Summary: At loose ends in the park... Loitering... Jobhunting... Napping... Travelling... Manhattan... Bad coffee... Bad directions... The mystery of soup dumpling... Advice for those who would see Ellis Island and/or the Statue of Liberty... What is the adjectival form of "Buck Rogers?" ... Brick buildings of Hoboken... Dry Hard... Flushing...
1999.04.15 THU Berkeley
I sat in the park, reading, watching the crowd, forcing myself to relax. I reminded myself that I didn't have to spend every waking moment in directed activity. My time seemed very precious: tomorrow, I was taking off on a plane. Surely the best thing to do now was to sit back and relax. And that's what I did.
I was in Berkeley, loitering. I'd spent most of the day in San Francisco, packing and preparing. I'd come to Berkeley to take care of some errands and meet friends; the errands were taken care of.
Photo: Boston street signs
I relaxed in the park; I went to the U.C. Theater and watched a couple of Hong Kong gangster flicks in which all speaking characters died violently.
At 11:00pm, I was at the café Au Coquelet. Paul Du Bois dropped by to say "hi". The big activity planned for that night was to watch the last-minute tax filers at the Berkeley Post Office, but Paul wasn't going to be able to make it. He was on his way to Mister E's to meet up with, as he phrased it, "the big Kelly."
"The big Kelly?" I asked.
"Well, the little Kelly."
"There's more than one Kelly?"
"No, there's just the one."
I shook my head. I'd been awake a little bit too long to follow this conversation.
"Well, hope I see you later tonight."
At the Post Office, I had fun with Dave Loftesness and Veronica Boutelle and their puppies Alice and Zeppa. There was another David, who we only saw on tax nights; it was fun getting caught up. Jon Witort was there, but he mostly sat and talked with a girl who may have been his sweetie. Martin Turon showed up. Last I'd heard, Martin was consulting for New Deal, a company which had spun off from Geoworks, a company at which I'd worked. New Deal was run by Clive, one of Geoworks' scarier executives.
New Deal, I remembered, was based in the Boston area. I was going to the Boston Area. I would have to be careful. At Geoworks, we'd talked about getting "Clived." Clive would rear up from the depths, pick some hapless victim, and saddle them with an impossible task. I'd never been Clived. I didn't know much about the process of Cliving. I wondered if the fact that I didn't work for him would grant me immunity.
Boston was a big city. I probably wouldn't encounter Clive. Nevertheless, I decided to be very careful.
Dave Loftesness and I didn't talk about the spin-off, though it was on my mind. A few months before, I'd quit my job at Geoworks, which we'd been trying to spin off from. I had gotten upset about the stupidity of Dave Thatcher, Geoworks' CEO; I had quit. A month later, Thatcher had quit. (Later, he was indicted for fraud for his shenanigans at his next company.) I'd been angling to get back in ever since.
While I'd been in Albuquerque, I'd received mail from Chuck Groom, a clever intern I'd managed back at Geoworks. He was asking me if I knew about any cool summer job opportunities. I'd asked DLoft if the spin-off effort was hiring. Geoworks had been having money problems, hadn't been hiring. DLoft said that the spin-off group might be hiring soon. They had a customer, a customer with money and sense.
I noted this. Maybe when I got back from this trip, I'd be able to get back in on that spin-off effort. Geoworks, in its infinite wisdom, had forced DLoft to lay off many smart people. Still, there were many smart people left, a core worth trying to hook up to.
We didn't talk about this. I was going away for a couple of weeks. There would be time to talk when I got back.
The tax night itself was not so eventful. There were no car accidents. There were no acts of foolishness. No-one tried to keep the postal van from escaping.
Dave drove me over to the apartment of Paul Du Bois and Tom Lester. Tom hadn't shown up at the post office because he was busy working. If you look back at what I've written, you'll notice that the post office festivities took place around 11:00pm-midnight, which tells you something about Tom right there.
As we came up to the front door, Paul and (the one and only) Kelly walked up. People talked about snowboarding at Tahoe. I asked how much longer we'd have our winter rental cabin. The upcoming weekend would be the last one.
Nuts. Between this trip to Boston and my previous trip to Albuquerque, I'd missed out on many weekends at the cabin. Even unemployed, I still didn't have enough time to do everything I wanted.
Kelly went home; the rest of us headed up to the apartment. I'm sure that Paul would never divulge any secret details about the game he was working on at Infinite Machine, so I don't know what we talked about; embroidery, perhaps.
