dog park spectator
Friday, July 11 2014
location: Gem Hotel, Chelsea, Manhattan, New York City
As we had on the mornings when we'd stayed at the far-superior (and not far distant) Maritime Hotel, this morning Gretchen and I walked to Chelsea Market, the indoor foodie mall set in the gorgeous architectural palimpsest of an old building's basement (or series of old buildings' basements). At this point, we have a routine: get the non-dairy cream cheese at the bagel shop, get an assortment of bread at Amy's Bread, get soy cappucinos at that seemingly-unnamed coffee place that sells nothing but coffee, and then get an assortment of sautéed vegetables from the Italian cold case merchant who specializes in those. Chelsea Market is not just a great place for eating a makeshift breakfast; it's also an excellent place for people watching.
On the walk back to the car, we decided to take advantage of the fact that 22nd Street in Chelsea is a Friday street cleaning street, meaning all the cars parked on one side of it had been forced elsewhere for the morning. At the end of cleaning hours, they would be allowed back, and if we could get our car in the mix at the correct time, we'd have a free space to park it for the rest of the day. Cars were already starting to drift back to the cleaned side of the street when we got there, even though the hour permitting them to do so had yet to arrive (the drivers would have to stay in those cars until then to avoid being ticketed). In order to hold a space, I took a position as a pedestrian in a good spot and waited for Gretchen to go fetch our car from the garage, a process that took a surprisingly long time. Meanwhile I stood there in the spot, giving a "I really don't give a fuck" look to anyone who drove past with hopes of taking the real estate I was claiming. I was prepared to go full monkey dance on anyone who tried to deny the spot to me. But only one guy looked like he was willing to do that; he was a passenger who looked like a douchey Wall Street type, but evidently the driver took one look at me (with my unfashionable hair and don't-give-a-fuck aspect) and kept driving. And so the spot was waiting for Gretchen when she eventually arrived in our dented and cracked Honda Civic Hybrid.
After a bit more leisurely morning spent back in our tiny hotel room, Gretchen and I checked out and then walked into the East Village with first goal being the procurement of a cup of coffee for me. Along the way, we stopped at a tiresome women's bath products shop in that unnamed neighborhood northwest of the East Village so Gretchen could return a unit of deodorant that hadn't been effective at its one job. As I stood there with absolutely nothing to do with myself and nothing of interest to look at (I wasn't going to read labels on bars of soap!), I noticed that the windows on the store were surprisingly dirty. Moments after I'd made this observation, a man with a bucket and a squeegee showed up and began washing those very windows.
We walked all the way around Union Square looking for a nice independent coffee shop but could barely find even a Starbucks. Along the way, we waded through a farmers market until Gretchen noticed a guy selling cheese and (of course) veal from supposedly happy cows and goats. Anyone who knows anything about veal knows there is nothing happy about a creature whose fate is veal. Gretchen found the sign so offensive that she launched into a conversation with the hapless man running the farm stand. He tried to counter with something anti-vegetarian, I forget what exactly, but Gretchen was having none of it. She snapped some pictures of his sign and then Facebooked about it; it was part of a string of Facebook postings from this trip that were unusually bloglike (it was more like something our friend Stacy would do).
I wound up getting coffee at a place called "The Coffee Shop," which had seemed a bit too fancy on the first pass by. Despite that fanciness, the coffee wasn't actually all that good.
We then went to the Union Square dog park, a smallish area whose surface consisted of a millions of marble-sized stones which flew in the air whenever dogs ran across it. When we arrived, there was an old guy who looked like my late Uncle Bob with "Buddy," his Golden Retriever, and a woman with a German accent with an assortment of other large dogs. All the dogs greeted us enthusiastically even though it was just us humans. They were in the middle of what can only be described as perfect doggy fun. They had each other, they had two tubs full of water to dunk in, and they had the run of the dog park after they'd cooled down enough to venture out into the hot sunlit part. Much of their play with each other, though, seemed to take place under our bench. As always, Gretchen was outgoing and friendly, which made the guy who reminded me of my late Uncle Bob a bit more of a pest than I would have preferred. A few other people with smaller dogs showed up while we were there, but they didn't stay long. There's a type of older lady with an unchanging well-lined expression and a couple identical purebred dogs who shows up at dog parks and then leaves about two minutes later. Obviously such people don't really care about the social needs of their dogs.
