How to Visit NYC (without pissing me off)
[Editor's note: this story was written in 1999 so many of the places are out of business. Use the interwebs to suss it out.]
A lot of different folks come to see New York City under the mistaken impression that the streets are paved with gold. Let me be the first to burst your bubble: it’s not gold, it’s actually Hepatitis-encrusted urine covered with spent shell casings. That still means it’s shiny, but it’s definitely not gold. Lately I’ve run into a lot of people who say they’d never go to New York because it’s too scary. But, if it’s so bad, why do so many people want to live there or go visit? I’ll tell you why: because all New Yorkers are sick, crazy, self-destructive and evil. And in spite of all of our numerous shortcomings, we are richer, smarter, safer, more creative and better armed than any other place in the world. As David Letterman so eloquently put it, our official motto is “Our city can kick your city’s ass!”
My views are in line with those of most other New Yorkers. To my friends in the American South: Stop talking shit about how “the South shall rise again,” because it’s been more than a hundred years and you pussies haven’t said word one about throwing off the yoke of Yankee oppression. We went to war against you once and we kicked your ass so hard that you’re still reeling from it. If you think that all Yankees are such sissies, what does that make the people whose asses we’ve so thoroughly kicked? And while it is true that you have more guns and trucks per capita, bear in mind that we control the skies, the nation’s wealth (and see how long you last living off what’s stored up in your dirty mattress, Cletus!) and of course, we know all the launch codes. So keep your fucking Confederate flags where they belong—in your outhouses.
I know that a lot of other zine publishers offer guides to visit their fair cities, but really, what’s the fucking point? The way I see it is, a “Drinking Man’s Guide to Dayton, Ohio” is going to fall way short of the mark because if I’m stuck in Dayton, I’m going to need something a LOT stronger than liquor. I live, work and play in a city that many of you may visit in your lifetime, if you have any fucking balls. Some of you may even be thinking of moving here and if you’re one of those people, let me just warn you: everything is more expensive than you can possibly imagine. Studio apartments (meaning less than 400 sq. feet) in a halfway decent neighborhood, with laundry and no crackheads in the lobby, are averaging about $1,600 a month in Manhattan. I only wish I were kidding. Luckily I’ve been in the same place for four years straight and the market has gotten so completely ridiculous that my rent now seems reasonable. Sure, you can find cheaper places to live in the City, or god forbid, hit the outer boroughs, but you may get killed. My life has value. I am not a number, I am a free man!
As soon as you’ve decided that you’re coming to New York City to visit, every single person that is already here has decided that they hate your fucking guts and would like you dead. It’s nothing personal, but the thing is, everything is going smoothly without you. I know some of you may be saying, “Yeah, but what about people whose entire income depends on tourists, like hotels and tour guides?” They hate you even more because they have to keep answering the same stupid goddamn questions hundreds of times every day. If you worked in McDonald’s, and every fucking customer walked up to you and asked you what the soup of the day was, don’t you think that after a few days of this you’d be forced by circumstance to bring a gun to work and shoot every goddamn greasy asshole in the place? I know I would but I’m a fucking born and bred New Yorker.
The critical mistake that you’re making is assuming that we need you. New York City does make a huge amount of money off the tourists, but we don’t need you. I dare you to prove me wrong and stay away in droves. I would be delighted. This city was built by and for the people who live here, not as a tourist attraction. It was not a naturally occurring formation of rocks that hicks would find “real purty.” It is a monstrosity. It is an organism that feeds off our energy and in turn feeds all of us. It is the greatest city in the entire world, and since I think cities are the only places worth living, it is the only real city in the world. L.A. is a burned-out wasteland of ugly suburbs. D.C. is a fucking crack den with some nice museums. London is a fucking obnoxious tourist trap. Mexico City certainly has the numbers, but see, the thing that makes NYC so awesome is that there are so many things to see and do. In Mexico City, your activities are limited to getting drunk until you throw up, being kidnapped for your internal organs, or worse. Sure, Tokyo’s bright, shiny and overcrowded, but most of the people that make that city alive leave after work. Don’t get me wrong, I love San Francisco and Toronto, but they’re not in the same league. I think I might leave the island of Manhattan once every other month, just to visit my mom and get a free meal. Otherwise, no matter what, come hell or high water, I’m always here, along with millions of other people.