Eventually, Dave and Veronica went home. Paul retired to his room. I finally got a chance to talk with Tom, who I hadn't seen since before my Albuquerque trip. I was excited about the possiblities of a spin-off; Tom was excited but stressed. A few months before, he had figured he was going to be out of a job; instead he was face-to-face with a lot of work. I tried to make comforting noises, but might not have been especially convincing. I was just a slacker heading off to live the high life in Boston.
We talked until about 2:00 am, then it was time for Tom to go to bed.
1999.04.16 FRI Berkeley
I napped for about three hours on the couch. Then it was time to call a cab.
I waited for the cab outside. I sat on my bag on the sidewalk, hands in my pockets to keep out the night's chill. The only other living things on Francisco Street that night were the cats. They seemed surprised to see me.
If you've been paying attention, you'll notice that I said that I was travelling to Boston. I wasn't going straight there, though. I was going to spend the weekend with friends in New York city. Don't get confused when I talk about going to Newark and Penn Station.
I wasn't lost or anything. I know those places aren't in Boston. Really.
1999.04.16 FRI In Between Places
I slept some on the plane rides. I almost never can sleep on plane rides. I suppose I was tired.
On the leg of the trip from Denver to Newark, NJ, I was sitting next to a retired couple that did a lot of travelling. They were going to tour the East, ranging further than I would. After that, they were going to drive a camper to Alaska. They'd gone birdwatching along the Amazon in Peru. I'm sure that I could have learned a lot from them about good places to travel. Instead of drawing them out, I dozed off repeatedly.
Maybe planning the start of this trip around tax night hadn't been such a brilliant idea, after all.
At the Newark airport Ground Transportation desk, I asked, "Excuse me, could you tell me where to get a bus to Penn Station?"
Pen pen Oh my god, I thought to myself. I decided that I really needed to sleep soon.
1999.04.16 FRI Manhattan (Hotel Wolcott)
Soon I was checked in at the Hotel Wolcott, in Manhattan's Koreatown. I dropped off my luggage, put on my rain jacket, and went out in search of dinner. It was pouring rain. I walked past a few Korean restaurants--they tend to be problematic for vegetarians. "Would you care for some beef with your beef?" is a common question.
Instead I dropped into some random deli and ordered some random cheese sandwich. The only other customers were a couple who, umbrellaless, were trying to wait out the rain, clutching onto coffees like licenses to loiter. One of them unnecessarily pointed out to the other, "I haven't seen a cab since we got here."
I walked back to the hotel. I ate. I made some phone calls. I thankfully fell asleep. It had been a long day.
1999.04.17 SAT Manhattan (Near Penn Station)
I was in a bagel shop, ordering a bagel. You can get good bagels in San Francisco, but you have to know where to go. If you wander into some random place in New York, you'll probably get a tolerable bagel. In San Francisco, you're likely to get something light and airy, meant for a generation raised on Twinkies and Wonder Bread. I was glad to be in a New York bagel shop.
As I picked up my bagel, a fellow customer asked why his juice wasn't done yet. The proprietor pointed out that juice-making required effort. There was a machine, but someone had to work it. "You are the machine," the customer said, making a joke of it. He looked to me for support. I didn't know what to say. The friendliness of New Yorkers always surprises me. I'd come seeking starch, not camaraderie. "It's that attention to detail," I hazarded, backing out the door. This phrase seemed to satisfy everyone.
Outside, a man asked me what time it was.
1999.04.17 SAT (Later) Manhattan (Near Penn Station)
I set out towards the gallery. I walked South on Sixth Avenue.
I saw a man. It was the man who'd asked me what time it was outside the bagel shop. I wondered what the chances of that were--seeing some random stranger on the street two times, hours apart, being able to recognize him on the streets of Manhattan. I smiled at him. He didn't seem to recognize me.
A market had sprung up in an empty lot. Dealers had set up tables with antiques, collectibles, and accessories for the home. At the lot's entrance, someone was selling coffee and pastries. I bought coffee. It was really bad. I've had flavorless coffee before; and this wasn't flavorless. It didn't taste entirely like coffee.
It sure woke me up, though; fear of poisoning will do that.
1999.04.17 SAT Manhattan (SoHo)
I walked around SoHo a bit, looking in the windows at art and fashion. Stupid Canyon Road people oughtta come and see this, I thought, nastily. After a while, I started to get kind of uncomfortable, though. There weren't really a lot of places showing art--most of them seemed to be showing clothes.
The New York Times, a newspaper of record, had reviewed an exhibit of work by the San Francisco graffiti artist Barry McGee at the Deitch Projects, 72 Grand Street. Bryan and I had agreed to meet outside.