We walked into the East Village and decided to do lunch in a "hippie restaurant" called Caravan of Dreams. The food there is sort of like what Gretchen and I used to eat in Harkness, our co-op back in Oberlin, but it's significantly tastier. I ordered the seitan-and-guacamole nachos and Gretchen ordered the tempeh reuben. But the real standout was the cæsar salad with seitan. That was so good! Unfortunately, our waiter was sort of a spaz and forgot Gretchen's drink order and erroneously assured Gretchen that the reuben's rye didn't contain caraway seeds (somehow, though, the kitchen staff managed to transplant sour dough bread in its place upon request).
Next we went to the dog park in Tompkin Square Park. It's a bigger dog park with separate sub-parks for the small and large dogs. When we arrived, there were a number of largish dogs (such as a Labrador we referred to as "Chocolate") but none of our favorites: the Pit Bull mixes. Eventually, though, a Pit-mix showed up, and we referred to him thenceforth as "Pritty." He and a number of other agile mid-sized dogs (some of whom we gave temporary names) ran around as a pack, frequently jumping over a low fence to an otherwise-inaccessible area we referred to as "the Fun Zone." There they wrestled with each other aggressively, though never doing anything that would cause their human parents alarm. (There was, however, one woman who kept showing up to extricate her Boxer from the mix, though he wasn't doing anything the others weren't also doing.)
We still had hours to kill before the next event we'd planned to attend, a WNBA game at Madison Square Garden. So we wandered into a vegan icecream place (where the staff allowed us to wash the dog off our hands despite health regulations), and we both got cones, which we ate in a nearby public garden. Then Gretchen wanted to go to B&H Dairy, the old-school kosher dairy diner that her parents had patronized as long ago as 1969. There's not much for a vegan there, but we both ordered coffee (it was better than the fancy coffee from The Coffee Shop on Union Square) and Gretchen chatted at length with the guy running the place, a Hispanic gentleman named Raúl. He said he'd been working there since 1997, but that the restaurant had opened back in 1942. Culturally, B&H caters to observant Jews, but it's been run for many years by Hispanics (this is reflected in their teeshirt design, which reads "Challah, por favor." It's possible that in earlier times other ethnicities ran B&H. (Some kosher restaurants in the Lower East Side are now operated entirely by ethnic Chinese.)
From B&H, we walked leisurely northward. I'd said something about the Chrysler Building, so Gretchen had it in her mind that we walk there. But when it turned out to be north of 34th Street (it turns out it's at 42nd and Lexington Avenue), we turned left and headed towards Madison Square Garden, occasionally passing through very dense throngs of humanity (and even something that appeared to be an outdoor festival, which seemed a bit too authentically cultural for Midtown).
By the time we got to Madison Square Garden, I had to piss so badly that I couldn't wait to get through security and whatever else we needed to do. So I found a place between the wall and a massive concrete column in a little-traveled part of the main entrance area and, with Gretchen to block the views of anyone who happened by, I filled the coffee cup I'd been carrying since leaving B&H Deli. Sweet relief! With nowhere else to put it, I threw the paper cup full of urine into a trashcan.
We were supposed to be meeting our friend Eulalia in front of Madison Square Garden, but she was (as always) running late, so Gretchen left the ticket she'd bought her at Will Call (a term that I assume must be somewhat archaic, a terminological fossil), and we went into the heart of the stadium.