Even though New York City has some of the most original, interesting and diverse examples of architecture, the people responsible for naming all of these fantastic places are incredibly dull. Collectively, as a city, the one thing that we suck at terribly is naming things. I mean, if you think about it, it wouldn’t be all that hard to come up with cool and meaningful names for buildings, but instead we get the most trite and generic names anyone could ever imagine. Grand Central Station? Might as well call it Big Train Place. Empire State Building? Why not NYC Pointy? Central Park? Why not just Trees & Rocks? World Trade Center? I like the name Twin Towers because at least it’s alliterative. Pennsylvania Station? Hello? I thought this was New York City!
There are precious few statements that every New Yorker would agree with. It’s like when people always tell me that there are two kinds of people in the world, I always know in my heart that there are often at least three kinds of people. Let me give you an example. People say there are two kinds of people, those who live in cities, and those who don’t. But there aren’t just two. What about people who are dead? Neither statement describes them. How about people that spend 13 hours a day at work and on errands in the city, but 11 hours in the country. How do you define “live”? This isn’t a great example, but let’s say there are two kinds of people in the world, those that get what I’m talking about, and those that don’t. There are people who’ve never read this, so which group are they in? I’m getting too far off. The point is, New Yorkers can’t agree about a fucking thing. It’s a liberal city with a conservative mayor. Go figure. But we all agree about a few things: 1) Everyone else in the entire world is a fucking asshole who should get out of my way right fucking now and 2) New York City is the only place worth living, for now.
Let me start by giving you some background because every book, magazine article or web site that attempts to tell you how to deal with NYC is written by some pussyass wimp who stayed at a nice hotel for two weeks and cribbed the rest of their info from shitty web sites and travel books that are already out there. I live here. I know this place like the back of my hand. And since I’m smart and discerning, I can help you get the most out of your stay. Even if you never come to NYC, even if you never get the balls to take a chance in life, there’s still something to learn here. I may be an obnoxious, arrogant asshole, but I know this much is true: I don’t lie, I know NYC, and I can write. With that in mind, let’s get it on.
New York City has more than eight million people living in it, but most of them are not the kind of New Yorker that I am. NYC is made up of five separate and unequal boroughs, each with its own character, flavor and weapon of choice. A lot of people who live in one of the outer boroughs (anywhere but Manhattan), people from Westchester (just north of the City) and many losers from New Jersey actually have the nerve to tell people that they live in “the City.” As far as I’m concerned, unless your primary residence is on the island of Manhattan, you should not legally be allowed to say that you live in the City. New York is so fucking cool compared to New Jersey that there is actually a town in New Jersey called West New York. Can you even imagine that? You can be damn sure that there’s no West Nevada, California and even more sure that there will NEVER be an East New Jersey, New York, because it’s so fucking ridiculous.
The thing that makes NYC different from most other cities, on a very primitive and personal level, is that there exists a caste system more restrictive than India’s ever seen. Millionaires never become homeless and the homeless never get a duplex by the river. Everything has its place and while there is room to move around in the middle, no one ever goes from one extreme to another. It’s also important to note that the most beautiful, wealthy and important people live here, right next to the open casting call for a Fellini film featuring the most extreme mutants ever born. I mean, it’s possible in NYC to see all manner of humanity in a short stretch of time. In fact, I can tell you from experience that I’ve seen, in the space of an hour, on the island of Manhattan, Bill Murray, Ivana Trump and a drunken, homeless amputee with a cardboard sign that said he was a “professional wine taster.” It’s that good.
Alphabetically, the Bronx is first, and quite easy to dismiss. The Bronx is quite possibly the birthplace of hip-hop, the epicenter of both the U.S. crack and AIDS epidemics, and in terms of its attraction to tourists, about as appealing as a mouthfull of shit-covered maggots. In terms of cultural artifacts, it has none. Quite frankly, if you’re coming, you can just cross the Bronx off your map because unless you want to be gang-raped by junkies, it’s best to avoid the borough altogether.
