Travelogue V: Weptember

September 28, 2008

Oh yeah! When I mentioned that trip we took to the Galleria on our first day in New Paltz, I forgot to post a couple of photos.

What a lot of trolleys.

What a lot of trolleys.

This is where we all waited while some asshole rangled the buses. Behind the group of trolleys is some kind of fast food joint where customers would load up on, I’m not kidding, gigantic buckets of popcorn to snack on while they shopped. And then I found this while looking for the finest, cheapest hair products:

What?

What?

Anyway, classes started the week after this trip. Here my troubles began. Well, sort of. The end of August and much of September were spent wallowing in misery. It was nice to have all those birds around but I was lonely and weirded out. Really crabby, just totally down on everything. I don’t really know why. Some guy who addressed the exchange students at Curtin before I left told us we’d feel elated at first then really depressed, then elated again, then depressed again, then we’d plateau out, but I just went straight to depressed. I was really disappointed in the city, I guess. I thought it’d be this modernist, cultural wonderland, but it turned out to be reeeeally dirty, stinky, full of poverty and generally gross people (there’s a preponderance of public spitters in the US, not just New York), and it was just way harder to manage, in both a physical traversing and abstract imagining sense, than I thought it’d be, and there were fewer rewards for doing so than I expected. Well, that’s not true, but the rewards didn’t leap out at me by virtue of me being there. Turns out you have to work to find the cool stuff, just like anywhere else. This is a dire situation for me given that it took me about three years before I found the cool stuff in Perth. Just think: I may never find out where New York’s 17 to 19 year old rockabilly and goth sets go to mingle with dexied skanks who compare everyone with a bob to Karen O.

But it wasn’t just the city. My confidence in my education is taking a bit of hit, too. In my first week of classes I discovered that I was basically taking all second year units. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but I also found out that in their first year here students just do general studying and writing classes. So really I was taking first year classes. Plus, New Paltz appears to be a bit of slack jawed Cletus of a school, so students don’t approach postmodern theories, or even poststructuralist theories, until they undertake graduate studies. This was perhaps the biggest disappointment. The teachers are smart people no doubt, but either because they’re forced to or because they want to, everything comes at students in a way that I really disagree with and is separate from the kind of academic world that I want to be in. It made me feel really good about Curtin’s humanities staff, but at the same time it underscored just how out of the loop I am about these sorts of hierarchies. Heather knew that the state schools aren’t so great and was able to land herself a nice one with Penn. State, but where was my knowledge? It’s true that I was limited to schools that taught creative writing and had a partnership with Curtin, but I have to believe that there are better ones out there than the one I’ve ended up at.  Also weird is, it seems anyone who teaches here gets called a professor, no matter how many articles or books they’ve published. Of course, I don’t do this. I just say, “Here you go,” and give them my assignment. Because I cannot remember their first names.

But in the midst of this self-esteem swallowing miasma, I gritted my teeth. I waited for the middle of the second week, when I knew one of my favourite bands, Xiu Xiu, was playing at the Bowery Ballroom, a place I’ve seen advertised in Spin lo these many years! Whee! This could redeem all my grievances. Let’s get on with the show!

That carpark is *safe*.

That carpark is safe.

So, this is the cordoned off area that local police set up around a suitcase that had been left next to a dumpster outside the bus station. This was nice, a nice start to the trip. Completely blocked up Main Street. Which prepared me well for the massive car jam that I would witness an hour and a half later on the New York city limits:

It takes about an hour to make it from the edge of the city to the bus station when the traffic is like this.

It took about an hour to get to the Port Authority.

But I made it, I made it into the city eventually. And I made to it my hostel with only a few snags. By this point I was pretty okay with the subway, I knew my way around it enough to know to catch the 6 train to Bleeker Street while only checking my subway map once between stations to make sure I was on the right route and once I was off the train I only had to look at my Google map printout of Noho constantly to make sure I was heading toward my hostel. It was getting kind of late, though, so I had to hurry if I wanted to get dinner before I hit the Bowery Ballroom. Wandered down Houston and realised, hey, I’m in Noho! On the border of Soho! It was muuuuuuch more like what I imagined New York to be. More cosmopolitan than Spanish Harlem and less tacky than Midtown. There were American Apparels all over the place, little bars, little cafes, little restaurants, one of which was an Australian cuisine joint that actually looked really good (big sign: “Meat Pies”)! Its decor and design reminded me of the Red Teapot, it was cute.

