Travelogue VI: Salman Saves the Day

October 9, 2008

Hey, I prepared a joke for my post about Xiu Xiu that I didn’t use, so I’m gonna bust it here. It went like this: “This show was tubular. Because during it, I went to the toilet and did a shit that was perfectly cylindrical.”

Okay so last time I wrote in this thing I was summarising the funk I got in at the end of August and the beginning of September, and doing it quick because I don’t want to dwell on it. Even though I enjoy painting myself as a victim, it’s getting tedious and repetitive and more to the point, it’s not indicative of where I’m at now, and the kind of time I’m having. Plus, stuff’s happening now that I want to report but can’t because of my boring holiday news backlog. For example, today the bar girl at this place on Main Street in New Paltz told a joke she thought I couldn’t hear that went, “How do you give a black guy CPR? You put one hand on his temple and one hand on his chin and say, ‘So long, nigger!'”

Anyway, after the three week rut of boredom and depression I got stuck in after Xiu Xiu, things quickly got better. One of the major upturns that occurred after that initial chafing was gaining a buddy. Her name is HASHIMOTO.

Kanami, that is. White gold, Texas tea.

Kanami, that is. White gold, Texas tea.

I initially made friends with a Japanese guy named Shotaro, but we kind of parted ways after a couple of weeks, and then he got enveloped into this crowd of Americans (no idea how, nor why that hasn’t happened to me). So that acquaintance went nowhere, but through him I was introduced to Kanami, who came up and said hi a couple of times afterwards and then we became friends. Again, not sure how, but I think it’s because we are in similar boats: neither one of us has been hugely great at making friends, yet both of us are clearly awesome dudes.

Shinpaaaiii

Shinpaaaiii.

I have helped with some of her assignments, and in exchange she has provided me with a bit of company. Not sure why I’m not making friends, but it’s something I’ve had plenty of time to dwell on these past couple of months. I guess I just don’t really do that very quickly, while everyone else here does it super quickly. If you’re sitting by yourself, reading the paper or whatever, people just plonk themselves down in front of you and you’re expected to make friends. I don’t like doing that, it appears to me to be using strangers purely to ward off loneliness. I like to have some kind of reason to be friends with someone. Do other people feel that way? Plus everyone here is super young, or super annoying, or (most commonly) both. Plus their eyes kind of widen and glaze over when I speak to them. It’s as if they barely understand a word I’m saying. In fact, at first there were many instances when I couldn’t understand what people were saying, or make myself understood. Mostly this was at the hands of disinterested service staff who spoke quickly, monotonously, looking away from me, through those speakerbox things they put into glass screens that turn every sentences into “Wah werr weer wah”. But also, the first time I ordered an omelet at the New Paltz dining hall I said,

“I’ll have ham, onion, cheese and tomato.”

I said “tomato” in the English way, “toe-mah-toe”. The omelet guy, Big D as he’s known, replied,

“Wha?”

“Tomato, tomato,” I said. I pointed at the tomato bucket.

“Oh, toe-may-toe,” he replied. Then I said,

“You say tomayto, I say tomahto.”

Thankyou, thankyou.

A similar incident: on my first ever visit to Starbucks, I was next in line to order, rehearsing what I would say to the cashier while she dealt with the guy in front of me, when the guy behind the espresso machine, who was white, middle-aged, and didn’t have much of an accent, said,

“Kennegeddehsteddehferreh?”

I said, what? He repeated his made up word. I repeated my confusion. He said it again, then a fourth time, and finally I said,

“I can’t understand what you’re saying.”

He sighed and said, “What would you like?”

“Oh,” I said. “Tall latte.”

(“Tall” means “small”.)

He started preparing that and muttering to himself, then I twigged what he was saying:

“‘Can I get something started for you?'” I repeated back to him. He nodded. Then I took my tall, way too milky latte over to a table, head bowed in shame.

These are not isolated incidents – I have about as much trouble communicating to Americans as I do to Kanami, who can barely speak English. (Although she’s very good at reading and writing it.) When I tried to buy bedding I had to work out which of the sizes “twin”, “full”, “king” and “queen” would fit my mattress. I stared at the shelves for 20 solid minutes, dumbfounded. Even now, occasionally I’ll use a term for something that the US has its own term for and it’ll ruin my sentence. Like, I’ll ask someone what what the deal is with the four numbers that come after the dash in a postcode, and they go, “what?”

Then I correct myself and say zip code, and they go,

“Oh yeah we have zip codes, it’s the five numbers down – ”

“Yes yes I know you have zip codes. We call them postcodes. What are those four numbers after the zip code?”

“What? Oh those things. That’s to do with the route that gets to our part of that zip code.”

“Okay. Phew.”

This and incidents like it make me feel like a retard. But I’m getting better at communicating with the Yanquis. I’m starting to use phrases like “real quick”.

“If you wanna stick around and wait for the manager to return he can help you, okay?”

“Sure. Hey, mind if I go get a coffee and come back real quick?”

“No problem.”