Brooklyn is second on our list, and again, offers very little to the average tourist. Brooklyn, or as it’s also called, Kings County, is on Long Island, just east of what most people think of as NYC. I read somewhere that if Brooklyn were counted as its own city, it would have the fourth largest population in the country. Whoopee. This helps you to understand that not every New Yorker lives in Manhattan. Most Brooklynites work in the City and live in Brooklyn because their lives have been repeating cycles of settling for less, followed by getting by. Brooklyn is the borough for the poor-but-honest hipster, the hard worker who just can’t hack Manhattan rents or the newly nervous young father who’s lulled into thinking that the outer boroughs are safer for “the kids.” Brooklyn has blessed the world with Welcome Back, Kotter, Saturday Night Fever, muscle cars, guidos, close-knit communities of every kind of revolting, hairy immigrant and precious little else. From a purely aesthetic point of view, Brooklyn is about as nice as the ugliest parts of Manhattan. It’s also the home of JFK Airport, which is probably where you’ll land if you fly to New York. I’d suggest that you take a long look around as you land and drive into the city, and if that doesn’t satiate your hunger for Brooklyn, rent any movie by Spike Lee because that little douche can’t seem to make movies about anyplace else.
As you may have guessed, I’ve got a lot to say about Manhattan, so I won’t even get into it here. This is where it happens. This is the shit.
Next up is Queens, which is right above Kings County (or Brooklyn) on Long Island. Queens is where my parents lived before I was born, because my father was a concerned young father who thought not living in the City would be safer. After my brother was born, he took the family to a nice part of the suburbs so we’d be shielded from the horrors of the City. On a related note, because I was never allowed to eat Pop-Tarts as a kid, I eat them almost every day. So, parents, if you want your kids to grow up to be angry city folk, make ’em live in the dull suburbs. Anyway, Queens is flat, boring and unbelievably confusing. Like most places in NYC, the streets are all given numbers. But it’s such a mess in Queens that there are not just Streets and Avenues, but Places and Roads as well. What I mean is, the bulk of Manhattan is made up of Avenues which run north and south, and Streets, which run east and west. In Queens, there is a 30th Road, a 30th Place, a 30th Avenue and a 30th Street. Consequently, it attracts a lot of people from eastern Europe, who are used to oppression and ugly vistas. The only worthwhile things in Queens are Price Club, Peter’s house and the Queens Museum of Art / World’s Fair site (below) / Big Globe thing (see next page). To save you a trip, I’ve gone out there and taken a few pictures of everything, so you can skip the whole borough.
Staten Island is just south of Manhattan and is inhabited by a group of incredibly annoying idiots who have bad accents and complain too much. It’s also the home of the Fresh Kills Landfill, the largest in the world. If you want to know what it’s like there, don’t empty your garbage can for a year and then drink in the aroma. That’s enough of Staten Island.
I know there are a lot of people who have found hidden treasures in the other boroughs or god forbid, have decided to move to one of those boroughs. If you’re one of those people and your panties are all in a bunch because I’ve disparaged your borough, let me just say, on a personal level, come on! You know where you live sucks. You know I can write 100 pages of shit about Manhattan and the cool shit in your borough wouldn’t fill a 1⁄4-page ad. Let’s not kid ourselves, mmm-k?
Having said that, let me assure you that I’m only going to talk about Manhattan in the remainder of this story because there is enough for you to do for the rest of your natural life and you still won’t be able to say you’ve seen and done it all. It’s just not possible. Because even if you’ve seen everything, by the time you’re done, three dozen buildings have been knocked down, fifty new restaurants have opened and at least three new designer drugs have reached the market.
Because so many novices constantly fuck things up for everyone else, New Yorkers are weary, frustrated and very angry. Trust me when I tell you that we may seem rude to you, but that’s because we’re so fucking tired of people not following these simple rules [at right]. I bet the person who said “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” had been to New York and was treated like shit for not behaving properly.
