Ah, Christmas in New York. I always dreamed of going to New York for the holidays. Whenever I watched the Christmas episode of Saturday Night Live, I’d pretend that I was one of the skaters doing triple luxes on the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. Or I’d imagine seeing the windows at Macy’s, chomping away on a pretzel or a bag of chestnuts. Christmas in New York always seemed magical to me. I loved watching the Christmas episode of Sesame Street, and as a kid, I’d pretend that I would also be spending the holiday in Gotham.
This past Christmas – thanks to my mother – I was able to spend Christmas in New York. For the past few years, my mother has been working with a large corporation to open a number of hotels throughout the United States, mainly in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York (one year, during Hurricane Sandy, my mom was working on a property, and had to drag in the patio furniture by herself). Because she was an employee, she was able to get us discounted rates for New York City, and my partner, my mom, my cat, and I flew out to New York City on the 23rd of December for five days.
December 23, 2016
The day of our departure, I had to indulge in my ritual before flying. I have a severe fear of flying. It’s not bad enough to where I avoid flying airplanes, but it’s bad enough that I have a lot of prep work before I go. I even wrote about it. Because our flight was at 10:00 am, we had to leave the house at 7, which meant getting up at 6, which is something I’m averse to doing if it can be helped. I’m not sure what I was unhappier about, getting up at the crack of dawn or having to fly.
For our trip, we decided to take Bingley, our two year-old cat with us. This decision wasn’t easy and we hemmed and hawed quite a bit. Initially, I suggested we simply board him, but my mother and partner both looked at me as if I suggested we throw him in the garbage. After doing some research we learned that traveling with a cat is pretty easy. You call ahead and pay about a hundred bucks and you can stick your furry feline friend underneath your seat (in a carrier, of course).
Bingley is both an asshole and a Siamese cat, which means he screams a lot, tears into things, knocks shit over, and is basically a big piece of crap. We took him to the vet who gave us some tranquilizers, advising us to only give Bingley half a pill. It’s funny because like Bingley, I too was drugged up for the flight, so that I wouldn’t panic and go nuts on the plane, either. Similarities!
Because it was the holidays, the airport was fairly crowded, but the folks there are on top of everything, and we didn’t have to wait too long before an employee spotted our carrier and directed us toward a super-fast line, for folks with wheelchairs, kids, animals, etc. The only thing was I had to take Bingley out of his carrier to pass through the metal detectors, and he clung to me like Velcro out of sheer terror of being in a strange and unfamiliar place. Despite being drugged, he was quaking and practically climbed over my shoulders in panic. I was able to quickly pass through the detectors and shove him back into his carrier.
Our flight was very smooth. For our in-flight entertainment, we watched How Murray Saved Christmas, an animated Christmas special boasting the vocal talents of Jason Alexander and Sean Hayes. I couldn’t hear said vocal talents because I packed up my headphones (something tells me I wasn’t missing much). Instead, I just sort of, passed out from the pills, and slept through the hour and half before we landed with a big thud (so big, the coke I was drinking became airborne) in LaGuardia.
A quick side story about LaGuarida. Some ten, fifteen years ago, I took a trip to New York with my best friend for Thanksgiving. Budget and still-fresh 9/11 jitters prompted us to take a Greyhound to New York City. We were able to secure a cheap hotel room in New York City – but not in Manhattan, but the LaGuardia Wyndham in Queens. The bus ride was almost 20 hours long, and we knew we were facing another 20-hour trip back home, and staying next to an airport, it felt like the airplanes were mocking us with their hour and a half travel time to Chicago.
Anyways, so we get to New York exhausted and a touch stinky because, let’s face it, airplanes stink. The hotel was across the street from Madison Square Garden in the heart of Manhattan. I loved the area. It was loud, crazy, and insane. Every street corner had some guy hawking Middle Eastern food, and the lights from the jumbo screens on MSG made the area seem like daytime 24/7. The hotel was lovely, but there was a bit of a snafoo when we brought Bingley, because the folks there weren’t prepared for a cat. Even though we called ahead, we were welcomed with open arms but furrowed brows. Before we made our way to the room, the front desk clerk assured us that we’d get some supplies for Bingley – all we needed were two bowls and a litter tray.
