Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Past

I wake up in a bed that's not mine.

I don't know where I am. This is all too fancy. This is not my baroque brass lion!

The view from the window. Judging by the growth pattern on those leaves, I'm in pre-Dutch Manhattan.

Oh hello! So as the year wound down (you remember that, it was last week) I felt compelled to compile a few Best of the Year and Best of the Decade lists. I always get nervous about those things. What if I screw up? What if I list my eleventh favorite movie as my eighth favorite movie? I battled anxiety for a while and finally made some lists. I don't know why. It's like if I don't document things like that I'm not really alive.

When making those lists I joked (quietly, to myself) that I should make a list of Best Days of the Decade. Then it occurred to me that my own stupid life is well documented enough via pictures, blogs, twitters, e-mails, texts, and internet message boardings, that I probably could make a list of my best days. I didn't actually go that far, but I did quickly conclude that January 4, 2004 was my official Best Day of the Decade.

Now, was that really my Best Day? Probably not. I've oft contended (and I stand by that contention) that the best times are the ones you can never describe. Crazy adventures out of '80s movies rarely happen in real life and when they do they're usually disappointing. The best times can't be captured and put into a jar.

That said! January 4, 2004 was a really good day. It was a good time in my life, generally. I was as carefree as a boy with a falcon.

Yes, it was perhaps the last time I was truly carefree for an extended period of time. No one in my family had taken ill yet, I wasn't involved in any sort of relationship (or attempted relationship), which... you know, relationships are great but come with their own variety of stressors, I really liked my job, I thought I was some sort of big-shot award winning film student, I really thought I had it all figured out. Looking back, I was really just a know-nothing kid. But to a know-nothing kid marching around New York City with no regard for anything outside of your immediate sphere is pretty great.

So this was the real view from my window that morning. Back then I worked for a luxury hotel chain. This occasionally allowed me to stay at five star hotels for cheap (free). It was a pretty sweet gig. This was a work trip, where a group of us went to learn all about the hotels in Manhattan, in theory to allow us to sell them better.

The first three nights were a lot of fun. Big-deal dinners and fancy-pants hotel suites. Treated like royalty we were! After that the party of co-workers went home but my friend SeanE and I stayed behind for three more days.

Pouring rain that morning, my favorite kind of weather. I decided to go for a walk through Central Park. The doorman was asleep at the wheel so I had to push the door open by myself (like common gutter trash). As I did that a damp and scowling Natalie Portman pushed her way passed me, pausing only long enough to give me a real dirty look. Here's an accurate recreation.

Central Park was great.

I wanted to try to find out where the ducks go in winter but it turns out the ducks were still there. Stumbled my way into Bethesda Terrace and it's lovely angel fountain.

She stood under an umbrella. Her expression betrayed nothing.

"Bryton-" she said, choking on the N. Struggling to say it, to say the words she found so hard. "I'm... I'm sorry."

Her face, her impossible face, twisted into a wince, a dam holding back tears. I wrapped my hand around hers and lowered the umbrella.

"Just this once Natalie, just this once let yourself feel. Let it rain my darling, just let it rain."

I don't know how long we stood there, embraced. No matter how long, it wasn't enough.

"It's time." I said, releasing her from my arms.

"Don't." She said.

"I have to." I turned my back to her, to make it easier for both of us. When I turned around, she was gone.

I looked up to the heavens, where the clouds seemed darker than before.

"You take good care of her Zach Braff. You take good care of her!"

Then a bunch of hippies came along and ruined my moment, as usual.

The rainy day gave way to night, which made the bright lights of the city that much brighter, the colors that much deeper.

The city had the romance and mystery to it that it's supposed to have, if the endless pools of ink and miles of film devoted to New York are to be believed.

It also had Beeker.
I love this neon sign. I think this is the third time I've bl'gged it.

I'd heard tell of a bar called Pravda in NoHo.

It's underground, and to get to the room you pass through a steel door and a velvet curtain. I was like, "oooooh!" I guess at the time it was a real hotspot with the local douches. When me and SeanE were there it wasn't very crowded at all, which was really nice. Maybe it wasn't a hot spot at all. Maybe some New York scenester is reading this and thinking me a hayseed. Well whatever. They have a great martini there called the Nolita. And I fell in love with the bartendress (I got over Natalie pretty quickly I guess). Look, I know you don't believe me but we had a special connection, me and that barkeep. A special connection!


Pouring rain and, several drinks into it, we decided to walk the empty streets to McSorley's Old Ale House, the oldest continuously operating bar in the U.S. (1854) and one of my favorite spots on earth.

Hey look it's in comic books!

Soaking wet, we warmed by the coal stove.

The place smells like beer, sawdust, and mustard. Just like any Irishman. It's covered with the ephemera of bygone days (auld lang synes) and nothing has been removed from the walls since 1910.

That's John, he's a great server. He knows me, tell him hello.

These dust-covered wishbones were hung up by doughboys on there way to fight the Huns in the green fields of France in the Great War. Legend has it the returning soldiers would come back to claim them, so the remaining bones belong to the fellas cut down in the trenches.

In the '60s "Honest" Abe Lincoln gave a speech at the nearby Cooper Union (a speech that established him as a legitimate candidate for President) and afterward celebrated with an ale at McSorley's. Woody Guthrie staged a few union rallies there, Theodore "Ted" Roosevelt was known to pop in from time to time. John Lennon liked it there and Elvis once drunkenly sang on top of a table. Also I've been there.

In the entire history of the bar there has always been a set of two cats living there, always a red one and a grey one, and always named Red and Minnie. Also, they're camouflaged!

The cheese platter. Best meal I had that entire trip.

They only serve two drinks there: house-brand dark and house-brand light. At the time it was two glasses for $2.50 but I hear it's now up to $4.50. I think we can blame George W. Bush for that one.

So we um, had a lot to drink and were on the verge of going under when some regular named Jerry came in and threw a rolled up newspaper at one of the cats. Turns out that Jerry guy is the night watchman. He'd had a rough day. The commotion gave us a second wind and we ended up staying another few hours. Eventually we ended up in Times Square. Somehow.

The first thing I remember is giving a couple bucks to a homeless because I thought he was Aragorn. Then we asked a cop for directions to the liquor store.


It wasn't even that late but Times Square was totally abandoned and eerily quiet. So I took pictures like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky.

Good day.