The best way to visit NYC is to have a general idea of which things you want to see and do and to prioritize. What I’ve done is assume that you’ll be here for a week, that you’d like to get a taste of a few things and that you’ve got some money to burn. Everything in NYC is crowded, expensive and overwhelming. Since you’ll be here for a week, and one day is lost coming and going, I’ll give you three days worth of stuff to do, and you’re welcome to do it in any order you like. Then, you can hit the stuff at the end of the story or make your own path, like a good New Yorker would. Or you can hit all the tourist traps like the Statue of Liberty and the Guggenheim.
In my life, as in my city, we strive to make things as efficient as possible. So, I’ll tell you a little about an area, tell you how to get there and then give you a bunch of things to do. Naturally, I’m going to give you more than any human being could do in a day with the assumption that you’ll choose the things that appeal to you most and maybe you’ll hit the rest next time. Or maybe you’ll see one day that has nothing for you, skip that day, and do everything possible on some other day. But no matter what you do and where you go, take a good long look around everywhere you go because the most wonderful thing about NYC is discovering something for yourself. And besides, your plane could crash on the way home and if the last thing you experienced was a week in NYC, you’ll enjoy watching your life flash before your eyes because at least it will have a cool ending.
I would strongly suggest that you come to the City in the spring (March-June) or the fall (September-November) because the summers are brutally hot, smoggy, crowded and really smelly and the winters are bitter cold and the city is overrun with tourist asshole shoppers from the middle of November through the New Year.
Please note that all phone numbers begin with (212) so folks with rotary phones can dial easily.
Day 1: Gramercy Park/Murray Hill/Turtle Bay/Union Square/Flatiron District
I’d suggest that on this day you sleep in because you’ve got a lot on your plate. Wake up, shower, dress comfortably and pack up your backpack with camera, film, Glock and two clips. Once you’re ready to go and quite hungry, smoke the marijuana cigarette that you brought. Once you’re high as a kite (but not before), take a taxi to Galaxy (11-11, 7 days; 777-3631; www.galaxyglobaleatery.com), which is located at 15 Irving Place, which, oddly enough, is the intersection of Irving and 15th Street, putting it at the southern end of the Gramercy Park section of the city. This restaurant is really cool because it’s very dark, it’s lit almost entirely in pale blues and features a model of the galaxy built in tiny, fiber optic lights implanted in the ceiling. The swirling lights, shimmering blue shadows and smooth black bar will be very serene and calming. Since you’ve made this a weekday, the place will be almost empty of the obnoxious trendoids who normally ruin the smophere. The other notable thing about Galaxy is that they have tons of things on the menu that are made, prepared or cooked with hemp products. I’d strongly suggest the solar hemp waffle, which is made with vanilla ice cream and warm berry compote. My wife prefers the baguette french toast with bananas and walnuts in warm maple syrup. Both items are best with their sweet-as-candy fresh orange juice and their coffee (I can’t personally vouch for it ’cause I don’t drink it). They have lots of dishes with egg whites, turkey bacon, corn meal tamales and lots more. But if you’re high and have some munchies, few places can top Galaxy for breakfast—or brunch on the weekends. If you’re staying within 10 blocks of this place, they’ll also bring you this breakfast at your hotel room, and if you know a better way to show the world you’re really fucking living it up in New York, I’d like to hear about it.
When you’re done, walk north on Irving to Gramercy Park and just drink in the sweet smell of success. This is the city’s only privately owned park, and as you’ll see, it’s actually hard to get into. The people who own property around the perimeter of the park are given their own keys, but everyone else is kept out for a reason.
After that, head back down to 15th St., take a right and walk along the south side of the street. Before the intersection with Union Square East, stop in the A&P supermarket. Even though this market is usually a crowded vomit, if you’re there in the morning on a weekday, it will be almost all old people using coupons and wandering aimlessly through the deli aisle. Buy a big pack of roasted, salted peanuts, a bottle of water and anything else you need to carry for the rest of your day. The reason is simple: supermarkets, while dirty, overcrowded and incredibly expensive, are still cheaper than any other retail outlet in the city. It’s also easy to steal, but I didn’t just tell you that.
Take your supplies across the street and into Union Square. Open your peanuts and take a stroll around. You’ll notice lots of squirrel houses high up in the trees and dozens of squirrels walking around on the ground. They’re all quite tame and if you’re gentle and careful, you can feed them by hand. They’ll climb trees, fences, even your pant leg in a cute quest to get some fresh peanuts! It’s all fun! When you’re done, make sure to use a Handi-Wipe, says Juli.