Walking down Grand Street, I looked in a window and saw what appeared to be part of the exhibit. Next to the window was a door: the door had a sign with an arrow pointing to the left, saying "Please use other door". The door to the left was locked, but then I realized I hadn't made it to 72 Grand Street yet--I was still a couple of doors over.
I went to 72 Grand Street, in through its unlocked door. I found myself in a large entry room, pale walls, soft lighting. Cultured-looking arty ladies sat behind a reception desk. This didn't really feel like the sort of place that would show graffiti art. Nevertheless, I walked up to the counter, quavered, "Excuse me, uhm, I'd like to see the Barry McGee exhibit?" The lady behind the desk gave her companion a look. She said, "That's next door, at the Deitch Projects." I thanked her, apologized, left.
I staggered back to the locked door, flabbergasted. The New York Times, a paper of record, had got the address wrong. The gallery obviously wasn't open yet. I felt like a bumpkin. I leaned into a doorway to wait for Bryan.
A couple of suave, sophisticated people wandered up the stairs to 72 Grand Street. I vaguely wondered what kind of suave, sophisticated art the place was showing--but the couple had re-emerged. They walked over to the locked door of the Deitch Projects, looked through its window at the darkness beyond. No doubt they'd been taken in by the same misinformation that I had. I no longer felt like a bumpkin. As the couple wandered away, I grinned with renewed confidence.
Several more people would make the same journey from 72 Grand to the locked door while I waited. The Times has a large circulation, after all.
When Bryan showed up, I told him that the place wasn't open yet. I said that I didn't really need to stick around--you could get a representative sample of art just by looking through the window. And, really, I'd already seen plenty of great graffiti on the way over. San Francisco's got some good stuff if you know where to look, but New York's got great stuff all over the place. Bryan gave the window a look, got his fill of art. We started talking about where to go for lunch.
There was a flurry at the door--not at the locked door, not at the door to 72 Grand Street, but at the door which featured the sign directing people to the locked door. Someone had opened the door from the inside. I wondered if one of the other people waiting for entrance had rung the doorbell: the man opening the door had the peeved look of someone who's answering the doorbell but doesn't want to.
"We open at noon," he said. "Unless if any of you are here for classes?"
Someone asked for clarification: "So the exhibit opens at noon?"
"That's right. Now, is anyone here for classes?"
Various art patrons looked at their shoes and shuffled.
"All right, then." The man closed the door, retreated into the depths of the gallery.
1999.04.17 SAT Manhattan (East Village)
Bryan and I ate lunch at a place called Black-eyed Suzie's. The food was organic, but nevertheless good. Not one to dwell on the pleasant things in life, I decided to complain about the coffee I'd got earlier in the day.
Me: "It was really bad. Since it was, you know, next to an antique market, I was figuring maybe it was antique coffee."
Me: "Yeah, well, really. I mean, I was going to go back and ask the guy if he, well, if he pissed in the coffee."
Bryan: "They don't do that here."
"No. This is New York. What you tasted is cigarette butts."
"Oh, well. Okay then."
"Food is different here."
"I guess. Not so much Chinese food."
"The Chinese food is different here."
"How do you mean, 'different'?"
"You ever have soup dumpling?"
"What is it, like, some pork dumplings in...?"
"You've never heard of it, have you?"
Bryan laid it out: "I never heard of it either until I got here. But all the Chinese places around here have it. You try telling someone around here that you like Chinese food, they ask you your favorite place to get soup dumpling."
I leaned back, feeling culturally deprived. Why hadn't I ever heard of this stuff?
1999.04.17 SAT Manhattan (Midtown)
After lunch, some people got together and we played a board game. Yes, we were in New York City, in Manhattan, and we played a board game. Hey, cut me some slack. I was mostly in New York to visit with people, not to be a tourist.
I did tourist stuff the next day. You can tell it was tourist stuff because it involved the Statue of Liberty.
1999.04.18 SUN Manhattan (Near Penn Station)
Scan: Advertising postcard for the Wolcott Hotel
I sat in the lobby of the Wolcott Hotel. It was very grand; it bespoke a grander time. You'll notice that their advertising postcard shows the grand lobby instead of say, the clanky radiator in my room that kept me from getting much sleep. Advertising is a tricky business.
Angi entered the lobby. Angi is a pen pal of Piaw's; she lives at the edge of Queens, where it starts to turn into Long Island. When Angi had been a tourist in San Francisco, I'd brought her to Alcatraz. As her part of the metropolitan-island-national-park exchange program, she was taking me to Ellis Island.