But getting back to the way my situation has changed. On my last venture into New York, the rather disastrous one on which I saw Xiu Xiu and was molested by jocular coke dealers, I saw an ad in The Village Voice for a reading at the Strand bookshop by Salman Rushdie to coincide with the release of his new novel The Enchantress of Florence. Imagine that! Possibly the most esteemed writer of the latter half of the 20th century, and he’ll be reading to me and some other people, only five or so metres in front of us! Plus, free wine and cheese! There were cons as well as pros – it cost $40 (which back then was AU$48 but now would be AU$59) and I was kind of grumpy about the dicking around that New York gave me last time I was there – but I figured this was one of those things that you have to go to if you’re in New York. So I forced myself to go.

Speaking about it to Katie on THE INTERNET, I told her that I was having a pretty bad time, so she said I should check out some websites that ran notices of things to do in NYC. I was like nahhhhhh not for me. Then she found out from one of them, Freewilliamsburg.com, that Lightning Bolt had played in Brooklyn at the prior weekend. I fuckin’ missed out on Lightning Bolt! Naturally, I got over my weird prejudice of travel and events websites and started looking at them and jotting down things to do in New York. It worked: I had a ball! I got there early and was like OKAY. LET’S HAVE ANOTHER GO AT BEING A TOURIST. The MoMA thing didn’t work out last time, so instead I checked out:

Ballin.

Ballin'.

Cock-lookers

Couple admiring statue of man with small penis.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art! This wasn’t something I found out about on the internet, by the way, I don’t want to give that impression, nossir. Nope, I found out about it in Lonely Planet. The place is beautiful, it has an aura by virtue of completely dwarfing you. You feel like you’re in a place of great significance.

By shooting this in potrait mode, I show how bad I am at capturing the scale of large interiors.

By shooting this in portrait mode, I show how bad I am at capturing the scale of large interiors.

Landscape is no better. Landscaaape!

Landscape is no better. Landscaaape!

Which, apparently, you are. It’s one of the three biggest art museums in the world, or something. The lobby is very big and there aren’t signs as such, you’re supposed to use these maps they give ya. And there are swarms of people going every which way, which I found confusing. On this trip I’ve discovered that I’m very easily confused, I’m going to be one of those old men who get angry at Woolworths stock boys because they can’t find the cereal aisle for me. But even with a map I was stuck, because I had no idea a) which artists they had in the Met, or b) what I would like to look at. So I did what anyone would do in my situation: I went left. Into the sculpture garden!

Topless and armless? Well hello.

Topless and armless? Well hello.

You can probably tell that I didn't know what was notable enough to take a photo of.

You can probably tell that I didn't know what was notable enough to take a photo of.

Well-sculpted ass.

Well-sculpted ass.

The photos don’t really do it justice. The ceiling feels like it’s three or four storeys tall, and I can’t quite get that grandeur. (By the way, I think Americans spell “storey” like “story”. Just FYI.) But it too is awe-inspiring. Despite this, once you see one really old thing you’ve kind of seen them all, so I quickly went looking for a different area. This time I went right, hitting everybody’s favourite: Ancient African art!

Note gigantic stingray on roof going unnoticed by security.

Note: gigantic wooden stingray on ceiling.

Wassup dudes.

Wassup dudes.

Wang art.

Wang art.

Again, you can probably tell that I don't know what's important and I was just shooting the funniest faces.

Again, you can probably tell that I don't know what's photo-worthy, and I'm just shooting the funniest faces.

See?

See?

So, much like before, once you’ve seen one piece of ancient African art you’ve kind of seen them all (although the huge ovoid penises were a surprise), so I made another move. This time I consulted a map and found the modern art wing was pretty close to where I was, so I went there. These paintings were slightly more interesting to me because I have spent at least six hours contemplating modernism in art as part of my cultural studies minor, so I was officially qualified to have ideas about them.

Brutal.

Brutal.

It's a lady in an ear! How cool is that?

It's a lady in an ear! How cool is that?!

Before I saw this, I didnt know Picasso sculpted.

Before I saw this, I didn't know Picasso sculpted.

This probably makes me sound retarded, I really like Norman Rockwell. He paints things!

This probably makes me sound retarded, but I really like Norman Rockwell. He paints things!

Once again, I got tired of looking at things worth dozens of millions of dollars. I was starting to get one of those all-body aches, which doing basically anything in New York seems to give me. I’m starting to think it’s related to my flat feet. I’m also starting to think I have a hernia. So, fading fast, it was time to go to the one thing that I knew would be at the Met that I was actually interested in. It was the first really breathtaking experience of my trip. This:

Those things are like four metres tall and made of stainless steel!

Those things are like four metres tall and made of stainless steel!

Steel! Imagine!

Steel! Imagine!

It was really beautiful. The treetops of central park, the Manhattan skyline, the unseasonably warm day on top of a roof, this was the kind of experience that I imagined New York just shits out like it ain’t no thing, and I was finally getting to experience it. I guess what I really wanted was to do something that would make people wish they were in my shoes. Or at least, still in their shoes, but at my time-space coordinates, and probably next to one of their friends in their shoes. This was probably something like that. It overturned my misgivings about coming to America (now a major motion picture) immediately. Plus there was a little cafe stand up there serving Coronas:

Gettin' rude at noon on a roof.