After you’re done, head over to the northwest corner of Union Square Park and then go straight up Broadway. Walk north a few blocks to a housewares store called Fishs Eddy (19th St. and Broadway; www.fishseddy.com; 1-877-FISHS EDDY; 420-9020) where you can enjoy shopping for glasses, dishes and flatware. They sometimes get weird sets from restaurants (or so it seems to me) and they also can ship anywhere in the world, so if you find something you like, have it sent to your home, since they know how to pack shit so it won’t break—and you won’t have to carry it. Their 212 line is very cool (which gets its name from NYC’s area code) and they also have a friendly staff who can answer your questions. I recently got some glasses and soup bowls from them by mail order, so even if you can’t go, you should check out their stuff. Before you leave, make sure to sign their Visitor’s Book and take a look at how many others have travelled long distances to end up in this store.
After that, continue walking up Broadway until you come to 23rd Street. If you look up, you’ll notice the Flatiron Building. It comes almost to a point and gets wider as it goes south and it really is a marvel to look at.
At the end of the first day, but on your first night here, you’ll want to do something to burn the City onto your soul. It sounds crazy, but you’ll see, when you’re here, that almost everyone is deranged in one way or another. Escaped mental patients; drug addicts; violent, racist cops; disease carriers; hell, on my way to my old job I would see a man with no legs, sitting in a wheelchair, at the intersection of two tunnels, picking up chicks. Once, I had to get free inhalers because I was without insurance, and the pharmacy was located in Bellevue Hospital. Juli came with me because I usually found it very scary going by myself. There was a huge line, because the meds were free. I’m not bragging, but shit happens, okay? So, this guy was on line behind us, and we didn’t want to look, but we had to. He looked a lot like Kramer, if he were on much stronger drugs and a triple cappuccino. And washed a lot less often and wasn’t funny. When I put my sunglasses on, I was able to get a nice, long stare at him, and it looked like someone had bitten most of the external part of his nose, and he had sewn it back on himself with thread. It also looked like his face had been on fire and he had tried to put the fire out with an icepick. This guy could easily play himself in a horror movie. I turned to Juli, who didn’t want to look, and somehow motioned for her check him out anyway. As we turned to look at him, a Hispanic man behind him jostled Mr. Lunatic. He looked right at us, then at the man that jostled him and said, “I hate seeing all the FREAKS in this place!!!” Both of us very slowly turned back toward the front of the line, aghast.
Murray Hill’s most notable landmark is also a world-class tourist hole, the Empire State Building (Fifth Ave. between 33rd and 34th Sts.). If you go at night you’ll enjoy it more because there are fewer children, no school groups and fewer old people. It costs $6 and it’s open until midnight for your touristy viewing needs. It takes a while to get to the top, but the view is spectacular, especially at night. It’s usually not crowded in winter but good weather attracts tourists. Don’t buy postcards there either, just walk right across the street on Fifth Avenue where you can get them at 90% off retail prices. And please don’t buy the cheesy shit, but a poster or 3-D postcards are okay. After you’ve suffered by hanging out with tourists like yourself, you’ll know how NOT to behave in the city. Don’t be a dork, just be yourself. Enjoy. Soak it in. Don’t feel like you have to keep moving because unless you relax, you won’t have any fun. Don’t bother trying to take pictures at night, because unless you know what you’re doing, they won’t come out. Just get postcards from across the street and keep them. After you seen enough and soaked it in, I think it’s time you enjoyed a little porno.
Lots of folks will direct you to Times Square or Hell’s Kitchen, but the truth is that Murray Hill is where the hot action is. In addition to having a couple of stores with video booths, they also have live chicks, magazines, toys, whatever, and it’s located right next to the Empire State Building. On 33rd St., between Fifth and Sixth, you can find safe—not creepy—places to feed your deviant lifestyle. There may be a few shady people shopping, but it just heightens the erotic tension of the smophere. Half the creepy joy of porn is wondering what the FUCK is going on with everyone else in the store. You can go to Empire Erotica for toys, games, videos and more, and right next door you can hit the Paradise Club for video booths, live chicks and much more. After you’ve picked up a silicone butt plug, some lube and Farm Sluts magazine, you can head back to your hotel and crash out. Congratulations, you are now outside the Matrix, in the real world. It’s scary, ugly and overwhelming, but at least you have a fighting chance to live, dammit, live! But first, you need to get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow is definitely going to hurt.
