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Day 2 – “Ah, but it’s OK, cos he’s not dead”

16th May 2003 • Dave

The above quote could – at a push – have been applied to me as I stirred in my pit on the Friday morning. Dave sprang from his bed like a jack-in-the-box and inquired as to whether I’d be joining him for breakfast. I’d forgotten that to drink whisky with the Williams is to swing for Cassius Clay, to try and tackle Pele, to wrestle a nuclear explosion… in short, to be completely and ridiculously outmatched. Dave’s cyborg liver had rapidly demolished the mere dribbles of whiskey he’d thrown at it, while I felt like I’d been kicked in the head by several horses. I languished in my bed while Dave toddled off to indulge in another Lindy’s breakfast, and it took repeated visits from the Dominican housekeeper to rouse me. Dave returned in time to charm yet another female (he’d busily been making up to the Mexican waitress in Lindy’s) as he generously tipped the lady bustling around our room warbling in Spanish. After showering and dressing I felt nominally better, but a brave effort to strike out towards the lobby sent me spinning back to our freshly-cleaned en-suite to take care of a little business. This was almost like a magic charm, as it did the job of Alka-Seltzer, strong coffee and dip in the sea all in one go. I was once again ready to get out there. My rapid transformation led to some wry head-shaking from Mr. Williams, and I believe mutterings in the vein of “Amateur”. Back on the street, I was badly in need of some food, so we broke our ban on chain restaurants and purchased a stack of donuts from a certain well-known shop. We devoured these on the street, feeling like vagrants, and then wandered into a small DVD store directly opposite Macy’s. This place had a massive selection of obscure and mainstream music and film at very reasonable prices, and I earmarked a decent number of DVDs I planned to return and buy later in the holiday. We then headed to Macy’s department store to have a look at the self-proclaimed “largest store in the world”. I had very fond memories of this shop from my previous visit, but it proved to be quite a disappointment. Undergoing an extensive refit, a large portion of the store was closed off, and there seemed to be floor upon floor of stuff which held no interest for us, such as frocks and housewares. While I wasn’t interested in the frocks, I can’t speak for Dave. Even a store guide didn’t do much to help us, and we left feeling a little disappointed. Dave had expressed an interest in the Museum of Television and Radio on 48th Street, while I was more interested in wandering into the Times Square Virgin Megastore. Initially keen, Dave’s enthusiasm waned when it dawned on him that he would be negotiating extensive stretches of the subway and road network on his own. He and I parted company at the 34th Street subway station, and I was left feeling a little nervous, like I’d just finished assembling the monster and was now watching it lurch around the Transylvanian countryside. I walked back up to street level and set at a slow pace up to Times Square, taking the opportunity to snap many photographs along the way. The New York street crowds are characterised by a strange mixture of native and tourist, and people-watching you rapidly learn to discern which you belong in, and which you should avoid at all costs. On Times Square proper (which, I feel it’s important to add, is not a square) the crowds are almost exclusively tourist, and the neon/display screen visual cacophony is as pronounced in the daylight as it is at night. I wandered with some satisfaction into the Virgin Megastore, a record store in which my dad and I had spent a good three or four hours last time I’d been in the city. The selection of music, film, literature and latte is enormous, and since there are a great many items unavailable or available in vastly inferior form in the UK, I set about hurting my plastic in a big way. Entire racks dedicated to Japanese animation, a genre barely acknowledged in the UK? Check. Two racks dedicated to Criterion DVD editions of films, an exclusively Region 1 phenomenon? Check. New York Monopoly? Check (that’s the board game, rather than the economic principle). Two hours of my life are lost in that store. All I remember is wandering out feeling slightly dazed, a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of switch receipts and some very heavy carrier bags in my hands. I had managed to notice that Tiesto, a Dutch DJ and producer whose stuff I’ve liked for a while, was to be playing a set in the store at 6pm that evening to promote his new mix album Nyana. I bought the album, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to see a European DJ in the midst of an American crowd, to see if it was as different as watching a movie amongst the natives. Meanwhile I struck out towards 48th Street to meet up once again with Dave, and it didn’t take me very long to find the Museum of Television and Radio. It was recessed quite a way from the street, and I was concerned that Dave would inadvertently (or perhaps advertently) have ended up in the Museum of Sadomasochism and Pornography two blocks down. When I enquired at the desk if anybody had seen someone matching Dave’s unique description, the girl on duty – barely my age – erupted in a barrage of giggling and grinning. “Oh yeah, he was here, he was great!”