She'd actually brought her car to Manhattan; she'd actually found parking. This amazed me; I'd been in town for over a day and hadn't seen a parking spot the whole time. She'd found one within a block of the hotel. Perhaps it helped that she had a small car. How small was it? Trying to clamber in, I clonked my jaw on the door. I would spend the rest of the day fingering my jaw, delicately tracing the edge of the swelling.
Before we headed to the island, Angi wanted to go out to her favorite breakfast place. I was happy to learn about good restaurants in Manhattan, and soon we were in the East Village where she somehow found parking again. I was impressed.
1999.04.18 SUN Manhattan (East Village)
In turn, I managed to impress her with my local knowledge. "Yeah, I've been along here. See all those dishwashing machines? There's this guy, he's got a 'zine called 'Dishwasher'. He took photos here, like, 'The Dishwashers of the Bowery' or something. And see that Russian diner over there? I had dessert there with a friend of mine--we were looking at the Village Voice, trying to figure out what to do. Place had good pie. And--what?"
Angi repeated her question: "You ate there?"
"That's my place--that's where we're going for breakfast."
"That's your favorite breakfast place?"
It's not easy to show me new things in Manhattan. I told Angi that she would have to show me all the tourist sites in Queens. She'd dismissed the idea before, but appeared to be re-considering.
1999.04.18 SUN New Jersey (despite everything)
We headed East, got on the New Jersey Turnpike for about half a mile, and drove down to Liberty Park. There are two places whence you can catch a ferry to Ellis Island (and the Statue of Liberty)--Battery Park in Manhattan and Liberty Park on the Jersey shore. If you can get there, I recommend Liberty Park--the lines are much shorter. These include the lines for ferries to return to civilization.
Later, on Ellis Island, there would be two lines for ferries--one for the Manhattan ferry, one for the Jersey ferry. People waiting for the Manhattan ferry would wait until the ferry showed up--and the ferry would fill up, and people would be stuck staying in line, waiting for the next one, desperate not to lose their place in a line with fat, sweaty tourists.
The Jersey ferry had plenty of room, so you didn't really need to wait in line. Just be in the right area and amble over when the ferry showed up.
Liberty Park had other interesting things going on--Angi said it was a good place to rollerblade. There was a Buck-Rogers-looking Liberty Science Center. It's the site of "Black Tom," an ammo dump which blew up while the USA was a neutral power in WWI; allegedly it blew up as a result of German sabotage, but the president was so anxious to avoid entering the war that it was called an accident at the time.
We didn't linger. We hopped on a ferry to Ellis Island so that we could understand the immigrant experience.
1999.04.18 SUN New Jersey (Ellis Island)
I didn't learn much at Ellis Island. I learned that I'd already been educated about the immigrant experience.
Angi started out interested in pictures of Chinese immigrants. It was hard to understand what the museum was saying about them. Was it saying that lots of Chinese people came in through Ellis Island? It talked a lot about national immigration figures, mentioned that some people came in through Angel Island.
It didn't talk much about Angel Island's immigration history. Which was fine by me; it wasn't exactly my region's shining hour.
There were sound recordings of people talking about their immigrant experience. I suppose I'm jaded. I found myself thinking, Yeah, yeah, you were fleeing starvation. You and 100,000 other people. How many times do I have to hear the same story? If you ask Anna Karenina, she'll tell you that happy people are all alike, but that miserable people are all miserable in their own way. This is a crock. Plenty of miserable people are miserable in the same way.
Maybe it didn't help that tens of thousands of people were fleeing war and starvation and oppression in Kosovo, giving their stories on the news each night. They'd been robbed; members of their families had disappeared, each of them the same old story. When they were talking to reporters, didn't it occur to any of them to give personalized details? Didn't any of them want to stand out from the crowd, give the viewing audience hooks from which to hang memories?
Didn't any of these people know the first thing about marketing?
Okay, there were a couple of interesting things at Ellis Island, both in the medical field:
On the way back to New Jersey, the ferry stopped at the Statue of Liberty, but we didn't get off. Instead, we rode back to Jersey, and then Angi drove us to Washington Street in Hoboken for lunch at Tutta Pasta.
1999.04.18 SUN New Jersey (Hoboken)
Angi pointed out an interesting thing about Hoboken. Before I mention the interesting thing, I'll first mention that it's a prosperous neighborhood. The thing that Angi pointed out is that it's a very young neighborhood. There are very few middle-aged or old people. I asked her what had become of them all; she didn't know. I wondered what had caused so much turnaround in the neighborhood so recently; she professed ignorance.
