Yesterday I went on yet another bus trip to New York City. This trip went perfectly and I found it to be exceptionally inspiring and invigorating. As I’ve mentioned before, New York City makes a very powerful impression upon me. And I have to be there to experience this. I can scarcely remember this feeling when I am not there. It is an inexplicably impactful emotional response, like an expansion of consciousness. To a certain extent this can be attributed to New York City because the city is the hub of human achievement. New York City is where everyone goes to make a big impression upon the world so everything from the architecture to the art in the museums is top notch and designed to impress. But I’m not sure this fully accounts for its thrill. The topic of New York City can bore me at times so I think my imagination and expectations are also contributing something to the mix. I am always puzzled and maddened by what is intrinsic beauty and what is heightened by what I’m seeing into an object of contemplation. Suffice it to say, New York City is a world of wonders in my eyes.
We arrived in New York City at around 9:45 a.m. My first objective was to visit the Museum of Arts and Design at Columbus Circle. The bus literally left us off right in front of the subway station entrance I needed, the 50th Street Station for the C Line, although this particular entrance is on West 51st Street. I only had to go one stop uptown to reach Columbus Circle. The first thing I saw at Columbus Circle was the enormous silvery globe at the Trump International Hotel and Tower. I took some photos of that even though it might have made me look like a Trump fan. But Donald Trump has been a fixture on the New York scene for decades so he still represents some aspects of the city. At least there were no garbage trucks parked around Columbus Circle to protect his property, the real sign of just how much the public hates this man. I also took some photos of the Christopher Columbus statue, the Time Warner Center, and the Shops at Columbus Circle entrance. I’ve been to Columbus Circle before but that was years ago and I only have a few photos of its landmarks.
The Museum of Arts and Design is a pretty minor museum. I would call it a third rate art museum, or maybe a second rate museum, but definitely not second tier in a city with so many great museums. So I had never visited the Museum of Arts and Design. It isn’t necessarily a bad museum. There are just so many other NYC art museums you would put on your list before it. One of the pleasures of making so many trips to NYC is that I can explore the more obscure establishments and see things that the majority of tourists overlook. But the big attraction for me was a special exhibit currently running at the Museum of Arts and Design, Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: Punk Graphics, 1976–1986. This art exhibit featured many Punk Rock posters that were quite familiar to me. You know you are getting old when your favorite music and youth culture shows up in a history museum as artifacts of a forgotten era. The Museum of Arts and Design is not exactly a history museum but you know what I mean. This exhibition was meant to look back on a cultural movement that has had its day. They had two record bins for the obsolete media known as the vinyl record. Visitors could browse through the records for that experience of record store nostalgia. Virtually every record I saw was one that I once owned, although I have most of them on CD now. In fact, my smartphone has most of that music stored on its microSD card. I saw a few Blondie posters and some rare Blondie memorabilia. It occurred to me that at least one piece of rare Blondie memorabilia could even be from my extensive collection which I sold off years ago.
Seeing everything at the Museum of Arts and Design only took a half hour. The next item on my agenda was a Broadway play at 2:00 p.m. so I had hours to kill. First I went to the Shops at Columbus Circle and found the Amazon book store on the third floor. I just can’t resist book stores, even though Amazon is responsible for killing most of them off. I didn’t actually buy any books there. I just browsed the titles for books that I might want to buy later on Amazon. See what I did there?
There isn’t that much to see at Columbus Circle so I walked over to Central Park and took a long stroll through the park. It was a beautiful summer day and I took many iconic photos of Central Park. Several skinny skyscrapers are still being built to overlook the park so they kind of ruin some of my photos. Even when completed, these skinny residential towers will be an eyesore. Central Park was downright idyllic but it occurred to me that I did not visit the big city to enjoy nature.
By Noon I was starting to worry about getting to Midtown in time to see the Broadway play so I walked back to the south end of Central Park and entered the first subway station entrance I found, which was the Fifth Avenue – 59th Street Station for the N Line. I took a N train downtown to 42nd Street Times Square. I almost made the mistake of retracing my steps and returning to the 50th Street Station, but the 42nd Street Times Square Station is actually closer to the Broadway theaters.
I arrived at 42nd Street – Times Square around 1:00 p.m. with plenty of time to spare but I was starving. I don’t think I was really hungry, but my doctor prescribed some medicine for my arthritis, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAI) which may have given me a stomach ulcer. My stomach is frequently rumbling and I feel severe hunger pangs by the end of the day. I’ll probably have to see my doctor about that. Anyways, I had to visit a McDonald’s to grab a filet-o-fish and a cup of coffee. I hate McDonald’s but I didn’t have time for a long wait for my food. My coffee did not come with cream or sugar which annoyed me. I drank it black because I was hoping it would help to keep me awake during the show.