I would’ve taken a picture but I was too busy powerwalking down the Bowery (name of the street the hostel was on, home to yet more neat shops and cafes, one of which featured a handsome black transvestite wearing a gigantic blonde wig talking sass to someone on his mobile out the front of it) and found the place where my hostel was supposed to be. I saw only a cafe and a run down record shop. It was supposed to be right there. The most likely candidate for an entrance was this blank door but I didn’t trust it. I went into the record store, which turned out to be an avant-jazz specialist, and wanted to ask for directions but couldn’t just up and do that (too shy). So I bought a record. While he’s bagging it I say, do you know where this address is?”  He goes, “Oh, that’s right next door. It’s literally the next door.” Turns out what I thought was a cafe was the hostel. I looked right inside but it didn’t click. The windows were big and dark, okay? I wasn’t picking up hostel vibes.

So I went in, saddled with some fuckin’ jazz record that I had no idea what it was (found out later it’s a collaboration with the Kronos quartet!) and checked in. The old guy behind the counter (“Australia, Australia… the land downunder… hot here, cold there… when we cool down, they heat up… that’s the way it goes, an’ that’s the way it goes, an’ [further mumbling]”) took my details and money then said good day and I was like, wait a minute, where’s my key? Where’s my room? Why am I too passive to ask these questions of someone who can answer them? The answer was, because I am sick of feeling like a total jackass just because I’m in a strange city with different customs where the service industry has a massive chip on its shoulder and answers such questions as if it wants to punch you in the face. So instead I went out into the street, assuming that when I returned whoever was at the desk would let me up to my room (just in case you think I’m setting you up for a dramatic episode when I return and can’t get in my room, I’m not, there was indeed some guy at the desk with my key).

I followed the old guy’s directions: south, then east. I walked that way for about 20 minutes then turned around and headed west to the subway, picking up a Village Voice to see what the Ballroom’s address was. Helpfully, it told me not only the address but its nearest subway station. I jumped on at Bleeker, went down to Smith, but when I exited the station I was, unbeknownst to myself, completely disoriented, and I headed in the exact opposite direction to the one in which I should’ve been going. It took me about, oh 40 minutes to realise this, at which point I hailed a cab and told him where I wanted to go. This was hugely humiliating even though nobody saw me do it, and it started a habit I now have when I do something stupid or something goes wrong: I saw, “Fuck me, fuck me, fucking New York, fuck fuck fuck.” On the plus side, though, I found out that they have TVs embedded in the back of the divider between passenger and driver in New York cabs! Sweet!

See how red I am? That's shame.

See how red I am? That's shame.

This is me having a goddamn fucking beer at the Bowery Ballroom after all that hass. Something that is pretty true about the US is that the beer is quite cheap. Imported bottles of beer are about a dollar or two cheaper than they are in Australia, and pints are about two or three dollars cheaper. However, once you factor in the utter nosedive in value the dollar took in August and the fact you have to tip a buck with every drink (I think?) the saving is negligible. Oh, and I learned how to tip. You pay, you get your change, then you leave a bit of your change on the table and, magically, no crumb bum up and steals it. At the bar were a million dollar notes just chillin’.

Thai brothel?

Thai brothel?

This is the first of a few terrible photos I took because I was unwilling to use the flash. It’s the downstairs bar area. Since then I’ve learned how to white balance out such shittiness. But in the meantime:

Upstairs stage area!

Upstairs stage area!

It’s a really nice place. You can see a little balcony type area where you can watch at a table with candles, very pretty.

This is a band that reminded me of Schvendes.

This band reminded me of Schvendes.

For each of these guys, the other guy is the only one in the venue who will talk to him.

Big fat party animals.

And then, the big moment!

Muddy!

Poorly focused!

Xiu Xiu! As clearly as I could capture them! Not very clearly at all! Slightly disappointing I know… but that was the show as a whole, really. Xiu Xiu are a good band, I enjoyed myself, they played some of the songs I like, but it was one of those shows where you go and they play and nothing in you gets stirred up. You start to say, I’m glad I came, but I hope this is their last song. You also start to feel pretty sick because, in your desperation to calm your nerves, cool yourself, and ignite some joy in your bones, you have drunk about five beers on an empty stomach.

Charming NY with my winks.

Charming NY with my winks.

