Travelogue: By Popular Demand (True)

August 21, 2008

Right now I am sitting on my single bed, in my pyjama pants, on a freshly purchased blanket, sheet and pillow, in my as-yet-roommate-less dorm room in a residence hall at SUNY New Paltz, feeling very much like a character in a scene of a TV show in which something like what I’m doing happens (Felicity, let’s say). I’ve been in New Paltz for three days, prior to which I was in New York City, having a fuck of a time because I was lugging all my shit up and down Manhattan in the 30 degree late summer heat, getting a) blisters on my hands and feet and; b) lost, because I was operating on about 40 minutes’ sleep across two days. Two glasses of wine and three cans of beer and an Atavan could not send me to sleep from Hong Kong to JFK Airport. Neither could eight episodes of Friends (season 6, good season), five episodes of the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm (Jess Horrocks take note: hilarious), two episodes of 30 Rock, half of Dead Poets Society (aborted because I couldn’t stand it despite loving it as a child, adult me disdains the overprivileged bohemian fops), Unforgiven, Kung Fu Panda and a dozen furtive minutes spent trying out the video games, which were all basically cheap permutations of Asteroid. I was not ready for the disappointingly rural setting of the airport, the Ashfield-y vibe of New York that lingers until you get to about Manhattan, the kinda rough hispanic neighbourhood my first hostel was in, and the invitation from Mya from Slovenia, who was staying in my room, to go see the Empire State Building at 11pm on a Sunday. Unready was I also for the 2 hours it would take for us to get through the line up to the 86th floor observation deck.

The line to pay to go up the building.

That's right redshirt, I'm demeaning you.

But this was okay:

Somebody knows what they're doing.

I think that's the Rockefeller Centre or some shit.

Reminds me of some cheap icypole.

Reminds me of some cheap icypole.

Mya had enormous breasts and a nice smile but was very serious, and casually mentioned things such as finding all Croatian people to be very “bad”, and that the Greeks and Italians were sneakily trying to steal Slovenia’s land. She was a backpacking medical student, and she emphatically denied wishing to study the kidneys. At some point she grabbed my shoulder to get a look at lower east side and I thought, whoah there Nelly, not sure I like where this is going. But then I fell asleep on the subway back to our hostel and I think she lost interest in me. Either that, or she had no interest in me to begin with (just as likely [much more likely]). So, the next morning we said a very awkward goodbye, I took her picture

Miss Slovenia

Though her eyes look munty, I don't think they are.

and parted ways. As I left, I said bye to Santos, who runs the hostel. It’s worth mentioning him because it leads into a demonstrative anecdote about the Spanish Harlem community. He wasn’t in his office when I arrived, and all the doors to the place, which from the outside just looks like a decrepit ghetto squat, were locked, so I walked around to find a payphone to call the office. During my search I saw a playground caged in by chainlink fence at which kids were playing baseball and basketball and using those spinny playground things. It looked just like fuckin’ Sesame Street, I swear. I wanted to take a picture but, I’m ashamed to say, I was afraid that if I did the eyes of one of the dozens of young men in the street listening to Cabana music would light up and I would be rumbled. In that way, the street was not unlike the hispanic parts of GTA San Andreas. Lots of little kids, lots of jovial old men, lots of shouting, lots of running… really, nothing to suggest criminal activity apart from everyone was very poor-looking. At the payphone I dialed the numbers and found out that both of them were out of service, so I walked back to the hostel and sat on the stoop, thinking, whose penis am I going to have to suck in order not to get stabbed when I inevitably have to sleep on the streets in this neighbourhood? Then this guy, who looked a lot like a latino version of the guy with the moustache who works at Highs and Lows, waved at me and said, “Ay, you gotta hand in the key?”

“No, I’m checking in.”

“Oh you checkin’ in? You see anyone yet?”

“No, no I – ”

“Hang on one minute. *gets out phone, dials, puts it to ear* Hey, Santos man, there’s a guy out here to check in, where you at? 10 15? Okay. *puts phone in pocket* He’ll come get you, he’ll be about 10, 15 minutes. Okay?”


“Okay. Enjoy your stay, don’t worry, nobody here gonna mess with you. *wink*”

Five minutes later, a rather obese lady comes up and says, “Ay man, are you waiting for Santos?”

“Uh, yeah, I think so.”

“He should be around, I’ll give him a call. *dials, holds up to ear* Ay, poppy, you got a customer. Where are you? Well he’s out the front of the place and noone’s here. He’s been waiting a while.”

At this point she told him her name and her number, and I realised that she didn’t work at the hostel, and neither did the other guy. They just live in the neighbourhood and, apparently, are really helpful.

“Okay I’ll see you later. *hangs up* He’ll be here soon, don’ worry.”

So I checked in not long after that with an English girl who told Santos, who was very nice, that she’d lost her passport and visa on the subway. He said, “Oh mommy, that’s too bad, I’m sorry about that. We’ll just process these payments then I’ll drive you to the police station, okay?” and then we checked into our rooms, and I met Mya, and you already know that story. The day started off rough, in fact it started 36 hours ago, but I was in the country, I had a bed, I was alive, I wasn’t sucking on a penis in a burnt out car, so I cut my losses and looked toward the next day.