There was a surprisingly long line for the Broadhurst Theatre where the play I came to see was being performed. Several hundred people where lined up half way down the block. The line didn’t move at all until about a half hour before the show was to start. The play I saw was Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune by Terrence McNally. This is a play I read a long time ago, so I had some vague idea what it was about, but I didn’t really remember it. Most plays only run for two hours and you can read a script in less than a day so they don’t really stick in your memory. The big draw for this serious drama was the great actor, Michael Shannon. Michael Shannon has long been considered a major theater actor, is more or less a major movie star now, and also an established Broadway actor since this is the second time I’ve seen him on Broadway. I also saw Michael Shannon in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey Into Night. It is quite a thrill to see him in the flesh on stage. And by in the flesh, I mean buck naked because there was a lot of nudity in this play! In fact, the play began with both Michael Shannon and Audra McDonald stark naked in bed doing a simulated sex scene. I was pretty shocked. I’ve seen nudity on stage before but never actual sex. The lights were kept low and I assume they were only simulating sex. The audience started giggling so they were more amused than shocked. When the lights came on there was some effort made not to show full frontal nudity but it took a while for them to get decent. Other than that, this was a very serious play with plenty of humor to keep it from seeming too dark. Michael Shannon shambled around the stage in a strange manner which may have been his way of portraying a character who isn’t meant to appear very intelligent or sophisticated. Nevertheless, his character, Johnny, was fond of Shakespeare and prone to misquoting him. Personally, I’ve never heard anyone quote Shakespeare in real life, not even a professional or somebody involved in the theater, so quoting Shakespeare does seem awfully pretentious to me. Now that I think of it, maybe I should do that myself. If there is one thing you can do to introduce an element of the dramatic into mundane life, it is to shock people with an unexpected quote from Shakespeare.
I loved the stage design which was very realistic and drank in every detail of the theater itself. The back wall was a brink apartment building facade which didn’t really fit the design of an apartment interior. I didn’t really notice this until the end of the play when they unexpectedly drew back the back wall. It was slowly pulled back into the wings. Then I realized it didn’t really make sense as part of the set. There was also a fire escape that they never really used even though some publicity photos showed Frankie and Johnny on the fire escape in each other’s arms. What I want to remember was the sight of all the stage lights covering the entire space of the area over the stage with that background of a brick facade. This really seemed quintessentially theatrical to me, New York space made sacred in a theater space.
I had a dinner reservation at Sardi’s after the show. Sardi’s is conveniently right across the street from the Broadhurst Theatre and the play ended just in time for me to make my reservation. Sardi’s is a bit more formal than I like. The waiters are all in uniform and the maître d’ is very smartly dressed and strikes you as a very serious and reserved sort of man. The service is also ridiculously attentive with a waiter rushing to refill your water glass only minutes after you’ve taken a sip. But Sardi’s Restaurant is an old Broadway mainstay and reeks of good old-fashioned theater tradition and history. The place was pretty empty at first but eventually it filled up with after-matinee theater goers like myself. I ordered a chicken club sandwich which arrived as a stack of food. The large pile of French fries made this a mountain of food. I wish I had just ordered an appetizer since I was not that hungry. I also had a single glass of Chardonnay which made me surprisingly tipsy. I really don’t like feeling woozy and sleepy when I am on an adventure.
After dinner, I had left plenty of time for shopping. First I went to BookOff on West 45th Street. This Japanese used media chain store sells used books, DVDs, CDs, and other media formats. I found two DVDs that were on my shopping list: As Good As It Gets and The Thirteenth Floor. After looking down every book shelf aisle I eventually found their meager selection of Drama and had to settle for a translation of Racine’s Phedre by the poet Ted Hughes. Next I went to the big Barnes & Noble book store on Fifth Avenue. I was surprised to find they did not have a book shelf devoted to Science or Non-Fiction. They did have a decent section on the performing arts where I found Stella Adler on America’s Master Playwrights. I’m becoming a bit more conservative in my tastes now that I no longer trust progressive theater artists to be sensible. I question their devotion to the arts so I would rather read something written long ago. I think I can trust Stella Adler to focus on what is really important to the human spirit. There is not a single female playwright on her list! That is being a little too conservative, but she was a product of her time. Although I did not browse the science fiction titles, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word For World Is Forest was prominently displayed and this book was on my shopping list so I snagged it.
After making those purchases I made my way back to the bus pick-up spot near the Times Square Church. I got there almost an hour early but I didn’t really try to wander off to take any more photos. I was pretty satisfied with what I had accomplished on this trip and quite frankly the entire Times Square area has become too familiar to me.