Sunday, July 10, 2011

What we Learned on our Summer Vacation

It wasn't the traditional Minnesota "getaway" (italics mine, of course) to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, but Mary Katherine and I did manage to turn our recent sojourn in New York into a wholesome(ish) sort of vacation. 

We played games. 
Bench Bingo, our own creation, awarded points for the highest possible diversity on the subway bench opposite the one on which we happened to be sitting.  Here is an example of a top-point bench:  a white guy in a suit, an elderly lady with a church-going hat, a toddler, a Chinese granny, a thuggish, tatooed rapper and a monk in saffron robes.  We hoped that we might be point-getters for someone who was looking for "two tired tourists" to win a round.  (As Nina Ariadne asked at the stage door,"So, you two are from ... Jersey?")

Bluetooth or Crazy? was a game we appropriated from Mary Katherine's friend Maren. Is the wildly gesturing person approaching you -- the one with the foam-flecked lips and the rolling eyes -- receiving bad news from his stockbroker or instructions from his alien leader on the planet Whackjob? Take a guess and earn big points.  Just don't get in a subway car alone with him.

We observed the native dress.
The Scarves of Summer
Apparently Mayor Bloomberg sent a personal message to all females that went something like this: "I don't care how hot it is, girly.  To maintain your NYC street cred, you MUST wear a long scarf at all times, draped in a circle around your throat in a manner that's intended to look vaguely European.  Do not be deterred by the fact that the actual Europeans, here on vacation, are wearing t-shirts and Birkenstocks and are sweating just to look at you."

Rompers (Don't Get Us Started)
 Mary Katherine channeled her inner Diana Vreeland in quickly dismissing the romper trend. "If you're not currently enrolled in pre-school, you're too old for rompers," she declared. One night at dinner, she turned to our uninterested-in-anything about-girls dining companion and queried sincerely, "Uncle Joel, what do YOU think about rompers?" I've known him for 25 years, and this was the first time I could ever describe him as "nonplussed."

We experienced wildlife.
Of course, the sea lion show at the Central Park Zoo counts as wildlife, as do the numerous dog runs we sat in (illegally, it turns out, since big signs warn that you must have a dog to enter). 87th and Riverside, Union Square, Madison Square, Washington Square and the Natural History Museum "Bull Moose" runs were all checked off our "fauna" list.

We told stories around the campfire (sort of).
Sure, we enjoyed our outings to the Al Hirschfeld, Stephen Sondheim, Cort and New World stages. But our favorite theatrical experience was at the Food Emporium on 8th Avenue & 49th Street, where we discovered a new sort of street theater. We had quick pre-show snacks there, perched on the stools that faced the street, and discovered a constant stream of dramas, comedies and elaborately choreographed maneuvers from the passersby.  Mary Katherine, the reigning queen of the backstory, wove all the parts together into a wonderful tale; I never wanted to leave for curtain time.

We felt at home.
A recent observation in the New York Times, from novelist Ruth Pennebaker, captured the essence of our experience. On a recent visit back to Manhattan, she wrote about her“crazy infatuation with this city [which has] reblossomed like a full-body rash. It's a rush of exhilaration and freedom and possibility in a jam-packed island of mothers wielding strollers like battering rams, young men screaming into cellphones, the beautiful, the hideous, the blighted, the golden. Here you can see and hear everything. In this teeming, frantic world, nothing and nobody is weird.”

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