dragged to the City
Friday, January 2 2009
setting: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York
Occasionally Gretchen drags me to some form of entertainment completely against my will and today was one such time. One loses a certain amount of free will in a marriage; it's part of the price one pays for the considerable benefits. The form of entertainment was, get this, a dance performance in Midtown Manhattan. I can't imagine anything I'd be less likely to go to were I currently a bachelor. The dance performance was by the world-famous Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the tickets had cost $135 each, which is a lot for a performance to which one is being dragged. For me, the best part of being in New York City would be eating delicious food in various restaurants. When discussing my approach to eating in the City, I like to describe myself as being something of a Pac Man gobbling my way down the early-80s arcade screen of the New York City Subway map. Other places where I have enjoyed being a Pac Man include Washington DC, New Orleans, Isræl, and any urban center in California (but definitely not Paris, Guatemala, South Africa, or Ecudador).
In the mid-afternoon, we dropped the dogs off at Andrea's house and hit the road, reaching the West Village well before dark. I hadn't eaten any lunch, so plans had to be rejiggered so we'd be having an early dinner. I wanted our first meal to be Indian, so we tried to find a suitable restaurant in the West Village but had no luck. We followed several tips from various people but these led either to closed restaurants or nothing at all. It was amazing the number of people working in shops who claimed not to know anything at all (and, as often as not, they made these claims rudely).
Our search gradually took us northward. At some point Gretchen wished we had access to the internet so we could get real information to work with. Just then we stumbled across a massive three-story Apple store at the corner of 9th Avenue and 14th Street. Inside, we found a whole aisle of unpopular laptops (the ones with the small chicklet-style keyboard buttons) upon which to surf. It took me all of 20 seconds to bring up a Google Map of exactly the information we were seeking.
Before long we were seated in a hip modern Indian restaurant called Bombay Talkie. The music on the sound system was Billie Holliday and the waitstaff were mostly Latin, but the food was absolutely delicious and (to some extent) unapologetically spicy. Tt was expensive as well; sometimes you get what you pay for. I should note, by the way, that those trying to find Bombay Talkie should be on the lookout for the faint quasi-Courier lettering of its name on its glassy storefront.
We still had some time after we made it up to the neighborhood of Alvin Ailey Central, so we ducked into Rudy's, a Times Square dive bar that has served us in the past when we've needed to kill a few interminable New York minutes. The last time we'd been to Rudy's had been the middle of a Sunday and we'd had to share the space with a couple of carpenters operating power tools. It being a Friday night, the place was completely different. It was crowded with people. They were a good mix, though they tended to be young and white. Surprisingly, women comprised 30 to 40 percent of the customers. There was also one drunk gentleman who kept singing very loudly and doing other things likely to annoy sober people. The fact that no one had asked him to leave suggested that Rudy's is a place where one can tie one on unchallenged. But don't try using a fake ID; behind the bar was a collection of about thirty fake IDs beneath the heading "YOU FAKE 'EM WE TAKE 'EM." On this particular night, Rudys was cooking up hot dogs and giving them out to anyone who wanted them, making it a cheap place to take a non-vegetarian date. They also had $7 pitchers, making it possible for a non-vegetarian couple to get fed and legally intoxicated in Manhattan for less than $20. Non-couples might have fun here as well; one guy coming through the crowd told Gretchen, "I've never had to tell a woman as good looking as you to get out of my way." Later that drunk gentleman complimented her on her hair and then, as if to make peace with me, shook my hand.
Tonight's Alvin Ailey show wasn't at Alvin Ailey Central after all; it was two and half long blocks to the east at City Center Theater, so we ran down 55th Street hoping to get there before the curtain went up. We were soon joined by two women who'd made the same mistake as us and seemed to be delighted to have found others in their predicament.
City Center Theater is a lavish Moorish-style building full of elaborate engravings and tile. Above the main stage are the words SALAM ALECHEM in Latin characters, though they're partially obscured by a large set of speakers.
We had great seats near the front center of the balcony, giving us an unobstructed view of the stage. Tonight's performance came in three parts with two intermissions. The first part featured Alvin Ailey-style dancing to several pieces of classical music (an unusual choice for the Alvin Ailey school, Gretchen said). I don't really have the language to describe dance performances, though what I saw tonight didn't vary much from my expectations. Sometimes individuals or groups of dancers would stand still or move very slowly while carried on with dramatic movements. There was a certain amount of one dancer picking up another and what not. The only thing that was unexpected were the bits of theatrical humor here and there, such as when one dancer would look sternly at another and cause the second to stop dancing. Then the first would turn around and the second dancer would resume dancing.
All the dancers wore bright shiny, silky, brightly-colored single-color outfits. Both men and women wore skirts, though the men were topless. The cheerful human-sized splashes of bright colors had the same rock candy appeal I remember from my childhood back when I used to play with an obscure erector set of colorful interlocking translucent plastic pieces. Overall, I'd have to admit that most of my enjoyment of the show was primarily for its vaguely erotic qualities, though it was clear that the directors of the Alvin Ailey school had done much to eliminate this avenue of enjoyment by dressing the dancers nearly identically. Eroticism dropped out of the performance like a factor present in both the numerator and denominator of a mathematical equation, though I'm sure there were some who only needed to see the chiseled features of the bare-chested male dancers to satisfy their vicarious erotic needs.
The second part featured the band Sweet Honey in the Rock singing onstage while various dancers danced out some sort of drama. But I wasn't paying close attention because I found it unpleasant for my sensibilities. Sweet Honey in the Rock are an a capella group, and there are few forms of music I like less. Combine that with a few people dancing nearby and you end up with a muddle. Even Gretchen had to admit that it was disappointing.
The last section was a much more bearable dance performance set to Otis Redding songs. And then it was over.
We caught the Red Line subway back south to Christopher Street and walked to Penny and David's apartment, where we'd be staying tonight. Before we went to bed, though we watched the culmination of a VH1 countdown show listing the "best hard rock songs of all time." We came in when they were hip deep in hair metal, so I naturally assumed that they were using "hard rock" as a euphemism for stuff on the easy-listening side of Iron Maiden. So I bet Gretchen $1000 that Metallica wouldn't show up in the list at all. But I was wrong. Near the top of the list good bands started appearing: Nirvana, Judas Priest, the Who, Black Sabbath, and, yes, Iron Maiden. Metallica's "Enter Sandman" (from their decidedly post-classic period) was ranked number two or three. Number one was said to be "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns 'n' Roses, which struck me as a little strange, considering that all such lists usually leave a place at the pinnacle for Led Zeppelin (or at least some band that rose to prominence prior to 1980).
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