As we were settling into our room – which was really cute. It had a large queen bed, a small seating area, and a tiny alcove with a writing desk. Our view was a partial view of the entrance to MSG and Penn Station, as well as the side of the neighboring building. The bathroom was really an upright coffin with indoor plumbing. As we were getting comfortable and unpacking, I noticed that we still weren’t getting any litter boxes or anything, so I phoned housekeeping, and a nice lady heard my request and said somebody would be there in about ten minutes. Bingley was still imprisoned in his carrier, barely making any noise, traumatized by the whole move (I don’t blame him), so I was eager to get the litter box so that we could let him roam the room.
After ten, fifteen, then twenty minutes, I called again, and another nice voice, this time apologetic told me they had nothing for cats. She suggested bringing up a cardboard box, which would be disgusting, so I thanked her and announced to my partner that we would have to make other arrangements. Thankfully, across the street, Penn State had a Duane Reade (Walgreens for you Midwesterners), so we were able to stock up on food and litter for Bingley. The problem was we couldn’t find a litter tray. My mom pulled out a Pyrex baking dish and suggested we use that. I thought she was kidding, but after looking for other less-weird options, we were stuck with buying a Pyrex casserole to put our cat in.
We laid out a tarp of Duane Reade bags all over the bathroom floor, at the foot of the shower, and put down the dish, filled with litter. We opened the carrier and Bingley was smushed in one corner, half-dazed, half-terrified. We pulled him out, and he clung to the sides of the wall, crawling, like the the chick from “The Yellow Wallpaper.” He found a plastic bag and burrowed underneath it. We pulled him out and took him to the bathroom and left him in there. There was s sense of deja vu because that was what it was like when we first brought him home. We put him in the bathroom, left the door ajar, and hoped he’d walk out on his own.
Since it was late afternoon by the time we showered and rested, we decided to go to dinner and then MoMA, which was open late that Friday. We ate at Ruby Tuesdays – a place I never patronized before. Because this was Bloomberg’s New York, all of the menu items had their calorie counts. The food that was high in sodium had a tiny icon of a salt shaker, and practically everything on the menu had a tiny salt shaker, except for a chicken dish with mushrooms and cheese (I’m glad there was no icon of a cholesterol-ridden vein).
Even though I was tired, I loved MoMA, and wished we had more time. It was open until 8:00 pm, so we had about an hour and some change to explore. I got to see Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy. It’s strange seeing work that’s been reproduced ad nauseum, because even though the images are very familiar, it still feels off to see the actual work. The Van Gogh piece was surrounded by tourists, all armed with their phones, snapping away. We also got to see Basquiat’s Glenn – Jean-Michel Basquiat is probably my favorite visual artist, and I’ve seen reproductions of his work (and own t-shirts and posters of his works), but still it was a thrill to see the work in person. I took lots of pictures (but I’m not sure how copyright works, so I won’t post them online). We also got to see Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans (which I think I saw at the MCA in Chicago during a Warhol exhbition – but I could be wrong).
Once we got back to the hotel, we chilled on the couch for a bit, reading, and Bingley started to peak his little head out of the bathroom, and carefully and daintily walked into the room, sniffing around. He looked at the different, unfamiliar corners and jumped on the new furniture, before settling cautiously on the couch with us. He was purring loudly, though he wasn’t vocalizing as much. Still, he was out of the bathroom and looked settled.
That night we also learned about Carrie Fisher’s heart attack. The initial reports were that the heart attack was massive, but that she was stabilized. I hoped she’d be okay. I still YouTube her crazy interviews.
December 24, 2016
Christmas Eve in New York. I woke up excited because it was really Christmas in New York. It was also, like, 60 degrees, so we wouldn’t have a white Christmas, which was fine with me, because the bulk of our trip was spent walking around the streets of Manhattan, so the warmer weather suited us.
Because my mom is a periodic New Yorker, she knew the ins and outs of Manhattan, and so we found ourselves plunged into the thick crowds. Sometimes I wished we had those little pennants like the tourist groups had, because there were times when we got separated from each other.