First thing, I showered, packed, checked out, and went to the Chelsea Star Hotel, which is in Chelsea, which is basically on the opposite side of Manhattan to Spanish Harlem. I wanted to cave my own head in at the thought of having to walk that, but thanks to Mya’s advice I had learned how to use the Subway and to better visualise where things were on maps of Manhattan, so I got around much better than the day before. It wasn’t as hot either, because it was morning, although later in the day it got even hotter, but at that moment I was like woo, let’s enjoy ourselves some fucking NEW YAWK. But I was still basically jetlagged and saddled with 20kg of luggage and adrift in an unfamiliar place, so negativity reigned unabated. My basically completely unhinged mental state and relative lack of security can be blamed for that, but also I was bitter that New York was more mundane than I thought it’d be. Times Square is kind of interesting-looking, but what is it really? I don’t even fucking know, some chain store coffee shops, fluoro signs and the headquarters of some businesses that I missed the names of because everything is so busy and huge, but it’s probably, what? Time Warner? Whoopdidoo. And it’s cool to be able to say, “I caught the subway,” but again, if you remove the myth of the subway from the actual thing, then all you’ve got is a dilapidated transportation system covered in advertising and rats. I thought I’d be staying in other quasi-rundown shack, but instead Chelsea Star is this pretty top notch hostel/hotel with really yellow walls and big metal doors.

They were very nice and helpful.

There's a toilet near that door that I took a shit in.

I booked a single but there was something wrong with it, so they put me in a dorm and gave it to me for free! At that point I was prepared to be upbeat, so went out for a browse. Again, there wasn’t much browsing fodder, and the street seemed devoted to a lot of useless shit like shoe repair, garages, those little newstand things, tiny Asian convenience stores. It had very little colour. Angove Street has more colour than this place, was what I was thinking. But I was hungry so I picked a pub (it was called something like “Paddy O’Reilly’s Genuine Green-Ass Pub”) and ordered a sandwich. I wanted to get something American, so I ordered a reuben, which I guess I’ve heard talked about on Seinfeld because I recognised the name, but I wasn’t ready for this:

Delirious, I thought that pickle was a lime.

Delirious, I thought that pickle was a lime.

In case you can’t make it out, that’s about an inch and a half of corned beef, with nothing else apart from some cheese sauce. That’s the best way I can describe it, cheese sauce, some kind of runny style of cheese. I couldn’t finish it. I had a Heinekin, and if you know me well enough, or if I’ve yelled it at you in a fit of incoherent rage, you’ll know that I don’t like European beers, so you can imagine that I was feeling pret-ty bad right then. To compensate, I thought I’d sight see the first thing that came to mind: MoMA. So I looked it up in Lonely Planet, but in my, again, brain damaged state, I accidentally ended up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I thought, what the hey, that’ll do, and decided to go in, but I found out it was closed for renovations. I bought an orange Gatorade from a hotdog stand to avoid passing out from exhaustion and the heat, then, on the verge of giving up on the good things in life, went back downtown to try and find MoMA. I did, but I’m sorry to say that it too wasn’t what I thought it’d be. It seemed to be a stuffier, more comprehensive, more popular version of any art gallery or museum I’ve seen. I was in a room surrounded by Jackson Pollocks, and the opposite side was Rothko, and the adjacent was Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol, and all I could muster was an, “Oh, Pollocks.” They did, however, have this

"High as a motherfucking helicoptah."

High as a motherfucking helicoptah.

and this

Some kind of clown thing.

Some kind of clown thing.

and lines for checking in your bags, going to the cafe, and collecting your bags.



They don't call flat whites flat whites.

Interesting note: American's don't call flat whites flat whites.

Life is over.

These guys were pretty bald.

At this point I wanted to either die or kill.

At this point I wanted to either die or kill.

That last one is what you see if you lie down on the couches on the second floor and softly moan to yourself about your dead and dying limbs. After doing that for a bit I went back to my hostel room. You got free wireless, so I thought I’d email my mum and tell her I was okay, but when I found the emails and messages of people from Perth I felt awash with relief, reminded of the person I once was: still someone irritable and sore, but nevertheless able to navigate the treacheries of life with something resembling aplomb. Some of them asked me to keep an account of my travels (more like TRAVAILS – ha!) so out of appreciation for their contact, as well as a swelling sense of ego, that is what I have started to do. I’m going to try to journal semi-often and extensively, and not just give up after I’ve left Chicago, so y’know, feel free to check back and say hi and whatnot. As a parting gift, here is a picture of the chicken from my old place:

Eatin' some seed, possibly its own faeces.

Eatin' some seed, possibly its own faeces.


4 Responses to “Travelogue: By Popular Demand (True)”

  1. Leonie Says:

    thanks, dude! ‘ppreciate it! just think tho, it would have been a whole lot worse if you didn’t take that dump.

  2. OZ Says:

    Matt I have this journal on my google reader so that your delightful entries will never escape me

  3. h Says:

    this rules already.

  4. sean p Says:

    they don’t have flat whites in london either man. they call them lates here. i think (actually, i’m sure) that “flat white” is an australian term. there is a cafe here called ‘the flat white’ though. i bet it does a roaring trade selling white coffee to australian morons who refuse to submit to british coffee / lifestyle / anything. also – good bloggin’ dude.

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