Monday, January 25, 2010

I heart New York

We love company.  We enjoy sharing laughter around the dinner table, the camaraderie in the kitchen when preparing big meals, the flowing wine, story telling, reminiscing, and sightseeing.  Since moving to New Jersey from Omaha, Nebraska, we bragged to many back in Nebraska how we were just minutes from New York City as an incentive to have them visit and stay with us.  As far as we were concerned, being in New Jersey had little to offer in comparison, and we were homesick.

Over the years, several friends (or friends of friends) or family arrived, stayed, and fell victim to the Chrysostom Family Whirlwind Tour which included seeing highlights of the most well known, and some little known, significant landmarks of New York City.  Trying to tailor our tours to the likes, interests, and wallets of our guests, we would often include a driving tour that included skyline views from one of the major bridges (George Washington, Brooklyn, Verrazano), a side trip into the grittier parts of The Lower East Side and The South Street Seaport, a gustatory experience at noteworthy restaurants on Mulberry Street or in Hell's Kitchen, a bargain hunt for knock-off purses, watches, and jewelery on Canal Street, cultural exposures to a variety of museums including The Metropolitan and the American Museum of Natural History, entertainment in comedy clubs, on Broadway, Radio City Music Hall, or the independent street shows offered by entrepreneurial talent, a pass through Central Park and taking delight in the variety of transportation options by ferry, tunnel, subway, rickshaw-type pedicab, and of course, New York City Yellow Cab.

During a visit several years ago after my mother died, Dad was joined by Barbara Blakney and her teen son, Mitchell, all traveling together from Alma, New Brunswick, Canada--approximately a 12+ hour drive.  As we'd become acquainted over the years with our frequent visits to Alma, Barb had suffered through my endless bragging about the opportunities we had with our family on day trips into the city, and she was eager to share those experiences with Mitchell.

Oh, Mitchell, dear Mitchell.  He is one of the few young men on this earth who we love as a son.  He is confident, very clever, amusing, and laughs easily.  He exhibits no false bravado, and seems to adapt well to any situation.  In the same age group as our kids, they all seemed to get along well, and we wouldn't have discouraged a relationship with either of our daughters.  A fine fellow, indeed; a credit to his parents.

One of the highlights we were especially keen to share with Barb and Mitchell was a fabulous independent street show we'd seen in our very early days when we first moved back east and lived in Manhattan for several weeks.  Set on the side walk in Times Square this show was an unusual combination of boom-box new age music played in the background while an artist created a fantastical futuristic city-scape mural on paper he taped down to the sidewalk.  His medium was only spray paint and a variety of cylindrical vessels such as empty tuna cans and tops or caps from bottles of every size, and some straight edge blades.

He donned a respirator, and began his show with examples of his work available for sale on display behind him. His creation took approximately 10 full minutes, and was quite dramatic as each layer of the astronomical metropolis was revealed with surprising techniques of negative imaging from the placement of the cylinders to give dimension through each layer of color.  His audience is captivated, and "ooohhs, and aahhhs" in concert as the startling effects are created.  If you are very impressed, he will sell you the newly completed artwork for a reasonable fee.  We were very impressed, but offered to the kids that we couldn't afford one this time, but if we ever saw him again on the street, we'd get one then, so we asked his name, and how often he presents his show.  He gave us a card, thanked us in a thick, cheerful, english accent, and we continued on our way.

We stumbled upon Simon less than a week later, at Rockefeller Center, watched his show again, and purchased his newest creation.

When Barb and Mitchell were in town, we wanted to share this show with them, so we dug out the card, and called Simon to see when he might be performing while we're in the city.  He suggested to meet at South Street Seaport at a designated time the next day and we all agreed.  This will knock their socks off!!  So we announced this special side-trip, and briefly described Simon's talents, the artwork, and the dazzling techniques, and prepared them to anticipate an amazing performance.

At supper that evening, we talked about the options for the next day's events.  It would be a full day: but as usual, we offered to cover the cost of the ferry tickets for everyone as we ferried from Stated Island to Manhattan--a courtesy as your generous hosts.  We wrapped up a fine meal, and joked and laughed and shared good Cypriot wine, and prepared for Stephen's famous Creme Brulee dessert.  While he busied himself, I barked at the girls to clear the table and do the dishes, and Barb followed suit to offer Mitchell's assistance.  Dad hushed everyone and jokingly set his plate down on the floor for our dog, Scout, to lick clean, which he did nearly instantaneously.  We all remarked that it was much  faster than washing, and "look how clean!", so we amused ourselves by putting the freshly licked plate back into the cupboard on top of the stack of plates ready for the next meal.  "Ah, ha ha ha, what a funny--oh ho ho", "Now where's dessert?"

We retired into the living room, enjoyed Stephen's dessert, shared some music, and everyone went off to bed for a good night's sleep--tomorrow was going to be a full day.

The next day, we landed in Lower Manhattan, Battery Park, after passing the Statue of Liberty by Ferry.    The whirlwind tour had begun, and we visited The Tenement Museum on Orchard Street--a far cry from the likes of anything in the small fishing village of Alma--, shopped a few boutiques, lunched in Chinatown, and found ourselves running a little late for our set time with Simon at the Seaport so we hailed two cabs, and as everyone hopes to do, said, "Follow that cab, and FLOOR IT!" to our driver.  He did, and we were just a few minutes late as we pulled directly in front of Simon and his show.

"JANE!" he called out as we spilled out of the two cabs and hustled over to his area.  I was giggly with anticipation.  Mitchell will love this; this ain't no stuffy museum, this is ENTERTAINMENT!  Dad circled the families around and the show began.  Cue music.  I'm nudging, Dad---"This is going to be GREAT!"  Stephen shushed me.  Simon tapes down his paper, dons his respirator, and shakes the spray can with its telltale ball bearing rattle.  "WATCH THIS!" I exclaim.  Stephen tells me to stop it, and I quietly settle in for the show. Simon chooses flat black for his first application of paint, and completely covers the paper with it, while he sits on an overturned milk crate.  His cylinders, tools, and music are all in place.  But Simon stands up and turns around to face the crowd--just assessing potential customers no doubt-- but Barb sees this as a "There, my work is done--behold my great creation!" stance, and calls out, "That's IT?  Hell, I can do that!" and crosses her arms in front of her, in extreme disappointment.

"Wait." I lean in to quietly tell her, and using my mother's often used catch phrase, add "it gets better", and Simon returns to his task and the audience is mesmerized, including Barb, Mitchell, and Dad.  Maybe Simon heard Barb's remark?  I don't know.  Maybe because I'd called and asked for this special outing. I don't know.  But for whatever reason, Simon's show was even more compelling than the previous two we'd seen.  The music seemed more intense, the flourishing orchestrations of his paint layering appeared more dramatic, the finished art seemed more surreal. 

Success!  Mitchell took the creation, Dad exchanged business cards with Simon inviting him to Alma, and off we went to supper in Little Italy. I was glad not to have to go home after such a big day and cook for the crowd. It had been a good day and we were hungry, despite having started the day with a big breakfast at home before the ferry ride. I said as much out loud.

It was just then that we remembered that no one had taken Scout's cleanly licked plate back OUT of the cupboard after supper--we silently looked at each other, wondering who got that plate at the breakfast table...


  1. i still have his painting!
    new york is awesome, everyone should go see it

  2. There are eight million stories in the Nekkid City. This has been one of them that WE won't soon forget.