. After some searching of my carrier bag swarm and some raised eyebrows at my Rump Shaker 3 DVD, I took the lift up the fourth floor and the multimedia library. Dave was merrily sampling a selection of classic broadcasts, such as TV’s establishment in the UK and Orson Welles’ broadcast of War of the Worlds, which famously duped a lot of Americans into believing an invasion really was under way. By the time we left the museum it was late afternoon, my shopping trip and Dave’s broadcasting fetish having devoured a fair portion of the day. We chose to walk further up Manhattan towards the distantly visible Central Park. For the one remaining person on the planet who may not know, Central Park is an oasis of greenery and calm in the centre of the city, constituting the space of twenty or so adjacent blocks. It has quite rightly been called “the lungs of the city”, and were its administrators ever to sell the land up for development, billions of dollars would be made right before the city choked entirely. Dave and I grabbed hot dog and pretzel respectively and walked around this incongruent slice of peaceful parkland, flanked as it is by the most extensive urban development in the world. After walking through Columbus Circle and past the Trump Tower, we realised we were not a great distance from the Dakota Building, where John Lennon was killed by a deranged fan in 1980. Across the way is the Strawberry Fields memorial and mosaic, and we were both interested enough to take a wander along on a minor pilgrimage. This location is on 72nd Street, so it was a fair distance, but we arrived in good time for around 6pm – I later realised with dismay I’d missed the Tiesto set, but it seems for a fitting reason; to pay my respects to one of the founding fathers of modern popular music. Spotting an inattentive-looking doorman barring the entrance, we ascertained that Strawberry Fields was directly opposite, and we had indeed found the apartment building Yoko Ono still occupies. The Strawberry Fields memorial itself is strangely silent after the noise of the city, and the mosaic itself a simple circle around seven or eight feet in diameter, with the word “Imagine” in the centre. Many tourists were filtering through, but Dave and I took time to sit and contemplate this sobering sight. I took a walk and found the statue to one Daniel Webster, responsible for Webster’s Dictionary, and purchased another much-needed bottle of water. By the time I got back the mosaic had attracted an unwelcome guest; an American woman in her early thirties. This character was running around, loudly informing the assembled company of her woes, her five-times-changed degree course, and proclaiming that it was “OK, cos he’s not really dead”. Not content with shattering the calm of the evening, she then began to sing, and with passing tourists and a transient variously shouting encouragement and abuse we decided to take our leave. Hopping the subway back to 33rd Street we returned to the hotel room to plan our evening. One of the things we had agreed we should definitely do was visit a New York jazz club, as we are both fans enough of the genre to spend a calm evening sampling some live performance. Consulting my Rough Guide we identified two possible venues, the Savoy Lounge and Birdland. The latter was famously opened and headlined by Charlie Parker – otherwise known as “Bird”. However the cover charge alone for Birdland was forty dollars, and we were aware of rapidly shrinking wallets and four more full days to fund. We decided the best strategy was to head over to the Savoy Lounge, and if it proved disappointing, to push the boat out and hit Birdland. Wandering the New York streets on the Friday evening still felt safe, even behind the Penn bus terminal, where the Rough Guide informed us the Savoy Lounge was located. After much searching and increasing frustration on my part we found a promising looking candidate, only to be informed by the bouncer that it hadn’t been the Savoy for three years. My Rough Guide, it seemed, was woefully out of date. The bouncer did inform us that Birdland was a decent venue, and not far from where we were, so we bit the bullet and headed towards the more expensive choice. Upon arrival we realised that Birdland valued its exclusivity; with no reservation, our chances for a table looked slim. However after some theatrical consideration they managed to seat us, and we quickly ordered drinks and food; steak for Dave, calamari for me. Dave later pronounced this was the finest steak he’d ever had, which coming from a connoisseur of the bovine is praise indeed. The act entertaining a rapt audience was the twelve-member Cuban combo Orquesta Aragon, a selection of three saxophonists, three violinists, three percussionists/vocalists, a flautist, a pianist and a gentleman whose sole purpose, it seemed, was to grin at the audience, bash his tambourine and generally be the Bez of the outfit. The resultant music from the twenty-year old troupe was definitely not what we were expecting. Jazz by definition has no stereotype, but this was a highly unusual and entertaining performance. Variously the band pushed members to the fore, with pianist, flautist and finally violinist managing insane chromatic runs which blended and refused to stop until dogs outside were going insane. The audience – clearly big fans of the combo – were dancing and applauding like idiots, and Dave and I were initially bemused before vastly enjoying the lengthy performance and excellent food. Orquesta Aragon retired at around 10:30pm before being dragged back on for an encore. Another set to was due to start around thirty minutes after the finish, and we were condescendingly informed “my manager may invite you to stay for the second half”. We decided we’d seen enough, and headed out onto the street to find yet more places to down some alcohol. Our choice this time was yet another of the ubiquitous Irish bars dotting New York. In here we sat and drank for a while, literally propping up the bar and enjoying the atmosphere before walking back over towards Penn Station after midnight. At no time did I feel threatened, even as we were in quieter streets in the small hours. I feel that the reputation of New York as a dangerous city (prior to the emergence of the zero-tolerance policy on crime) must have been exaggerated.

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