East Village, 2004
Saturday, October 30 2004
My friend childhood friend Nathan, who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, had come to Manhattan to attend some sort of work-related class, so I decided to meet him in Manhattan. The original plan had been for me to pick him up and drive him to Hurley for a day, but on second thought I thought it would be more appropriate (and fun) for us to both spend that time in Manhattan instead. To avoid complications, I parked the car at the Kingston bus station and rode the bus down. Being an Adirondacks Trailways bus, it was a relaxing, comfortable, and punctual ride. The bus stops loading at New Paltz and then makes haste down Route 17, entering Manhattan from New Jersey via the Lincoln Tunnel. Typical of this particular route, I arrived a half hour early.
Nathan was staying at the Roosevelt, a swanky hotel at the corner of 45th Street and Madison Avenue. He met me out on the street and showed me inside, past the marbled entranceway, up eight floors of elevator, and to his room. We sat around drinking tequila and eating low-salt snackfood, part of a new diet Nathan is trying to adopt ever since receiving a surprising high blood pressure reading. Nathan kept referring to the faith-based/reality-based dichotomy in nearly everything he was saying. It turned out that he'd just discovered that his boss, an otherwise nice guy, is a Christian fundamentalist, complete with that whole lack of curiosity handicap.
Nathan wanted to see Manhattan, so I thought I'd give him a tour of my favorite part, the East Village. In the process I got a chance to show him how to work the subway. We took the local red line from Times Square down to 14th and then busted an eastward move to 1st Avenue on the L.
The moment we were out on the surface I was reminded of why I love the East Village. Its well-used lowrise grid brims over with youthful exhuberance and fun, traits that businesslike places such as Midtown and Downtown lack. Tonight was just another evening in New York's extended Halloween weekend, and a great many people, both young and old, were walking around in various costumes.
As usual, my sense of direction was completely wrong in the East Village, and I kept leading Nathan North when I meant to be going south and east when I would have preferred west. The great thing about the NYC grid is that you never have to follow a bad trajectory for more than a block. And when strolling around the East Village, it really doesn't matter where you go, there's always something happening that reminds you why people pay the sort of rent they do to live in this place.
I wanted Nathan to get a fully authentic East Village experience, so I started out by taking him to the nastiest of the dive bars, the Holiday Cocktail Lounge on St. Mark's Place between 2nd and 1st Avenue. When we arrived it was just the old bartender (in the role of customer) and what I take to be his son (in the role of bartender). The teevee was on and provided a steady stream of fresh topics to discuss. Eventually a gaggle of nubile young women dressed up as Catholic schoolgirls walked by. And then we were joined at the bar by a short, fat man wearing a football jersey. At this early hour, about all we could expect to see at the Holiday Cocktail Lounge was the most alcoholic fraction of its clientele.
For dinner I wanted Indian food, since it is so hard to get in the eastern Catskills, so we headed down to 6th Street and ducked into one of those cheap places with all the Christmas lights. As always with these places, nobody dining there was Indian. The food was actually pretty good, though it might not have satisfied Gretchen.
On the way back out to one of the avenues, we passed a store with a very colorful facade, and just the colors alone made Nathan want to go in and check it out. It was a store specializing in third world percussion instruments. They had a bucket of goat hooves and a mule's jawbone, among other things. As we were buying a couple of resonant metal bells, Nathan asked the girl at the counter if she had many vegan customers. She claimed that goats shed their hooves in big pieces like the ones in her bucket, but I knew better.
I decided we should walk over to Union Square and check out a bar Gretchen introduced me to. It's a divey place adjacent to the fancier Belmont off the east side of the square, but I couldn't remember which street it was on. So we walked up and down all the small streets leading from Union Square starting on the south side and moving west. We probably walked a good mile this way before coming around to nearly where we'd started and finding the bar. Inside they were blaring extremely loud Motorhead. One of the bartenders was inevitably dressed up as a prettier variant of Joey Ramone. As with the Holiday Cocktail Lounge, we only stayed for one drink. By now Nathan had moved on to hard liquor because the Indian food was occupying so much of his limited payload.
Our final destination for the evening was back in the heart of the East Village, the bar known as Coyote Ugly. It's a unique place and reliably entertaining for heterosexual men who can handle the stench of stale vomit. Coyote Ugly is famous for its loud jukebox, diverse & drunken clientele, and extroverted female bartenders who take breaks from their bartending to dance on the bar.
We picked a good time to show up. The place was crowded, everyone was drunk, and the bartenders were spending a lot of time up on the bar, even the ones perched high atop stiletto heals. All of them were dressed as Catholic schoolgirls, but with addtional details designed to convey the ideas of sexy and bad. Most of them had their white knee socks laced up with something far frillier than anything you're likely to find on an actual Catholic schoolgirl. They had such confidence in their moves that Nathan thought they were "either really extroverted or they'd snorted a lot of coke." The bar had changed a little since I'd last been there in 2002. There were a lot more bras hanging from the ceiling, though the bras didn't look like they'd ever been worn. The bartenders were more attractive, and the patrons seemed more conventional, more like the idiots you'd see at spring break hot spot than at an East Village dive. Also, a new routine had been added to the bar dancing choreography. "I'm going to be doing a body shot soon," one of the bartenders announced, and the crowd went wild. It turned out that a body shot was when one of the patrons was offered the opportunity to drink a shot of liquor out of one of the bartender's navals, leaving the bartender's belly glistening afterwards. The whole experience was your basic stupid heterosexual display, and though we weren't really drunk enough to appreciate it, it had a compelling erotic component that we would have found interesting even if we'd been completely sober.
As the night wore on, the percentage of people in costumes increased. There were your usual witches, hobgoblins, Dorothies, and accident victims. But the Catholic schoolgirl uniform (featured a short plaid skirt and knee socks) seemed to be especially popular this year. We saw at least two young women wearing them on the subway back uptown. One was really hot and wore a huge cross around her neck. The other was kind of dumpy and had accessorized with devil horns. We didn't see a single pregnant nun.
Back at the Roosevelt, Nathan and I watched the second film in the Matrix trilogy on cable. In terms of pure spectacle, it's hard to compete with that ten minute car chase sequence.
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