The thing I noticed about the neighborhood was that all the buildings were made out of brick. I pointed this out. "You know, back in Calfornia, you don't see a lot of buildings made out of brick," I said.
I interrupted: "You see, we know that brick doesn't do very well in an earthquake. Yesiree, first earthquake that comes along, most of the buildings in this neighborhood will be cracking and crumbling."
I interrupted again, having had a sudden thought: "Hey, is this building made out of brick?"
By this time, people at other tables were starting to look over in alarm. I calmed down a bit; I shut up and started concentrating on my food.
Still, I wondered if there had been a micro-quake in the neighborhood a few years ago, something that had sent the former residents packing all at the same time.
1999.04.18 SUN Manhattan (Greenwich Village)
Traffic was starting to pick up, and by the time we got to the Village, parking wasn't very good. We drove around for a while, looking for spaces. What we didn't look for was potholes, which is too bad because we hit a doozy. My head slammed into the roof of the car, giving me a bump on the top of my head to match my jaw. This was surprising, but not nearly as surprising as Angi's spotting a parking place just a couple of blocks from the café she wanted to visit.
I restored my consciousness with an espresso at Caffe Reggio. I really have no recollection of what we talked about. Possibly it was boring; possibly the head injury was affecting my thinking. I think we went to a poster shop so that Angi could look for a birthday card for someone. I remember looking to see if they had any prints by Charles Sheeler; they didn't. Their fine arts section was full of impressionists. Ooh, aah, impressionists. As my thinking cleared up a bit, I realized there wasn't much point in shopping for a poster--it would have a tough time surviving my planned itnerary over the next couple of weeks.
We headed back to the car, preparing to head to Queens.
Angi said, "That's a really great parking place."
"Yeah, it was amazing. So close."
"I hate to move it."
"You want to, like, walk around some more?"
"Is that OK?"
We walked around some more.
1999.04.18 SUN Queens (Flushing)
Angi said Flushing was a Korean neighborhood, and looking at all the Korean lettering on signs and awnings, I was inclined to agree with her. We stopped off at Hong Kong Market, a big Asian supermarket so that Angi could pick up some groceries. I took the opportunity to pick up laundry detergent (I'd forgotten to pack detergent), some dried peas, and some Hello Kitty strawberry candies.
It wasn't until Angi had checked out that I noticed them. There at the counter. A big box full of packets: packets of Mintia Dry Hard. Mintia, the Japanese breath mint that comes from a dispenser the size of a PCMCIA card. The Japanese breath mint that you can dispense to your friends without touching them (mints or friends). I didn't think it was possible to get Mintia in the States. I'd looked for them in Tokyo-Ya, a store which had umpteen bazillion kinds of Japanese candy, but no dice. Yet this place had them.
I bought ten packets.
"You like those mints, eh?"
"Nah, they're to strong for me."
"They're for friends."
Our next stop was Sweet 'n' Tart, a modern Chinese restaurant with lots of desserts and some other things, too. Angi had brought me there so that I could try the gualing gao (I probably spelled that wrong, as if Anglicizing it didn't obscure things enough), a sort of herb jelly. Flipping through the menu, I saw mention of dumpling soup.
"Oh wow, dumpling soup," I said.
"You know, they don't have dumpling soup in San Francisco," I explained.
"What are you talking about?"
I knew that I had to try this stuff; otherwise it was going to drive me mad. Angi asked the waitress about it. It contained pork broth. It contained a little bit of shrimp. I'm a vegetarian, but I didn't falter in my resolve to try this stuff. I don't think I'll go to hell if I eat a little pork; it's just wasteful. Besides this was for science.
The soup arrived. It was just shrimp dumplings floating with ramen noodles in a pork-stock soup. I ate a dumpling. What was the big deal? It tasted like any other shrimp dumpling. I had some noodles.
I didn't envy the East coast their dumpling soup. They're welcome to it.
(Later, Bryan would clarify: dumpling soup is dumplings in soup, but soup dumpling is soup in a hollowed-out dumpling. Which is more interesting. Maybe next time I'm in New York, I'll try it. But only maybe.)
I foisted the rest of the dumplings on Angi.
I'm not going to tell you exactly what went on in my gastro-intestinal tract over the next couple of days. Maybe my stomach had lost the ability to digest pork or something. Things got pretty nasty.
I'm going to stop talking about this now.
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