For lunch we supped at a deli and had paninis – my mom and my partner and Cuban sandwiches, while I had a chicken cutlet panini. We then forged ahead walking to One World Trade Center. The last time I was there was just a couple years after 9/11 and it was just a large, gaping hole in the ground, with construction crew. Hawkers were selling cheap photo albums taken of the attacks. I hadn’t been back to New York since, so to see it as built up as it was, it was very impressive.
We also went into St. Paul’s Chapel, which is the oldest surviving church in Manhattan. We couldn’t go through the church yard, but we were able to stop in, and we were just in time to see a small congregation, with children getting ready for a Christmas pageant. I remember when we did Christmas pageants as a kid – our costumes were charming – if homemade. When I played a shepherd, I wore an old witch costume with a tea towel on my head. The kids who were sheep had pillow stuffing taped to them. The kids at St. Paul’s were turned out – their costumes looked Broadway-level professional. We didn’t get to sit for very long, because my mother wanted to see the Statue of Liberty and the War Memorial, so we dashed around Battery Park in the dusk, before hopping in a cab and making our way to the East Village to eat at Velselka.
The line at the restaurant was almost out-the-door, and as we tried to get in, we heard two hardened old ladies grouse about the place. “You don’t want to go in there,” one of the ladies sniffed dismissively. “That place is too cramped, the tables are too close, and they rush you in and out.”
We waited for twenty minutes before being shown to our table. Velselka is a popular spot in the area, not just for Eastern Europeans, but for East Village hipsters, too. Lots of handle bar mustaches chomping down on pierogies. We didn’t order the Christmas dinner, and instead broke with tradition and had meat – gasp – for Christmas Eve (a big no no in the Polish Catholic community). I had hunters stew, which can be best described as Polish kimchi. Fermented cabbage served with Polish kielbasa. My partner and my mother both had goulash. We even had apple pie for dessert. Stuffed like crazy, we hopped into a cab and went home for the night.
December 25, 2016
Christmas day in New York and it’s still crazy and busy. I thought it’d be a little quieter and I thought the shops would be closed, but for the most part everything was still open and people were still walking around. We went to Times Square again. In the day time, Times Square looks different – less manic. I know hip New Yorkers hate Times Square, and I know that it’s the epitome of our culture’s devotion to consumerism, but I love it. The bright LED and neon is beautiful to me. It’s like stepping inside of a kaleidoscope. Times Square reminds me of Oxford Circus with its lighted signs for Coke and McDonald’s. It’s trashy and ridiculous, but there’s something beautiful about it, too.
We went to Central Park for most of the day and strolled through the park. We passed by the Central Park Zoo. We didn’t go inside, but from the gate, we saw the seals in their enclosure, jumping out of the water and entertaining the guests. It made me think of the seals at Lincoln Park Zoo, who just sit on the rocks like big, blubbery lumps. We moved passing by the Alice in Wonderland statues and sitting by a lagoon. There we saw a lady with two greyhounds (each dressed in fancy coats). One greyhound was blind (its eyes were milky white), but it knew how to get around. A couple passed by with a tiny Yorkie that had a leg cast. She was very friendly and ambled over to us. The guys told us they named her Ladybird after Ladybird Johnson. Ah, family….
We moved on to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it was closed. As we waiting for the light to change, we saw a guy in a cool roadster. We started to get hungry and walked to Heidelberg Restaurant – my mom’s favorite German restaurant in New York. The place was insanely crowded, but we managed to get seats – except, we were warned that they had upcoming reservations, and we were only allowed to stay for a couple hours. I ordered a sausage plate, while my mom and my partner both ordered Wiener Schnitzel. The waitress had to wear a dirndl and my glass had lipstick on it, but otherwise, the food was fantastic. I ate so much, that I thought I’d pop like an overfed tic. We staggered out of the place, and my mom thought she knew of a deli, but it was closed, so we did some more walking, looking at the elegant hotels. We wandered over to the Carlyle Hotel. I loved the Carlyle Hotel mainly because Elaine Stritch was a resident artiste there, performing in its piano lounge. In the Elaine Stritch documentary, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, we got to see Stritch performing and living in the Carlyle (her room was tiny and not very pretty).