Day 2: Greenwich Village / Chelsea
Where am I? In the Village. Greenwich Village, the hipster’s paradise, the home of slightly more authentic punks than there are in, say, Detroit. Since yesterday was rough, I’d suggest you take a subway down. If you want to sample some excellent baked goods, you must go to Veniero’s (342 East 11th St. between 1st and 2nd Aves.). While you eat your cookies, continue west across 11st street and then please go visit Abe Lebewohl Triangle (northwest corner of 10th St. & 2nd Ave.). Since you probably aren’t aware of him, Abe Lebewohl was a very well-loved Ukranian immigrant. He opened the 2nd Avenue Deli, which has grown and expanded over the past decades to become a Jewish mecca for all kinds of traditional food. The restaurant is across the intersection from the triangle. Abe himself was a Holocaust survivor and sadly, he was murdered in a robbery near the restaurant. So the city decided to dedicate the area to his memory and it’s become a safe haven for all kinds of pigeons, though the city discourages you from feeding them. It’s a nice peaceful place to sit and reflect on the fragility of life and stare at some charming boka boka chickens.
Now is the time to shop, so here’s the scoop on where to go to buy cheap CDs. A few different stores have very specific strengths. For the best prices on common CDs, but especially new releases, Sounds has two locations a few doors apart. At 20 St. Mark’s (212-677-3444), they have, without a doubt, the best prices in the city, but here’s how you should shop there. They sell a lot of promotional copies, and these are the ones you should look for first (in the used bins) because you can get cheap, brand-new CDs that some DJ or zine asshole got from the record company, sometimes before it is even released to the streets. I was in England when the South Park: Chef Aid CD came out and I saw it for £17.99, which translates to about US$27. I got it at Sounds for $9, sealed. They don’t have a lot of imports, singles or rarities, but they do have some comedy, children’s (like the Space Ghost CD I got for $5) as well as other genres like jazz and classical. I can’t vouch for that shit because I just don’t care.
The other Sounds store (16 St. Mark’s; 677-2727) has tons of new CDs for unbelievable prices. This store mostly carries new CDs, but the best thing about it is that you can get almost any popular new CD, sealed with the hologram, for between $10 and $12. The people in both stores are snotty, rude and play awful music, very loud, all the time. It smells, the CDs are dirty, the walls are covered in old LP covers and you’ll need a Handi-Wipe after shopping to clean the filth off your hands. The have nothing in the back, they won’t order anything, they probably won’t help you and may even smoke cigarettes and ignore you when you’re trying to check out. They’re a bunch of fucking assholes, but who cares who you buy from? Don’t talk to them, just go buy your CDs and be on your way.
If you want to find cool CDs, weird shit from all over the world, and talk to smart, friendly, informed people who even carry vinyl, the best store in the city is Other Music (15 E. 4th St. betw. Lafayette & Broadway; 477-8150; www.othermusic.com). From what I understand, a bunch of guys left Kim’s Video to open this store. But I insist that you not go to Kim’s Video (locations on Bleecker and St. Mark’s) because the prices are high, the selection is weak and everyone that works there SUCKS.
Other Music has lots of zines as well, even though they wouldn’t carry mine because they only carry music zines. When Robyn Hitchcock puts out a vinyl-only collection of b-sides, they have a dozen copies. When all my online searching for a new Boo Radleys record proves fruitless, they’ll have ten copies of their new CD. I used to think that Cornelius had only put out one CD. I now have four CD singles of his, all from Other Music. They also have a shitload of flyers for clubs, shows and other happenings and their prices are reasonable. They even have used crap and some things that you won’t find anywhere else in America.