Gretchen had told me our seats today would be good, but she wanted to surprise me with how good. Here's how good they were: we were directly behind the row of monitor-equipped seats (provided for the press) on the edge of the floor, only a few seats away from the courtside seats provided to the visiting team (in this case, the Los Angeles Sparks). These seats had cost over $100 each. Right away, we were set upon by a woman with an enormous ass whose job was to act as a server. She rattled off the beer options, and they all seemed dismal, so I selected a Budweiser. It cost $10.
After both "God Bless America" and "the Star Spangled Banner" (because America is exceptional) performed by local groups of kids, the game began.
We were so close to the action that we tended to be distracted by the details of facial expression or sweat and miss the strategic import of plays. The problem might have also had to do with proximity to celebrity. I don't really watch WNBA games like I used to, but I have a passing familiarity with Candice Parker (playing for the Sparks) and Swin Cash (playing for the Liberty). For Gretchen, though, these were celebrities every bit as important as the actors and actresses in Breaking Bad. Initially the New York Liberty was ahead by a few points, but at some point they fell behind, and once that happened, the point spread between Los Angeles and New York grew. It's hard to be so close to such fame and pay attention to what they are actually doing.
I think Eulalia showed up in the second quarter, and since Gretchen had bought her very expensive ticket (which was as much of a surprise for Eulalia as it had been for me), Eulalia had to buy snacks. Unfortunately, though, Madison Square Garden no longer offers veggie dogs, so the only thing we could order were waffle fries, the kind that make you wonder why you ate the whole thing after you do precisely that.
The halftime show featured a couple Irish or otherwise Celtic recorder & fiddle school bands. Oddly, and in great contrast to the athletes, everyone in those bands was Caucasian. (They didn't even include a few token Asians.)
When I needed to piss again, I went out into "da club" area. Catering to high-dollar customers with great seats (had this been an NBA game, the seats would have cost four figures), the bathrooms were immaculately clean and made of expensive materials. At the bar, I was delighted to see they had Goosehead IPA on tap. Better still, by walking to the bar and getting it myself, it cost only $8. I'd much rather go get myself an $8 IPA than have a $10 Budweiser delivered in a plastic bottle.
The game ended with a whimper, the way all games do when the home team loses.
Eulalia walked with us most of the way down to our car (down on 22nd Street, remember), talking mostly about pop culture with Gretchen. She didn't think she would like Game of Thrones becuause she isn't into role-playing games. This made me think she'd never actually seen it. "If you liked The Tudors, you'll like Game of Thrones," I assured her, adding, "It's basically a sexy costume drama."
Outside the subway that Eulalia was going to take northward, I feared Gretchen and her would have a lingering conversation, the way people do when they're standing at the fork in the road (so to speak). I'd tried to preempt that by talking about my bladder (which was again painfully distended). They had the idea that I just go catty-corner across the intersection to the Starbucks. But when I got to the Starbucks, there was a woman in the bathroom saying that it was closed. I ended up going a little ways down a side street, wedging myself between a bush and a wrought iron fence, and pissing between iron bars.
After Eulalia disappeared into the Subway, I was happy to be heading back to the car, but suddenly Gretchen had an idea for something else to do. She ducked into a nearby Blossom Du Jure in hopes of buying some premade sandwiches. Not wanting to overhear any further chirping about the already-established glories of vegan food, I stayed outside and waited. And waited. Gretchen didn't come back out for 15 minutes. Evidently there had been no premade sandwiches, but the staff had insisted on making her fresh ones. Jesus!
The drive out of Manhattan was complicated by lane closures on the upper level of the George Washington Bridge. We made the foolish decision to take the lower level instead, which dumped us out into the surface streets of Fort Lee with several traffic lights and weak signage between where we were and where we needed to be (the Palisades Parkway). But getting there proved to be easier than expected, even with a dead smart phone and thus no GPS assistance.
Eating bread at Chelsea Market this morning.
Photo by Gretchen; click to enlarge.
Me in front of the "humanely raised" veal merchant on Union Square.
Photo by Gretchen; click to enlarge.
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