As per usual, we did a lot more walking, a lot more pining for the beautiful lives that people led in New York.
In the evening, we ordered in Chinese food and relaxed.
We also found out that evening that George Michael died. I was gutted. I loved his music and was looking forward to the re-releases of his Faith and Listen without Prejudice albums. 2016 was being very 2016.
December 26, 2016
Boxing Day – at least in Canada and in the UK. This was our day of shopping. We went to the Strand, we went to UNIQLO, we went to Bolton’s. We ate Polish food – which was very exciting for me, because I don’t get to eat a lot of Polish food at home in Chicago. I know, a shocker, given that there are billions of us Poles roaming the streets of Chicago, but all of the good Polish restaurants are hella far in the West or South side, so unless I’m visiting my dad, I don’t get to eat much Polish food.
First, I’ll write about the Strand. What can I say about 18 miles of books. I’m an atheist, but I had a tiny peak of heaven being in the strand. It was gorgeous. Three floors of books. Even though it was stacked with people (it was a bit nuts), I still had fun, strolling the aisles and picking up books. A nice employee armed with tote bags saw me and handed me a tote bag so that I could unburden myself of my choices. It was great, and if I wasn’t with people, I could’ve stayed there all day. I didn’t even get a chance to look at the food literature because a bunch of store workers were having an impromptu meeting at the bookcase, and I didn’t want to linger. So, I bought:
- You’re Better Than Me: A Memoir by Bonnie McFarlane
- Kissing Bill O’Reilly, Roasting Miss Piggy: 100 Things to Love and Hate About TV by Ken Tucker
- Cinema Nation: The Best Writing on Film from The Nation: 1913-2000, ed. by Carl Bromley
- This Is a Book About The Kids In The Hall by John Semley
At the time I was reading Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm (probably the funniest book on the planet), so I couldn’t tuck into my new books until I got back from the trip (I already finished McFarlane and Tucker since we got back). At UNIQLO, I got a bunch of pop art shirts – a year ago, the UNIQLO in Chicago had a great line of t-shirts with the works of Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Basquiat. I bought a few (at criminally low prices) but when I went back for more, they were done and moved on to a Lego theme, which yuck…But in New York, they had whole pop shops in the UNIQLOs that had these great shirts, so I stocked up on quite a few.
We had lunch at Little Poland in the East Village. It was really good. I had zapiekanki, which is Polish street food: it’s basically a French bread pizza. I also had the best matzo ball soup. My partner had pierogies and mushroom barley soup and my mom had latkes and cucumber dill soup. The waitress was Polish, so I got to speak to her in Polish – which is always fun – I love being bilingual. It was rainy and cold that day, so it felt very cozy, sitting next to the window, looking out of the window and relaxing.
We hung around the East Village for a bit longer, and went to the Organic Cafe for mulled wine. It was there that we got bad news: some very good friends of ours suffered a building fire that left them homeless. My partner and I were devastated as these are beautiful people. I celebrated Thanksgiving in their lovely apartment, and my heart ached for them. We learned about this while at the cafe. The news, plus George Michael music playing in the background made for a melancholy afternoon.
Because it was so cold and rainy, we decided to make it an early-ish evening and we headed home. We stopped at Europa Cafe for some pasta and called it a night.
December 27, 2016
I was sick, so I stayed in bed for the day.
Carrie Fisher died. I was devastated. She, Wendy Wasserstein, and Nora Ephron were my Holy Trinity of humor writing (now, all three are gone). I looked at all the tributes, and I was a bit annoyed that everything was either about her work in Star Wars and Princess Leia or about her being Hollywood royalty . I know that the film is iconic and it will forever overshadow everything she did, but I wish more attention was paid to her writing. She was an incredible comedienne and a razor-sharp wit. (I’m re-reading Postcards from the Edge at the moment – and in a weird coincidence, I gifted The Princess Diarist to my partner a couple weeks ago).