You have also bought three albums by the second support act, Prurient, because you thought his Merzbowian distortion coupled with his flashy lights and flailing arms was reeeeal cooool. Once the lights go up (no encore) you gladly head out onto the Bowery and think to yourself, well, that’s my night. You storm down the Bowery determined to walk the 10 blocks to your hostel instead of catching the subway because you know you won’t get lost that way. You see a bunch of guys, about eight, let’s say, horsing around. You go, ha ha, just innocent fun I’m sure, but when you pass them one darts to your left and the other stays on your right and grabs you and goes, “Get the white dude, get the white dude,” and you go Nnnnyyaaagghhh and get out of their hold (you weren’t in any danger, they really were just horsing around) and another, more serious member of their group rushes up to you and whispers “Hey man, I got that coke, I got that weed, whatchu want?” and again you push forward. Indeed you do end up at the hostel, eventually, although it’s on the other side of the road to what you expected, and you get your key off the west African guy on reception and you find out why this hostel had a spare room just one day out from your check-in date and why it cost only $30:

I'm the prisoner and you're... the prisoners wife! Who lives with me in my cramped prison cell.

I'm the prisoner and you're... the prisoner's wife! Who lives with me in my cramped prison cell.

It is slightly larger than the bed that is in it. And there is no roof for your particular room. Instead, it opens out onto the air of the floor, and the floor’s lights are never turned off, and you wake up about six times before you decide to stay awake and leave, at 6:50am. Then you get back to New Paltz and head right into your Women in Literature class, ready to discuss Sappho!

What was I talking about before I launched into this anecdote? I think I was trying to set up the idea that the Xiu Xiu trip was supposed to either redeem all the shite of landing and floundering in New York, but in fact it was one of the worst experiences of the trip so far. Worse even than eating this thing:

Just... just what is this?

This is what the dining hall calls a “vegan alternative”. I guess they’re saying death is a better alternative than giving up meat.

So I slipped into a funk that lasted about three weeks. But you know, I found enjoyment where I could. For example, making fun of the various signs around the place:

Actually, if you see all the cranky fine art students forced to sketch the public art around campus, this sign is not accurate.

A misleading sign, judging by all the cranky fine art students forced to sketch public art around campus.

The university's idea of stimulating campus life.

The university's idea of stimulating campus life (scary fact: it works).

And observing some of the local characters:

Who knows what kind of suicidal fantasies he dreams of?

Who knows what kind of suicidal fantasies are going through his Swiss cheese brain?

And getting into the school spirit:

EAT IT

GARG.

But ultimately, it was a poor end-of-August and beginning-of-September. Most troubling were two thoughts: 1) I basically had to bankrupt my mother to get myself onto a trip that I didn’t enjoy, and 2) I went on this trip because I felt inferior compared to everyone else I knew so casually going overseas, but this inferiority was enhanced rather than diminished by my inability to properly navigate New York. I was looking at Claudia’s photos the other day, the ones in which she looks like she’s having so much fun, enjoying the colour of the city so easily, and i was thinking fucker, why do you get to do it?

But the journey doesn’t end there, folks. There’s plenty opportunity for things to get better, and for things to get much worse. Stay tuned for what’s going to happen to this little guy:

think of thing to ridicule about self (big nose, small chin, etc).

Note: think of thing to ridicule about self (big nose, small chin, etc).

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3 Responses to “Travelogue V: Weptember”

  1. helen gives you fifty Says:

    huge head! huge heads are ok.
    sorry to hear your new york adventure is sucking homeless balls so far dude. it has like three months or something to improve amirite 😀

  2. helen gives you fifty Says:

    oh god look at that revolting little smiley i want to punch it in both its beady little eyes

  3. Tristan Says:

    Holy shit! I would have been freaked out of my gourd with those eight dudes “horsing around” – crying, on my knees, with my money in my hands, “Please don’t kill me! I’ve got so much to give!” The only way that night could have been worse as if in some weird Marx Bros twist your roommates at that hostel were those eight dudes; that room looks like the type of place where mental prison inmates cut their wrists and write poems on the wall in blood.

    It has also been interesting to hear about the quality of education at this State school. It sounds really frustrating. Yeah, I wouldn’t bother remembering any of these “Profs” names; they more than likely don’t remember any of their students’ names.

    As Vanilla Ice says, “Stay N Skool!”

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