If you’re looking for bootleg concert CDs or rarities compilations from anyone and everyone, there’s only one place to go: Generation Records (210 Thompson St., right above Bleecker; 254-1100). Even though the staff is a bunch of obnoxious, chain-smoking asshole punks and despite the crowds and the skanky patrons, there is nowhere else in the city where you can find two dozen Beastie Boys live or rare CDs, right near bootleg concert videos, rare vinyl and stickers, and in the basement, there are posters and used CDs up the wazoo. Each of the bootlegs is around $22, unless it’s a double-CD, and the quality is usually very good.
You should also check out my favorite hair supply store which is called Ricky’s (8th St. near Broadway; www.rickys-nyc.com). They sell dozens of dye colors, sex toys and grooming accessories and they also have the most expensive and diverse collection of hair-care products in the city. I mean, if you need to spend $25 for a little tub of some weird foreign gunk, this is the store for you.
The Village also boasts some of the best shoe shopping in the world, along 8th Street. The main drag of shoe shops runs between Broadway and Sixth Ave., with the highest concentration coming as you approach Sixth Ave. If you’re an idiot or like wasting time, feel free to shop at all the dozens of little stores on the way searching for the best price. Because I’ve been buying shoes here since I was 14, I’ve gradually learned that the better the prices, the worse the selection and vice versa. When I’m ready to just fucking buy new shoes, I always end up at Here & Now, which has its best location at 56 W. 8th St. (betw. 5th & 6th Ave.; 979-2142). It’s run by nice Indians who have every kind of Docs you could imagine, usually at least 10% cheaper than everyone else. They also don’t hassle you or try to sell you aggressively, and for that reason alone, I highly recommend them.
From there I’d suggest a mellow stroll to the west, across the Village and then up into Chelsea. Look around, discover stuff for yourself, but head in the general direction of 16th St. and 10th Ave. On the corner there you’ll find the Chelsea Market, where they have lots of wonderful shops in a charming refurbished building. There’s the wonderful Fat Witch Bakery that sells great cookies and sweets, the produce market and even a place that has great gift baskets. You might want to get some fresh fruit to have as a snack because they have low prices and a great selection.
At the end of this day, I think you’ll need a drink. You have a lot of choices, but I’ll tell you about one place that I can personally vouch for and I’ll let you decide. If you’re a little bit cool and want to hang out in a really smooth, friendly environment I’d suggest Idlewild (145 E. Houston; 477-5005). For those of you who don’t know, JFK airport was originally called Idlewild until President Shagwell got his head ventilated in Dallas by the Mafia/CIA/Cubans, so the bar is outfitted with cool airplane seats and the interior looks like the cabin of airplane. It’s not all tacky and lame like some other theme places, the drinks are only slightly overpriced, the music isn’t too loud, and it’s just out of the way enough that you could get a table without too much hassle, so long as you don’t roll in at 11pm. Don’t get too drunk, though, because tomorrow’s gonna be a lot of nature and walking, so a hangover might put a damper on things.
Day 3: Central Park & Environs
I’m sure that most people think that when people began settling NYC, they set aside a huge parcel, right in the middle, so that there would always be trees, a reservoir and plenty of grass for people to play on. The people who think that are sadly misinformed. The truth is, NYC was settled from the bottom of the island up. The area that now makes up Central Park was originally comprised of shacks and swamps. Someone was hired to landscape and design the park, so essentially, the majority of the beauty of the park is man-made. There is precious little nature on this small island, and most of it was brought in on a truck, just like everything else. The reason I think you need a whole day for the park is that there really is a lot to do and a lot to see, and you sometimes need to sit back and soak it all in.