So, that was pretty righteous. I was feeling UPBEAT. I could’ve stayed up there for hours, or, more likely, 20 minutes. I didn’t though, because it was almost time to go watch Salman do his thang. I narfed a salad

That roll with the horn there? Like the best bread Ive ever had.

That roll with the horn there? Like the best bread I've ever had.

and caught a train to Broadway in Soho. I got out of the Subway and again I thought, fuck me, I can’t handle all these people, these smells, not knowing really where I am, seeing poor and rich people alike talking irritably to themselves, piles of garbage taking up space on the footpath, all of it! Then I saw an Urban Outfitters and I thought, “I know that name from ads,” so I went in. I got a pair of super well-fitting grey Lee jeans for $40! Holy shit! I felt like a total dork for not knowing how to let the changing room girl know that I wanted to use a changing room (I swear, there are a million needless service people jammed into every consumer operation over here. Any time I want to do something, I stand still and waitto be descended upon by someone enquiring about how many items I want to take into the changeroom/how many diners in my party/am I looking for the Dead Sea Scrolls/would I like some help with that ornamental Sears Tower paperweight) and I felt utterly gross because of how sweaty me and the clothes I was changing into and out of were, but I’d now officially gone shopping in New York. I felt like I was on a roll, so I went back out onto Broadway for another strike. See, before I left New Paltz I’d noted Uniqlo’s American flagship store on my list of things to do based on a note included on Wikitravel.com, a passing recommendation from Katie, and their super awesome website! It’s basically like American Apparel, but cheaper, with more variety. The store lived up to expectations.

I wish I lived here.

I wish I lived here.

On my first day I only bought three pairs of socks (you get three for $10) but since then I’ve bought three t-shirts, three more pairs of socks, four pairs of boxer briefs, a parka, a pair of jeans, a flannelette shirt (which was discounted by 50% two weeks subsequent, so I’m pretty steamed about that) and a “waffle-weave” long sleeve shirt. When I get back to Perth I’m going to be a walking endorsement to all other not-really-young-anymore, balding, underweight, Irish-or-something males. The t-shirts come wrapped in plastic! Like Bonds shirts, but when you wear them you look like some kind of Japanese skateboard company owner, instead of Perth hipsters circa-1997.

Then it was time for Salman. There was a bad mix up that led to me standing outside the shop in a line for the elevator, which wasn’t actually a line for the elevator, because there was no line for the elevator, people had made their way up to the third floor expediently and were enjoying plates of brie and free tote bags without me. I made it at some point.

Bald and wonky eyed.

Bald and wonky eyed.

A review: if I were to say this was good, you might get the impression that it was enjoyable entertainment to watch Rushdie read from his book. It wasn’t – the book itself felt middling, and though he’s expressive he’s no great performer, and he’s probably hard enough to follow on paper when you’re able to concentrate and backtrack if you get lost, let alone when he’s reading it out and your mind is wandering to, what will I ask him if I get picked during the Q&A session? So I won’t say it was good, but it was certainly very interesting. It was like a carnival sideshow freak being trotted out for us all to have a look at. There’s Salman. He’s famous. He was nice and charming enough, in the way you expect someone would be charming to a room full of people they neither know nor respect (for you cannot truly respect someone who fawns over you, and there is no other way to describe a crowd that has paid $40 to see you read somewhat poorly from your somewhat poor book) yet are obligated to spend an hour with. I wanted to get him to write a humorous message in the free copy of the book I got (something like “Matt, I hate you”) and the wine I’d had emboldened me to contemplate asking for a photo with him, but after about 20 minutes in the autograph line it became clear that he was reeeeeally over it. By the time I got to him people were just handing their books along with the name they wanted him to use written on a Post-it to his helper, who would hand them to him, and he would sign it then place it on a table for you to pick up while he the next book. Still, it was satisfyingly weird to have him go, “Oh, hm? This is yours,” to me.

The day deflated rather than boomed to its end. Semi-drunk, I had dinner at an average Japanese restaurant, missed my bus by 10 minutes and had to chill in the Port Authority bus station for two hours. But I didn’t mind: I bought a Time Out New York. Upon reading the headlines and the articles (“Own This City!”, “Fall on a Budget”, that kind of thing) I realised that everybody else in New York is overawed by it too, they’ve just learned to incorporate their stumbles into their steps. When I casually walked into the men’s bathroom and entered the stall that I, and it seems every other seat-pissing man in New York, use when I’m at the Port Authority and swapped my hole-ridden brown Bonds socks for the fleecy, cream coloured Uniqlo one, still fresh with shop aroma, I felt that I could do that too.

And then I stopped being grumpy about everything. I switched to being grumpy often, but only about specific things.

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One Response to “Travelogue VI: Salman Saves the Day”

  1. Leonie Says:

    yay! good for you, man! makin’ friends and buying socks.
    i really like that picture of the reflection in what I think is the poodle’s butt. that is pretty awesome!

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