In the evening, I summoned up my strength to go to the Lincoln Center to see Verdi’s Nabucco. The Met is gorgeous and makes me think that Chicago’s Lyric looks like an outhouse in comparison. The starburst chandeliers, the sumptuous red carpeting, it all was dizzying in its beauty. I wanted to live in the Met. While waiting in line, I got a little sentimental because a good friend of mine died this year, and he was an opera fanatic, and he loved the Met and would’ve loved to attend.
Nabucco is good, but like a lot of operas, I feel that the story has some serious holes in the plots. From what I could follow, it’s about a King who is threatening the Israelites, who have one of his daughters hostage. She in turn is in love with an Israelite hero, as is her evil sister, who usurps her commanding father and takes over the Kingdom, only to kill herself in grief and suicide. I don’t know. The music was gorgeous and I swooned at some of the beauty of the singing.
December 28, 2016
It was time to go. I loved New York and didn’t want to go. I wanted to live there forever. Like on the 23rd, we drugged poor Bingley an hour before we left. He already started staggering around the room like a drunken sailor. We were wondering what to do with the Pyrex. We didn’t have space to pack it, but I was worried that if we left it, some poor maid would take it home, clean it (but not well enough), get some microscopic particle of Bingley’s feces, and then die of some horrible stomach bug. So we wrapped it in layers of plastic and threw it out in a trash can in the street. I spent part of the morning, scrubbing the bathroom floor clean of any errant kitty litter. I also wanted to shave, but the can of shaving gel was so weird and shut tight that when I finally got the top off, I accidentally sprayed electric blue shaving gel all over the bathroom mirror and wall. So then I spent part of the morning cleaning the mirror, too.
We cleaned up the rest of the room and gathered our things and left for the airport. The flight was smooth, save for a crying baby that wouldn’t shut up, plus my head cold, which coupled with the sleeping pills made for a very fuzzy trip. The air pressure also wreaked some serious havoc on my sinuses and it felt like someone was slowly driving in a needle in my eye. As with the flight to New York, the flight back ended with a huge thump as the plane basically drop landed.
When we landed, I also found out that Debbie Reynolds died. Fuck you, 2016.
We got home, and Bingley got out, and surprisingly, was really cool about everything and wandered around the house without issue. I went to bed to nurse my cold.
* * * *
The rest of the week was spent in and out of bed (I had a small fever at one point). New Years was uneventful because my partner caught my cold, so we spent it watching Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper on CNN, before turning the TV to the New Years celebration in Zakopane, Poland. I made lamp chops with black eyed peas for dinner.
My partner is a New Years baby, so we celebrated his birthday at Bistro Zinc in Old Town. He had the skate with brown butter, I had a zucchini quiche.
All in all, my New York Christmas was fabulous and I can’t wait to go back.
Some random thoughts
- I fell in love with the delis in New York – especially the hot bars
- Speaking of delis, I love how the delis also have flowers
- I got to eat a pretzel on the street like a real New Yorker!
- We tried passing Trump Tower, but I broke out in a rash. Just kidding.
- I took pictures around 30 Rock, because of 3o Rock. It was there that I was schooled by my partner that the statue in front is not Prometheus but Atlas.
- Our hotel was close to a Korean Franciscan church.
- We walked so much, I bore holes into two pairs of socks.
- I kept my eyes peeled but couldn’t spot any celebrities.
- In the Walgreens in Times Square, just as we walked in, security guards were roughing up a shoplifter.
- The exhaust fumes from the food trucks made the streets smell like a gas station. But the food from the food trucks smelled ahmazing.
- In Penn Station when the train to New Jersey was announced, a drove of people – like an exodus, moved forward en mass toward their track. I just jumped out of the way.
- The Strand has a cute tote bag with Michelle Obama’s picture on it.
- The Pepsi cans in New York have “New York City” written on them.
- One day at Starbucks, I was standing in line behind a family of six. No one in the family had ever seen a menu, and therefore I waited for twenty minutes to finally get up to the cashier. The guy behind me whined and whimpered like a puppy tied to a tree.
- Times Square got so crazy crowded, that we just walked on the street.