I would start out by getting to the corner of 59th St. and Fifth Ave. by taking a subway or bus, just for fun. On the southwest corner of this intersection is the Plaza Hotel, and on the southeast corner is FAO Schwarz. It’s a nice intersection, but it’s usually very crowded and overrun with people just like you. On the northwest corner is the beginning of Central Park, so make your way over there and follow the path as north as possible. After a few blocks, you’ll see signs for the Central Park Zoo. Now, in terms of my personal philosophy, I’m against zoos. I think the idea of taking wild animals out of their natural habitats to sit in a glass box for the entertainment of retards is a travesty. But at the same time, I realize that more often than not, the children who go to zoos develop an appreciation for nature and a love of animals that lasts until they’re old enough to stop caring about anything but their own success. It’s an ugly world, but I’ve said that before. If you would rather avoid walking through the Park, you can walk up Fifth Ave. along the western side and the entrance is around 64th St. It only costs like $3.50 to get in, and your admission will also allow you to go to the petting zoo, which a little further north in the Park. Although this zoo is very small, they have a lot of interesting animals and environments to see and for you trivia dorks out there, it’s the oldest zoo in the United States. In addition to a huge building that simulates a rainforest, they also have snow monkeys, sea lions and lots of other animals. You can also visit Gus the polar bear, along with his two main chicks, Lily and Ida. I don’t feel bad that they’re in this zoo because all three polar bears were born at other zoos and weren’t well-cared for.
My favorite thing in all of Central Park is the Penguin House, located at the north end of the zoo. Inside they have a little land mass and a huge tank. Inside the freezing display are dozens of penguins, both Chinstrap and Gentoo, and they swim and dance and play in the water and on the land. They’re so delightful to watch and they’re so well cared for that just thinking about it now has calmed me. The keepers simulate the penguins’ natural conditions, even though all of the penguins were born in captivity. The light is low and sets early, the air is frigid and fish are tasty. The zoo also host regular talks and feedings, and sometimes you can even run into a volunteer who will point out things you didn’t even know about penguins, like that they can kill a man just by looking at him. I suggest you find a place to sit and just watch the penguins. They’ll swim back and forth, launch themselves up onto the rocks, poop, eat, and if you go in the spring, you can see them mating, making nests out of rocks or even raising their young. If you see or do nothing else on your trip, please make sure to visit the penguins and tell them that I miss them terribly.
Once you’re done with the zoo, continue north along the path and hit the Petting Zoo. They have goats, cows, pigs, ducks and lots of other small animals that you can feed, pet or just stare at. They even have a tank of axolotls near the entrance which are really cool to look at. Juli also wants you to know that right before you hit the exit they have decent bathrooms, so take a hint and don’t forget to wash your hands when you’re done.
After that, I’d suggest that you continue walking north through the park until you get tired of walking, making sure to soak in all the nature and shit. At this point you’ll need to make a decision because I’ll give you two possible destinations. If you decide to go west out of the Park, I’d suggest that you go to my favorite museum, the Museum of Natural History, which is located at 79th and Central Park West. It’s a huge, sprawling place with many floors, incredible displays, an IMAX theater and all the dinosaur bones you could ever want. From there you can just wander the Upper West Side, find some dinner and then call it a day.
If you decide you want to go east, though, I’ve got an even better idea. If you can hack it, walk over to a little Chinese place called Empire Wok (2nd Ave. above 81st St.). As I wrote in my last issue, it might be the best food in the world and it’s certainly my favorite restaurant of all time. If you’re not in the mood, there’s Totonno’s (2nd Ave. near 80th St.), which has some of the best pizza in the City. When you’re done with dinner, go to H&H bagels (across the street from Totonno’s) and get some bagels for breakfast, but be sure to ask for freezer bags because they’re free and they’ll keep your bagels fresh.
If you’ve had enough, go relax. If you need more, go up to 84th St. and then head east until you come to Carl Schurz Park. It runs along the East River from 84th to Gracie Mansion, where the mayor lives. It’s a beautiful little park, with excellent views, nice people, friendly dogs and since it’s not in any guide books, it will be filled with locals and their children. It’s also a nice place to just sit on a bench and relax, but be sure to take the path toward Gracie Mansion and check it out for yourself. Once you’re done with that, your feet should be bleeding, so head home.
Though many of you may never have the nerve (or the money) to make the trip I want you to know that it’s well worth it. I can’t imagine living my whole life without seeing New York City at least once, regardless of where you are, who you are or what you like. Every time I meet someone who says, “I can’t handle it in New York, it’s just too intense for me,” all I hear is, “Look at me, I’m a big pussy!”
If you do decide to come, I’d suggest you come soon since Giuliani won’t be mayor for much longer and the whole city could slide back to being a cesspool right before your very eyes. It’s now or never.