and patient a person is, she’s both. I know I’ll never see her again, that doesn’t matter. I bought her the drink, I’m talking to her for the experience. This trip is all about creating experiences.


16 Comments so far

  1. Karen (the first one) July 29th, 2009 6:13 pm

    So glad you hit the “real” New York and not just the tourist hot spots. I’d move to Union Square if I could afford it.

    I still haven’t been to Beauty Bar, which is sort of embarrassing, but plenty of my friends love it.

  2. Melissa July 29th, 2009 7:05 pm

    So awesome! NYC was my first major travel destination, and in a way, it changed me. I hope it changes you too!

  3. Christa July 29th, 2009 7:14 pm

    You have a good eye. This trip is bringing out some great writing. Where are you off to next?

  4. Ormolu July 29th, 2009 8:27 pm

    “…dead liquor bottle.”

  5. ashley. July 30th, 2009 12:50 am

    I’m really enjoying what’s coming out of this trip.

  6. Camille July 30th, 2009 6:32 pm

    I really enjoy reading your blog!

  7. Susie July 31st, 2009 3:12 am

    It’s such a treat when there’s a new post!

    But, Mike, um, those liquor bottles aren’t for children 😉

  8. Tony Wilson July 31st, 2009 3:39 am

    I would love to see a video montage of your adventures in NY set to The Smiths’ “Oscillate Wildly.”

  9. Jenny July 31st, 2009 10:40 pm

    :: Everybody is a nobody, you know that right?

    :: Beauty Bar sounds FUN. New destination next time I’m in Le Big Apple………

    :: Creating new experiences. Yup, me, too.

  10. Jennifer August 1st, 2009 12:42 am

    I really enjoy your blog and I really LOVE New York City. Your posts about it are bringing it all back for me and making want to fly there NOW. Keep writing, keep being you. I’m another This American Life fan, BTW. You are amazing. Thanks!


  11. ER August 1st, 2009 1:11 am

    How much longer are you in town? I’d love to buy YOU and Kim a drink! And, for the record, you ARE a somebody. Be well (and I mean this in every sense), ER

  12. Orly August 1st, 2009 7:19 pm

    This is my first time reading your blog … very enjoyable. I wholeheartedly agree about how good it can feel to just get lost in a new place on a sunny afternoon — no itinerary, no plan. I laughed out loud at the juxtaposition of “child-sized” and “Absolut bottle” — now that’s a lot more exciting in a lunchbox than a juice box or milk carton!

  13. Jason August 2nd, 2009 12:07 am

    I like what you said about not wanting a plan, just wanting to take it in. I feel that way a lot, and I’m with a woman who likes to plan everything out. That can be great, amazing a lot of the time, actually. But reading your post made me feel proud (instead of ashamed, like usual) of being the kind of guy who just wants to go with the flow and see what happens, see what I find.

  14. BGK August 2nd, 2009 10:24 am

    Glad, since I saw your story on TAL, to find your online journal. I will forever hear your voice as Johnny Depp’s!

  15. Jasmine August 2nd, 2009 3:51 pm

    Though you have mentioned how, um, vocal and honest NYers can be, you fail to mention how a good percentage of people probably see you and think nothing of it.

    I think that’s what has changed most for me after having lived in the city for close to a decade. Someone could walk by with an extra limb, or naked, or with their hair on fire and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t flinch, glance or double-take in their direction. Everyone here is wildly different and some super strange people mingle amongst the masses.

  16. Skye August 2nd, 2010 4:14 pm

    I just found your blog. When I lived in NYC, I always hung out in Union Square. I would tell everyone that I preferred to stay below 14th Street. I also loved going to Washington Square Park…glad you hit the non-tourist destinations!